Brave Men and Brave Deeds - M. B. Synge

Garibaldi's Sicilian Campaign


"Italians! The Sicilians are fighting for Italy! To help them with money, arms, and men is the duty of every Italian! Let us arm. Let us fight for our brothers. A brave man can always find a weapon!

"A handful of brave men, who have followed me in battles for our country, are advancing with me to the rescue. Italy knows them. They always appear at the hour of danger. Brave and generous companions, they have devoted their lives to their country; they will shed their last drop of blood for it, seeking no other reward than that of a pure conscience.

"To arms, then! Let us show the world that this is truly the land once trodden by the great Roman race!"

Such was the proclamation issued by Garibaldi in the summer of 1860.

Garibaldi! The very name carried conviction. Had he not already shown himself a powerful deliverer, an able leader; had he not, eleven years before, defended Rome with five thousand volunteers against an organŽized army of European troops? And had not some four thousand men refused to leave him when the tide of victory turned, and their leader was an outlaw and a wanderer?

"If you join me," he had been known to say to his men, "you must learn to live without bread and to fight without cartridges."

And yet they were ready to join him, ready to die with him.

"Soldiers, this is what I have to offer you," he had said to his volunteer troops in Rome, "hunger, thirst, cold, heat, no pay, no barracks, no rations; but constant alarms, forced marches, and charges at the point of the bayonet. Whoever loves our country and glory may follow me."

And four thousand had followed him, old men and young boys with no knowledge of warfare—nothing to bring, but deep love for their brave leader and their country.

But after months of wandering, pursued by the enemy, he had been obliged to disband his troops, and alone to wander homeless and penniless, till a change of events in Italy allowed him to return.

Now the news spread like wildfire. Garibaldi was home again, back in Italy, ready to fight for freedom and the people. Garibaldi had unpacked his red shirt! Men came forward by thousands. They were panting for a leader; now their leader had come back to them again.

This time his main idea was to help Sicily. Sicily was so ready to throw off its yoke of oppression, only wanting a leader. But the difficulty of transport was great. It was quite impossible to get ships enough to take over the numbers who had flocked to Garibaldi's call. So it was determined that the tried men only should go over with Garibaldi, the others waiting till he should send for them.

Very quietly were all the preparations made at Genoa Garibaldi being helped by Mazzini and his friends.

Well aware was Garibaldi of the difficulty of the enterprise; but, confident in his own boundless devotion to Italy, he trusted to overcoming every difficulty.

By the fifth of May all was ready.

It was a few minutes past ten in the evening, when Garibaldi was seen coming down the little path that led from the villa where all the quiet preparations had been carried on, to the sea-coast. There he found his volunŽteer troops, to the number of one thousand, awaiting him, lining the shores of the Mediterranean, some in small boats, some standing about on the rocks.

They were a medley crew of old and young. They all wore red shirts—the only uniform that distinguished them as Garibaldi's troops. Simple, half-trained Italians as they were, they were ready to do and die for the cause they had at heart.

But there was no time to be lost; the "thousand" must embark, and that quickly. Two steamers belonging to a Genoese company, the Piedmonte  and the Lombardo, had been seized in the roadstead at Genoa. Silently and quickly the red-shirted band embarked, and were soon out to sea, steering for the coast of Sicily.

Garibaldi virtually commanded the two ships. He had not served as cabin-boy in vain; not in vain had he voyaged to the East and America, and picked up knowledge of a seafaring life. By word of mouth he comŽmanded the Piedmonte, and by signal the Lombardo  immediately behind.

The sea was calm, the moon was bright, as they steamed away from the shores of Italy. But towards morning the sea grew rough, a sirocco wind blew strongly, and the red-shirted volunteers collapsed below.

But they had not started long before an incident occurred that very nearly put an end to the whole undertaking. Two boats, belonging to certain smugglers, and loaded with ammunition and arms, were to await them near the Genoa lighthouse. But in vain did they search for them hour after hour, they were nowhere to be found.

Garibaldi signalled to the Lombardo  to come close.

"How many guns have you on board?" he cried.

"A thousand," was the reply.

"And revolvers?"

"Not one."

"And ammunition?"


Garibaldi called his officers together.

"Gentlemen," he said, "you have heard, we have no revolvers and no ammunition. We must get some." "But how?" asked the officers blankly.

"We must land, and one of us must go to the Governor of Orbetello, and make him give us what we want."

"There is great danger," answered the officers.

"There is; but I know one who will go," said Garibaldi.

"We will all go!" cried the officers enthusiastically.

Some of the most trusted were chosen to land at Orbetello, and they procured the necessary ammunition. And, greatly encouraged, the two vessels sailed on once more.

When fairly out at sea again, Garibaldi set to work to organize his little army. There, in a corner of the deck, they sat planning the coming campaign. Enthusiastic students, despairing Venetians, old soldiers, all determined to fight for the unity of Italy, were there in charge of an "elderly man seated in a chair, with a red garment on and wide-awake hat."

On the eleventh of May the townsfolk of Marsala were overcome with astonishment by the arrival of Garibaldi, the "Liberator," with his thousand red-shirted men.

"Sicilians! I have brought you a body of brave men," ran Garibaldi's proclamation. "All we ask is the freedom of our land. If we are united, the work will be short and easy. To arms, all of you! Sicily shall once more teach the world how a country can be freed from its oppressors by the powerful will of a united people."

The name of Garibaldi acted like magic. Peasants flocked round begging to join him, and soon his thousand had become doubled.

At eight o'clock on the morning of the twelfth, after a distribution of bread, the enthusiastic little force marched from Marsala some thirty miles to Salemi.

Here Garibaldi halted for two days to organize and arm his somewhat lawless troops, and further to proclaim himself, "in the name of Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy, Dictator of Sicily."

Meanwhile the Neapolitan government had heard of Garibaldi's arrival in Sicily, and pushed forward some three thousand six hundred men to a little town, Calatifimi, among the mountains, between Marsala and Palermo.

It was a grand place for the untrained warfare of Garibaldi. Buried in the heart of the mountains, CalatiŽfimi was a position of great natural strength.

Early dawn on the fifteenth found the Garibaldian troops in good order on the mountain heights, and the Neapolitans, brilliant in their gaudy uniforms, with gold lace and epaulettes, ready for action.

At ten o'clock the battle began which was to decide the fate not only of the expedition but also of Southern Italy After a sharp conflict, which lasted some three hours, the Neapolitans fled—fled before the red-shirted, half-armed enthusiasts, and Garibaldi entered the town of Calatifimi victorious.

"Soldiers of Italian unity!" ran the proclamation next morning, "with companions like you I can attempt anything. To-morrow the Italian continent will rejoice for the victory of her free sons and our brave Sicilians. Your mothers and lovers, proud of you, will go forth into the highways with lofty and radiant brows. The battle cost the lives of dear brothers, who have fallen in the front ranks; these martyrs to the Italian cause shall be recorded in the stories of Italian glories. I will send forth to your country the names of the brave soldiers, young and inexperienced, who so valiantly conducted themselves in the fight, and who, to-morrow, will lead to victory soldiers who shall break the last links of the chains with which our dearest Italy is bound."

Some two hundred of Garibaldi's men were wounded, among them his own son Menotti. Those who knew his devotion to this his eldest son had urged him almost on their knees to spare the boy, and not to risk his young life in such a rash undertaking.

"I only wish I had ten Menottis, in order that I might risk them all!" cried Garibaldi.

So in his first battle of Calatifimi the young Menotti carried a tricolour flag decked with ribbons and bearing the word "Liberty," and in the hand that carried the Italian flag he received his first wound.

But no time was to be lost. The Neapolitan army had fallen back upon Palermo, and thither Garibaldi intended to go.

From Calatifimi to Palermo the liberators marched on. The road was difficult, but nothing daunted them. They crept along goat-tracks over the mountains, their guns on their shoulders, their lives in their hand. Two days of heavy rain drenched them to the skin. They had no shelter, and firewood was so scarce that at one village they were forced to burn the telegraph posts. But they were no chicken-hearted band that thousand. Through fog and rain, by night and day, they marched, till at last they arrived within eleven hours of Palermo.

It was the twenty-fourth of May when the enemy marched out of the city to attack them. Garibaldi foresaw this, foresaw, too, that he could not stand an attack just then, so he planned a feigned retreat. Sending his baggage and artillery by one way, he crept through some woods with his men at night, intending to enter Palermo by its undefended side. Then he would trust to fighting his way, with the help of the townspeople, from house to house down the narrow and winding streets. Under cover of the night the Garibaldians crept on over the roughest of wood-paths, a long narrow line of red shirts. It was broad daylight before they reached the southern gates of Palermo.

Meanwhile the government was informed that GariŽbaldi and his army were in full retreat. In honour of this triumph it ordered the bands to play, gave a supper in honour of their supposed success, and sent off a steamer to Naples to impart the joyful news.

Marshal Lanza, commanding the Neapolitans, was in bed next morning when his aide-de-camp rushed into his bedroom.


"What?" cried Lanza.

"Garibaldi is in the town!" was the startling answer.

"Garibaldi is here!" The news flashed like lightning through the unarmed city; for had its inmates not gone to bed happy in the assurance that Garibaldi was in full flight?

Some four hours' fighting up and down the long narrow streets of Palermo, and Garibaldi had forced his way to the centre of the town. By evening he had possession of Palermo.

The city was soon a scene of great rejoicing. Peasants flocked in from the mountains, drums and bugles sounded joyously, and everybody attired themselves in some bit of red to show their love of Garibaldi and his red-shirted soldiers.

Meanwhile the hero of all this was living very simply at the royal palace. He assumed no airs, he slept on a little hard bed, he drank nothing but water. His wardrobe was scanty enough too. It consisted of a general's old uniform, the relic of a former campaign, two pairs of grey trousers, an old felt hat, two red shirts, a very few handkerchiefs, two ties, a sabre, revolver, and purse. Even now, at the very height of his popularity, the man was simplicity itself.

The onward move was now planned.

On the seventeenth of July, Garibaldi left Palermo with a great addition to his thousand; and he had them more trained and organized than before. Still it was a motley enough crew—there were French, Hungarians, English, Italians, a babel of confused tongues in the ranks. Each carried a musket, sixty rounds of ammunition, and a water-bottle—always the same simple soldiers of a simple general.

Often enough they had cause to remember his words: "If you join me, you must learn to live without bread and to fight without cartridges."

Three days later found Garibaldi and his army engaged with the enemy at Milazzo. Milazzo is on a narrow neck of land joined to Sicily. This promontory juts out some four miles into the sea, and is strongly defended by the castle, which stands in a commanding position.

The Neapolitans had the advantage both in numbers and in position. The red shirts were driven back again and again. For more than half the day the tide of battle was against them; it was only by dogged endurance and determination not to give in that finally they routed an enemy superior to themselves in every respect.

"Yet we knew we must win," said Garibaldi, "so long as the smallest part of our country is crushed beneath the heel of the stranger."

As the afternoon wore on the Garibaldians, rather than gaining, had lost ground.

"Try to hold out as long as you can," cried Garibaldi, though almost in desperation. "I will collect some scattered men and attack the enemy's left wing."

This was the turning point of the day, though Garibaldi nearly lost his life.

Taking with him two officers and about fifty men, he passed along the road which skirts the sea, towards Messina. He had hardly passed through the marshy land bordering on the sea, when at the turning of a garden wall he met a troop of horsemen, who at once fell on his small band. Garibaldi drew his sword, and, seizing hold of the bridle of the officer in command, cried out,—

"Surrender yourself! I am Garibaldi!"

"It is for you to surrender!" cried the officer, aiming a blow at the general's head.

Garibaldi avoided the blow; but the enemy at once fell on him, and he would soon have been a dead man, had not one of his officers, seeing the danger his chief was in, cut his way to him and rescued him. Nevertheless by this daring act Garibaldi succeeded in turning the flank of the enemy, and before long the Neapolitans broke into headlong flight, closely pursued by the victorious red shirts.

By nightfall Garibaldi was in possession of the town. After ten hours' hard fighting under a scorching sun, it was not to be wondered at that he had a great number of men killed and wounded. He himself was slightly wounded; and, finding his shirt soiled after the action, he took it off, washed it in a neighbouring brook and hung it on bushes to dry, whilst he shared the frugal fare with his men, of bread, fruit, and water.

In war and peace he shared alike the dangers and hardships of his humblest followers.

Having captured Milazzo, Garibaldi had practically got possession of the whole island. Now all his attention was turned towards the mainland, towards Naples, there to proclaim Victor Emmanuel King of United Italy.

Towards the end of August, about three o'clock in the early morning, Garibaldi and his men landed on the shore at Melito. The march towards the capital through Calabria was more like a triumphal procession than anything else. Everywhere he was received with delight; the peasants clustered round him as their liberator, their "invincible Garibaldi." Out of compliment to them, Garibaldi and all his staff changed their wide-awakes for the peculiar sugar-loaf hat tied with ribbons worn by the Calabrian peasants. This delighted the people, and the triumphant army marched on.

On the seventh of September, they determined to enter the capital. Garibaldi had sent on a proclamation to the people of Naples, and received the enthusiastic reply:—

"To the invincible General Garibaldi, Dictator of the two Sicilies! The people of Naples are awaiting your arrival with the utmost impatience, to hail you as the redeemer of Italy and to place in your hands their own destiny and the guidance of the commonwealth."

As Garibaldi advanced towards the city the enthusiasm increased, the carriages were decked with flags and evergreens, and women, children, and National Guards swayed to and fro across the roads in confusion. The GariŽbaldians could only proceed at a snail's pace, and were obliged to halt at every station.

At Naples the scene baffled all description. Horses and carriages, National Guards and gendarmerie, royalists and ladies, made advance impossible. A deafening chorus of "Viva Garibaldi!" was kept up, an enthusiastic population swayed around his carriage. The houses were bedecked with the tricolour and cross of Savoy to the seventh story. Only the troops were sullen at first; they were yet in possession of the palace vacated the day before by the king and his court.

When Garibaldi entered the city without a single file of his own men to back him, he saw the artillerymen beside their guns, lighted match in hand, waiting but for the word of command to fire. One shot and Garibaldi's work would be undone, one shot and Italian unity might never have been accomplished. As Garibaldi's carriage came within range of the guns he cried, "Drive slower, slower, more slowly still." Standing up in the carriage, his arms crossed, he looked earnestly at the hostile troops. Amazed and terrified almost into sympathy with the man they were there to crush, they flung down their matches, and, waving their caps in the air, shouted enthusiastically with the crowd, "Viva Garibaldi!"

Thus was the liberty of Naples secured, without costing a single drop of her blood.

Garibaldi was at the height of his popularity. The Neapolitans would have had him for their king; for the moment, indeed, he was their king, though not in name. But he did not seek honour and glory for himself: what did he care, this simple man, for a crown and a throne? To give Italy unity, this was his one great and only object. And having accomplished this, he was ready to disappear from among them, to retire from public life and public fame. He had done what an enthusiast only could do; he would leave others to rule the new united Italy that he had redeemed.