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Garibaldi's Movements

Frederick Engels

London, August 8, 1860

The crisis in Southern Italy is at hand. If we are to trust the French and Sardinian papers, 1,500 Garibaldians have landed on the coast of Calabria and Garibaldi is hourly expected[a]. But even if this news be premature, there can be no doubt that Garibaldi will have transferred the seat of war to the Italian mainland before the middle of August.

To understand the movements of the Neapolitans, it must be kept in mind that there are two opposing undercurrents at work in their army: the moderate Liberal party, officially in power, and represented by the Ministry, and the Absolutist camarilla, to which most of the chiefs of the army are attached. The orders of the Ministry are counteracted by the secret orders of the Court and by the intrigues of the generals. Hence conflicting movements and conflicting reports. To-day we hear that all royal troops are to leave Sicily, to-morrow we find them preparing a fresh base of operations at Milazzo. This state of things is inherent to all half-and-half revolutions; the year 1848 furnishes examples of it all over Europe.

While the Ministry offered to evacuate the island, Bosco, who seems to be the only resolute man among the parcel of old women bearing Neapolitan generals' epaulettes, quietly attempted to turn the north-eastern corner of the island into a stronghold from which the reconquest of the island might be attempted, and for this purpose marched to Milazzo with a picked force of the best men to be had in Messina. Here he fell in with Medici's brigade of Garihaldians. He did not, however, venture any serious attack on them, until Garibaldi himself had been sent for and brought some reenforcements. Here the insurgent chief, in his turn, attacked the royals, and, after an obstinate fight of above twelve hours' duration, defeated them completely. The forces engaged on either side were about equal, but the position held by the Neapolitans was very strong. However, neither positions nor men could withstand the dash of the insurgents, who drove the Neapolitans right through the town into the citadel. Here nothing remained to them but to capitulate, and Garibaldi allowed them to embark, but without arms. After this victory, he marched at once to Messina, where the Neapolitan general consented to give up the outer forts of the town on condition of not being molested in the citadel. This citadel being unable to hold more than a few thousand men, will never be a serious obstacle to any offensive operations of Garibaldi, and he therefore did quite right in sparing the town of a bombardment, which would inevitably have followed any attack. As it is this series of capitulations at Palermo, Milazzo, and Messina, must do more to destroy the confidence of the royal troops in themselves and in their chiefs, than twice as many victories. It has become a matter of course that the Neapolitans always capitulate before Garibaldi.

From this moment it became possible for the Sicilian Dictator to think of landing on the continent. His steam navy does not as yet appear to be sufficiently large to warrant him in attempting a landing further north, somewhere within six or eight marches from Naples, say in the Bay of Policastro. He, therefore, seems to have decided on crossing the Straits where they are narrowest, that is, on the extreme north-eastern point of the island, north of Messina. On this point he is said to have concentrated about 1,000 vessels, very likely most of them fishing and coasting felucas, such as are common on those coasts, and if the landing of the 1,500 men under Sacchi be confirmed, they will form his advanced guard. The point is not the most favorable for a march on Naples, as it is the part of the mainland furthest away from the Capital; but if his steam navy cannot transport something like 10,000 men at once, he cannot select any other, and then he has at least this advantage, that the Calabrians will at once join him. If, however, he can cram some ten thousand men on board his steamers, and can rely on the neutrality of the Royal navy (which appears resolved not to fight against Italians), then he may still land a few men in Calabria as a feint, and himself go with the. main body to the Bay of Policastro, or even to that of Salerno.

The force at present at the disposal of Garibaldi consists of five brigades of regular infantry, of four battalions each; of ten battalions of Cacciatori dell' Etna[b]; of two battalions of Cacciatori delle Alpi[c], the élite of his army; of one foreign (now Italian) battalion under Col. Dunne, an Englishman; of one battalion of engineers; one regiment and a squadron .of cavalry; and four battalions of field artillery; in all 34 battalions, four squadrons, and 32 guns, equal to some 25,000 men in all, of whom, rather more than one-half are North Italians, the rest Italians. The whole, nearly, of this force might be used for the invasion of Naples, as the new formations now being organized will soon suffice to observe the citadel of Messina, and protect Palermo and the other towns from insult. Still, this force looks very small when compared with what the Neapolitan Government disposes of on paper.

The Neapolitan army consists of three regiments of the guard, fifteen ditto of the line, four foreign regiments, each of two battalions, or together 44 battalions; of 13 battalions of chasseurs; of nine regiments of cavalry, and two of artillery—in all 57 battalions, and 45 squadrons, on the peace-footing. Inclusive of the 9,000 gens d'armes, who also are organized on a perfectly military footing, this army, on the peace-footing, counts 90,000 men. But, during the last two years, it has been raised to the full war complement; third battalions of regiments have been organized, the depot squadrons have been put to active service, the garrison troops have been completed; and this army now consists, on paper, of above 150,000 men.

But what an army is this! Externally fine to look at for a martinet, there is no life, no spirit, no patriotism, no fidelity in it. It has no national military traditions. When Neapolitans fought as such, they were always defeated. Only in the wake of Napoleon were they ever associated with victory. It is not a National army. It is a purely Royal army. It was raised and organized for the express and exclusive purpose of keeping down the people. And even for that it appears unfit; there are plenty of anti-royalist elements in it, and they now break forth everywhere. The sergeants and corporals, especially, are Liberals almost to a man. Whole regiments shout "Viva Garibaldi!" No army ever under-went such disgrace as this one did from Calatafimi to Palermo; and if the foreign troops and some Neapolitans fought well at Milazzo, it is not to be forgotten that these picked men form but a small minority of the army.

Thus it is almost certain that, if Garibaldi lands with a force sufficient to obtain a few successes on the continent, no concentration of Neapolitan masses will be able to oppose him with any chance of success; and we may next expect to hear that he is continuing his triumphal career, with 15,000 men against tenfold odds, from the Scilla to Naples.

Written about August 7, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6031, August 23, 1860;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1592, August 28, 1860


[a] See "Affaires des deux Siciles", Le Constitutionnel, No. 220, August 7, 1860.—Ed.

[b] Etna riflemen.—Ed.

[c] Alpine riflemen.—Ed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.449-452), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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