General Enrico Cialdini: the butcher of Gaeta
On August 14, 1861 the towns of Pontelandolfo and Casalduni were sacked and torched by the Piedmontese military during the so-called "war against brigandage" in Southern Italy. On the orders of General Enrico Cialdini (*) the towns were reduced to rubble and townspeople indiscriminately slaughtered in retaliation for the death of 41 soldiers at the hands of partisan loyalists.
Accounts of the Piedmontese reprisal describe the shooting of unarmed men and bayoneting of groveling women. The survivors were left homeless and without means of survival. Dispatched by Cialdini, Colonel Gaetano Negri telegraphed his superior to report on the carnage: "At dawn yesterday justice was done to Pontelandolfo and Casalduni. They are still burning."
Colonel Gaetano Negri: the butcher
of Pontelandolfo and Casalduni
Sadly, Pontelandolfo and Casalduni were not the exception. In the first 14 months after the conquest of Southern Italy the towns of Guaricia, Campochiaro, Viesti, San Marco in Lamis, Rignano, Venosa, Basile, Auletta, Eboli, Montifalcone, Montiverde, Vico, Controne, and Spinello all suffered a similar fate. Arbitrary arrests and summary executions were common. By 1864 over 100,000 troops, nearly half the Italian army, were deployed in the South to try and keep order.
Despite attempts to prove otherwise (so they could politically justify Piedmontese atrocities) the insurrection was not the work of common criminals and brigands, but was in fact a popular revolt by former Bourbon soldiers, loyalists and desperate peasants against the Northern invaders. These resistance fighters were protecting their homes and families. As many as 80,000 Southerners were imprisoned for political reasons. It was only after the floodgates of immigration opened in the decades after "unification" and large parts of the South were depopulated that the violence began to wane. Unfortunately, due to unreliable figures, the exact number of Southerners killed during the "war against brigandage" will never be known.
(* It should be noted that General Enrico Cialdini was the commander in charge at the Siege of Gaeta who refused a cease-fire, as was the custom, during negotiations for surrender. His actions led to the unnecessary deaths of over fifty defenders when a powder magazine exploded just prior to Gaeta's capitulation. He was made Duke of Gaeta as reward for his bloody assault on the Southern Italian fortress.)
(Originally posted on August 14, 2009)