Giuseppe Garibaldi, Hero of the Two Worlds

Giuseppe Garibaldi

His name is everywhere in Italy, found on streets, piazzas, and monuments throughout the country. He is also renowned in the western hemisphere for his military successes in Brazil and Uruguay.

Between May and September of 1860, Garibaldi captured the island of Sicily for Victor Emmanuel II, and marched up the Italian peninsula toward Rome. Along the way volunteers swelled his forces from an initial 800 to about 24,000. He played a crucial role in uniting Italy, and is considered a national hero.

But after this famous march, at the outbreak of the American civil war, Garibaldi offered his services to President Abraham Lincoln. Here is how Wikipedia summarizes his offer: 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. 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.

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.” 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.”

Had Lincoln and Garibaldi come to agreeable terms, we Americans would no doubt be more familiar with his name.


5 thoughts on “Giuseppe Garibaldi, Hero of the Two Worlds

    • That’s an interesting article, dragonflyshine. It does convey the sense that, though we often think of the Civil War being “all about” abolishing slavery, that was not the intention or purpose at the outbreak of hostilities. I wonder what other Italian connections there are with our Civil War.

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