Battle of Aspromonte

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Garibaldi attacked by Italian Troops at Aspromonte

The Battle of Aspromonte, also known as The Day of Aspromonte (in Italian: "La Giornata dell'Aspromonte"), named for the mountain near Reggio Calabria in southern Italy where it took place on 29 August 1862, was an inconclusive episode of the Italian unification process. In the battle, the Royal Italian Army defeated Giuseppe Garibaldi's army of volunteers that was marching from Sicily towards Rome with the intent of liberating the city and annexing it to the Kingdom of Italy. In the encounter, a few kilometers from Gambarie, Garibaldi was wounded and taken prisoner.

Background: the "Questione Romana"[edit]

Main article: Roman Question

When Victor Emmanuel II became the King of Italy on 17 March 1861, the newly created Kingdom of Italy did not include Venice and Rome. These "unredeemed" cities (as they would be called a few decades later) were a constant cause of friction in Italian's politics. The case for Rome, known as the "Roman Question", specifically, had arisen after the Italian Parliament had declared Rome capital of the Kingdom, on 27 March 1861. This clashed with Pope Pius IX's intent to maintain his temporal control of the city. Members of the government of the Kingdom of Italy had different takes on this issue, and the consequent inner tensions caused Prime Minister Bettino Ricasoli to resign in 1862. While his successor Urbano Rattazzi was known for his less than deferential attitude towards the Holy See, even after Rattazzi's election the Kingdom of Italy maintained a low profile on the Roman Question. General Giuseppe Garibaldi, on the other hand, in 1862 reached Sicily and began to form an army with the intent of marching on Rome. The intransigent reaction of France (which was, at the time, the most influent ally of Italy) and the Pope caused the Italian government to intervene. On 3 August, Victor Emmanuel II officially condemned Garibaldi's "guilty impatience", and Rattazzi sent the Royal Army, at the orders of general Enrico Cialdini, to stop Garibaldi.

The battle[edit]

Garibaldi wounded on the Aspromonte (by Gerolamo Induno)

The actual fighting was relatively timid and largely influenced by the peculiar situation. Garibaldi was known and respected as a hero by most Italians, including most soldiers in the Royal Army and Navy. Several facts that occurred reveal that neither Garibaldi nor his opponents were willing to enter open combat or cause too much damage to their opponent. For example, while Garibaldi's ships had most probably been detected by the Royal Navy whilst they were crossing the Strait of Messina to touch land in Calabria, Royal ships only attacked when Garibaldi's army had actually reached the ground, possibly to keep the losses to a minimum. Garibaldi himself did not immediately counter-attack the Royal Army, instead trying to circumvent it crossing the Aspromonte mountains.

Garibaldi's army marched for three days; on 28 August 1862, the leading regiment led by Garibaldi camped near Gambarie, where the rest of the army was expected to follow within a few days. On 29 August, before Garibaldi's army was reunited, Bersaglieri from the Royal Army reached Garibaldi's camp and attacked. The peculiarity of the situation was again clear as Garibaldi ordered his army not to open fire "on our brothers", and some Bersaglieri changed side during the battle, joining Garibaldi's volunteers. Anyway, despite Garibaldi's order, one wing of his regiment did counter-attack the Bersaglieri: in the chaos that followed, two bullets hit Garibaldi's hip and malleolus. Cease-fire was declared shortly thereafter, with the surrender of Garibaldi.

Aftermath[edit]

Overall, the battle lasted about ten minutes, and the overall casualties added up to only about 15 people. On the battlefield, after being wounded, Garibaldi was immediately assisted by surgeons and then taken as a prisoner; he was later sent to the jail of Varignano, near Porto Venere. Amnesty followed very soon (on 5 October 1862) for Garibaldi as well as his volunteers, and Garibaldi then retired in Caprera, where he remained for two years.

From a political point of view, the Day of Aspromonte caused both national and international criticism towards the Italian government, and caused the debate in Italy to become even harsher. Giuseppe Mazzini's party declared that, after the events of Aspromonte, any silent agreement between the Monarchy and the Republicans had been factually broken; while supporters of the Monarchy's maintained that the Republicans' support for such rash initiatives as Garibaldi's expedition proved that they were too irresponsible to lead the Nation. Commentors accused the government to have betrayed the Italian revolution and to be more supportive of the Pope than Italy itself.

In 1863, Rattazzi was replaced by Marco Minghetti, who leveraged on the facts of Aspromonte to negotiate a treaty with France (the September Convention) whereby Italy would protect the frontiers of the Papal States against foreign attacks, and France would withdraw its troops from Rome within two years.

Despite the September Convention, annexing Rome remained an implicit objective of Italy. Garibaldi would try to march on Rome again in 1867. Eventually, the "Questione Romana" would be solved under Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Lanza, in 1870, Rome was finally captured.

References in popular culture[edit]

A popular Italian nursery rhyme Garibaldi fu ferito ("Garibaldi was wounded"), on the melody of the Bersaglieri's anthem, refers to the Aspromonte episode. The Day of Aspromonte is also sometimes mentioned in political debate when someone accuses the Italian government to betray the expectations of the Italian people or behave against national interests.