Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

Expedition of the Thousand

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Period  1860 – 1861
Expedition of the Thousand FileGaribaldi departing on the Expedition of the Thousand in 1860

Combatants  Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Kingdom of Italy, Kingdom of Sardinia, United Kingdom, Second French Empire
Similar  Second Italian War of Indepe, Battle of Calatafimi, First Italian War of Independence, Third Italian War of Indepe, Capture of Rome

The Expedition of the Thousand (Italian Spedizione dei Mille) was an event of the Italian Risorgimento that took place in 1860. A corps of volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi landed in Sicily in order to conquer the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, ruled by the Bourbons.


Expedition of the Thousand FileExpedition of the Thousand Giuseppe Garibaldi in Pretoria

The project was an ambitious and risky venture aiming to conquer, with a thousand men, a kingdom with a larger regular army and a more powerful navy. The expedition was a success and concluded with a plebiscite that brought Naples and Sicily into the Kingdom of Sardinia, the last territorial conquest before the creation of the Kingdom of Italy on 17 March 1861.

Expedition of the Thousand httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu

The sea venture was the only desired action that was jointly decided by the "four fathers of the nation" Giuseppe Mazzini, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Victor Emmanuel II, and Camillo Cavour, pursuing divergent goals. However, the Expedition was instigated by Francesco Crispi, who utilized his political influence to bolster the Italian unification project.

Expedition of the Thousand Expedition of the Thousand YouTube

The various groups participated in the expedition for a variety of reasons: for Garibaldi, it was to achieve a united Italy; to the Sicilian bourgeoisie, an independent Sicily as part of the kingdom of Italy, and for the mass farmers, land distribution and the end of oppression.

Expedition of the Thousand FileExpedition of Thousand landing at Marsala Garibaldi

Expedition of the thousand


The events of the Expedition took place within the overall process of the unification of Italy, which was largely orchestrated by Camillo Cavour, Prime Minister of Sardinia-Piedmont, as his life's work. After the annexation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Duchies of Modena and Parma and the Romagna to Piedmont in March 1860, Italian nationalists set their sights on the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which comprised all of southern mainland Italy and Sicily, as the next step toward their dream of unification of all Italian lands.

In 1860 Garibaldi, already the most famous Italian revolutionary leader, was in Genoa planning an expedition against Sicily and Naples, with the covert support of the United Kingdom. Sicilian leaders, among them Francesco Crispi, were discontented with Neapolitan rule over the island. Moreover, Britain was worried by the approaches of the Neapolitans towards the Russian Empire in the latter's attempt to open its way to the Mediterranean Sea; the strategic importance of the Sicilian ports was also to be dramatically increased by the opening of the Suez Canal. It has been also suggested (by Lorenzo del Boca, among the others) that British support for Garibaldi's expedition was spurred by the necessity to obtain more favourable economic conditions for Sicilian sulfur, which was needed in great quantities for the new steamers.

According to other sources in 1860 the Kingdom of Great Britain was in favor of the Italian unification because of the possibility of French influence on the Italian peninsula, as a matter of fact the Plombières Agreement provided for the making of three states in Italy (North, Center, South and the area of Rome under the papacy), taking off Lombardy and Veneto form Austrian domination and, as a compensation, France of Napoleon III even acquired, from the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Piedmontese Savoy and the port of Nice and its surrounding areas.
After the annexations of Savoy and Nice to France, British ministers showed annoyed and Lord Russell declared in Parliament that “… it was broken every good agreement with France; so England had to look for allies somewhere else.”
Furthermore French Napoleon III intended to put a French prince in Middle-Italy new kingdom, projecting to replace the House of Bourbon by restoring on the throne of Naples the French House of Murat, this last attempt was thought since the war of Crimea.
The attitude of the Kingdom of Great Britain to create the new agreed Italian states decided in Plombières, out of the French influence, is confirmed by the fact that England was in favor of the aggregation of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to the Piedmontese kingdom of Sardinia, in order to take the Grand Duchy of Tuscany off the project of a middle-Italy Kingdom under a French prince, “… the warm help that the Cabinet of London was giving to Piedmont (Kingdom of Sardinia) for the union with Tuscany".
Of course this French project to control directly or indirectly the Italian peninsula was against the British interest, because Napoleon III would have extended his influence on a large area of the Mediterranean Sea, so it can reasonably supposed that in 1860, for the Kingdom of Great Britain, a united Italy was better than a “three-states Italy” mainly under French influence or other near states influence.

Search for a casus belli

The Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont needed a presentable casus belli in order to attack the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. This was needed for the House of Savoy, which however never gave any declaration of war against the Bourbon kingdom, a necessary condition, since this was among the requirements presented to Cavour. The only occurrence that would have satisfied this requirement was an uprising from within. Such an event would have felt the alienation of the people to the dynasty that ruled in Naples and, particularly, the inability of Francis of Bourbon, to ensure, in forms acceptable public policy in their domains. Sicily, as shown by the history of the past decades, was fertile ground, and the liberal south, especially those returning after an amnesty granted by the young King, who worked in this direction for some time.

The Red Shirts

In March 1860, exile Rosolino Pilo exhorted Giuseppe Garibaldi to take charge of an expedition to liberate Southern Italy from Bourbon rule. At first, Garibaldi was against it, but eventually agreed. By May 1860, Garibaldi had collected 1,089 volunteers for his expedition to Sicily.

The largest number of volunteers came from Lombardy (434 volunteers). Other significant numbers of volunteers came from occupied Venetia (194 volunteers) Genoa (156 volunteers) and Tuscany (78 volunteers).
There were about 45 Sicilian volunteers and 46 Neapolitan volunteers - but only 11 from Rome and the Papal States. Thirty three (33) foreigners joined the expedition; amongst them István Türr and three other Hungarians and fourteen (14) Italians from the Trentino of the Austrian Empire. The majority of the volunteers were students and artisans from the lower classes.

The 1,089 volunteers were poorly armed with dated muskets and were dressed in a minimalist uniform - consisting of a red shirt and grey trousers.

During the night of 5 May, a small group led by Nino Bixio seized two steamships in Genoa from the Rubattino shipping company in order to transport the volunteers to Sicily. They took the two ships, which they had renamed Il Piemonte and Il Lombardo, to the nearby rocks at Quarto dei Mille, Genoa, where the volunteers (including Franceso Crispi's wife, Rosalie) embarked for Sicily.

Landing in Sicily

The ships landed at Marsala, on the westernmost point of Sicily, on 11 May, with the help of British ships present in the harbour to deter the Bourbon ships. The Lombardo was attacked and sunk only after the disembarkation had been completed, while the Piemonte was captured. The landing had been preceded by the arrival of Francesco Crispi and others, who had the task of gaining the support of the locals for the volunteers.

On 14 May, at Salemi, Garibaldi announced that he was assuming dictatorship over Sicily in the name of King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia.

Calatafimi and Palermo

The Mille won a first battle at Calatafimi against around 2,000 Neapolitan troops on 15 May. The battle boosted the morale of the Mille and, at the same time, depressed the Neapolitans, who were poorly led by their often corrupted higher officers, and started to feel themselves abandoned. Having promised land to every male who volunteered to fight against the Bourbons the ranks of the Mille enlarged to 1,200 with local men. On 27 May, with the help of a popular insurrection, the Mille laid siege to Palermo, the island's capital. The city was defended by some 16,000 men, but these were under the confused and timid direction of general Ferdinando Lanza, aged 75 (probably one of the Neapolitan officers bribed with English money, see Evaluation section).

While two columns of Garibaldines attacked the perimeter, part of the population, strengthened by 2,000 prisoners liberated from the local jails, rose against the garrison. When his troops were driven back from most of their positions, Lanza ordered them to bombard the city for three days, causing the deaths of 600 civilians. By 28 May Garibaldi controlled much of the city and declared the Bourbon authority deposed. The following day a desperate Neapolitan counteroffensive was driven back, and Lanza asked for a truce. However, when a reinforcement party of well equipped and well trained troops arrived in the city, the situation became very serious for Garibaldi, who was saved only by Lanza's decision to surrender. Through the mediation of a British admiral, an armistice was signed and the Neapolitan fleet abandoned the port.

Neapolitan retreat and Battle of Milazzo

The Bourbon troops were ordered to push eastwards and evacuate the island. An insurrection that had broken out in Catania on 31 May, led by Nicola Fabrizi, was crushed by the local garrison, but the order to leave for Messina meant that this Neapolitan tactical success would have no practical results.

At the time only Syracuse, Augusta, Milazzo and Messina remained in royal hands in Sicily. In the meantime Garibaldi issued his first law. A levy failed to muster more than 20,000 troops, while the peasants, who hoped to an immediate relief from the grievous conditions to which they were forced by the landowners, revolted in several localities. At Bronte, on 4 August 1860, Garibaldi's friend Nino Bixio bloodily repressed one of these revolts with two battalions of Redshirts.

The pace of Garibaldi's victories had worried Cavour, who in early July sent him a proposal of immediate annexation of Sicily to Piedmont. Garibaldi, however, refused vehemently to allow such a move until the end of the war. Cavour's envoy, La Farina, was arrested and expelled from the island. He was replaced by the more malleable Agostino Depretis, who gained Garibaldi's trust and was appointed as pro-dictator.

On 25 June 1860, King Francis II of the Two Sicilies had issued a constitution. However, this late attempt to conciliate his moderate subjects failed to rouse them to defend the regime, while liberals and revolutionaries were eager to welcome Garibaldi.

At the time, Garibaldi had created the Esercito Meridionale ("Southern Army"), reinforced by other volunteers from Italy and some regular Piedmontese soldiers disguised as "deserters". The Neapolitans had mustered some 24,000 men for the defence of Messina and the other fortresses.

On 20 July Garibaldi attacked Milazzo with 5,000 men. The Neapolitan defence was gallant, but again the absence of coordination and the refusal of Marshal Clary, commander-in-chief of the army in the island, to send reinforcements from Messina granted the Mille another victory. Six days later Clary surrendered the city of Messina to Garibaldi, leaving only 4,000 in the citadel and other forts. The other strongholds surrendered by the end of September.

Subsequent landings of volunteers

After the first and famous landing in Marsala on 11 May 1860, from 24 May to 3rd September 1860, other expeditions left from the ports of Genoa and in a few cases from Livorno, taking to Sicily the amount of 21,000 volunteers and war materials to help Garibaldi facing the Bourbon Army strong of much more than 100,000 soldiers and several thousands of gendarmes.
The most important Expeditions were: Giacomo Medici (general), 3.500 volunteers, Enrico Cosenz, more than 2,000 volunteers, Gaetano Sacchi, 1,532 volunteers. But only 2,500, of the planned 3,500 volunteers, of Medici’s expedition could get to Sicily, because his vanguard of two ships, the group “Corte”, about 1.000 volunteers, the ships “Utile” and “Charles and Jane” were intercepted and captured by the Bourbon Navy and brought to Gaeta, but after a few weeks they were released and later they left again for Sicily on 15 July by the ship “Amazon”.
The ships of the main group Medici of 2,500 volunteers were on board of the ships: “Washington”, “Oregon” and “Franklin”, all these ships were nominally owned by an American citizen keen on the Italian cause, when near the Sicilian coasts the Piedmontese warship “Gulnara” approached these three ships and escorted them safe to the coast.
According to the intentions of the republicans of Giuseppe Mazzini, mainly Agostino Bertani, the 6.000 volunteers of Pianciani should have landed North of the Papal States continuing their march towards Umbria to join the 2.000 volunteers of Giovanni Nicotera coming from Tuscany to Umbria and both Pianciani and Nicotera should have joined another group of 1,000 volunteers coming from Marche and so all together form an expeditionary corps of 9.000 volunteers to move southwards and take the Bourbon Army in a “vicelike grip”.
Cavour prevented this risky attempt by sending both the expeditions Pianciani and Nicotera to the South of Italy, were they were most needed to help Garibaldi, furthermore an attack against the Papal States, in that very moment protected by French troops, might have seriously compromised the situation and the same Expedition of Garibaldi.
Expeditions financing was provided by the Cavourrian National Society, the Million Rifles fund and Bertani’s Committes and other sources.

Foreign volunteers

Tre presence of foreign volunteers, especially Hungarian and Polish was caused by the presence in Great Britain of a large number of political refugees, who shared with Italian political refugees a common target of national freedom and independence against Austria.
The tour of lectures of Italian political refugees persuaded a lot of British people to support the Italian unification, even by fundraising and founding associations such as: Friends of Italy, supported by Caroline Ashurst Stansfeld, Garibaldi Fund, Garibaldi special fund and others, and some British made their mind up to join Garibaldi in the Expedition.
The Expedition included about 200 Hungarian cavalrymen, 200 infantrymen and important officers: István Türr, Nandor Eber, Lajos Tüköry, who died in Palermo, the Polish officer Aleksander Izenschmid de Milbitz, the Prussian-Swiss Wilhelm Friedrich Rüstow, chief of staff. The garibaldian corps included also 50 French of De Flotte, a hundred of German speaking Bourbon deserters commanded by Adolfo Wolff, and for short time the American Catham Roberdeau Wheat e Charles Carrol Hicks, who went back to the States to fight in the American Civil War as confederates, Britih and others. In the Bourbon Army foreigners were much more, 3,000 German speaking and a few Swiss companies called Schweizertruppen under the command of Von Mechel.

The British in the Expedition

Unlike the other European nations, contrary to allow Garibaldi’s Expedition to cross the Strait of Messina and land in Italy moving towards Naples, the British decision of Lord Palmerston and Lord Russel not to prevent Garibaldi’s forces to pass the Strait of Messina was fundamental to continue the Expedition on the continent, otherwise Garibaldi and his volunteers would have been cut off from continuing their advance, remaining in Sicily and Italy would have lost an important chance to be a united and independent country. After his landing in Sicily Garibaldi was joined by other expeditions of reinforcements and arrived British volunteers to support Garibaldi, most of them were officers: Hugh Forbes, who had already fought with Garibaldi during the defense of the Roman Republic 1848-49. John William Dunne who created a battalion enlisting the Sicilians who called him “Milordo” , Percy Wyndahm, John Whitehead Peard and others.

John Whitehead Peard, Garibaldi’s double

John Whitehead Peard, already with Garibaldi in 1859 during the Second Italian War of Independence against Austria, had a role as “double” of Garibaldi, even if Peard was taller and bigger than Garibaldi and wore a blue uniform, he was involuntarily but regularly mistaken for Garibaldi during his march from Northern Calabria to Southern Campania, so it happended that in Auletta, Postiglione and Eboli people welcomed Peard-Garibaldi with “… tremendous enthusiasm …” , “… mad with excitement …” and Peard thought that it was better “to yield to the delusion”.
In Eboli Peard and the other “garibaldini” made their mind up to send misleading telegrams to divert the Bourbon Headquarters, who believed them and withdraw their forces from Salerno, where Peard-Garibaldi entered welcomed and cheered as Garibaldi by everyone, but a single officer who, whispering, told Peard his true identity.
The importance of Peard during the Expedition was awarded by king Victor Emmanuel II with the cross of the Order of Valour and Peard was known in England as “Garibaldi’s Englishman”, in Rome at the Janiculum, a marble bust is present amid the Statues and monuments of patriots on the Janiculum: George Peard, “Il garibaldino inglese”.

The British Legion or Garibaldi Excursionists

On the 15th of October, the ship Emperor landed in Naples the British Legion and John Whitehead Peard took the lead of these 600 British volunteers, officially called “Garibaldi’s Excursionists”, to save the appearances. The British Legion took part in a fight during the final phases of Garibaldi’s Expedition.

Landing and conquest in Calabria

On 19 August Garibaldi's men disembarked in Calabria, a move opposed by Cavour, who had written the Dictator a letter urging him to not cross the strait. Garibaldi, however, disobeyed, an act which had the silent approval of King Victor Emmanuel.

The Bourbons had some 20,000 men in Calabria, but, apart from some episodes like that of Reggio Calabria, which was conquered at high cost by Bixio on 21 August, they offered insignificant resistance, as numerous units of the Bourbon army disbanded spontaneously or even joined Garibaldi's ranks. On 30 August a conspicuous Sicilian army, led by general Ghio, was officially disbanded at Soveria Mannelli, while only minor and dispersed units continued the fight. The Neapolitan fleet behaved in a similar way.

The end

King Francis II was thus forced to abandon Naples and entrench himself in the formidable fortress of Gaeta, while a last stand was set up on the Volturno river, north of Naples. On 7 September Garibaldi took possession of Naples with little harm (he entered the city by train), hailed as a liberator by the population.

In the meantime the Kingdom of Sardinia invaded the Papal States conquering Central Italy (Lazio excluded) through few battles such as the Battle of Castelfidardo, and entered the Kingdom of Two Sicilies joining Giuseppe Garibaldi.

In the decisive Battle of the Volturnus (1 and 2 October), Garibaldi, with a force of 24,000 men, was not able to conclusively defeat the Neapolitan Army (about 25,000 men). Only the arrival of the Sardinian army obliged the last organized Bourbon force to entrench in Gaeta.

A few days later (21 October) a plebiscite confirmed the annexation of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the Kingdom of Sardinia by an overwhelming majority.

The end of the expedition is traditionally set with the famous meeting in Teano (northern Campania) between Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi (26 October 1860). Others assign instead the end of the campaign to the King's entrance into Naples on 7 November.

However, the military campaign was not yet fully completed, as Francis II held out in Gaeta until February of the next year, when he finally surrendered to the Sardinian army led by Enrico Cialdini, and left for exile in the Papal States. Shortly thereafter, in March 1861, the new Kingdom of Italy (Regno d'Italia) was formally established.

Garibaldi asked the King to remain in the former Two Sicilies for a year as dictator. He also asked that his officers be integrated in the new Italian Army. When Victor Emmanuel refused to accept his requests, he returned to Caprera.


The Expedition of the Thousand has traditionally been one of the most celebrated events of the Italian Risorgimento, the process of the unification of Italy.

In the following years, the rise of local resistance (the so-called brigantaggio or brigandage), required at one point the presence of some 140,000 Piedmontese troops to maintain control of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Traditionally, the handling of the brigantaggio has received a negative judgement by Italian historians, in strict contrast with the heroism attributed to Garibaldi and his followers; the English historian Denis Mack Smith, for example, points out the deficiencies and reticence of the sources available for the period.

The expedition, moreover, obtained the support of the powerful great landowners of southern Italy in exchange for the promise that their properties be left intact in the upcoming political settlement. Numerous Sicilian peasants, however, had joined the Mille hoping instead for a redistribution of the land to the people working it. The consequences of this misunderstanding became evident at Bronte.

The new northern kings of Italy were appreciated in Southern Italy, as only 85 years after the unification, during the Italian institutional referendum, 1946, a very high number of southern voters were in favor of Monarchy, while Northern Italy was in favor of Republic.
In 1946 the Neapolitan Achille Lauro founded the Monarchist National Party, very voted in Naples and Southern Italy, the Monarchist Party, becoming Italian Democratic Party of Monarchist Unity existed unitil 1972, when it merged with another party.


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