Third part: creating a new army
General de la Moricière was now officially appointed Commander in Chief of the Papal army, but this would create some tensions with the French Government. La Moricière had been an opponent to the regime of Napoleon III from the beginning. He had promised to never take arms against France, but this did not mean he would accept the politic of her Government. “I gave my sword to the Pope, I recommend my soul to God, but I do not want to take anything from the Emperor, to keep my honor safe,” he wrote. General Goyon, who was the head of the French troops in Rome, had a great admiration for La Moricière, and he did everything he could to make the situation better for everyone, but Napoleon displayed more and more impatience. In fact, the attitude of the Emperor and his politics regarding the Roman Question were quite ambiguous. On one hand he was in favor of the Italian unity, and on the other he claimed to be a defender of the Papal State.
By April 9th, 1860, General de la Moricière issued his first Order of the Day, by which he took possession of his commandment:
“Soldiers, our Holy Father, Pope Pius VII, having deigned to call me to defend His rights, which are unrecognized and threatened, I did not hesitate to take again my sword. To the echo of that venerable voice which, not long ago, from the high of the Vatican, made the world know the perils that threaten the patrimony of Saint Peter, the Catholics have been moved. Their emotion quickly expands across the earth. Indeed, Christianity is not only the religion of the civilized world, but it is even the principle and the life of civilization, since the Papacy has been the center of Christianity. All Christian nations show in this time that they are aware of these great truths that constitute our faith. The Revolution, as in former times Islam, threatens today Europe, and today, as it was the case then, the cause of the Papacy is the cause of civilization and the liberty of the world.
Soldiers, have courage, and be assured that God will keep up our courage and raise it for the cause He entrusted to our arms.”
General in Chief de La Moricière.”
Now, there was an urgent task to begin, which was to organize an army. Uprisings had begun in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and by May 6th, Garibaldi boarded with a troop of one thousand volunteers. King Francis II would not hold too long his defense. Cavour had managed to have Napoléon III on his side with the condition that Rome remained with the Pope and that Nice and Savoy are given to France. In 1859, the French-Piedmontese army had defeated Austria, which was no longer in position to help the Holy Father. At the end of the year 1859, Tuscany, Parma, Modena and the Legations became the United Province of Central Italy. Austria was powerless and the Pope could not rely upon Napoléon. It was necessary to act quickly.
In April 1860, the Papal troop was composed only of eleven battalions, for a total of 600 men, very poorly equipped. Cavalry and artillery were almost inexistent. La Moricière would need first some fine officers that he could trust entirely. Messieurs de Pimodan, de Chevigné, de Lorgeril, and de Bourbon-Chalus accepted to organize the Headquarter and the new army. Officers of the former Papal Army joined them. Then it was necessary to recruit at least 20,000 soldiers. The call of the Holy Father had been heard. Soon, 5,000 Austrians, 3,000 Swiss, 3,000 Irish, and hundreds of French and Belgians, and even a little contingent from Quebec, would arrive. Organizing an army with volunteers of different countries, speaking different languages, and having different habits and traditions was not an easy task, but La Moricière, who had gained a great experience in North Africa, could manage this situation.
The French and the Belgians were joined together in a battalion of “tirailleurs pontificaux,” which would soon become the famous “Zouaves Pontificaux.” It was a valiant former officer of the French Army who took command of this unit, Lieutenant Colonel de Becdelièvre, who did not remain in charge for a long time (as we will see later), but whose testimony is precious, as evidenced in his writing, “Memories of the Papal Zouaves.”
De Becdelièvre had served eight years in the French Army and was no longer in active duty when he heard the news that General de La Moricière needed men. He went to Rome and met with the General and Monsignor de Mérode. By June 1st, he was officially appointed as “Chef de Bataillon des tirailleurs pontificaux.” La Moricière instructed him to begin his duties immediately. The newly appointed “Chef de Bataillon,” who did not even have a uniform, obeyed and went right away to his new quarters. He had to begin the organization of the battalion with only 70 men. Captain de Charette gathered the troops and Becdelièvre delivered his first message:
“Messieurs, this is the first and last time I call you this way. I have received from the General in Chief, who himself has his power from the Pope, the honor to command you. I do not yet have a military uniform, but this is my patent, and from now I take command of this corps. We have been called to defend the cause of God, and we must keep in our minds that, in a Pontifical army, distinctions of nationalities and of races have no place, especially in such a critical time when union is our strength. You would give a sad representation of your dedication, and we could suspect your intentions, if you would not immediately understand that, belonging to the French nation, you cannot shrink from privations and fatigue. On this day, the first company will be constituted. The Belgians will be mixed with the French, and it will always be like this. You will submit to this order; such is the will of your General in Chief, and I have been appointed by him in order to execute his orders. "
Lieutenant-Colonel de Becdelièvre would tell later that the orders were quickly understood. “As I appealed to their Catholic hearts, I was understood. One has to acknowledge that never I have met in the French army more submissive or braver soldiers.” The story of the Papal Zouaves was about to begin.