When the Southern Italians Helped the Confederates

Boyd Cathey is a North Carolina treasure. He tells a story over at the Abbeville Institute blog of which many are unaware.

Long term readers might recall that I had written previously about the kingdom that existed in Southern Italy prior to the 1860’s. It was the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies– a mostly benevolent monarchy led by the Bourbons. This is the same royal house of which Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were part in France.

This nation was overthrown by forces from Northern Italy. The South was defeated and subjugated by the North. That was the key factor that ultimately led many Italians to come to the United States– including my own grandparents– over a century ago. (Cathey correctly draws parallels between southern Italy and the southern United States).

Monarchy tends to be frowned upon in the United States given our history. However, benevolent Christian monarchy such as that which existed in southern Italy is looking pretty good today compared with what “democracy” has produced in our nation.

Cathey points out the nature of the southern Italian nation back then:

That resolutely traditionalist country, basically all of southern Italy and Sicily, fascinated me. The Neapolitan kingdom was perhaps the most anti-liberal, traditionalist nation in all of Europe prior to its disappearance by conquest into the new centralized Italian state. Its capital, Naples, was an international center of culture and brilliance; musicians, composers, writers, and artists from all round Europe congregated there. All of that would end after Italian occupation. And southern Italy, “Due Sicilia,” would descend into an extended era of poverty, subjugation, and eventual neglect, much like that inflicted on the states of the Confederacy after the War Between the States.

After the southern Italian nation was overthrown by the north, some of its soldiers, according to Cathey, went to the United States to assist the Confederates with their cause:

But what was more intriguing for me was to learn that after the surrender of King Francis II and his small Neapolitan army at the fortress of Gaeta in late February 1861 (after an heroic four month siege), several thousand army regulars of the Royal Neapolitan Army clandestinely boarded ships, evaded a British cordon, and managed to sail for New Orleans to volunteer for the newly-formed Confederate Army. The first ships arrived from Naples with 884 former members of army of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies to take up arms for the Confederacy in early 1861. That number of Neapolitan volunteers soon rose to approximately 2000.

Initially, they were enlisted in several Louisiana Confederate units, including the 10th Louisiana Infantry and eventually other regiments, including a European Brigade which counted traditionalist Catholic volunteers from Spain (mostly royalist Carlists, who arrived by way of Mexico), France (French Legitimists, supporters of the old French Bourbon monarchy), Ireland, and a few from Austria. There were Protestant volunteers, as well, with soldiers coming from England and German lands.

The Neapolitan volunteers fought at most of the major actions in the Trans-Mississippi. When the war ended, some returned to Italy, but others remained in the Southland, where their descendants continue to reside.

From Harold Acton I knew that the small Italian walled commune of Civitella del Tronto, atop a mountain in the Abruzzo region of central Italy, had been the last bastion of resistance to the northern Italian liberals, yielding finally on March 20, 1861. There in that remote mountain town is a museum (Museo delle Armi e Mappe antiche) dedicated to the history of armaments and the military of old Italy. And among its exhibits is a memorable one dedicated to the veterans who fought both for the long-gone Kingdom of Naples and also for the Southern Confederacy. A large Battle Flag is displayed (I assume it is still there) honoring those men, along with other items and relics. Both the Royal Neapolitan standard and the Battle Flag are customarily flown outside on occasion.

Cathey then raises the question as to why the southern Italians would have wanted to help the Confederates. And he answers the question:

In reading European contemporary newspapers, correspondence, and journals from the period it became apparent to me that those men, that “band of brothers,” understood instinctively that the Cause of the South was an international cause, one which stood forthrightly against a headlong plunge into modernism, opposed to the worldwide ravages of revolution, liberal democracy and the eventual destruction of age-old customs and beliefs. The South they saw as a hierarchical society based in the real and absolute inequalities of Nature. The South stood against the encroachments of unrestricted capitalism and the philosophical underpinnings that supported that reality. The leaders of the South, albeit mostly Protestant, were descendants of the Cavaliers, and thus represented the best and noblest Americans, to be emulated and admired, as opposed to the Yankee scions of the New England Puritans.

Many of the foreign volunteers had already fought in struggles against liberalism in their own countries, and, as in the cases of Naples and Spain, had been on the losing side

The similarities between the defeated and prostrate South, and the defeated and downtrodden former Neapolitan kingdom are, in some ways, remarkable—not just in the losing wars forced upon them, but in the survival of memory and a continuing devotion to heritage.

Just as defenders of Confederate heritage, in organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and the Order of the Confederate Rose, are devoted to honoring their ancestors and defending the Cause for which they, in many cases, gave their lives, some southern Italians, descendants of those defenders at Gaeta and Civitella del Tronto, likewise seek to keep the memory and traditions of their forefathers alive. And in recent years, in active organizations such as the Associazione Culturale Neo-Borbonica (ACNB), they do exactly that all across the former territories of the ancient Kingdom of Naples.


4 thoughts on “When the Southern Italians Helped the Confederates

  1. Yup…New Orleans’ influx of mostly Sicilian immigrants in the late 19th century (an estimated 290,000 settled here) expanded the table to embrace that island’s particular type of cuisine. That influence, which at one point transformed the French Market area into “little Palermo,” is still apparent on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, when altars made of pastry, fruit, and bread honor the patron Saint of Sicily.

    How about a muffuletta sandwich and some Louis Prima….


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