Giuseppe Garibaldi

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Garibaldi in 1866

Giuseppe Garibaldi (July 4, 1807June 2, 1882) was an Italian patriot and soldier of the Risorgimento. He personally led many of the military campaigns that brought about the formation of a unified Italy. He was called the "Hero of the Two Worlds," in tribute to his military adventures in South America and Europe.

He was born in the coastal city of Nice, and reared to a life on the sea. The city was then part of Savoy, in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia.


Early activity

Influenced by Giuseppe Mazzini, an impassioned proponent of Italian unification through political and social reforms, he joined the Carbonari revolutionary association. He participated in a failed republican uprising in Piedmont in 1834. Sentenced to death, he escaped to South America. In 1839, he joined the rebel cause in the War of Tatters revolt in Brazil, which had broken out a few years before. Six years of tenacity proved unsuccessful, and the rebels finally surrendered in 1845. He later commanded the Uruguayan navy in defence against Juan Manuel de Rosas of Argentina, who was trying to reannex the country.

Garibaldi returned to Italy in the tumult of the revolutions of 1848, and offered his services to Charles Albert of Sardinia. The monarch displayed some liberal inclinations, but treated Garibaldi with coolness and distrust. Meanwhile, a Roman Republic had been proclaimed in the Papal States, but an Austrian and French force threatened to topple it. At Mazzini's urging, Garibaldi took up the command of the defence of Rome. His wife, Anita, fought with him. Despite their effort, the city fell, and Garibaldi was forced to flee to the north, hunted by the Austrian troops that had entered into the Papal States. He eventually managed to escape abroad, but he had lost Anita. In 1850 he became a resident of New York, where he met Antonio Meucci. For some time he worked in a manufactory of candles on Staten Island, and afterwards made several voyages on the Pacific.

Garibaldi returned to Italy in 1854. In 1859, the Austro-Sardinian War broke out through the machinations of the Sardinian government. Garibaldi was appointed major general, and formed a volunteer unit named the Hunters of the Alps. With his volunteers, he won victories over the Austrians at Varese, Como, and other places. One outcome of the war, though, left Garibaldi very displeased. His home city of Nice was surrendered to the French, in return for crucial military assistance.

Campaign of 1860

At the beginning of April 1860, uprisings in Messina and Palermo in the absolutist Kingdom of the Two Sicilies provided Garibaldi with an opportunity. He gathered about a thousand volunteers (called i Mille, or, as popularly known, the "Red Shirts") in two ships, and landed at Marsala, on the westernmost point of Sicily, on May 11.

Conquest of Sicily

Swelling the ranks of his army with scattered bands of local rebels, Garibaldi defeated an opposing army at Calatafimi on May 13. The next day, he declared himself dictator of Sicily in the name of Victor Emmanuel II of Italy. He advanced then to Palermo, the capital of the island, and launched a siege on May 27. He had the support of many of the inhabitants, who rose up against the garrison, but before the city could be taken, reinforcements arrived and bombarded the city nearly to ruins. At this time, a British admiral intervened and facilitated an armistice, by which the Neapolitan royal troops and warships departed and surrendered the city.

Garibaldi had won a signal victory. He gained worldwide renown and the adulation of Italians. Faith in his prowess was so strong that doubt, confusion, and dismay seized even the Neapolitan court. Six weeks later, he marched against Messina in the east of the island. By the conclusion of July, only the citadel resisted him.

Crossing to the mainland

Having finished the conquest of Sicily, he crossed the Straits of Messina, under the nose of the Neapolitan fleet, and marched northward. Garibaldi's progress was met with more celebration than resistance, and on September 7th he entered the capital city of Naples. However, he had never defeated the king, Francis II. Most of the army remained loyal, and had gathered north of the river Volturno. Though by then his volunteers numbered some 25,000, Garibaldi could not oppose it. A major battle was fought on the Volturno on the 1st and 2nd of October, but the bulk of the fighting was left to the Sardinian army under the command of Victor Emmanuel.

Garibaldi deeply disliked the Sardinian Prime Minister, Camillo di Cavour. To an extent, he simply mistrusted Cavour's pragmatism and realpolitik, but he also bore a personal grudge for trading away his home city of Nice to the French the previous year. On the other hand, he felt attracted toward the king, who in his opinion had been chosen by Providence for the liberation of Italy. He greeted Victor Emmanuel with the title of King of Italy, and resigned the next day, telegraphing the single word Obbedisco ("I obey"). Garibaldi rode into Naples at the king's side, then retired to the rocky island of Caprera, refusing to accept any reward for his services.

Garibaldi's fellow revolutionaries were not satisfied. With the motto "Free from the Alps to the Adriatic," the unification movement set its gaze on Rome and Venice. Mazzini was discontented with the perpetuation of monarchial government, and continued to agitate for a republic. Garibaldi, frustrated at inaction by the king, and bristling over perceived snubs, organized a new venture. This time, he intended to take on the Papal States.

Expedition against Rome

A challenge against the Pope's temporal domain was viewed with great distrust by Catholics around the world, and the French emperor Napoleon III had guaranteed the independence of Rome from Italy by stationing French troops in Rome. Victor Emmanuel was wary of the international reprecussions of attacking the Papal States, and discouraged his subjects from participating in revolutionary ventures with such intentions. Nonetheless, Garibaldi believed he had the secret support of his government.

In June of 1862, he sailed from Genoa and landed at Palermo, seeking to gather volunteers for the impending campaign. 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 August 14, and marched at once into the Calabrian mountains.

Far from supporting this endeavor, the Italian government was quite disapproving. General Cialdini dispatched a division of the regular army, under Colonel Pallavicino, against the volunteer bands. On August 28 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 prisoner, including Garibaldi, who had been wounded.

A government steamer took him to Varignano, where he was held in a sort of honorable imprisonment, and was compelled to undergo a tedious and painful operation for the healing of his wound. His venture had failed, but he was at least consoled by Europe's sympathy and continued interest. After being restored to health, he was released and allowed to return to Caprera.

In the Austro-Prussian War and afterward

Garibaldi took up arms again in 1866, this time with the full support of the Italian government. The Austro-Prussian War had broken out, and Italy had allied with Prussia against Austria-Hungary in the hope of taking Venetia from Austrian rule. He gathered again his Hunters of the Alps, now some 40,000 strong, and led them into the Tyrol. While the Italian regular forces suffered defeat by land and sea, Garibaldi defeated the Austrians at Bezzecca and made for Trento.

Austria did cede Venetia to Italy, but it was compelled to do so not by Italy's poor showing, but by Prussia's successes on the northern front. Garibaldi's advance through Trentino was for nought.

After the war, Garibaldi led a political party that agitated for the capture of Rome, the peninsula's ancient capital. In 1867, he again marched on the city, but the Papal army, supported by a French auxiliary force, proved a match for his badly-armed volunteers. He was taken prisoner, held captive for a time, and then again returned to Caprera.

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, French troops withdrew from Rome, and the Italians captured the Papal States without Garibaldi's assistance. Following the wartime collapse of the Second French Empire, Garibaldi led a force of volunteers against Prussia in support of the new French Third Republic.

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Garibaldi statue in Lower Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA


Garibaldi's popularity, his skill at rousing the masses, and his military exploits are all credited with making the unification of Italy possible.

He died on Caprera, where he was interred. Five ships of the Italian Navy have been named after him, among which the current flagship, the aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Statues of his likeness stand in many Italian squares, and in many other countries around the world.

It is said that the Garibaldi biscuit is named for the famous commander, who gave it to his men. His red-shirted volunteers also lent his name to the garibaldi, a North American fish with a distinctive orange color. A pub located in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, England is also named after the biscuit or, according to some, for the general.


  • Morris, Charles, LL.D (1902). Young People's History of the World for the Past One Hundred Years. W. E. Garibaldi

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