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After attempts to take the Sahara (now open to exclusively to France after the Anglo-French convention) via the North (Algeria) fail when the conquered oases are too disparate for the consolidation of rule, France decides to conquer the area from the south (i.e. Sudan) up. Laperrine joins a band of “Senegalese hooligans” who, so far removed from France, are militant commandos. They take Timbuku but only after tremendous bloodshed at the hands of the Tuareg. Eventually Laperrine in an effort to take Lake Chad raids a Tuareg camp in retaliation for the Tuareg’s previously humiliating raid at Timbuktu. He becomes a legend and French morale is boosted. Seeking solitude he is dispatched to a place he sees as the key to French conquest—Forth MacMahon. There is placed in command of a group of Saphi camelmen.
The story of the Jew-hating Algerian entrepreneur who riles the natives up with his conspiracy theories before eventually organizes an expedition to tame the Sahara that ends in a dramatic shootout that makes him a French legend. France’s disastrous attempts at colonization are pushed further into the forefront.
We’re introduced to one of the greatest Saharan explorers Fernand Foreau, who as part of a three-pronged French attack on the crucial Lake Chad ventured into the Sahara with a gargantuan troop that included 381 well-armed troops. Overburdened with supplies, the camels die and the Tuareg attack, but are subdued. Meanwhile a separate army the Central African Mission attempts to take the land, committing incredible and gratuitous atrocities to intimidate the Tuareg, and when their two leaders renounce France, they are eventually overtaken in mutiny...... The armies eventually converge in Chad and although they take the town, they leave chaos around them, failing to effectively secure the area.
A discourse on camels is followed by a description of the taking of all-important In Salah, which is conquered in the guise of scientific discovery (a geologist goes out to examine and is accompanied by 150 troops for “self-defense,” who take the land from Morocco). Meanwhile Foucauld is having trouble adjusting to Trappist life, continuously rebuffed by his elders (who consider him a roughneck) when he tries to set up his own order. He buys property on the Mount of Beatitudes but discovers it’s a scam.
Foucauld ventures out to Beni Abbes where he sets up his monastery and tries to convert the natives, trying to serve by example where other missionaries have failed by preaching. A discussion of slavery and how Foucauld was told to go along with it despite his moral objections. Foucauld is used as a pawn by the military, doing reconaissance work, but is also militaristic himself, being called “imprudent” for insisting that Morocco be taken.
Laperrine is encharged with reorganizing the inefficient and expensive French control of the Tuat. He is in charge of what is essentially a police force, but turns it into an army when he raids a neighboring oasis out of retaliation. He forces an influential Hoggar ruler out of business—“Laperrine had to proceed with a conflicting mix of violence, diplomacy and intrigue.” He brings in Foucauld in order to show the Tuareg that French rule is peaceful and in order to keep an eye on the Hoggar without contravening the legislation that forbids him to establish new garrisons south of the Tuat
Laperrine enlists the help of the only people who have the maneuvering skill of Tuareg—rival Berber nomads called the Chaamba. See quote p 178. Foucould, while crossing to In Salah, petitions to settle down and establish his monastery somewhere in the Hoggar but is constantly rebuffed.
Foucould settles in a remote mountains pot—a “forsaken place” called Tumanrasset. Lepperine gets tribal leader Moussa to surrender to Hoggar. Foucould aims to “civilize” (Europeanize) the Tuareg—he becomes a cult hero. He gains a disciple He gains a disciple who eventually cant handle the ascetism and Foucould the fantatical taskmaster. He grows frustrated when Moussa tries to convert the natives to Islam, not Christianity, and finds himself w/o a congregations
Lepperine takes back a crucial salt mine from raiders. Forced to eat his camels. He takes advantage of Foucould as the perfect information source.
W/o permission Laperrine moves in on territory that is supposedly neutral ground between France and the Ottomon Empire, raising the ire of his higher-ups in Paris. Laperrine becomes disillusioned with the Sahara campaign and sickly. He returns to France to
In December 1880 the River Loire froze, giving Lieutenant Vicomte
Charles de Foucauld the chance to hold an evening party for his
fellow officers of the Fourth Hussars. By Parisian standards it was
not particularly grand - a provincial fête-champêtre, at best - but there
was no denying its host had a sense of style. When his guests
descended from their carriages they were greeted by a remarkable
sight. There, on the ice, Foucauld had created an al fresco ballroom:
a section of the Loire had been roped off as a dance floor; a band was
playing the latest tunes; on the bank, sideboards groaned under the
weight of Parisian delicacies; meanwhile, vats of blazing rum punch
cast a bluish glow over the scene. Everything had been taken care of,
including the provision of skates for each officer, their shoe sizes
having been obtained beforehand from the regimental quartermaster.
As Foucauld's guests cavorted over the ice, a sleigh carved in the
shape of a swan drew up amidst a circle of flaming brands. It
contained Foucauld's fur-swaddled mistress, Mimi. She was, he declared,
their 'honorary colonel' for the evening. Breaking into song, the men
whirled the sleigh across the dance floor while Foucauld skated
casually alongside, murmuring to his mistress. He had news: orders had
just come in, the Fourth Hussars were being posted to Algeria. Mimi,
however, was not to worry. He was sure she could accompany him,
and the move would do both of them good. As the jaded young
aristocrat explained, 'I need a change of scene.'
From Tunisia, the fertile zones of North Africa comprise a narrow
strip of land that stretches west to Morocco, where the Atlas
mountains, which form their southern boundary, dip southwards to create a
triangular wedge of prosperity on the Atlantic coast. As one
nineteenth-century writer put it, the effect is that of a verdant forage
cap perched on the great, bald head of the continent. In the middle of
this strip, sandwiched between Tunisia and Morocco, lies Algeria.
Topographically, Algeria differs little from its neighbours: a
Mediterranean littoral - the Sahel - followed by a stretch of good,
crop-growing land - the Tell - and then a series of high valleys, suitable
mainly for grazing - Les Hauts Plateaux - beyond which the
snow-clad mountains plunge abruptly to the Sahara. Its cultivable
area is small, extending approximately 250 kilometres inland from
900 kilometres of shoreline. Its history, however, is rich.
The Berbers, a pale-skinned race of semi-pastoralists, claim
priority as the first inhabitants of North Africa. Their tutelage was
disrupted by the Phoenicans, who set up coastal trading stations, the
most impressive of which was Carthage. Later, the Ancient Romans
assumed control of their possessions, moving inland to create
substantial colonies whose main purpose was the harvesting of wheat
and the processing of resources from the African interior - ivory, gold,
feathers, furs, wild animals for the circuses and, above all, slaves.
Between 800 and 1100 AD, as Arab invaders swept across North Africa
and into Spain, Roman control gave way to a succession of Islamic
dynasties. Then, in the seventeenth century, Algeria came under the
sway of the Ottomans, forming the western limit of a vast empire
that stretched eastward to Persia and all but encircled the
Mediterranean. Ottoman rule, however, was weak. Theoretically
under the fist of Constantinople, its outlying territories were run in
practice by local rulers who paid mere lip service to the Sultan. One
such ruler was the Dey of Algeria. It took the Deys very little time to
realize that they could do more or less as they wished and that, while
the trade in slaves continued very profitably, they could also, with the
covert blessing of the Sultan, make a lot of money from piracy.
Algeria, or the Barbary Coast as Europeans knew and feared it,
became the scourge of the Mediterranean - and of the Atlantic too. In
1644, Barbary pirates raided the British port of Penzance, seizing sixty
people to be sold as slaves; forty-four years later they took 237 men,
women and children from the Irish port of Baltimore. In the same
century, so voluminous were the crowds of women, who came to
London seeking restitution for breadwinners lost to Barbary corsairs,
that Parliament allocated them the fines levied on Members who
were late for morning prayers. It helped the women little and had no
deterrent effect on the corsairs, whose reputation was by now so widespread
that a group of Japanese pirates came to join in the fun. For
two centuries the Barbary Coast disrupted European shipping with
virtual impunity and in blithe disregard of world politics. In 1810,
during the Napoleonic War, when Britain supposedly ruled the waves,
Sir Arthur Paget, Commander of HMS Thetis, was forced to exchange
a gold snuff-box valued at £500 for two British captives held by the
pirates; in the same year London's Company of Ironmongers paid
£465 for the return of another thirteen. This was too much. In 1816 a
Royal Navy squadron anchored off Algiers and blew the pirates, their
ships and their port to smithereens. Troops were sent to invest the
rubble, which they did with notable success, using some of it to construct
a new pier, before sailing home with the satisfaction that the
Dey had been taught a lesson.
In 1830, France decided that the Dey needed another lesson - this
time in manners. During the past fifteen years, the world had become
increasingly interested in Ottoman North Africa. Nations as far afield
as America and Sweden were intrigued by its commercial possibilities
and despatched so-called 'Consuls' to pursue their interests. In every
major port, therefore, could be found a group of foreigners - adventurers
and spies for the most part - who manoeuvred for advantage in
the eyes of the local ruler. The Deys of Algeria, however, kept a
sharper eye on accounts than did most other rulers and in 1828 the
current Dey invited the French Consul to discuss a debt that had
been outstanding since the 1790s for a consignment of wheat. When
the Consul refused to countenance payment, the Dey became so outraged
that he struck the man with his fly whisk. For Charles X, the
unpopular Bourbon monarch who had been placed on the French
throne following the defeat of Napoleon, this was a perfect
opportunity to detract attention from his failings at home. Declaring the
incident 'an insult to the national honour', he put Algiers under
blockade. It was, alas, a seasonal blockade, and as soon as the French
ships left for the winter, Algerian pirates snatched three ships from the
Bay of Naples, sold them in Tangiers and returned home with the
Therefore, in 1830, France inflicted a second bombardment on
Algiers and sent marines to occupy the port. To the marines' surprise
they met almost no resistance, so they moved inland. The process was
repeated along the coast, at the ports of Oran and Bône. By the end of
the year, France, which had intended at first only to rid the
Mediterranean of a nuisance, and maybe at the same time flex its
muscles on the international stage, found itself in possession of a
small colony. Charles X would have been pleased, had he still been in
power. He had, however, been deposed and his successor, Louis
Philippe, the 'Citizen King', a ruler of more popularity and greater
caution, needed no such venture to bolster his regime. In fact,
colonization was the last thing he wanted. Afflicted, almost uniquely in
Europe, by a diminishing population, and with its finances in disarray,
France had neither the money nor the people to support new overseas
possessions. To the government's dismay, its North African territory
continued to expand. It was not a matter of policy but of practicality:
once they had recovered from the initial shock, tribal leaders did their
utmost to prevent the French advancing inland and the military
responded by securing their outer limits or, as one commentator put it,
'the presence of enemies induced battle'. Under the command of,
among others, the grizzled veteran General Thomas-Richard
Bugeaud, French troops marched ever deeper into Algeria.
For the invaders it was a glorious and exciting prospect, a chance to
display their martial prowess and to prove that, despite the ignominy
of Waterloo, they were still a formidable power. All they had to do to
take Algeria was smite a few natives armed with swords, spears and
the occasional musket. But, as they soon discovered, this was a land in
which European notions of warfare did not apply. Massed battalions,
long baggage trains and heavy artillery worked well enough in the
urbanized coastal regions; but in the countryside matters were not so
simple. The logistics alone were a nightmare. How was an offensive
force and all its supplies to be hauled through a trackless, occasionally
marshy and often mountainous hinterland? How were these cumbersome
columns to defend themselves against a foe that refused to fight
set-piece battles but pestered them with skirmishes and midnight
raids, vanishing into the bush whenever artillery was brought into
play? The French response was to advance by construction, consolidating
each hard-won piece of territory by means of a fortified redoubt
in which they could regroup before moving on. The result became
one of the clichés of North African conquest: white soldiers huddled
in mud-brick forts, awaiting the doubtful arrival of supplies, while disease
and guerrilla action took their toll. Even the Foreign Legion
failed to make an impression. Created in 1831 to siphon off undesirable
elements of France's alien population, it fought its first battles in
Algeria and later made its headquarters in the territory south of Oran.
But, notorious as it was for its brutality, it, too, became just another
part of the beleaguered garrison.
In the first year of their conquest the French had uttered vague
promises about the rights of the natives: they could retain their property,
their religion would be respected; they would be treated fairly.
Some, predominantly those around the towns and in the agricultural
zone of the Tell, had believed these promises, assuming that they had
merely exchanged rule by the Ottomans for rule by the French. 'Far
from being hostile to us, the Moors are friends of our civilization,'
wrote one observer. 'By treating them well, by according them liberty
and security, we will find the most useful support among them.' It
soon became obvious, however, that the promises were empty: one of
France's first acts was to transform Algiers' Ketchawa Mosque into a
church; Muslim feast days were no longer recognized as legal holidays;
and large stretches of farmland were confiscated and handed
over to colonists. As the occupation continued, resentment increased.
There had always been divisions within the Algerian population, the
main one being that between the coastal regions, inhabited by Arab
communities, and the highlands, which were occupied by Berbers.
The two groups did not share a common language - Berbers spoke
their own tongue, with numerous dialects. They were also at odds in
their religion: while both practised Islam, the Berbers pursued their
own, unorthodox version that incorporated ancient, pre-Islamic customs.
And their lifestyles differed - the Arabs were settled farmers,
the Berbers were pastoralists. The French had hoped to exploit these
differences but, to their dismay, both parties now came together in
opposition against them.
In the colony's outlying territories, settlers protected their villages
with ditches, walls and watchtowers. When they emerged to till their
fields they did so in armed groups and kept an eye out for the black
flag that was raised to warn them of danger. Raids were commonplace,
torchings, kidnaps and murders a matter of weekly occurrence.
Initially, the attacking tribesmen ransomed their hostages; latterly,
they just decapitated them, finding that the colonists would pay as
much for a head as they would for the living person. The settlers
replied in kind, with or without military assistance. Outside the
narrow coastal strip, where some order reigned and whose native
inhabitants actually volunteered to serve in the French army, Algeria
was a bloody and very unpleasant place. Yet still Frenchmen wanted
to live there. Displaced aristocrats who had been supporters of
Charles X - they were nicknamed the 'gants jaunes' or 'yellow
gloves' - built large estates from which they enriched themselves
while remaining in the safety of the city. Property speculators were
attracted by the promise of quick, if dangerous, profits: on seeing that
a rebellious village was about to fall, one land agent rushed in with his
wallet; the conquering officer had to pay the man several thousand
francs for the land on which he wanted to construct his fort, plus a
premium for the parade ground. And even in the most dangerous
areas settlers were united by a frontier spirit - the land might not have
been theirs originally, but having shed blood for it, they were not
going to give it up.
Paris fretted. In 1834 M. Dupin, Procureur-général, told the French
Assembly that 'The thing to do was to reduce expenditure to the
lowest possible limit, and hasten in every way the moment that would
free France from a burden which she could not and would not support
much longer.' Three years later, M. Thiers, Foreign Minister, said: 'If
we could secure a few leagues of land around Algiers, Oran and Bône,
I should for my part be satisfied. I am no friend of a general occupation.'
Even at the front there were doubts. While dealing with his
elusive enemy, a process that involved variously victory, submission,
double-dealing and a corrupt but highly profitable bit of arms-dealing,
General Bugeaud insisted that his task was a complete waste of time.
'Unfortunately,' wrote one of his officers, 'he professes these opinions
all day, to every one, and at the top of his voice, which, although he
may not be aware of it, is rather discouraging to the army.'
Nevertheless, it was thanks to Bugeaud that Algeria was finally vanquished.
Discarding traditional European methods, he created a force
of light infantry that moved swiftly, living off the land by means of
razzia, or raids, in the same manner as its opponents. As one veteran
described it, 'In Europe, once [you are] master of two or three large
cities, the entire country is yours. But in Africa, how do you act against
a population whose only link with the land is the pegs of their
tents? ... The only way is to take the grain which feeds them, the
flocks which clothe them. For this reason, we make war on silos, war
on cattle, [we make] the razzia.'
Bugeaud's tactics were ideally suited to their context, and gave
rise to a second cliché of colonial warfare, that of the infantry square
blazing defiantly at circling hordes of savages.
Excerpted from The Sword and the Cross
by Fergus Fleming
Copyright © 2003 by Fergus Fleming.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Preface and Acknowledgements|
|1||Absinthe and Barracks||1|
|2||A Painful Void||20|
|3||Into the Desert||28|
|4||Reconnaisance au Maroc||41|
|6||The Monk's Friend||78|
|7||From Algiers to the Congo||96|
|8||'Think that you are going to die a martyr'||119|
|11||A Tour of the Interior||167|
|12||Towards the Hoggar||184|
|13||"I choose Tamanrasset'||198|
|16||Hermit of Assekrem||254|
|17||'It is the hour of my death'||269|
|19||The Dying Days||301|
|Sources and References||315|