The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws. — Tacitus

Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell




British Tars and Irish Crusaders

The main body of the Bourbon army was encamped east of Capua. It consisted of some forty thousand men, and every day there were accessions to its numbers. The future course of events, therefore, was tolerably well defined. That so large a force, flushed with victory, would be content to sit idle, whilst Garibaldi decided the destinies of the kingdom, was inconceivable, and the General made his dispositions accordingly. The recent failure had proved how necessary was Garibaldi's presence on the scene of operations, and his magnetic influence over his followers is shown by an anecdote related by the late Rev. H. R. Haweis of a young Milanese noble whom he met at the siege of Capua:

"He was poorly equipped and almost in rags; he had nothing but a sword and pistol. 'What induced you,' I said, 'to give up ease and luxury for this life of a dog, in a camp without commissariat, pay, or rations? ' 'You may well ask,' he said. ' I tell you a fortnight ago I was in despair myself, and thought of giving up the whole thing. I was sitting on a hillock, as might be here. Garibaldi came by. He stopped, I don't know why. I had never spoken to him. I am sure he did not know me, but he stopped. Perhaps I looked very dejected, as indeed I was. Well, he laid his hand on my shoulder, and simply said, with that low, strange, smothered voice that seemed almost like a spirit speaking inside me, "Courage, courage! We are going to fight for our country." Do you think I could turn back after that? The next day we fought the battle of the Volturno.'"

Garibaldi, however, had not to depend on his countrymen alone. On September 27 he was very deficient in artillery, having only half a dozen field guns with which to besiege Capua. Batteries then arrived from Naples and were planted and entrenched at or near Sant' Angelo under the supervision of Dowling, two captains of artillery who had served in the Bourbon army, and a number of Piedmontese gunners. Strange to say, some of these batteries seem to have been worked by British seamen. There was on board H.M.S. Agamemnon at that time a young officer named Deane, who, with some midshipmen, went ashore on leave, and, having gone too near the Bourbon lines, was fired at. They ran toward the Garibaldian earthworks, and a rope having been thrown out, they were hauled up a mound protecting one of the batteries. Being then safe, they looked around and were much surprised to find that the features of the gunners who had rendered them such timely aid were strangely familiar; in fact, they bore a suspicious resemblance to those of certain seamen who had disappeared from the Agamemnon. Nothing appears to have been said, however, as all ranks, from the Admiral downward, eagerly longed for Garibaldi's success. This was shown a day or two later at the battle of the Volturno. Jessie White Mario had brought the General a glass of water and some figs, which, as he had been fasting all day, he gratefully accepted. While he was partaking of this refreshment, his eye fell on a party of British bluejackets from H.M.S. Hannibal on pleasure bent. They could not speak Italian, so they crowded around the English lady, plaguing her to obtain arms for them. Looking down from his horse, Garibaldi exclaimed laughingly, "What, Jessie! You are helping those fellows to desert their Queen." "Oh!" she replied' "they have only come to enjoy themselves."

Arms were not served out to them; but they were able to boast, on returning to their ship, that they had had some share of the sport. In a few minutes the Hungarian cavalry delivered a sort of Balaclava charge at the enemy's guns, and some of the Garibaldians, having observed a royal battery lying in the road near Sant' Agostino, dismounted, and rushing out from the cover of the Roman arch, endeavored to drag off the guns. In this attempt they were baffled, as they did not know how to remount them. Elated at the opportunity, the seamen from H.M.S. Hannibal hastened to assist them, and then was witnessed the scandalous sight of British seamen dragging the captured cannon into Santa Maria. Of course, such a breach of neutrality could not pass unregarded, and the act of indiscretion led to an exchange of diplomatic correspondence.

This little history has for its subject Garibaldi and his soldiers, whose achievements, considering that many of them were raw recruits, imperfectly armed and trained, and pitted against regular armies, may well cause wonderment. It must not be supposed, however, that all the chivalry, all the idealism, was on one side only. By way of exemplifying this statement we are tempted to make a brief reference to the crusaders, especially to the Irish contingent, whose gallant efforts in support of the Pope, however misguided we may deem them, deserve warm commendation.

In September the Papal States were invaded by the forces of Piedmont. Anticipating this step, his Holiness, who had fallen out with Napoleon III, gave ear to the counsels of a Belgian enthusiast, Monsignor de Merode, who thought that the best way of repelling an attack was to enlist a body of crusaders sworn to defend the Pope's temporal domains. In all about fifteen thousand men responded to the call, including Italian subjects of his Holiness, Frenchmen, Belgians, Austrians, and Irish. The Italians were the least satisfactory element, being half-hearted in the cause, and attracted principally by the pay. The six thousand Austrians were veterans, who might be relied upon to give a good account of themselves, whilst the French and Belgians were men of good family, holding strong legitimist principles. At Rome they actually raised cheers for Henri V of France outside the windows of Napoleon's officers. They adopted the name of the 'Papal Zouaves,' and the command of the entire army devolved on one of their number, the retired French general, Lamoriciere, who was a relative of De Merode.

But it is of the Irish that we wish more particularly to speak. Some hundreds of them were landed at Ancona, enrolled and drilled. Had they been anxious merely for a military career, richer prospects were open to them elsewhere, and, as Mr. Trevelyan puts it, they would have done better to accept the Queen's shilling. But their motive was zeal for the faith. Rough peasants, they were not easily brought under proper discipline, but, having been persuaded by their priests to submit to military requirements, they came to present a smart appearance in their green uniforms.

In no long time a detachment of these Celts was sent to garrison the Rocca, or medieval castle of Spoleto. Out of eight hundred defenders three hundred were Irish, and, apart from a sprinkling of French and Belgians, they did the main share of the fighting. The fortress was assailed by the Piedmontese under General Brignone, who, after shelling it, attempted to storm the gate. The Irish held their ground with stubborn tenacity, and hardly one of the enemy remained unscathed. The artillery fire, however, had caused much damage to the castle, and within .the walls ammunition was running short. For these reasons the Swiss and Italians forced Major O'Reilly and the 'bhoys' to cease their resistance.

It was much the same at Ancona, where the Governor, Quatrebarbes, was astounded at the courage of the Irish soldiers, and their officers had as much as they could do to prevent them from leaping over the battlements to hurl defiance at the enemy and cheer the hits of the Papal gunners. Their valor, however, was unavailing. On September 29 Lamoriciere was reduced to surrender at Ancona with from four thousand to six thousand men, and the way lay clear for the Piedmontese army as far as Naples, Garibaldi's domain. The Dictator, though he bitterly resented the intrigues of the 'Cavourians,' had a soul above petty jealousy, and, on learning of the fall of Ancona, sent word to his lieutenant, Tripoli, who commanded at Teramo in the Abruzzi, "If the Piedmontese enter our territory, receive them like brothers."

The co-operation of the regular army would have been invaluable to the Dictator at this crisis, faced as he was with the arduous task of destroying or bottling up the numerous and well-equipped Bourbon force, but Garibaldi was to have all the glory, and even the sense of what he had achieved did not prevent him from writing much later, in impatient and sarcastic terms, about this calculated absence of his natural allies. "When the completion of the work was easy, and but little remained to be done, they swaggered as our protectors and allies, landing Sardinian troops at Naples (to secure the spoil, of course), and arrived at such a pitch of patronage as to send us two companies of the same army on October 2, the day after the battle of the Volturno. They showed themselves adepts in the noble task of kicking the Bourbon now he was down."

Having to rely on his own small army, Garibaldi sent Bixio's division to occupy Maddaloni, covering the high-road to Campobasso and the Abruzzi. This formed his right wing. The center consisted of Medici's division posted at Monte Sant' Angelo, which looks down on Capua and the Volturno; and a brigade of the same division, under General Sacchi, on the northern slope of the Monte Tifata, which also dominates the Capuan plain and the course of the Volturno. Medici was afterward reinforced by some corps that had been newly raised and were commanded by General Avezzana. The left wing was composed of Turr's division at Santa Maria, while the reserves were stationed at Caserta, under the orders of General Sirtori, the chief of staff.

Garibaldi in his memoirs frankly criticizes these dispositions, which were not dictated solely by tactical reasons. The presence of the troops at Santa Maria, which was in the plain, was due to the fears of the inhabitants, who had gloated over the retreat of the Bourbon army and were in dread of the consequences if their late oppressors again obtained possession of the place. The occupation of Santa Maria necessitated an outpost at San Tammaro and the stationing of a force along the road between Santa Maria and Monte Sant' Angelo. "All this," says Garibaldi, "weakened our position; and I advise all my young countrymen who may find themselves similarly circumstanced not to risk the safety of their army out of consideration for any danger to the neighborhood, whose inhabitants can, after all, retire to a place of safety.