Why Lincoln Wanted an Italian Freedom Fighter to Lead His Army
Giuseppe Garibaldi is best known for leading military campaigns that helped unify Italy, but the famed freedom fighter came very close to taking another notable assignment. And his brush with the Union blue remains one of the most curious tales of the Civil War.
An Italian adventurer and revolutionary might seem like an unlikely candidate for a Civil War general, but in the mid-19th century, the steely-eyed Giuseppe Garibaldi was an internationally recognized symbol of liberty. A sailor and sea captain in his youth, he had first made his name while serving as a guerrilla fighter in civil wars in Brazil and Uruguay in the 1830s and 1840s.
After returning to Italy in 1848, he became a leading figure in the “Risorgimento,” a movement to expel foreign powers from Italy and unify its various states into one independent nation. Garibaldi and his “Red Shirt” troops eventually battled with Austrian, French and papal forces, but his greatest achievement came in 1860, when he led a band of volunteers known as “The Thousand” on a campaign against the Bourbon rulers of Sicily. Though outnumbered and outgunned, his patchwork army emerged victorious after just a few months, clearing the way for the creation of the Kingdom of Italy under the ruler Victor Emmanuel II.
As a result of his contributions to Italian unification, the man known as the “Hero of Two Worlds” became a military celebrity. Countless dime novels were written about him, and newspapers and magazines chronicled his every move. Garibaldi was particularly beloved in America, where he had briefly lived in the early 1850s. “Few men,” the New York Herald had once written, “have achieved so much for the cause of freedom.”
In 1861, as the United States descended into civil war, newspapers began to speculate that Garibaldi might return to America and take part in the struggle to preserve the Union. According to historian Don H. Doyle, a scheme to actually recruit Garibaldi took shape that June, when a U.S. consul named James Quiggle sent a letter to the Italian encouraging him to join Lincoln’s army. “If you do,” Quiggle wrote, “the name of Lafayette will not surpass yours.” The pair proceeded to exchange several letters, including one in which Garibaldi expressed “a great desire” to serve. Continue reading at History.com.