Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell

Red Rome

The Neapolitan Government was not alone in threatening the life of the nascent republic. The Catholic Powers—Austria, France, and Spain—breathed vengeance against the upstarts who had dared to perpetrate this outrage on the Holy See; and it became a race between them which should be first to restore the ancient order. Even our Times joined in denouncing the revolutionists, who were supposed to have inherited the criminal violence of the Parisian Reds. There was not the least foundation for this belief, for Mazzini, the master-spirit of the movement, whose influence at Rome was then paramount, would hear of no war of classes or interference with the rights of property. The spiritual authority of the Pope was recognized and guaranteed. The Church enjoyed absolute freedom.

After the battle of Novara, March 23, the Austrians under Radetzky marched into the Romagna; and on April 25 a French force consisting of eight or ten thousand men, and commanded by General Oudinot, disembarked at Civita Vecchia, forty miles to the northwest of Rome. Garibaldi was recalled, and on the afternoon of the 27th entered Rome, at the head of his legion, amid the cries of the citizens—"He has come! he has come!" The spectacle was witnessed by the sculptor Gibson who writes as follows:

"The men, sunburnt, with long, unkempt hair, wearing conical-shaped hats with black waving plumes; their gaunt, dust-soiled faces framed with shaggy beards; their legs bare; crowding round their chief, who rode a white horse, perfectly statuesque in virile beauty; the whole group looking more like a group of brigands out of some picture of Salvator Rosa than a disciplined force."

Bare legs were not characteristic of Garibaldi's followers, who are usually depicted in long trousers. Gibson, however, must have seen some whose clothing had suffered the misfortunes of war.

The legion was quartered in the huge convent of San Silvestro in Capite, from which the occupants—four or five nuns—were expelled; and very soon the whole city was stirred to its depths by the erection of barricades and the continual sound of the drum. Included in the population was a large foreign artistic community—English, Dutch, Belgians, etc.—and nearly all threw in their lot with the defenders. In the evening, after every battle, they met in the cafes and light-heartedly discussed their escapes at pleasant little suppers.

On April 29 the Lombard bersaglieri, led by a gallant young Milvese aristocrat, Luciano Manara, marched into the city. The regiment had been detained by the French at Civita Vecchia and Manara had promised neutrality, but he had felt himself justified in breaking his word. With this reinforcement the army of defense amounted to from seven to nine thousand men.

Oudinot advance with a small body of infantry, confident that he had only to show himself and the gates would be thrown open to him. When the head of his column arrived a discharge of grape from two cannon planted on the walls dissipated this dream of instant surrender. The French attempted to storm the Porta Cavalleggieri and the Porta Angelica, but were repulsed with awful slaughter. Garibaldi then assumed the offensive with his advance-guard of Roman students and artists, and these young men, who had never been in action, were pitted against the French twentieth regiment of the line. The enemy had the advantage alike in numbers and discipline, which soon began to tell. The Garibaldian legion was hurried up in support, but this also was forced back, with the exception of certain detachments which held on with grim determination in the neighborhood of the Villa Pamfili.

A supreme effort was demanded to ward off a reverse. So Garibaldi called up his reserves, and eight hundred veterans of the Roman Legion, who had served in the Lombard campaign of the previous year, marched out and joined the Garibaldians. Placing himself at the head of these troops on his famous white horse, Garibaldi led them in furious charges up the Corsini hill and through the rose-gardens. The French offered a stout but vain resistance, and toward the close of the afternoon Oudinot ordered a retreat. At five o'clock the victory of the Italians was complete.

The same evening Rome was illuminated, and Garibaldi was deemed to have justified the confidence reposed by his countrymen in his generalship. He was eager to finish the business by driving the French into the sea, but Mazzini held him back. The pride of that great and powerful nation had been sorely wounded, and the statesman thought it bad policy to aggravate the situation.

The morrow of the fight witnessed scenes of chivalry hardly to be paralleled in the annals of warfare. The French wounded were tended with an affectionate sympathy for which Oudinot expressed the deepest gratitude, while the prisoners were released unconditionally. The show of kindness called for a return on the part of the French, the last people to allow themselves to be outdone in acts of courtesy. They responded by permitting three hundred Bolognese detained on the coast to go forward and join their fellow 'bandits' at Rome. Father Bassi had been captured on the battlefield, whilst discharging his pious duty to the wounded; and he, too, was set at liberty.



In contrast with this mutual regard on the part of the combatants, the French Government behaved with mean and almost incredible duplicity, sending M. de Lesseps to Rome to mediate between the patriots and the Pope, but with neither belief nor hope that his mission would be fruitful. The real object was to gain time for the dispatch of reinforcements; and, in order to prevent further blunders, the brilliant engineer, General Vaillant, was to take over the command from the brave, but incompetent, Oudinot.

After the French, the Neapolitans. The Pope, as we have seen, had fled to them and preferred to owe his restoration to his neighbors rather than to the French. King 'Bomba' was encamped with ten thousand men at Frascati and by the Alban Lake, but his troops, though making a fine show on parade, were of no high military quality, and such was the contempt of the revolutionists for this section of their opponents that they deemed it enough to send Garibaldi with two thousand three hundred men to obstruct their advance. That experienced campaigner was aware that he could only redress the disparity in numbers by the superior mettle of his followers, and by disconcerting tactics; and he was neither boastful nor imprudent.

Some students belonging to his force entered a house in search of wine. Riding up to them, Garibaldi exclaimed, "What! You have been but a few hours out of town, and must call for wine. I lived for five years on flesh and water." They replied with shouts of "Evviva Garibaldi!", but the general repressed their excitement. "Silence!" he commanded. "It is no time for cheers. When we have defeated the enemy, then we will cheer."

We have not yet introduced to our readers Garibaldi's negro satellite, Aguyar, a splendid specimen of his race, who had followed his master from Uruguay. A giant in stature, he rode a horse as black as himself, and wore a dark blue tunic. In dress and personal appearance he presented a marked contrast to Garibaldi, whose hair was golden, and whose horse and tunic were both white.

The General had brought with him from South America not only Aguyar, but methods of warfare, which he now put into practice. Such were night marches and suggestions of attack in a direction totally different from that in which the stroke was actually to fall. He was soon a fearful bugbear to the Neapolitans. Once, it is true, they succeeded in defeating a small body of irregulars near Monte Porzio, but the victory cost them so dear that they were fain to retire to Frascati. In another little engagement Friar Bassi distinguished himself by riding up to the enemy and preaching to them on the sinfulness of bearing arms against their country.

An important action occurred on May 9 at Palestrina. Before the Neapolitans had time to develop their attack, the Garibaldians fell upon them, and the right wing of the Southerners was quickly fleeing in confusion from Manara's bersaglieri—the Round Hats, as they called them. Their left wing was disposed of less easily and had to be dislodged from some houses at the point of the bayonet. There was a critical moment in the engagement when the Neapolitan cavalry charged, but in three hours the affair was at an end and 'Bomba's' army in full retreat to Frascati, effectually discouraged from further undertakings.

After the battle of Palestrina the distinction of the Red Shirt, which had hitherto been confined, in Italy, to the officers of Garibaldi's staff, was extended to the students and workmen transformed into soldiers. At first it was worn like a French blouse, but in later campaigns it was tucked into the trousers in the same way as an English shirt. In some cases it resembled a military tunic garnished with large buttons. In so far as it served as a bond of union, the camicia rossa was of great symbolical value, but from a practical military standpoint it was open to the grave objection that it rendered the wearers an easy mark for the sharpshooters in the different armies to which they were opposed.

King 'Bomba's' forces were still on the soil of the Republic, and about the middle of May ten or eleven thousand troops moved forward to expel them. This time Garibaldi was not in supreme command, which had been given to a conventional soldier called Rosselli. The former, however, accompanied the expedition as General of Division, and his genius and energy could not be put in the shade by official superiority. Wisely, perhaps, Rosselli refused to make a frontal attack on the Alban Hills, but such a course proved unnecessary. The Neapolitans hastily evacuated their positions and began to retreat. Garibaldi pushed on to embarrass the movement, and engaged the enemy with his advance guard. Meanwhile he sent a message to Rosselli for reinforcements. As a subordinate officer, Garibaldi had no right to commit his chief to a line of action on which he had been not even consulted, yet Rosselli had no choice but to comply. Garibaldi's moral authority, as he knew, exceeded his own, and the enthusiasm of the army could not be held in check.

Still, the danger was evident or soon made evident. Some forty lancers, chasing the enemy down the Volmontone road, encountered a solid body of cavalry and retired precipitately. Garibaldi and his huge negro planted themselves in their way, and presently there was a confused heap of men and horses, over which the enemy's cavalry rode in triumph. They were driven off by a small party of legionaries, most of them boys of fourteen or a little older. "I believe," writes Garibaldi, "that my safety was chiefly due to those gallant boys, since with men and horses passing over my body I was so bruised that I could not move."

Notwithstanding this mishap, the Battle of Velletri was another feather in Garibaldi's cap. Rosselli, when he came upon the scene, was furious at the breach of discipline and probably not too well pleased that Father Bassi should have been employed as aide-de-camp. He peremptorily forbade further movements. The work, however, had been done. The Neapolitans had had enough of it, and, except for the Swiss regiments, were completely demoralized. They called Garibaldi the Red Devil, and the formidable black, his shadow. When the Republicans crossed the border, they found the inhabitants in a similar state of panic. These people had been taught to regard the revolutionists as ogres, who ate children and amused themselves by burning houses. By and by they were reassured by Father Bassi's presence and influence, and the perfect order that prevailed; and descending from the mountains in which they had taken refuge, reopened their houses and shops.