Abd el-Kader, Third War of (1840–1847)PRINCIPAL COMBATANTS: Forces of Amir Abd el-Kader of Algeria with some aid from Morocco vs. French colonial forces
PRINCIPAL THEATER(S): Algeria
DECLARATION: No formal declaration
MAJOR ISSUES AND OBJECTIVES: Algerian independence from French colonial rule
OUTCOME: Abd el-Kader’s defeat and exile resulted in France’s domination of Algeria.
APPROXIMATE MAXIMUM NUMBER OF MEN UNDER ARMS: 50,000 Algerians (Algerians and Moroccans); 100,000 French
CASUALTIES: French casualties in Algeria from 1830 to 1847 were nearly 10,000 killed and 35,000 wounded. Untold numbers of foreign legionnaires also died. Algerian casualties were in the tens of thousands.
TREATIES: Treaty of Tangier, September 10, 1844, ended Moroccan involvement.
When French expeditionary forces successfully invaded Algeria in July 1830, King Charles X (1757–1836) of France mistakenly believed that a foreign conquest would help silence the growing opposition at home to his increasingly reactionary government. By the end of the month, the agitation of Paris radicals had culminated in a revolution that forced his abdication. The subsequent transition from the absolute rule of Charles X to the constitutional monarchy of the new king, Louis-Philippe (1773–1850), left the “Algeria question” unresolved. In the absence of a firm policy and adequate support, French colonial forces were compelled to concede more and more to the Muslim nationalist Amir Abd el-Kader (1808–83), whose first two wars of harassment had confined the French presence in the North African country to just a few seaports. (See ABD EL-KADER, FIRST WAR OF; ABD ELKADER, SECOND WAR OF.) By 1840 internal conditions in France had stabilized, and the repeated requests of colonial general Thomas-Robert Bugeaud (1784–1849) for support were finally answered, thereby triggering the seven-year conflict known as the Third War of Abd el-Kader. The 1837 Treaty of Tafna between Abd el-Kader and the French colonial regime allowed the amir to create an efficient state around French holdings. He built a regular army of more than 2,000 men, stockpiled weapons, and sold surplus crops to the British to finance his regime. More important, the amir spread his message of independence and nationalism throughout Algeria, whose population broadcast anticolonial sentiment across the region. Therefore, when the French violated the terms of the Tafna agreement by crossing the Iron Gates of Oran in the late 1830s, Abd el-Kader was prepared for a long and bloody struggle.
Full-scale war broke out in 1840, after Abd el-Kader’s forces (numbering at most 2,000 regulars and volunteers from desert tribes) had sacked the French settlement of Mitidja. General Bugeaud, who had reinforcements from the mainland, sent his mobile columns into the countryside to punish the Algerian’s followers. Using the unconventional tactic of surrounding individual villages, the French general sought to starve the Algerians into submission one settlement at a time. For his part, Abd el-Kader avoided large battles, preferring small-scale skirmishes and employing his cavalry hit-and-run style. In 1841 the French destroyed Abd el-Kader’s fortified sites in Algeria, whereupon the amir fled to Oran on the northwest coast. Another defeat at the northwestern town of Tlemcen the following year seemed at last to have crushed out the resistance movement, but Abd el-Kader managed to escape to Morocco, where the sultan Abdurrahman aided him by sending troops to the Algerian border. General Bugeaud defeated the Moroccans soundly at the Battle of Isly on August 14, opposing some 40,000 men of the two native leaders with his 8,000 infantrymen and superior artillery. Sultan Abdurrahman concluded the Treaty of Tangier on September 10, 1844, with the French, effectively ending Moroccan support for Abd el-Kader. Despite the setback, Abd el-Kader reentered Algeria and continued his program of resistance from the interior of the country, where he was able to evade the encroaching French columns.
By July 1846 the French had virtually wiped out Algerian resistance, and Abd el-Kader once again sought refuge in Morocco. This time, however, the sultan viewed Abd el-Kader as a liability and refused to admit him. Denied this last refuge and weary after some 15 years of resistance, Abd el-Kader surrendered in 1847 to Bugeaud’s successor, Louis-Philippe’s son, General Christophe de Lamoricière (1806–65). Sent to France, where he was imprisoned, Abd el-Kader was pardoned by Louis-Napoleon (1808–73) in 1852 and returned to Algeria a national hero.
Further reading: Charles Henry Churchill, The Life of Abdel Kader, Ex-Sultan of the Arabs of Algeria (London: Chapman and Hall, 1867); Roland Oliver and Anthony Atmore, Africa since 1800 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).