Expedition of the Thousand

On this day in history: Expedition of the Thousand

History of Italy News

On this day in 1860, the Expedition of the Thousand (Spedizione dei Mille) commenced, marking a significant chapter in Italy’s unification under the leadership of the soldier and revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi.

Triggered by an uprising in Sicily, the campaign, often regarded as the apex of the Risorgimento movement, saw Garibaldi embarking from Genoa with a volunteer army, aiming to support the rebels in overthrowing the Bourbon rulers of Sicily.

While the immediate goal was to aid the Sicilian revolt, the overarching objective was to advance towards the broader vision of a unified Italy, shared by Garibaldi, fellow nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini. King Victor Emmanuel II and Prime Minister Camillo Benso di Cavour of Sardinia-Piedmont supported the idea.

The composition of the Expedition of the Thousand was diverse, with volunteers hailing from various regions and backgrounds. Clad in simple uniforms of red shirts and grey trousers, they demonstrated a remarkable sense of unity despite being armed with outdated muskets and lacking proper equipment.

British helped Garibaldi’s troops

The arrival of Garibaldi’s forces in Sicilian waters faced peril from the Bourbon fleet, yet with the assistance of the British Royal Navy, they successfully landed at Marsala on May 11. Despite their small numbers, the support of the populace and the crumbling Bourbon defences led to swift victories in Marsala and Palermo.

Proclaiming himself the ruler of Sicily on behalf of King Victor Emmanuel II, Garibaldi pressed on towards Naples. He encountered minimal resistance and with his men hailed as heroes along the way. Concurrently, the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont made gains in the Papal States, ultimately culminating in the decisive Battle of the Volturnus.

The expedition’s conclusion resulted in the historic meeting in Teano between Victor Emmanuel II and Garibaldi on 26th October. Here, Garibaldi formally handed over the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies to the monarch, solidifying his role as the King of Italy.

While this outcome fell short of the aspirations of republicans like Mazzini, Garibaldi prioritised national unity above all else. With this pivotal handshake, Garibaldi retired to his home in Caprera, leaving behind a unified Italy.

Read: Sicilian uprising of 1848

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