Date: 1889

Show Summary


Garibaldi’s Campaigns



Fall of the Roman Republic


Any one who knows Rome and its eighteen miles’ circuit of walls, is well aware of the impossibility of defending it with a small force against an army which, like that of the French in 1849, is superior in numbers and in every kind of munition of war.

It is therefore obvious that the whole force of the Roman army ought not to have been employed in the defense of the capital, but the greater part should have occupied the impregnable positions with which the territory abounds, and the whole population have been called to arms; while I should have been permitted to continue my victorious march into the heart of the Neapolitan kingdom; and, finally, after having sent out as many means of defense as possible, the government itself should have left Rome, and established itself in some central and defensible situation.

It is true that at the same time some measures ought to have been taken to secure the public safety against the machinations of the clerical element. This was not done, and the priests were left, with an ill-judged toleration, to plot and intrigue, and, in the end, contribute to the fall of the Republic and the misfortunes of Italy.

Who knows what results might have followed the salutary measures detailed above? Our fall — if we were destined to fall in any case — would at least have taken place after we had done our very utmost, and certainly not till after that of Hungary and Venice.

On arriving at Rome . . . and seeing the way in which the national cause was being managed, I claimed the dictatorship — as sometimes during my previous life I had demanded and seized the helm of a vessel which was being driven on the breakers. Mazzini and his partisans were scandalized. However, a few days after, on June 3, when the enemy, who had deluded them, had made himself master of the positions commanding the city, which we vainly attempted to retake at the cost of many precious lives, — then, I say, the head of the Triumvirate1 wrote to me, offering me the post of commander-in-chief. Being employed in the post of honor, I thought it as well to thank him, and go on with the bloody work of those ill-omened days. Oudinot,2 having received all the reinforcements he needed, thanks to the negotiations with which he had lulled to sleep the suspicions of the Republican government, prepared for action, announcing that he would recommence hostilities on June 4, and the government trusted to the word of the faithless soldier of Bonaparte. . . .

Oudinot, who had given us warning for June 4, found it better to take us by surprise in the night between the 2nd and 3rd. In the early hours of the morning, we were awakened by the sound of firing near Porta San Pancrazio. The alarm was sounded, and the legionaries, though worn out with fatigue, were under arms in a moment, and marching toward the spot where we heard the fighting going on. Our men who garrisoned the posts outside the walls had been surprised in a cowardly way, massacred or made prisoners, and the enemy was already in possession of Quattro Venti and other important points when, in all haste, we reached Porta San Pancrazio. In the hope that it was not yet occupied by a great number, I ordered an attack on the Casino of Quattro Venti, feeling that on our possession of this point depended the safety of Rome. It was attacked, I do not say bravely, but heroically; first by the Italian legion, then by Manara’s Bersaglieri, and lastly by several other corps in succession, supported by the artillery from the walls, till night had fallen. The enemy, knowing the importance of the position I have mentioned, had occupied it with a strong body of their best troops; and we vainly attempted to regain possession by attacking it repeatedly with our bravest men. . . .

The 3rd of June decided the fate of Rome. The best officers had been killed or wounded; the French remained masters of the key to all the dominant positions, and, with their great strength in numbers and artillery, had firmly established themselves there. In the lateral positions carried by surprise and treachery they began regular siege-works, as though they had to deal with a fortress of the first order, which proves that they had met with Italians who did fight.

I will pass over the siege-works, parallels, breaches, bombardment with mortars, etc. All this, I think, has been related in detail by many others; and I should not be able to do it with great accuracy, being at the moment without the necessary data and documents. What I can assert, however, is that from April to July our raw levies fought creditably enough against a veteran army, far superior in numbers, better organized, and possessed of immense resources. At each position the ground was disputed foot by foot, and there is not a single example of flight before so formidable an enemy, or a battle in which they yielded to force of numbers without Homeric fighting. . . .

The situation grew more difficult every day. Our brave Manara found it less and less easy to find men for outpost and line duty, indispensable as this was for the public safety. The weakness of this part of the defense was certainly a potent cause of the easy entrance effected by the mercenaries of Bonaparte through the breaches their cannon had already made.

If Mazzini (and the blame rests on no one else) had had as much practical capacity as fertility of imagination in planning movements and enterprises, and if he had possessed — what he always claimed to have — the genius for directing warlike affairs; if, moreover, he had been willing to listen to some of his friends, who, from their antecedents, might be supposed to know something; — he would have made fewer mistakes, and, in the crisis I am describing, might, if he could not have saved Italy, at least have indefinitely retarded the Roman catastrophe; and, I repeat, have left Rome the honor of having been the last to fall, instead of succumbing sooner than Venice and Hungary.

I had sent Manara — the very day before his glorious death — to Mazzini, with a message suggesting that we should leave Rome, and march with all available men and supplies, of which we possessed a considerable amount, to some stronghold in the Apennines. To this day I do not know why it was not done. History does not lack precedents . . . . It is not true that such a measure was impossible, for when I left Rome a few days later, with about four thousand men, I met with no obstacles. The representatives of the people, mostly young and energetic patriots, much beloved in their native districts, might have been sent thither to kindle the enthusiasm of the populace, and so tempt fortune once more.

Instead of this, it was said that defense was becoming impossible, and the representatives remained at their posts — a courageous resolve, honorable to them as individuals, but not greatly tending to promote either the glory or the interest of their country. Nor were they to be praised for adopting it, while our resources were yet abundant, and Hungary and Venice were still in arms against the enemies of Italy.

Meanwhile we were awaiting the entrance of the French, to hand over to them the arms by whose means a painful and shameful period of slavery was to be prolonged. I myself, having a handful of comrades that I could count on, was resolved not to surrender, but take to the country and try our fate again.

Mr. Cass, the American ambassador, knowing how matters stood, sent to me on July 3, saying he wished to speak with me. I started for his house, but met him before reaching it; when he told me, with great kindness, that an American corvette at Civita Vecchia was at my disposal, if I wished to embark, with any of my friends who might be compromised. I thanked the generous representative of the great republic, but stated that I intended to leave Rome with all who might be willing to follow me, as I would not believe that my country’s cause was lost, without striking one more blow to retrieve it. I then turned towards Porta San Giovanni, where I was to meet my followers, who had orders to prepare for leaving the city. On reaching the square, I found most of them awaiting me; the rest were gradually arriving. Many men belonging to other corps, who had guessed or been informed of our project, also came to join us, rather than submit to the degradation of laying down their arms before the priest-ridden soldiers of Bonaparte.

1 , translated by A. Werner. 3 vols. London, 1889. Walter Smith and Innes.

2 Garibaldi, , vol. ii, pp. 13–21.

1 Mazzini.

2 The French commander. He was a son of Marshal Oudinot, famous in the Napoleonic wars.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: Autobiography

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: Autobiography

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: A. Werner, ed., "Fall of the Roman Republic," Autobiography in Readings in Modern European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1926), 309–312. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023,

MLA: . "Fall of the Roman Republic." Autobiography, edited by A. Werner, Vol. ii, in Readings in Modern European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, D.C. Heath, 1926, pp. 309–312. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: (ed.), 'Fall of the Roman Republic' in Autobiography. cited in 1926, Readings in Modern European History, ed. , D.C. Heath, Boston, pp.309–312. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from