A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring. — Alexander Pope

Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell




The Fiercest Fight

The great battle began early on October 1, the royal army taking the offensive. At the outset of the engagement Garibaldi narrowly escaped death. Starting from Caserta by rail about three o'clock after midnight, he reached Santa Maria, where he heard the sound of firing on his left, and immediately drove with his staff in two carriages toward Sant' Angelo. By his side sat a young officer of the Piedmontese artillery named Emilio Savio, all unaware that his brother Alfredo had been shot three days previously in the trenches before Ancona. He himself was destined to meet a like glorious death in a few weeks beneath the walls of his Gaeta. Of all Garibaldi's Red-Shirts few perhaps are so well known to the English-speaking world as these young martyrs, whom Mrs. Browning has celebrated in her Mother and Poet.

Near the Ciccarelli Bridge a company of Bourbon infantry, having stealthily preceded them by sunken lanes, was lying in ambush; and, as the carriages approached, the enemy discharged their rifles at a distance of only twenty yards. The horses rushed on to the further end of the bridge, where one of them rolled over, and Garibaldi's carriage was brought to a stand. The General stepped out and drew his sword. By good fortune a party of Medici's infantry was not far away. They hastened to the spot, and Garibaldi led them in a successful charge against his treacherous assailants, afterward proceeding on foot to Sant Angelo. Although he came out of the affair without a scratch, the coachman was mortally wounded, and also Cereseto, a member of the staff.

The battle of the Volturno was the most fiercely contested in the whole course of the war, and commenced disastrously for the Garibaldians. Those defending the cemetery and San Tammaro lost heart and ran in headlong flight to Naples, whilst at Sant' Angelo the enemy, after storming the advanced battery on the road to Capua, forced their way into the lower part of the village. Here Dunne fell wounded at the head of his regiment.

A splendid incident in the engagement was the defense of Castel Morrone by two hundred and eighty Garibaldians under the younger Bronzetti against five thousand of the enemy. They held out till all their ammunition was expended and then offered what resistance was possible with the bayonet and blocks of limestone. In the end the royalists succeeded in breaking through into the castle and discovered Pilade Bronzetti sitting on the ground wounded. While he was trying to arrange terms of surrender, they barbarously stabbed him to death.

For four hours Bronzetti had stood his ground, thus detaining Ruiz's force and preventing it from going to the assistance of Von Mechel, who was hard pressed. On the following day Ruiz decided to retreat, but three thousand of his men refused to obey and renewed the combat. They succeeded in capturing Caserta, but were encountered in the streets of that town by the Genoese, singing Mameli's hymn of '48, while Garibaldi, by a series of masterly dispositions, cut off their retreat. As the upshot seventy-seven officers and two thousand and twelve men were taken prisoners.

After the affair of the ambush, Garibaldi was at Sant' Angelo, heading the charges in the village and on the slopes of Monte Tifata. In this quarter of the field the fight lasted six hours, ending in the repulse of the enemy. It was the same at Maddaloni and Santa Maria, whither Garibaldi proceeded to take charge of the operations. Nothing could excel the impetuous gallantry of the Milanese bersaglieri, who, in obedience to orders, charged the enemy without firing a shot. Eber's brigade was pushed forward in support, marching solidly as on parade; and the royalists began to retreat.

The attack on the center was followed by a general advance, Medici's and Avezzana's divisions being on the right, and what remained of Turr's column on the left. After a stubborn fight the enemy broke, and at about six o'clock sought shelter within the walls of Capua. Almost at the same moment a message was received from Bixio, announcing the success of his right wing over the Bourbon troops; and Garibaldi was able to telegraph to Naples, "Victory all along the line."

The battle of the Volturno was the last of Garibaldi's 'great feats of arms'—the others being associated with Como, Calatafimi, Palermo, Milazzo, and the crossing of the Strait. It was the only occasion on which he acted on the defensive, and it was further remarkable for the fact that he was in command of what was for him an exceptionally large force—twenty thousand men. The enemy's numbers were much greater, but Garibaldi held the interior lines, which reduced this advantage.

As throughout the campaign, the lot of the wounded was pitiable. The most fortunate were those admitted into the field hospitals at Caserta and Santa Maria, where their sufferings were mitigated by Turr's medical staff and the watchful care of Signora Mario. At Naples, where dirt abounded and the surgeons were negligent, the wounded fared badly, and they would have fared worse but for materials and money sent from England, and the tender ministry of certain Englishwomen, who were much touched by the patience and resignation of the North Italians. When Garibaldi was in the city, he did not omit to visit the hospital and address comforting words to the maimed and dying; and one of the nurses, an English lady, records their loving reverence for their leader. '"All the men," she remarks, "when they heard him coming, began to sit up in their beds, and clap their hands, and shout 'Papa nostro, papa nostro!' They long to be allowed coffee in the morning instead of grease and water, so my sister said to one of them, 'Now ask the General to order that you have coffee.' The young man answered, 'Oh, lady, how could I trouble him with that, when he has so much to see to, and when his very presence gives us new life.'"