Battle of Dervenakia
|Battle of Dervenakia|
|Part of the Greek War of Independence|
|Greek revolutionaries||Ottoman Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Mahmud Dramali Pasha|
|8,000-10,000||20,000 including 8,000 cavalry|
|Casualties and losses|
|Unknown||Around 20,000 dead|
The Battle of Dervenakia (Greek: Μάχη των Δερβενακίων) was the Greek victory over the Ottoman forces on 26–28 July 1822, an important event in the Greek War of Independence. The destruction of Dramali Pasha's forces saved the heartland of the rebellion, the Morea, and secured it for the Greeks until the arrival of Ibrahim Pasha in 1825.
After the final defeat and death of Ali Pasha, the Ottoman forces in northern Greece were reoriented to the south, where the Greeks had rebelled in early 1821. A force of some 20,000 men, including 8,000 cavalry, was entrusted to Mahmud Dramali Pasha (pasha of Larissa), who had replaced the veteran Hursid Pasha. This force was the largest seen in Greece in more than a century, since the last Venetian-Ottoman War in 1715, composed of experienced warriors with ample supplies. To support this army, Dramali had 30,000 mules, horses and camels carrying his supplies together with six six-pound cannons he brought alone. Dramali was expected to crush the Greek rebellion by advancing to Corinth, relieve the besieged garrison of Nafplion and recapture the capital of the Morea, Tripoli. Setting out from Zitouni (Lamia) early in July, he proceeded southwards through Boeotia, where he took and burned Thebes to the ground. The local guerrilla leader Odysseas Androutsos made no effort to stop the Ottomans, later saying: “I had not 4,000 men under my command, not 400 good soldiers and not 40 whose courage I would trust my life”. Dramali Pasha made no attempt to retake the Acropolis of Athens which, although well supplied with provisions and ammunition, had capitulated to the Greeks on 21 June owing to lack of water. The Greeks had sent a force to block the passes at Geraneia, but the size of the Ottoman army discouraged them, and Dramali passed through unmolested. The same was repeated at the fort of Acrocorinth, which was abandoned by its commander, Iakovos Theodoridis, after he murdered the imprisoned Kiamil Bey. After arriving at Corinth in mid-July, Dramali wedded Kiamil's widow, and called a council to determine his future actions. There, many of his officers, headed by Yussuf Pasha of Patras, urged him to follow a military plan of using Corinth as a base, building up strong naval forces in the gulf and isolate the Morea, before advancing on Tripoli in three columns, which would force the Greeks to split up their far smaller forces. Dramali ignored this sound advice, and, full of confidence, decided to proceed from Corinth to the south, towards the Argolis. Dramali wanted the glory of taking Tripoli all for himself. In the meantime, the Greeks all over the Morea started to burn their crops to deprive Dramali Pasha and his army of food. Prince Demetrios Ypsilantis brought 700 men to hold the citadel of Argos while Theodoros Kolokotronis was appointed commander of the Greek forces in the Morea. Kokokotronis had to first concentrate his scattered forces and in his memoirs related: “I went to the Senate and said, ‘As many among you have any acquaintance with letters, let them come hither’. Then we sat down and wrote all through the night and sent to every district to gather men together as quickly as possible”. Within a fortnight, Kokokotronis’s army had swelled from 2,000-3,000 to 7,000-8,000 as men came from all over the Morea. Kokokotronis devised a plan to block the Ottoman advance on Tripoli, block their retreat by placing men on the three narrow passes from Argos to the isthmus of Corinth and thereby trap the Ottomans on the plains of Argos.
Siege of Nafplion
Dramali passed through the narrow defile known as the Dervenaki (Tretos) and on 24 July reached Argos, whence the Greek government had fled. The flight of the Greek government from Argos without a shot being fired inflicted a blow to its prestige that it never recovered from as many Greeks damned their government as one of cowards. Earlier that year, the Ottomans had committed the Chios Massacre, and refugees from Chios had brought vivid tales of the murder, rape and enslavement committed on Chios to the mainland; the news of Dramali Pasha’s advance created panic all over the Morea. The Maniots, who were supposed to stop the Ottomans instead robbed the refugees, leading Colonel Thomas Gordon to caustically comment that the Maniots “would have reputed it a disgrace to have gone back to their mountains as poor as they left them”. Dramali Pasha left no guards behind him in the Dervenaki and he posted no forces where other defiles exposed his flanks. He sent cavalry forward to join the Ottoman garrison at Nafplion, which at that time was on the point of capitulation. As it was, Dramali was able to seize the Greek hostages which the garrison was holding there as a pledge for the safety of Muslim hostages held by the Greeks.
Trapped in the Argolis
On arriving in Argos, he found that its citadel, Larissa, was manned, and that the Ottoman fleet, with which he had planned to rendezvous with the Ottoman fleet at Nafplion, was actually at Patras. What he should have done was to have fallen back immediately to Corinth, from where he could have drawn supplies from Patras. Instead, he launched an attack on the citadel. The Greeks, under Demetrios Ypsilantis, held out for twelve days, waging a resolute defense before lack of water forced them to sneak out past the Ottoman lines in the middle of the night. Gordon recounted when faced with the demand for surrender: “Prince Demetrius received the bearers of this proposal with apparent indifference, regaled them out of the small stock of luxuries reserved for his own table and declared his resolution to hold out for six months” . On the night of 3 August 1822, faced with no water, Ypsilantis led his men out of the Argos citadel. One Greek soldier named Kariyannis had fell asleep when the fortress was abandoned and woke up to discover that Dramali’s Turkish and Albanian soldiers were already plundering the citadel. In an example of what the Greeks called levendia (panache), Kariyannis took a cooking pot, put it on top of his head to disguise himself and walked out pretending to be an Ottoman with his booty. By this point, Dramali’s army had no more cattle while the burned grain fields supplied no subsidence and the summer of 1822 was an especially hot summer, making water a scare commodity. The plains south of Argos was a land of ditches, interconnected water lanes and vineyards, which hindered the Ottoman cavalry, but was the perfect terrain for Greek snipers, who soon started to take a regular toll on the Ottoman forces. However, while Dramali was preoccupied with Larissa, the Greeks rallied their forces.
Already the Peloponnesian Senate had stepped into the place vacated by the central government. Military leaders like Theodoros Kolokotronis and Petrobey called for volunteers, who came flocking in, along with the kapetanei and the primates. Five thousand troops assembled at the fortified Mills of Lerna; others assembled at points on the marshy banks of the river Erasinos; and daily, the Greeks skirmished with the Ottomans as they attempted to find water and fodder for their horses and baggage animals. Other Greek bands infiltrated the mountains which overlook the plains of Argos. On the hills extending from Lerna to the Dervenaki, Kolokotronis, who had been appointed archistratigos (commander-in-chief), concentrated no less than 8,000 men. Around Agionori there were 2,000 troops under Ypsilantis, Nikitaras and Papaflessas. Towards Nafplion large forces were assembled under Nikolaos Stamatelopoulos, the brother of Nikitaras, and these were joined by Arvanites from Kranidi, Poros and Kastri.
Kolokotronis pursued a scorched earth policy, aiming at starving the Ottomans out. The Greeks looted the villages, burned the grain and foodstuff they could not move, and damaged the wells and springs. Dramali's army was trapped in the sweltering Argolic plain. However, Kolokotronis was not in a position to coordinate all the Greek forces, for many operated under their own leaders, refusing to follow his orders. If Kolokotronis had in fact commanded the Greek armies, and thus been able draw up a general military plan, Dramali's forces might have been completely annihilated and Nafplion would have been captured with little difficulty.
Disaster in the ravines
As it was, Dramali was given the opportunity to carry out his belated decision to retreat. On 26 July he dispatched an advance guard consisting of 1,000 Muslim Albanians to occupy the passes. These troops, who were either mistaken by the Greeks for cobelligerents or deliberately allowed to pass, got through entirely unharmed, losing only thee dead. The Albanians kept to the mountains, avoiding the trails, making them difficuilt to ambush. After the Albanians marched through, Niktaras and Ypsilantris had brought down trees and piled up stones to slow down the Ottomans. But a body of Dramali's cavalry which was following up to occupy the Dervenaki was intercepted by Nikitaras at the village of Agios Vasilis and was routed, a victory which gained for Nikitaras the name of 'Turk-eater' (Turkofagos). The Greeks brought down devastating fire and then charged, slaying the Ottomans in vicious hand-to-hand fighting where it was bayonet against bayonet, sword against sword and dagger against dagger. Very few of the Ottoman delhis (light cavalry) managed to escape; most of them had lost their horses and, as they tried to make their way on foot up the ravines of the mountains, they were almost all intercepted by small Greek bands or shot down by individual marksmen from concealed positions. During the encounter the Greeks took an enormous amount of booty - hundreds of horses and baggage animals and a considerable quantity of treasure, arms and stores.
Two days later (28 July), Dramali attempted to evacuate his main forces by way of the route through Agionori. . Here he came up against the Greeks under Papaflessas who was holding the main defile (Klisoura). Unable to proceed, he soon found himself assailed by Nikitaras and Ypsilantis who made a forced march from their positions at the village of Agios Vasilis and at Agios Sostis, where the Greeks again annihilated the Ottomans by ambushing them in a narrow defile. Although Dramali himself with the main troop of delhis managed to force his way through and finally reach Korinthos, the Greeks captured all the baggage and the military chest; and they annihilated almost completely the unmounted personnel of Dramali's army. Had Iatrakos followed orders by attacking from the rear, all of Dramali’s army might had destroyed, which led Koloktronis to write in his memoirs: “So much for Iatrakos” Dramli himself lost his sword and turban in his haste to run away and save his own life. The Greeks had captured all of the Ottoman valuables and baggage plus 1,300 mules, 400 horses and 700 camals. But no sooner had they achieved victory than they dispersed: the Moreots hastened to return to their villages taking with them such animals and other booty on which they had been able to lay their hands. Had they been less intent on booty, they might have totally annihilated Dramali's army. As it was, many of the delhis lived to fight another day, but Dramali himself died, a broken man, in the following December at Korinthos. His campaign had resulted in a disaster of great magnitude: Out of the army of more than 23,000 with which he entered the Morea, barely 6,000 had survived. The extent of the Ottoman defeat became proverbial in Greece, where a great defeat is still referred to as a "νίλα του Δράμαλη", i.e. "Dramali's disaster".
With the destruction of the main Ottoman force present in Greece at the time, the rebellion survived its first great test, and was firmly now established. In December 1822, Nafplion finally surrendered to the Greeks, who made it their provisional capital. The Greek cause would however quickly unravel, with factional conflict breaking out in 1823. Gordon wrote that the victory at Dervenakia made Kolokronis's reputation as "his name became a sort of talisman, the people everywhere sung ballads in his honour, his political adversaries humbled themselves before him and for some months he was absolute in the Morea". Inevitably, Kokokotronis's popularity made him a target for his political enemies, who now united against the most popular man in Greece. Kolokotronis himself, arguably the Greeks' ablest military leader, was imprisoned by his enemies in Palamidi, at a time when the Sultan, acknowledging his inability to deal with the "Greek problem", turned to Muhammad Ali of Egypt and his Western-trained armies for help.
To honor the victory at Dervenakia stands a statue of Kolokotronis under which is written:
"Here lie the beys from Roumeli and agas from the Morea:
Their headless bodies sleep above the pass of Dervenakia.
Black earth now makes a bed for them, the stones provide their mattress,And snow and ice, when winter comes, are all they have for a blanket".
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