Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas. — Joseph Stalin

Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell

To Palermo!

To "impose morally on the enemy," Landi sent Sforza and his cacciatori to occupy an elevated position known to the Italians as the Pianto dei Romani (Weeping of the Romans). In the Sicilian dialect the name appears to have signified "the vineyards of the Romani family "; and the steep side of the hill was seamed with terraces suited to the cultivation of the grape. Though Sforza's orders had been to impose on the enemy morally, he deemed himself strong enough to risk an engagement, and the result was the battle of Calatafimi, in which the Neapolitans attacked, but were presently forced up the slope by a succession of bayonet charges.

Twice that day Garibaldi owed his life to the devotion of his followers. A sailor of Ancona named Elia was cruelly wounded in the mouth by a bullet which, if he had not barred its flight, must have laid the General low. At another time, when Garibaldi was surrounded by the enemy, it was Sirtori who rushed to his assistance.

Gradually the summit was approached, but there the enemy, whose supports had come up, were in great force and by no means out of heart. Even Bixio, the bravest of the brave, deemed it necessary to sound the retreat, but Garibaldi would not listen to the proposal. "Here," said he, "we make Italy or die." It has been urged by some critics that similarly Buller should have pushed on at all costs at the battle of Colenso, since a defeat of the Boers at that stage of the campaign would probably have ended their resistance. But the cases are not quite parallel, as the destruction of the British army would have entailed the loss of Natal and the re-conquest of South Africa, while the failure of Garibaldi's expedition would have given the Neapolitans no firmer hold on the hinterland than they had before. On the other hand, the prestige of the party of freedom would have been ruined for a generation, and that was no small matter.

In every crisis something must be allowed to temperament, and Garibaldi, in the heat of action, was not wont to weigh possibilities too nicely. He had an instinctive feeling that if once the Neapolitans were overcome, they would lose their morale and would never rally again. The General himself, sword in hand, led the final charge ; and the enemy, unable to withstand the fury of the assault, abandoned the plateau and were soon in full flight to Calatafimi, which Landi did not attempt to defend. Indeed, he and his beaten army did not pause until they were safe within the gates of Palermo. We have noted that it took them six days to march from Palermo to Alcamo. The retreat was accomplished in twenty-four hours! The whole countryside had risen upon them, and horrible scenes were enacted, especially at Partinico and Montelepre, where the royal troops lost part of their baggage. It was exactly as Garibaldi had foreseen—the Neapolitans were thoroughly discouraged. But Sforza's men had fought magnificently; Garibaldi himself bears witness to the fact.

"The enemy, who yielded to the bayonet charges of my old Cacciatori delle Alpi, dressed in plain clothes, fought valiantly, and only yielded their positions after fierce fighting hand-to-hand. The battles we sustained in Lombardy were certainly less hardly contested than the battle of yesterday. The Neapolitans, when they exhausted their cartridges, threw stones at us like madmen.

"I must confess that the Neapolitans fought like lions, and certainly I have not had in Italy a battle so fierce nor adversaries so brave. From this you can guess what was the courage of my old Cacciatori delle Alpi and the good Sicilians who fought with us."

On May 17 the Garibaldians marched from Calatafimi to Alcamo, and two days later obtained their first sight of Palermo. Between the plateau of Renda (at which they had arrived overnight) and the city stretched a broad and richly cultivated plain bearing the romantic name of Conca d'Oro (Golden Shell), from its groves of orange and lemon. Much had been accomplished, but the crucial question still remained—How was Palermo to be entered by a few hundred heroes in the face of a huge garrison of thirty thousand men behind ramparts? It turned out that the Neapolitans had no intention of allowing the invaders to solve the problem at their leisure, for on May 21 the Swiss colonel, Von Mechel, seconded by a Neapolitan officer, Major Bosco, marched out with a considerable force, and drove back the skirmishers of the Thousand, while two other columns began operations against the squadre, which they dispersed, killing their leader Pilo.

Garibaldi had no choice but to quit Renda and join hands with a larger body of squadre at Parco, on the southern verge of the Conca d'Oro. Thence he ordered a retreat to the Piano dei Greci (Plain of the Greeks), a level alp about two thousand feet above the sea. There he was deserted by many of the Sicilians who were convinced that the game was up. No doubt the position was one of great peril. Two battalions under Colonna were on the line of retreat from Parco, whilst Von Mechel's four battalions might, by a rapid movement, have fallen on Garibaldi's flank. Von Mechel, however, though a tough fighter, was tardy, while Colonna, instead of continuing the pursuit, saw fit to return to Palermo.

Reaching the Piano dei Greci on May 25, Von Mechel was informed that Garibaldi had marched in the direction of Corleone, and accordingly he advanced on that town. There he came in contact with a detachment of Garibaldi's allies under an artillery officer named Orsini, and captured two guns. More than ever persuaded that he was on the right track, he prosecuted his march beyond Corleone, but for the second time found that Garibaldi had given him the slip; and on May 28 Von Mechel received the news that the enemy whom he believed himself to be pursuing had entered Palermo and were fighting in the streets of the capital!

What had happened was as follows. On May 25, an hour before midnight, the Thousand had marched into Misilmeri, where a large force of squadre had been assembled by La Masa, and on the following day Garibaldi took the opinion of the Sicilian leaders as to the best line of action. "A Palermo! A Palermo!" rang the voices of most of them, but they were not men of military experience, and it may well be doubted whether trained officers would have sanctioned what everybody knew would be the next move, except as a forlorn hope. The Sicilians claimed the post of honor, and it was agreed that they should march in front of the North Italians. This unfortunate concession, which it must have been difficult to avoid, endangered the success of the enterprise, but the mistake was neutralized, to some extent, by the formation of an advance guard of scouts and pickets drawn from each company of the Thousand. The route chosen was not the public highway, but a more direct road leading from the summit of Gibilrossa Pass on toward Ciacalli, and thence into the Conca d'Oro.

While Garibaldi was at Misilmeri he received a visit from a Hungarian named Eber, who was acting as correspondent for the English Times, who gave him to understand that the most vulnerable point—the Achilles' heel of the Palermitan defenses—was on the side of Gibilrossa. For this reason Garibaldi resolved to assault the so-called Porta Termini, but all chance of surprising the enemy was destroyed by the frantic behavior of Rotolo's Sicilians in shouting and firing off their guns. When, therefore, the Garibaldian vanguard under Tukory, a brave Hungarian, made a dash on the Ponte dell' Ammiraglio, they encountered a murderous reception. The brave fellows quailed, but did not fall back. The three thousand Sicilians, on the other hand, disappeared like magic into the vineyards that lined both sides of the road.

Then the voice of Garibaldi was heard crying "Avanti, Cacciatori, avanti! Entrate nel centro!" ("Forward, my men, forward! Make your way into the heart of the city!"). The Genoese carbineers and the two leading companies of Bixio's battalions responded like heroes, and after a desperate struggle hurled back the enemy. Over a mile distant was the spot known as the Porta Termini—there had been a gate there once—and thither the bulk of the Thousand raced, Garibaldi and a few of the staff remaining to fetch out the runaways from the vineyards.

The Porta Termini was defended by a high barricade, and the credit of pulling it down belongs especially to Bixio, who, though he carried a bullet in his breast, would not relax his efforts until a passage was cleared. Tukory, alas! was mortally wounded. Garibaldi, still shouting "Avanti! Avanti!" led the way into the city on horseback; and what was left of the Thousand followed him without flinching to the Fiera Vecchia (Old Market-place). The road was slippery with blood and the Sicilians did not like cross-fires, but, in point of fact, the royalists were poor rifle-shots. In order to convince the peasants that the danger was much less than they supposed, Francesco Carbone, a Genoese lad of seventeen, sat down on a chair with the tricolor unfurled above it, and calmly exposed himself to the Neapolitan bullets.

This exhibition had a good effect, and from that moment the squadre showed more and more determination and courage. The city population also rose, and barricades were erected, first of carriages and household furniture, and then of large paving stones. Street-fighting proceeded continuously; and on the third day, May 29, a battle raged in the Archbishop's Palace and in the Cathedral. After a stubborn conflict the Neapolitans got the upper hand, and it was reported to Garibaldi that they were advancing into the middle of the city. Taking fifty men with him, mostly civilians, the General ordered his bugler to sound the charge, and the enemy were driven in headlong flight to the Cathedral.

The losses of the Neapolitans had been serious, but not serious enough to provoke thoughts of surrender. They were suffering, however, from a shortage of provisions. General Lanza, therefore, humbled himself so far as to address a note to "his Excellency General Garibaldi." But for his straits it may be doubted whether the Neapolitan commander would have adopted this courteous style. It is true Garibaldi had served in the Piedmontese army with the brevet of a major-general, but Cavour not having openly supported the expedition, its leader was technically a filibuster and might be considered to have forfeited his temporary rank and distinction,

Lanza suggested that a conference should take place between two of his officers and Garibaldi, on board the flagship of the English Admiral, Sir Rodney Mundy. An armistice was arranged, which was to commence at noon the same day (May 30), and Garibaldi, in company with the Neapolitan officers—who would have preferred separate accommodation—proceeded in a boat of H.M.S. Hannibal to the English man-o'-war, where both sides were saluted with equal honor by a guard of marines. Garibaldi had donned for the occasion the uniform of a Piedmontese general—a proceeding quite in harmony with his secret understanding with Cavour.


Admiral Mundy had protested against the bombardment of Palermo by the Neapolitan warships, and throughout the affair had acted as moderator in the interests of humanity, but the conduct of the British consul seems equally to deserve mention. Old Mr. Goodwin, who had for forty years served his country in that capacity in Italy, was implored to take refuge on board the Hannibal during the bombardment, but steadfastly refused. Over the balcony of the consulate floated the red English ensign, and the area was packed with a multitude of women and children, who felt that there, if anywhere, they might expect safety. Once Mr. Goodwin was asked by Maniscalco, the chief of police, if he did not think it right that people who rebelled against their lawful rulers should be annihilated. White with indignation, the Englishman expressed surprise that such a question should have been addressed to him, but, as Signor Maniscalco had chosen to consult him, he felt bound to reply that tyranny on the part of a government always gave just cause for armed insurrection.

On the very morning of the conference Von Mechel arrived, and overcoming a small guard of Sicilians posted at the Porta Termini, forced his way to the Fiera Vecchia—the identical route that had been followed by Garibaldi. One of his battalions, consisting of Bavarians, was the finest in the army, and the whole force was in splendid condition. The Hungarian, General Turr, conversing many years afterward with Mr. G. M. Trevelyan, remarked, "If Von Mechel had arrived a day earlier, we should have been lost." As it was, the gallant Swiss was with difficulty restrained from prosecuting his advantage, and paid little heed to the remonstrances of Lieutenant Wilmot, who pointed out that a breach of the truce would implicate the British admiral. Lanza's officers, who had been charged with the General's note to Garibaldi, then appeared, and, after listening to their explanations Von Mechel reluctantly suspended operations, though he would not recede from the position he had captured. It seems that for a short time Lanza and his staff were half disposed to ignore the truce and seize the opportunity to effect the reconquest of the city. Finally more honorable counsels prevailed, and in the afternoon the conference took place, as arranged.

There were present not only the representatives of the contending forces, but the British, French, American, and Piedmontese admirals. The Neapolitans proposed that the people of Palermo should address a humble petition to King Francis, the feeble successor of Ferdinand, defining their wishes; but Garibaldi emphatically rejected the suggestion, and the conference broke up without result. Garibaldi now seriously thought of a retreat over the mountains, partly because he was in great want of ammunition. During the night, however, a Greek vessel put in with a cargo of powder; and meanwhile the populace worked with a will to hem in Von Mechel with barricades.

Lanza fully intended to attack at noon, May 31, but on ascertaining that Von Mechel was isolated and the Palermitans in a mood to resist to the uttermost, he agreed to extend the armistice. The Government of Naples was consulted, and at length, on June 6, terms of capitulation were signed. The royal forces were to evacuate the Palace and other parts of the city immediately, the sole exception being the Castellamare, which, with its six prisoners of state, was to be handed over to Garibaldi later. The garrison was to march out with the honors of war. It numbered twenty thousand men, while of Garibaldi's Thousand only three hundred and ninety remained.

On June 18 Medici arrived in the Gulf of Castellamare, twenty-five miles west of Palermo, with a well-equipped force of three thousand five hundred, too late to assist in the capture of the city. Splendid as was that achievement, however, it was not the conclusion of Garibaldi's enterprise; and the new contingent was a welcome addition to his attenuated army. On the following day the last detachment of Neapolitans embarked for the mainland, their departure being watched by huge crowds of citizens; and at the same time the Castellamare was surrendered to Garibaldi. There, in a little room over the gateway, Baron Riso and five young nobles, with their parents and other relations, were ushered into the presence of their deliverer, who, it was observed, had tears in his eyes.