1861
Giuseppe Garibaldi, "Hero of Two Worlds" and one-time United States resident.


One of the most famous and illustrious figures in the saga for freedom in modern history was Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882), born in 1807 in Nizza (Nice) which had been part of Piedmont, but had recently been annexed by France. Like his father and grandfather before him, he became a sailor in the Piedmont Navy. He also joined the Mazzini Young Italy movement whose goal was to unify the peninsula into a republic. Alienated by a divided Italy composed of largely reactionary and autocratic states, he took part in Genoa's abortive insurrection against Piedmont. Accused of treason he fled to South America where for twelve years he commanded guerilla troops against Brazil as well as in defense of Uruguay. When revolutions and war broke out in Italy he returned to Italy to lead forces in a losing defense of the Roman Republic in 1849. He then came to the United States, where he applied for citizenship and began learning English. He lived for a time with inventor Antonio Meucci working as a candle maker in Staten Island, New York. By 1854 he returned to an Italy that was partially unified under Piedmont supervision. A brilliant guerilla warrior, Garibaldi gathered a "thousand Redshirts," many of them young students, evaded an opposing naval force, and landed in Sicily. Resplendent in his red shirt, black hair, and silk neckerchief, the intrepid warrior successfully led the expedition against superior forces that resulted in the capture of Sicily and Piedmont's annexation of the south. His continued success on the field of battle against the numerically more powerful House of Bourbon rendered him a legend not only in Italy but beyond. Together with Giuseppe Mazzini and Count Camillo Cavour, Garibaldi is credited with uniting Italy.

The outbreak of the Civil War in the United States found President Abraham Lincoln offering Garibaldi a major general's commission in the Union Army -a position he declined because two conditions could not be met. First, he wanted Lincoln's unequivocal assurance that the goal of the war was to end slavery; and second, that Lincoln appoint him commander-in-chief of all Union forces an impossibility under the United States Constitution. For the first generation of Italian immigrants to the United States, Garibaldi was the unquestioned hero, one around whom they could rally. Indeed before Columbus Day became the celebratory event for New York Italians, it was around Garibaldi's statue at Washington Square where New York's Italian colony would assemble.

Although Garibaldi refused President Lincoln's major general commission during the Civil War, a Union Army regiment that included several Italian Americans became known as the "Garibaldi Guard."





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