Garibaldi and his Red Shirts - F. J. Snell

Second Dash for Rome

The chief object on which Garibaldi had set his heart—his almost lifelong vision—still remained unachieved. This was, of course, the conquest of Rome. The continuance of priestly rule in the most famous of all cities appeared to him a blot on the national escutcheon, an insult to the memory of the martyrs who had shared with him the memorable defense of 1849, and, if he should remain idle, a personal reproach. The affair of Aspromonte had shown the danger—the folly, if you will—of plunging into such enterprises without the sanction of the Government, and Garibaldi had good reason to know that its attitude on this subject had not changed. The ministers of the King were justifiably unwilling to bring on a great war with France or Austria—very probably with both—by conniving at the deposition of the Pope as a temporal sovereign. To Garibaldi, on the other hand, the sentiments of foreign powers did not count; as an Italian patriot, he was bent on excising what he describes as a 'cancer' in the body politic.

In 1867 the veteran prepared for a fresh attempt, first at Venice, which he had helped to restore to Italy, and afterward in regions less remote from Rome. The Italian Government was on the alert, and, when Garibaldi was least expecting any interference, he was arrested at Sinalunga and conveyed to the fortress of Alessandria, where he was detained for some days. Thence he was removed to Genoa; and, finally, he was transported to Caprera, which was surrounded by a ring of war-ships.

In his island-home Garibaldi chafed like a caged lion, but by that time the movement had made good progress, and, undiscouraged by his absence, General Acerbi entered the territory of Viterbo with a column of volunteers; Menotti invaded the Papal States by way of Corese, while seventy adventurous spirits, led by Enrico and Giovanni Cairoli, carried arms to the Romans by boat on the Tiber. Within the walls Major Cucchi and a handful of brave men were seeking, at an appalling risk, to organize a revolution, so as to co-operate with those who were engaged on the same task without. After his enforced departure Garibaldi could obtain no precise information of passing events, but from reports which reached him, and from what he read in the newspapers, he knew for certain that his sons, with many of his friends, were on Roman soil and locked in conflict with the hireling soldiers of the Papacy.

It would be like writing a chapter of romance to describe the successive steps by which Garibaldi escaped from captivity and presented himself on the scene of action—how, on October 14, 1867, he descended to the northern shore of Caprera and entered a dinghey concealed from his watchful guardians by a lentisk tree; how he was rowed by a young singing Sardinian, Giovanni, to the island of Maddalena, and crossing the strait to the main island with certain comrades, who had joined him, passed the rest of the night, like a bandit, in a cave of the granite rocks, where for his greater ease a farmer accommodated him with his single mattress, taken from the bed of his sick wife; how Nicola, another peasant, laughingly recognized, and kindly welcomed him, despite his dyed hair and beard; and how, travelling southward to Porto Pradinga, he set sail for the continent in the fishing-vessel San Francesco. As for the man-of-war's men, charged to prevent his escape, they were unreasonably excited at the refractory conduct of Garibaldi's orderly Maurizio, who was returning to Caprera about the time of his master's departure thence and paid no attention to the challenge of the gunboats cruising in the channel of Moneta. Several shots were fired, but did not hit him. Meanwhile Garibaldi, old and infirm, was struggling among the boulders and bushes of Maddalena.

Landing at nightfall on the weed-covered beach to the south of the village of Vada, Garibaldi, with his four companions, Maurizio, Canzio, Vigiani and Basso, proceeded first to Leghorn and thence to Florence, at that time the capital of Italy, where he received a warm welcome from the citizens. Two days later—October 22—he left by a special train for Terni, from which place he travelled in a carriage to his son Menotti's camp at the Pass of Corese.

The expedition had been badly organized, and Garibaldi found the troops in the worst possible condition, starving and half-naked. Nevertheless, he resolved on immediate action, and several columns were ordered to converge on Monterotondo, which was known to be garrisoned by four hundred of the enemy with two guns. It was hoped to deliver a night assault on this semi-fortified town, but the belated arrival of the exhausted Romagnuoles composing the right-hand column frustrated this plan. Unfortunately, also, the central column, commanded by Menotti, could not be induced to delay the attack, and, rushing against the Porta San Rocco, the gallant Genoese bersaglieri were mown down by a murderous fire from the windows on that side of the town,. However, a few hundred gained possession of the houses adjoining the gate, so that the sacrifice of life was not made in vain. There appear to have been Englishmen fighting in the ranks; at any rate, in his rough list of the fallen, Garibaldi records the name of one Englishman—John Scholey of London, found wounded at Monterotondo station and massacred by the Papal Zouaves.

[NOTE: Happily there is reason to hope that Garibaldi was misinformed as to the conduct of the Pope's soldiers, since Signora Mario, who visited Scholey's grave, speaks of him as "a brave young Englishman wounded at Mentana who died in the Roman hospital and is buried there." If we must believe the worst of the Papalini, their victim at the Monterotondo station appears to have been someone other than John Scholey.]

Garibaldi spent the whole of October 24 in surrounding the town and making preparations for the attack which was timed for 4 A.M. on the following day. During the night his weary, famished followers took what rest was possible on the edge of the sodden road, and Garibaldi, full of pity and almost in despair, remained seated among them till about three o'clock, when his friends begged him to take shelter in the neighboring convent of Santa Maria. Hardly had he entered the confessional, sat down and leaned his aching shoulders against the wall, when he was startled by a sound as of a thunderstorm. Springing to his feet, he ran out of the building, and in an instant was mingling with a party of his men hastening toward the gate, which was ablaze. It had been set on fire by the volunteers in the captured houses, aided by fresh companies; and Garibaldi's two little cannon were brought into play, battering down those portions that were not yet consumed.

The Papalists endeavored to supply its place by a barricade of planks and carts, but this expedient did not suit the views of the Garibaldians, who threw themselves, like madmen, through the flaming gate-way and overran the town. The garrison was shut up in the castle, the stables of which were set on fire. At length, suffocated with smoke, and in danger of being blown up, since the powder was stored underground, the defenders at eleven o'clock hoisted the white flag and surrendered at discretion. Shortly before, the gallant Major Testori had appeared with a white flag and summoned them to surrender, and they had responded by shooting at and killing him. This gross violation of the laws of war naturally provoked the keenest resentment of the dead man's comrades, and Garibaldi, to prevent reprisals, saw the savages out of the town and provided them with an escort to the Pass of Corese.

Resuming the march, Garibaldi on the evening of October 29 was at Castel Giubileo, when a messenger arrived from Rome, announcing that an insurrection was to be attempted that very night. Accordingly, though the troops had not all come up, the General pushed on at dawn to the Casino dei Pazzi, where he remained during the whole of the day, awaiting news from Rome, and confronted by two Papal columns, which had marched out on his approach. No indication of any movement in the city having reached him, Garibaldi deemed it advisable to return to Monterotondo. Thither volunteers kept repairing, and on October 31 Menotti's columns had attained the respectable total of six thousand men. The situation would not have been bad, if the country people could have been induced to assist in supplying the soldiers with arms, clothes, and other necessaries. The Papal army seems to have been completely demoralized by the defeat at Monterotondo; and a rising in the capital, where the populace was panting to avenge the massacres that had followed previous attempts, was far from hopeless. But now two factors were introduced on which Garibaldi had not counted. When the expedition had been arranged, there had been no French troops at Rome. They were now beginning to arrive; and Garibaldi had no cavalry or artillery with which to meet their attack. Besides this, the partisans of Mazzini were sowing discontent among his own troops, three thousand of whom deserted in the retreat from the Casino dei Pazzi to Mentana—one half of the entire force.

For these reasons Garibaldi resolved to seek another base of operations, and on the morning of November 3 led his forces from Monterotondo toward Tivoli, with the intention of placing the Apennines in his rear and approaching the southern provinces. At about one o'clock the column encountered the enemy, and a desperate battle ensued, in which the Garibaldians displayed less than their wonted valor, and for two hours were driven from one position after another back into the village of Mentana. Here their few guns, advantageously planted on the right, opened fire on the enemy with telling effect; and a bayonet-charge executed by the whole line, together with the short-range fire of the men posted at the windows of the houses, decimated the Papalist host. The Garibaldians were victorious.



Alas! of what use was victory? The very soldiers, who had chased their opponents from the field with the bayonet, were unnerved by an invisible danger—seized with a fatal paralysis from a rumor which spread through the ranks, that two thousand Frenchmen were about to fall upon them in the rear. The report was unfounded, but about four o'clock De Failly's expeditionary corps began to arrive in support of the Pope's demoralized troops. It was all over with the Garibaldians now. Apart from a few heroes who kept up a hot fire on the Papalists from the windows at Mentana, the whole army streamed, in a disordered mass, along the high-road toward Monterotondo, closely pursued by the Papal soldiers, who, now that they had the French to help them, were full of confidence and caused many casualties with their superior weapons.

At dusk the mob of fugitives retreated on the Pass of Corese, where Garibaldi was assured that part of the men were willing to fight again; but having made himself hoarse in trying to stem the stampede at Mentana, he gave no credence to such assertions. On November 4 the troops laid down their arms on the bridge, and Garibaldi surrendered to Colonel Carava, an officer commanding an Italian regiment at Corese, who happened to have served under his orders in previous campaigns and now behaved to him with the utmost kindness and courtesy. After some stay in his old quarters at Varignano, he was permitted to return to Caprera. Convinced that his failure was occasioned not so much by inadequate preparations or the intervention of France as by the treason of some of his own countrymen, he drew from his experiences the moral: "The depth of human depravity is unfathomable."

On November 4, 1867, Pope Pius IX, the cardinals, and the French and Papal troops, visited Mentana in triumphal procession, and the great Italian poet, Carducci, wrote to the baffled hero: "There arose at Mentana the shame of the ages from the fell embrace of Peter and Caesar. Thou, Garibaldi, hast set thy foot at Mentana on Peter and Caesar."

All Italy quivered at the outrage; and when the power of France, crumbling before the battering-ram of Prussia in the autumn of 1870, was no longer to be feared and the Imperial garrison was withdrawn from the Tiber, there went up a universal cry, "To Rome! to Rome!" The Italian Government was forced to yield to the insistent demand. It was either Rome or revolution. Accordingly, the army received orders to cross the frontier, and Rome became the capital of Italy. One of the generals in command of the expedition was a Garibaldian—the "fiery Bixio"; but, to the intense grief of many, Garibaldi himself was absent. On September 13 he wrote to his son-in-law, Canzio, "My dear son, that rubbish (robaccia) that calls itself the Italian Government keeps me a prisoner in Caprera," and to an old comrade, imprisoned for an offence against the press laws, "I am here in compulsory domicile, watched day and night. Let this console you." Timorous and ungrateful to the hour of unmerited triumph, the Government, which owed so much to Garibaldi, deserved his just scorn.