The history of a fascinating campaign of the first years of the British Army
In view of how significant the events of the time were to the development of the British Army, it is unusual that the story of the battles for Tangier during the 17th century is little known to students of military history. Positioned on the Moroccan coast of North Africa in the Mediterranean, at the point where the sea enters the Atlantic Ocean, the city offered enormous strategic potential for Charles II into whose possession it had come from the Portuguese as part of the dowry of his wife, Catherine of Braganza. Cromwell’s superlative New Model Army had been recently disbanded and the need to defend Tangier against the native Moors (who took exception to the presence of European infidels on their shores) required the creation of new regiments of the crown. These regiments were the first in what became the regular British Army and their deeds were that army’s first battle honours. This original Leonaur title brings together several historical overviews of the period combined with regimental accounts of the actions fought in Morocco and a first hand account by an officer who served through one of the final sieges of Tangier. The text is supported by useful maps and illustrations.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
A year after this the Earl of Teviot succeeded the Earl of Peterborough as governor; and his first act was to ratify a treaty of boundary with the Moorish Government. But unfortunately, before another twelvemonth had elapsed, the English broke the treaty by annexing about one thousand acres of land, including the site of Charles Fort. The natural sequence was a fresh outbreak of hostilities; and in the Spring the Moors made a demonstration more threatening than any yet attempted since the British occupation. The Earl of Teviot, finding that the presence of so large a body of Moorish troops rendered Tangier a prison to its garrison and cut off the supplies from the neighbouring country, resolved to attempt its dispersal.
On the first of March the Moors were seen planting a standard on an eminence at no great distance, preparatory to breaking ground against some of the outlying forts. The governor ordered out a troop of the Tangier Horse (Royal Dragoons) and, taking the captain of the troop aside, showed him the red flag of the Moors, and told him that he expected his men to bring it in. Captain Witham mounted, drew his sword, and placed himself at the head of his men. The gate was flung open, and whilst the men of the Royals and the Queen’s flocked from the guard-room to the walls to view the coming fight, the Tangier Horse rode proudly out to the maiden battle of their since distinguished corps. On those sunny slopes in front of the walls of Tangier promise was given of the troopers that should capture French colours at Waterloo and ride through Russian masses at Balaklava. A most dashing onset, afterwards maintained with the greatest spirit, placed the standard in the hands of the English troopers and effectually routed the enemy.
The Moors esteemed themselves the most perfect horse-soldiers in the world; and, unwilling to confess themselves defeated by cavalry, on the thirteenth of the same month they made shew of a challenge. It was readily accepted, and again the impetuosity and determined courage of the Tangier Horse was found irresistible by these hitherto invincible centaurs. Again a few days afterwards some of the enemy surprised a party of the Tangier cavalry, but the Englishmen were still too much for them, and they were beaten.
All this time the garrison was harassed by being kept constantly on the alert, and on the fourth of May Lord Teviot planned a general sally with the view of breaking up the enemy’s army. The battle was one of those hand to hand mêlées which have now long been unknown to civilised warfare: the struggle was fierce and protracted, and the loss to the garrison as well as to the Moors was very severe. The Earl of Teviot was killed in the action. However the Moors were thoroughly beaten and the object of the fight was gained; for they drew off, and, except at rare intervals, and then to no great extent, did not interfere with the English garrison for some time.
Principally owing to the difficulties that lay in the way of collecting and subsisting an army, it was fifteen years ere the Moors assembled again in any force before Tangier.
There was however a man named Omar Ben Haddn, the Alcaid of Alcazar, distinguished alike for his qualities as a general and for the vehemence of his hatred to the English. Omar alone possessed the tact and resolution required to organise an united army, together with the shrewdness to plan, and the perseverance to execute, an effective siege. He was, nevertheless, in no way in advance of his countrymen in the matters of humanity and honour; being, on the contrary, more thoroughly Eastern than most Moors in his mingling of Eastern duplicity and barbarity with the courtesy of the Arab. He was already well known to the garrison of Tangier; and four years before this, in one of the desultory attacks on the garrison, when Buliph, an even more active and bitter enemy than himself, was slain, Omar Ben Haddn lost his hand by a bullet from an English musquet. Omar had, since Buliph’s death, conducted the occasional raids against the English, and had been on the whole more successful than his predecessors. Encouraged by these occasional negative triumphs, he obtained authority from the sultan to organise further operations on a grander scale; and in April, 1679, he appeared before the outlying forts of Tangier with at least five thousand foot and six hundred Horse.
Less than half a mile in advance of Peterborough tower, but nearer to the sea, was Henrietta fort forming the extreme right of the English lines. A little in advance, again, of this, and close to the shore, was a building named Whitby Fort supported by a wood-built redoubt. In Whitby fort were stationed eight and twenty men under a sergeant, while another sergeant and twelve men occupied the redoubt.
Omar Ben Haddn perceived that no success against the left of the English lines would give him entrance to the fortress; whereas if he could once command it and thus effect an entrance into Peterborough Tower, the town and all that lay below the western height must eventually fall into his hands. He therefore wisely resolved to bend his strength against the English right, beginning with Whitby redoubts as the most advanced posts.
On the third of April the alcaid made a demonstration against the whole line of forts, but he privately detached a strong body to attack at Whitby under cover of the diversion thus created. The English governor, the Earl of Inchiquin, fell into the snare. The points most threatened were re-inforced and no thought was given to Whitby. But the two sergeants (whose names were worthy of preservation) were equal to their commands. The larger building was a low house with a small tower at the end of it; the other was merely a log hut. Both were of course loop-holed, and from within the English soldiers kept up a constant fire on the thick groups of the enemy. At length the Moors made a rush on the house, crowding in hundreds up to the very loop-holes. The Englishmen continued to fire and could not fail to hit, so thick were the enemy. Some of the Moors, however, were pushed up by their comrades on to the roof, and soon fifty or sixty of them were knocking in the roofing and firing down. The sergeant had wisely prepared for this contingency; and, withdrawing his party into the tower, he blew up the rest of the house with the men upon it.
The howls of pain were followed by yells of disappointed rage, and all the mass of the unhurt came on with fury against the tower. Bravely, nay, nobly did the little band and their spirited leader defend their weak citadel for a long hour. Man after man dropped; hope of relief from the lines gave place to certainty of death; yet still did the sergeants encourage their men, still did the soldiers stand by their sergeants. Seven men only, besides the sergeants, were left when a corner of the building gave way before the sheer weight of the crowds of Moors, and the tired Englishmen saw themselves exposed to the open attack of those whom they had so long defied. They resolved to take no quarter, for death was preferable to slavery, and they made a rush for their lives. One or two escaped, but the gallant sergeants did not live to tell the tale of their own doings.