The Immediate Aftermath of Roma O Morte Campaign Failure
By Tom Frascella January 2017
As I previously have written Garibaldi and his new 1862 volunteer force of 2,000 were confronted by a roughly equal sized force of Piedmont federal soldiers at Aspromonte, Calabria on August 29, 1862. The Piedmont forces had been sent with specific orders to stop garibaldi’s march intended to seize the Papal States. The confrontation between the two forces lasted about fifteen minutes as Garibaldi refused his volunteers permission to fire on the Piedmont forces. He regarded them, as fellow Italians and patriots, despite the fact that those very soldiers came to stop him. Col. Pallavicini commander of the opposing Piedmont force held no such kindred concern for Garibaldi or his men issuing a full frontal assault with fixed bayonets and musket volleys. Garibaldi himself was wounded in the exchange, once in the thigh and the more serious wound to the left foot. It is said he was wounded when he placed himself, exposed between the lines to try to stop the firing exchange.
After his wounding his forces surrendered. The net result was that Garibaldi’s volunteer force suffered about a dozen killed and approximately 300 wounded before the Piedmont force stopped its advance. Approximately 2,000 volunteers were captured with Garibaldi at Aspromonte and another 800 volunteers were arrested in Catania, Sicily. These 800 had been left behind as there was insufficient room on the two transports to take them onto the Italian southern mainland. All of the prisoners, with the exception of Garibaldi were taken off to fortresses in the south to await their fate.
The entire episode, although a tragic failure for those involved, gained the attention of the national and international press, in part because of Garibaldi’s international stature as a “freedom” fighter. Now captured Garibaldi’s fame caused immediate international attention to be focused on his prison containment, the seriousness of his wound and the plight of his frustrated cause. As to his wound the first interesting fact was that while serious, his wounds were not immediately life threatening. He was permitted “field” treatment of his wounds by his own field surgeons who stabilized the wound at Aspromonte but did not remove the musket ball from his foot. He was separated from his men, carried by stretcher to the coast and transported by naval vessel to the prison fortress of Varignano in the province of Genoa. It appears from my readings that he arrived at the prison within 2-3 days of the defeat, so by August 30-31. However it was a full two weeks and only after several surgeons were consulted that the musket ball was removed. I should note that the delay increased the risk of the possibility of infection and loss of the foot. In fact when the musket ball was finally removed recovery was very difficult and garibaldi suffered permanent disability. For the rest of his life he wa never able to walk without the aid of a cane or crutch.
Drawing of Garibaldi being removed from Aspromonte by Piedmont soldiers
Each part of this episode in Italian history, the forming of this new volunteer force, his campaign, its defeat by Piedmont, his wounding and imprisonment was recounted by the national and international press in varied ways. In the official Piedmont press the entire campaign was structured to be reported as unauthorized. So officially it became an “insurrection” regardless of aim or goal. While the Piedmont regime publicly professed the same goal of a fully united Italy Garibaldi’s actions were not in keeping with the immediate political practicalities of the regime. The effect of being politically out of step with Piedmont, was that he and his men became officially designated as “insurgent rebels”. This official designation was consistent with Piedmont policy in that any deviation from the Piedmont regime’s agenda whether supportive or not was considered dangerous to the regime and suspect. All those participating, pro-Bourbon, pro-republican or pro-regional were automatically labeled brigand and insurgent. As we shall see political allegiances other than those completely loyal to Piedmont usually lead to a Piedmont’s denial of any legitimate political standing.
However obviously there was a political awkwardness to this official Piedmont position of Garibaldi as a rebel and his volunteers as insurgents. Garibaldi had earned a special place in the Italian unification movement in his 1860 campaign. This new campaign after all, had Garibaldi behaving precisely as he had in leading his “volunteers” against the Bourbon regime. Then as now his action in 1860 never had the official sanction of the Piedmont government. In fact through most of 1860 campaign Piedmont went to great lengths to publicly dismiss Garibaldi’s mission as unauthorized and unsupported by Piedmont. This farce of Garibaldi’s true support by Piedmont was publicly maintained up until he turned over virtually all of southern Italy to King Victor Emmanuel II and helped create a “unified” Italy in October of 1860.
The 1862 Roma O Morte campaign was believed by many Italians and foreigners as simply a resurrection or continuation of that first campaign for unification. A situation where Garibaldi was acting for Piedmont but “unofficially”. The two consequences of this were first to question how much foreknowledge, and how complacent was the regime in the 1862 campaign. Garibaldi and Mazzini’s actions leading up to the 1862 campaign were very public. Garibaldi had once again publicly called for volunteers who had responded just as before in the thousands. He declared his intended actions in the name of King Victor Emmanuel just as before. His target was the Papal States and his goal was to further enlarge and continue the unification process to the benefit of a unified Italy under the regime of Victor Emmanuel. In addition questions persisted as to where the weapons for the campaign came from. So many people questioned, how could any of this campaign take place without at least the private acquiescence of the King?
Second, Garibaldi’s selfless acts over the entirety of his career, his many personal sacrifices, including the lives of loved ones, for the cause of freedom in Italy and South America earned him the benefit of being considered a true champion of the people. Here in this last campaign he suffered a serious wound and the deaths, wounding, including the wounding of a son. He had his volunteers to imprisonment rather than to fire on the King’s forces. Knowledge of the above divided the country’s and international community’s opinion as to whether he was a rebel against the legitimate authority of a sovereign he swore to support, or a national hero being sacrificed at the altar of international politics. Because of the secrecy imposed by the Piedmont regime in most of its political dealings history stands at a loss to definitively answer that question. But what we can say is that an imprisoned Garibaldi was not without his sympathizers and support both at home and abroad.
The true nature and design of this ill-fated campaign then became more complicated as his imprisonment continued.
Photograph of wounded Garibaldi in Prison at Varignano
The political risks to Piedmont in the continuation of imprisonment of Garibaldi was obvious from the time of his capture onward. There had to be real concern among the King’s advisors that Garibaldi would become a martyr. Worse by remaining in prison his plight might encourage a backlash from various Piedmont political foes creating civil unrest and a political crisis. It had to be realized that some internal resolution of his arrest and that of his volunteers needed to be determined quickly and with as little additional loss of political capital as necessary. With his arrival at Varignano, growing local crowds of supporters some bearing flowers or gifts of food began to assemble outside the prison daily. Initially the demonstrations of support were unorganized and peaceful. The question was would they remain so if his imprisonment continued.
The story as delivered by the international press also showed a sharp division on how his actions were perceived and received especially as the story was delivered in the English/American press as opposed to the French press. However consistently throughout the European press it was acknowledged that this imprisonment was not the end of the quest of unification.
The French press seems to have followed a mixed view of events. As reported in the French newspaper “La Presse”: the French reaction was as follows: “The news of the capture of Garibaldi has spread through Paris like wildfire. This is a solemn moment for Italy. She is now at this most critical point of her destiny. Armed rebellion is vanquished, but the idea which armed that rebellion is triumphant. Victor and vanquished are animated with the same irresistible Impulse—To Rome! “. The French press generally acknowledged that Garibaldi’s 1862 campaign was one unauthorized by his government and therefore “rebellious” in character. But they also recognized that his goal of capturing Rome was one shared by his sovereign and inevitably would follow if Victor Emmanuel exerted his leadership.
In the English press a less politically aimed but more factual description of initial events appeared from a correspondent to Turin for the “London Times” written August 30th:
“The career of Garibaldi has come to a close for the present….overtaken by Col. Palllavicino, at the head of a battalion of Bersaglieri, a few companies of another battalion of the same corps, and a regiment of Piedmont Grenadier Brigade, altogether 1,800 men, in those gorges of Aspromonte, where the volunteer chief had taken up a formidably strong position, and where after a smart fight Garibaldi, deeply wounded in his foot and with a bruised thigh, fell into the hands of his opponents, together with about 2,000 of his followers. Of these more than 300 were wounded, among them the son of Garibaldi Menotti, who, like his father, was struck in the thigh. Only a few, nine it is said, were killed. It is not easy to ascertain from our meagre telegraphic information how seriously Garibaldi is hurt, out it is stated that he expressed a wish to embark on board an English steamer, so that it is natural to presume he felt yet able to travel. Garibaldi’s request was not granted; it is expected that he will be conveyed as a prisoner on board a royal frigate to Spezia. Pallavicino, it appears had only with him a detachment of light troops; he hastened his pursuit by forced marches, regardless of the other bodies of the Royal troops under Cialdini, which were to cooperate with him, and which were yet far in the rear, deeming it expedient to come up with the insurgents and close with them, venturing on an unequal struggle, rather than allow Garibaldi the chance of giving his pursuers the slip in Calabria, as he had done in Sicily.
Again it is interesting to note that at least initially the foreign press is looking at Garibaldi’s actions and his volunteers as rebellious and or an insurgency. However they do this without any suggestion that it was meant to undermine King Victor Emmanuel’s legitimacy as ruler of a “unified” Italy. Therefore they too leave open that there may be a “second act” in this drama for total unification where all of the Piedmont players, including Garibaldi, come back together.
In what might be something of a surprise at this point in the story, events surrounding Garibaldi’s capture and imprisonment take on rather odd but consequential and significant turn with regard to its reception among American interests. Garibaldi’s actions were reported in the U.S. mostly as a republishing of English press stories. It is however the diplomatic acts of U.S. consuls in Europe that are worth noting. As a backdrop the American Civil War is being fought half a world away and seemingly unrelated to Garibaldi’s cause and circumstance of imprisonment. There would seem on its face to be little opportunity for American diplomacy to get involved. There was however, as had previously mentioned, the 1861 offer Garibaldi had received through a U.S. diplomat. This was an “unauthorized” offer of command of all Union forces. The offer came through back channels from American consul to Antwerp James Quiggle. The Union army had been doing very badly against its counterpart on the Southern side. So reaching out for to a brilliant and aggressive military tactician may have made some sense. So while it is interesting to speculate what might have happened if the offer had been more formally presented and/or accepted by Garibaldi that is unimportant since Garibaldi had publicly declined. What is important is that in that declination by Garibaldi was his reason for declining the offer. He famously at the time cited his continued primary goal of full unification of all if Italy as the reason why he could not consider engaging in the American conflict in 1861. Further however, he publicly declared that unless emancipation and/or abolishment of slavery were the goal and purpose of the American war he could not ask any of his fellow Italians to risk their lives in the conflict.
His declination was not a put down of any sort but was a rather an important statement of Masonic principles and abolitionist sympathy which he and many like-minded people thought should be the underlying purpose of the war. In fact President Lincoln and many in his cabinet were Masons and held similar private beliefs. However, in 1861 they were not politically able to declare abolition as a primary goal for fear of losing additional States to the rebellion.
As I have previously written American Masonic support in terms of fundraising for Garibaldi’s campaigns both in 1860 and 1862 are documented. So in what may appear as a low point in Garibaldi’s unification campaign, his imprisonment in Italy, there was still significant support among Americans and northern leaders especially Masons for his republican cause and attributes. In America there was genuine and widespread dismay at his imprisonment.
The first place that internationally you see the question of American support for Garibaldi’s 1862 campaign comes after Garibaldi’s capture and imprisonment. Many press sources Italian and European, reported that American supporters had actually participated in the 1862 campaign. U.S. Consul to Piedmont Mr. George Marsh publicly appeared to become concerned that the Piedmont regime would blame America for supporting Garibaldi’s “insurrection”. While it was true that American sympathies and private monies had been raised by certain American Masonic Lodges to support Garibaldi’s 1862 efforts, it was the unverified rumors circulated that the American consul to Ancona had directly aided in Garibaldi’s transport from Sicily to the Italian mainland in the south that bothered U.S. consul Marsh the most. In fact some suggested that the American frigate Constellation had participated in the operation to some extent.
However, before Marsh could take any action on the matter of diplomatic concern over whether there had been American complicity with Garibaldi’s insurrection, a very real letter dated September 1, 1862, three days after Aspromonte, arrived from Theodore Canisius the American consul to Vienna addressed to Garibaldi in prison inGenoa. This is a particularly odd source for a diplomatic letter the U.S. Consul to Vienna. Odd in the sense that in addition to the Papal States Mazzini and Garibaldi were targeting Austria’s grip on the Venetian territory for revolt in the 1862 campaign as well. Again one would think that an American Consul to Austria would not want to publicly offer sympathy or support for Garibaldi and his failed 1862 campaign. Canisius’ correspondence was addressed to Garibaldi who by this time was in the prison at Spezia, province of Genoa. The date September 1, 1862 is also interesting since it is only three days after Garibaldi’s capture so there was no substantial gap between his letter and Garibaldi’s capture. This American consul’s response to Garibaldi’s capture is almost immediate.
Garibaldi and his Contribution to the Preservation of the American Union
So what did Consul Canisius convey to the imprisoned Garibaldi in his September 1, 1862 correspondence? Consul Canisius in his September 1st letter to Garibaldi offered, without “official” authorization by either Lincoln or Secretary of State Seward or at least so it is stated, a general’s commission in the Union Army. The question arises as to why the American consul to Austria would do this. Garibaldi had very publicly declined command of the whole Union army a year before and clearly expressed that the he would not consider participating without the abolition of slavery being the goal of the war. Why would Canisius believe that Garibaldi would consider a lesser generalship a year later after he had refused participation earlier. Obviously Garibaldi’s position relative to the Piedmont regime had changed drastically in the intervening year but more importantly something had also changed in the Civil War conflict itself as it was progressing in U.S.
A little background on Theodore Canisius might be of use here. Canisius was a German immigrant to America. He settled in the Midwest and was a respected member of the German-American immigrant community there. It is there that he meet and developed a friendship with the up and coming political aspirant Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln hoping to capitalize on Canisius standing in the German immigrant community, from which he needed political support, personally loaned Canisius money in order for him to start a German based newspaper. Of course it was understood that that paper would endorse and support Lincoln’s run for the Presidency. I assume that Lincoln was pleased with the results although Canisius’ newspaper was otherwise a failure and went bankrupt after the election. Nevertheless, Lincoln provided for his friend with an appointment as consul to Vienna. So while some historians downplay the relationship between Lincoln and Canisius clearly they had worked “secretly’ toward common goals before.
This brings us to the summer of 1862. At this time the American Civil War continued to go badly for the north and as a result Lincoln needed to pursue a number of options to bolster his failing support domestically and internationally. Approximately six weeks earlier President Lincoln had issued under authority of his Presidential War powers an ultimatum to the States that had seceded. That ultimatum was in the form of what is today called the Emancipation Proclamation. In brief the ultimatum stated that any State or territory of the United States then in a condition of rebellion would, if they did not cease hostilities, be subject to having all of its residents then in a condition of enslavement set free, effective January 1, 1863.
Obviously from an historical perspective none of the seceding States stopped their rebellion and it is doubtful that Lincoln or his advisors thought that they would. He actually was not issuing it from a position of military or political strength in terms of how the war was going. Further at the time the Emancipation Proclamation was proposed there were approximately 4 million slaves in the United States but the proclamation only applied to about 3 million as the rest were in States or territories “not” in rebellion. However, the Proclamation did have the effect of making the war at least in part one in which the freeing of slaves was a part of the equation in the conflict. That made the political calculation to issue it important both domestically and internationally even if it was hollow from an enforcement position. Of course if initially the Proclamation was most useful for political advantage domestically and internationally then it had to be delivered with what today we might call the right “spin”. If I were President and looking to attain the best spin I probably would consult with a media expert. Did Lincoln have a media expert in his employ in Europe to set up the proper spin for the delivery of the Emancipation Proclamation?
As Canisius’ September letter was delivered to Garibaldi in prison I think it is fair to assume that the Italian authorities were aware of its content. This may have heightened Piedmont’s concern with America’s connection to Garibaldi that Consul Marsh would later in the month raise with Secretary Seward. Nevertheless the Italian regime not only permitted Garibaldi’s receipt of the letter but also his reply dated Sept 14, 1862. Once again Garibaldi declined the offer of a generalship in the following words;
“I am a prisoner and I am seriously wounded, therefore it is impossible for me to dispose of myself. I believe , however that my imprisonment shall cease and my wound heal, the favorable opportunity shall have come, in which I will be able to satisfy my desire to serve the Great American Republic, of which I am a citizen, and which today fights for Universal freedom”. Cited in New York Times published Oct. 9, 1862
A few things need be remarked on about Garibaldi’s response. First, it is not really a declination rather only a temporary decline and leaves open his willingness to participate in the war at a later date. Second Garibaldi, whether in a legal sense or simply in sympathy, obviously states that he is an American citizen. That assertion has led to some speculation on the subject. It is now generally thought that while briefly residing in America, Garibaldi was convinced, by Masonic supporters, to apply for American citizenship. However, he did not complete the process and therefore his actual citizenship here is not a government recognized fact. The third thing is his optimism about recovery from his wound. The musket ball in his foot was not removed for several weeks and the wound itself healed slowly and badly. The rest of his life he could only walk with the aid of a cane or crutch.
But the most important part of his letter I think is his assertion that the American Civil War had become a fight for “Universal freedom”. Remember in 1861 although he thought that abolition should be the goal of the war he clearly felt hat it was not. Now, a year later he is asserting that it had become such a conflict over “freedom”. However, Garibaldi wrote his letter on September 14th and my understanding is that information regarding the proposed Emancipation Proclamation did not reach Europe until late September/ early October 1862. Prior to that the only abolitionist act that Lincoln had made was abolishing slavery in the Capital itself in April 1862. This did have the effect of making Washington a safe haven and destination for runaway slaves from northern Virginia.
Concurrent with these correspondences as Garibaldi’s confinement and condition became better known sympathies for him began to grow in many parts of Europe. To Garibaldi’s formidable resume of accomplishments, nationalist, republican, freedom fighter he had now publicly added “abolitionist”. Or at least he would have had his response been published in the European press and not been a privately delivered response to Canisius.
I should point out that the British government and to a lesser extent France were under, at the time considerable pressure to recognize the sovereignty of the Confederate States. Although England had abolished slavery, England’s textile industry was suffering from the cut-off of cotton and other raw materials from the south, as a result of the Union blockade.
In mid-September, again supposedly without approval or authorization, Canisius released both his letter and Garibaldi’s response to the Austrian press which then spread the news throughout the presses of Europe and America. There were dramatic reactions in many countries to the sudden refocus on Garibaldi. In what appears to be some sort of appeasement effort with Piedmont Secretary Seward revoked Canisius’ diplomatic appointment focusing yet again attention on the unofficial correspondence and getting more press.
However, couched in terms of trying to solve the escalating cries and support for Garibaldi, Consul Marsh now publicly offered asylum in the U.S. for Garibaldi and his “volunteers” if they were released. In Marsh’s again unauthorized negotiation with Piedmont he inferred that if amnesty was granted Garibaldi and his volunteers would be readily accepted for service in the U.S. army in a war to set men free.
Riots began to break out between factions that supported Garibaldi and those opposed to his perceived assault on the Pope in Italy, France and England. This was especially true in London where pro-Garibaldi supporters were attacked by Irish Catholics shouting “Long live the Pope” on September 28, 1862. While all of this seemed to be occurring out of concern or support for Garibaldi and his cause it was also effecting public opinion in England regarding the American Civil War, especially after the news of the Emancipation Proclamation started to be understood.
In England and in France there were powerful business interests interested in seeing the American Civil War conclude. The disruption of the flow of raw materials especially cotton was having significant negative business impact. Many of these powerful elites were calling for the international recognition of the Confederacy. If that occurred then the blockade of the southern ports would fail in the face of British and French naval support for their merchant fleets. If the economy of the south remained intact and the south could maintain a flow of war materials the Union’s war could be lost.
A significant part of the timing and purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was to appeal to the liberal elements of Europe to support the North in a war for Emancipation of the slaves. Garibaldi obviously understood this or it was communicated to him and cooperated with those goals as some part of the American diplomatic overtures were designed to highlight and focus international attention on abolition to the North’s advantage.
A few days after the September 28th London riots a letter appeared in the London newspapers from Garibaldi himself addressed to the “the English Nation” which stated in part his support that Britain take the lead in calling for peace and liberty throughout the world. However, it is clear that specifically he was addressing the war in the United States and said;
“…the great American Republic, for she is in truth your daughter, and is struggling now for the abolition of that Slavery which you have already so nobly proclaimed,” “Help her to escape from the terrible strife waged against her by the traders in human flesh. Help her, and then place by your side at the great assembly of nations-that final work of human intellect.”
A few days later in early October news of the Emancipation Proclamation was printed in the London and other European Capitals. On October 5, 1862 a second “pro-Garibaldi” rally was held in Hyde Park in London and it drew 100,000 pro and anti-Garibaldi crowds who once again attacked each other.
The net effect of the growing support for Garibaldi and his pro-abolition stance was that the idea that the governments of England or France were going to recognize the south and therefore run the risk of being considered pro-slavery was permanently tabled.
As for Garibaldi’s plight by mid-October King Victor Emmanuel II granted full amnesty to Garibaldi and his “volunteers”. Garibaldi still recuperating from his foot wound returned to his island home. His volunteers returned mostly to Sicily and no further mention of enlisting Garibaldi’s volunteers in the Union Army was suggested by Consul Marsh to the Italian Government.
Sec. Seward quietly reinstated consul Canisius to his post in Vienna. For his part Consul Canisius would thereafter boast most strongly that his independent and brilliant initiative of writing to Garibaldi had swung European sentiment the Union cause and that therefore he was the diplomatic hero in the whole affair. I would point out that consul Canisius would enjoy a long diplomatic career at various diplomatic posts including Bristol England until his death while U.S. consul to Samoa in 1885. Well beyond the Lincoln term in office.
So somehow as unlikely as it would appear Garibaldi’s ill-fated campaign of 1862 may have had its greatest effect on the American war of unification rather than the Italian one. Having said that, there were ramifications to Garibaldi’s failed campaign that had more direct impact on events and conditions immediately in and around San Fele. This despite the fact that Garibaldi had not set foot in Basilicata during his brief landing and his march in Calabria. Further, there are no records that I have come across that suggest that any faction within Basilicata had organized or were engaged in meeting up with Garibaldi’s forces. However, that may be because of both secrecy and the stunted nature of Garibaldi’s campaign.
But even without direct action Garibaldi’s campaign contributed to the declining civil rights of the people of Basilicata. First, even after Garibaldi’s capture, imprisonment and the eventual grant of amnesty to Garibaldi and his men by the King in mid-October the “state of siege”, Martial law, imposed upon the south when Garibaldi raised his volunteer force was not lifted. So for the people of the south even without the threat to peace that Garibaldi’s campaign represented there was no relief from the suppression of civil rights imposed. Concurrent with that fact was the continuing buildup of Piedmont military personnel in the south. That buildup would reach about 100,000 troops by the end of 1862.
Again a force representing about half of the entire army of Italy being employed against its own citizens in the south. Those troops were expected to carry out Piedmont’s military edicts as part of their mission in the south. It is during this time that general Cialdini and others in the Piedmont military began to view the combination of martial Law and troops as an opportunity to develop troop discipline and proficiency within the army. This “opportunity” to use the mountainous south as a military proving grounds would begin to devastate civilian communities. The overall decline in civil rights, the people’s reaction to the decline and its immediate consequences to them is the subject of the next article.
One last comment for this article is that also in August 1862 the insurgent politics of Carmine Crocco and of the Vulture changed upon the death, by natural causes of secret insurgent supporter Giustino Fortunato. Giustino Fortunato had been a member of the Bourbon Court and a relative of the Bourbon Monarchy. His close relationship and protection of Crocco had led to the early establishment of a link between Crocco and Bourbon supporters. His death would have repercussions both within the Vulture’s insurgent bands and their relationship to the Bourbon government in exile.
Image of Giustino Fortunato
© San Felese Society of New Jersey
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