Lt. Charles DeRudio

 

Lieutenant Charles Camillo DeRudio may not have been the most controversial officer based on his performance at the Battle of The Little Big Horn, but his experiences before that certainly were. Charles was born as Carlo di Rudio in Belluno, Italy on August 26, 1832, the son of Count Ercole di Rudio and Countess Elisabetta de Domini. Belluno, about forty miles north of Venice, was under Austrian occupation at the time of his birth. DeRudio's grandfather had been an ardent Bonapartist and was extremely hostile to the Austrians. Count di Rudio, was also hostile toward the Austrians was allegedly involved in continual conspiratorial activities against them.

As a teenager DeRudio attended an Austrian military academy in Milan. At the age of 15 or 16, depending on which source you use, Charles left the academy to fight for Italian unification and independence against foreign occupation. DeRudio joined Giuseppe Garibaldi's Red Shirts in the fighting against the French, Austrians, and papal troops. Charles was nicknamed Moretto, "The Little Moor", for his dark complexion.

The Italian patriots were unsuccessful in driving out the occupiers. After their defeat many of the conspirators began to be rounded up by the victorious Austrians. While hiding near Belluno, DeRudio learned of the arrest of his father and his older sister Countess Luigia, who were chained and sent to the castle prison of Mantua. After learning he was also wanted by the Austrian police, DeRudio fled to the United States but was in a shipwreck and landed in Spain. From there DeRudio sailed to England.

Charles worked as a dockyard worker in Wapping, England. He married Eliza Booth on December 9, 1855 at Parish Church, Godalming, Surrey, England. Ms. Booth was a distant relative of the founder of the Salvation Army. The ever faithful Eliza would bear four children with Charles during their more that fifty year marriage. I have also read accounts stating their marriage produced six offspring.

While in England fellow Italian revolutionary Felice Orsini recruited DeRudio in a plot to help assassinate Emperor Napoleon III of France. Felice Orsini had been in the same Mantua prison as DeRudio’s father and sister. Emperor Napoleon III had failed to follow through with promised support for Italian nationalists still attempting to gain relief from Austrian occupation. On January 14, 1858 the assassination attempt took place while the Emperor and his wife were on their way to the theatre in Paris. DeRudio and his accomplices threw three bombs at the horse drawn royal carriage. The first bomb landed amongst the horsemen at front of the carriage. The second bomb wounded some of the horses pulling the carriage and smashed it’s glass. The third bomb landed directly under the carriage and seriously wounded a policeman who was attempting to protect the occupants. A total of eight people were killed and 142 wounded. Amazingly the Emperor and Empress escaped injury. Emperor Napoleon III proceeded to the opera performance and were seated in their box. Regardless of your views on the Emperor, one must impressed by his panache.

The failed assassination attempt increased Napoleon III's popularity. Due to the bombs have being constructed by an English gunsmith and tested in England, an anti-British furor erupted in France. The Emperor refused to escalate the anti-British furor and it eventually defused. The ringleader Orsini, Giuseppi Pieri, Antonio Gomez, and Charles DeRudio were arrested for the assassination crimes. Charles DeRudio was arrested under the surname Da Selva. Orsini and Pieri were guillotined on March 14, 1858 and Gomez was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island. DeRudio was also sentenced to losing his head but escaped the guillotine via a last-minute reprieve some say was because his wife testified against an English co-conspirator. DeRudio’s sentence was commuted to life on Devil's Island.

A first escape attempt with a dugout canoe failed due to torrential rains and a cholera epidemic. In late 1858 DeRudio and other prisoners stole a fishing boat and managed to reach British Guyana, where they were given political asylum. Some allege that unhappy French government officials assisted in the escape. DeRudio made his way back to England to gather up his family, arriving in London on February 29, 1860. DeRudio knew the Italian, Austrian and French police were all going to be looking for him very hard. DeRudio contacted Giuseppe Mazzini who steered him to British sympathizers to the Italian cause, who in turn raised the money to allow Charles to emigrate to the United States.

DeRudio arrived in New York on February 22, 1864 and like many new European immigrants joined the United States Army in it’s fight against the Confederate States of America. DeRudio enlisted as a private in the 79th Highlanders New York Volunteers Regiment, and proved himself in the siege of Petersburg, Virginia between August 25 and October 17, 1864. On November 11, 1864, DeRudio was commissioned Second Lieutenant, 2nd US Colored Infantry. DeRudio served with the 2nd Colored Infantry in Florida until honorably mustered out of the Army on January 5, 1866 in Key West. While in Florida DeRudio was reunited with his wife Eliza and their firstborn son Hercules. Sadly, one of the DeRudio’s daughters died of cholera soon after her arrival in America.

DeRudio soon requested appointment to the Regular Army and received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Infantry on August 3, 1867. About three weeks later, he failed a physical and his appointment was canceled, some say because the War Department had discovered his previous assassination attempt in France. About a month later his fortunes changed and he was back in uniform. On April 17, 1869 further reductions in the size of the US Army caused Lt. DeRudio to once again be mustered out of the Regular Army.

Famous newspaper reporter Horace Greeley, who knew Lt. DeRudio to be a great believer in the cause to free the slaves before his initial enlistment, helped Lt. DeRudio gain an appointment to the famed US 7th Cavalry on July 14, 1869. Lt. DeRudio joined Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer's US 7th Cavalry at Fort Riley, Kansas. Lt. DeRudio was promoted to 1st Lt. on December 15, 1875 and was assigned to long time General Custer nemesis Captain Fredrick Benteen. Neither General Custer or Captain Benteen thought much of Lt. DeRudio’s officer abilities. General Custer, referring to Lt. DeRudio, wrote in 1876 that "He is, all things considered, the inferior of every first lieutenant in this Regt. as an efficient and subordinate officer.". General Custer’s sympathy toward the Democratic Party and disdain of DeRudio’s revolutionary activities in Italy and France may have fed his feelings. Captain Frederick Benteen nicknamed Lt. DeRudio "Count No Account". Despite his haughty attitude about Lt. DeRudio, Captain Benteen got along socially with him and often found him to be quite amusing. Needless to say they also had their dislike of General Custer in common, although I think for different reasons.

To some others DeRudio was believed to be a good officer. Historian Charles K. Mills wrote, "He was not a chronic drinker or gambler. He did not absent himself from his duty station for trivial reasons. He did not shirk duty assignments and, above all else, he patently knew what he was doing at the head of the column of enlisted men.". The Old World charm and sophistication DeRudio possessed made him quite the storyteller. He was popular in the social gatherings at his assigned military outposts for his witty and entertaining tales. I’m quite confident that Lt. DeRudio was as close as the enlisted men, and most of the Officer Corps, would ever get to royalty.

In early 18976 General Custer transferred Lt. Algernon E. Smith, Company A's executive officer, to Company E where he became acting commanding officer in Lt. DeRudio's place. Company A's commander, Captain Myles Moylan, did not get along well with Lt. DeRudio. Lt. DeRudio, at age 43, was the oldest US Army Officer to fight in the Battle of The Little Big Horn.

When the Battle of The Little Big Horn began on June 25th, 1876 Lt. DeRudio’s Company A was one of three companies assigned to Major Marcus Reno. Major Reno’s Troopers crossed the river and rode toward the south end of the massive Indian camp. Company A dismounted, under orders from Major Reno, and began to deteriorate due to Major Reno’s poor leadership. An unorganized mad rush was made back to the tree line and timber along the river. During this retreat Lt. DeRudio lost his cavalry mount and had to fight on foot in the trees. Another rout up the ravines to Reno Hill left Lt. DeRudio and other Troopers abandoned in the trees. Lt. DeRudio was trapped in the trees for thirty six hours.

During the thirty six hours Lt. DeRudio and Private Thomas O'Neill hid in the trees, they witnessed the mutilation and finishing off of injured and dead Troopers by Indian women of the camp. The next morning the two Troopers made their way up the hill to rejoin Major Reno’s command. Years after the battle Private Thomas O'Neill stated about the time spent with Lt. DeRudio in the trees "it was now, as much as any previous time, that Lt. DeRudio showed himself to be one of the coolest and bravest men I ever saw.".

After the Indian victory at the Little Big Horn Lt. DeRudio commanded Company E during the Nez Perce War. On January 29-31, 1879, he testified before the Reno Court of Inquiry, his dislike of General Custer evident in his testimony. Lt. DeRudio was promoted to Captain on December 17, 1882. In 1886 while on duty at Fort Yates on the Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota he met the great Sitting Bull. Captain DeRudio was not involved in the US 7th Cavalry actions at Wounded Knee in December 1890. Charles DeRudio retired from US military service on August 26, 1896 possessing the rank of Major.

After the Battle of The Little Big Horn Lt. DeRudio’s name would appear in various newspapers. Some of the articles dealt with his political adventures in Italy, France, Spain, and Great Britain. In an interview with Walter Mason Camp, Lt. DeRudio stated he had had the only saber at the Little Bighorn, not knowing Lt. Edward Mathey kept his while tending the pack train. Mr. Camp was shown a golden saber that had been a gift given to him by Company G in 1870.

Lt. DeRudio never returned to his beloved Italy, moving to Los Angeles in 1898. Since Lt. DeRudio was an atheist I certainly find irony in that he died on All Saints Day November 1, 1910, in the City of Angels. Lt. DeRudio died of bronchial catarrh and acute enteritis with his wife at his side. He was cremated and interred in San Francisco National Cemetery. Eliza Booth DeRudio, his wife, survived him until 1922.

 

 

Lt. Charles DeRudio

 

 

 

The cemetery where Lt. Charles DeRudio's ashes are interred.

 

 

 

 

 

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