Flatterers are the worst type of enemy. — Tacitus

Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell




Heroes All!

Garibaldi's desire was to follow up the pursuit, capture Naples, and dethrone 'Bomba,' but he was recalled to meet a threatened invasion by the Austrians in the North. A yet more pressing danger detained him in Rome itself. A provisional treaty had been arranged between de Lesseps and the chief of the Roman republic, and only needed to be confirmed by the French Government. But that Government, as we have noted, was playing a double game. Reinforcements had arrived, consisting of twenty thousand men, six batteries of artillery, a quantity of siege guns, and a corps of expert sappers and engineers. In addition to these, ten thousand troops were on their way, with more siege guns and more engineers. The situation was completely changed; and on June 1 Oudinot gave notice that the truce had expired.

The folly of appointing to the chief command a general like Rosselli, with no higher conceptions of warfare than a humdrum company officer, instead of Garibaldi, a soldier by instinct who had proved his capacity times without number and was idolized by the men, now became painfully apparent. Oudinot gave out that the place would not be attacked before Monday, June 4, so that French residents might have time to leave. He is said to have been "a strict Catholic and a very religious man," and possibly he intended the expression 'place' to be understood of the city proper, not of its environs. At all events, Rosselli was lulled into complete security, and beyond stationing a detachment of four hundred men at the Villa Pamfili, took no measures whatever for defending the outposts. Garibaldi had been entrusted with the duty of guarding the left bank of the Tiber, but on the night of June 2 he was indisposed. He had not recovered from a bullet wound received on the last day of April, and he was still a mass of bruises—the result of being trampled on at Velletri. Galletti, therefore, was temporarily in command as his deputy.

This circumstance was most unfortunate, since Garibaldi was prevented from making any attempt to repair his superior's appalling blunder. Early on Sunday, June 3, the French army advanced, drove out the small Roman garrison from the Villa Pamfili, and seized the Villa Corsini, dominating the Porta San Pancrazio. Unless they could be dislodged, they held the key to Rome, and the fall of the city was only a question of time. At the sound of the distant guns Garibaldi sprang from his bed, and, forgetting his disablements, took charge of the operations by which it was hoped to regain the vital positions.

It was a forlorn hope. The storming parties had to pass out along a road exposed to the fusillade of the French, and before they could reach the villa had to rush up a slope to the garden gate. The narrow entrance was swept by the enemy's fire, and the chance of the assailants getting through was exceedingly small. The grounds of the villa formed a triangle of which the gate was the apex, so that, in attempting to make their way in, the Italians found themselves in a veritable death-trap. Division after division was sent up, the men dropping by scores, and the bodies of dead comrades were piled up as a screen from the hail of bullets. Both sides performed prodigies of valor, and several times the villa was taken and retaken. Unhappily, the position when captured could not be long held, because the French, in falling back, could concentrate their fire from a yet more extended line.

Garibaldi, impressed with the necessity of not letting the enemy remain in possession of the villa, seems at one moment to have completely lost his head, since he called for twenty volunteers to essay the impossible. Emilio Dandolo with a score of bersaglieri responded to the insane challenge, but it was a wanton sacrifice. Twelve of the brave men struggled to the vestibule, fired, and then turned. Six only gained the Vascello—a country-house so called from its resemblance to a vessel—at the foot of the hill. At the end of the day the French held the Villa Corsini and the Villa Valentini. The latter position had been taken by the bersaglieri, but at nightfall they were compelled to abandon it, no support being forthcoming. The Italians continued to occupy the Vascello, which was held by Garibaldi's South American friend Medici till Rome was in the crisis of its fate and Medici and his men marched into the city which was in sore need of them.

The failure of the operations was redeemed by the splendid conduct of the troops, which largely consisted of mere striplings. It was already dusk when the General ordered the last attack on the shapeless ruin of the Villa Corsini; and among those who took part in the assault was Mameli, the boy-poet of Genoa. Long after, Garibaldi wrote to Mameli's mother the following description of what occurred:

"It was towards evening, when Mameli, whom I had kept at my side the greater part of the day as my adjutant, besought me earnestly to let him go forward into the heat of the battle, as his position near me seemed to him inglorious. In a few minutes he was carried back past me gravely wounded, but radiant, his face shining because he had shed his blood for his country. We did not exchange a word, but our eyes met with the love that had long bound us together. I remained behind. He went on, as though in triumph."

Mameli lingered for a month in hospital and then died. His fellow-citizen, the "fiery Bixio," who had been shot through the body, was the boy's companion in suffering, but survived to win more glory.

Another hero was the boy-officer Morosini, a great favorite of his regiment, who fell in the last assault on Rome by the French on June 30. Morosini was leader of a detachment told off to defend the Casa Merluzzo against the expected onset of the French. The enemy proved irresistible, and the young officer was seriously wounded. Four of his men, bersaglieri, were conveying him from the spot, when they were overtaken by a fresh party of the foe, whose orders were to give no quarter. Not being aware of this brutal edict, the Lombards prepared to surrender, but the enemy were not to be denied. The rest may be told in the words of Emilio Dandolo, who had captained the noble twenty:

"Finding themselves again surrounded, and their lives threatened, rendered ferocious by the combat, they laid down the litter, and attempted to cut their way through the ranks of their opponents. Then, strange to say, the poor lad was seen to rise and stand erect on his bloody couch, grasping the sword that had lain by his side. He continued to defend his already ebbing life until, struck a second time in the body, he fell once more. Moved by the sight of so much courage, and such misfortune, the French conveyed him to their hospital in the trenches."

On the following day he died, not before he had won the hearts of his captors by his fortitude and Christian resignation. General Oudinot was touched and wrote to the lad's mother, telling her of his last hours. To her and to his sisters Morosini had been devoted. Friends had implored the mother to keep the boy at home, but she had answered, "I give my country the best I have, my only and dearly-loved son." Perhaps she had had misgivings that she would see him no more; at any rate, she was prepared for the sacrifice now rendered complete.

We return to the larger drama, in which the principal actors were Mazzini and Garibaldi. The two leaders held divergent views as to the proper course to be pursued when it became evident that Rome could not be successfully defended. It was the statesman's desire that the city should hold out to the bitter end, that the young republic should perish fighting. He thought of the future, not merely of the present, and believed that the blood spilt in unavailing defiance of impending doom would be the seed of a free and united Italy. The soldier, more practical, was for quitting Rome as untenable and renewing the contest in the mountains. Mazzini was so far in the right that the longer the siege continued, the greater was the exasperation against the Pope, who was being restored to his throne by foreign arms. It was a common occurrence, when a shell burst, for the people to exclaim, "Ecco un Pio Nono" ("There goes a Pio Nono"). Even if the pontiff regained power for a time, how many years would elapse before he could hope to assuage the resentment provoked by the bitter experience?

Meanwhile the miners and sappers were at work, and breaches in the defenses gradually opened the way for the final effort of June 29-30. The enemy's task had never been easy, and they were not to vanquish the survivors of the republican army without frightful losses. The detachment that had attacked the wounded Morosini, pushing on to the Spada, encountered a destructive volley from the bersaglieri under their Swiss captain, Hoffstetter, and fell back. Meanwhile Garibaldi had left this position; sword in hand, and crying "Orsi! Questa? l'ultima prova!" ("Come on! This is the last trial!"), he had sped in the direction of the Merluzzo, where all was confusion. To his shame and dismay he found many of the Italians in headlong flight. The sight of their commander steadied them. Shouting a popular hymn, Garibaldi hurled himself into the thick of the fight, and was gallantly supported by his Red-Shirts, who fought on doggedly in the darkness with bayonet and butt-end of rifle, knife and lance. Hardly any of the Bolognese horsemen survived that fatal night.

On the morning of the 30th the French captured the Spada after nearly all the defenders had been killed or wounded. Once more, however, Garibaldi led his legionaries and a company of Pasi's infantry against the French positions, and severe hand-to-hand fighting ensued. It was in vain—the enemy could not be dislodged. Matters had become extremely critical. Most of Garibaldi's brave lieutenants were hors de combat. Dandolo and Hoffstetter were wounded; Manara, the knightly commander of the bersaglieri, lay dying in hospital. Garibaldi himself seemed to bear a charmed life, but his faithful black, Aguyar, had been killed by a shell as he was crossing a street.

At noon the Assembly of the Roman republic was summoned to the Capitol to deliberate on the situation. Further defense of the city was useless, and Garibaldi counseled his countrymen to transfer army and Government to the wilds. "Dovunque saremo cola sari Roma" ("Where we are there Rome will be"), he told them. The Assembly would not listen to him, and decided to surrender.

Before proceeding with the narrative we must not omit to record the noble part borne by an American lady, Margaret Fuller, in this agonizing struggle for freedom. Naturally her work lay among the wounded, and she admirably seconded the unremitting efforts of the patriotic Doctor Bertani to lessen their misery. How welcome her presence must have been to the victims of war may be gathered from the following passage written by herself toward the middle of June:

"Since April 30 I go daily to the hospitals, and though I have suffered—for I had no idea before how terrible gun-shot wounds and wound fever are—yet I have taken pleasure, and great pleasure, in being with the men. There is scarcely one who is not moved to a noble spirit. Many, especially among the Lombards, are the flower of the Italian youth. When they begin to get better, I carry them books and flowers; they read and we talk. The palace of the Pope on the Quirinal is now used for convalescents. In those beautiful gardens I walk with them—one with his sling, another with his crutch."

It is sad to relate that a twelvemonth later this charming and benevolent lady was drowned at sea.

Another heroine was the Princess Belgiojoso, who had been a distinguished figure in Parisian society, and was now devoting her energies to the care of her wounded countrymen. When not at the bedside of the boy-poet Mameli, she was often to be found reading Charles Dickens to other patients.

In sheer heroism, however, both women were eclipsed by Garibaldi's splendid wife Anita, whose rare fortitude, sufferings and death compose one of the great stories of the world. It was not by any means at Garibaldi's desire that she appeared on this scene of dreadful carnage. She had her small children to look to, and another was soon to be born. Husband and wife had parted at Rieti on April 13, when she had gone back to Nice to be with his mother. On June 21 Garibaldi had written to her, "Get well; kiss mamma and the babies for me," but Anita did not receive his letter. Before it arrived she had left Nice for Rome, and on the 26th she burst into the Spada, where her astonished husband received her gladly. She reached Rome only four days before the Assembly resolved to capitulate.