15 May 2024

Battle of Calatafimi

The Expedition of the Thousand gets off to a good start

Garibaldi's Redshirts engaging with Neapolitan troops seeking to stop their march on Palermo
Garibaldi's Redshirts fighting with Neapolitan
troops sent to stop their march on Palermo
Giuseppe Garibaldi won his first victory during his invasion of Sicily on this day in 1860 at Calatafimi near Trapani.

His army of Redshirts beat a larger number of Neapolitan troops representing The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, who had been sent from Palermo to block the roads to the Sicilian capital.

Four days before the battle, Garibaldi’s ‘Thousand,’ known as I Mille in Italian, had landed at Marsala and set off on a direct route to Palermo.

A Neapolitan Brigadier General, Francesco Landi, was sent to intercept Garibaldi and his volunteer troops before they could get to Palermo. 

Landi deployed 2,700 men, as well as cannons and horse artillery, on a terraced hill called Pianto dei Romani, forcing Garibaldi into having to attack them uphill to get past them and continue with his journey. The Neapolitan troops were better armed than Garibaldi’s men and had modern rifles, but the Redshirts made a series of determined bayonet charges, causing the Neapolitans to have to move back to the terraces above to avoid their opponents getting too close with their weapons.

Garibaldi (centre) assembled and led an army of 1,000 volunteers
Garibaldi (centre) assembled and led
an army of 1,000 volunteers 
The Neapolitans were pushed back to the top of the hill and Garibaldi’s men captured one of their cannons. When it looked as though the Neapolitan troops were running short of bullets, Garibaldi’s men were encouraged to make a final charge and force their opponents into a retreat.

The battle was over in just three hours, after Landi’s men had run out of ammunition and  been forced to withdraw, boosting the morale of Garibaldi’s troops.

During the fighting, Garibaldi is reputed to have uttered his famous words: ‘Qui si fa l’Italia o si muore - Here we make Italy or we die.’

His victory at the battle of Calatafimi encouraged Sicilian people to join his cause and undermined the morale of the Neapolitan troops.

Garibaldi began the siege of Palermo on May 27. The city was defended by 18,000 men under the command of a 75-year-old general, Ferdinando Lanza, who was said to have been timid and confused some of the time. Despite being heavily outnumbered, three days later Garibaldi’s troops had taken Sicily’s capital city.

A memorial obelisk at the scene of the battle
A memorial obelisk at
the scene of the battle
Travel tip:

Calatafimi, sometimes known as Calatafimi-Segesta, is a small town in the province of Trapani in Sicily. The town’s full name was created as recently as 1997 to highlight the presence in the area of the fifth century Doric Temple of Segesta, thought to be one of the most intact of its type. On a nearby hilltop to the temple, is a second century Roman amphitheatre. Near Calatafimi, on Pianto dei Romani, where Garibaldi and his troops first clashed with the Neapolitan army of the Bourbon rulers of Sicily, there is a battle memorial in the form of a large stone obelisk. This contains an ossuary of the remains of the soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Calatafimi.

The 17th century Baroque Duomo di San Tommaso
di Canterbury is one of Marsala's main sights
Travel tip:

Marsala, where Garibaldi landed in 1860 with his Expedition of the Thousand, is an historic town situated on the most western point of Sicily, well known for the fortified wine it makes that bears its name. Marsala Cathedral, a 17th century Baroque church, is dedicated to Saint Thomas of Canterbury. Marsala’s origins are deeply connected with the nearby archaeological site of Mozia, an important Phoenician colony. After Mozia was destroyed, survivors established the town of Lilybaeum, which is present-day Marsala. Among famous people who have a connection with Marsala is Ignazio Boschetto, a lyric tenor who is a member of the singing trio, Il Volo, whose parents are both from Marsala. 

Also on this day:

1567: The baptism of Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi

1902: The birth of musician and band leader Pippo Barzizza

1910: Italy’s national football team beats France 6-2 in its debut fixture

1936: The birth of actress and singer Anna Maria Alberghetti

1943: The birth of operatic tenor Salvatore Fisichella


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