Redshirts (Italy)

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A typical red shirt and cap of a Garibaldino in Livorno
Redshirt volunteers from Brescia during the Expedition of the Thousand (1860)

Redshirts, also called Red coats or Garibaldini, are volunteers who followed the Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi during his campaigns in Uruguay and Italy, and then his son Ricciotti in Greece and the Balkans from the 1840s to the 1910s. The name derived from the color of their shirts or loose fitting blouses that the volunteers, usually called Garibaldini, which were wore in lieu of a uniform.

The force originated as the Italian Legion was supporting the Colorado Party during the Uruguayan Civil War. The story is that Garibaldi was given red shirts destined for slaughterhouse workers. During the Wars of Italian Unification, the Redshirts later won several battles against the armies of the Austrian Empire, the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and the Papal States. Most notably, Garibaldi led his Redshirts in the Expedition of the Thousand of 1860, which concluded with the annexation of Sicily, Southern Italy, Marche and Umbria to the Kingdom of Sardinia, which led to the creation of the newly-unified Kingdom of Italy.

His military enterprises in South America and Europe made Garibaldi become known as the "Hero of the Two Worlds".[1] Garibaldi's son Ricciotti led some Redshirt volunteers that fought with the army of Greece during the Greco-Turkish War and the First Balkan War.

The term Redsirts and Garibaldino were later used to describe the Italian volunteers who fought for France in 1914, the Garibaldi Legion, and the Italian volunteers who fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and the Italian antifascist partisans in the Second World War.

The Redshirts were very popular and influenced many armies worldwide. For example, during the American Civil War, the Union's Garibaldi Guard and its Confederate counterpart, the Garibaldi Legion, wore red shirts as a part of their uniforms.

The Garibaldi shirt also became a popular type of clothing. According to A Cultural History of the Modern Age: The Crisis of the European Soul, "For a considerable time Garibaldi was the most famous man in Europe, and the red shirt, la camicia rossa, became the fashion for ladies, even outside Italy".[2]


Sewing red shirts for the volunteers: Odoardo Borrani, Cucitrici di camicie rosse, 1863

The red shirts were started by Giuseppe Garibaldi. During his years of exile, Garibaldi was involved in a military action in Uruguay. In 1843, he there originally used red shirts from a stock destined for slaughterhouse workers in Buenos Aires. Later, he spent time in private retirement in New York City. Both places have been claimed as the birthplace of the Garibaldian red shirt.[3]

The formation of his force of volunteers in Uruguay, his mastery of the techniques of guerilla warfare, his opposition to the Emperor of Brazil and to Argentine territorial ambitions (perceived by liberals as also imperialist), and his victories in the Battles of Cerro and Sant'Antonio in 1846 assured the independence of Uruguay and made Garibaldi and his followers heroes in Italy and Europe. Garibaldi was later hailed as the "Gran Chico Fornido" on the basis of these exploits.

In Uruguay, he called on the Italians of Montevideo and formed the Italian Legion in 1843. In later years, it was claimed that in Uruguay the legion first sported the red shirts associated with Garibaldi's "Thousand," which were said to have been obtained from a factory in Montevideo that had intended to export them to the slaughterhouses of Argentina. Red shirts sported by Argentinian butchers in the 1840s are not otherwise documented, however, and the famous camicie rosse did not appear during Garibaldi's efforts in Rome in 1849–1850.

Giuseppe Barboglio a Red Shirt volunteer of the Thousand wearing the Marsala Medal

Later, after the failure of the campaign for Rome, Garibaldi spent around 1850– to 1853 with the Italian patriot and inventor, Antonio Meucci, in a modest Gothic frame house (now designated a New York City Landmark), on Staten Island, New York City before he sailed for Italy in 1853. The Garibaldi-Meucci Museum is on Staten Island.

In New York City, before the American Civil War, rival companies of volunteer firemen were the great working-class heroes. Their courage, civic spirit, and lively comradeship inspired fanatic@/ followers throughout New York, the original "fire buffs."

A typical patriotic communal monument to the Garibaldini, at Monte Porzio

Volunteer fire companies varied in the completeness and details of their uniforms, but all of them wore the red flannel shirt. When Garibaldi returned to Italy after his New York stay, the red shirts made their first appearance among his followers.

Garibaldi remained a local hero among European immigrants back in the coty. The "Garibaldi Guard" (39th New York State Volunteers) fought in the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. As part of their uniform, all enlisted men wore red woolen "Garibaldi Shirts." The New York Tribune sized them up:

The officers of the Guard are men who have held important commands in the Hungarian, Italian, and German revolutionary armies. Many of them were in the Sardinian and French armies in the Crimea and in Algeria.

A woman's fashion, the Garibaldi shirt, was begun in 1860 by Empress Eugénie in France, and the blousy style remained popular for some years and eventually turned into the Victorian shirt waist and modern woman's blouse.[4]

Garibaldi's son, Ricciotti Garibaldi, later led Redshirt volunteer troops that fought with the Hellenic Army in the Greco-Turkish War in 1897 and the First Balkan War in 1912–13.


The Redshirts gave inspiration to Benito Mussolini when he formed the Italian fascist Blackshirts (MVSN) units. That inspired to Adolf Hitler's units of Brownshirts, the Sturmabteilung (SA) and the quasi-fascist Irish Blueshirts, led by Eoin O'Duffy. Although they were vaguely nationalistic in tone, Garibaldi and his men were not proto-fascist, however, but liberal revolutionaries.

Nottingham Forest Football Club wears the Garibaldi Redshirts since the beginning, in 1865.



  1. ^ "Unità d'Italia: Giuseppe Garibaldi, l'eroe dei due mondi". (in Italian).
  2. ^ Egon Friedell & Allan Janik (2010). A Cultural History of the Modern Age: The Crisis of the European Soul. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 9781412843799. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  3. ^ Pécout, Gilles (1999). Il lungo Risorgimento: la nascita dell'Italia contemporanea (1770–1922). Paravia Bruno Mondadori. p. 173. ISBN 9788842493570.
  4. ^ Young, Julia Ditto, "The Rise of the Shirt Waist", Good Housekeeping, May 1902, pp. 354-357