General Giuseppe Garibaldi was one of the greatest Italian patriots of all time and definitely the most famous soldier of the Risorgimento. He personally led many of the crucial military campaigns that brought about the formation of a unified Italy in 1861. He is called The Hero of the Two Worlds, a tribute to his military expeditions in South America and throughout Europe.
Garibaldi was born in the Italian Provincial city of Nice in 1807. His family was involved in coastal trade and he was certified as a Merchant Marine captain in 1832.
Garibaldi met Giuseppe Mazzini, an impassioned proponent of Italian unification through political and social reforms, in Geneva in 1833, and joined the Young Italy movement as well as the Carbonari revolutionary association. He participated in a failed Mazzinian revolt in Piedmont, was sentenced to death, and consequently fled to Marseilles.
He made his way to Brazil where he met Anna Maria Ribeiro da Silva, affectionately known as Anita, a woman of Portuguese and American-Indian descent. She became his lover, companion in arms, and eventually his wife. Garibaldi fought alongside other Italian exiles on behalf of the Uruguayans who opposed the Argentinean dictator, Juan Manuel de Rosas.
Calling on the Italians of Montevideo, Garibaldi formed the Italian Legion in 1843. Their black flag represented Italy in mourning but the volcano at its center symbolized the dormant power in their homeland. It was in Uruguay that the legion first sported the red shirts that became the famous symbol of Garibaldi and his men. His strong following, mastery of guerrilla warfare, opposition to Brazilian and Argentinean imperialism, and his victories in the battles of Cerro and
Sant'Antonio in 1846 not only assured the freedom of Uruguay but made Garibaldi a hero throughout Italy and Europe.
Garibaldi returned to Italy in 1848 and offered his assistance to the provisional government of Milan. Meanwhile, a French force sent by Louis Napoleon was threatening to topple the Roman Republic that had been proclaimed in the Papal States. At Mazzini's urging, Garibaldi took command of the defense of Rome and his wife, Anita, fought alongside
him. Despite their efforts, the city fell on June 30, 1849. Garibaldi was forced to flee as he was being hunted by Austrian, French, Spanish and
Neapolitan troops. Sadly Anita, pregnant with their fifth child, died during the retreat.
Garibaldi eventually managed to escape abroad. He met Antonio Meucci, true inventor of the telephone, in 1850 and became a resident of New York. Both men lived in the Gothicrevival style, 160-year old house that is now the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, Staten Island, and worked as candlemakers for some time.
Garibaldi returned to Italy again in 1854. He was appointed Major General of the Austro-Piedmontese War in 1859 and formed a volunteer unit called the Hunters of the Alps. Together they were victorious over the Austrians at Varese and Como, among other places. However, Garibaldi was very displeased to learn that his home city of Nice was surrendered to the French in exchange for crucial military assistance.
In April of 1860, uprisings in Messina and Palermo, both part of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, provided Garibaldi with an opportunity. He gathered approximately one thousand volunteers onto two ships and landed at Marsala, the western-most point of Sicily, on May 11, 1860. These volunteers were called I Mille, and are more popularly known as the "Red Shirts." Local rebels joined Garibaldi's army and they were able to defeat a three thousand-strong, Bourbon French garrison at Calatafimi on May 13. Garibaldi then advanced to Palermo, Sicily's capital, and launched a siege on May 27. He won a signal victory and gained worldwide fame and the respect of many Italians.
Having accomplished the conquest of Sicily, Garibaldi and his men crossed the Strait of Messina, avoiding the Neapolitan fleet, and entered Naples on September 7. After an extensive battle on the Volturno River, Bourbon King, Francis II, retired and Garibaldi captured Naples, the largest town in Southern Italy. He then declared himself the Dictator of the Two Sicilies. However, during his famous meeting with Victor Emmanuel II at Teano on October 26, 1860, Garibaldi greeted him as king of the newly unified nation of southern Italy. Victor Emmanuel II played a crucial role in unifying and freeing the North. Garibaldi then resigned as dictator and retired to the island of Caprera, which would become his permanent home. He refused to accept any reward for his services.
At the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Garibaldi volunteered his services to President Abraham Lincoln and was invited
to serve as a Major General in the Union Army. Garibaldi said he would serve under two conditions–first, that slavery would definitely be abolished and second, that he would be given full command of the army. Both of these conditions were impossible for Lincoln to agree to and the offer was quietly withdrawn.
In 1862, French Emperor, Napoleon III, guaranteed the independence of Rome from Italy by stationing a French garrison in Rome. Victor Emmanuel II was wary of the international repercussions of attacking the Papal States and discouraged his subjects from participating in this revolutionary venture. However, Garibaldi did not comply with his wishes.
He sailed from Genoa to Palermo in June of 1862, seeking to gather volunteers under the slogan, "Roma o Morte," or "Rome or Death." Garibaldi quickly formed an enthusiastic army and left for Messina. When his force of two thousand men arrived, the army proved loyal to the king's instructions and barred their passage onto the mainland. Garibaldi and his men then 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 into the Calabrian Mountains.
The Italian government was quite disapproving and dispatched a division of the army to oppose all volunteer bands. On August 28, the two forces met in Aspromonte. The fighting ended quickly, as Garibaldi forbade his men to return fire on fellow subjects of the Kingdom of Italy, but not before he had been shot in the foot. He was taken to Varignano where he was held in honorable imprisonment and underwent a painful operation for his wound. Garibaldi's venture had failed but his men never deserted him. He was eventually released and allowed to return to Caprera.
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 allied with Prussia against Austria-Hungary in hopes of taking Venetia from Austrian rule (Third Italian War of Independence). Garibaldi gathered his Hunters of the Alps once again, now almost
40,000 strong, and led them into the Trentino. They defeated the Austrians at Bezzecca and continued towards Trento. However, Italian regular forces were quickly defeated at the Sea battle of Lissa. An armistice was signed, in which Austria ceded Venetia to Italy, but this was largely due to Prussia's successes on the Northern Front. Garibaldi was ordered to stop his advance to Trento and he answered with a short telegram that read, "Obbedisco," "I obey."
After the war, Garibaldi led a political party that agitated for the capture of Rome. In 1867, he marched on Rome once again but was
matched with a strong Papal army supported by a French auxiliary force. Garibaldi was defeated, taken prisoner and held captive for
some time. He eventually returned to Caprera.
When the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, many Italians favored the Prussians and signed up as volunteers at the Prussian embassy in Florence. After the French garrison was recalled from Rome, the Italian army captured the Papal States without Garibaldi's assistance. For the first time since the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy was unified from the Alps to Sicily. Rome became the capital city of the unified country of Italy. However, in light of recent hostility shown to him by Napoleon III, Garibaldi turned his support to the French Third Republic, traveled to France, and assumed command of an army of volunteers in the Vosges Mountains. They were never defeated by the Germans.
Garibaldi spent the rest of his life in Caprera with his third wife, Francesca Armosino, and their children and family members. He died on June 2, 1882.
There is no question that Garibaldi's popularity, skill, heroism and military exploits made the unification of Italy possible. He served
as a global example of 19th century revolutionary nationalism and liberalism. An active freemason, Garibaldi thought of masonry as a network to unite progressive men as brothers both within nations and as members of a global community.
Garibaldi wrote at least two novels during his lifetime, including Clelia and Cantoni il volontario, 1870. He also wrote two non-fiction works, Autobiography, published in 1889, and The Memoirs of Garibaldi, coauthored by Alexandre Dumas, published in 1861. Five Italian Navy ships have been named after him, including the current flagship, the aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi. Cities in Brazil and Oregon have been named in his honor, as well. Statues constructed to honor the great Italian hero stand in many Italian squares and in countries across the globe.