The History of Sicily


Italy had become a group of states ruled by absolute monarchs. In the north, the Austrians held sway. The Papal States, a huge swath of territory from Rome eastward was, of course, ruled by the Vatican. In Naples, Ferdinand had rescinded the constitution. The only exception was the Kingdom of Piedmont/Sardinia. Its king, Victor Emanuel (1820-1878), was guided by his chief minister Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour (1810-1861). In an attempt to take other Italian territories from Austria, he aligned Piedmont with Napoleon III of France in a war against Austria. In 1858, the French and Piedmontese defeated the Austrians, with the latter annexing Lombardy to their kingdom. In return, Napoleon asked the Italians to cede Savoy and Nice to France.

This agreement infuriated Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), who had been born in Nice (on July 4). A merchant seaman who had spent twelve years learning guerilla warfare in South America, he had led group of Italian exiles, who became known as the Redshirts. At one point, Garibaldi was put in command of the Uruguayan navy in the war with Argentina. His fame as a military leader spread to Europe after his victory at the Battle of San Antonio in 1846. Returning to Italy, he participated in the 1848 revolution by leading his volunteers into Rome, from which the Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) had fled. In 1849, Garibaldi proposed that Rome declare itself a republic, and it did so on February 9. In June, the French invaded, and after an heroic defense of the city, the Roman Republic was abolished on July1. Garibaldi and 4000 of the Republic’s defenders left the next day. Garibaldi’s wife, Anita, whom he had met in South America, died during their escape. Soon afterward, he left for exile in New York.

After Garibaldi returned to Italy in 1854, he met with another 1848 revolutionary, Francesco Crispi (1818-1901), a lawyer who had been born in southwestern Sicily. He convinced Garibaldi to support the uprising in Palermo, which had erupted on April 4, 1860. Garibaldi asked King Victor Emanuel for troops, but he refused on the grounds that Piedmont/Sardinia and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies were not at war. Instead, Garibaldi collected his own army, known as I Mille (“The Thousand”). Included were Crispi and his wife, who had donned men’s clothing. The Mille left Genoa on May 5, landing at Marsala, Sicily, six days later. Garibaldi then moved inland to Salemi, where he proclaimed himself dictator in the name of Victor Emanuel. On May 15, he defeated a Bourbon army at Calatafimi, near the ancient temple of Segesta, and he succeeded in drawing thousands of Sicilians to his side. Chasing the Bourbons to Partinico, he defeated them handily, then moved on to Palermo. Articles about his progress appeared regularly in American and British newspapers; there are even reports that news of his exploits reached Russia.


Giuseppe Garibaldi