Never before or since has there been a leader who, like Giuseppe Garibaldi, stirred the noble and patriotic sentiments of so many people, uniting them in one cause. Born in Nice, France, Garibaldi came from a family of sailors and sea captains. He went to sea in 1822 and became master of his own ship by 1832. Two years later, he embarked on what would become his lifelong cause, the struggle for freedom and Italian unity.
In 1834, Italy consisted of small dukedoms and principalities, most of which were domi¬ nated to some extent by Austria. Seeking to change this, Garibaldi joined the revolution¬ ary movement led by Giuseppe Mazzini.
After the revolt failed, Garibaldi was con¬ demned to death in absentia (Latin for “in absence”) by the government of Sardinia- Piedmont.Garibaldi fled to South America. He fought for the state of Rio Grande do Sul against Brazil and for Uruguay in its war with Paraguay.
The turmoil of the European revolutions of 1848 brought Garibaldi back to Italy. He led the troops of Mazzini s Roman Republic and helped Milan fight against Austria. In 1849, he held out heroically in Rome for weeks against the French, Austrian and Neapolitan armies sent against him. Realizing he could no longer hold the Eternal City, he escaped with several thousand of his men in a daring march that caught the imagination of millions of Europeans.
Once again in exile, Garibaldi lived briefly in the United States. Allowed to return to Italy in 1854, he settled on Caprera, a barren island off Sardinia. In 1859, he fought for Sardinia-Piedmont against Austria. On May 6, 1860, he sailed from Genoa with just over 1,000 men, his famous “Redshirts.” Landing on the island of Sicily, Garibaldi and his men used guerrilla tactics that he had learned in
South America to completely outmaneuver and defeat the 25,000-man army of Naples. He crossed the Strait of Messina on September 7 and fought on the Italian main¬ land, once again driving the enemy forces away through maneuver and deception.
By the fall of 1860, Garibaldi had become the virtual dictator of southern Italy and Sicily. He yielded this, and all claim to a reward, to King Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia-Piedmont, who thereby became king of an Italy that was united except for Venice and Rome itself. Garibaldi then returned to his home island, the hero of millions. He fought to take Venice away from Austria in 1866.
The Italian hero served in his nation’s par¬ liament from 1874 to 1876, where he found his liberal ideas constantly on the fringes. He was strongly anti-clerical and mildly socialist and believed in both racial and sexual equali¬ ty. Garibaldi died at Caprera in 1882.