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Frank Leward: Memorials

Frank to Mr. Saunders

Frank to Mr. Saunders.

Palermo, June 5, 1860.

Dear Mr. Saunders I write to tell you I have got through so far safely. After I wrote last we had very exciting work and heaps of the friends of our Volunteers came to see them off. The Italians are so awfully demonstrative and so impulsive in their feelings a lot who had only come to say good bye got so enthusiastic in the cause they came right on with us too. Then I had to take part in a wild sort of adventure. Major Bixio was sent by sea to Genoa to seize two of the Rubattino Companys steamers it was the coolest thing you ever saw. Im supposed to be half a sailor still thats why I suppose I always get sent on anything connected with the sea or sailing. I felt like a bold buccaneer or pirate boarding the big ships at dead of night with our pistols loaded and swords ready. Luckily for both page 306sides they didnt show fight so we went off with our prizes the Lombardo and the Piemonte. I believe the company got paid for them afterwards and we were obliged to take them that way to get our volunteers to Sicily.

On May 5th we got all our men on board. Bixio took command of the Lombardo. I went on the other with Garibaldi and after stopping at one or two places we appeared off the norwest coast of Sicily on the 11th. It was a risky job getting into Marsala and required a lot of care. There were the Argus and Intrepid English men of war there they didnt bother about us, but there were some Neapolitan cruisers about too and we didnt care about falling in with them with our decks blocked with men. However at 2 o'clock we ran in splendidly from the norwest. The people of Marsala didnt quite know what to make of it. Most were for us but a lot were afraid. We bivouacked outside the town.

I dont know whether the stupid Neapolitans were afraid of us while we were on board ship or why it was but they never attempted anything till we were all landed and then they came down and took our ships. The peasants headed by the monks and priests were awfully enthusiastic as we went on and a lot of the peasants rose and joined us. We landed with about 1000 of the old Cacciatori and officers they are worth all the rest and wont take a penny, they pay their own expenses but the people we have come to liberate want their pay regularly before fighting.

Next day we marched on Salemi and bivouacked about page 307there. All along we were threatened by the enemy who kept hovering about us and at one place we were nearly caught where the road goes between some hills the enemy appeared on the top of them and had a great advantage but the General was always to the front and sent a lot of the squadri the Sicilians that is round to outflank them and the Neapolitans went off like a shot. Then we went on to Calatafimi and a whole lot of the enemy came down on us there. It was the biggest fight weve had yet how I got off all right I dont know. It lasted three hours they had six times our numbers and were in a splendid position on the hill with a lot of cannon. The old Cacciatori behaved splendidly went right up the hill and routed the enemy at the point of the bayonet. I never saw anything finer but we lost tremendously. A lot of my old friends who were in the Crimea and all through last year in Lombardy fought their last fight that day and we had to leave nearly four hundred of them behind awfully good fellows. We drove the enemy off and had a sort of triumphal thanksgiving. Padre Giovani Pantaleone a tremendous patriot met the General at the door of the Church with the Sacrament in his hands and offered thanks for the victory. This padre went along with us and carried with him a huge wooden cross which he waves over the heads of the Sicilians when they are going to fight. Its a great thing for us to have such a man with us it gives a sort of religious feeling to the expedition and the Sicilians are awfully superstitious and some people who dont like the General have told them he has come to destroy their religion.

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The enemy returned to Palermo sacking a small place called Massa Quarnero and massacred the inhabitants with beastly cruelty and set fire to the place for some reason or other I suppose to make the people fonder of the Neapolitan government. Then we came on towards this place passing the smoking ruins of Massa Quarnero and on the 19th we were on the heights over Monreale about three miles from Palermo. I had been there before so I knew the country pretty well. The enemy had 24,000 troops in and about Palermo. We expected the people would rise when we came as they had invited us there are about 200,000 of them here altogether but they darent do anything. They are awfully good at talking and making speeches in their clubs and meetings but when it comes to action its all effervescence and goes off like smoke and most of them are cowards. The enemy might easily have defended Palermo if they had been worth anything. Its surrounded by an amphitheatre of hills with Parco and Monreale to protect it from the land side and the Castello and men of war to defend it from the sea. They ought never to have let us take it. When we bivouacked up there the first night I was almost in despair. The general wasnt at all just the same as ever and he managed it awfully cleverly. No general ever circumvented a stronger enemy better than he did.

We made a lot of fires all along the heights to make it look as though we had more than we really had when we found the enemy held Parco and Monreale and then we pretended to retreat and divided our forces. Bosco page 309the Neapolitan general came after us with about 8000 chiefly Bavarians Bavaresi as they call them and Swiss and we led them a dance. We must have gone thirty miles over the mountains where there were scarcely any paths or even tracks carrying what small cannon we had in our arms by Jove it was hard work. When we had drawn them a long way from Palermo we doubled back to where we had left about 2000 Picciotti as they call the Sicilian Insurgents who have joined us went as quick as we could go made a sudden attack on the town forced the guard at the Ponte Ammiraglio and entered Palermo. General Bosco had told the people he had licked us and that his army was in full pursuit of us so they were rather surprised to hear we had suddenly come down on them and were right in their midst as right as possible in the middle of the night and when they got up next morning they found barricades going up all over the place the Italian national flag flying from the Cathedral Garibaldis troops keeping guard and Garibaldi in possession.

Then began the most beastly piece of brutality I think I ever saw. Marshal Lanza who had come expressly from Naples still held the fort Galila and he began in sheer spite to bombard the town because we had taken it. It didnt hurt us much but the unfortunate people suffered fearfully and it smashed a whole quarter of the city and whenever what they call the Regi that is the troops of the King of Naples caught any of the people they were brutally treated and a lot violated and massacred.

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All this brutality did us good and as the Picciotti who had been scattered about the hills began to drop in one by one with stories of ruin and violence they had seen even these Palermitans became roused and the rising against the Neapolitan government became general. Admiral Mundy who was off here on the Hannibal did all he could to stop the bombardment and at last got the Neapolitan general to meet Garibaldi on board the English flagship and an armistice was agreed to for three days and it was afterwards prolonged to the fifth and then the regi evacuated all the forts they held about the place.

As soon as the regi marched out the people set to work to destroy the citadel that had kept them under so long and when they saw the Neapolitans had really gone they broke out into tremendous jubilation. Public thanks were given at the cathedral. The General went in state but wouldnt have anything to do with the grand cushions and things they had put for him and knelt on the bare pavement. He took up his head quarters here at the Palazzo Pretorio and assumed the government of Sicily provisionally as dictator. All the town is covered with bills "Vogliamo l'annessione al regno constituzionale di Re Vittorio Emmanuale" but I suspect these placards were quietly brought over from Genoa. We have had reinforcements which we very much wanted as four hundred at least of our old cacciatori have been killed since we landed at Marsala.

The people must have suffered frightfully under the Neapolitan government and especially since the army occupied the town against us. Some splendid churches page 311have been destroyed by the Neapolitans and all the old documents and things at Santa Maria Incorronata they thought so much of were completely sacked. Some of our men I am sorry to say behaved badly to the Jesuits. The monks and priests have been working at the defences of the place since we came splendidly and making their people work too but our men somehow have an especial dislike to the Jesuits. Why I don't know I always find them the most gentle and learned of the lot. The other day I heard a row near the Jesuit College and I went in to see what was up and I found some of our men ransacking it. There was a very old priest over 70 awfully learned in natural history who had made a wonderful collection of shells they say the best collection in Italy it had taken nearly all his life to make it. One man had taken the drawers with the shells in out one by one and smashed every blessed shell in them with the butt end of bis musket. I was too late to stop it and the old priest never made a complaint though he had been obliged to look on and see all his treasures destroyed. Next day I was down by the shore and I came on the old man beginning his collection over again. I must stop this tremendous long letter now. Bixio will go south and Türr through the middle of the island I expect and we shall go round to meet them about the North East point near Milazzo most likely.

I will write again as soon as I can. Yours very affectionately

Frank Leward.