Battle of Togbao

Battle of Togbao

Infobox Military Conflict

caption= Rabeh's battle flags, captured by the French after the Battle of Kousséri.
conflict=Battle of Togbao
partof=the Rabih War (1899-1901)
date=July 17 1899
place=Togbao, near Sarh
result=Rabih's forces victory
combatant1=Rabih's empire
Kingdom of Baguirmi
commander1=Rabih az-Zubayr
commander2=Lt. Henri Bretonnet
strength1=2,700 men with firearms
10,000 auxiliaires
strength2=51 French soldiers
400 Baguirmians
casualties1=More than 1,000 dead or wounded
casualties2=48 French soldiers
Many Baguirmians

On October 10 1898 a French military expedition commanded by the "Lieutenant de vaisseau" Henri Bretonnet and the Lt. Solomon Braun left France directed to Chad, at the time dominated by the Muslim warlord Rabih az-Zubayr. With the missions were the envoys of the Muslim rulers Mohammed al-Senoussi and Abd ar Rahman Gwaranga, sultan of Baguirmi, that the captain Émile Gentil had brought to France a few months earlier. [cite book|author=Gentil, Émile|title=La chute de l'empire de Rabah|publisher=Hachette|year=1971|pages=p. 567|]

Shortly after Bretonnet's departure, news arrived that Rabih was attacking Baguirmi to punish it for its alliance with France; as a result, Bretonnet was ordered to reach the high course of the Ubangi River, and their unite with the Baguirmians and wait for instructions and reinforcements. [Ibid., p. 568]

Passing first by the Congo River and then by the lands controlled by Mohammed al-Senoussi, Bretonnet reached on June 15 [cite book|author=G.J. Decorse & M. Gaudefroy-Demombynes |title=Rabah et les Arabes du Chari|year=1905|pages= p. 14|] the French post of Kouno and met with the king of Baguirmi Gaourang. He wrote on July 8 1899 a letter to Emile Gentil, that headed another expedition proceeding shortly behind, in which he wrote that he did not trust the rumours that Rabih in person was marching on Kouno, but all the same asked Gentil to send him Captain Julien with his 130-strong company. [É. Gentil, p. 570]

Even when Bretonnet was forced to admit that Rabih was pointing to Kouno, he grossly underestimated the strength of Rabih, claiming in one of his last letters that he only had out-of-date muskets. Instead Rabih had, in Gentil's opinion, a thousand repeating rifles, 500 muzzle loading rifles and at least 1500 other firearms. [Ibid., pp. 571-72]

When Rabih arrived at Kouno on July 16, he could count on 2,700 rifles and 10,000 auxiliaires armed with lances and arcs. Against them the Bretonnet mission was no match: it included five Frenchmen (the officers Bretonnet, Braun, Durand-Autier, Martin), 44 Senegalese tirailleurs, two Arabs, 20 armed Bakongos, 3 cannons and 400 Baguirmians led by Abd ar Rahman Gwaranga.

Bretonnet choosed to evacute Kouno and position himself at the nearby hills of Togbao, using the slopes to strengthen his defensive position. The day after, July 17, Rabih attacked at 8:00; the first attack was repulsed, but Solomon Braun killed and Bretonnet wounded so badly to be forced to cede the command to the lieutenant Durand-Autier. While also the second attack was repulsed, it subjected to heavy pressure the Baguirmians, who taken from panic started fleeing; at this point arrived the third and last assault, in which Bretonnet's column was utterly annihilated. Gaourang saved himself fleeing, but not before being wounded, with other Baguirmians. [Ibid., p. 573]

Of Bretonnet's mission only three Senegalese survived, that were made prisoners and brought to Rabih, who questioned them. Bretonnet's three cannons were captured, and they were retaken by the French a year later, during the battle of Kousséri. One of the prisoners, the sergeant Samba Sall, escaped a few days later and reached the village of Gaoura, where he met on August 16 the Gentil Mission, and informed it of the disaster. [Ibid., p. 574]

The victory was to prove hollow for Rabih as it only strengthened the French determination to remove Rabih. Three distinct expeditions pointed to southern Chad, and met at Kousséri in 1900 and immediately confronted Rabih. This was the battle of Kousséri in which Rabih was killed and French possession of Chad guaranteed. [cite book|author=Farwell, Byron|title=The Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-century Land Warfare|publisher=W. W. Norton & Co.|year=2001|pages=pp. 466-67|id=ISBN 0-393-04770-9|]


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