War of Lost Hope : Polish Accounts of the Napoleonic Expedition to Saint Domingue, 1801 to 1804
Napoleon sent an expedition under General Leclerc to reconquer what is now Haiti and what was then Saint Domingue. It was decimated by fierce resistance when it landed in 1802 and gradually worn down by Yellow Fever, disease, starvation and a brutal insurgency as it struggled to restore French rule over tens of thousands of former slaves. The expeditionary force was soon destroyed in this forgotten crusade and amongst the casualties were thousands of Poles. Polish soldiers had fought for France in Italy and Germany before being sent to the West Indies in 1802 and 1803. There they were used up in this brutal war of attrition in the hostile tropics. Very few made it home. Amongst the survivors were four officers and this book presents their remarkable and detailed recollections of the disaster. Piotr Bazyli Wierzbicki, Kazimierz Malachowski and Jakub Filip Kierzkowski recall what it was like to be sent from liberating Europe to putting down a slave revolt amongst burning sugar plantations, whilst Ludwik Mateusz Dembowski describes his efforts to escape the disaster and avoid falling into rebel hands. The Polish accounts present a unique perspective on Napoleon's expedition to Saint Domingue and they are here presented for the first time and with an introduction placing the memoirs in context. Their texts describe the grim fighting, the mistakes of General Leclerc and his successor, General Rochambeau, the stubbornness of the resistance and the cruelty of the conflict. Massacres, hunting dogs used on rebel fugitives, hangings, drownings and all the disasters of war compete for attention as French rule shrinks to coastal enclaves and by the autumn of 1803 what was left of Napoleon's army was surrendering to the former slaves and their British allies. Napoleon had bartered lives for power and lost. The Poles paid the price for such ambition, whilst the rebels declared independence and Haiti was born amidst the ruins and the ash.
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