The man who started unifying Italy
into a single country was actually born in Nice
, then as now a part of France
(though at some points in history it has been Italian), on July 4, 1807
. He grew up as a sailor and in 1833
began serving in the navy
of the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia
. The next year, after hearing French socialist thinkers and activists for Italian unification (such as Giuseppe Mazzini
), he participated in an uprising that was supposed to start a republican government in the kingdom. It failed, and Garibaldi escaped first to France and then South America
, convicted to death in absentia.
In Brazil, he served the Rio Grande do Sul republic when it tried to break off from Brazil, captaining a ship that harassed Brazilian shipping, and when Brazil won, he went to Uruguay. There, with the companionship of a married woman, Anna "Anita" Maria Ribeiro da Silva, he tried to stay a civilian but eventually led a group of Italian fighters aiding Uruguay in its war against Argentina. His exploits there in 1846 and 1847 made him well known even in Europe; Alexandre Dumas père particularly helped spread his fame. In addition to gaining a lot of military experience he would use later, Garibaldi also adopted the gaucho cowboy costume of the area and wore it even when he returned to Europe.
In 1848, Garibaldi returned to fight in Italy's war for independence against Austria, known as the Risorgimento. Both Pope Pius IX and the king of Piedmont-Sardinia rejected his help, but Garibaldi served the city-state of Milan until the Austrians outnumbered him and his men and he had to retreat to Switzerland. In late 1848, he participated in an attempt to keep Rome as an independent city, but again was outnumbered, by French forces this time. His gallantry was respected by all despite the lack of success of his cause. Nonetheless, he was too hot to handle for Italian leaders and had to stay in exile for several years.
In 1854 he was allowed to come back to Piedmont-Sardinia, and two years later actually bought the small island of Caprera, near Sardinia, his official home for the rest of his life. In 1858 he helped the kingdom in another war with Austria, which actually gained some land for the kingdom. After this, he tried to get the support of Piedmont's king Victor Emmanuel II to invade the Papal States and bring central Italy under the same government. The king was lukewarm on this issue.
In 1860, Garibaldi took on a different aim -- the capture of southern Italy's Kingdom of Naples, including Sicily. Victor Emmanuel was not able to stop him because of his great popularity; the two had an unwritten agreement that if Garibaldi's forces could take over on their own, they would get additional support afterwards from Piedmont-Sardinia. Garibaldi left Genoa with about a thousand soldiers, arrived in Sicily, and proclaimed himself dictator in Victor Emmanuel's name. His forces defeated the king of Naples and gained more and more support from local residents and people from other parts of Italy who came to join him. He captured the city of Palermo, then crossed to the Italian mainland toward Naples, the largest city in Italy. A huge battle on the Volturno River north of Naples cemented his victory. A plebiscite was held on the mainland and Sicily, and southern Italy became part of Victor Emmanuel's kingdom.
Garibaldi asked to be local ruler of Naples, but the government would not let him, fearing that he would do more than was wanted of him by trying to take over more land for the unifying country. So Garibaldi went back to his own little island, but still kept plotting to take over the Catholic church's domain in central Italy. He was becoming an enemy to the government because he disagreed with its administrative policies; however, he was so respected and popular in other countries that Abraham Lincoln offered him a command in the Union army during the U.S. Civil War. (Garibaldi turned down the offer because he would not be given supreme command.)
In 1862, Victor Emmanuel asked Garibaldi to attack Austria through the Balkans. Garibaldi agreed, but instead decided to use the forces to attack the Papal States. The rest of Italy's armies were sent to stop him and he was wounded at the Battle of Aspromonte. However, in 1867 after fighting for Italy in another war against Austria, he tried to go for the Papal States again and this time was stopped by the French. This didn't stop him from fighting for the French against Prussia during 1870's Franco-Prussian War.
Toward the end of his life, he stayed on his island, restricted by rheumatism and old wounds. He called himself a socialist but Karl Marx didn't agree with his positions. Though he didn't achieve the complete unification of the Italian peninsula, it would never have happened without the start he gave it. He died on his island on June 2, 1882.