Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to
the tempestuous sea of liberty. — Thomas Jefferson

Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell




Old Foes, New Friends

At Caprera Garibaldi was within easy reach of the mainland, and able to keep himself accurately informed of passing events and the most recent developments in Italian politics. His last thought was to beat his sword into a ploughshare and abandon himself to the sweets of an idyllic existence while his beloved country groaned under the yoke of tyranny and oppression. At the same time he used his influence to suppress ill-concerted schemes, which, if carried into effect, would have only intensified the ills by which Italy was afflicted. More than once he publicly disowned all knowledge of revolutionary proclamations issued by presumptuous persons in his name.

Nevertheless, Garibaldi was ready to act for the furtherance of any just cause where there seemed a fair prospect of success. One day he and Medici were invited to dinner by Dr. Bertani, who told them of a plan for the deliverance of Settembrini and others betrayed by the infamous Government of Naples. One of the promoters of the enterprise was Sir William Temple, the British envoy at Naples, and the chief need was a leader. Garibaldi willingly accepted the responsibility and sketched out ways and means by which, he thought, success might be achieved.

A steamship, the Isle of Thanet, was purchased by English subscription, but unfortunately it was wrecked off Yarmouth; and in February, 1856, Garibaldi paid a visit to England with the intention of buying a cutter. At Portsmouth he won golden opinions by his simple and kindly bearing and his technical knowledge of shipbuilding and seamanship, but his stay in England was of short duration, and, as soon as his business was ended, he hastened back to Genoa.

Then followed a long and vexatious delay. For a whole year Garibaldi awaited the summons to set sail, and the unhappy prisoners in the galleys, aware of what was on foot, were kept in cruel suspense. Night after night they expected his coming, but in vain. At last Bertani received orders to suspend all proceedings. Sir William Temple, it seems, looked for a general amnesty which would have resulted in the release of Settembrini and his fellow-victims—a method of escape by no means agreeable to the prisoners, who wished to owe nothing to the perjured King Ferdinand. Temple soon afterward died, and the undertaking collapsed. The subscribers, amongst whom were Mrs. Gladstone and Lord and Lady Holland, expressed no desire that the money should be refunded; and eventually it was distributed among the prisoners on their release in 1859.

It is pretty evident that Garibaldi was led to countenance this project on the ground that it had English support almost official in character, but, speaking generally, his policy, from the fall of the Roman Republic onward, was to discourage premature attempts to establish Italian freedom. During this period there were several such abortive risings, which were repressed in the usual savage manner, and would have been nothing but a deplorable waste of blood, if they had not kept alight the flame of patriotic resentment. With these forlorn movements Garibaldi was not concerned; indeed, he was in America, when those at Mantua and Milan proved the danger of rashness. He rested his chief hopes on Victor Emmanuel, the young King of Piedmont and Sardinia, and his new minister, Cavour. Introduced to Cavour in 1856, he was from that time a loyal servant of Cavour's master.

Though we cannot here trace in any detail the great events that preceded and led up to the emancipation, first of Sicily and then of Continental Italy, we must indicate at least the broad outlines. By furnishing a large contingent to the Allies in the Crimea Piedmont had earned the gratitude of France and Great Britain, but the fruits of this statesmanship were imperiled by the attempted assassination of Napoleon III by Orsini, who had been an officer of the Roman Republic. "I have faith," said Cavour, "that Italy will become one state, and will have Rome for its capital." He doubted, however, whether the nation was ripe for so mighty a change and was prepared to accept liberty by installments.

The Emperor of the French magnanimously forgave the attempt on his life in relation to high policy, and signed the secret treaty of Plombieres, by which Piedmont was to receive a great increase of territory on the east, including Lombardy, Venetia, and the Romagna, while she was to cede Savoy (and possibly Nice) to France. There was to be no united kingdom of Italy then—only a confederation of states under the presidency of the Pope. All this could not be brought about without war with Austria, but a conflict with that Power, in which France was to take the leading part, was a very different thing from former struggles in which Austria had been opposed by little Piedmont or such towns as Milan and Bologna.

The National Society, of which Garibaldi had been elected a Vice-President in 1857, enlisted volunteers all over Italy, many of whom were drafted into the regular army, while three thousand were formed into a corps called the Cacciatori delle Alpi, which was to be captained by Garibaldi. Meanwhile Napoleon had given an inkling of his purpose by saying to the Austrian Ambassador that he regretted not to be on better terms with the Emperor Francis Joseph, while Victor Emmanuel, in his speech to the Parliament at Turin, referred to "the cry of suffering that rises to our ears from so many parts of Italy." No words could have been more significant.

England sought to maintain peace by proposing disarmament, but Austria would not consent, and on April 23, 1859, dispatched to Turin an ultimatum to which an answer was demanded within three days. Four days later the Austrian troops were ordered to cross the frontier, and the war began—deliberately provoked by Cavour.

Although French opinion was greatly divided on the subject, Napoleon had now no choice but to support his ally against aggression, but the first brunt of hostilities fell on the North Italian Kingdom, and principally on Garibaldi. For weeks he had been in constant but secret communication with Cavour, and on March 2 he had had an interview with Victor Emmanuel. This was their first meeting, and Garibaldi left the royal presence to hasten to Genoa and rally his former lieutenants and other leaders of the democratic party. Mazzini disliked the whole business, believing that the result of the war would be to make Italy a French dependency, but the fighting men sided with Garibaldi. Medici, the hero of the Vascello, Cosenz, a brave Neapolitan, and Ardoino were elected to command the three regiments into which the corps of cacciatori was to be divided, whilst Dr. Bertani, who had been through the siege of Rome, organized the ambulance.

Garibaldi was badly used by the War Office, which was influenced by an unreasonable jealousy. The corps took the field with no cavalry, no artillery, no commissariat, and in unnecessarily small numbers. Although Victor Emmanuel had given express orders that Garibaldi should have charge of all the irregular forces, the Cacciatori delli Appenini were placed under a separate command. What was even more serious, his men were indifferently armed. The two thousand good carbines intended for them were not forwarded until too late, and eventually were served out to the civic guard of Lago Maggiore. Somewhat similarly, a mountain battery arrived only after the main incidents of the campaign had taken place. As in all his campaigns, Garibaldi had to meet an enemy superior in numbers and equipment, and could only compensate for such inequalities by his skill as a leader and the devotion he inspired in his followers.

The General was supported by fifty Genoese riflemen—gentlemen, merchants, artists, and professional men—and with them marched a colossal Briton, named Peard, destined to be known as 'Garibaldi's Englishman.' Peard, who had distinguished himself in town-and-gown fights at Oxford, had come to Italy in search of adventures. He had his own rifle, which he knew how to handle. On this occasion the red shirt was dispensed with, so as not to wound the susceptibilities of the French. Garibaldi wore the uniform of a Piedmontese general, while his cacciatori wore the dress of ordinary linesmen.