The smala was a great traveling capital, containing at first more than twenty thousand souls, following the Sultan’s movements.
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
The plan of campaign was formidable for the Arabs, but it was encountered by the Sultan with wonderful skill and daring in a struggle which involved some thrilling episodes, Lamoriciere, in his efforts to overtake the foe, was constantly baffled. Hearing that Abd-el-Kader was before Mascara, he hurried thither by forced marches, only to find that his enemy had passed by his rear and was raiding a tribe friendly to the French. Pursuing in the new direction, the French leader was outmaneuver by the Sultan’s bold and rapid dash across the Chaeliff, placing his Arabs between Bugeaud and the sea, and recovering his ascendancy over the tribes in that region. Abd-el-Kader then swept in a razzia to the south of Miliana, and soon appeared in full force in the Sahara as the bewildered French pursuers returned to their cantonments in despair of reaching him. This is a sample of the evolutions by which genius made amends for inferiority of force. The ablest military combinations were rendered abortive by an enemy that was ever slipping between columns, flitting in the front, hovering on the flanks, assailing the rear, and, with perfect knowledge of the country, was sometimes in the mountains and again in the plains, ubiquitous, unattainable for serious conflict.
Abd-el-Kader, leaving his caliphs to maintain this exasperating species of warfare in the Province of Oran, made for the frontiers of Morocco. There many tribes had submitted under the influence of Bedeau’s military and diplomatic skill. The Sultan’s communications with the country whence he drew his weapons, clothing, and ammunition were seriously threatened. His appearance at once brought back the Kabyles of Nedrouma to their allegiance, and their example was followed by other tribes, with the result that his army was increased to the number of three thousand cavalry and five thousand infantry. Able now to confront the enemy, Abd-el-Kader during the months of March and April, 1842, had frequent encounters with Bedeau, The issue was yet indecisive when the Sultan was called away to Mascara to deal with Lamoriciere, who had been gaining ground and winning over tribes, including even a large part of Abd-el-Kader’s own people, the Hashems. LamoriciÃ¨re, believing the Sultan to be still engaged with Bedeau, had marched toward the Sahara, and Abd-el-Kader, by a mingling of severe punishment and mild treatment, regained most of his old authority.
Lamoriciere, on receiving the news of his presence, hastened back to find his recent work undone and to be assailed by the tribes who had so lately joined him. Fighting his way bravely on to an encounter with the great leader of the Arabs, the French general heard of him as in force at Tekedemt. When he reached that place he found that Abd-el-Kader had fallen on Changarnier toward Miliana. That general, knowing nothing of the Sultan’s approach, found himself enveloped by a vast force of Arabs and Kabyles, regulars and irregulars, horse and foot, led on by Abd-el-Kader in person and charging furiously on all sides.
After two days and nights of incessant battle, in which men closed fiercely with pistols, swords, bayonets, and yataghans, the Sultan vanished with his force, leaving the French too exhausted and crippled by their losses for pursuit. Two days later tidings reached them that he was in the Metidja, ravaging the plain and carrying terror to the very gates of Algiers. Abd-el-Kader then bore away to the Atlas, ascended the mountains, penetrated beyond Tittery and reached the Sahara, everywhere inspiriting the tribes and raising fresh forces. After sweeping over three hundred leagues of ground he returned, in recruited strength and new energy, to press upon Lamoriciere and his garrison at Mascara with all the rigors of a winter blockade.
In spite of his wonderful efforts, the Sultan could not but feel that he was struggling with adverse fortune. The enemy by the seizure of his fixed establishments had gained possession of a large part of his territory and of the strongholds that had contained his stores of war. His regular army had almost disappeared, and much of his credit among the Arabs had departed. The ketna, which was his ancestral abode, had been laid waste. He could not protect the families of his most faithful adherents from constant exposure, in spite of his vigilant activity, to the outrages of the detested infidels. In this position, he resolved to remove from the scene of warfare those whom it was impossible for him to desert with any regard to feelings of religion and humanity. He formed his famous smala, a new and remarkable organization consisting of a gathering of private families. To this moving asylum of refuge and safety the Arab tribes sent their treasure, their herds, their women and children, their sick and aged persons.
The smala was a great traveling capital, containing at first more than twenty thousand souls, following the Sultan’s movements; sometimes in advance to the more cultivated regions, or in retreat to the Sahara, according to the fluctuations of the contest which he was so bravely waging. In the Sahara, the tents of the smala spread to the distant horizon. In the Tell, they filled the valley and rose up the slopes of the hills. All the arrangements were of military regularity. The different deiras, or households, with tents varying in number with their dwellers, were distributed into four great encampments. Each deira knew its appointed place. Each chief had his station marked and his special duties assigned. Four tribes were set apart to protect and guide the smala in its wanderings, and the guard was composed of regular troops. The existence of this organization, ever growing in extent, became a powerful check on the disaffection of the tribes. When the French leaders tempted them with fair promises, the warriors bethought them of the pledges: the women, the children, the flocks and herds, which were in the Sultan’s hands. The genius of Abd-el-Kader had created a new and widely extended political engine.
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