The most obvious immediate solution to Tripoli’s mercenary and economic problem was to make the city a center of an expanded campaign. Briggs and the U.S. Navy would operate out of the harbor of Tripoli (complicated harbors and silting were problems along the entire North African coast from Alexandria to Algiers, save for perhaps the Bay of Ceuta, but Tripoli surpassed Derne and Bengazi) and Eaton would take command of a new mercenary army and push for Tunis. Giving wide latitude to the tenacious Eaton, Briggs placed Rogers in charge of Tripoli harbor and returned to Syracuse to catch up on the wider war. The day after his arrival, he would learn that Napoleon intended to invade Algiers.
The plan immediately ran into obstacles. Before taking Tripoli, Eaton and Hamet had devised a segregated command structure where Hamet lead the Muslim portion of the army and Eaton led the Christian portion. The dual-army had obvious flaws but actually proved effective in some ways because both armies could play off each other’s strengths in a battle. Eaton’s Christians provided a small core of disciplined and decently equipped line soldiers who could hold their ground, man artillery, and blast their way through fixed defenses. Hamet’s cavalry provided hundreds of bodies capable of quickly swarming enemy positions even if their rusty muskets and scimitars were mostly inefficient weapons. In addition, for all of his command flaws, Hamet was the only person capable of leading the hundreds of Muslim soldiers, especially the Bedouins from Cyrenaica. Without a committed Muslim commander to keep order amongst the Muslim troops, Eaton risked constant mutiny over pay, logistics or simple cultural tensions. Hamet had a choice, leave the city he spent over a decade working to win back at a time when it needed a stable present ruler most, or lead his makeshift army on to Tunis.
Ultimately, Hamet opted to continue the campaign. This came as a shock to Eaton as everyone believed Hamet had already determined to stay in Tripoli and secure his rule. The three deciding factors in Hamet’s change of heart: removing the restless mercenaries from the city, seeking plunder to jumpstart Tripoli’s moribund economy, and fulfilling his obligations to Selim by opposing the rebellious bey in Tunis. On July 27, mere weeks after reentering the city, Hamet and Eaton set out on the coast road for Sfax, a major corsair port and the Bey of Tunis’ most important southern town. Interestingly, Hamet opted to leave a ruling council in charge of the city with each of Tripoli’s major “quarters” electing councilmen amongst themselves .
On July 27, the army departed Tripoli for Tunis, crossing the frontier into the eyalet on August 4. They met no resistance but the army struggled to coordinate with the U.S. Navy to keep up supplies, finding poor harbors and bad routes most of the way. Blocked from naval support by the coastal island of Djerba, Hamet and Eaton met their first defense in open country when 500 Tunisian cavalry descended on them. Eaton recorded:
“Around 11 A.M. a cloud of red dust picked up to the northwest, further down our road. Some of the men believed it to be a sandstorm but with minimal winds I suspected otherwise and ordered the men to form up. The approaching dust soon revealed all manner of cavalry holding green banners and curved swords, wearing bright red turbans and parading quite spectacularly. One man, an officer I presumed, rode to the fore and requested to speak with the bey.
Hamet approached on his own mount and introduced himself as the commander of Tripoli by birthright and the appointment of the Sultan, Selim III. The opposing officer declared himself to be Mohammed Mamun, a lieutenant of Hamouda ibn Ali the bey of Tunis by birthright and appointment of the Sultan, Selim III. With considerable fuss he insisted to know why Hamet had invaded, what had become of Yussef and why Hamet allied himself with Christians? Selim responded he had overthrown his usurping brother and took offense to this officers lies since Hamouda had not declared for Selim or Mustafa. This accusation against Hamouda would not stand for Mohammed who pledged his undying loyalty to the Sultan and his master and returned to the opposing cavalry. Hamet returned to the Moslem ranks while I formed up the ranks of our Christians.
Once Mohammed returned to his companions, they began galloping in a wild show all about, shrieking and waving their flags. After several minutes of this display, they charged our position and the men held firm. Our soldiers got off two volleys from their muskets and the fieldpieces that split the enemy horse into two panicked divisions. Hamet led his cavalry at this moment against the divided enemy and sent him fleeing back up the road.”
Records indicate that Hammuda ibn Ali, the fifth ruler of the Husainid Dynasty of Tunisian beys, established in 1705, was a popular ruler who actually sided with Selim but could not publicly declare for the Sultan due to the Franco-American blockade. Not only did the blockade prevent communications with Anatolia, correspondence shows that news of the Battle of Constantinople, the coronation of Mustafa IV and the reemergence of Selim III did not even reach Tunis until December 2, 1803, nearly three months after the events actually played out. This is remarkable lag time for a city located less than a month’s sail from almost every point in the Mediterranean world. Furthermore, even if Hammuda could publicly declare, by the beginning of 1804 such a move would have been a political disaster once it became known that Selim had sided with the very people blockading the harbor for over a year. It is safe to say with the benefit of hindsight that with proper communication Tripoli and Tunis should have been allies, not enemies. With the chaotic situation in the Mediterranean world clearly out of control by this point, war was assured.
The invasion was officially underway and blood had been shed. Two of Hamet’s cavalry lie dead in the sand alongside seven of Mohammed’s detachment. Even if Hamet turned around, Eaton found himself in a remarkable position several days after this first skirmish. Upon arrival at the port of Gabes (roughly halfway between the border and Sfax), Eaton found the small port under the guns of his naval escort with a new dispatch from Syracuse. Eaton was shocked to learn that a French invasion would take place in the fall changing the dynamic of the region and that Briggs was finalizing the contracts and transports of nearly 800 Italian mercenaries who would join the army at Sfax. The mission suddenly changed as well. Hamet remained focused on “pacifying” the “rebellious” in the name of Selim III but once Tunis fell, Briggs needed to be ready for a potential war with France on the Algerian and Egyptian frontiers.
Excerpt from Yevgeny Silin’s “A Concise History of North Africa”, A.F. Marks, Goltsev, & Pisapia Publishing Co., 2011.
On August 4 Macdonald arrived in Toulon where an army of 10,000 and several dozen ships were gathering. It took another six weeks to fully outfit and prepare the force as Napoleon’s orders arrived in France only a month before Macdonald’s own arrival. On September 18 the Armée d’Algérie joined the ranks of the French expeditionary armies that were quickly conquering the known world. Fabricated as an anti-piracy operation, Napoleon’s goal was to secure the opposite Mediterranean coast of France and finally turn the sea into a French lake. It is no secret that after Vidin, Napoleon increasingly looked into the future and saw the next destined conflict being between France and England and, unless England roped in Prussia to do its fighting for it, this war would be fought overseas since the Austrians, Russians and the Ottomans were all licking their wounds. From Algeria, France could command a nearly unbroken chain of subordinate ports from Oran around the Mediterranean to Cadiz. Pressure could be effectively exerted on Morocco and Britain would be reduced to holding its undersupplied outposts on Gibraltar, Corsica, Malta, Naples, Anatolia and Cyprus. It was an imperial gamble to be sure, a move that risked immediate war and Macdonald’s orders were sent before Napoleon had even finished the War of the Third Coalition .
Like many of the North African states, Algiers was ruled by a nominally Ottoman governor titled the “Dey of Algiers”, In 1804, the governing dey was Mustapha VI ben Ibrahim, ruler since 1799. Unlike Tripoli and Tunis, Algiers commanded sizeable territory that allowed economic production and agriculture. Pirates from Algiers tended to be less bold than their eastern cousins but Algiers was a more sold political entity. Algiers was capable of commanding a large population, engaging in land trade with Morocco, provisioning against a siege (Algiers actually endured a Danish bombardment several decades before) and supplying a respectable fleet. Since the start of the war, a Franco-American blockade managed to bottle up Algiers but made no practical impact on Mustapha VI’s political situation. Indeed, command of these Algerian resources and a desire to free his ships from perpetual blockade duty were motivators in Napoleon’s decision to push forward with an invasion against the pleas of his advisors. Talleyrand is recorded having called the invasion a “foolish errand” in August of 1804. Desaix, still commanding the ongoing operations in Egypt (and one of the few associates of Napoleon capable of writing in the familiar “tu” rather than the formal), wrote a letter of caution to Napoleon:
“Look to Egypt as an analogue for this invasion. Despite our efforts, one bad year could easily undo six years of hard fought labor. A single naval defeat at the hands of the British, Russians or a storm could strand thousands in a hostile land. The gains will be minimal and the perils abundant.”
Yet, the soon-to-be emperor harbored imperial ambitions and Napoleon pushed forward with the planned invasion. Largely conceived by advisors in Paris, Macdonald in Toulon and in his general’s tent on the road to Constantinople, an army and navy converged on Toulon and departed on September 18. On September 27, the French envoy to the dey proposed an ultimatum that Algiers renounce piracy, turn over command of its ports to the French navy, allow a French garrison to station itself in the territory, and pay a sizeable indemnity. The dey dramatically rejected the ultimatum by hitting the envoy across the face with his flywhisk. The French-led coalition withdrew diplomats that evening and on September 28 the blockading fleet bombarded the city. A survivor of numerous blockades and bombardments over the years, Algiers endured the attack with minimal damage. However, the dey was surprised to learn on October 5 that a French army had landed early that morning at Sidi Ferruch, a little over ten miles away from Algiers. The dey quickly raised a polyglot army of 9,000 soldiers that included Arabs, Berbers, janissaries (Algiers outwardly supported Mustafa over Selim) and local horsemen and engaged Macdonald’s army on October 8. The Battle of Chéraga saw the dey’s army swept aside opening the road to Algiers. On October 17, the Sultan-Khalessi fortress defending Algiers fell allowing the French army to enter the city on the 18th. Three days later they seized the qaṣbah [old town] as well as the dey. The one-sided operation lasted a little more than a month from the moment Macdonald’s army left Toulon. Macdonald exiled the dey to Naples and hundreds of janissaries and other prominent officials evacuated to Tunis and the Ottoman Empire where, to their surprise, they found pro-Selim forces in charge who summarily imprisoned and executed them for their treachery. Only a handful of Algerian janissaries evaded capture and snuck their way into the lawless Middle Eastern interior into either Arabia or Mesopotamia.
With Algiers in hand, Macdonald began the process of attacking the Algerian countryside. French troops captured Oran, Constantine, Blida, and Bône [Annaba] by the end of the year. Yet, as Talleyrand and Desaix warned, holding the country was different than defeating its centralized military. Unlike Egypt whose high-density population is concentrated along a narrow river and with its long history of outside occupation, Algeria features a low-density population spread out over a vast fertile coastal stretch of rugged hills and low mountains. A historical peripheral territory, Algerians had not been wholly incorporated and successfully administered from an outside entity since perhaps the 13th century Almohad Caliphate. Macdonald’s attempts to establish Algerian institutions throughout 1804 and 1805 similar to those Napoleon and Desaix established in Egypt met even less success than those attempts. He didn’t yet know it, but the “Algerian Ulcer” would haunt Napoleon for the remainder of his reign.
It also sparked a panic in Britain and Morocco that eventually culminated in the Nottingham Incident.
————- Author’s Notes —————
: If you’re wondering where Hamet’s decision-making came from as well as where the quasi-democratic council idea came from, you can thank Briggs and the Order. The author of the paper doesn’t know it but the Order is pulling many strings in North Africa via Briggs with mixed success since Briggs has to operate through a translator.
: If this seems a little farfetched consider than even in our timeline Napoleon drew up plans and harbored ambitions to invade Algeria. The concept of eliminating the pirates and securing the African coast opposite of France eventually culminated in the 1830 invasion of Algeria by Charles X starting a colonial era that lasted until 1962.