Battle of Cathedral Square, Reggio, 21 August 1860

The battle of Cathedral Squadron, Reggio (Battaglia di Piazza Duomo) of 21 August 1860 was Garibaldi's first victory after he crossed from Sicily to the mainland of Italy and helped secure him a foothold on the mainland.

Garibaldi had conquered Sicily in two months, but he was then faced with the problem of how to cross the Straits of Messina. The straits were guarded by the powerful Neapolitan fleet, with Neapolitan troops on the eastern shore, while Garibaldi had no more than a handful of ships. He solved this problem by slipping away to Giardini, 30 miles to the south-west of Messina. Two ships were sent the long way around the island, and arrived at the same place from the south.

The Neapolitans were thus unaware of this movement, and on the night of 18-19 August Garibaldi and 3,360 men steamed across to Melito, on the southern tip of the toe of Italy. Garibaldi had neatly sidestepped the main Neapolitan forces, which were further to the north. He was able to link up with some local insurgents, and then advanced north towards the nearest enemy troops, at Reggio.

The garrison at Reggio was commanded by General Gallotti. He had command of 1,000 men from the 14th Line Regiment, commanded by Colonel Dusmet. In theory the town was also defended by the newly formed National Guard, but this force was dominated by liberal supports of Garibaldi. Gallotti refused to allow Dusmet to take up a strong defensive position near Reggio Castle and instead ordered him to camp in the Piazza Duimo (Cathedral Square), in the centre of the town. Another force, of 2,000 men, under Briganti, was approaching from Villa San Giovanni, but wouldn't arrive until the afternoon of 21 August

Garibaldi left Melito on 20 August. They paused near Reggio, and resumed their march at midnight on 20-21 August. They were greeted at the city walls by the National Guard, who let them pass, but at the Cathedral Square they ran into the 14th Line, who opened fire.

Although they were well led the 14th Line was soon overwhelmed. Dusmet and his son were both killed and the survivors retreated into the castle. This fighting was over soon after dawn.

Briganti arrived later in the day. Garibaldi led his men out of the city and prepared for a battle, but after some brief skirmishing Briganti retreated. Garibaldi later felt that this had been a dangerous moment - if Briganti and the troops in the castle had attacked at the same time then Garibaldi's men might well have been defeated.

Briganti's retreat and the poor leadership of Gallotti undermined the morale of the garrison in the castle, and on the following day they surrendered. Garibaldi had lost 150 killed and wounded, but he had firmly established himself on the mainland of Italy. On the same day a second force, under Cosenz, landed to the north of the main Neapolitan forces. Garibaldi's combined forces actually outnumbered the Neapolitan forces on the straits of Messina, and on 23 August Generals Melendez and Briganti, with 3,500 men, surrendered unconditionally. Most of the men were allowed to go home, although a few enlisted in Garibaldi's army.

Over the next two weeks Garibaldi and his men rushed north towards Naples. Francis II decided not to try and defend his capital, and fled. The city fell to Garibaldi on 7 September, while the Neapolitan army decided to defend the line of the Volturno River.

The Second War of Italian Unification 1859-61, Frederick C. Schneid. Focuses on the three separate conflicts that made up the Second War of Italian Unification (the Franco-Austrian War, Garibaldi's invasion of the kingdom of Naples and the invasion of the Papal State), the conflict that saw the creation of the Kingdom of Italy. [read full review]
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Solferino 1859: The Battle for Italy's Freedom, Richard Brooks. The battle of Solferino was the main event in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859, a key moment in the unification of Italy, and the first battle to be decided at least partly by the extensive use of the railway and steamships and rifled artillery. It also led directly to the foundation of the Red Cross, but despite these claims to fame it has since been overshadowed by the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. Brooks' volume is an excellent single-volume account of the entire campaign, and will be of value to anyone with an interest in nineteenth century warfare [see more].
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 February 2013), Battle of Cathedral Square, Reggio, 21 August 1860 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_cathedral_square.html

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