About the same time a renewed effort was made to come to terms with Menelik, and Colonel Piano was sent on a mission to Addis-Ababa.
Continuing Italy in Africa 1896,
our selection from special article for Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume 19 by Frederick Augustus Edwards published in 1905. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Italy in Africa 1896.
On the north the Italian sphere ran with what was formerly the Egyptian province of the Eastern Sudan, and was now in the hands of Osman Digna, an active lieutenant of the Mahdi. The important Beni-Amer tribe was induced to accept the Italian protectorate, and a fort was constructed (November, 1890) at Agordat, on the river Barka. Here, three years later (December 21, 1893), Colonel Arimondi routed a force of the Dervises, inflicting on them a loss of a thousand men. An arrangement had previously been made with England, which gave Italy permission to occupy Kassala if necessary for military purposes, only, however, on condition that the occupation should be temporary, and that Italy should give it up whenever Egypt was in a position to take it over. Italy had for some time cast longing eyes on Kassala, and the time was now thought opportune to take advantage of the agreement with England. The Dervises were again carrying their raids into Italian territory, and Colonel Baratieri, in pursuing them, arrived suddenly and unexpectedly before Kassala, where the Dervises had taken refuge. Baratieri at once attacked the fort, and after a fierce battle Kassala was carried by assault and occupied by the Italians (July 17, 1894). The Dervises, who made a stubborn defense and lost very heavily, fled toward the Atbara. The Italians at once set about strengthening the fortifications of Kassala and inducing the neighboring tribes to submit.
About the same time a renewed effort was made to come to terms with Menelik, and Colonel Piano was sent on a mission to Addis-Ababa. The Italian Government now offered Menelik an extension of territory to the Upper Nile at Fashoda, much as if Germany, to mollify France for the loss of Alsace-Lorraine, were to give the latter permission to annex Spain. Perhaps in this there was a Machiavellian scheme to involve Menelik in a struggle with the Dervises, at whose expense the proposed transfer was made. At all events, Menelik was too astute to be hoodwinked, and refused any terms but the acquisition of a free port on the Red Sea.
Things did not work smoothly in Italy’s newly acquired province of Okule-Kusai, and toward the end of the year (1894) an “insurrection” broke out there, and Lieutenant Sanguinetti, the Italian Resident at Saganiti, was taken prisoner. It was hardly surprising if Menelik had won over Bath-Agos, the chief of his lost province, to his side again. An Italian force advanced against the “rebels,” and put them to flight at Halai (December 18th), and General Baratieri sent an ultimatum to Ras Mangasha, and himself advanced to Adowa, but remained in occupation of that old Abyssinian capital only four days. Learning that Ras Mangasha was concentrating his troops on the frontier of Okule- Kusai, General Baratieri recrossed the Mareb with four thousand men and attacked him at Koatit, inflicting considerable loss. Mangasha sent some Coptic priests to offer terms of peace, and withdrew to Senafe. Baratieri followed, but Mangasha — although his army is estimated at fifteen thousand, of whom fifteen hundred had been killed and at least twice that number wounded and taken prisoners — again fled. General Baratieri entered Senafe, and now set himself to attempt the conquest of the provinces of Agame and Tigre, to which Italian pretensions had not hitherto laid claim. This was done with the approval of the Italian Government, for more troops were sent out, and, to prevent the approach of Menelik, Captain Persico was sent to the Anfari Mahomet to create a diversion in that direction.
Mangasha, however, had no desire for more fighting, and made fresh overtures for peace. General Baratieri, in reply, ordered him to disarm, and then advanced to Adigrat and Makalle, the capital of Enderta, and on April 1st he again entered Adowa. And so things went merrily on, October seeing the Italians still farther into the heart of the Abyssinian mountains at Antalo, whence a still more advanced post was pushed forward to Amba- Alagi. But it was not to be always so, and the first reverse took place at Amba-Alagi, where, on December 7th, the Italian post was attacked by a large force of Abyssinians and practically annihilated, the commander, Major Toselli, being among the slain. A relieving party had been dispatched from Makalle, only to meet the flying remnant of the little force.
This fresh disaster to Italian arms led to immediate measures for sending out more reinforcements, but without any clear indication as to whether a decisive war was to be carried on against Menelik or merely to hold the positions already in the hands of the Italians. The Abyssinians now took the aggressive and surrounded Makalle: and by this time Menelik was himself aroused to defend his country from the invaders. On January 7, 1896, he arrived with a large army and settled down to lay siege to the Italian fort; the wells that supplied the fort with water were soon in the hands of the Abyssinians, and the little garrison suffered much from thirst. Even now the Abyssinians had no desire for open war with the Italians, and when General Baratieri, seeing the impossibility of rescuing the garrison by force of arms, negotiated for its release, Ras Makonnen willingly acceded to this, and the brave little handful of troops was allowed to march out (January 21st) with arms, ammunition, and baggage.
The Negus now advanced to Hausen, thus turning the flank of the Italian position at Adigrat and securing the command of the road to Dowa, and again renewed his proposals for peace, demanding that the Italians should abandon the provinces annexed since the convention of October 1, 1889. The Abyssinian army now numbered eighty thousand to one hundred thousand men, while General Baratieri had only about twenty thousand. He was indisposed, therefore, to engage with such superior forces, and he even contemplated withdrawing from the field. But the tension in Italy had become very severe, and some decisive success was urgently needed by the Ministry of Signor Crispi to insure its own existence. Urged on by the Government, therefore, to some decisive action, General Baratieri consulted his subordinate officers, and on the last day of February ordered a night march to Adowa, on the hills around which the Abyssinian myriads were assembled, with a view to attacking them in the early morning hours. Vain hope! The battle was decisive, but in a way not anticipated by the home Government.
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