Giuseppe Garibaldi

Giuseppe Garibaldi

Was an Italian general, politician and nationalist who played a large role in the history of Italy. He is considered, with Camillo Cavour, Victor Emmanuel II and Giuseppe Mazzini, as one of Italy’s “fathers of the fatherland”. Garibaldi was a central figure in the Italian Risorgimento, since he personally commanded and fought in many military campaigns that led eventually to the formation of a unified Italy. He was appointed general by the provisional government of Milan in 1848, General of the Roman Republic in 1849 by the Minister of War, and led the Expedition of the Thousand on behalf and with the consent of Victor Emmanuel II.

In April 1833 he travelled to Taganrog, Russia, in the schooner Clorinda with a shipment of oranges. During 10 days in port, he met Giovanni Battista Cuneo from Oneglia, a politically active immigrant and member of the secret “La Giovine Italia”/ “Young Italy” movement of Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini was an impassioned proponent of the Italian unification as a liberal republic through political and social reform. Garibaldi joined the society and took an oath, dedicating himself to the struggle to liberate and unify his homeland free from Austrian dominance.

Between 1842 and 1848, Garibaldi defended Montevideo against forces led by Oribe. In 1845, he managed to occupy Colonia del Sacramento and Isla Martín García, and led the controversial sack of Gualeguaychú during the Anglo-French blockade of the Río de la Plata. Adopting guerrilla tactics, Garibaldi later achieved two victories during 1846 in the Battle of Cerro and the Battle of San Antonio del Santo.

On 30 April 1849, the Republican army, under Garibaldi’s command, defeated a numerically far superior French army. Subsequently, French reinforcements arrived, and the siege of Rome began on 1 June. Despite the resistance of the Republican army, the French prevailed on 29 June. On 30 June, the Roman Assembly met and debated three options: surrender, continue fighting in the streets, or retreat from Rome to continue resistance from the Apennine mountains. Garibaldi made a speech favoring the third option and then said: “Dovunque saremo, colà sarà Roma”. (Wherever we may be, there will be Rome). He went to Tangier, where he stayed with Francesco Carpanetto, a wealthy Italian merchant. Carpanetto suggested that he and some of his associates finance the purchase of a merchant ship, which Garibaldi would command. Garibaldi agreed, feeling that his political goals were for the moment unreachable, and he could at least earn his own living.

Swelling the ranks of his army with scattered bands of local rebels, Garibaldi led 800 volunteers to victory over an enemy force of 1.500 on the hill of Calatafimi on 15 May. He used the counter-intuitive tactic of an uphill bayonet charge. He saw that the enemy on the hill was terraced, and the terraces would shelter his advancing men. Though small by comparison with the coming clashes at Palermo, Milazzo and Volturno, this battle was decisive in terms of establishing Garibaldi’s power in the island. An apocryphal but realistic story had him say to his lieutenant Nino Bixio, “Qui si fa l’Italia o si muore”, meaning: “Here we either make Italy, or we die”. In reality, the Neapolitan forces were ill guided, and most of its higher officers had been bought out. The next day, he declared himself dictator of Sicily in the name of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. He advanced to Palermo, the capital of the island, and launched a siege on 27 May. He had the support of many inhabitants, who rose up against the garrison, but before they could take the city, reinforcements arrived and bombarded the city nearly to ruins.

In June 1862, he sailed from Genoa and landed at Palermo, seeking to gather volunteers for the impending campaign under the slogan “Roma o Morte” (Rome or Death). An enthusiastic party quickly joined him, and he turned for Messina, hoping to cross to the mainland there. When he arrived, he had a force of some two thousand, but the garrison proved loyal to the king’s instructions and barred his passage. They turned south and set sail from Catania, where Garibaldi declared that he would enter Rome as a victor or perish beneath its walls. He landed at Melito on 14 August, and marched at once into the Calabrian mountains. Far from supporting this endeavor, the Italian government was quite disapproving. General Enrico Cialdini dispatched a division of the regular army, under Colonel Emilio Pallavicini, against the volunteer bands. On 28 August the two forces met in the rugged Aspromonte. One of the regulars fired a chance shot, and several volleys followed, killing a few of the volunteers. The fighting ended quickly, as Garibaldi forbade his men to return fire on fellow subjects of the Kingdom of Italy. Many of the volunteers were taken prisoners, including Garibaldi, who had been wounded by a shot in the foot.

On his deathbed, Garibaldi asked for his bed to be moved to where he could gaze at the emerald and sapphire sea. Upon his death, on 2 June 1882 at the age of almost 75, his wishes for a simple funeral and cremation were not respected. He was buried in his farm on the island of Caprera alongside his last wife and some of his children.

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