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The Fall of Acre - 1291


continued from part 1

Disenfranchised that no pay was forthcoming for their efforts the untrained army began to rob the citizens and steal from the merchants. One morning a street fight broke out between the soldiers and a group of Moslems. History does not record the nature of the fracas, but it soon led to a full-scale riot as more and more people took sides in the fight. At the end of the day many Moslems lay dead and the families of the slain wanted revenge and justice.

An envoy of the mourning left Acre for the court of Kalaun. On arriving they were given audience with the sultan and each one in turn told his version of the tale dropping the blood soaked garments of their dead before the Moslem leader. Kalaun vowed justice and immediately set out to use all his resources to prepare every siege engine he could lay hand to and set his army out to mete out the needed punishment. Kalaun did not of course make this decision public and instead sent letters to the Christians demanding that the guilty be turned over to him for proper trial.

The Venetians who had brought the army to Acre were vehemently opposed to this. Their opinion was that it would reflect badly on them to simply turn the men over to the Moslems. Although long time allies with the Venetians, the Templars took the contrary view and felt the men should be turned over to the sultan if peace was to be restored and Acre remain safe. De Beaujeu, the Grand Master of the Templars knew the sultan's motivations and was chastised by the Christians of Acre as being a coward. The citizens felt the Templars were more interested in protecting their growing financial interests and had given up their original role as protectors of the Christina faithful. In this sense they felt the Templars had turned their back on Christ.

The Grand Master's warning was not heeded to and letters were sent back to the sultan. These letters expressed deep regret for the unfortunate incident and laid the blame at those guilty Venetian soldiers and not at the Kingdom of Jerusalem as a whole. While the Christians were using political spin to save their hides Kalaun was building a formidable war machine. As hammers struck wood building more siege engines, word began to trickle through Outremer that war was afoot. To divert their attentions from his true goal Kalaun circulated a story that his war machine was destined for the Sudanese and Nubians who were both late in their tribute payments.

De Beaujeu did not believe the deception for a moment and continued to warn Acre, but his warning again fell upon deaf ears. Since the Grand Master had not given his support to the Venetians over the surrender of the soldiers, the Venetians sought to get even by not lending their support to the Templars on the warnings.

The cards dealt by Kalaun was of little importance because by the time any decision had been made, Kalaun lay dead in his tent never hearing the outcome of the Christian's decision. This did little to stop the ultimate fate of Acre as a new player picked up the cards his father had dealt. Al Ashraf Khalil was ready to carry on what his father had begun. The siege engines were built; swords sharpened and horse hooves shoed. Winter had fallen so it was decided that the advancement of the army would wait until spring.

Meanwhile the Christians at Acre were anxious to learn of the intentions of the new sultan and sent an envoy of one Templar, one Hospitaller, an Arab translator and a secretary who would prepare any paperwork required to cut a new deal. As soon as they arrived they were jailed and word soon came back to Acre that they were dead. The dice had been tossed and it didn't look like good news was on the horizon.

In the spring of 1291 the sultans army set out and the citizens of Acre, who the previous fall had so chastised the Grand Master of the Templars for his cowardice, now begged him to save them from the coming army.

While the Templars held the largest force in Acre and the Hospitallers also had a good-sized army, they were no match for the 160,000 men the Moslems were sending. This army consisted of 100,000 foot soldiers and some 60,000 horsemen. The Templars and Hospitallers always at the ready to wage war, set out to make preparations for the coming battle. The Teutonic Knights who also had a force in Acre were politically ridiculed and embarrassed when their Grand Master resigned in fear of the coming battle. They were able to elect a new leader in time for the battle.

The Genoese loaded their vessels and left before the fighting started. Having nothing to gain from the war and not wishing to aid the rival Venetians they saw no fit reason to stick around.

A great wall surrounded Acre at the time supported by ten towers. While this would seem a secure fortification it was only a temporary means of protection against the many siege towers and catapults the Moslems brought to tear them down.

Since the sultan did not send a fleet the seaside was open to the Christians for supplies. One ship was quickly equipped with a catapult and set to sea to protect the city from any fleet that may come forth.

On April 6th, 1291 the first volley from the catapults began and continued to rein down on the walls and towers day and night. As the battle raged on the Templars quickly became fed up with their role as mere defenders. They had nearly two centuries of attack experience and didn't like being on the receiving end of one. It was soon decided to launch an attack on the Moslem's camp under the cover of darkness.

One evening the St. Lazarus Gate quietly opened and the silence was replaced with the hoof beats of 300 Templar war horses tearing off into the Moslem camp. Unfortunately the cover of darkness meant to provide cover did not provide the Templars with enough visibility to be effective. The horses tripped on tent ropes and the fallen Templars were slaughtered where they stood, further depleting their forces; forces which were already vastly outnumbered by the enemy.

Ever the rivals, the Hospitallers set out to show the Templars how to do the job and on another evening they charged off under the cover of darkness from the St. Anthony Gate, which was in their quarter, to finish the job the Templars had started. This time the Moslems decided to throw a little light on the issue and set brush afire. The Hospitallers seeing there was no chance of success beat a hasty retreat back through St. Anthony's Gate eating a little crow on the journey. Thus ended the nightly forays into the sultan's camp.

With each passing day the walls cracked a little more as volley after volley rang out of the Moslem catapults. By May 16th one tower cracked and the army was able to enter forcing the Christian's back to the inner wall of the doomed city. Clearly they were losing valuable ground in their defense of Acre. Two days later the sultan ordered all the kettle drums to sound and the thundering beat of the advancement was disheartening to the trembling people of Acre. Khalil ordered the forces to storm the walls and deliberately attacked all sides simultaneously, further spreading and weakening the Christian's defenses.

continue to part 3


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