At the end
of the Second War of Italian Unification, Piedmont/Sardinia now controlled
all of northern Italy except the region of Veneto, and its capital Venice,
which were still controlled by the Austrians. This left only the Papal
States in the centre and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (ie Sicily and the
Neapolitan mainland) to the South. Cavour and King Vittorio Emanuele were
fully occupied in sorting out the aftermath of the war, but Garibaldi was
still fanatically dedicated to the idea of fighting for a wholly unified
Over the preceding years, there had been various rebellions on the island of
Sicily, but all had been put down by Neapolitan troops. The leaders of the
rebel faction, knowing that Garibaldi was their only real hope, invited him
to Sicily and, after some soul-searching as to what this would man to his
relationship with the King, he agreed to lead an invasion.
Accordingly, on May 11th 1860, Garibaldi and his “Thousand Men”
(actually 1049) landed at Marsala, and began marching inland towards the
capital, Palermo. They defeated a force of some 2000 Neapolitan troops at
Calatafirmi and, with numbers now swollen to over 3000 by Sicilian
volunteers, arrived at Palermo on 26th May. Garibaldi attacked immediately:
narrowly defeating the garrison of 15,000 Neapolitan troops largely due to
the inactivity, indecisiveness and lack of willpower of the Neapolitan
governor, Lanza. So narrow was the victory, in fact, that had Lanza delayed
his request for a ceasefire by even one day, Garibaldi would probably have
been forced to retreat from Palermo.
Garibaldi spent the next two months consolidating his hold on the island,
winning a significant victory over the Neapolitans at Milazzo - a victory
that finally broke the rest of the Sicilian-based Neapolitan army’s
resolve - and preparing for an invasion of the mainland. This began on the
night of August 18th/19th with an attack on the heavily defended town of
Reggio Calabria, which fell despite stiff opposition from the Neapolitans.
From there, Garaibaldi marched on Naples, which fell on 7th September after
the King of Naples, Francis II, fled to the region surrounding Capua with
his army of 50,000 men.
The Garibaldini followed and, after a heavy defeat at Caiazzo on 19th
September without Garibaldi present, fought a great defensive battle at the
river Volturno on 1st October with him there. This battle was Garibaldi at
his absolute best: with him leading his 20,000 men to victory over the
30,000 Neapolitans facing them.
Meanwhile, Cavour and Vittorio Emanuele, determined not to lose their
central role in the Unification, had invaded the Papal States from the north
on 11th September. Two Sardinian columns, numbering in total about 33,000
men, struck at the forts of Ancona, Castelfidardo and Loreto: and heavily
defeated an army of Papal volunteers (a mixed bag of Swiss and Austrians,
with aristocratic French commanders) at Castelfidardo. From there, the
Sardinians marched south into the Kingdom of Naples (fighting a small action
against the Neapolitans at Macerone on October 20th): with the King and
Garibaldi finally meeting on 26th October near Teano. Garibaldi turned over
Sicily and Naples to the King, and his army of “Red Shirts” was either
disbanded or absorbed into the main Sardinian force.
The Sardinians then fought a series of small engagements against the
remaining Neapolitan troops: eventually bottling them up in the fortress of
Gaeta. There, on February 13th 1861, they surrendered, leaving all of Italy,
save Veneto and the area immediately surrounding Rome (known as the
Patrimony of St Peter), united under Vittorio Emanuele.