Read CHAPTER XVI of Fair Italy‚ the Riviera and Monte Carlo, free online book, by W. Cope Devereux, on

Annexation of Nice and Savoy--Garibaldi’s protest--A desperate venture-- Calatafimi--Catania--Melazzo--Entry into Naples--Gaeta--The British Contingent--Departure from England--Desertion--Arrival in Naples--Colonel “Long Shot”--Major H--’s imaginary regiment--Dispersion of the British Contingent.

On April 1st, 1860, of all days in the year, was consummated the annexation of Nice and Savoy to France. Napoleon III. had liberated Lombardy from the Austrian yoke, and handed it over to Victor Emmanuel. As the “honest broker,” he required his fee, and, much against the will of the majority of the inhabitants, Nice and Savoy became French territory. Certainly a plebiscite was taken on the question, but the whole affair was “managed,” and the birthplace of one of modern Italy’s greatest men was handed over to France.

Giuseppe Garibaldi loudly protested against the annexation, and never forgave it.

For some time during the early spring of 1860, the Sicilians had been in a state of intermittent rebellion against Ferdinand King of Naples Bombina. At the end of April, Garibaldi determined to make a strenuous effort to aid the patriot insurgents, and collected around him several of his old companions in arms, among whom were Nino Brixio, Colonel Turr, the Hungarian, Count Teletri, and Sistari. With these were a number of brave men who had survived the siege of Rome, and the slaughter by General Oudinot’s troops. In three days after determining on action, everything was prepared for one of the most daring and hairbreadth expeditions of modern times. Supplies of arms and stores were procured and held ready at different points of the coast near Genoa; several steamers were “arranged for” (it was stated, at the time they were seized); and on the night of Saturday, May 5th, some two thousand stern and resolute volunteers of all classes of society, and all ages from sixteen to sixty, including about two hundred of the best marksmen of the Società del Tiro Nazionale of Genoa, were on board the steamers, Piedmonti and Lombardo, belonging to the Genoese Rubatino Navigation Company, and La Sardigna. The embarkation, which took place at Foco and other places on the coast, was witnessed by five thousand spectators, who wished the brave fellows God-speed. The Sardinian Government, sub rosa, was fully cognizant of the whole affair, but dared not give it either countenance or recognition of any sort. Shortness of time alone prevented Garibaldi going to the king who was at Bologna, and telling him of his plans.

The Piedmonti was under the command of Garibaldi himself, and Nino Brixio took charge of the Lombardo. Both were experienced sailors. It was generally rumoured that they intended landing on the coast of the Roman States, and the Piedmonti did call at Telemone for water, as the vessel that carried her store had been seized. From Telemone Garibaldi addressed a letter to Signor Barline, which served as the pronunciamento of his expedition and intentions, i.e. to free Italy from the Bourbons. On May 7th the vessels and their gallant crews, recovered from the effects of the very stormy passage from Genoa, set forth again; and on the 11th the whole party disembarked at Marsala, in the teeth of two Neapolitan frigates, who opened fire on them just as the last boat was leaving the Piedmonti, which vessel they afterwards gallantly captured, there being no one on board! The Lombardo was sunk by the Neapolitan guns, and the other vessels made off as best they could, after landing their men. The whole took place in full view of Admiral Mundy and the officers and men of the British fleet.

No sooner were the Garibaldians landed than they marched on to Calatafimi, quite unfettered in their movements by any superabundance of baggage. Here they at once attacked and defeated the royal troops, four times their number, and, raising the whole country on their route, pushed on towards Palermo. At the battle of Calatafimi, Menotti Garibaldi, the son of the general, received his first wound.

With all Europe looking on, amazed at the sheer audacity of the deed, Garibaldi showed himself as prudent and as skilful as he was bold. His red-shirted army, daily increasing in numbers, made one of the most wonderful forced flank marches on record, pushing the way along mere goat-tracks over the mountains, and with such rapidity that General Lanzi, the commandant of the royal army in Palermo, was awakened in the middle of the night to hear that the dreaded Garibaldians, whom he supposed to be at least twenty miles away, were actually forcing their way into the city, and driving the soldiers of Bombina before them. Being driven out of Palermo, Lanzi shelled the city from the forts, in spite of the remonstrances of Admiral Mundy, who had moved the British fleet round the coast to watch proceedings. Outside Palermo, at a place called Catania, Garibaldi engaged and defeated the royal army so badly that General Lanzi was fain to ask the aid of the British admiral, to negociate terms between himself and the filibuster Garibaldi, for his withdrawal from, and surrender of, Palermo to the national army. Had it not been for the generosity of an American captain, who supplied the red-shirts with ammunition, they would have exhausted their last cartridge before the battle of Catania was half over.

Garibaldi was not the man to remain idle one moment, and after establishing a provisional government at Palermo, and recruiting his small forces, he set out towards Messina, and again attacked the Royal army at Melazzo, on July 24. Here was one of the severest struggles of the war. Melazzo was a hard-fought battle, but victory remained with the patriots, and the result placed Messina in the hands of Garibaldi, and with it the whole of the fair island of Sicily. It was at the battle of Melazzo that, watching some English sailors, who had obtained leave from their ships and volunteered their services in the cause of freedom, and were very skilfully managing some pieces of artillery, the idea occurred to Garibaldi and some of his staff, to invite the services of England by the formation of a volunteer legion.

Shortly after the news reached London of the battle of Melazzo, agents were at work enrolling volunteers to join the standard of Garibaldi no longer the revolutionary fillibuster, but the victorious general.

When at Messina, Garibaldi received a letter from Victor Emmanuel, forbidding him to make any attempt to cross the Straits of Messina, and carry the war on to the mainland; but he heeded it not, or, what is perhaps most probable, he read between the lines, that having succeeded so far, greatly to the surprise of all the wiseacres among European diplomatists, he was to follow up his good fortune, and “go ahead.” He did so, and, in spite of the Neapolitan fleet being in the Straits to prevent his passage, he crossed in the night and landed at Melita August 20th, and at once commenced the task of driving out the detested Bombina from his kingdom.

In informing his Government of the fact, Admiral Mundy, who had brought the British fleet to Messina, said, “If the royal troops are staunch, he must be annihilated in a week.” But he knew neither the rottenness of the Neapolitan government nor the terror with which the red-shirted Garibaldians were regarded by the royal troops; for with scarcely any fighting the victorious Garibaldi advanced, driving the king’s army before him like sheep, and entered Naples, on the 7th of September.

His progress from Messina to Naples was unlike any military advance recorded in history. The Bombini government was paralyzed. The king sent to him, and offered fifty millions of francs and the surrender of the whole Neapolitan navy, if he would halt his men and stop the invasion. He knew little of the man who had sworn never to sheath his sword till Victor Emmanuel was King of Italy!

Ferdinand remained in Naples while Garibaldi and General Coyenzi entered it in an open carriage, followed by the chief officers of his staff. The air was rent with the shouts of the people, who thronged in thousands to hail their deliverer. The Neapolitan police the hated Sbirri looked on in sullen silence. The guns of the fortress of St. Elmo commanded the road by which the cavalcade advanced, and were all loaded, the gunners standing ready with lighted fuses waiting for the word to fire. The order was given to clear the streets with grape shot, but the artillerymen stood amazed at the sight of the approaching carriage, in which Garibaldi stood erect, with his hand on his breast, giving orders to the coachmen to drive slower and slower, in a voice that was heard above all the din of the “vivas” of the populace. Three times the officers gave the word to fire; but the gunners were now under the actual majestic influence of Garibaldi’s noble patriotism and unflinching courage, and, throwing down their matches, they flung their caps into the air, and joined the people in their cries of “Viva Garibaldi! Viva Italia!”

The king left the city and fled to Gaeta, and, having collected what troops he could, returned to Volturino, the whole of his army amounting to thirty thousand men. He had not long to wait before Garibaldi, who had been proclaimed Dictator in Naples, attacked him with about five thousand really fighting men, and a herd of Neapolitans who were of no earthly use. The king made most desperate efforts to crush the red-shirts, who fought as only men can fight who do so for country and liberty. After seeing many of his best men fall, and among them some of his dearest friends, and passing through many personal dangers for he was ever in the hottest part of the battle Garibaldi drove the royal troops back, and they never stopped or showed face again till they were safe within the lines of Gaeta, where, after making a decent show of resistance, and standing a siege by the troops of Victor Emmanuel, they surrendered, and the Bourbon dynasty disappeared from Italian soil for ever.

The whole campaign, from the landing at Marsala to the last defeat of the Neapolitan army at Volturino, occupied but 122 days, in which time a mere handful of determined patriots, who were regarded as banditti at the outset of the undertaking, and who were at no time decently supplied with what are deemed by military men the ordinary and necessary equipments for warfare, beat a well-organized army in four regular engagements, besides innumerable skirmishes, and conquered a kingdom.

History records how nobly Garibaldi acted, and how scurvily he was treated. On October 24th, having handed over to Victor Emmanuel the kingdom of the two Sicilies, and made him King of Italy, he retired from Naples, to his island home at Caprera, and, after having at his command the treasury of Naples, was compelled to borrow L20 from a friend to defray his private expenses, and embarked with less than twenty francs in his pocket.

No wonder every Italian glories in the name of Garibaldi! Such men are few and far between.

I have mentioned the formation of a British volunteer legion. Probably there have been few more mismanaged affairs than this British contingent, from the first conception of it on the field of Melazzo to the disbandment of the remnants of it after the surrender of Gaeta.

In the summer of 1860, a gentleman, calling himself Major S, appeared in London, as the accredited agent for the formation of the British Garibaldian Legion. An office was opened in Salisbury Street, Strand, for the enrolment of volunteers, and a committee having been formed, met daily in a room over the shop where a gentleman, better known among Free-thinkers as Iconoclast, sold his own and other unorthodox books of a similar character in Fleet Street. Here a Captain de R became the practical man, while a Major H assumed the character of the dashing dragoon officer. A legal opinion was obtained as to the best way of evading the several Acts of Parliament bearing on the points of foreign enlistment and equipment of armed forces in time of peace.

The great volunteer movement having sprung into existence during the previous year, there was a vast amount of military ardour floating about among young men of all classes, and recruits offered themselves faster than funds were subscribed for their equipment.

About ten or twelve hundred young men of all classes enrolled themselves in the legion, and officers of more or less experience were not wanting to command them. An offer was made to take the whole force out to Naples in a large screw steamer, the Circassian, which had formerly been employed in the Transatlantic service, and belonged to an eminent Greek firm. The offer was, to take the regiment out to Naples, and to feed and provide the men with all necessaries, on exactly the same scale and manner as English troops had been accommodated on board vessels that had taken out the army to suppress the Indian Mutiny. Captain de R, the practical man on the committee, advocated the acceptance of this offered contract, but there were other influences at work. Commissions were offered, and “pickings” were to be obtained if the men were sent out at a cheaper rate in another way, and the consequence was that, instead of the whole force going together in one large vessel, with ample and comfortable accommodation, they were sent out in two parties, in two miserable little vessels totally unfitted for such work, and quite incapable of berthing more than half the number packed on board. The first ship to start was a small screw boat, re-christened for the occasion the Melazzo, after the late Garibaldian victory. The men were huddled on board anyhow at Thames Haven, in the night. No sooner had she got to sea than discomfort begat discontent. There were only sleeping-berths for half the number on board, and consequently the poor volunteers had to take it in turns to sleep; it was turn out one lot, and turn in the other. The vessel called at Plymouth, and a large number of passengers left her, some to find their way out on their “own hook,” and join the force in Italy; and others, having had enough of such discomfort, deserted altogether. The remainder sailed on board the paddle-steamer London, a vessel quite as unsuited for the purpose as the Melazzo. The men assembled at midnight at Fenchurch Street station, making the surrounding neighbourhood echo again with their patriotic songs, and a special train took them down to Southend, where the London was lying. Arrived on board, a very unseemly dispute arose between some of the officers, resulting in Captain de R turning Major H out of the ship. The London did not call anywhere going down Channel, strict orders having been given to her captain not to do so, in consequence of the number of desertions from the Melazzo. However, on touching at Gibraltar, several of the men had experienced discomfort enough, and some of those who had the means of reaching home left the ship there.

Arrived at Naples, a greater mistake than any that had yet occurred took place. The regiment, when assembled together, mustered about eight hundred very presentable young soldiers, well fitted in every way to give a good account of themselves, and such as any English officer would have been proud to lead into action. The question was, who would be the lucky English officer to whom the command would be given?

During the campaign of 1859, when the united French and Italian armies wrested Lombardy from the Austrians, Garibaldi had commanded a body of men who did excellent service, and obtained great renown as the Chasseurs des Alps men who were now fighting with him in Sicily. Wherever Garibaldi went he was accompanied by an eccentric Englishman who was an excellent long shot with the rifle, and whose delight it was to “pot” off Austrians at incredible distances. He became famous for his skill in picking off Austrian officers, and was known as “Garibaldi’s Englishman.” When success attended Garibaldi’s expedition to Sicily, his long-shooting Englishman joined him, and when the English volunteers were ready to leave Naples and take the field at the siege of Gaeta, Colonel “Long Shot” was placed in command a man of execrable temper, and totally unfitted in every way to command anything, let alone a body of half-drilled, high-spirited young Englishmen. About the same time Major S was placed under arrest, and accused of having kept irregular accounts of the regimental monies that had passed through his hands.

Arrived at the front, the British legion were neglected in every way by the Italian troops. The Garibaldians were treated badly enough, but the Englishmen fared worse, and, being dependent upon the Italian commissariat, they came badly off. They were pushed well to the front to do the fighting, and did what little there was to do with credit to themselves and their country, but when supplies were wanted they were almost ignored.

Major H, who had been turned ashore from the London, found his way to Naples, where, in the most resplendent of uniforms, he figured at the cafes and casinos as colonel and commander-in-chief of an imaginary regiment of cavalry, which never reached more than himself and his orderly. After rendering himself the laughing-stock of all Naples, and giving rise to much unfavourable comment upon Englishmen in general, and himself in particular, he disappeared from Naples, and went no one knows where, leaving behind as mementoes of the celebrated cavalry regiment various unpaid accounts.

After the fall of Gaeta, and the end of the war, the remains of this unfortunate British legion melted away, leaving many of their comrades behind, either having died in hospital or fallen beneath the enemy’s fire.

Among the ranks of the British Legion was a young artist, who has since done good service for some of our illustrated papers in depicting battle scenes all over Europe. Mr. Vizitelli was that artist who received a wound in front of Gaeta, and who is one of the unfortunate band that accompanied Hicks Pascha to the Soudan, and about whose fate much anxiety now exists.