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Sortie of Mesolonghi

The Sortie of Mesolonghi (Greek Η Έξοδος του Μεσολογγίου) took place during the Greek War of Independence.

Background

The city of Mesolonghi had been subjected to its third siege from Ottoman forces, from April 15, 1825 until April 10, 1826. The situation of the defenders and the inhabitants of Mesolonghi was growing desperate as the food supplies were dwindling and there was no hope of relief.

Commanders Kitsos Tzavelas, Dimitris Makris and Notis Botsaris realised the situation inside the city walls was hopeless and decided, on April 10, 1826 - which was the day before Palm Sunday in the Orthodox Church - to make a mass sortie from the city. The armed men would lead the rest of the population outside the city gates, through the enemy lines and towards freedom. There were roughly 3,500 armed men from a population of some 10,500.

The Battle

By nightfall, most of the Greek garrison was outside the city. Unfortunately, their plan had been betrayed to the Ottomans who attacked with cannons and gunfire. The Greeks charged towards the enemy lines but many of the unarmed civilians fell back into the city. A slaughter ensued.

Of the 3,500 armed men, only 1,300 made it to safety with a very small number of women and children. The rest were killed in battle.

The Ottoman forces charged into the city and a second slaughter began. A city elder, named Christos Kapsalis, when his house was surrounded, set fire to the gunpowder that was stored there and blew up himself, all who had sought refuge in his home and the enemy soldiers who had besieged it. Similarly, Metropolitan Iosif of Rogoi blew himself up in Anemomylos island where he and others had taken refuge.

3,000 Greeks were killed while 6,000 women and children were captured and sold into slavery. Ottoman casualties were about 5,000 dead.

Significance

The Sortie of Mesolonghi touched the hearts of many Europeans who were now fully sympathetic with the Greek cause as evidenced by Eugene Delacroix's famous painting "Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Mesolonghi".

This public sympathy for the Greeks had a significant influence on the eventual decision of Britain, France and Russia to intervene militarily at Navarino.