The blow was, on the whole, irreparable in its effects upon the influence of the Sultan.
Continuing Abd-el-Kader and France’s Conquest of Algeria,
our selection from a Hero Patriots of the Nineteenth Century by Edgar Sanderson published in 1891. The selection is presented in seven easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Abd-el-Kader and France’s Conquest of Algeria
When the French leaders had learned to appreciate the importance of the smala its capture or dispersal became a chief object with all officers from the generals of corps to the colonels in charge of detachments. The campaign of 1843 was opened by Lamoriciere, who occupied Tekedemt. Abd-el-Kader with about fifteen hundred horsemen watched his movements from some neighboring woods. He knew that the French commander’s object was the smala, and he remained in ambush for twenty days. He and his men lived on acorns; the horses were fed on leaves. One day a stray sheep was found. The Sultan would have none of it, and said, “Take it to my starving soldiers,” as he turned to his meal of acorns. Twice was Lamoriciere repulsed in his search, and then a traitor revealed the exact place of the smala encampment.
Lamoriciere remained to occupy the attention of Abd-el-Kader, and the French column stationed at Medea was selected for the attack. The leadership was entrusted to the Duc d’Aumale, and on May 10, 1843, he started from Boghar with thirteen hundred infantry, six hundred horse, and two field-guns.
The indicated place of encampment was found empty, and the French column wandered about in uncertain fashion.
At break of day on May 16th the traitor made known the new spot of the smala’s halt, and D’Aumale at once daringly advanced with his cavalry alone. The surprise created a panic among the people. The guard of five hundred regulars fired a volley and fled. A handful of the Hashem tribe bravely strove to stem the torrent, but they were swept away in the rout, and in an hour all was over. The smala was broken up amid scenes of terrible confusion and despair, including the extraordinary sight of a promiscuous mass of camels, dromedaries, horses, mules, oxen, and sheep careering and plunging on the plain. There was little bloodshed, but the French victors were in possession of hostages of the utmost value in the families of Abd-el-Ka-der’s most influential chiefs. His own family had escaped. The booty taken was immense, comprising thousands of animals; the Sultan’s valuable library of rare Arabic manuscripts; the military chest containing some millions of francs, and the chests of his caliphs and other high officers, filled with gold and silver coins and costly jewellery. The French soldiers baled out dollars and doubloons in their shakos, and helped themselves to diamonds and pearls.
This dreadful blow, when the news reached him in the woods where he watched near Lamoriciere’s command, almost overwhelmed, for a time, even the exalted and undaunted spirit of the Sultan. He spent some hours alone in his tent, in meditation and prayer. He came forth with a smile and addressed his chiefs, his officers, and men as they stood outside in groups, some downcast and silent, some bitterly cursing their foe and fate. He reminded them that the dear objects now lost had impeded the movements of the holy war against the infidels, and that those who had fallen were now in paradise. The next day he wrote to his caliphs, bidding them not to be discouraged; they would thenceforth be lighter and in better order for war. In fact at the time of the Duc d’Aumale’s attack, the population of the smala amounted to not less than sixty thousand. Not more than three thousand prisoners were taken; the rest of the Arabs were dispersed in all directions. Some fell among Arab tribes who plundered them; others were overtaken by Lamoriciere.
The blow was, on the whole, irreparable in its effects upon the influence of the Sultan. Every day brought tidings of the defection of some great tribe. The ranks of his enemies were swelled by large contingents of Arabs.
Worse things were in store for the brave man contending with ill-fortune. His ablest caliphs were removed by captivity or death in action; the distant provinces fell a prey to the foe. The Province of Oran became the scene of a desperate struggle. With a chosen and devoted band of five thousand men Abd-el-Kader made his presence felt at all points. Now he fell on recreant tribes; now he made head against the French columns. Ever in the van, leading on the charge, plunging into the thickest of the fight, by his example he encouraged and inspired his followers. His bravest warriors fell around him; his horses were slain under him; his burnoose was torn with bullets; but still he fought on. The world’s record can show no more brilliant instance of almost superhuman heroism.
Once he was taken unawares. On September 23, 1843, he was encamped near Sidi Yusuf with a battalion of infantry and five hundred irregular horse. A spy made known his position to Lamoriciere, who was at a distance of six leagues. The French General at once led out in person the Second Chasseurs d’Afrique. A night’s march covered the intervening space and the spot was reached in the gray of dawn. The Sultan was aroused from sleep by cries of “The French! the French!” He had barely time to mount. He might have escaped, but he preferred the risk of death to the double stain of surprise and flight. His infantry seized their arms and fired a volley; his cavalry rallied at his voice. Then as the smoke slowly rolled away he dashed into the French chasseurs, dispersed them by the sudden shock, and after a few minutes’ hard fighting drew off his whole force in perfect order.
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