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Giuseppe Garibaldi
Solferino: Slaughter and Rebirth
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Stephen Douglas and Popular Sovereignty
Napoleon's Campaign Of 1809
Capture of USS President
The Fenian Raids
Military History of War of 1812
Austerlitz: Napoleon Makes His Own Luck
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Matt Duffy Articles
Giuseppe Garibaldi

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Giuseppe Garibaldi, A Blue Shirt?
Giuseppe Garibaldi, A Blue Shirt? 
by Matt Duffy

Were it not for a bit of bad timing and a government bureaucrat overstepping his authority, we just might be thanking an Italian rather than General Grant for defeating the Confederacy and saving the Union. After Fort Sumter was fired upon in April, 1861, President Lincoln was facing the greatest crisis of his career, civil war. The Union Army would soon be embarrassed again and again, a situation many ascribed not to any lack of men or materiel, but to ineffective leadership. Starting with the battle of Bull Run in July, 1861, the South won battle after battle and it appeared that Washington D. C. might soon be occupied by Confederate troops. Lincoln was busy searching for experienced military leadership capable of preserving the Union.

Unlike Lincoln, in the summer of 1861 General Garibaldi who would go down in history as the 'Washington of Italy' was in a short period of retirement at his farm on Caprera, an island off Sardinia. Actually, Garibaldi was not one to rest on his many laurels, or to rest much at all. His period of retirement was occupied with planning his next blow for further Italian unification and restoration of freedom to the oppressed.[1] However, it seemed that he might be available and it would not be long before he would receive an invitation from Lincoln to put the red shirt aside for Union blue.[2]

By this time, General Garibaldi had already compiled a significant record of military and naval prowess on two continents. Born in 1807 in Nice, a city several times traded between Piedmontese and French control, by age 25, he was a certified merchant marine captain. In 1833, he joined La Giovine Italia or 'Young Italy', a group founded by Giuseppe Mazzini, for whom unification was his life's work.[3] La Giovine Italia sought to free the Northern Italian provinces from Austrian domination and to create a republican government. In 1834, Garibaldi was sentenced to death in absentia by a Genoese Court for participating in a La Giovine Italia inspired mutiny against the Piedmontese navy.[4] He fled to France and two years later exiled himself to South America where his penchant for freeing the oppressed began its meteoric rise.

In South America, he was involved in extensive naval and land operations for the province of Rio Grande, which fought unsuccessfully for its freedom from Brazil in the 'War of Tatters.'[5] After that, Garibaldi fought for Uruguay as it struggled to maintain the freedom it had won from Argentina. He returned to Italy in 1849 to unsuccessfully defend the short lived 1st Roman Republic against the forces of Austria-Hungary, France and the Papacy. After losing the battle of Rome, Garibaldi evaded these forces but his troops melted away and he again went into exile eventually arriving in New York in the summer of 1850.[6]

Garibaldi was based in New York City for three years and made many fruitful contacts there. Although the General never held American citizenship, in 1851 the mayor of New York City, Ambrose C. Kingsland, issued a passport to "Joseph Garibaldi" which still survives among preserved papers.[7] It seems likely that Garibaldi's friends in the Masonic order which he had joined in Europe, played a role in obtaining the passport, which states Garibaldi's "intent to become a citizen."[8] As things turned out, Garibaldi never stayed in the United States long enough to have become a citizen. During his time in New York, the general held high placed support within government and outside of it. Horace Greeley, famed editor of the New York Tribune, who a decade later, had strong influence on President Lincoln, wrote:

"Garibaldi [is] known the world over as the hero of Montevideo and the defender of the Roman Republic. He will be received by all who know him in a befitting manner as a man of character, and for his service in behalf of liberty."[9]

In 1853, after a few years of relative quiet, Garibaldi returned to the Kingdom of Italy then consisting only of Piedmont and Sardinia and was elected a member of the parliament. By the beginning of 1861, Garibaldi had taken the field and forced the Bourbons out of Sicily and the rest of southern Italy and joined these areas with the Kingdom of Italy ruled by King Victor Emanuel II of the House of Savoy. He then retired to Caprera. Meanwhile the events that would lead to the outbreak of the United States Civil War were unfolding.

Although recognizing that discussions had taken place between Garibaldi and members of the United States diplomatic corps, many historians discounted the notion that Lincoln had ever actually offered General Garibaldi a Union command. Fortunately, the discovery of a telegram sent by Garibaldi to King Victor Emanuel describing Lincoln's offer provided incontrovertible proof of it. Historian Arrigo Petacco found this communication in Savoy Royal family papers and the discovery was reported in the British press in February, 2000.[10]

The idea of giving General Garibaldi a Union Army command was initially sparked in January, 1861. An anonymous article in the Boston publication The North American Review was quite complimentary of Garibaldi's military prowess. In response to the article, the General sent a thank you note to the North American Review and his companion, Col. Augusto Vecchi, in his own note covering Garibaldi's, suggested that Garibaldi would be a good choice for a senior command in the Union Army.[11]

Six months later, J. W. Quiggle, a consular official in Antwerp and a Buchanan appointee soon to be replaced, operating without approval of his superiors, wrote Garibaldi advancing the idea of a Union Army command. The Consul's letter of June 8th 1861 states:

"The papers report that you are going to the United States, to join the army of the North in the conflict of my country. If you do, the name of LaFayette will not surpass yours. There are thousands of Italians and Hungarians who will rush to your ranks, and there are … and tens of thousands of American citizens who will glory to be under the command of the 'Washington of Italy.' "[12]

On June 27th, Garibaldi responded. He corrected the Consul stating that at the time he was not planning a return to the United States. Garibaldi also took the opportunity to express one of the conditions he would later ask.

"I have had, and still have, a great desire to go, but many causes prevent me. If, however, in writing to your Government, [you find that] they believe my service to be of some use, I would go to America, if I did not find myself occupied in the defense of my country. Tell me, also, whether this agitation is the emancipation of the negroes or not?"[13]

George M. Trevelyan's history of the making of Italy, backs this up. He quotes another Garibaldi statement "Libertá non tradisce I volenti. 'Liberty does not fail those who are determined to have it'."[14] Quiggle's reply to Garibaldi, again written without consulting his superiors in Washington, was vague. He wrote from Antwerp on July 4, 1861:

"You propound the question whether the present war in the United States is to emancipate the negroes from slavery? I say this is not the intention of the Federal Government. But it is to maintain its power and dignity—put down rebellion and insurrection, and restore to the Government her ancient prowess at home and throughout the world. You have lived in the United States; and you must readily have observed what a dreadful calamity it would be to throw at once upon that country in looseness, four millions of slaves. But if this war be prosecuted with the bitterness with which it has been commenced, I would not be surprised if it result in the extinction of slavery in the United States, no matter what may be the circumstances."[15]

Quiggle did then forward copies of his correspondence with Garibaldi to Secretary of State Seward. But he did not stop at this point, even though he and his wife were packing to return to the States. In a third letter to Garibaldi he muddied future negotiations by saying that the Italian general would be receiving a formal invitation to go to the United States "with the highest Army Commission which it is in the power of the President to confer." This implication that Garibaldi would be offered the top command was bolstered with the false statement that President Lincoln had thanked Quiggle for initiating the offer. In an interesting side note, Quiggle, who was then on the way out anyway, had, in his first letter, offered to resign to join the General in his efforts should he come to the United States.[16]

So by mid-July, Secretary of State Seward and President Lincoln were aware of Quiggle's actions and his assumption of too much authority. Lincoln was also even more aware of the Union Army's need for competent leadership and that obtaining the services of an already tremendously successful general was a possibility too valuable to ignore. On July 27th, six short days after Thomas J. Jackson earned his nickname, 'Stonewall', at the battle of Bull Run, Secretary of State Seward wrote Minister Henry S. Sanford in Antwerp, asking him to work on the matter with his fellow Minister, James P. Marsh, who represented the United States in the Kingdom of Italy at Turin, its capital at the time. Lincoln officially asked them to try to secure General Garibaldi's services. In turn, Sanford thanked Quiggle and, in no uncertain terms, bid him to be silent and to treat the matter "with strict injunctions of reserve… ."[17]

Had his underling listened, things might have gone differently. Unfortunately, Consul Quiggle who had brought up the idea of the General getting supreme command kept interfering to the detriment of the State Department's mission. Most likely as a result of Quiggle's insubordination, Sanford called Quiggle "a low besotted Pennsylvania politician with an eye to money-making and political capital." The officially approved offer that Secretary Seward asked Ministers Sanford and Marsh to approach the "soldier of freedom" with was this:

Tell him that he will receive a Major-General's commission in the army of the United States, with its appointments, with the hearty welcome of the American People. Tell him that we have abundant resources, and numbers unlimited at our command, and a nation resolved to remain united and free.[18]

Lincoln's name is not mentioned in this or any of the other authorized communications to Garibaldi, but correspondence between Seward and Sanford makes it clear he had knowledge of the negotiations and approved of them. The closest Lincoln came to personal involvement in the offer was indicated in a confidential communication from Seward to Sanford. Sanford was given everything short of a blank check, including 1000 Pounds Sterling and permission to extend his available credit on the Continent if necessary. The instructions also included the following:

It has been a source of sincere satisfaction to the President that circumstances have rendered him able to extend to him [Garibaldi] if desired an invitation which would enable him to add the glory of aiding in the preservation of the American Union to the many honors which the General of Italy has already won in the cause of human freedom.[19]

Yet, despite his own injunction to Quiggle, Sanford informed him of events prior to strategizing with Minister Marsh in Turin. This led to Quiggle yet again writing Garibaldi and still implying that Lincoln would offer him the role of Commander in Chief. Unfortunately, because of his excitement at the possibilities, Minister Marsh's legation secretary, a lawyer named Artomi, mistakenly reaffirmed Quiggle's machinations thus reinforcing Garibaldi's expectations.[20]

At the time of the Sanford-Marsh offer, King Victor Emanuel's Italy consisted of Sardinia, the Piedmont, Naples, and Sicily. General Garibaldi, wanted all the rest of Italy also united with the Kingdom. He tried to use the United States' offer as a way to pressure his fellow Italians to initiate new actions to eradicate the Pope's temporal control of Central Italy. He noted that his participation was probably crucial to any efforts to further unify Italy and that he would be unavailable if he accepted the U.S. offer. After King Emanuel informed him that no assaults were to be made against His Holiness by Garibaldi, or anyone else for that matter, the American offer, if Garibaldi accepted, would have become a way for him to save face.

By late September information leaked by Garibaldi aides reached the American papers. However, details were garbled. For instance, the Chicago Tribune wrote an article claiming that the American Charge D'Affaires in Berlin was responsible for tendering the offer to General Garibaldi.[21] The paper does not make it clear whether the article was referring to the Quiggle or Sanford-Marsh offer.

General Garibaldi did not accept the official offer made by Sanford and Marsh for two reasons. First, he wanted abolition of slavery to be the primary war aim and he demanded that it be made explicit. He was unwilling to settle for Quiggle's view that abolition would be an inevitable result of the war. At the time he made the offer, Lincoln was not ready to do this. In fact, the President had already fired General Charles Fremont for prematurely implementing emancipation measures in areas under military control. The second reason for refusal was that Garibaldi retained a desire for total command, as had been suggested by Quiggle's original correspondence and subsequently reinforced by him and Artomi.

In late 1862, two more offers were made to Garibaldi, both illegitimate. One came from by a Charge D'Affaires in Vienna named Canasius, and the other came from Marsh, still the United States Minister to Victor Emanuel's government. By this time Garibaldi was willing to accept a smaller command. Had the General known that Lincoln was swiftly moving towards emancipation, this might have satisfied his second condition. However, since these offers were made without presidential approval, there is no way knowledge of the already written but unpublicized Emancipation Proclamation would have become known to the parties involved.[22]

Garibaldi's insistence that abolition become the goal of the American Civil War if he were to join the Union effort was entirely consistent with his earlier statements and actions. When, back in 1843, the president of Uruguay announced his intention to give land from his personal holdings to Garibaldi and the members of the Italian Legion who helped defend against Argentina's attempt to reassert control over that country, Garibaldi first, then all the legionnaires, refused to accept the grants in a letter which included:

" The Italian legionnaires hold firmly to the belief that it is their duty as free men to fight for freedom wherever tyranny exists, regardless of the country or the people involved, freedom being the birthright of all mankind. The legionnaires were obeying the voices of their consciences when they requested weapons from the native sons of Uruguay in order to share their perils and fight for the defense of their republic. Happy to be doing their duty as free men, so long as the conditions of the siege remain, they will continue to share the bread and the perils of their brave comrades in the city's garrison, not wishing to receive rewards or distinctions of any kind."[23]

H. Nelson Gay, writing in the American Historical Review during the Fall of 1932 makes it clear that Emancipation was a sticking point in negotiations and that Garibaldi wanted command of all Union forces.[24] In any event, by the end of 1862, King Victor Emanuel had decided the time was right to act again for the freedom and unification of Italy. Garibaldi had left the semi- retirement U.S. government officials found him enjoying at Caprera. With the newfound approval of the King, he was preparing to battle the Austrians and the Pope in another attempt to free Rome. However, even though the General turned down the American offers, one does wonder what would have evolved if he had accepted any of them. [25]

Before we consider what might have occurred under a Garibaldi led Union Army, let us look at his tactical and strategic background. At the time, the usual method of attack was to have each battalion line up and advance shoulder to shoulder. Garibaldi, often having very few troops compared to his enemies, could not afford the high casualties that usually result from this approach, even if such tactics resulted in victory. Garibaldi's success came from superior tactics such as attacking enemy flanks, rears and lines of communication. He also used tactics such as night attacks and countermarches to throw the enemy off their guard and deplete his opponent's morale.

Unlike Robert E. Lee and many other Union and Confederate commanders, Garibaldi held no admiration for the French military in general or for the bloody, direct frontal assault style attacks Napoleon became known for after 1805 at battles like Borodino, Austerlitz and Waterloo. General Garibaldi's operations were similar to the American guerrilla tactics and the indirect attacks that Napoleon himself used in his earlier campaigns. Sir Basil Henry Liddell-Hart's description of the Napoleon led Italian campaign in the 1790's bears mentioning since General Garibaldi copied many of its strategies and tactics. Napoleon, at the time, usually had inferior numbers, thus he was required to use his forces in ways that he could win with few losses. Hart compared Napoleon's use of maneuver and indirect attacks to a trap weighed down with four stones. When the trap is sprung, the stones come crashing to the point of intrusion. In one case Bonaparte used a two thousand-man regiment to block off the Austrian army's retreat by trapping them between Lake Garda and the mountains with the rest of the army pressing the Austrian's new rear. Only when Napoleon became Consul and then Emperor, did he start to waste his men in bloody assaults.

Much of Garibaldi's experience was directly with Napoleon's former enemies, the Piedmontese, who had been on the receiving end of Bonaparte's military prowess and were ultimately forced out of the war by the indirect Napoleonic strategy in the 1790's.[26] Garibaldi, no doubt learned much from this. Just how much was made clear at Varese against the Austrians where his opponent had 17,000 men compared to Garibaldi's 5,000. Garibaldi barricaded the town and attacked the Austrians in the flank the night before they could assault the barricades.[27] In short, Garibaldi was a master of maneuver.

Certainly maneuver had been used effectively before in America but it seemed far from the minds of its civil war commanders on both sides. Famous are the Patriots pursuit of the British after Lexington and Concord and the deliberate tactical lures such as fake retreats used by General Dan Morgan at the Cowpens in South Carolina. Garibaldi would have used similar tactics to wear down the Confederates and win the war faster, without having to resort to a lengthy siege or the hammering tactics General Grant later became infamous for.

There are two points at which Garibaldi might have accepted a Union army command, Fall, 1861 and a year later, in 1862. If General Garibaldi accepted the initial offer from Marsh and Sanford in 1861, Richmond might have fallen in 1862 under a more competent execution of the Peninsula Campaign. General McClellan (Little Mac) was excellent at organizing the Army of the Potomac but almost cowardly in deciding to use it. Little Mac saw Confederates around every turn, ascribing to General Lee double the amount of men he actually had causing Lincoln to exclaim "Sending armies to McClellan is like shoveling fleas across a barnyard. Not half of them get there." Certainly, Garibaldi would have been more aggressive.

It is more likely that Garibaldi would have accepted either Canasius' or George Marsh's second offer in late 1862. The situation was quite different from the year before. Garibaldi had ignored king Victor Emanuel's decision, made an attack on Rome against orders, lost the battle and been arrested. The General was freed at the behest of the United States Government and thus 'owed them one.' It appeared Garibaldi's part in the unification of Italy was at a standstill. Acceptance of an American offer would have been face saving. If Lincoln had made either 1862 offer official, it's possible the already written but unpublicized Emancipation Proclamation would have been made known to Garibaldi and satisfied his demands about the abolition of slavery.

If Garibaldi accepted in late 1862, he might well have taken charge of the Army of the Potomac in early 1863, before the important Battle of Chancellorsville in May. The Federal defeat in that battle was a direct result of the failure of Oliver Howard's 11th Corps to dig in and thus secure the Union right flank. Garibaldi would never have allowed that mistake to last long enough for the Confederates to exploit it, as they did under General Stonewall Jackson. In a sad mistake, Stonewall was shot by his own troops during the attack and died as a result. Had the 11th Corps dug in, there is a possibility that Jackson's attack would not have been made or, if made, repulsed thus turning the battle into a Union victory. Ironically, Jackson who died in victory would probably have survived a Confederate defeat or stalemate. He was shot by Confederate pickets on his way back to his own lines after doing reconnaissance on ground surrendered by Howard.

Garibaldi, with his knowledge of superior tactics and "celerity, judgment, and impetuous valor"[29] might well have recognized and taken opportunities passed up by other Union commanders. For instance, the Confederate army under General Robert E. Lee was split in two as it moved through the Blue Mountain Range passes in Virginia on its way to Pennsylvania. Ewell's Corp was west of the mountains and Hill's and Longstreet's Corps east of them. A more alert and mobile Union Army might well have defeated one column or the other before they were able to reunite at Gettysburg. A defeat on the Confederacy's home ground would have led to significant change in the military and political situation for the Confederacy. A clear-cut victory by Garibaldi while Lee was on the march northward would have separated the main Confederate army from its supplies and communications. It would have also opened the road to the confederate capital, Richmond, that, if successfully attacked by Union forces, would have put the Confederate government on the run. Any hope of recognition or aid by Britain or France would have evaporated even sooner than it did. This would have ended Confederate President Jefferson Davis' expectation that the need for southern cotton would lead to a military alliance between sympathetic European powers and the Confederacy.[31]

Although General Meade, who replaced Hooker as commander of the Army of the Potomac in June, 1863, won the battle of Gettysburg, it was done at enormous cost. There were twenty-three thousand Union casualties, three out of seven Corps commanders were dead or wounded and, unfortunately for Meade, a mauled, but still strong, Army of Northern Virginia survived to threaten the Union for two more years. To Lincoln's great frustration, Meade, because of his large losses, didn't pursue Lee after Gettysburg, even though he was operating in his home territory.

If Garibaldi had joined the Union Army after the battle of Chancellorsville, he would have been in charge at Gettysburg instead of George Meade. I believe he would also have achieved a Union victory but with fewer casualties. With a less costly victory under Garibaldi, The Union Army could have pinned Lee to the Potomac River which remained flooded until the middle of July, 1863 and forced the ill supplied Army of Northern Virginia to surrender.

By a curious coincidence, what could have been Garibaldi's first battle for the Union, Gettysburg, would have been very similar topographically to Rome. Garibaldi had spent plenty of time in the hills surrounding Rome defending the San Janiculum sector against the French during the siege of 1849. According to Trevelyan's history of the 1848-49 Republic, Garibaldi's skillful use of existing fortification and artillery was crucial in how he defended Rome. Although best known for his offensive success, Garibaldi was also skilled at defense. There is little doubt the general had the capability to use Cemetery Ridge as effectively as he had the Vascello 15 years before.[32]

Garibaldi had significant support in the U.S. press and among Western Mediterranean immigrants. An October 9, 1862 Chicago Tribune article states that the General would have inspired many French and Italian immigrants to get involved in the war. He would have become an Italian Franz Siegel,[33] but immeasurably more competent at his trade.[34]

As noted, Garibaldi stayed in Italy and achieved his goal of freedom and unification for Italy in 1870 when French forces supporting the Pope were withdrawn from Rome to fight the Prussians and the balance of power shifted in Garibaldi's favor. As a matter of historical irony, Pope Pius IX, who was one of the two last remaining opponents to Italian unification, had been the only foreign leader to openly recognize the Confederacy. In a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis the Pope had written:

"As for us, we shall not cease to offer up the most fervent prayers to God Almighty, that He may pour out upon all the people of America the spirit of peace and charity, and that He will stop the great evils which afflict them. We, at the same time, beseech the God of pity to shed abroad upon you the light of His grace, and attach you to us by a perfect friendship."[35]

After this letter was made public, a cleric who was a friend of President Lincoln, said:

"That letter is a poisoned arrow thrown by the Pope at you personally; it is your death warrant. Before the letter, every Catholic could see that their church as a whole was against this free Republic. The bishops refused…exposing themselves as traitors and be shot. … they advised the Pope to acknowledge, at once, the legitimacy of the Southern republic, and to take Jeff Davis under his supreme protection, by a letter, which would be read everywhere."[36]

Had Garibaldi come to America and his efforts led to an earlier end to the Civil War, Lincoln might have lived. This alone would have immense consequences such as a more lenient and benevolent Reconstruction. Also, in gratitude, the United States might have considered helping Garibaldi unify Italy. The U.S. could have done four things. Most involved, but least likely, would be declaring war on Austria and the Pope and sending troops from a not yet demobilized army. The only way troops would be sent would be if Lincoln or a successor had dropped the tradition of American isolationism. Putting diplomatic pressure on Victor Emanuel's enemies would be far more acceptable to an American public, sick of bloodshed. Third, selling Garibaldi surplus arms and munitions would have been mutually beneficial, defraying the cost of the Civil War for the U.S. and giving Garibaldi a secure supply for his ends. Last and most probable, Garibaldi might have been permitted to recruit volunteers in the United States to return to Italy with him. Garibaldi had fought with escaped slaves in South America 20 years earlier, there is no reason to think he would not have jumped at employing former slaves against the Papacy and Habsburg Austrians. It turned out that Garibaldi didn't need American help, but it might have solidified a future alliance if the U.S. had played a role in Italy's unification.

A strong Italo-American alliance based on U.S. support for Garibaldi might have kept Italy firmly separated from both the Entente and the Central Powers in the lead up to World War One. If the U.S. and Italy created a third bloc, the start of the war even becomes an issue. Would Kaiser Wilhelm and Emperor Franz Josef have sanctioned the invasion of Belgium if they knew a three front war would immediately result? Even if the war still began as it did, an Italy with strong American support might not have been attacked. Or, when Italy was attacked, President Wilson might have supported her by sending troops for her defense thus moving American participation in the war up by several years.

So, had Quiggle not raised Garibaldi's expectations and had Lincoln moved faster on Emancipation, the outcome of history post-1865 would be entirely different. However, it remains fact that Giuseppe Garibaldi did not join the Union cause, the only Garibaldi actually in the United States Civil War was the 39th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the Garibaldi Guard.
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Copyright © 2008 Matt Duffy

Written by Matt Duffy. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Matt Duffy at:

About the author:
Matt Duff has a BA in History and is currently going for a MSED in Social Studies and Special Education.  He lives in N.Y.

Published online: 06/15/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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