Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Monday, 30 July 2012

Terribly Obscure A-Z Haitian-French War of 1801-03

Here's one for the Napoleonic Wars fan who wants something a little different. The island of Haiti known then as Saint-Domingue was French controlled but under the command of Toussaint L'ouverture a former slave. L'ouverture seems to ave done such a good job as Governor that he managed to turn around the colony. He was successful in bringing peace to the island, defeated both Spain's and England's attempts at taking control (part of the island was Spanish territory). Further more he turned the colony into a prosperous entity.  Both his sons were being educated in France but L'ouverture had further plans for his homeland and after hunting down the former Governor of the island proclaimed  self-rule for the island. Bonaparte was not willing for this to be so and sent his Brother-in-Law Charles Victor Emmanuel Leclerc with between 25 and 30,000 troops (L'ouverture was known to have over 16,000 troops. Leclerc took along both L'ouvertures sons and their tutor to show goodwill, though the sons were in the end held to ransom! The terms France offered were generous but were not offered a the French landed at multiple points with the intent to take the fight to the defenders. Not all of the 30,000 troops (31,131 all told) arrived at the same time but they still outnumbered the defenders from the start. The islanders had been ordered to demand a parlay and if none were offered threaten to burn the towns and kill the white settlers. This order was followed and the town of Cap-Haitien was set alight and a number of whites had their throats slit as the islanders well back from the town. In just ten days the French had control of all major towns and most of the cultivated areas whilst L'ouverture only had a few brigades left under command. At this point Leclerc informed L'ouverture of his possession of his sons whilst also offering him the position of Leclercs deputy in commanding the island if he would only surrender. This failed to get his co-operation so a combined attack from several different parts of the island finally forced their way into the defenders stronghold and the last towns and forts were captured but not before these were set on fire and the white settlers killed, even the women and children.
The defenders were not yet done and they fell back further into the interior but faced with certain defeat and generous terms all leading Generals surrendered and whilst under house arrest their former positions were granted them. L'ouverture though had not given up and as he watched his enemies wasted by Yellow Fever (as much as 15,000 in just two months) he corresponded with other leaders ordering them to be ready to revolt. Some though were not prepared to fight again and informed on L'ouverture who was then taken to France as a prisoner.

Toussaint L'ouverture

News came back from France that slavery would soon be reintroduced and about the same time another bought of Yellow Fever struck. The black troops had their weapons taken off them which inflamed their anger and were joined in revolt by the mulattos (mixed race from Black and White integration) who had to this point been loyal to France. The French now only numbering 8-10,000 and weak from fever were forced to retreat to the small island of Tortuga, here Leclerc died. Whilst his replacement Rochambeau tried to hold back the revolt it was not looking good. Cap-Haitien site of the original landing was the final position held by the French  and was under siege when the French were finally defeated at the battle of Vertieres. Yellow Fever and the British blockade of French ports were twin allies of the islanders leaving just 7-8,000 French troops alive at the end of the campaign. Dessalines proclaimed the colony of Saint-Domingue  to be the second independent state in the Americas, under the name of Haiti. The Island was finally recognised as free by the French in 1838 when they paid the French 90 million gold-francs as indemnity.

Henri I, King of Haiti
Wargameing the War. Unlike most of the previous  Terribly Obscure this one does offer a good mix of battles, sieges and would work as a campaign if the victory conditions were worked right. The Islanders can not win in the long term and can be expected to loose any early battles due to the French having better troops and larger numbers. Late in the campaign the French have even larger numbers though the Islanders have a better morale by this point. I would suggest points are lost to the French every time the Islanders burn a town and kill the hostages whilst the Islanders lose points based on a time line of leaving villages and towns to early. The battles on the whole should be of about 4 to 6,000 for the French with about 2/3rds  that for the islanders. The last battle has the French listed as 2,000 men facing12,000 a figure I take with a huge pinch of salt, especially as the French had 1,200 killed and wounded to the Islanders 3,200. With 23,000 troops facing 800 they would not have stopped attacking until no French were alive. What I would say is that in the final section of the war the French should be out numbered and very much on the defencive apart from the odd attack column were they try and get a local gain.

The final battle of Vertieres.
Note in the painting above the Islanders are partially dressed in French infantry uniforms, headgear and the lack of gaiters and boots being the biggest changers.


  1. Was this the one that Wargames Illustrated did as well, nice one Ian and you might want to go back to Sgt Steiners blog and check your excellent comment!

  2. Would make a great skirmish period to play, I believe Trent minis sell figures for this little war.

  3. OOOOOps, Thanks for the heads up on that keying error :-)

    Not such a Terribly Obscure then, will try harder