Battle of Vertières: Free Indeed!
By Emmanuel Félix, Jr., Radio 4VEH, 18 November 2013
Saint Domingue (the colonial name for Haiti) was a French colony. However, in August 1791, the slaves of the north of the island gathered at Plaine-du-Nord (north plain), at Morne Rouge where Radio 4VEH is located, near the Lenormand de Mézi dwelling, to organize a revolt that soon became the last and glorious battle of the Haitian Revolution, the Battle of Vertières, on 18 November 1803.
By October 1803, the number of Haitian troops was significant. The French-controlled West (of the island) had just surrendered with the fall of Port-au-Prince under the repeated blows of General-in-Chief Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who picked up the sword from predecessor Toussaint Louverture.
And so these ragged Haitian armies of the West, Artibonite, and the North began to amble towards Limbé, as their rallying point, on rutted roads and under a heavy month-long rain, pulling heavy cannons, with the firm determination to capture Cap-Français (now Cap-Haitien) that, along with Môle St. Nicolas in the North West, were the last bastion of French resistance in Saint Domingue. And to succeed before the possible arrival of new reinforcements from the occupation forces.
So it was that 17 November 1803, some dozen years after the pledge of August, gave life to a great dream—the Blacks were gathering again at Morne Rouge, this time for the final assault against the strongholds of human depravity. Their battle cries: “Live free or die!” And their fierce resolution was perfectly captured in this battle song:
Sa ki mouri zafè a yo.
Nan pwen manman
Nan pwen papa
Sa ki mouri zafè a yo.
“To battle, Soldiers! Don’t worry about those who will die. No matter if you’re mother or father.
To battle, Soldiers! Don’t worry about those who will die.”
And with that, our 27,000 Haitian soldiers with legs of iron and fists of steel who, starving but energized by the dominating look, gestures of impatience and strong words of the Chief, were bathed in sweat, covered in rags and mud, looking more like angry black demons, vomited out by the hell created in Saint Domingue by the slave masters of the day; these soldiers, scorning death, rose up in battle against the fortified positions where the bold fighters who subdued Egypt and brought Europe to its knees for the proud Napoleon Bonaparte were entrenched.
By 17 November, Christophe and Romain seized Vigie and sowed death in Cap-Français to force a good part of the French troops to stay in the town. And, on 18 November, at 4 o’clock in the morning, General Clerveaux opened hostilities on Breda, a stronghold of the French.
From then on, for more than 10 hours, it was a storm of bullets and the deafening roar of cannons that brought death in the two camps, particularly for the natives.
François Capois, called Capois of Death, had his hat blown off by a first bullet, and his horse killed by a second. “Forward, the Braves!” he still cried. “The bullets are like dust!”
On which other battlefield has been seen such an act of bravery or heroism?
Shouts of intense joy and profound admiration broke out in the French camp where they heard the drum roll signaling an end to the fighting. Then, an officer as spokesperson for Captain-General Donatien Rochambeau transmitted this message: “The Captain-General sends his admiration to the general officer for such a glorious act.”
At the same time, this messenger gave to Capois another horse on behalf of the Captain-General, and the battle began again with even more fervor and cruelty.
Gabart and his brave men passed with weapons in hand, running under the deathly fire of the enemy, by order of Dessalines the Great, to occupy Charrier Hill and silence the cannons of Vertières. General Vernet had his horse killed under him by a flaming bullet. General Clerveaux, the oldest general of the Army of the “mother- and fatherless” had an epaulette ripped off by a bullet and then heard Dessalines call him “The Commander of the Generals of the Army.” Paul Prompt, the fiery commander of the Artibonite forces, and his immediate replacement Dominique Granier, fell spliced by projectiles and bayonnets as they charged the French to keep them in Vertières, under the fire of the native army.
Honor and glory also to the great mass of “nameless ones” who would be sacrificed to lift high the banner of Freedom in the New World.
An angry storm, with heavy rain, strong winds and lightening splitting the skies, put an end to this battle of the titans, those emerged from the bowels of black Africa against the strong forces of a civilized Europe. It was then the people of Haiti won their political Independence.
But the battle surely continues on today. Because physical freedom without spiritual freedom is just a decoy. What does it serve a man or a people to be physically or politically free, if they are still slaves to their sin or to the father of lies?
On this day, 18 November, that reminds us of the glory of Haiti’s epic history, Radio 4VEH, The Evangelistic Voice of Haiti, proclaims true freedom in Jesus Christ. For you, Christ went through the atrocity of the Cross, shedding His blood, giving His life. He paid the ransom for your freedom. He gives you His victory!
Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts. When you come to Christ, according to what is written in John chapter 8, verses 32, 34 and 36:
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”