Ravine-à-Couleuvres

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The Battle of Ravine-à-Couleuvres
Ravine-à-Couleuvres (lit. Snake Gully; Kreyòl: Batay Ravin Koulèv) in the Artibonite region of Haiti, was the scene of one of Toussaint Louverture's last battles against the French army. The battle, on February 23, 1802 was won by Napoleon's troops among them the 5e Regiment d'Infanterie Legere (5th French Light Infantry Regiment) under the command of General Leclerc.


The Haitian Revolutionaries show their strength

"The situation of Toussaint had become perilous, environed as he was on all sides by advancing foes. The peril, however, was neither unexpected nor unprovided for. Rochambeau was near Lacroix, lying in the mountains in a line between Esther and Gonaïves. In order to descend into the plains he must pass through the ravine 1 Couleuvre. This ravine was a narrow gorge flanked by precipitous mountains, covered with wood, and which swarmed with aimed black labourers." (Beard p. 182)

"Rochambeau, by a movement in this direction, seemed likely to effect great results. He might render himself master of the person of Madame Toussaint, of her sister and her two nieces, who had just arrived at Lacroix. He might also cut off Toussaint's connection with Dessalines and Belair [husband of Sanite Bélair], and so bring the contest to an end by one blow. It was then necessary for Toussaint to prevent the advance of Rochambeau, unless he was willing to be the next morning attacked by all Leclerc's army, in a semicircle, of which the coast, off which lay vessels of war, would have been the diameter. Leaving General Vernet, therefore, in command of his troops at Gonaïves, he put himself at the head of a squadron and of the grenadier battalion of his guard, and marched to his habitation at Lacroix. Not finding his wife and family on his arrival, he inquired where they were, and at what distance Rochambeau might be. He could learn nothing more exact than that at the news of the enemy's approach, the ladies had sought shelter in the forest. Toussaint having surveyed the district, made his arrangements for attack. To stop or retard the foe, he closed the defile with trees that were felled and thrown across the narrow path. In the flanks of the two mountains he placed ambuscades, that were to fall on the French on their sides and in their rear, at the same time that he would assail them in front, thus surrounding them every way. For fear of being discovered he lighted no fire during the night. Accompanied by one of his aide-de-camps and two labourers, he went forward to reconnoitre. One of his guides having pushed on venturously, fell into the midst of an outpost belonging to Rochambeau. Captured, he was put to death without being able even by a cry to warn Toussaint of the proximity of his foes. Having learned all he could, that general rejoined his band, gave orders for battle, and addressed to the soldiers the following speech:

Speech by Toussaint Louverture

You are going to fight against enemies who have neither faith, law, nor religion. They promise you liberty, they intend your servitude. Why have so many ships traversed the ocean, if not to throw you again into chains? They disdain to recognise in you submissive children, and if you are not their slaves, you are rebels. The mother country 2, misled by the Consul 3 , is no longer anything for you but a step-mother. Was there ever a defence more just than yours? Uncover your breasts, you will see them branded by the iron of slavery. During ten years, what did you not undertake for liberty? Your masters slain or put to flight; the English humiliated by defeat; discord extinguished; a land of slavery purified by fire, and reviving more beautiful than ever under liberty; these are your labours, and these the fruits of your labours; and the foe wishes to snatch both out of your hands. Already have you left traces of your despair; but for a traitor, Port-au-Prince would be only heap of ruins; but Léogane, Fort-Dauphin, the Cape, that opulent capital of the Antilles, exist no longer; you have carried everywhere consuming fires, the flambeaux of our liberty. The steps of our enemies have trodden only on ashes, their eyes have encountered nothing but smoking ruins, which you have watered with their blood. This is the road by which they have come to us. What do they hope for? Have we not all the presages of victory? Not for their country, not for liberty do they fight, but to serve the hatred and the ambition of the Consul 3 , my enemy, mine because he is yours; their bodies are not mutilated by the punishments of servitude, their wives and their children are not near their camps, and the graves of their fathers are beyond the ocean. This sky, these mountains, these lands, all are strange to them? What do I say? As soon as they breathe the same air as we, their bravery sinks, their courage departs. Fortune seems to have delivered them as victims into our hands. Those whom the sword spares, will be struck dead by an avenging climate. Their bones will be scattered among these mountains and rocks, and tossed about by the waves of our sea. Never more will they behold their native land; never more will they receive the tender embraces of their wives, their sisters, and their mothers; and liberty will reign over their tomb.

Source: (Beard p. 183 ff)


Note 1: Ravine: A deep narrow valley or gorge in the earth's surface worn by running water.

Note 2: France

Note 3: Napoléon Bonaparte, the French Emperor, a.k.a. the First Consul.

See also

  • Crète-à-Pierrot - This decisive battle followed about one month after the battle of Ravine-à-Couleuvres.
  • The battle of Vertières - The final and victorious battle against the French troops under Rochambeau (1803).

References

  • Beard, J. R. (John Relly) (1863). Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography. Chapel Hill, NC: Academic Affairs Library, UNC-CH. Online Publication
  • Ravine. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved July 13, 2006, from Answers.com [1].