Story of Modern France - Helene Guerber

The Algerian Campaign

Just before the Revolution of 1830 and the flight of Charles X., the French forces under Bourmont, as we have seen, bombarded and seized the city of Algiers. The treasure this general seized and the slaves he freed make the story of this capture read like a romance, and the sorrowful departure of the defeated Dey, with a train of fifty-five veiled women, must have been picturesque in the extreme. Having seized the most important city of Algeria, the French decided to keep it, and gradually to extend their conquests; the result was an Algerian war that lasted, with brief intervals of peace, for some fifteen years. To carry it on, both men and money were needed, and, as many members of the Chambers were not in favor of the project, both were hard to obtain. This gave the French general the idea of enlisting and training native troops, and he thus raised the first regiment of "Zouaves", whose bagging Turkish trousers and bright caps (fezzes) attracted much attention, and were afterwards copied in the uniforms of some French soldiers.

The conquest of Oran in western Algeria, so roused the anger of the religious chief, Abd-el-Kadir, that he began in 1832 what threatened to prove a disastrous campaign for France. Blindly obeyed by his followers, very clever, and brave almost beyond belief, this chief proved no mean antagonist; still; the superior arms of the French got the better of his daring, for after two defeats he signed a peace, which lasted, however, but a year. Then the struggle was renewed, and a terrible battle took place in a defile, where, although at first victorious, the French could not long maintain their position. During their retreat many of these brave men were slain, their heads serving as ornaments for the pikes of their foes, who displayed these trophies with fiendish glee.

But, with new forces, and under better conditions, the French soon attacked Abd-el-Kadir again, destroyed his deserted capital, and again defeated him in battle. Then the French turned their attention to eastern Algeria, and, after failing in a first attempt to secure Constantine, made a new and successful venture with larger forces, until they became masters of nearly all Algeria.

Indeed, their only remaining foe was Abd-el-Kadir, who suddenly attacked and defeated a French army (1839), laid waste the French settlements, and kept large forces busy for several years before the country was reconquered: In this war the Orleans princes won many laurels. One of the most gallant actions took place at the fort Mazagran (1840), where 123 Frenchmen held 12,000 natives at bay for three days. The most picturesque episode, however, was the taking of Abd-el-Kadir's camp, where much treasure and many prisoners were secured. Abd-el-Kadir himself, surrounded by French soldiers, leaped his horse right over their heads, and escaped to Morocco, where he induced the Sultan to help him once more. But, after the French had won the battle of Isly, the Moroccans were ready to submit, and Abd-el-Kadir had to flee to the mountains. Tracked to a large cave, but refusing to surrender, one of his tribes was put to death by the smoke from fires built by the pursuers—one of Napoleon's old generals remarking, on this occasion, "What would be a crime against civilization in Europe, may be a justifiable necessity in Africa!" At last Abd-el-Kadir surrendered (1845), on condition that he should be sent to Egypt; but the French government, refusing to honor this, promise, kept him a prisoner in France for seven years, and then set him free on his agreement not to return to his native land.

[Illustration] from The Story of Modern France by Helene Guerber


Algeria, being conquered, has proved an important French possession, although there have been frequent clashes between conquerors and natives. The population, as a rule, is now loyal to France, thanks to whose protection the country is both rich and prosperous, and is rapidly becoming a favorite winter resort for invalids and tourists.

The Algerian war, lasting through almost all the reign of Louis Philippe, proved a source of great pride and interest to the French people, in spite of the great expense, although they have been accused of being at that time entirely taken up with the sordid desire of getting rich. It was during this reign, also, that France acquired her first interest in Madagascar, and that the first French railways were constructed. Unfortunately, too many of these were begun at once, so that funds ran short before they were finished; as a result, the building of many lines was left to private companies, and the government now owns only part of the great network of rails that covers France.

Among discoveries of the time the most far-reaching was that of the scientist Daguerre, who invented the process since known as daguerreotyping, the fore-runner of photography. Then, too, the novelist and playwright Dumas, whose romances were to delight posterity, and who had begun his brilliant career as secretary to Louis Philippe, began to write his famous series of historical novels. But his literary work, however thrilling, is less artistic than that of Balzac, who ably and minutely depicted all phases of French character.

Among other writers who lend glory to Louis Philippe's reign, are the novelists George Sand and Victor Hugo, the poets Beranger and Lamartine, some noted essayists (St. Beuve and De Tocqueville), and great historians (Sismondi, Guizot, Michelet, Martin, and Thiers). Scientists also (Cuvier, Laplace, Arago, and Cousin) continued to enrich the world with their discoveries, and great artists (Vernet, Delaroche, Ary Scheffer, and Ingres) painted masterpieces to delight the eyes of coming generations as well as their own.