Some years ago (summer 1974) when I was completing a doctorate in history and political science in Europe, I made a journey south from Rome to the Italian city of Naples. Earlier, before traveling to Europe on a Richard Weaver Fellowship, I had managed to read two engrossing volumes on the Bourbon monarchy of the Kingdom of Naples by Sir Harold Acton. The old Kingdom of Naples (or of “Two Sicilies,” as it was formally called) had been conquered by the freebooter Giuseppe Garibaldi and his “Red Shirts,” in cooperation with the northern, liberal Italian Kingdom of Piedmont Savoy, in the early months of 1861.
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 it 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.
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 the 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.
It was indeed one location I had to visit.
And it raised a question—why did those conservative, mostly Catholic traditionalists leave their home countries and come to the newly-created Confederate States of America and offer their services? What did they see in our new nation that convinced them to make such a sacrifice on behalf of a country not their own?
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. This was the case with my Spanish friend, the Baron de Montevilla, whose ancestor fought both in Spain in the Carlist Wars, and later for the Confederacy. When an acquaintance asked his ancestor, “How can you justify fighting for two lost causes?,” he replied: “A lost cause is never really lost if the fight is for what is true and what is right.” (see “Paladins of Christian Civilization: The Universality of the Confederate Cause,” Confederate Veteran, September/October 2017 )
That very favorable view of the Confederacy and its leaders, if certainly debatable, was exemplified in the foreign conservative press by its glowing portraits of men such as Robert E. Lee, Pierre Gustave Toutant de Beauregard, Matthew Fontaine Maury, and Jeb Stuart, but also of such figures as the brilliant writer General James Johnston Pettigrew (whose volume Notes on Spain and the Spaniards is undoubtedly one of the finest and most philosophical “travel journals” that any American has written (and deserves to be more widely-known), “Stonewall” Jackson’s chaplain, Robert Lewis Dabney (whose writings are equally impressive), and various others.
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.
Several years ago the ACNB issued a manifesto, a statement not only of principles but a summary of history. As you read the translation below (which I have tweaked just a bit), perhaps you will notice the dramatic analogies between the history of our Southland and of the Neapolitan lands, and why the cause of neither is yet extinguished.
Boyd D. Cathey holds a doctorate in European history from the Catholic University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, where he was a Richard Weaver Fellow, and an MA in intellectual history from the University of Virginia (as a Jefferson Fellow). He was assistant to conservative author and philosopher the late Russell Kirk. In more recent years he served as State Registrar of the North Carolina Division of Archives and History. He has published in French, Spanish, and English, on historical subjects as well as classical music and opera. He is active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and various historical, archival, and genealogical organizations.