"A War Within the War" by Christina Mobley
Mobley is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Duke University. Her dissertation will be on the Kongolese in the Haitian Revolution.
The Haitian Revolution became a civil war in May 1802 when Henri Christophe, Jean Jacques Dessalines and Toussaint Louverture agreed to join Leclerc’s army. Their decision divided the revolutionary army as many former slaves refused to lay down their arms and continued to actively fight the French throughout the colony. Notable among them were important African-born leaders such as Sans Souci who had been an important leader since the beginning of the Revolution. Colonial troops began defecting to the rebel forces, especially after June when Leclerc arrested Toussaint Louverture and ordered the disarmament of the population of Saint Domingue. Leclerc’s disarmament order backfired, inciting uprisings and defections throughout the colony. By October, the fighting had reached such a stalemate that Leclerc wrote to Napoleon recommending a "war of extermination" against the black population of the colony. The same month, Dessalines and Christophe defected, along with prominent free person of color Alexandre Pétion, who had come with Leclerc’s forces from France. Leclerc’s successor, General Donatien Rochambeau, responded to the defections by murdering his own black troops and gassing prisoners with burning sulfur in the holds of ships. Rochambeau’s atrocities solidified opposition to the French forces and drove the remaining loyal black troops into the ranks of the rebels, who now called themselves the "indigenous army."
However, the indigenous army was divided between the largely creole and free troops who had formerly allied with the French and the largely African-born rebels. Dessalines, Christophe, and Pétion planned to regain control of the rebel armies. However, rebel leaders, especially Sans Souci, who led the preponderantly African-born troops known as the "Congos" had for months successfully repelled French attacks led by Dessalines and Christophe and were unwilling to submit to their leadership. Dessalines and Pétion sought to make peace with Sans Souci but Christophe ordered his assassination. The assassination of Sans Souci enraged the Congo troops, who responded by attacking Christophe, forcing him to retreat. Dessalines retaliated and attacked the remaining Congos, chasing them into the mountains, from where they continued to attack the insurgent army. Known as "a war within the war," the disunity of the insurgent army in the face of the French expedition weakened resistance to French rule and foreshadowed divisions that would develop in post-independence Haiti.