Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell
Garibaldi attacked Reggio at two o'clock in the morning on August 20, the Bourbon troops offering but a weak resistance. After discharging their weapons, they retired into the forts, and Garibaldi proceeded to occupy the town. There he had a disagreeable reminder of the youth and inexperience of his own soldiers. The column, about two thousand strong, had been drawn up in the principal square, when a shot was fired from the ranks, or, according to some, from a window. In a moment a panic arose, and the whole of the two thousand began to let off their muskets in wild confusion. Garibaldi, being on horseback in the midst of the square, was in considerable danger, and quickly dismounted, but not before his hat had been struck by a bullet. It was not the first time that he had witnessed such a panic, to which he declares the southerners were peculiarly liable; and during the night march he had repeatedly warned his young comrades not to fire, as he knew the danger. The recruits seem to have lived in perpetual alarm of a cavalry charge, on which Garibaldi passes some strong remarks:
"'Cavalry! cavalry!' I have heard the rabble cry, and seen this cry cause the flight of hundreds of young untrained soldiers, often dragging with them those who had seen service. Men liable to such disgrace must naturally desire their cowardice to be hidden by night, for if such actions took place by day they would be exposed to the scorn and derision of the vilest of human beings. But, fools that they are! if there really were cavalry, which is not generally the case in these panics, arising for the most part from the slightest causes, would it not be better to receive them at the point of the bayonet, cavalry being only really formidable to a flying force?"
However, on the following day the Garibaldians made amends for this temporary loss of nerve. Accompanied only by a small detachment, the General ascended the adjacent heights for the purpose of observation and descried a column of the enemy about two thousand strong advancing toward his position. This column was under the orders of General Ghio, commander-in-chief of the local Neapolitan forces, and was not only advancing, but very near. Placing his company in a position of defense, Garibaldi sent to the town for reinforcements, which, as soon as possible, were forwarded by Bixio. Pending their arrival, the situation was highly critical; and if the Neapolitans had abandoned their usual practice of firing as they advanced and immediately charged home, Garibaldi's small party of infantry must have succumbed, and the enemy, gaining possession of the heights, would have dominated the town and rendered it untenable.
As it was, Garibaldi successfully maintained his position, and when troops had reached him in sufficient numbers, he ordered a charge. The enemy thereupon retreated, the forts surrendered with their immense store of provisions and ammunition, and the way was paved for a march through Calabria, which proved something like a triumphal progress.
On August 26, Garibaldi was at Nicotera, superintending the disembarkation of Medici's force from Messina. The next day, passing through Mileto on his way to Monteleone, he encountered a shocking sight. The Neapolitan General Briganti, who had surrendered at San Giovanni, in attempting to ride through Mileto in disguise, had been recognized by some soldiers, who, raising cries of "Traditore!" (Traitor!) had riddled him with bullets, and then stripped and mutilated his lifeless body. Others had killed and burnt his horse. Their officers had looked on, but, save for faint expostulations, had not dared to interfere. The perpetrators of this outrage gave no consistent account of their motives. Some alleged that the General was a Liberal and a traitor; others averred that he was a Royalist; others again, that they wanted his boots! As a matter of fact, Briganti, though he did not deserve such a fate as this, was justly suspected of political frailty. When he offered to surrender, he had told Garibaldi he would join him were it not that he had two sons in the Neapolitan army, and was therefore under an obligation to the court. On entering the town, Garibaldi found in the main street a dried pool of blood and the charred remains of Briganti's horse; and, to his intense distress, was made acquainted with the particulars of the tragedy, which had taken place two days before.
On August 28 Garibaldi left Monteleone in a carriage in which were two English ladies, Jessie White Mario and the wife of a Piedmontese gentleman, Signora Corte. He gradually encircled Ghio's army of ten thousand men; and on the morning of the 30th, Mario, Peard, and the ex-priest Bianchi made their way to the village of Soveria and called on the Bourbon commander to surrender. The Neapolitan troops were mostly unconcerned, but some of them were with difficulty prevented from shooting the envoys. Shortly after midday Garibaldi himself advanced at the head of two thousand Calabrians and some of Cosenz's Red-Shirts, and the enemy submitted. When at Soveria Garibaldi received a letter from Alexandre Dumas, brought by a messenger from Naples. This letter was of the highest importance. Dumas had visited Naples in his yacht, and on August 23 had had an interview with Signor Liborio Romano, King Francis's chief minister of state, who wielded immense influence in the capital. He wrote: "Liborio is at your disposal, together with at least two of his fellow-ministers, at the first attempt at reaction on the King's part. At this first attempt, which will set him free from his oath of fidelity, Liborio Romano offers to leave Naples with two of his colleagues, to present himself to you, to proclaim the deposition of the King, and to recognize you as dictator."
There is a humorous side even to war, and four days after the surrender at Soveria occurred the farcical episode of the False Garibaldi. Posting along the road from Sala Consilina to Eboli, Peard, 'Garibaldi's Englishman,' was taken by the inhabitants for Garibaldi himself. In reality there was no great resemblance between them. Peard, a man of superb physique, was much taller than his Italian comrade, and wore a much longer beard. Nor again were they following identical routes. The General was going round by the coast, while Peard, in the company of Gallenga, the Times correspondent, Commander C. S. Forbes, R.N., and Fabrizi, travelling as non-combatants, stuck to the high road all the way from Cosenza. On September 3 Peard entered Auletta amid tremendous enthusiasm. "The people," he writes, "thought I was Garibaldi, and it was believed it would do good to yield to the delusion. It became a nuisance, for deputations arrived from all the neighborhood to kiss his excellency's hand, and I had to hold regular levees." The town was illuminated and a Te Deum sung in honor of the supposed Dictator's arrival; and on the following day Peard and Fabrizi, attended by the National Guard and a whole rout of the townspeople, proceeded to the hamlet of Postiglione. The object of the visit was a military one. Postiglione stood on the slope of Monte Alburno, whence a good view was obtainable of the plain and the mountains in which Francis II of Naples would have to fight for his capital, if he fought at all.
In the upland hamlet Peard found the people mad with excitement. "At the Syndic's house," he says, "one of the priests (there were numbers of the fraternity present) went on his knees and called me a second Jesus Christ. I was not prepared for so excessive a bit of blasphemy." On the evening of the same day Peard and his party hastened to Eboli, taking the risk of capture by the enemy's patrols or arrest at the hands of authorities still loyal to the tottering regime. The errand was accomplished with perfect success. "Within half an hour of our arrival," writes Commander Forbes, "Eboli was brilliantly illuminated, the entire population besieging the Syndic's, brass bands banging away in every direction, and the crowd roaring themselves hoarse and calling on the General to appear, reminding one more of an election than anything else, the National Guard being all the time severely engaged on the staircase in a vain endeavor to keep the inhabitants out of the house. Deputations arrived; first came the Church, headed by a Bishop." Forbes assured some of the principal people that they were deceived—his companion was not Garibaldi. He might as well have saved his breath. "Oh!" said they, "you are quite right to try to keep your secret, but it won't do. We know."
It was an immense jest, and Peard and his friends, finding that they could not disabuse the minds of the natives, not only accepted the situation, but endeavored to profit by it. Just before midnight the chief of the telegraph department was summoned, and trembling with fear, informed the false Garibaldi that, an hour previously, a message had been sent by the Neapolitan commander at Salerno, asking for news of Caldarelli's brigade and inquiring as to Garibaldi's whereabouts. Peard dictated the reply.
This was to the effect that Garibaldi had reached Eboli, and that Caldarelli's brigade had deserted to the enemy. The Dictator, it was added, had four or five thousand men within hail—a gross exaggeration of the actual number. Gallenga aided the deception by confirming the reports in private messages to friends who were in touch with the court and ministers at Naples. Largely as the effect of this ruse, Francis II decided not to defend the capital, and all the troops at Salerno were ordered to fall back on Nocera.
Early the next morning Peard and his companions quietly withdrew from Eboli and rejoined Garibaldi at Sala Consilina. The General warmly commended the Englishman's tactics, and, intelligence arriving that the royalists had abandoned Salerno, Peard was sent thither and entered the town at five o'clock in the morning, September 6. The entire body of the inhabitants turned out to welcome him, and all the morning he was occupied in receiving deputations. Not a soul, official or private, knew the truth of Peard's identity with the exception of one officer, who whispered it in the false Garibaldi's ear.
THE CHIEF OF THE TELEGRAPH DEPARTMENT BEFORE PEARD.
During the morning a Piedmontese vessel appeared off Salerno and landed a fellow-countryman of Peard's—the Hon. Evelyn Ashley. Ashley was a son of the great philanthropist, Lord Shaftesbury, and was acting as private secretary to Lord Palmerston, who was very pleased when his young friend announced his intention of passing the vacation with Garibaldi. He had gone in the first instance to Turin with a letter of introduction from the English Prime Minister to Cavour. He asked where Garibaldi might be found. "Garibaldi!" exclaimed Cavour, "who is that?" As he spoke there was a merry twinkle in his eye. Then he went on, "I have nothing to do with him. He is somewhere, I believe, in the kingdom of the two Sicilies, but that, you know, is not at present under my King."
Ashley, with Edwin James, Q.C., as his companion, then set out in search of Garibaldi himself. At Naples he fell in with other Englishmen, whom he took with him in his voyage southward. At Salerno the attention of the party was attracted by the display of flags and the shouts of a huge crowd; and they were told that the demonstration was caused by the arrival of Garibaldi. On going ashore they discovered that it was not Garibaldi, but Peard, who had arrived; and Ashley and his friends were desired by their compatriot to proceed to Eboli and beg the real Garibaldi, whom Peard was tired of impersonating, to hasten to Salerno. On their way they met hundreds of men from the disbanded royalist army, without food and in the last stage of exhaustion. Garibaldi had done what he could for them, with characteristic generosity emptying his purse; but their misery was abject. Ashley found the General at Eboli, and was heartily received as representing his country. Permission was accorded him to follow Garibaldi's staff as a non-combatant, but on condition that he donned the red shirt, without which he would not be safe from ill usage.
On September 6, at five o'clock in the afternoon, Garibaldi, travelling in advance of his troops, entered Salerno with his staff in open carriages. They were welcomed on the outskirts of the town by the Syndic, the National Guard, and Peard, to whom the General took off his hat, exclaiming "Viva Garibaldi!" Peals of laughter and cheering succeeded this act of 'mock homage.' It was a struggle to get into the town in the darkness through a dense mass of twenty thousand spectators all wildly enthusiastic and ready, as it seemed, in their ecstasy, to tear the hero in pieces. Salerno was illuminated and bonfires were lighted on the hills toward Amalfi and Sorrento. The same evening the King and Queen left the palace at Naples, passing out at the water-gate and setting sail for Gaeta.