Second Franco-Dahomean War 1892-1894

In 1892, a Foreign Legion battalion was sent to the territory of present-day Benin in West Africa. There, it became a crucial element of a French campaign aimed at local King Béhanzin. Although widely covered by French media and thus well-known to the public at that time, the campaign eventually fell into complete oblivion.

West Africa - Second Franco-Dahomean War - Dahomey - Benin - 1892-1894 - Foreign Legion



Following the ill-fated French intervention in Mexico in the 1860s and the defeat in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussia War, France began to rebuild its severely damaged international prestige and sphere of influence to keep pace with its geopolitical rivals, especially Britain and Germany. In 1881, it occupied Tunisia in North Africa. A year later, it established the French Congo in Equatorial Africa. Then, in 1886, it annexed neighboring Gabon. Meanwhile, French troops – including the Foreign Legion – landed in Southeast Asia, where French Indochina was formed in 1887.

At the same time, French influence was expanding in West Africa. This included the construction of a railway that went into the interior of Senegal. The latter was France’s model colony whose pacification was completed in 1886. Other territories in West Africa under French control lay to the southeast, on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf of Guinea, within present-day Benin. Known as the Slave Coast to Europeans at the time, the then-unoccupied territory was a rectangular strip about 75 miles (120 km) wide, running from the coast deep inland, to the north. It bordered then-German Togo to the west and British Lagos (now Nigeria) to the east. There, the French controlled the towns of Grand-Popo (from 1857) and Cotonou (from 1868), and established, in 1863, a protectorate over the local Kingdom of Porto-Novo (which bordered Lagos).

Between Grand-Popo and Cotonou was situated the trade center of Ouidah (also known as Whydah), with French, British, and Portugese forts built there.

North of Cotonou lay Lake Nokoué, a large lagoon (12 miles / 20 km wide and 6 miles / 10 km long), separated from the sea by a narrow strip of land about three miles (5 km) wide. To the east, a strait connected the lake to the smaller lagoon on which the town of Porto-Novo was situated. This lagoon was joined by the Ouémé River, which flowed from north to south and formed the natural boundary between the small Kingdom of Porto-Novo, led by King Toffa I, and its several times larger neighbor, the Kingdom of Dahomey.

Dahomey was a militarist, totalitarian state. Following an expansion south to the Atlantic coast in the 18th century, it became a regional power and a major center in the Atlantic Slave Trade, while occupying an important part of the area of the Slave Coast. A treaty of friendship was signed in 1851 between France and the kingdom. However, in March 1889, Dahomey’s then-King Glele revoked treaties with France, including one that gave the French the right to control Cotonou. Glele’s troops subsequently crossed the local Ouémé River, separating Dahomey from the French-protected Kingdom of Porto-Novo, and raided the nearby villages, while other Dahomean forces seized Cotonou.

Nevertheless, the French tried to be patient and seek a diplomatic solution. By the end of November 1889, negotiations had begun in Dahomey’s capital city of Abomey, led by Crown Prince Kondo and a French diplomat, Mr. Bayol. Despite the latter’s best efforts, the four-week negotiations eventually failed. Moreover, King Glele died two days later. The strongly anti-French Kondo thus became the new king and took the name of Béhanzin.

Map - Benin - West Africa
Present-day Benin, formerly known as Dahomey, in West Africa.
Map - Slave Coast - West Africa - Kingdom of Dahomey - Kingdom of Porto Novo - Togo - Lagos
The Slave Coast in West Africa, in the early 1890s. Dahomey lay in between then-German Togo and British Lagos (present-day Nigeria). At the time, the French were controlling the towns of Grand-Popo and Cotonou, and had declared a protectorate over the local Kingdom of Porto-Novo, separated from Dahomey by the Ouémé River. The trade center of Ouidah (also known as Whydah), with French, British, and Portuguese forts built there, was also situated on the coast. Note that only the southern part of the territory was explored by Europeans at that time.
King of Béhanzin - Kingdom of Dahomey - West Africa
In late 1889, Crown Prince Kondo became King Béhanzin, the new ruler of the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa.


First Franco-Dahomean War (1890)

When a diplomatic settlement could not be found, the French opted for a military solution. In February 1890, an expeditionary force was formed under Colonel Terrillon. It was composed of the French Infantry marines (France’s colonial troops), Gabonese and Senegalese tirailleurs (indigenous light infantry; skirmishers), and Porto-Novo volunteers, who fortified themselves in reoccupied Cotonou. There, on March 4, a fierce four-hour battle took place in which the Dahomeans suffered many dead (about 130 were found within the French lines). Another important battle occurred some six miles (10 km) north of Porto-Novo, near the village of Atchoupa, on April 21. During the span of two hours, hundreds of Dahomeans were killed, while the French had 33 wounded. The expedition resulted in victory for France and left Dahomey defeated. Finally, on October 3, a treaty was signed with King Béhanzin, who recognized the French protectorate over the Porto-Novo kingdom and ceded the port town of Cotonou for 20,000 francs a year. Despite the treaty, both sides believed peace could not last long.


Second Franco-Dahomean War (1892)

Preparations for a new campaign

In January 1892, the Dahomeans launched several attacks near the French coastal territories to capture and sell some 3,000 slaves. On March 26, hundreds of Béhanzin’s warriors raided and burned several villages in the Kingdom of Porto-Novo. France protested but to no avail. The next day, a French gunboat was attacked on the Ouémé River; four men on board were wounded. Having noticed no armed response, the Dahomeans continued to loot and burn villages in the vicinity of Porto-Novo until early April. France again protested, but the reply from Béhanzin included: “If you are not satisfied, do what you want. I am ready.”

This was considered a call for another war. Soon, the government in Paris ordered the formation, in Dahomey, of a new French expeditionary corps, this time under the command of Colonel Alfred Dodds, an officer from the Infantry marines. To have a solid European element within his mostly indigenous troops, Dodds was given an entire battalion of the Foreign Legion for the new campaign in Dahomey. That was no surprise because the legionnaires had already distinguished themselves in the Indochina campaign in the 1880s.

A ministerial decision of July 17, 1892 activated the Legion battalion, which was comprised of volunteers from both foreign regiments stationed in Algeria at the time: the 1st Foreign Regiment (1er RE) in Sidi Bel Abbès and the 2nd Foreign Regiment (2e RE) in Saida, each providing two companies. The battalion was commanded by Major Marius-Paul Faurax from the 1er RE, with Captain Demartinecourt (2e RE) as his deputy. The unit consisted of 22 officers, 49 NCOs, 65 corporals, and 688 legionnaires: in total, 824 men. They included a corporal-drummer and 16 drummers and buglers who either served as a music band to head the column and entertain the men in their free time or gave and passed orders in battles.

As for the legionnaires, they were carefully chosen. Most of them were veterans of the campaigns in Indochina or Algeria’s South Oran desert territories. All were robust and dreamed of giving up their monotonous life in the barracks to experience an adventure in the bush in a distant, unknown land.

The battalion left Oran in Algeria on August 7, on board the Mytho and San-Nicolas ships. It arrived in Cotonou two weeks later, on the 23rd. For three days, the battalion disembarked and moved step by step to Porto-Novo. The legionnaires were equipped with the latest 1886 Lebel rifle and were given 120 rounds each. Immediately after their arrival, they also received a new light-khaki colonial uniform of the Infantry marines, with a colonial (pith) helmet of the same color, both of them being model 1886. The new uniform was much more suited to the humid tropical climate.

Foreign Legion Battalion in Dahomey in August 1892:

  • Commander: Major Faurax
  • Deputy: Captain Demartinecourt
  • HQ Staff: Lieutenants Odry and Stoutov, Doctors Piedpremier and Vallois
  • 1st Foreign Legion Company: Captain Battréau (1er RE)
    • Lieutenant d’Urbal
    • Lieutenant Kieffer
    • Lieutenant Vivier
  • 2nd Foreign Legion Company: Captain Jouvelet (2e RE)
    • Lieutenant Varennes
    • Lieutenant Jacquot
    • 2nd Lieutenant Morin
  • 3rd Foreign Legion Company: Captain Drude (1er RE)
    • Lieutenant Farges de Filley
    • Lieutenant Courtois
    • Lieutenant Cornetto
  • 4th Foreign Legion Company: Captain Poivre (2e RE)
    • Lieutenant Farail
    • Lieutenant Maurandy
    • 2nd Lieutenant Amelot


Map - Foreign Legion - Sidi Bel Abbes - Algeria - Dahomey - West Africa
In early August 1892, the Foreign Legion battalion left Algeria’s Sidi Bel Abbès, what was then the Legion HQ, and was shipped to Dahomey in West Africa.

Map - Foreign Legion - transfer - Cotonou - Porto-Novo - Dahomey - West Africa
Upon the arrival in Dahomey, the Foreign Legion battalion was transferred from Cotonou to Porto-Novo, across Lake Nokoué and the Porto-Novo lagoon.
The map itself was printed in 1893.
Cotonou - Dahomey - West Africa
Cotonou in Dahomey, 1892, with its long wharf.
Porto-Novo - Dahomey - West Africa
Porto-Novo in 1892.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - Legionnaire - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
A legionnaire in Dahomey, West Africa, in 1892. He was equipped with the 1886 Lebel rifle and wore the light-khaki 1886 Infantry marines colonial uniform, with the 1886 colonial (pith) helmet. Everything was the latest version at the time, indicating the importance of the expedition. Painting by Corporal Ponomarev.


French forces in Dahomey in 1892

In Porto-Novo, the Legion battalion joined the other troops of Colonel Dodds who had gathered there between late May and late August. They comprised one Infantry marines company (“white”; French-born volunteers), five Senegalese tirailleurs companies, four Senegalese volunteer companies (consisting of temporarily recruited warriors), three Hausa tirailleurs companies (warriors recruited in the interior of West Africa, i.e., in present-day Niger), a Senegalese Spahi squadron (Spahis were locally recruited horse-mounted cavalrymen), a battery of French artillerymen (equipped with either machine guns or field guns), French engineers, medical personnel, and four gunboats (Corail, Emeraude, Opale, Topaze) with their crews. All in all, they represented over 3,500 men. For the record, the Senegalese and Hausa formations had European, French-born cadres.

The expeditionary corps was further equipped with mule-pulled 1880 Lefebvre transport carts, prefabricated Doecker mobile houses (serving as barracks, warehouses, or hospitals in the Dahomey campaign), telegraph cables to provide a real-time connection between Cotonou, Porto-Novo, and the advancing column, and more than six miles (10 km) of barbed wire to protect fortifications and camps. Lastly, about 2,600 Porto-Novo men volunteered to serve as porters for the expeditionary corps. They would help carry all manner of things, from personal baggage to the wounded or dead.

Colonel Dodds divided his troops into three parts. First, in Porto-Novo and Cotonou, he left garrison units, each consisting of two Senegalese or Hausa companies, supported by artillery elements. Second, two Senegalese companies were sent to Grand-Popo, located on the remote, western coast. Commanded by Major Audéoud, they were to attract and contain some of the enemy forces in that sector. Finally, the rest of the infantry troops were organized into three task forces (about 500 men each). They were composed of three companies, supported by an artillery platoon and an ambulance/medical unit:

1st Group under Major Riou, including the 1st Legion Company (Captain Battréau), and Senegalese and Hausa companies

2nd Group under Major Faurax, including the 2nd Legion Company (Captain Jouvelet), the 3rd Legion Company (Captain Drude), and a Senegalese company

3rd Group under Major Lasserre, including the 4th Legion Company (Captain Poivre) and two Senegalese companies

The Infantry marines formed an HQ company, protecting the colonel and his staff, while the Spahi squadron served as a reconnaissance and liaison unit.

Colonel Alfred Dodds - Dahomey - West Africa
Colonel Alfred Dodds (1842-1922), commander of the French expedition in Dahomey in 1892.
Senegalese tirailleur - West Africa
A Senegalese tirailleur in the early 1890s.
Voiture Lefebvre 1880 - Lefebvre transport cart - 1890s
An 1880 Lefebvre transport cart, in the 1890s. The French expedition in Dahomey had dozens of them, pulled by mules.


Dahomean forces in 1892

Béhanzin’s Dahomean forces were estimated to be between 6,000 and 12,000 fighters. They consisted of three parts: reserves mobilized for a period of war, 14 regiments of regular warriors (the core of the army), and two battalions of about 1,500 female fighters. Named “Agoledjies” or “Minos,” they were nicknamed Amazons by Europeans, as they reminded the latter of the legendary female tribe in Greek mythology. The Dahomey Amazons were, for the most part, recruited among the local population, by an army commission going around the villages and selecting suitable candidates. Another part were little girls captured in wars and raids whose parents had been massacred or sold as slaves. All the Dahomey Amazons lived in strict celibacy in the royal palace and served as bodyguards to the king. In rare cases, they could have been married to a brave warrior who had distinguished himself in combat. In the time of war, they were considered an elite unit. Their clothing comprised a sleeveless vest, very short pants covered with a loincloth, and a bonnet embroidered with an animal, usually a caiman (caimans were inhabiting the Ouémé River and local lagoons).

In battle, Dahomey’s male and female warriors often fought almost naked.

Most of the Dahomean army was equipped with a traditional head-cutting machete, a smaller sword or saber, or a simple wooden stick (maybe a surprise, but bows and arrows weren’t in use). Part of the forces was supplied – through European traders – with roughly 2,000 carbines and rifles of various models, including: the French 1866 Chassepot and 1867 Tabatière; the German Dreyse and 1871 Mauser; Austria-Hungary’s Mannlicher, Wanzl, and Vrendl; the British Snider–Enfield; and the American Peabody action and Winchester.

Béhanzin split his forces into three groups, each numbering about 2,000 to 4,000 warriors. The group under the king himself was stationed near Allada, on the main road going directly from the coast to the Dahomey capital, Abomey; Béhanzin awaited the French column there. The second group was stationed between the towns of Godomey and Abomey-Calavi, on the western shore of Lake Nokoué. The third group, under Army Chief Lahasaoupamazé, installed itself along the Ouémé, near the village of Tohoué, at the confluence with the Zou River. Both sides were ready; the confrontation could begin.

Dahomey - West Africa - Dahomean warrior - early 1890s
A Dahomean male warrior, early 1890s.
Dahomey - West Africa - Dahomey Amazons - early 1890s
Dahomey Amazons, early 1890s.


Start of the campaign: From Porto-Novo to Dogba

On September 11, 1892, Colonel Dodds and his three infantry groups left Porto-Novo and marched northward, along the left bank of the Ouémé that formed the western frontier of the Kingdom of Porto-Novo. Dodds decided that going along the Ouémé River would be the best choice. He had four reasons for this. First was the permanent presence of the gunboats and their logistical and fire support. Second was the lack of proper maps of Dahomey’s inland territory. Third was the fact that the river gave the expeditionary corps much-needed water. Finally, the colonel knew that King Béhanzin was awaiting him on the main route to Abomey, so he wanted to avoid the ambush.

The next day, the groups gathered in Késossa, still on the Ouémé, about 28 miles (45 km) to the north. Three gunboats accompanied them, dragging in tow about 100 large native pirogues loaded with material and supplies. Only a gunboat and the Spahi cavalry under Major Villiers remained in Porto-Novo.

Dodds planned to march along the Ouémé another 20 miles (30 km) northward, to Tohoué (formerly also Towé), at the confluence with the Zou River, then cross the river and advance inland to the northwest through Dahomey’s holy city of Cana, as far as the capital of Abomey. By a successful occupation of both the holy city and the capital, he expected Béhanzin’s surrender and the French victory.

The choice of the Ouémé River for Dodds’ expedition had its benefits, but it also had its drawbacks. Both banks of the river were overgrown with dense, impenetrable jungle. The local “roads” going there were nothing more than narrow single-track footpaths on which a large supply convoy and artillery guns had no chance of passing.

Therefore, the expedition’s progress was extremely lengthy. Hundreds of Porto-Novo men, under the supervision of French soldiers, had to cut a new wide path along the river for the convoy, while the left bank had to be cleared with equal difficulty wherever supplies were to be unloaded from the ships. At the same time, because of the height of the banks, a solid and long pier had to be built by the French engineers.

Meanwhile, a team of French telegraphers followed the expedition and laid the telegraph cable by which Dodds kept in touch with the garrison at Porto-Novo.

On September 14, the French groups reached Dogba, marking the northwestern corner of the Kingdom of Porto-Novo, situated about six miles (10 km) north of Késossa. They began to build a camp there.

Map - Foreign Legion - route - Porto-Novo - Dogba - Dahomey - West Africa
Route from Porto-Novo to Dogba, September 11-14, 1892.
Dahomey - Dogba - Camp - West Africa - 1892
The French camp at Dogba, September 1892.


Battle of Dogba

By September 18, the French patrols hadn’t seen any enemy soldiers. Thus, the colonel decided to continue northward. He sent Major Riou and his group as a vanguard to occupy the village of Zounou, another six miles distant. The group, including the 1st Legion Company under Captain Battréau, reached the village without any encounters.

The next day, at around 5 a.m., one of the French marines on guard duty noticed moving figures about a hundred yards from the Dogba camp. This was the enemy force of approximately 3,000 men, under Army Chief Lahasaoupamazé, that had installed itself along the Ouémé. They had remained hidden from the patrols, then crossed the river and approached the French position undetected, from the east.

The alarm rang out across the camp. At the same time, the enemy attacked. While waves of warriors stormed the camp, Dahomean snipers hidden in treetops shot at easily recognizable officers. Second Lieutenant Badaire from the marines was lost first, killed in his tent. The French quickly formed an infantry line, comprising the marines in the center, with 2nd Legion Company men on the left and those from the 4th Legion Company on the right. In the meantime, a reinforcement arrived from the northern part of the camp, with men of the 3rd Legion Company and Major Faraux, who wanted to lead the defense.

Unfortunately, the Legion battalion commander was shot by a sniper in the chest shortly afterward. Still fully conscious, he was sent by the colonel to the hospital in Porto-Novo. Before he boarded the ship, Faraux’s last words to his superior were: “Mon colonel, are you satisfied with my legionnaires?” Dodds assured him that he was.

Meanwhile, the battle continued. While the marines fired like skirmishers (irregularly, on their own), the Legion platoons fired salvos and the Legion marksmen took down snipers from the tops of palm trees. The French artillery pieces were supporting the infantry, as well as the Opale gunboat with its Hotchkiss machine gun. It was a massacre, but the Dahomeans didn’t stop storming the camp. Again and again, new waves of half-naked bodies attacked the infantry line, with unprecedented energy. Soon the legionnaires were ordered to fix the bayonets and launch charges against the attackers. As one of the legionnaires recalled, the waves were so massive that even if the warriors in front wanted to avoid being impaled on the bayonet and escape, they couldn’t. They were being pushed from behind by a mass of other attackers.

Finally, after three hours of fighting, the battle calmed down. The enemy retreated, leaving around 130 corpses on the battlefield. They were collected into two large piles and burned.

For the French, Second Lieutenant Badaire and another four men were killed, including Legionnaires Pellegrini and Uberlacker. Twenty-seven men were wounded, including 20 Europeans. Among them were three NCOs and six corporals and legionnaires from the Legion battalion.

As for Major Faurax, the poor officer succumbed to his injuries and died in Porto-Novo early in the morning of September 20. Colonel Dodds ordered the construction of a fortress at Dogba and named it in honor of the fallen Legion commander.

As a matter of interest, the French were very surprised by the effectiveness, power, and precision of the new Lebel rifle, used in real action for the first time. According to one of the participants in the battle, “We ourselves had no idea of the disorganizing action of Lebel bullets on the human body…whole lines of Dahomeans were literally transformed into human mush.” According to a legionnaire who also fought at Dogba, “The dead were horrible to see…” Lieutenant Jacquot wrote in his diary: “The Lebel bullets have done wonders. We find Dahomeans who, hidden behind enormous palm trees and believing themselves safe, have been shot through despite their cover. These wounds are awful…”

Colonel Dodds made this observation: “All the troops present at Dogba under my command resisted this unexpected attack with remarkable calm and composure… The Dahomeans have just suffered an unforgettable defeat, which will certainly weigh heavily on the outcome of the campaign.”

Dahomey - Dogba - Battle - West Africa - 1892
The Battle of Dogba in Dahomey, September 19, 1892.
Dahomey - Dogba - Cremation - West Africa - 1892
Cremation of the 130+ Dahomey warriors killed in the Battle of Dogba.
Major Faurax - Foreign Legion Etrangere - 1892
Major Marius-Paul Faurax, commander of the Foreign Legion battalion in Dahomey. He was seriously wounded during the Battle of Dogba and died the next morning, on September 20, 1892. Born in March 1849, Major Faurax was assigned to the Legion in July 1889 and deployed to Tonkin (what was the title of present-day Northern Vietnam), French Indochina. In 1892, he volunteered for Dahomey.


Gunboats under attack at Gbédé

On September 22, the three infantry groups gathered at Zounou, while the Spahi cavalry arrived in Késossa and the supply convoy camped at Dogba. That day marked a French holiday: the Centenary of the declaration of the French Republic. At Zounou, a military parade was organized, followed by the Legion band playing marches and songs for the troops.

The following day, the cavalry joined the three groups. On the 27th, the whole column moved about three miles (5 km) northward, to Aouangitohoué. There, on the next morning, Dodds ordered the gunboats Corail and Opale to make reconnaissance as far as the confluence at Tohoué to see if the planned crossing of the Ouémé would be safe there. Each boat was reinforced by a Legion platoon. When they were passing through Gbédé, about a third of the way, the men on board saw a long row of enemy warriors standing on the right bank for a span of about one mile (1.5 km) and shooting upon the French with their rifles and muskets. The gunboats did turn at Tohoué and the situation repeated. This time, the Dahomeans fired two artillery guns – a fact that greatly surprised the French, who returned fire. One legionnaire was shot in the head. Still conscious, he vigorously refused to be evacuated and continued firing; he died with a rifle in his hand a few moments later. During the firefight, the French suffered two killed (the legionnaire and a crew member) and 13 wounded, including seven legionnaires. Corail had 150 enemy bullets stuck in it and four holes caused by artillery rounds. As it later turned out, these came from Germany’s 1872 58 mm Krupp guns.

It was certain that the enemy was waiting for the French. The chief of the Zounou village also informed the colonel that Béhanzin had returned with his force to the capital and that another force had moved on the road going from Tohoué to Abomey, the way the French planned to go.

On September 30, the column camped near Gbédé. For the first time, enemy artillery guns fired upon the camp. Luckily, there were no casualties.

Opale - gunboat - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Opale, one of the two French gunboats which were attacked by the Dahomeans near Gbédé, on September 23, 1892.


Battle of Gbédé

Early in the morning of October 2, Dodds and his troops took advantage of the dense fog at Gbédé and crossed the river undetected, using pirogues. In the afternoon, a Legion patrol under Lieutenant d’Urbal encountered an enemy camp about a mile to the north. The colonel decided to bypass the camp from the left, through a dense bush with grass growing more than six feet (2 m) high.

The advance resumed in the morning on the 4th. The Porto-Novo volunteers went ahead with machetes and cut a path in the bush for the column. At around 9 a.m., hidden in the high grass, the Dahomeans attacked. The French quickly took up defensive positions and opened fire. A fierce battle at close range took place in the dense bush, where only wild gunfire and screaming could be heard. Thanks to their machine guns, the gunboats on the river caught the Dahomeans in an encirclement. However, the enemy snipers in the treetops were once again successful. As soon as the ambush began, 2nd Lieutenant Amelot of the 4th Legion Company was fatally wounded. Captain Bellamy (marines) was killed, as were 2nd Lieutenant Bolsano (marines) and Warrant Officer Schmaker (artillery). Major Lasserre was seriously wounded in the stomach, while the army photographer of the expeditionary corps, Lieutenant Ferradini, was shot through the neck and tongue and nearly choked on his own blood. At around 10 a.m., the enemy tried to reverse the battle and attacked from the left. The 1st Legion Company, however, repelled it. By 11 a.m., the fire had completely ceased.

A surprising thing occurred during this battle. Captain Battréau distinguished himself by leading his legionnaires. At one point, he saw a Dahomean aiming a rifle at him. The officer took aim, fired, and killed him. He then picked up the rifle and wrote to himself: “Here, the chassepot with which I fought in the 1870 campaign. I recognize it by the stock broken by a Prussian bullet at the Saint-Privat battle. It has the same serial number too. Who’d have told me I’d find here the gun I fired as a non-commissioned officer 22 years ago.”

That morning, the French lost eight men, including Sergeant Colling and Legionnaire Scalla from the Legion, and had 33 wounded.

Later, it was discovered that Béhanzin directly commanded this battle. Also, it was the first time when the Dahomey Amazons participated in the attack. Seventeen of the female warriors were found among 150-200 dead bodies. It seems their remarkable fearlessness and courage impressed the French soldiers. “They looked like a wall of steel,” said one of them.

However, the courage of the Dahomeans came not only from the heart. Numerous bottles of spirits littered their positions. This, along with the capture of drunken warriors, showed the French that the Dahomeans used and abused alcohol to excite their regular soldiers, and especially their Amazons, during battle.

After lunch, the French column continued marching unmolested to Tohoué. There, it set up a camp near Adégon, an abandoned village on the right bank of the Ouémé. A small fortress and a supply warehouse would be built there. The reason was that the river connection ended there. Now the expeditionary corps had to continue into the unknown hinterland. Abomey, the capital of Béhanzin, lay some 30 miles (50 km) to the northwest.


Capture of the Adégon bridge

On October 6, the French were clearing a path in the bush for another advance. Upon reaching a local bridge built over one of the blind arms near the confluence of the rivers, they were attacked by Dahomeans entrenched on the opposite bank. Major Godard, who had replaced the wounded Lasserre as the lead of the 3rd Group, took the 4th Legion Company and a Senegalese company and tried to cross the small bridge (about six feet wide; 2 m). However, strong fire from the entrenched enemy made this impossible. Lieutenant Doué from the Senegalese was killed, while Lieutenant Farail from the Legion was seriously wounded.

Then the 2nd and 3rd Legion Companies showed up, led by Captains Jouvelet and Drude, who had heard the violent fire. Without waiting, they ordered their men to fix the bayonets and launch a charge. The Dahomeans did not expect this and scattered in panic. At 6 p.m., the bridge and the opposite bank were successfully occupied, to the great satisfaction of the colonel. That day, Legionnaires Giunni, Kulow, and Pecoul were killed, while another seven legionnaires were wounded.

During this action, the French captured King Béhanzin’s foreign military advisors: three Germans (Messrs Schultze, Püch, and Weckel) and a Belgian (Mr. Anglis). They were considered francs-tireurs (irregular military) by the French and executed.

Map - Foreign Legion Etrangere - route - Dogba - Gbédé - Adégon - Dahomey - West Africa
Route from the camp of Dogba, which was fortified and renamed to Fort Faurax, to Gbédé, where the expedition crossed the Ouémé and was engaged by the enemy two days later. Then the French reached Adégon to camp there.
Gbédé - Ouémé River - crossing - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Crossing of the Ouémé near Gbédé, with the help of local pirogues and under the protection of the Opale and Corail gunboats, October 2, 1892.
Gbédé - Battle - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
The Battle of Gbédé, October 4, 1892.
Adégon - Ouémé River - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Adégon, early October 1892.
Adégon - bridge - legionnaires - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Legionnaires attacking the Adégon bridge, October 6, 1892.


From Poguessa to Akpa

The next day, the entire column moved to Poguessa, about two miles (3 km) of Adégon. It was an abandoned village, comprising some 30 to 40 mud huts with thatched roofs. The column camped nearby for a few days.

On October 10, the French advanced northwest, around Sabovi, where they discovered a large, newly abandoned Dahomean camp. In the middle was a large open shelter that measured around 25 x 10 yards/meters and that had served as a briefing room for the staff. An equally large but closed shelter had served the king, while another closed square shelter, with small cabins inside, had been reserved for the Amazons. The male warriors, accompanied by their servants, had their own small shelters. Everything was clean; no rubbish was seen inside the camp.

The countryside also changed. The dense bush was slowly disappearing. The farther the expedition moved from the river, the thinner the vegetation became. Grass and trees were fewer, and the roads were dry. In the evening, the column reached Kossoupa.

Nevertheless, the situation was now complicated by a lack of drinking water sources. The weather was extremely hot and exhausting, and men and even animals began to suffer from great thirst. This was a rather unexpected complication for Dodds. While his men had the best equipment of the time, in France the ships had not been loaded with enough large containers to transport drinking water for thousands of men, as well as dozens of horses and mules.

Another obvious complication, much more serious, consisted of health problems caused by local diseases, especially malaria, dysentery, and yellow fever. Soon, they had taken their toll: A significant number of officers and soldiers had to be evacuated every day to the hospital in Porto-Novo. That was why, for example, the Infantry marines company had virtually ceased to exist.

On October 12, the French left Oumbouémédi, another stopover on their way to Abomey, and advanced to Akpa. At around 8 a.m., a Spahi vanguard was attacked some 300 yards ahead of the column. The response was immediate. A platoon of Lieutenant Varennes from the 2nd Legion Company came to support, and a fierce battle began. The Dahomeans were well established, having dug trenches to better hold their position. Captain Poivre’s 1st and 2nd Legion Companies opened fire on the trenches, supported by artillery. Meanwhile, part of the enemy attacked from the left to cut off the supply convoy. At least five Legion bayonet charges were carried out to repel the enemy and force him to retreat. Then a march forward with fixed bayonets was ordered, to the sound of bugles and drums, while the Legion fanion (guidon) in front of the column pointed the way. The legionnaires advanced with alternate salvos for several hundred yards to the enemy fortifications, from which the Dahomeans eventually fled. The fighting had ceased. Colonel Dodds ordered a halt. It was 11 o’clock.

Progress was resumed at 2 p.m. This time, the movement was in a square formation, with the three groups protecting the front and two sides and the Spahis providing security to the rear. The supply convoy was in the center of the square, grouping together the column’s logistics. A few enemy skirmishes slowed the march but caused no damage. Before nightfall, the French set up camp. During the night, a storm with heavy rain came to the rescue of Colonel Dodds’ men, who were still suffering from great thirst.

That day, the column had seven dead, including four members of the Legion: Sergeant Dunkel and Legionnaires Audetat, Blust, and Legrand. Another 29 men were wounded, including 18 Europeans. Among them were Lieutenant Cornetto of the 3rd Legion Company and 15 legionnaires. About 40,000 rounds of ammunition had been fired in a single day.

Map - Adégon - Poguessa - Koussoupa - Oumbouémédi - Akpa - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
The advance of the expedition from Adégon, via Poguessa, Koussoupa, and Oumbouémédi, toward Akpa, October 7-12, 1892.

Foreign Legion Etrangere - Lieutenant Cornetto - 1er RE Color guard - 1893
Lieutenant Cornetto as the 1er RE’s flag bearer, 1893. On October 12, 1892, while he was a platoon leader with the 3rd Legion Company in Dahomey, he was wounded during a battle near Oumbouémédi. For the record, the entire color guard was composed of Dahomey campaign veterans.

In the morning of October 13, the three groups set out to march, leaving the supply convoy on the spot. Soon, they met with the enemy, who attacked them ferociously. A hand-to-hand fight ensued. After a while, another part of the enemy tried to attack from the left but was repulsed by the platoon of Lieutenant Vivier (1st Legion Coy) and Captain Drude’s legionnaires from the 3rd Legion Company. Subsequently, two groups with fixed bayonets attacked the enemy camp they had found on the left and scattered it. The battle did not last an hour but was intense. Colonel Dodds ordered the column to stop again. Among eight killed men, four were Senegalese and the rest were from the Legion: Corporal Fischer and Legionnaires Martinoz, Meyer, and Varlet. Among 37 wounded were four officers, including Lieutenant Kieffer from the 1st Legion Company, and 14 Europeans, including Adjudant Gautheilier and Sergeants Mass and Messain from the Legion.

This part of the campaign was the most difficult for the French expeditionary corps. For many days, Dodds’ men and animals suffered from great thirst and the exhausting heat while being decimated by disease and increasingly intense enemy attacks. Moreover, they had to proceed in unfamiliar terrain. The old maps available to the colonel were incomplete or outright incorrect. Even the Porto-Novo guides, who had once served as slaves to the Dahomeans, were lost in this part of the interior. There were also complications with supplies. The farther the expedition progressed, the longer the supply routes leading from the Ouémé River became. This meant that supplies took much longer to arrive and, moreover, the supply convoys increasingly faced the threat of enemy ambushes. In summary, the colonel decided to advance only in small sections each day.

In the afternoon, after a short march of few miles, the column reached Akpa. The French were exactly halfway to Abomey. Nevertheless, the most difficult task lay before them. Not far beyond Akpa, the patrols reported the Coto River crossing their path. It had to be traversed, but many enemy soldiers were blocking and guarding the ford.

The concerns were confirmed on the morning of October 14. From the outset, the expedition faced fierce attacks. It was impossible to approach the river by road, as three lines of fortifications stood in front of the ford. These temporary fortifications, employed by the Dahomeans, consisted of one or more lines of staggered holes 25 to 30 inches (60 to 80 cm) deep, capable of holding from one to five warriors. Fitted on their front edge were small wooden forks to support rifles. The Dahomeans had their own group of workers. Equipped with machetes and small pick-axes, they cleared undergrowth where necessary for defense and, above all, dug entrenchments.

Dodds decided to bypass the fortifications and proceeded along the river about two miles (3 km) farther north. Even there, however, the enemy was lurking behind high termite mounds and greeted the Spahi patrol with fierce gunfire. Dodds ordered a halt.

After lunch, from about 12 to 3 p.m., the French column tried to find a ford along the bank, but their efforts were in vain. Thick, impenetrable thickets grew everywhere, preventing access to the river. From the other side of the Coto River, the column was harassed by the enemy, who fired upon it with rifles and artillery guns.

The Dahomeans, however, operated on the French side as well. Dodds had to order the formation of the infantry square, which was immediately attacked from the front. Captain Battréau’s 1st Legion Company repulsed the attack first by heavy fire, then by a bayonet charge. Unfortunately, the captain was seriously wounded. Serving as the commander of the Legion battalion at the same time, he was replaced by Captain Drude.

Eventually, the colonel decided to pull back about half a mile (800 m) inland and set up a camp on a plateau ridge. By 5 p.m., the enemy had withdrawn.

Foreign Legion Etrangere - Captain Vivier - 1er RE - 1890s
Captain Vivier. As a lieutenant, he and his platoon of the 1st Legion Company distinguished during the battle at Akpa, on October 13, 1892. Born in 1859, he served with the Foreign Legion from 1885 until his untimely death in 1899.


Camp of Thirst

The next day, at about 9 a.m., a group of Hausa warriors was sent to the Coto River due to the still-severe water shortage. Intense fire greeted them. Major Stéphani’s group went to support them, but the officer was soon shot in the stomach. The fight was getting closer to the camp. The 1st Legion Company platoons under Lieutenants d’Urbal and Vivier were assigned to reinforce the retreating French elements. The platoons managed to stop the enemy by bayonet charges, but Lieutenant d’Urbal was wounded. With the aid of artillery, Béhanzin’s troops began to withdraw, and at 11:30 a.m., the fighting was over. However, the losses were heavy. The 1st Company saw Legionnaires Letort, Schliek, Carl, and François killed and 13 men wounded, including Lieutenant d’Urbal, Sergeant Major Vabret, and Sergeant Duperche.

In the afternoon, Lieutenant Courtois’s 2nd Platoon from the 3rd Legion Company and two platoons from the 2nd Legion Company under Lieutenant Jacquot had to repel a Dahomean attack on a supply convoy coming from Adégon.

In the evening, Colonel Dodds ordered that the camp be moved about a mile and a half (2.5 km) closer to Akpa. This was for security reasons, as the Dahomean artillery was constantly shelling the camp.

This camping at Akpa was marked by the greatest water shortage of the entire campaign. Thus, it was nicknamed the Camp of Thirst (Camp de la Soif). For two days, the men had not even a drop of water, while daytime temperatures exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40° C). The worst suffering was experienced by those whose bodies were severely dehydrated by the intestinal flu that accompanied the dysentery. Incapable of withstanding such excruciating hardships, the Porto-Novo volunteers were dying by the dozens each day. Some soldiers, especially legionnaires with Saharan experience, chose to drink their own urine to at least quench their burning thirst. The expedition experienced a significant crisis.

Temporary rescue came early the next morning when a violent storm with heavy rain swept through the camp. The men laughed, catching water in whatever they had on hand. An old Legion warrant officer with a typically red nose commented on the situation at the time: “In Bel Abbès, where there is so much absinthe, one would never believe that there is such delicious water in Dahomey.”

Around noon, Dodds decided to retreat to Akpa, where his men had first arrived three days earlier. The colonel wanted the column to be reorganized and resupplied. He also wanted to evacuate the wounded and sick, who totaled 164. But the Porto-Novo porters were too tired. They refused to carry the stretchers and preferred to desert. The Senegalese were called in, but, because of fatigue, they dropped the stretchers with the wounded and sick on the ground and refused to obey the orders. The crisis had reached its peak.

Fortunately, at this most difficult and frustrating moment for the colonel, the Legion appeared on the scene. Without a word, the legionnaires grabbed the stretchers and, despite the exhausting heat and muddy roads, in which one was mired up to his knees, they carried away not only Europeans but also Senegalese soldiers, which was very atypical at the time, because a white soldier was not supposed to carry a black soldier. The legionnaires, however, saw them as their brothers-in-arms.

The French officers, with the colonel at their head, were impressed by this exemplary conduct. The legionnaires showed incredible discipline and self-restraint at the most difficult time, when the oppressive heat, water problems, stress, fatigue, injuries, illness, and failure to advance severely undermined the morale of the entire expeditionary corps. One of the officers wrote:

“At this difficult moment, the legionnaires, without waiting for orders, put themselves four by stretcher and loaded the wounded, first under a blazing sun, then under a frightful tornado. In this movement, the European soldiers carried not only the whites, but also the Senegalese riflemen. Paths slipped, men fell into holes, the wounded screamed. But the Foreign Legion, this elite regiment, the last vestige of our old armies, was once again demonstrating its qualities: endurance, courage and confidence in its leader. These men, mercenaries from all over the world, with no home and no country, signing up either for a piece of bread or out of contempt for life, frequently suffering unknown hardships, performing acts of heroism with no ulterior motive and no hope of reward, were giving an example of self-sacrifice and voluntary servitude, borne with dignity.”

The march lasted until 6 p.m. Major Gonard, a supply officer, ordered a double ration of tafia (a local rum-like alcohol) to be distributed to the legionnaires. “We don’t need tafia to carry our comrades,” they replied.

The next day, Colonel Dodds paid tribute to the legionnaires in his daily order:

“It was on this day that the legionnaires spontaneously offered to transport wounded natives and Europeans on the march, demonstrating that the spirit of sacrifice and military fraternity is inseparable from true courage in the elite soldier. This fact has added to the admiration that their conduct in the field has aroused since the day of the Dogba battle.”

As Dodds recalled a few years later, the legionnaires saved his expedition.

Akpa - Camp de la soif - Camp of Thirst - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
A violent storm that swept through the “Camp of Thirst” at Akpa early in the morning of October 16, 1892.


Waiting at Akpa

By October 17, Colonel Dodds’ expeditionary corps consisted of only 63 officers, 1,700 men, 2,000 porters, 160 horses, and 47 mulets (out of an original 2,500 men, 2,600 porters, over 220 horses, and 89 mulets).

Until the 20th, the French rested at Akpa. The colonel ordered five wells dug on the spot to provide his men with fresh water. A fortified post to guard the supply route was set up in Kossoupa, some five miles (8 km) to the southeast, and occupied by a Senegalese company.

On October 20, Dodds decided to change the position of the bivouac. The movement began at 11:30 a.m. At around 3 p.m., a large group of Dahomeans arriving from the northeast, from the garrison town of Agony, came closer to the old camp. While searching for water, two legionnaires – Martinolly and Neuheller – mistook the advancing enemy for Spahis because of the similar red hats and were massacred. Then the fractions of the 4th Legion Company who had remained behind in the old camp were attacked. Repulsed, the Dahomeans moved on to a new campsite. A battle began, with the enemy firing field guns but with unarmed shells (the Dahomeans didn’t know how to do it) that, therefore, did not explode. The 1st and 4th Legion Companies, supported by artillery, returned fire with intensity. At around 4:30 p.m., the 2nd Legion Company attacked the enemy from the flank. The fierce fight continued for another hour before the attackers withdrew. Four legionnaires (Boncourt, Vallin, Urban, and Stromberg) were killed in the battle. In addition, 13 men of the Legion were wounded, including Sergeants Roubert and Chinkirsch.

Two days later, on October 22, an evacuation of the wounded took place, as did the construction of a fortress in Akpa. The latter would serve as a resupply center.

The following day, the Dahomeans sent negotiators with white flags. However, Dodds couldn’t shake the impression that the enemy was just playing for time. As a condition, he demanded the evacuation of the important village of Cotopa, situated just across the Coto River, by the 25th at the latest.

On October 24, The French column was reinforced by Major Audéoud and the Senegalese companies, which had conducted diversion operations in the Grand-Popo sector in the west of the territory. The colonel had now 69 officers and around 2,000 soldiers. He divided them into four new groups comprising three infantry companies each; the first three groups were also supported by an artillery platoon. Two of the groups were now commanded by Legion officers:

1st Group under Major Riou, including the 1st Legion Company (Captain Demartinecourt), and Hausa and Senegalese companies

2nd Group under Captain Drude, including the 3rd Legion Company (Captain Drude), and two Senegalese companies

3rd Group under Captain Poivre, including the 4th Legion Company (Captain Poivre) and two Senegalese companies

4th Group under Major Audéoud, including the 2nd Legion Company (Captain Jouvelet) and two Senegalese companies

Major Audéoud - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Major Audéoud from the Infantry marines. First deployed with his group of about 300 Senegalese riflemen to the west of Dahomey, to contain part of Béhanzin’s forces there, he was then called back and reinforced Dodds’ troops at Akpa.


From Akpa to Cotopa

On October 25, the Dahomeans refused to leave Cotopa as Dodds had requested during the negotiations. The next morning, the column set off and advanced to the Coto River. It successfully repulsed several enemy attacks and continued until it reached the small village of Tata. The French had lunch there in the shade of orange trees, whose fruit was a tasty addition to the rationed American cannings (boiled beef from a Chicago company). In the afternoon, after discovering that barricades still blocked the river ford, the column moved south to find another crossing place. However, this was very hard to do in such an impenetrable, dense jungle.

On October 27, the colonel decided to return to the main ford. He sent the 4th Group under Major Audéoud, whose men, supported by machine guns, overcame the enemy barricades, crossed the Coto River to the other side, and drove off the remnants of the Dahomean defenders. The road was now clear, and, after many days of waiting, the column could finally advance across the river to the village of Cotopa. The previous two days of fighting had cost the expedition four dead (including Legionnaires 1st Class Picoche, Georges, and Umlauf) and 36 wounded, including Captain Demartinecourt, Adjudant Haberer, and Sergeant Vigier from the Legion.

Until October 31, the column camped west of Cotopa, where the resupply center from Akpa had been transferred. Construction of a bridge across the Coto River also began. Meanwhile, a captured Dahomean claimed that Béhanzin had only about 2,000 men left, while the Amazons were almost all wiped out.


From Cotopa to Cana

On November 1, a French patrol did a reconnaissance toward Aulamé, situated about two miles (3 km) to the west. After encountering roadblocks and gunfire, the reorganized infantry marines company was sent to clear the path with fixed bayonets.

The next day, the column set off, going north of Aulamé to avoid the enemy and bypass the possible barriers placed on the road. In the afternoon, the French reached the village of Ouakon. There, however, they faced fierce resistance coming from a local palace (called tata in Dahomean), occupied by the enemy, including its artillery. The 2nd and 3rd Groups were engaged, and long hours passed before the enemy fire finally subsided. That day, a lieutenant from the Senegalese and two men were killed, including Legionnaire Maurer; 23 men were wounded, including 15 Europeans.

From the early morning of November 3, the enemy – still hidden at the Ouakon palace – repeatedly attacked the French. The latter fought hard until they broke the resistance and occupied the enemy position. The fierce fighting cost the them seven men killed, including Legionnaires Hutter and Trempe, and 48 men wounded, including Lieutenant Jacquot from the 2nd Legion Company and 17 legionnaires.

On November 4, the column left Ouakon and marched toward Yokoué, only a few miles short of the holy city of Cana. Awaiting Colonel Dodds was the most important day – the one that would decide the outcome of his whole campaign. If his men captured Cana, Béhanzin would lose most of his influence among the inhabitants and the warriors, and the road to the capital would be open. The enemy knew it too and was waiting outside Yokoué.

The column advanced toward the village, with Captain Drude and his 2nd Group at the lead. It was around 3 p.m. The column was greeted with heavy fire, followed by a furious attack. Captain Drude responded with a bayonet charge and broke the enemy line, while the 1st Group attacked the reorganizing enemy from the right. However, two new Dahomean attacks followed, with an unusual intensity. As the French later learned, these were members of the most elite unit of Béhanzin, the little-known elephant hunters. They numbered around 300 and were chosen from among the tallest, most robust, and most handsome men of the Kingdom of Dahomey. That day, they were at the head of all the attacks and fought with unprecedented fury until they all fell. Their last action was a clash with the 1st Legion Company and the 3rd Senegalese Tirailleurs. It was also the last clash of the Dahomey campaign.

At Yokoué, the French lost Lieutenant Menou from the artillery and seven men, including five from the Legion (Sergeant Doisy, Corporal Rihn, and Legionnaires Hardy, Gimsbach, and Frantz) and two Senegalese riflemen. Another four officers, 14 Europeans (13 legionnaires), and 27 Senegalese were wounded.

Colonel Dodds and his column set up a camp in front of the holy city of Cana. The next day came Béhanzin’s peace negotiators, who told the colonel he could enter the holy city. The French column did so on November 6. The city was full of gardens and fruit trees, with residences of the king’s ministers. The French settled in front of the former royal palace, built at the time when Cana was a Dahomean capital. The column stayed there for more than a week.

In the meantime, on November 9, Dodds was promoted to the rank of general. In fact, there was ongoing telegraphic communication between him and Paris throughout the campaign. Thus, the government knew practically in real time all that was going on in Dahomey. The French public also knew about it thanks to the media, which regularly supplied them with sensational news from the front.

Map - Akpa - Cotopa - Aulamé - Yokoué - Cana - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
The advance of the expedition from Akpa to the holy city of Cana, across the Coto River, then through Cotopa, Aulamé, and Yokoué, November 1-6, 1892.
Battle - Yokoué - Cana - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
The Battle of Yokoué near Cana, on November 4, 1892.
Battle - Yokoué - Cana - Colonel Dodds - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Another painting depicting the Battle of Yokoué and the colonel commanding it.
Cana - holy city - Fetishes - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Legionnaires looking at local fetishes (African anthropomorphic religious figures; e.g., gods of war) in the holy city of Cana, Dahomey, early November 1892.


Abomey and the end of the campaign

On November 16, the French moved to Goho, a village located just outside Abomey. During the night, a huge glow lit up the sky: Béhanzin had set the capital and its walls on fire and fled to the north, with his wives and last remaining loyalists.

The next day, at around 3 p.m., General Dodds and his column entered the burned capital of Abomey and occupied the royal palace. On November 18, from the royal palace over which the French tricolor flew, he made a speech in which he declared Béhanzin a deposed sovereign and his army defeated. Wars, enslavement, and festivities with brutal human sacrifice (the popular Annual Customs, with dozens of victims) were now banned in Dahomey. Dodds also offered friendship to all local Dahomean chiefs who would arrive and sign a treaty with France. The Dahomey campaign was over.

The French had 10 officers and 67 men killed, while 25 officers and 436 men had been wounded in action. Another 173 Europeans and 52 native soldiers died of disease. The number of sick in ambulances was 1,092 for 1,425 Europeans and 527 for 2,158 natives who took part in the expedition or were stationed in the territory during operations.

Regarding the Legion battalion, from its initial strength of 825 men, the following were killed: two officers, three non-commissioned officers, and 20 corporals and legionnaires. In addition, five officers, 16 NCOs, and 110 corporals and legionnaires were wounded in action. Another 44 officers, NCOs, corporals, and legionnaires died of disease in the hospital. Lastly, 369 sick members of the Legion battalion had to be repatriated, mostly at the end of the campaign. That left only 256 officers, NCOs, corporals, and legionnaires surviving the campaign unaffected.

Yet these figures were not too unfavourable. In an official report, Dr. Rangé, head of the colony’s health service, acknowledged the unquestionable superiority of the men of the Foreign Legion compared to those of the Infantry marines in terms of resistance (almost twice as many: 44% of the sick in the Legion vs. 80% in the marines).

On November 27, General Dodds left Abomey, leaving there a garrison comprising three Senegalese companies and the 1st Legion Company. The rest of the column entered Porto-Novo three days later. On December 1, the French expeditionary corps was officially dissolved.

On December 3, Dodds proclaimed the Kingdom of Dahomey a French protectorate, while some territories on the coast and inland were declared French possessions. The entire territory between German Togo and British Lagos was now known as the French establishments in Benin, whose high commander was General Dodds.

Map - Cana - Goho - Abomey - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
The march from Cana on Abomey, through Goho, November 16-17, 1892.
Capture of Abomey - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Capture of Abomey. The French flag, held by legionnaires, is entering the Dahomean capital, November 17, 1892.
Capture of Abomey - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
The French flag flies over the royal palace in Abomey, November 17, 1892.
Abomey - Dahomey - West Africa - royal palace
Inside the royal palace of Béhanzin’s father, King Glele, in Abomey. In November 1892, the French occupied it and General Dodds gave his speech there. In fact, the construction of Béhanzin’s own palace had not yet been completed at the time.
Map - Porto-Novo - Abomey - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
The French advance on Abomey, from September-November 1892. To escape his arrest, Béhanzin set the capital on fire and fled to the north.


Between two campaigns (1892-1893)

In December, a Foreign Legion detachment (four officers and 150 legionnaires) under Lieutenant Colonel Mauduit from the 2nd Foreign Regiment arrived in Cotonou. The legionnaires were to replace their repatriated sick comrades. Major Rouvillain-Sagnez (also the 2e RE) became the new commander of the Legion battalion. Together with an African light infantry battalion (the famous Bat’ d’Af’, semi-penal formations consisting of French-born soldiers with prison or serious disciplinary records), which was also replacing the leaving troops, they formed an operational regiment (de marche) under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mauduit. The unit was tasked with maintaining order, keeping a French presence, and conducting patrols in the Allada region, along the Ouémé, or in the area around Abomey.

In the meantime, Captains Battréau and Drude of the Legion were promoted to majors, while Lieutenants Maurandy, d’Urbal, and Varennes became captains.

Between January and March 1893, a reorganization of the Legion battalion occurred. From 865 men on paper in early January, it was reduced in mid-February to only two companies, counting some 17 officers, 32 NCOs, and 296 corporals and legionnaires. Later that month, Captain d’Urbal, Lieutenant Jacquot, and 60 legionnaires left the territory for Algeria. The 1st Legion Company remained near the capital of Abomey, suffering from heat, insufficient supplies, and yellow fever. Another company was posted in Cotonou.

In late April, General Dodds left for France, where he received a tremendous ovation from enthusiastic crowds in every town where he appeared on his way to Paris. Colonel Lambinet replaced him in Benin.

Four days after Dodds’ departure, a negotiator from Béhanzin appeared with the offer that the former king would continue to rule under the sovereignty of France. But the French government was not interested in reinstalling Béhanzin to power and refused to negotiate.

On May 2 came an incident that highlighted the ever-present danger of the former sovereign of Dahomey. On the road between Allada and Abomey, close to Toffo, a Bat’ d’Af’ detachment was attacked during a regular patrol by about 300 Béhanzin warriors. A six-hour battle followed in which Captain Mangin was fatally wounded.

The operational regiment was alerted. For two weeks, Lieutenant Colonel Mauduit’s men combed the area, but they didn’t come across anyone.

Nevertheless, the decision was made that, to ensure the safety of the French and the authority of France in the territory, it was necessary to capture Béhanzin.

Foreign Legion Etrangere - Lieutenant Colonel Antonin Mauduit - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Lieutenant Colonel Antonin Mauduit, then-second-in-command of the Legion’s 2e RE became head of the Régiment de marche (Operational regiment) in Dahomey in late 1892. Born in 1839, Mauduit served with the Legion from 1888 to 1893, in Algeria, Tonkin, and Dahomey. Promoted to general in 1897, he died in March 1913.
Map - Abomey - Allada - Toffo - Dahomey - West Africa - 1893
In early May 1893, a French detachment (of the famous Bat’ d’Af’) under Captain Mangin was attacked by Béhanzin’s forces close to Toffo, on the main road between Allada and Abomey. During the following battle, the French officer was fatally wounded. This incident initiated efforts to capture Dahomey’s deposed monarch.


Third campaign in Dahomey (1893-1894)


The preparations for a new campaign began once General Dodds returned from France, in late August. Along with him arrived a detachment of the Foreign Legion, around 80 men under a lieutenant. Another Legion reinforcement arrived in October, with Captain Brundsaux, a famous officer well-known for his full beard; he took over the 2nd Legion Company.

Throughout October, French troops and supplies were gathered at Zagnanado, a former residence of King Glele, the father of Béhanzin. It was situated in a fertile Agony region lying between the rivers of Ouémé and Zou, some 20 miles (30 km) north of their confluence at Tohoué. Until the fall of Béhanzin, the region was a Dahomean protectorate whose developed agriculture provided food for the entire kingdom.

The new expeditionary corps was composed of four groups. The 1st Group (Major Drude of the Legion) comprised the 1st Legion Company of Captain Vernier and two Senegalese companies, while the 2nd Group (Major Boutin) comprised the 2nd Legion Company of Captain Brundsaux and two Senegalese companies. The 3rd and 4th Groups were commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Mauduit, while the groups with Legion companies were under Colonel Dumas. All four groups were supported by an artillery platoon and an ambulance (a medical unit).

The reason for such careful organization of the expedition was to avoid the complications of the previous campaign, as well as promote better maneuverability of the forces. It was thought that Béhanzin had gathered about 4,000 warriors and hundreds of rifles.

Great attention was paid to the health of the soldiers. Each group had its own military doctor who provided men with quinine (an anti-malarial drug) every morning. However, the health risks were already lower than in the previous campaign. The climate in this part of the country was much better, as it was drier thanks to the higher altitude. Also, fresh water from the mountains did not have parasites and bacteria.

Meanwhile, Béhanzin tried to reverse fate one last time by sending a small diplomatic delegation to France to negotiate with the French president. This idea was supported by a local British journalist (from Lagos) who accompanied the Dahomean delegation first to England, where they spent several days and gave interviews, then to Paris, where they arrived on November 11. However, no one received them at the Elysée Palace and the delegation had to return to Dahomey without result.

Map - Zagnanado - Dahomey - West Africa - 1893
For their third campaign in Dahomey, the French gathered at Zagnanado, in a fertile Agony region laying between the Ouémé and Zou Rivers.
Zagnanado - Camp - Dahomey - West Africa - 1893
The French camp in front of the former royal palace at Zagnanado, October 1893.
Zagnanado - Royal palace - Dahomey - West Africa - 1893
Inside the former royal palace of Dahomey’s King Glele at Zagnanado, October 1893.
Foreign Legion Etrangere - General Paul Brundsaux - Dahomey - West Africa - 1893
General Paul Brundsaux. As a captain with the Foreign Legion, he arrived in Dahomey in October 1893 and took over the 2nd Legion Company to search for Béhanzin. Born in 1855, Brundsaux served with the Legion from 1888 to 1908, in Algeria, Tonkin, Dahomey, Madagascar, and the Sahara. A brigade general in WWI, he died in 1930. For the record, he is the only recognizable person among the four legionnaires on the Legion’s famous 1931 War Memorial now situated in Aubagne. Alleged photos of him can be found on the internet, but they actually show Lt. Col. Reibel.


Searching for Béhanzin

On November 1, searching for Béhanzin began. The Dahomean camp of the former sovereign was supposed to be located near Atchéribé, some 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Zagnanado, the starting point of the third Dahomey campaign. The groups were divided and headed toward their objective in different directions, by land and the Zou River.

The Dahomean camp was first searched by the group of Major Drude, but they found it deserted. On November 11, a Legion platoon under Captain Brundsaux and Lieutenant Martin searched the village of Bafo, in the area where Béhanzin was reported to have been, but again to no avail. Around the village, the legionnaires found about 200,000 rounds of ammunition. The search continued the next day, when guns and powder were found.

In the meantime, Béhanzin’s court, with ministers, war leaders, and some sisters and brothers, surrendered to the French. The former king, however, escaped the French with his wives and the rest of his loyalists and tried in vain to seek asylum in the northern local kingdoms.

On November 20, it was the turn of Lieutenant Odry of the 1st Legion Company to discover an important amount of equipment: “75 boxes and 31 barrels containing more than 90,000 rounds of various types, 35 rapid-fire rifles and a few muskets, 24 bayonet sabres, parasols, cloths, and many of the objects that belonged to Béhanzin.” The legionnaires, unable to take their catch, destroyed most of it.

December passed without particular incident, as the search continued in the north and northeast of the country. Meanwhile, General Dodds and his staff moved to Goho near Abomey. On the 23rd, Lieutenant Martin, four legionnaires, and six Senegalese riflemen carried out a reconnaissance operation and captured two of Béhanzin’s brothers, who were taken to the general in Goho.

The fall of Béhanzin was inevitable. Dodds ordered the African Bat’ d’Af’ battalion to sail back to Algeria and most of the remaining European troops to be posted in Cotonou.

From January 5, 1894 onward, Dodds accepted the submission of Dahomean princes and local chiefs. The former Dahomey kingdom was divided into two parts, with Abomey and Allada as new administrative centers.

On January 15, a new election of the Dahomean king (to rule in Abomey) took place under the supervision of Dodds, with Prince Goutchili, one of Béhanzin’s brothers and his Army Chief of Staff, becoming King Agoli-Agbo.

Finally, Béhanzin decided to surrender. Lieutenant Martin from the Legion received his surrender on January 25, 1894, and transported the former monarch to General Dodds.

Surrender of Béhanzin - Dahomey - West Africa - 1894
Surrender of Béhanzin, January 25, 1894.
King Agoli-Agbo - Dahomey - West Africa - 1894
King Agoli-Agbo. One of Béhanzin’s brothers, he became the new ruler of the reduced, French-controlled Kingdom of Dahomey, on January 15, 1894.



The third and final French campaign in Dahomey ended. The Legion battalion was reduced to one company, the 1st under Captain Brundsaux, which remained in the territory until late February. On March 8, 1894, these last Foreign Legion elements to serve in Dahomey arrived back in Sidi Bel Abbès.

King Béhanzin was not allowed to remain in his former kingdom. Along with his four wives and four children, he was exiled to Martinique, a French island in the eastern Caribbean Sea. In early 1906 they were relocated to Blida in Algeria where the former monarch died in December of the same year. After his death, his remains were returned to Abomey.

In the meantime, the Kingdom of Dahomey became the colony of French Dahomey in 1900, after serious political problems in the protectorate caused by King Agoli-Agbo. In 1960, French Dahomey, until then part of the large French West Africa, gained independence and took the name of Republic of Dahomey. In 1975, the country was renamed to Benin.

As a matter of interest, other legionnaires deployed to West Africa between 1892 and 1894. They fought in the territory of present-day Mali (French Sudan back then). At the same time, when the Legion detachment in Dahomey was disbanded, in late February 1894, two Foreign Legion companies left Algeria for a second campaign in Sudan.

But that was another story. In fact, both campaigns of legionnaires in West Africa, widely covered by French media and thus well-known to the public of that time, fell into oblivion because of a much more important expedition that started off the southeastern coast of Africa in 1895: the French expedition in Madagascar, where the Foreign Legion once again distinguished itself.

As for General Dodds, he never forgot the legionnaires. A decade later, in the early 1900s, when he served as the High Command of colonial troops in French Indochina, he said to the French Governor to whom he presented the garrison of Phnom-Penh: “Here is the Legion you can rely on in all circumstances. Without it, I could never have carried out successfully the expedition in Dahomey.”

Major Faurax, whose last words to then-Colonel Dodds were “Are you satisfied with my legionnaires?”, would have been proud of them…


Béhanzin - wives - children - Dahomey - West Africa - 1894
An official photo of Béhanzin and his four wives and four children on board a ship taking them to Martinique in the Caribbean, early 1894.

Béhanzin - Algeria - North Africa - 1906
Béhanzin twelve years later, in North Africa’s Algeria in 1906, still with his smoking pipe. Born in 1845, he died in December of that same year.
King Toffa I - Porto-Novo - Dahomey - West Africa - around 1900
King Toffa I (circa 1850-1908), the pro-French ruler of the Kingdom of Porto-Novo from 1874-1908. The photo was taken around 1900.
King Toffa I - Amazons - Porto-Novo - Dahomey - West Africa - around 1890
King Toffa I with his Porto-Novo “Amazons”, around 1890. One may see that female bodyguards were not uncommon among the West African monarchs of that time.
Abomey - Amazons - veterans - Dahomey - West Africa - 1900s
Veterans of Béhanzin’s Dahomey Amazons in Abomey, in the 1900s.
Dahomey Expedition commemorative medal - Dahomey - West Africa - 1892
Dahomey Expedition commemorative medal. Established on November 24, 1892, it was awarded to all individuals who took part in Dahomey campaigns (from 1890 to 1894).



Main information sources:
Képi blanc magazines (1957, 1970, 1972, 1978, 1982, 1992, 2005, 2012, 2013)
French newspapers (1892-1894)
Jules Poirier: Campagne du Dahomey (Charles-Lavauzelle, 1895)
Alexandre d’Albéca: La France au Dahomey (Librairie Hachette, 1895)
Frédéric Schelameur: Souvenirs de la Campagne du Dahomey (Charles-Lavauzelle, 1896)
Douglas Porch: The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History… (HarperCollins Publishers, 1991)
Martin Windrow: The French Foreign Legion 1872-1914 (Osprey Publishing, 2010)


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More about the history of the Foreign Legion:
1863 Battle of Camerone
1882 Battle of Chott Tigri
1903 Battle of El Moungar
1908 Battle of Menabha
1933 Battle of Bou Gafer



The page was updated on: February 10, 2024


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