Nicolò Cataldo Mignona fu il tesoriere della spedizione dei Mille di Garibaldi
Nicolò Cataldo Mignogna (Taranto, 28 dicembre 1808 – Giugliano in Campania, 31 gennaio 1870) è stato un patriota e politico italiano. Fu uno dei componenti della Spedizione dei Mille guidata da Giuseppe Garibaldi. Nel 1836 si iscrisse alla Giovine Italia e partecipò ai moti del 1848. Poiché era stata trovata una corrispondenza cifrata nella sua abitazione, nel 1855 fu processato e condannato all’esilio perpetuo dal Regno delle Due Sicilie. Si recò allora a Genova, dove conobbe Giuseppe Garibaldi che nel 1862 lo nominò tesoriere della spedizione dei Mille in Aspromonte nella campagna comandata da Benedetto Cairoli.
Le cronache storiche raccontano che “dal 1836 fece parte della Giovane Italia di cui presiedeva il comitato napoletano. Molto amico di Luigi Settembrini, partecipò a Napoli ai moti del 1848, fu processato e nel 1855 fu condannato all’esilio perpetuo del regno delle Due Sicilie. Riparato a Genova, nel 1860 si arruolò tra i Mille, dove Giuseppe Garibaldi lo definì ‘uomo puro’, tanto da nominarlo tesoriere della spedizione. A Palermo ricevette da Garibaldi l’ordine di partire per le regioni meridionali col compito di preparare il terreno” … Preparò il terreno per l’insurrezione lucana.
The young Italia insurgents within the region were a link but only a part of the insurgent force. As far as my research has taken me, Piedmont and Garibaldi seemed to have rested their efforts to draw Lucanian support with primarily one agent named Nicolo Cataldo Mignogna. Nicola Mignogna was born in Taranto, Apulia in 1808. He arrived in Basilicata as an agent of the Piedmont-Sardinia regime/ Garibaldi campaign in July of 1860. Garibaldi’s plans for the invasion of the southern mainland at all times contemplated landing in Calabria along a shore closest to Sicily. So his greatest pre-invasion effort was in securing support among Calabrians, as that is where he would land. Toward that end he sent in over eighteen agents to contact locals and on August 8, 1860 he sent a small exploratory force of 200. That force tested both Bourbon troop resolve as well as Calabrian popular support for the invasion. Nicolo as a native southern Italian had no trouble in locating insurgent groups and sympathizers on his arrival in Basilicata.
In his teens Nicolo moved to Naples to study law and to set up his law practice. In his twenties by legal training and class he would have been attracted to the liberal personal rights advocacy of the Carbonari movement. Eventually it appears he became involved in support of the “Young Italia” movement founded by Mazzini in 1831. The Young italia movement generally combined the liberal social agenda of the Carbonari with a strong national unification movement. In the years approaching 1848 he became associated with a branch of the “young Italia” movement prevalent in southern Italy known as “Figlioli della Giovane Italia”. This group was founded by Neapolitan born Professor Luigi Settembrini whose family originally was from Nova Seri in Matera, Basilicata.
Mignogna after his release from Neapolitan prison in 1851 continued to conspire to overthrow the Bourbons and was the recognized leader in another failed Neapolitan coup attempt in 1854-1855. He was arrested again in 1855 imprisoned, and tortured in prison to reveal the names of his coconspirators. Even under torture he refused to give up the identity of his fellow revolutionaries. After a highly publicized trial which got the attention of the international press he was found guilty and sentenced to exile in 1856.
In exile Mignogna travelled to Genoa. By 1857 a number of “young Italia” sympathizers had found support for the cause of unification in the government of Victor Emmanauel II. Once entrenched in the revolutionary forces in Genoa, where many in exile resided, he began to work with Mazzini. Mazzini remained convinced that the people of Italy were ready to rise up. Toward that goal he devised a bold plan to land armed rebels in Compania and start a people’s revolt against the Bourbons. This was actually Mazzini’s second attempt to do this as the first failed miserably in the late 1840’s when the landing was disclosed to the Bourbons by British intelligence which was intercepting Mazzini’s mail in London.
Mazzini chose Carlo Pisacane to lead the landing. Most of the 1,000 men proposed for the landing were Bourbon political prisoners housed in one of the isolated island prisons of the Neapolitan regime. The prisons were secured to prevent escape but not external attack. Mignogna was assigned to provide logistical planning based on his firsthand knowledge of Bourbon prisons. Mignogna however did not accompany the mission of what would become Carlo Pisacane’s failed invasion of Compania in 1857.
MIgnogna continued to work with the revolutionaries centered in Piedmont and helped Garibaldi with logistics as he planned for his voyage of “One Thousand” and the invasion of Sicily. He joined Garibaldi in Sicily and then was eventually smuggled onto the mainland as a Piedmont agent for the purpose of gathering support in Basilicata.
By early August we therefore see Nicolo Magnogna a southern leader of the Young Italia movement travelling about in Basilicata trying to assemble support for the cause of unification among the Basilicatan/Lucanians insurgents and young Italia sympathizers. He was a very good choice for this mission and I am sure that his selection as the Piedmont agent was done with a great deal of thought. Within Lucania he would have been known as a close, longtime associate of both Mazzini, and Garibaldi. He would also have been known as a longtime associate of Settembrini and a leader among the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies “Young Italia” revolutionaries.
Later filed dispatches and British newspaper reports indicate that by the 16th of August the day after the feast of the Assumption about 2,000 Lucanian insurgents had gathered with Mignogna in Corletto. As far as I know this is the first time in the post-quake three year struggle that Lucanian forces had massed in such large numbers. Mignogna was determined by consensus to be their leader and a plan of action was drawn up. Under Mignogna’s direction the gathering and its goals presented formalized. Apparently first a Proclamation was announced by the provisional command of the Lucanian insurgents announcing the motives and goals of the insurrection. Second, another proclamation issued encouraging defection from the Bourbon army. Third, an order of the day to the armed insurgent force present and all Lucanian patriots was issued directing a march on the Basilicatan capitol of Potenza.
Mignogna and the insurgent force of 2,000 Lucanians entered into the Lucanian capitol on the morning of August 17, 1860 under force of arms. There they encountered a lightly armed Bourbon provincial force of about 400 defenders. The Bourbon defenders while at first surprised by the insurgent force descending on the Capitol, rallied and attacked. In the skirmish that followed seven Bourbon soldiers were killed, more wounded and still more captured before the Bourbon defenders withdrew from the Capitol.
The Lucanians had suffered three dead but had captured their Capitol. The fact that they were vastly under-armed and unsupported by external military aid had not stopped them from independently taking aggressive military action. Later in the afternoon of the 17th upon securing the capitol a Provincial assembly was convened and a Provisional government was established. Nicolo Mignogna was elected by the assembly as Provisional Governor of Basilicata. The Provisional Basilicatan government then formally declared the authority and sovereignty of King of the Two Sicilies to be ended in Basilicata. The Provisional government then formally recognized the sovereignty of King Victor Emmanuel II over Basilicata and declared Basilicata annexed to Piedmont-Sardinia.
This was an extraordinary turn of events, and unique in the The Second War of Unification. First it is, as far as I am concerned, the only actual example of a “peoples” revolt in the entire southern campaign of unification. At the time the seizing of the City of Potenza was taking place, Garibaldi’s invasion force was still in Sicily and Garibaldi was on a ship travelling back from Sardinia to Sicily. It was not a “revolt” conditioned on Garibaldi’s presence in the theater of operation, or the supply of arms or munitions from foreign sources. All of the participants were native southern Italians.
In addition, the establishment of an independent Provisional Government was also unique. Further the provisional government had taken action by vote not fiat. While Garibaldi had also established a Provisional Government in Sicily he had declared himself as dictator in the name of Victor Emmanuel. He had refused, for political reasons previously discussed, to declare annexation of Sicily to Piedmont so that question technically remained an open question of territorial status.
Of course the events taking place in Basilicata did not go unnoticed in Naples, especially as newspaper dispatches were issuing out of Potenza to the world almost in real time. From a military point of view the Bourbons knew that the situation and uprising in Basilicata had to be dealt with quickly and effectively. Historically it was always understood that in Basilicata resided all of the east west mountain passes connecting the two coasts of the southern Kingdom. If the insurgents controlled the passes they effectively isolated the two coasts, with their populations, armed forces and resources. In essence control of Basilicata by this rogue Provisional government would have been recognized by the military command in Naples as dividing the Kingdom in two.
Naples responded on August 17th by ordering about 1,000 elite soldiers of the Sixth Regiment of the Line, stationed in Salerno to immediately march out and retake the capitol city of Potenza. This unit was a well-equipped, well-trained professional military unit. By the morning of August 18th the Bourbon force was camped in and around the town of Eboli on the western edge of the Apennine Mountains east of Salerno. Based upon the traditional tactics of the “Briganti” in Lucania the Neapolitan command had every reason to believe that the show of military force issuing from Salerno and heading toward Potenza would result in the insurgents fading away into the safety of the mountains.
However, the act of seizing by force the State capitol, declaring a provisional government, and declaring Bourbon Rule ended was anything but the acts of unorganized Briganti. In one moment on August 17, 1860, Lucanians had seized the moment and their freedom. They had declared their independence from centuries of Bourbon rule, and chosen a new path toward destiny and unification. Now the question was would they defend that independence. If they did it would have to be without Garibaldi or the Piedmont army being present or even on the mainland of the southern Kingdom.
On Sunday August 19, 1860, which happened to be the feast of the Madonna Di Pierno, Mignogna now at the front of a force that had swelled to 3,000 men left Potenza heading west. His intent to meet and confront the Bourbon force heading toward the Capitol coming the east. As he marched westward Mignogna force continued to swell to an estimated 4,000-6,000 Lucanian volunteers.
Also on the morning of the 19th several hundred miles to the south Garibaldi recently returned to Sicily prepared his invasion force to board two steamships. As far as is known, Garibaldi was unaware of the events unfolding in the mountains of Lucania.
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