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Firearms, Horses and Samorian Army Organization 1870-1898

Martin Legassick
The Journal of African History
Vol. 7, No. 1 (1966), pp. 95-115
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/179462
Page Count: 21
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Firearms, Horses and Samorian Army Organization 1870-1898
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Abstract

The army of Samori Ture in 1887 was recruited from four sources: the regular army of sofa (infantrymen with firearms), the conscripted reserve of kurustigi, detachments sent by chiefs under Samori's protection, and a cavalry force consisting in part, perhaps, of volunteers. The emphasis on infantry rather than cavalry differentiated it from the armies of other nineteenth-century Islamic reformers. Among the factors which influenced the structure and tactics of the army, as well as the diplomatic and military strategy of the Samorian state, were the supply of firearms and horses. Initially the Samorian army was armed with muskets from the coast, primarily Freetown, and horses from the north-western part of the Sudan. From mid-1891 to mid-1892 the muskets were replaced with breechloaders and repeaters obtained by direct negotiation between Samori and Freetown traders, and during this period or before it an indigenous firearms industry was established. After this, the French advance cut Samori off, partially at least, from his sources of supply; from 1893-98 the search for new supply areas was a major preoccupation of the Samorian regime. Arms came from the Ivory Coast and the Gold Coast, and horses from the Mossi states. Here, as formerly in the west, Samori was able to use existing trade routes. Most writers have assumed that the structure of Samori's army remained constant. The evidence suggests that it built up to its maximum size by 1890, and changed in the process from a force of volunteers to a structured army, with a nucleus of regular officers commanding the mass of conscripts. The acquisition of repeaters, with their greater range, accuracy, and speed of loading, allowed Samori to employ smaller forces of better-trained men, who could be supplied more easily and manoeuvred more effectively. After 1891, therefore, the regular army replaced the conscripts as the major strength of Samori's army. In the later years they may have relied more on indigenously made firearms than on imported weapons. The length of Samori's period of resistance was largely due to his ability to make effective strategic retreats to areas uncontrolled by the French. The manoeuvrability of his forces, and hence the modern weapons he had, played a major part in making this possible.

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