It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so. — Mark Twain

Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell




The 'English' Regiment

To go back a little—in June, 1860, there were at Genoa three steamers waiting to embark Giacomo Medici's expedition, which was being dispatched by Bertani's Central Committee to the aid of Garibaldi. The vessels had been purchased from a French company ostensibly for an American named De Rohan, who had warmly espoused the Italian cause, and were rechristened the Washington, the Oregon and the Franklin. Peard was to sail with these reinforcements, and he was accompanied on board the Washington by the United States Consul, who hauled up the Stars and Stripes. In the same vessel were Alberto Mario, an Italian of republican principles, and his English wife, Jessie White Mario, old friends of Mazzini and Garibaldi. The lady was the 'Florence Nightingale' of the later campaigns.

Weighing anchor at a point a little west of Genoa, the vessels proceeded to Cagliari in South Sardinia, and thence crossed to Castellamare—not to be confused with the prison of the same name at Palermo, which was just then dismantled by the inhabitants, who had so long dwelt in its baneful shadow. Garibaldi came to meet his friends, and on June 19 and the two following days the force, very elated, made its entry into Palermo, from which the remnant of the Neapolitan garrison was just withdrawing. The advent of this expedition was everything to Garibaldi, who intended the capture of Palermo to be preliminary to the clearance of the royal army from the whole of Sicily. Medici had brought with him not only a body of excellent troops, but from six thousand to eight thousand rifles and muskets and abundance of ammunition.

Garibaldi and his aides-de-camp took up their quarters in what was called the 'Observatory' of the Palace, situated over the Porta Nuova and connected with the main building by a terrace. On this terrace the ladies of Palermo delighted to pass the summer evenings, and there they were joined by the chiefs of the Garibaldian army and the officers of the British and Piedmontese navies. One evening the gay assembly witnessed a dramatic incident: the arrival on the terrace of eight young men—young, that is to say, in years, though their bent forms suggested old age and their eyes had a strained appearance, as if unable to bear the light. They were the only surviving members of Pisacane's force, with which, three years before, that leader had sailed from Genoa in an attempt to dispossess the Bourbons. Pisacane had been defeated and slain, and his fate had been shared by most of his comrades, but these eight had been taken prisoners and thrust into the dungeons of the island of Favignana. There they had pined till a short time previously, when the islanders, fired by the insurrectionary spirit, broke into the prison and released them. No sooner were they free than they went straight to Palermo, and begged permission to fight in the forefront of Garibaldi's army.

The first to meet them on the terrace was the long-bearded captain of the Genoese carabiniers, Antonio Mosto, who, in spite of their altered appearance, recognized his former comrades and willingly accorded them the favor they had come to seek. After that they were conducted to the Observatory and introduced to Garibaldi, who was profoundly affected. "This," said he, "is a type of life. We, whom fortune favored with victory, lodge in royal palaces. These brave fellows, because conquered, are buried in the vaults of Favignana. Yet the cause, the undertaking, the audacity was the same. The first honors are due to Pisacane. He led the way, and these brave fellows were our pioneers." One of the group, Nicotera, who had served as Pisacane's lieutenant, was dispatched to Tuscany to organize a new expedition. The remainder stayed with Garibaldi, and five of them died on the battlefield of Milazzo.

The famous French author Alexandre Dumas visited Garibaldi at Palermo. The writer of so many romances was anxious to see for himself the actors and the scenes that were the talk of half the world. Dumas had crossed over to Sicily in his yacht.

"Ah "said the General to him one day, "if I were rich, I would do like you. I would have a yacht."

Garibaldi was anything but rich. All he drew was ten francs a day, and this allowance was so far from meeting his expenses, that when he burnt a hole in his clothes he was perplexed to know how to provide himself with another outfit. Yet he was constantly handling immense sums of public money. Dumas had seen him sign a check for half a million francs, and was naturally much impressed by his patriotism and integrity.

The Sicilians did not contribute very liberally to the funds, and left something to be desired in the way of personal service. The squadre, for the most part, returned to their homes after or even before the surrender of Palermo, but thousands volunteered for the regular army and were drilled by native officers, aided by Englishmen and North Italians. These recruits were drawn almost exclusively from the lower orders, their 'betters' being inclined to stipulate for a commission as the price of their services. Doubtless there were many exceptions, but, speaking generally, the Sicilian aristocracy did not compare favorably with the noble families of North Italy, whose sons, in numberless instances, were proud to don the red shirt, and performed the most menial camp duties without a murmur.

Among the Englishmen who helped Garibaldi to infuse discipline into the raw levies was Colonel Dunne, who had been in command of the Turkish conscripts in the Crimea. Dunne had been commissioned by Cavour and La Farina to convey a message to Garibaldi in Sicily, which he did at great personal risk. He took with him on this errand an agent of Cavour named Scelzi, disguised as a servant; and landing in the north of the island, raised several hundred irregulars. After skirmishing with the Bourbon troops, the two entered Palermo with their troops several days before its formal capitulation. Dunne thereupon abandoned his squadre  and raised what was known as his 'English' regiment. It was composed of corner-boys at Palermo—not, it may be thought, very promising material. Thanks to his good training, however, these young loafers behaved with exemplary courage at Milazzo. A large number of them had been for a fortnight or three weeks in "Garibaldi's Foundling Hospital," conducted by Alberto Mario; and, imbued with a love of soldiering, they could not resist the temptation to enlist in Dunne's regiment, as milord, it was understood, would lead them ere long to the camp of 'Garibaldi.'

The new regiment was six hundred strong. In forming it into a disciplined force Dunne had the assistance of Wyndham, an Englishman who had served in the Austrian army, and a dozen or so of civilians, who had lately arrived from different parts of Great Britain and Ireland, full of enthusiasm for Garibaldi and anxious to help his cause. There were also some ex-sergeants of the Piedmontese army to leaven and instruct the immature mob.

The name of one Englishman in Dunne's regiment must on no account be left unmentioned—that of Mr. A. B. Patterson. Though only a youth of seventeen, he won great distinction in the ensuing campaign; and he recently supplied Mr. Trevelyan with an interesting account of the arming of the regiment and the style of fighting most in vogue. The squadre, he believes, carried smooth-bores, but Dunne's men, he is certain, had Enfield rifles. They had no target practice at Palermo, and were therefore not very expert in the use of their weapons, but this made little difference, as the firing was almost always at close quarters, when the men were about to attack the enemy in position. Patterson speaks highly of the 'heroic leading' of Garibaldi and his lieutenants, naming Dunne and Wyndham as among the best. To the splendid conduct of these officers victory was mainly due, as the royal troops were brave, excellently armed, and had the advantage of fighting under cover.

Having given some account of the forces at Garibaldi's disposal, and the methods by which they were trained to a certain degree of efficiency, our next business will be to describe the use our hero made of them in demolishing, once and for ever, the iniquitous rule of the Bourbons.