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Garibaldi in Calabria

Frederick Engels

We are now in possession of detailed information respecting the conquest of Lower Calabria by Garibaldi, and the entire dispersion of the Neapolitan corps charged with its defense. In this part of his triumphal career, Garibaldi .has shown himself to be not only a brave leader and clever strategist, but also a scientific general. The attack, by main force, of a chain of coast-forts is an undertaking which requires not only military talent, but also military science; and it is gratifying to find that our hero, who never passed a military examination in his life, and can scarcely be said ever to have belonged to a regular army, was as much at home on this kind of battle-field as on any other.

The toe of the Italian boot is formed by the mountain chain of Aspromonte, which ends in the peak of Montalto, about 4,300 feet high. From this peak, the waters flow toward the coast in a number of deep ravines, extending from Montalto as from a center, like the radii of a semicircle, the periphery of which is formed by the coast. These ravines, with the beds of their respective mountain torrents dried up in this season, are called fiumare, and form as many positions for a retreating army. They may indeed be turned by the Montalto, especially as there are bridle-paths and footpaths running along the crest of each spur and of the main chain of Aspromonte itself; but the complete absence of water on the high land would make it rather a difficult maneuver to do so in Summer with a large force. The spurs of the hill run down to the coast, where they descend toward the sea in steep and irregularly broken rocks. The forts guarding the straits between Reggio and Scilla are constructed partly on the beach, but more generally on low, projecting rocks close to the shore. The consequence is that they are all of them commanded and looked into by the more elevated rocks close to the rest, and although the commanding points may be inaccessible to artillery, and mostly out of the range of old Brown Bess[342], so as to be considered of no consequence when the forts were erected, their importance has become decisive since the introduction of the modern rifle; they are mostly within its range, and thus they now do command the forts in reality. Under these circumstances, a forcible attack on these forts, despising the rules of regular sieges, was perfectly justified. What Garibaldi had to do was, evidently, to send a column along the high road which skirts the shore under the fire of the forts, for a feigned front attack on the Neapolitan troops; and to take another column over the hills as high up the fiumare as might be rendered necessary by the nature of the ground, or by the extent of front offered by any Neapolitan defensive position, thus turning both troops and fort, and having the advantage of the commanding position in every engagement.

Accordingly, on the 21st August, Garibaldi sent Bixio, with part of his troops, along the coast toward Reggio, whilst he himself, with a small detachment and the troops of Missori, which had rejoined him, went by the higher ground. The Neapolitans, eight companies, or about 1,200 men, occupied a fiumare just outside Reggio. Bixio, being the first to attack, sent one column to the extreme left on the sandy beach, while he himself advanced on the road. The Neapolitans very soon gave way; but their left wing, in the hills, held out against the few men of Garibaldi's advanced guard until Missori's men came up and drove them in. Then they retreated to the fort, which is situated in the middle of the town, and to a small battery on the beach. The latter was taken by a very gallant rush of three of Bixio's companies, who went in through an embrasure. The large fort was cannonaded by Bixio, who found two Neapolitan heavy guns, with ammunition, in this battery; but this would not have compelled it to surrender, had not Garibaldi's sharpshooters taken up the commanding hights, from which they could see and pick off the gunners in the batteries. This told; the artillerymen forsook the platforms, and ran into the casemates: the fort surrendered, the men partly joining Garibaldi, but mostly going home. While this was going on at Reggio, the attention of the Neapolitan steamers being engaged by this fight, by the destruction of the stranded steamer Torino, and by a sham embarcation of Medici's men in Messina, Cosenz succeeded in getting 1,500 men, in 60 boats, out of the Faro Lagore, and landing them on the north-west coast, between Scilla and Bagnara.[a]

On the 23d, a small engagement took place near Salice[b] a little beyond Reggio; fifty Garibaldians, English and French, commanded by Col. De Flotte, defeated four times their number of Neapolitans. De Flotte fell on this occasion. On the same day, Gen. Briganti, who commanded a brigade in Lower Calabria under Viale, had an interview with Garibaldi as to the conditions of his passing over into the Italian camp; this interview, however, had no other result but to show that the Neapolitans were completely demoralized. From this moment, there was no longer any question as to victory, but only as to surrender. Briganti and Melendez, the chief of the second movable brigade of Lower Calabria, had taken up a position close to the coast, between Villa San Giovanni and Scilla, extending their left toward the hills near Fiumara-di-Muro. Their united forces might be computed at some 3,600 men.

Garibaldi, placing himself in communication with Cosenz, who had landed in the rear of this body, drew a complete net round them and then quietly awaited their surrender, which took place on the 24th, toward evening. He kept their arms, and permitted the men to go home if they liked, which most of them did. The fort of Punta-di-Pezzo surrendered also, and the posts of the Alla Fiumare, Torre del Cavallo, and Scilla followed the example, discouraged as much by the rifle-shots from the commanding hights as by the general defection of the other forts and the troops in the field. Thus not only was the perfect command of both sides of the straits secured, but the whole of Lower Calabria conquered, and the troops sent to its defense taken prisoners and dismissed to their homes in less than five days.

This series of defeats broke every capability of further resistance in the Neapolitan army. The officers of the remaining battalions of Viale, at Monteleone, came to the conclusion to defend their position for an hour, to save appearances, and then to lay down their arms. The insurrection in the other provinces made rapid progress; whole regiments refused to march against the insurgents, and desertions took place in bodies, even among the troops guarding Naples. And thus the road to Naples was finally opened to the hero of Italy.

Written about September 6, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6058, September 24, 1860 as a leading article


[a] Bagnara Calabria.—Ed.

[b] Saliche Calabria.—Ed.

[342] "Brown Bess"—the name used by British soldiers in the eighteenth and early early nineteenth centuries for a flint-lock musket with a brown walnut stock.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.476-478), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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