The real and decisive struggle began early in 1841. The right man was at last found by the French to deal with the hitherto indomitable Sultan of Tittery and Oran.
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
Valee had divided his force into three columns, one of which was led by Lamoriciere, a man to become famous in Algerian warfare. The Sultan was now to see the value of French infantry. To the astonishment of the Arabs, the enemy, leaving the road, came darting over the steeps. Ravines, woods, and rocks were all mastered in the rush. Slowly but surely they were reaching the entrenchments, when a thick veil came over the scene from the smoke of incessant fire. The mist rolled away before the breeze sweeping through the pass, and the combatants met and fought hand to hand. The Arabs and Kabyles clung desperately to their places of shelter, but the French clambered up, grasping at shrubs and branches, ever winning their way. Abd-el-Kader made a last stand in person at the great redoubt, while his regulars and masses of Kabyles gathered round him. The converging columns of the French came creeping on amid the roll of drums and the blare of trumpets. The Arabs, bewildered by foes attacking them both in front and rear, wavered, broke, and fled. Lamoriciere and his Zouaves, Changarnier and the Second Light Infantry, burst over the intrenchments, and the tricolor waved on the summit of the Atlas.
Abd-el-Kader retreated on Miliana, while the conqueror, entering Medea, found it abandoned and half burned. The Sultan had made his last attempt to fight the French on the principles of European warfare. His caliphs and chiefs were ordered never again to meet the enemy in masses, but to harass them in hanging on their flanks and rear, cutting their communications, attacking baggage and transports, and waging a contest of feigned retreats, ambuscades, and sudden sallies in order to bewilder and weary the foe. Miliana was evacuated by Abd-el-Kader on Valee’s approach, but the chance of Arab warfare came when the French entered the mountain passes. Unceasing attacks, day and night, caused severe loss to the lately victorious French, with the capture of baggage and the abandonment of all wounded men. The French garrisons in Medea and Miliana were soon reduced to want by blockade of the surrounding country, and by October, 1840, the garrison of Miliana had almost disappeared, from the effects of fever and famine. Out of fifteen hundred men, the half had perished; five hundred were in hospital and the remainder were haggard wretches who could hardly hold their muskets. Such was the warfare in the mountains of the Province of Tittery, and Abd-el-Kader by his swift movements kept the enemy ever on the alert, and often in trouble, from the frontiers of Morocco to those of Tunis.
The real and decisive struggle began early in 1841. The right man was at last found by the French to deal with the hitherto indomitable Sultan of Tittery and Oran. The Government at Paris had begun in some sort to understand the power of their formidable adversary, and a serious effort was to be made. On February 22, 1841, General Bugeaud assumed office as Governor-General of Algeria. He had now come, not in the mood and with the policy of the day when he concluded the Treaty of the Tafna, but as one whose task it was to crush every rival power in Algeria. For this end, eighty-five thousand men were placed under his command. Thomas Bugeaud was a man of great ability, and he has the credit of devising the only method by which such an antagonist as Abd-el-Kader, in such a country, could be subdued.
Against an adversary so mobile, so full of expedients and resource, mobility and incessantly offensive movements offered the only chance of success. The French Commander knew that it was no mere army, but a people in arms, that he was to encounter. His forces were at once organized in many small, compact columns, each composed of a few infantry battalions and two squadrons of horse, with a little transport train of mules and camels and two mountain howitzers. Picked men alone, acclimatized and used to toil, were employed, and they carried nothing but their muskets and ammunition, with a little food. These columns were placed under the command of such energetic leaders as Changarnier and Cavaignac, Canrobert and Paelissier, Bedeau and Lamoriciere, St. Arnaud and the Duc d’Aumale.
The campaign opened with the revictualling of Medea and Miliana, with great losses to the French, as Abd-el-Kader disputed every inch of the ground. Bugeaud, personally operating in Oran, reached Tekedemt on May 25th, and found it deserted and in flames. Boghar, Saida, and other fortresses were successively destroyed. The enemies of the Sultan were paying a heavy price for success. At the end of 1841 Bugeaud, out of sixty thousand men in the field, had only four thousand fit for duty. The rest had perished or were invalided for the time, from the toil of marches, incessant fighting, and the heat of the climate. The French Government’s proposals of peace, on certain terms, only confirmed Abd-el-Kader in his resolve to try the extremities of war.
Bugeaud’s main object was to establish permanent centers of action in the very heart of the Arab confederation of tribes, and, by rapidly consecutive expeditions radiating from these centers, to give his troops the ubiquity of Abd-el-Kader’s forces. The chief seat of the Sultan’s power was the Province of Oran, and this was made the principal scene of operations. Mascara was held by Lamoriciere, Tlemsen by Bedeau. Changarnier was in observation on the western frontier of the plain of Algiers; Tittery was menaced by D’Aumale. From Oran and Mostaganem three columns were sent forth against the tribes occupying the large expanse of territory lying between the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean, and the tribes extending toward the Sahara. The first force, headed by Bugeaud in person, marched along the valley of the Chaeliff, and then joined the second column under Changarnier, coming from Blida. The third body, under Lamoriciere, aimed at pushing Abd-el-Kader back to the south in order to separate him from the tribes assailed by Changarnier and Bugeaud.
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