To trace the real beginning of the expedition we must go back to the summer of 1859. When the war ended in the manner which he alone had foreseen, Mazzini projected a revolutionary enterprise in the south which should restore to the Italian movement its purely national character and defeat in advance Napoleon's plans for gathering the Bourbon succession for his cousin, Prince Murat.
He sent agents to Sicily, and notably Francesco Crispi, who, as a native of the island and a man of resource and quick intelligence, was well qualified to execute the work of propaganda and to elude the Bourbon police.
Crispi travelled in all parts of Sicily for several months, and in September he was able to report to Mazzini that the insurrection might be expected in a few weeks—which proved incorrect, but only as to date. Mazzini forbade his agents to agitate in favour of a republic; unity was the sole object to be aimed at; unity in whatever form and at whatever cost.(above Orsini and Crispi in an Italian drama)
In March 1860 he had an interview in London with the man who was to become the actual initiator of the revolutionary movement in South Italy. This was Rosalino Pilo, son of the Count di Capaci, and descended through his mother from the royal house of Anjou, whose name, Italianised into Gioeni, is still borne by several noble families in Sicily.
Rosalino Pilo, who was now in his fortieth year, had devoted all his life to his country's liberties. After 1849, when he was obliged to leave Sicily, he sold his ancestral acres to supply the wants of his fellow exiles, and help the work of revolutionary propaganda.
Handsome in person, cultivated in mind, ready to give his life, as he had already given most of what makes life tolerable, to the Italian cause, he won the affection of all with whom he was brought in contact, and especially of Mazzini, from whom he parted after that last interview radiant with hope, and yet with a touch of sadness in his smile, as if in prevision that the place allotted to him in the ranks of men was among the sowers, not among the reapers.
bourbon flag bearer
Rosalino Pilo believed, as Mazzini believed, that Sicily was ripe for revolution, but he realised the fact that under existing circumstances there was an exceeding probability of a Sicilian revolution being rapidly crushed. It was the tendency of Mazzini's mind to think the contrary; to put more faith in the people themselves than in any leader or leaders; to imagine that the blast of the trumpet of an angered population was sufficient to bring down the walls of all the citadels of despotism, however well furnished with heavy artillery. Pilo saw that there was only one man who could give a real chance of success to a rising in his native island, and that man was Garibaldi.
As early as February he began to write to Caprera, urging the general to give his co-operation to the projected movement. It is notorious that the scheme, until almost the last moment, did not find favour with Garibaldi. In spite of his perilous enterprises, the chief had never been a courtier of failure, and he understood more clearly than his correspondent what failure at that particular juncture would have meant. The ventures of the Bandieras and of Pisacane, similar in their general plan to the one now in view (though on a smaller scale). ended in disasters, but disasters that were useful to Italy. A disaster now would have been ruinous to Italy. Garibaldi's hesitations do not, as some writers of the extreme party have foolishly assumed, detract from his merit as victorious leader of the expedition; they only show him to have been more amenable to political prudence than most people have supposed.
Rosalino Pilo wrote, finally, that in any case he was determined to go to Sicily himself to complete the preparations, and he added: 'The insurrection in Sicily, consider it well, will carry with it that of the whole south of the peninsula,' by which means not only would the Muratist plots be frustrated, but also a new army and fleet would become available for the conquest of independence and the liberation of Venetia. The writer concluded by wishing the general 'new glories in Sicily in the accomplishment of our country's redemption.'
True to his word Rosalino Pilo embarked at Genoa on the 24th of March, on a crazy old coasting vessel, manned by five friendly sailors. He had with him a single companion, and carried such arms and ammunition as he had been able to get together. Terrible weather and the deplorable condition of their craft kept them at sea for fifteen days, during which time something of great importance happened at Palermo. On the 4th of April the authorities became aware that arms and conspirators were concealed in the convent of La Gancia, which was to have been the focus of the revolution. Troops were sent to besiege the convent, which they only succeeded in taking after four hours' resistance; its fall was the signal for a general slaughter of the inmates, both monks and laymen. The insurrection was thus stifled in its birth in the capital, but from this time it began to spread in the country, and when, at last, Rosalino Pilo landed near Messina on the 10th of April, he found that several armed bands were already roving the mountains, as yet almost unperceived by the Government, which had gone to sleep again after its exhibition of energy on the 4th. Events were, however, to awake it from its slumbers, and to cause it to renew its vigilance. It required all Rosalino Pilo's skill and courage to sustain the revolution of which he became henceforth the responsible head, till the fated deliverer arrived.Messina
Pilo's letters, brought back to Genoa by the pilot who guided him to Sicilian waters, were what decided Garibaldi to go to the rescue. Some, like Bixio and Bertani, warmly and persistently urged him to accept the charge; others, like Sirtori, were convinced that the undertaking was foredoomed, and that its only result would be the death of their beloved captain: but this conviction did not lessen their eagerness to share his perils when once he was resolved to go.
Bixio in 54mm
Like all born men of action, Garibaldi did not know what doubt was after he came to a decision. From that moment his mental atmosphere cleared; he saw the goal and went straight for it. In a surprisingly short time the expedition was organised and ready to leave. 'Few and good,' had been the rule laid down by Garibaldi for the enrolments; if he had chosen he could have taken with him a much more numerous host. When it was the day to start few they were (according to the most recent computation the exact number was 1072 men), and they were certainly good. The force was divided into seven companies, the first entrusted to the ardent Nino Bixio, who acted in a general way as second-in-command through both the Sicilian and Neapolitan campaigns, and the seventh to Benedetto Cairoli, whose mother contributed a large sum of money as well as three of her sons to the freeing of Southern Italy. Sirtori, about whom there always clung something of the priestly vocation for which he had been designed, was the head of the staff; Türr (the Hungarian) was adjutant-general. The organisation was identical with that of the Italian army 'to which we belong,' said Garibaldi in his first order of the day.
One name is missing, that of Medici, who was left behind to take the command of a projected movement in the Papal States. By whom this plan was invented is not clear, but simultaneous operations in different parts of the peninsula had been always a favourite design of the more extreme members of the Party of Action, and Garibaldi probably yielded to their advice. All that came of it was the entry into Umbria of Zambianchi's small band of volunteers, which was promptly repulsed over the frontier. Medici, therefore, remained inactive till after the fall of Palermo; he headed the second expedition of 4,000 volunteers which arrived in time to take part in the final Sicilian battles.
Garibaldi's political programme was the cry of the Hunters of the Alps in 1859: Italy and Victor Emmanuel. Those who were strict republicans at heart, while abstaining from preaching the republic till the struggle was over, would have stopped short at the first word Italy. But Garibaldi told Rosalino Pilo, who was of this way of thinking, that either he marched in the King's name or he did not march at all. This was the condition of his acceptance, because he esteemed it the condition on which hung the success of the enterprise, nay more, the existence of an united Italy.
The Thousand embarked at Quarto(Right), near Genoa, during the night of the 5th of May on the two merchant vessels, the Piemonte and Lombardo, which, with the complicity of their patriotic owner, R. Rubattino, had been sequestered for the use of the expedition. On hearing of Garibaldi's departure, Cavour ordered Admiral Persano, whose squadron lay in the gulf of Cagliari, to arrest the expedition if the steamers entered any Sardinian port, but to let it go free if they were encountered on the high seas. Persano asked Cavour what he was to do if by stress of storms Garibaldi were forced to come into port?
The answer was that 'the Ministry' decided for his arrest, which Persano rightly interpreted to mean that Cavour had decided the contrary. He resolved, therefore, not to stop him under any circumstances, but the case did not occur, for the fairest of May weather favoured the voyage, and six days after the start the men were quietly landed at Marsala without let or hindrance from the two Neapolitan warships which arrived almost at the same time as the Piemonte and Lombardo, an inconceivable stroke of good fortune which, like the eventful march that was to follow, seems to belong far more to romance than to history
On the day before, the British gunboat Intrepid (Captain Marryat), and the steam vessel Argus, had cast anchor in the harbour of Marsala. Their presence was again and again spoken of by Garibaldi as the key to the mystery of why he was not attacked. No matter how it was done—it may have been a mere accident—but it can hardly be doubted that the English men-of-war did practically cover the landing of the Thousand. Lord John Russell denied emphatically to the House of Commons that they were sent there for the purpose, as to this day is believed by some grateful Italians, and by every Clerical writer who handles the subject. The British Government had early information of Italian revolutionary doings, just then, through Sir James Hudson, who was in communication with men of all shades of opinion, and it is credible that orders which must necessarily have been secret, were given to afford a refuge on board English ships to the flying patriots in the anticipated catastrophe. More than this is not credible, but the energy shown by Captain Marryat in safeguarding the interests of the British residents at Marsala caused the Neapolitan ships to delay opening fire till the very last Red-shirt was out of harm's way on dry land. Then and then only did they direct their guns on the Piemonte and Lombardo, and fire a few shots into the city, which caused no other damage than the destruction of two casks of wine.
On the 12th, Garibaldi left Marsala for Salemi, a mountain city approached by a steep, winding ascent, where he was sure of a warm reception, as it had already taken arms against the Bourbon king. Hence he promulgated the decree by which he assumed the dictatorship of Sicily in the name of Victor Emmanuel.
The Neapolitan army numbered from 120,000 to 130,000 men; of these 30,000 were actually in Sicily at the time the Thousand landed at Marsala, 18,000 being in and about Palermo, and the rest distributed over the island. At Salemi, Garibaldi reviewed his united forces: he had been joined by 200 fresh volunteers, and by a fluctuating mass of Sicilian irregulars, which might be estimated to consist of 2,000 men, but it increased or decreased along the road, because it was formed of peasants of the districts traversed, who did not go far from their homes. These undisciplined bands were not useless, as they gave the Bourbon generals the idea that Garibaldi had more men than he could ever really count upon, and also the peasants knew the country well. When they came under fire they behaved better than anyone would have expected. The first batch joined the Thousand half-way between Marsala and Salemi. There might have been fifty of them, dressed in goat-skins, and armed with the old flint muskets and rusty pistols dear to the Sicilian heart, which he would not for the world leave behind were he going no farther than to buy a lamb at the fair. The feudal lord marched at the head of his uncouth retainers—a company of bandits in an opera—yet, to Garibaldi, they seemed the blessed assurance that this people whom he was come to save was ready and willing to be saved. He received the poor little band with as much rapture as if it had been a powerful army, and, in their turn, the impressionable islanders were enraptured by the affability of the man whom the population of Sicily soon came seriously to consider as a new Messiah. It is a fact that the people of Southern Italy did believe that Garibaldi had in him something superhuman, only the Bourbon troops looked rather below than above for the source of it.
The picturesque incidents of the historic march were many; one other may be mentioned. While the chief watered his horse at a spring a Franciscan friar threw himself on his knees, and implored to be allowed to follow him. Some of the volunteers thought the friar a traitor in disguise, but larger in faith, Garibaldi said: 'Come with us, you will be our Ugo Bassi.' Fra Pantaleo proved of no small use to the expedition.
A glance at the map makes clear the military situation. Garibaldi's objective was Palermo, and if anything shows his genius as a Condottiere it is this immediate determination to make straight for the capital where the largest number of the enemy's troops was massed, instead of seeking an illusionary safety for his weak army in the open country. As the crow flies the distance from Marsala to Palermo is not more than sixty or seventy miles, but the routes being mountainous, the actual ground to be covered is much longer. About midway lies Calatafimi, where all the roads leading from the eastern coast to Palermo converge, and above it towers the immensely strong position called Pianto dei Romani, from a battle in which the Romans were defeated. These heights command a vast prospect, and here General Landi, with 3,000 men and four pieces of artillery, prepared to intercept the Garibaldians with every probability of driving them back into the sea.
pianto di romano today
The royal troops took the offensive towards ten o'clock on the 15th of May. They met the Red-shirts half way down the mountain, but were driven up it again, inch by inch, till, at about three o'clock, they were back at Pianto dei Romani. A final vigorous assault dislodged them from this position, and they retreated in disorder to Calatafimi. Not wishing to tempt fortune further for that day, Garibaldi bivouacqued on the field of battle. In a letter written to Bertani, on the spur of the moment, he bore witness with a sort of fatherly pride to the courage displayed by the Neapolitans: 'It was the old misfortune,' he said, 'a fight between Italians; but it proved to me what can be done with this family when united.
The Neapolitan soldiers, when their cartridges were exhausted, threw stones at us in desperation.' How then, with much superior numbers and a seemingly impregnable position, did they end in ignominious flight? The answer may be found in the reply given to Bixio, bravest of the brave, who yet feared, at one hotly-contested point, that retreat was inevitable. 'Here,' retorted the chief,'we die.' Men who really mean to conquer or die can do miracles.The 4th tiralleurs of Naples by antonini
The moral effect of the victory was tremendous. The world at large had made absolutely sure of the destruction of the expedition. 'Garibaldi has chosen to go his own way,' said Victor Emmanuel; 'but if you only knew the fright I was in about him and the brave lads with him!' In Sicily, where the insurrectionary activity of April was almost totally spent, the news sent an electric shock of revolution through the whole island. hudson
In the mountains Rosalino Pilo still resisted, weary of waiting for the help that came not, discouraged or hopeless, but unyielding. Food and ammunition were almost gone; his ragged band, held together only by the magnetism of his personal influence, began to feel the pangs of hunger. A price was set on his head, and he was harassed on all sides by the Neapolitan troops, whose attacks became more frequent now that the Government realised that there was danger. He knew nothing of Garibaldi's movements; but he was resolved to keep his promise as long as he could: to hold out till the chief came. At the hour when everything looked most desperate, a messenger arrived in his camp with a letter in Garibaldi's handwriting, which bore the date of the 16th of May. 'Yesterday,' it ran, we fought and conquered.' Never was unexpected news more welcome. Filled with a joy such as few men have tasted, Rosalino read the glad tidings to his men. 'The cause is won,' he said. 'In a few days, if the enemy's balls respect me, we shall be in Palermo.'
Meanwhile Garibaldi had occupied Calatafimi, and was proceeding towards Monreale, from which side he contemplated a descent on the capital. On the high tableland of Renda he met Rosalino Pilo with his reanimated band. That day the Garibaldian army, all told, amounted to 5,000 men. On the 21st of May, Rosalino was ordered to make a reconnaissance in the direction of Monreale; while carrying out this order a Neapolitan bullet struck his forehead, causing almost instantaneous death. 'I am happy to be able to give my blood to Italy, but may heaven be propitious once for all,' he had written when he first landed, words realised to the letter.Calatifimi Calatifimi by Legat
The Neapolitans were put in high spirits by Rosalino Pilo's death; the discomfiture of Calatafimi was forgotten; they represented Garibaldi as a mouse that was obligingly walking into a well-laid trap. In fact, his position could not have been more critical, but he had recourse to a stratagem which saved him.
He succeeded in placing the enemy upon a completely false scent. Abandoning the idea of reaching Palermo from the east (Monreale), he decided to attempt the assault from the south (Piana de' Greci and Misilimeri), but, all the while, he continued to throw the Sicilian Picciotti on the Monreale route, and gave them orders to fire stray shots in every direction and to light innumerable camp-fires.
These troops frequently came in contact with the Neapolitans in trifling skirmishes, and kept their attention so well occupied that General Colonna, in command of the force sent in search of the 'Filibuster,' did not doubt that the whole Garibaldian army was concentrated over Monreale.
Garibaldi rapidly moved his own column by night to its new base of operations. The ground was steep and difficult, and a storm raged all the night; fifteen years later he declared that none of his marches in the virgin forests of America was so arduous as this.
While the Neapolitans remained in ignorance of these changes, three English naval officers, guided by a sort of sporting dog's instinct, happened to be driving through the village of Misilmeri just after Garibaldi established his headquarters in that neighbourhood.
Of course it was by chance; still, Misilmeri is an odd place to go for an afternoon drive, and the escapade ended in the issue of a severe warning to Her Majesty's officers and marines to keep in future 'within the bounds of the sentinels of the royal troops.'
Luckily record exists of the experiences of Lieutenant Wilmot and his two companions at Misilmeri. Garibaldi, on hearing that three English naval officers were in the village, sent to invite them to the vineyard where he was taking his dinner. They found him standing in a large enclosure in the midst of a group of followers who all, like himself, wore the legendary red flannel shirt and grey trousers. Fra Pantaleo's brown habit formed the only exception. Several Hungarian officers were present, and by his father stood Menotti, then a stout youth of nineteen, with his arm in a sling from the severe wound he received at Calatafimi. Around were soldiers who looked like mere boys. They gazed with delight on the English uniforms. Garibaldi requested his guests to be seated and to partake of some freshly-gathered strawberries. He spoke of his affection and respect for England, and said it was his hope soon to make the acquaintance of the British admiral. He mentioned how he had seen and admired from the heights the beautiful effect of the salutes fired in honour of the Queen's birthday, two days before. He then retired into his tent, made of an old blanket stretched over pikes; a child, under the name of a sentry, paced before it to keep off the crowd.