Episode 20 – Giuseppe Garibaldi versus Napoleon Bonaparte

Today’s battle pits two of the greatest generals in world history. The first is the man known as the “hero of two worlds,” the charismatic architect of Italian unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi.  The next, is one of most recognizable names in human history, once the most feared man in all of Europe, the Frenchman, Napoleon Bonaparte.

This pairing is also very serendipitous as you will see shortly. 

On to our contestants. 

Giuseppe Garibaldi
Giuseppe Garibaldi

While I’ve heard of Garibaldi and was aware of some of his accomplishments, I was surprised to learn how famous and influential he was in the 19th century. In his biography of the man initially published in 1965, Christopher Hibbert lays out how well-known Garibaldi was with this quote from his preface. 

“A hundred years ago Garibaldi was, perhaps, the best-known name in the world. There were streets and squares named after him in a hundred different towns from Naples to Montevideo statuettes of him, busts medallions, china figurines were almost as common in Manchester as in Milan, in Boston as in Bologna; postcards garishly depicting his messianic features were sold in their millions; you could drink a Garibaldi wine, wear a Garibaldi blouse, see a Garibaldi musical, eat a Garibaldi biscuit.”

Here comes the first bit of serendipity between Garibaldi and Napoleon. Napoleon was born in Corsica, what is now part of modern-day France but at the time was more Italian than French. Giuseppe Garibaldi was born on July 4, 1807, in Nice, which is modern-day France. Nice was taken away from the Kingdom of Piedmont ten year earlier by none other than, Napoleon.

Giuseppe’s family was somewhat poor but hardworking and quite religious Catholics, especially his mother, Rosa. If they had their druthers, their son would have become a priest. They even went so far as to hire an Augustinian monk as his first tutor. During Garibaldi’s later years, he was certainly not very devout as he viewed the priesthood as “the enemy of the whole human race,” “black brood, pestilent scum of humanity,” and “emanation from hell.”

His native language was Ligurian, a Gallo-Italic language with his second language being French. According to his biography, “…Italian did not come quickly to him – in later life, his accent, grammar, and spelling all betrayed his frontier origins.

Garibaldi’s passion early on in life was the sea. Both his father and grandfather were sailors, and while his parents tried to dissuade the young boy from following in their footsteps, they allowed him to become a cabin boy when he was 16.

The following year Giuseppe went with his father to deliver a cargo of wine to Rome. This trip was to make an indelible mark on the young boy. He wrote, “The Rome that I beheld with the eyes of my youthful imagination was the Rome of the future – the Rome that I never despaired of even when I was shipwrecked, dying, banished to the farthest depths of the American forests – the dominant thought and inspiration of my whole life.”

1833 was to be another turning point in Garibaldi’s life. He was on a voyage aboard the schooner Clorinda delivering oranges to Constantinople. Here he met men like Giuseppe Mazzini whose ideas of a unified Italy stirred deep emotions in Garibaldi. There he learned about the gospel of the Comte de Saint-Simon who said, “the whole of society ought to strive towards the improvement of the conditions, both moral and physical of the poorest class.”

Shortly after the trip, he became a member of the Young Italy movement and then signed up with the Carbonari revolutionary group. They tried an armed rebellion in Piedmont in February 1834 which failed. Garibaldi fled but was tried in absentia, sentenced to death which caused him to escape to Marseille.

From there he headed first to Tunisia than to Brazil where he joined in with a group of separatists to fight in what is known as the Ragamuffin War. It is here he met his first wife, Ana Maria de Jesus Ribeiro da Silva, better known as Anita. They were to have four children, three of whom made it to adulthood.

Anita would fight alongside her husband first in Brazil, then in Montevideo, Uruguay where the fought against the Argentinians trying to invade the country. It was here that Garibaldi would join the Freemasons using their network to find other progressive men like himself in their struggles against the despotic regimes in Europe and South America.

Giuseppe would return to Italy in 1848 to fight in the revolutions in the Italian States. They were fighting against both the Austrians and the French to free themselves from foreign influence. Garibaldi’s leadership of small bands of sometimes ill-equipped men became legendary. During a march to seek refuge in Venice, his wife Anita died while carrying their fifth child.

Forced to leave Italy once again, he first went to Tangiers but eventually made his way to New York City where he stayed for a while. He traveled the world as a captain of various merchant ships. Giuseppe was biding his time as he was convinced that Italy was not yet ready to unify.

In 1854, his exile would end with his return to Genoa. Garibaldi was then notified of his brother Felice’s death and that his inheritance was $35,000 lire. With the money, he bought part of the island of Caprera north of Sardinia. Later, Giuseppe would purchase the northern half of it. This would be the place he would settle on during the last years of his life.

Five years later the Second Italian War of Independence broke out with Garibaldi being named major general leading a volunteer unit known as the Hunters of the Alps. This war, also known as the Franco-Austrian War, would play a critical role in Italian independence. It pitted the French and Sardinians against the Austrian Empire.

Giuseppe led his men to victory after victory over the Austrians, many times being greatly outnumbered. Wins at Varese and Como and other places enhanced his reputation.

Then, in April of 1860, Sicily was in open revolt. Garibaldi along with his band of volunteers numbering about a thousand invaded the island and by July had conquered it. From there he headed to Naples where he took the city with little resistance in September. 

Following that, the Piedmontese army arrived who were technically allies, but their relationship with the French made Garibaldi uncomfortable. He met with Victor Emmanuel II, who was to become the first King of a unified Italy since the 6th century. At the meeting at Teano, Giuseppe handed over the lands he conquered. This left only Rome, Veneto and Trentino to be taken for the complete unification of Italy. 

Garibaldi was staunchly anti-papal and wanted to march on Rome, but the Italian government was opposed to that. Giuseppe was taken prisoner after being shot in the foot but was held in a kind of pleasant prison setting. 

In 1866, Garibaldi returned from Caprera to take on Austria who was engaged in the Austro-Prussian War. With his Hunters of the Alps, now numbering 40,000, he defeated the Austrian army at Bezzecca. He then wanted to retake Rome, but the pope was backed by a strong contingent of French troops. Giuseppe was shot in the leg and captured yet one more time. By 1870, the Italian Army swept through Rome without Garibaldi’s help.

In his last years, he settled down on Caprera, marrying his long-time girlfriend, Francesca Armosino with whom he had three children. Suffering from arthritis and the many wounds suffered in his countless battles, Giuseppe Garibaldi died on June 2, 1882.

Now for the putting it into perspective segment. During Garibaldi’s lifetime, we saw the Crimean War being fought, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, the US Civil War, the celebration of the first Oktoberfest, and the words girlfriend and boyfriends first appearing in writing.

Napoleon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte

During his time, the name Napoleon Bonaparte instilled fear and loathing as well as admiration depending on where in the world you lived. Born on August 15, 1769, on the island of Corsica to a noble standing family, his birth name was Napoleone di Buonaparte. He would change his name to the one we use today in 1796 when he was 27 years of age. 

When Napoleon was born, the Republic of Genoa sold Corsica to the French for 40 million francs. Bonaparte was sent to France to begin his French education in 1779. Abbe Chardon, the headmaster at the school at Autun, said of the young boy, as reported by Andrew Roberts in his book, Napoleon: A Life, “A thoughtful and gloomy character. He had no playmate and walked about by himself… He had ability and learned quickly… If I scolded him, he answered in a cold, almost imperious tone: ‘Sir, I know it,'”

In April 1779, just four months after entering Autun and learning the French language, Napoleon entered the Royal Military School of Brienne-le-Chateau just a few months before his tenth birthday. He was there alone, not to see his father for three years. While not the best of the military schools in France, it was tough both physically as well as intellectually demanding. 

At school, he excelled in mathematics. This was important in his career as he once said, “To be a good general you must know mathematics, it serves to direct you thinking in a thousand circumstances.” The other subject he did well in was geography which one can see in his later years.

History was another subject Napoleon was fascinated by. One of his heroes interestingly enough was Charles XII of Sweden, someone we met at the Battle of Poltava versus Midway episode. I say interestingly enough, as while he marveled at Charles’s victories as a general, he must have learned about his disastrous invasion of Russia which he was to duplicate years later.

Napoleon was treated as an outsider by his fellow students because of his Corsican background. He would become the first from his island to graduate from Briene and was so good, that he was recommended for the prestigious Ecole Militaire in Paris in 1781. There the students continued to look down upon Napoleon, partly because of his height, mostly because of his lower level of nobility.  

I’d like to jump in here about Bonaparte’s height. As a young boy, he was considered short, but when he grew up he actually was slightly taller than the average man of the age at about 5’ 8”. The myth that he was only 5’ 2” was because of the French foot being slightly longer than the British version. Still, he was somewhat sensitive about his height because of the teasing he received when he was younger.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant in September 1785, Napoleon served the French army until the start of the Revolution in 1789. He returned to Corsica, becoming an ally of the island’s nationalist Pasquale Paoli but that fell apart in 1793 which forced Napoleon and his family to flee to the French mainland. 

In 1792, Napoleon was in Paris when King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were captured by the French mob. The execution of Louis on January 21, 1793, was not backed by Bonaparte. He thought it was a tactical mistake. This belief is one of the reasons Paoli broke relations with Napoleon.

With the Austrians and Prussians invading France, the young military man began to feel more and more a Frenchman than an Italian. By February 1st, France declared war on Britain Holland and shortly after that Spain, Portugal, Piedmont declared war on France. The Committee of Public Safety was created to help defend the country. By August, the army went from 650,000 to over 1.5 million men. Napoleon was to get his first significant command here.

While his first command wasn’t successful, the men under him mutinied, he began to see where the winds were blowing in his adopted country. He caught the eye of one of Maximillian Robespierre’s brothers which brought him into the inner circle of power. The Siege of Toulon was where Napoleon showed his military brilliance and heroism in a losing caused against a far greater naval force led by the British.

Bonaparte fled to Nice where it was said that he was placed under house arrest because of the removal and later execution of Robespierre, but that was short lived as the French Republic needed Napoleon. When Royalist armies attacked Paris in 1795, the new Thermidorian leadership ordered the Corsican to defend them. Napoleon worked with Joaquim Murat to use artillery against the 1,400 insurgents which won the day.

Shortly after this, he met Joséphine de Beauharnais, whom he would marry on March 9, 1796. Murat would marry Napoleon’s sister which would tie the two men together for years to come.

Let’s jump ahead a bit to November 9, 1799. The Directory, the group running France was broke, there was chaos everywhere, and the country was nearing disaster. It was then that Napoleon and a group of friends decided to overthrow the Directory in a coup de grace. Napoleon was by now considered a hero in his country, and while the others tried to give him a minor role in the new government, this was soon to come apart.  

Assassination plots abound during Napoleon’s rise to power. He used them to consolidate his rule as Madame de Rémusat, explains in her memoirs that “men worn out by the turmoil of the Revolution … looked for the domination of an able ruler” and that “people believed quite sincerely that Bonaparte, whether as consul or emperor, would exert his authority and save them from the perils of anarchy.” Napoleon held elections that would give him more and more power until he became the Emperor on December 2, 1804, with his coronation ceremony held at Notre Dame in Paris.

In 1802, the Treaty of Amiens was signed between the French and the British but anyone who thought that this would provide a lasting peace would be gravely mistaken. With Napoleon in firm control, he began to make plans to conquer Europe and create a new world order.

Bonaparte set his eyes on his arch-enemy, Britain. He had his men trained day and night for the eventual invasion of Britain. This was not to be as by August or 1805, he realized that the French Navy was no match for their British counterparts, he changed his focus from the west to the east and the Rhine against the armies of Austria, Russia, the Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily as well as Sweden. The War of the Third Coalition had begun.

Without going into detail, the French with their vastly superiorly trained forces win the war with the Battle of Austerlitz being the death blow. Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg, taking them out of the war. The Holy Roman Empire, which started in the year 800, dissolved on August 6, 1806, with the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine.

Next up was the War of the Fourth Coalition where we see the entry of Prussia into the mix along with Britain, Russia, Saxony, and Sweden to the ever-growing Grand Armee, led by Napoleon. The major battles include Stetten and Eylau and concluding with the Battle of Friedland. Napoleon once again proved victorious as he would in the War of the Fifth Coalition where Austria jumps back in. They too, along with their allies would be crushed.

Bonaparte had just one more enemy to face, and that was Russia. Technically they were at peace following the Treaty of Tilsit, signed in 1807 which made Russia break off economic relations with Britain. By 1811, they were breaking the treaty which infuriated Napoleon. So angry, he forgot the lessons that were learned by studying Sweden’s King, Charles XII and he made plans to invade Russia.

Now, I’m going to make a small assumption here. I will guess, that since you are listening to a history podcast, you know how poorly things went for Napoleon and the Grand Armee with their invasion of Russia. But what you might not know is that the reasons popularly given for his defeat don’t tell the entire story. Much credit has been given to the Russian winter in Napoleon’s defeat, but I would give far more credence to the vastness of Russia’s geography. The winter was merely the coup de grace as the French had already pretty much lost the war by August 1812.

Here is my argument. The French Army was already beset by food shortages, there need to forage the countryside had led to them being captured or killed by the Russian army which wouldn’t fully engage the French and by disease, especially typhus which either killed or weakened 110,000 men in Napoleon’s army. Even though the remaining men were some of the best troops in all the world at the time, attrition would have taken them down. The winter that was to come would take care of that.

In the coming years, Napoleon would retreat back to Paris, be sent into exile in Elba, come back to France for his resurgence in what was now as the Hundred Days, his defeat at Waterloo, which we will cover in episode 88 when it faces off against the Battle of Yorktown, to his second exile on the remote island of St. Helena, and finally to his death there on May 5, 1821 at the age of 51.

The scourge of Europe would reshape the boundaries and create new revolutionary movements such as the one that Giuseppe Garibaldi would undertake with the unification of Italy, something that Napoleon would first create with his ascension as the King of Italy on March 17, 1805.

Time for our second, putting it into perspective segment. In Napoleon’s last years, steam transportation became viable, Beethoven’s 5th symphony is performed, we see the end of the age of Enlightenment and the New Madrid earthquakes reverse the flow of the Mississippi River for a while.

Now on to the scoring. First off, we start with the 15 points for the length of time in service to his country or people. With Garibaldi, we start his time in 1834 ending in 1870, 36 years. Napoleon began his military career in 1785 and ended in in 1814 for 29 years. Giuseppe gets 15 points, Napoleon 13. 

Next up is how they affected the rest of the world in their time. Napoleon, of course, had an enormous footprint on his world with everything from the sale of Louisiana territory to the USA to his conquering much of Europe. I could make a case that his invasion of Russia with the troops from that country finally seeing what the rest of Europe looked like was the seed that would lead to the Russian Revolution.

Garibaldi was crucial in independence movements on two continents, South America and Europe and helped to create the nation of Italy. But, when I look at the impact of both, I have to go with Napoleon with 20 and Garibaldi with 15.

Next up is the lasting effect on history for 25 points. Here the edge has to go with Napoleon. While Garibaldi helped with two, maybe three countries coming to existence, Napoleon wiped out the Holy Roman Empire, served as the inspiration of the unification of Italy, completely redrew alliances and borders throughout Europe, so he gets 25, with Garibaldi receiving 20.

Last up is the 40 points for how they affected their country for the better. Napoleon made France the great power in Europe as well as making them a defeated nation. He did fundamentally restructured the country and brought them out of the absolutism of the Bourbon Dynasty which did make a short-lived comeback. Garibaldi helped create a new nation, a unified Italy which lasts until this day. For these reasons, I’m giving Garibaldi 40 points with Napoleon getting 35.

So, by a very tight margin, just three points, Napoleon moves on with a score of 93 to Garibaldi’s 90 to face Alexander the Great in the second round.

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Mark Schauss has been podcasting for over 8 years. His Russian Rulers History was a top history podcast for 7 1/2 years. Discover his new entry into the podcast world.



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