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The Battle of Marsala


The Battle of Marsala - Fall of Palermo - Treachery of the Neapolitan Generals - Atrocities committed by their Troops - Garibaldi assumes the Dictatorship of Sicily - Garibaldi on board the British Ship Hannibal - His Convention with the Neapolitan Generals - His Address to the People of Palermo - Italian Enthusiasm - Garibaldi's Exhortation to the Sicilian Priests - Ugo Bassi - Public Thanksgiving to the God of Battles - His Marvellous Success - Arrival of La Farina to conduct the Administration - His Attempt to usurp the Dictatorship - He is shipped off by Garibaldi - Departure of the Neapolitan Garrison - Services of the British Admiral Mundy - Garibaldi's Gratitude - His Letters to the Queen and Lady Shaftesbury.
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The army which Garibaldi was enabled to muster at Marsala on the 11th of May, 1860, consisted of 1,002 Italians and five Hungarians, with only six small pieces of cannon, a few stand of arras, and a moderate amount of ammunition. An auxiliary body of 1,200 peasants was hastily organised, and with this force he was about to wage war against 50,000 troops with numerous artillery posted in strong fortresses, haying a fleet with 900 guns to support them. The Neapolitan army was commanded by General Lanza, who, in an order of the day, proclaimed his intention to extinguish the firebrand of Italy, the outlawed fillibuster of South America. Nothing daunted by this bravado, Garibaldi, on the 15th of May, attacked the enemy in their strong positions. "His military genius and unequalled quickness in manoeuvring staggered the Bourbon general; while the bayonets of the Cacciatori and the fire of the squadre, who had outflanked the enemy, decided the first fight on Sicilian ground in favour of the soldiers of liberty. But the band of heroes paid dearly for the victory of Calatafimi. The battle lasted three hours; Garibaldi had 200 men hors de combat, while his son Menotti, and the son of the great Manin, and Baron Stocco were amongst the wounded. From Calatafimi to Palermo, the liberators marched on, fighting and conquering, and carrying out, under the guidance of Garibaldi, the most admirable strategical plans." He crossed the mountains, following the goat tracks, causing his guns to be carried on the men's shoulders; and then suddenly appeared on the opposite plains, surprising the Neapolitans, who fell back at his approach. But being reinforced next morning, they advanced to attack him. The General then feigned a hasty retreat, which so completely deceived the Neapolitan generals in that quarter, that they telegraphed to Lanza at Palermo, stating that Garibaldi had fled, and that his troops were being utterly demoralised. But on the morning of the 27th, the Commander-in-Chief received, while yet in bed, the startling intelligence that the despised " fillibuster " was encamped in the vicinity of that city. It was defended by. 12,000 troops. In less than four hours they were dislodged from their positions. St. Antonio and Quattro Cantoni, the houses of the suburb, were carried; and Garibaldi, forcing his way through the Piazza Bologni, occupied the Piazza del Pretorio, where he established his head-quarters. Before night his troops were in possession of the whole of the town, with the exception of the royal palace, its immediate vicinity, and the forts, from which, as well as from the Neapolitan ships hard by, a shower of projectiles fell upon the Italians, for they had opened fire upon the city in spite of the energetic protest of the English rear- admiral Mundy. The result of this marvellous success was a conference with Garibaldi, which was held on board the English flag-ship Hannibal on the 30th of May, m presence of the French, American, and Sardinian naval commanders. An armistice was agreed to, and ultimately a convention signed on the 6th of June, by which the Neapolitans were to evacuate Palermo, and the whole of Sicily, except Messina, Melazza, and some other less important fortresses.

Admiral Mundy, in his "Palermo and Naples," gives a remarkable letter from General Lanza to His Excellency General Garibaldi in the following terms: - " Since the English admiral has let me know that he would receive with pleasure on board his vessel two of my generals to open a conference with yon, at which the admiral would be mediator, provided you would grant them a passage through your lines, I therefore beg you to let me know if you will consent thereto; and if so (supposing hostilities to be suspended on both sides), I beg you to let me know the hour when the said conference shall begin. It would likewise be advantageous that you would give an escort to the above mentioned generals from the royal palace to the Sanita, where they would embark to go on board." On this communication the admiral remarks: - "What must have been the distress of the royal army before the alter ego of the sovereign could have condescended to pen so humble a letter as this! The man who up to the present hour had been stigmatised by epithets degrading to human nature, and denounced in proclamations as a pirate, rebel, and fillibuster, now elevated to the title and rank of 'His Excellency ' and ' General.' It was equivalent to the recognition of his character as an equal, and an acknowledgment of his own inability to subdue him by force." The hour was appointed, and at the moment fire was opened from the guns of the Neapolitan ships, the whole affair being planned to surprise and capture Garibaldi.

The Italians paid a just tribute to the humanity, energy, and diplomatic skill of Admiral Mundy, but for whose exertions the city would have been almost totally destroyed by the bombardment. One of their historians writes, "Both Italy and civilised Europe owe Admiral Mundy a debt of gratitude - a debt which I am happy to acknowledge in these pages, and which will never be effaced from Italian hearts. The reader will better appreciate the noble conduct of the British commander when he has been made acquainted with the misfortunes which had already fallen upon the town during the bombardment. A whole quarter of Palermo was in ashes, families had been burned alive in their dwellings, and the atrocities perpetrated by the Bavarian and Neapolitan troops were frightful. In a house near the royal palace, an old man was burned in his bed, not by accident, but deliberately. In another house, near the burning palace of Prince Carini, a whole family was bayoneted. Nuns, monks, and citizens were massacred without even the shadow of a pretext. In various parts of the city, convents, churches and other edifices were demolished by the shells, continually thrown into them from the fort and the ships of war. For many nights the flames of the conflagration, mixed with clouds of grey smoke, rose to the blue sky of that enchanting region. For many nights a red glare was thrown upon the picturesque bay, colouring with its light the summits of the mountains, and touching even the distant waves of the sea as with golden threads."

Garibaldi soon showed that he was not great merely in guerilla warfare, but that he was also a great statesman; that he had a faculty of organising, and knew how to turn all his available resources to the best possible account. Master of Palermo, he immediately set about preparing the means for future conquests. He had written to Genoa for reinforcements. He hired steamers, bought arms and ammunition, and urged the people of Sicily to come forth and aid him in working out their deliverance. Stern and terrible in war, this wonderful man had for suffering humanity feelings as tender as those of a woman. Amidst all the bustle and labour connected with his military operations, he made the following touching appeal to the ladies of Palermo: - " I present myself in confidence to you, noble ladies of Palermo, to confess an act of weakness. I, an old soldier of two worlds, shed tears and am distressed in mind. I weep not at the sight of the misery and misfortunes to which this unhappy city has been condemned - not with indignation at the recent butchery, nor for bodies mutilated by the bombardment, but at the sight of victims and orphans exposed to die of hunger. At the Orphan Asylum eighty per cent, of the inmates perish for want of nourishment; and yet a very little would suffice to feed those beings created in the image of God. But here I stop. I leave the rest to be understood by your generous hearts, already palpitating with emotion at the spectacle of such misfortune."

Soon after this Garibaldi issued a proclamation, in which he stated that he considered it necessary that the civil and military powers should be concentrated in one person; and, in the name of Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy, he assumed the Dictatorship of Sicily. Colonel Chambers states, that up to this time the people of Sicily had heard little, and cared less, about the King of Piedmont; but they would have accepted any government that Garibaldi, their liberator and idol, recommended to them, so certain were they that he would in every way consult their best interests. There is no fact, he says, in connection with the expedition more insisted upon in the letters from Sicily of the learned Hungarian, Francis Pulsky, than the absence of all mention, or even thought, of Victor Emmanuel, on the part of the Sicilians at this time. He was nearly unknown in Sicily; and it was Garibaldi's prestige which lent a ray of popularity to the King.

An incident is related in connection with the interview between Garibaldi and the Neapolitan generals on board the Hannibal, which presents the Liberator in a new light. The fifth article of the convention was to the effect that the municipality should address an humble petition to the King, laying before him the real wishes of the town, and that this petition should be submitted to His Majesty. The response of the Dictator was a peremptory "No!" Then drawing himself up, he added, " The time for humble petitions, either to the King or to any other person, is past; besides, there is no longer any municipality. La municipalité c'est moi! Pass on to the sixth and last proposition." On hearing these words, astonishment and indignation were depicted on the countenance of General Letigia, who exclaimed, " Then, sir, unless this article is agreed to, all communication between us must cease! " Garibaldi, who had hitherto been apparently phlegmatic, now denounced in unmeasured terms the bad faith, the infamy of the royal authorities in allowing the Italian troops to be attacked while a flag of truce was flying. By this treacherous manœuvre they had severely wounded one of his bravest officers, and acquired a position in advance which they still retained, in defiance of every principle of military honour. But perfidy such as this could not succeed. Eventually it would recoil with terrific effect on the heads of its authors. Admiral Mundy also gave expression to the mortification he had felt at the unaccountable conduct of the royal troops in advancing upon the insurgents after a truce had been proclaimed. On second thoughts the Neapolitans agreed to expunge the fifth article. The convention was agreed to, and Garibaldi accepted the invitation of the generals to accompany them on the way to his quarters in the vice-regal barouche. On arriving at the great square of the Quatre Fontani, he delivered a soul- stirring address to the assembled multitude, pointing out to them what the crisis of their country demanded. The whole population must work during the night; the barricades must be enlarged; multiplied, and strengthened; every able-bodied man must be armed and at his post, ready to do battle at the expiration of the armistice; and their first act must be to drive the foreign mercenaries from the advanced position they had treacherously gained under cover of a flag of truce. At night the city was splendidly illuminated. Next day Letigia proceeded to the head-quarters of the Dictator, to ask that the truce might be extended for three days more, in order to get information from Naples. On his way he saw with astonishment the efforts made by the people during the night. He saw priests, women, and children, working energetically at the defences, while monks were carrying the crucifix before them, everywhere exhorting the people to fight in the sacred cause of liberty. On the 1st of June, in pursuance of the convention, the royal treasury, which contained more than £1,000,000, was delivered to the insurgents. This enabled Garibaldi to pay off arrears, leaving an ample surplus for the purchase of arms and ammunition. In the afternoon of the same day he went through the town, walking among-the inhabitants, who thronged around him, cheering, laughing, and crying with joy. They rushed forward frantically to touch his clothes. Mothers knelt down before him, and presented their children for his blessing. The General looked on calmly, smiling, taking up the children and kissing them, and speaking words of encouragement to all as he passed along. He took possession of the Jesuits' College, and turned it into a ragged-school, which in a short time wrought a wonderful improvement in the little outcasts, who were cleaned, clothed, and instructed. He also founded schools for girls in different parts of the island. He instituted a national militia, and established a free press, and named the first paper the Independent, remarking, that he hoped it would be the first to attack him if ever he proved false to the principles he then advocated. He sent for Gayazzi, who had been his chaplain at Rome, and said, - "Go preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and proclaim salvation to the people through the merits of our Redeemer alone." He issued a proclamation to all good priests, begging that they would prove by their conduct that the true religion of Christ was not entirely lost in Sicily, recalling to them the venerated name and example of the martyr Ugo Bassi. Bassi accompanied the Italian Legion in all its wanderings. He was an excellent horseman, and was constantly at the side of the General. His powerful voice fascinated the people. "If ever Italy comes to be united," exclaimed Garibaldi, "may God restore her the voice of a Ugo Bassi! When Rome had fallen - when nothing was left me but exile, hunger, and misery, Ugo Bassi did not hesitate a moment to accompany me." When it was necessary that they should part, the General said, grasping the priest's hand, "Heaven preserve you! we shall meet again." "Yes, in Italy or heaven!" was the answer. Then, after a pause, he said, "We shall not meet again on earth. I feel a conviction that I shall soon seal with my blood my devotion to our cause." The conviction was too well founded. He was arrested by the Austrians, handed over to the Inquisition to be tortured, stripped of his priestly garments, and executed as a heretic and a rebel. Standing calmly on the side of the grave they had dug for him, he exclaimed, "I die without remorse! I die for God and my country!" A nobler example, therefore, could not have been set before the liberated Sicilians. The first religious ceremony Garibaldi attended in that country was a service of thanksgiving to the God of battles for his first victory. Cushions were placed for him to kneel upon, but he knelt on the outer step of the church, before the assembled army, and immense multitudes of all ranks of the people; and as he did so, the officiating priest said aloud, "Let all behold how the victor humbleth himself before Him who alone giveth victory."

The marvellous success of Garibaldi in his "madman's freak," astounded the Italians. Since the day of his arrival at Marsala, he had never received from the mainland more than 100 recruits; yet, in a few days, he made himself master of Sicily. Even Cavour was convinced by accomplished facts; but, as if he still distrusted the loyalty of the General, and feared that ambition might lead him astray, he hastened to adopt measures for the annexation of the newly-conquered kingdom. Garibaldi, however, had no idea of relinquishing the power he had so nobly won till he could make it subservient to the accomplishment of his mission for the liberation of Naples. He was determined to organise the government of Sicily, and to use its resources for that object; and he hoped at no distant day to place upon the head of Victor Emmanuel the crown of the Two Sicilies. In the meantime, Admiral Persano had orders to receive the General officially on the part of the Sardinian Government, as the de facto viceroy of the island. Shortly after, however, La Farina was sent to conduct the government. Garibaldi installed him, telling him at the same time that he must confine himself to financial and commercial matters. This did not suit his idea, or accord with his instructions. He wanted to grasp the power which the Dictator himself wielded, and consequently became refractory and rebellious. The General was not a man to stand such impertinent assumption. He, therefore, ordered him to be seized by a body of soldiers in the dead of night, and had him conveyed to the flag-ship of Admiral Persano, with a recommendation to quit the country with all convenient speed. While the walls of Palermo were covered with blue placards imported from Turin, with the words - " Vote for immediate annexation under the constitutional rule of Victor Emmanuel," Garibaldi discovered that Farina was spending large sums of money on agents from Turin, whom he had employed to intrigue with a view to deprive him of the dictatorship. Such being the state of things, the sooner the Turin intermeddler was got rid of the better.

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