Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell

Return to Italy

As 'Borel' Garibaldi had kept up a correspondence with 'Young Italy'; and in 1844 he learnt to his sorrow that Bandiera and Ricciotti, leaders of an abortive revolution, had been taken and shot by the Neapolitan Government. In honor of the last-named patriot he caused his younger son to be christened Ricciotti. In 1847 events seemed to be tending rapidly in the direction he so much desired. The new Pope, Pio Nono, was in favor of reform, and Garibaldi dreamed that either his Holiness or the Grand Duke of Tuscany would request his aid in driving the Austrians from Milan. Already his name was a household word in Italy. In the month of May 1848 a Dutch artist was in a cafe at Rome and heard an Italian remark, "Garibaldi is coming back from Montevideo." "Who is Garibaldi?" he asked. At the cost of a few pence he procured a copy of a pamphlet containing a portrait of the hero and an account of his exploits, which struck him as a fairy tale. A year later the artist, who was called Koelman, had become one of Garibaldi's most ardent admirers, and was periling his life for Italian freedom.

It was quite true—Garibaldi was returning. He set sail in the Speranza on April 15, 1848, accompanied by a number of his comrades, and after a safe voyage arrived at Nice. Here he had the pleasure once more of seeing his old mother; here also he was rejoined by Anita and their children, who had been sent to Genoa beforehand, that course being deemed safer. The whole city was delirious with joy and Garibaldi was supremely happy. Ere long, however, a dark cloud lowered. His true-hearted friend Anzani, who had fought by his side in so many battles and crossed the broad Atlantic to help in his greatest enterprise, sickened and died at Genoa, almost his last words being addressed to young Medici, between whom and the leader there had been differences. "Do not be hard on Garibaldi," he said; "he is a man of destiny. A great part of the future of Italy depends upon him, and it will be a gross error to abandon him."

At the time of their landing the liberators were not aware that the people of Milan had risen, and after five days of street fighting had flung Radetzky's twenty thousand Austrians out of their city. At home the Austrian Empire seemed on the brink of collapse—Hungary and Bohemia had separated from it, and Vienna was seething with disaffection. Moreover, France and Germany were in the throes of revolution. All the nations whose interference might have been dreaded were preoccupied with their own affairs; and so, it appeared, the 'psychological moment ' had arrived for striking the fetters off the beautiful country of Garibaldi's birth. Alas! the Italians were disunited. Local factions, so harmful in Dante's time, were still the order of the day; and there was, besides, a broad division of opinion on the question of what form of government should succeed the existing constitutions. Some declared for a group of republics, while others looked for the union of Italy under the House of Savoy.

Garibaldi was a republican, not only then, but always; but he was no political fanatic, and preferred the interests of his country to a doctrine. Accordingly, he repaired to the headquarters of Charles Albert, the ruler of Piedmont, and offered his sword to him. Unfortunately that monarch was content with a polite acknowledgment; Garibaldi's services were declined. This rebuff may have pained, but did not dishearten him. The next step was to seek employment at Milan, where he met with better success, although his talent for command was not put to the highest use. As a matter of fact, he was sent with a small, ill-equipped force to Bergamo, and was in no position to influence the course of the war.

Charles Albert and the Provisional Government at Milan between them made a desperate hash of the campaign, and in a short time the Austrians were back again in the city, of which they remained the masters. Garibaldi himself continued the struggle in the Alps, but though he gave proof of capacity in little affairs at Luino and Morazzone, the odds against him were too great, and he was compelled to cross the border into Switzerland. The defeat of the royal forces at Custoza had put off the realization of Italian freedom for many years.

The Pope had proved a broken reed. He had gone so far as to appoint laymen to ministerial posts, but he shrank with holy horror from sanctioning the designs of twelve thousand Italians who had mustered in the Romagna with a stern resolve to fight for their rights. On April 29, 1848, he had published a solemn allocution, in which he disowned all thought of waging war on Austria. After that he forfeited the confidence of all honest patriots, and although the ignorant peasants were generally loyal, there was in Rome itself, especially in the slums of Trastevere, a party of opposition. It was led by a man of the people, a handsome wine-carrier, nicknamed Ciceruacchio, or 'the Plump Un.'

On the failure of the campaign in the Alps, Garibaldi turned his thoughts to Sicily, where the infamous 'Bomba' (Ferdinand II) was committing prodigies of misgovernment. This despot, whose detestable methods were exposed by Gladstone in his famous Letters to Lord Aberdeen, is stated to have earned the name 'Bomba' (shell) not by his corpulence, but by his massacre of the inhabitants of Messina, which he bombarded during the first seven days of September 1848. In the following month Garibaldi set sail for the island with seventy of his comrades, but at Leghorn was persuaded to go ashore and take part in proceedings on the mainland.

In August the Austrians had delivered an attack on Bologna, a Papal city; and although it had been repulsed by the populace, this fresh encroachment aroused the fiercest indignation, not only in the Romagna, but in Tuscany. Marching to Florence, the Garibaldians met with a warm welcome, but were joined by few recruits, and when they reached Filigari, on the Papal border, they numbered hardly more than a hundred. Here the way was barred by four hundred Swiss under the Papal general Zucchi, who not only commanded the adventurers to halt, but forbade their return through Tuscany.

Garibaldi was in an awkward fix. However, Zucchi went off to Ferrara, and during his absence the mob of Bologna arrived and carried Garibaldi to their city, whither in a few days he was allowed to fetch his men from Filigari. They did not enter the gates, but marched on in the direction of Ferrara. It should be explained that the people of Bologna at this time gave their allegiance to two democratic Barnabite friars, Father Gavazzi and Father Ugo Bassi; and Garibaldi owed his escape from his dilemma to Father Gavazzi, who was soon after arrested. It had been arranged that the Garibaldians should embark at Ravenna for Venice; and a body of lancers raised by a young Radical named Anlo Masina in the Romagna was to take ship at Comacchio for the same destination.

Neither commander was in the least disposed to ratify the bargain. About this time Rossi, the Pope's minister and a friend of Zucchi, was assassinated at Rome by Luigi Brunetti, elder son of the tribune Ciceruacchio; and on November 24 the Pope fled from his capital in the disguise of a simple priest, and sought the protection of King 'Bomba' at Gaeta. Zucchi and his men were so demoralized by these events that Garibaldi and Masina obtained a free hand in the Romagna, where the legion rapidly grew in numbers. Among the recruits were university students, also boys of fourteen and sixteen, who had run away from school; but most of them belonged to the artisan and shop-keeping classes, reinforced by a few peasants and some convicts. The last-mentioned contingent reflected no credit on the movement, but Garibaldi could not afford to be squeamish. It is only just to add that his discipline was severe, and the 'bandits,' as his followers were styled, were not allowed to rob or insult the clergy with impunity.

In mid-December Garibaldi and Masina paid a flying visit to Rome, which the former had not seen since he had accompanied his father to the city on the memorable occasion recorded in our first chapter. A procession to the Capitol was proposed, but Garibaldi set his face against all such melodramatic performances, knowing as he did full well that the struggle was not ended—only begun. In the course of his stay he made the acquaintance of the famous Ciceruacchio and other Republicans, but the members of the Provisional Government were not very cordial, and he returned to his troops in the Apennines rather discouraged.

In February 1849 Garibaldi was again in Rome. He had been elected to the Constituent Assembly as representative of Macerata in the Marches of Ancona, and on the 8th took part in the proclamation of the Roman Republic. In March the great Mazzini, Garibaldi's political foster-father, arrived, having been unanimously elected a naturalized citizen, or 'freeman,' as we should term it; and the task of organizing the new state devolved on his shoulders. He told his English and American friends that he was not hopeful that it would last—it had too many foes, within and without. At the moment the most formidable was King 'Bomba,' whose armies were soon massing on the Roman frontier; and this menace restrained the Republic from sending Garibaldi to the aid of Charles Albert, who was faring badly in his efforts against the Austrians. Before the summer was over that unfortunate monarch was dead, and his son, Victor Emmanuel, reigned in his stead.

From the end of January to the middle of April the Garibaldian legion, which ultimately numbered a thousand men, confronted the Neapolitans at Rieti; and its leader was joined by the saintly Friar Bassi as chaplain. Garibaldi induced him to discard his cassock for the distinctive red shirt worn by the other members of his staff, and the two men remained inseparable till the day the friar gave his life for Italy.