Italian Americans in the Civil War

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Italian Americans in the Civil War are the Italian people and people of Italian descent, living in the United States, who served and fought in the American Civil War on both the Union and Confederate sides.

Most of the Italians who joined the Union Army were recruited from New York City. The Garibaldi Guard was the name of the 39th New York Infantry.[1] Between 5,000 and 10,000 Italians fought in the Civil War for both the Union and the Confederacy.[2] Four were Union generals, including General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, who was wounded, and who received the Medal of Honor and was later the first director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.[2][3]

In Union army[edit]

Luigi Palma di Cesnola

Italians of note who were interested in the war, and joined, and who had positions of authority in Union army, were Francesco Casale, who led the formation of an Italian Legion, and later was also involved in the forming of the Italian Garibaldi Guard; Luigi Tinelli, an international politician and industrialist, had experience as a militia commander; Francis Spinola recruited four regiments in New York, and was soon appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to be their general. Also, Enrico Fardella and Edward Ferrero, of the 51st New York Regiment, were generals in the Civil War.

General Edward Ferrero of the 51st New York Regiment, was among the first Union officers to command black troops.

Colonel Luigi Palma di Cesnola (July 29, 1832 – November 20, 1904), an Italian-American soldier and amateur archaeologist, commander of the 4th NY Cavalry, was born in Rivarolo Canavese, near Turin. A veteran of the Crimean War, Cesnola established a military academy in New York City, where many young Italians were trained and later served in the Union army.[1] He received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the American Civil War. It was awarded in 1897.[4]

In Confederate army[edit]

Italian guards battalion was in Confederate army 6th Regiment;[5] Italians were in 10th Louisiana Infantry Regiment: their name was Garibaldi Guards-Italian battalion Louisiana Militia but following the protests of many soldiers, who did not feel like Italian citizens, it was renamed Sixth Regiment European Brigade in 1862; in fact Italian confederate volunteers were mainly soldiers from Army of the Two Sicilies, who were captured and POW by Italian Armed Forces: they were released after treaty between Giuseppe Garibaldi and Chatham Roberdeau Wheat. During December 1860 and few months of 1861, the volunteers were transported to New Orleans with ships Elisabetta, Olyphant, Utile, Charles & Jane, Washington and Franklin.[6]

Giuseppe Garibaldi[edit]

Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1861

At the outbreak of the American Civil War (in 1861), Giuseppe Garibaldi volunteered his services to President Abraham Lincoln. Garibaldi was offered a Major General's commission in the U. S. Army through the letter from Secretary of State William H. Seward to H. S. Sanford, the U. S. Minister at Brussels, July 17, 1861.[7] On September 18, 1861, Sanford sent the following reply to Seward:

"He [Garibaldi] said that the only way in which he could render service, as he ardently desired to do, to the cause of the United States, was as Commander-in-chief of its forces, that he would only go as such, and with the additional contingent power—to be governed by events—of declaring the abolition of slavery; that he would be of little use without the first, and without the second it would appear like a civil war in which the world at large could have little interest or sympathy."[8]

According to Italian historian Petacco, "Garibaldi was ready to accept Lincoln's 1862 offer but on one condition: that the war's objective be declared as the abolition of slavery. But at that stage Lincoln was unwilling to make such a statement lest he worsen an agricultural crisis."[9] Although the aging Garibaldi respectfully declined Lincoln's offer, Washington D.C. recruited many of Garibaldi's former officers.[10] On August 6, 1863, after the Emancipation Proclamation had been issued, Garibaldi wrote to Lincoln: "Posterity will call you the great emancipator, a more enviable title than any crown could be, and greater than any merely mundane treasure."[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Civil War Home - The Civil War Society's "Encyclopedia of the Civil War" - Italian-Americans in the Civil War.
  2. ^ a b NATIONAL ITALIAN AMERICAN FOUNDATION - Italian American Contributions.
  3. ^ The Civil War Archive - Union Regimental Histories - New York - 39th Regiment Infantry "Garibaldi Guard".
  4. ^ Italian American History - - Retrieved 16 July 2011.
  5. ^ Italian guards battalion
  6. ^ Italiani nella guerra civile americana
  7. ^ Mack Smith, pp. 69–70
  8. ^ Mack Smith, p. 70
  9. ^ Carroll, Rory (2000-02-08). "Garibaldi asked by Lincoln to run army". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media Limited). Retrieved 2011-07-04. 
  10. ^ David Stephen Heidler, Jeanne T. Heidler, David J. Coles - "Encyclopedia of the American Civil War: a political, social, and military history" - Italian-Americans - W. W. Norton & Company, 2002, Page 1050. Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  11. ^ Mack Smith, p. 72

External links[edit]