LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Memoirs of the Affairs of Greece
Chapter XXXIII

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
‣ Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
Description of Neocastro—Character of Stactouri—Conduct of Phoca—Battle of Neocastro—Turkish method of firing—Turkish fleet arrive off Modon—Battle—Distress of several Greeks in a cavern.

Neocastro consists of two parts, the Kalè, or the fortifications and walls defending the town and harbour, and the Itchkalè, or the citadel. It is indispensable, in order to make the reader understand the manner in which the siege of this place was carried on, to dedicate a few lines to a description of its principal features. At each angle of the lowest wall of the town-fortifications exist batteries, composed of two stories. The outermost battery, which fronts the mouth of the harbour, mounts sixteen cannons. The eight below are thirty-six pounders; those above are twelve and eighteen pounders. Beysadè Torjachi was intrusted with the defence of the lowermost story; and Tatraco with that of the uppermost. The innermost battery, which is exactly similar to the one described, was now completely walled. It had been built only to act against ships, that have once cleared the first battery, and penetrated into the port. A weak wall, about a hundred and eighty yards in length, connects these two large batteries. A semicircular tower mounted with four six-pounders exists in its middle. A long wall, four hundred yards in length, runs up from each of these sea batteries, and, connecting them with the citadel, form the precincts of the town, which formerly consisted of upwards of three hundred houses. These walls, little more than six feet in thickness, are unprotected by
exterior ditches; and are defended merely by two batteries mounted each with six twelve-pounders.

The palicharia of Cranidiotti, Tsecri, Zavella and detachments from the different other capitani, lined the whole extent of these walls*.

* So totally inexperienced were the Greeks in the art of resistance in besieged towns, as not even to have an idea of the force of projectiles. All around the rampart wall, they had raised their usual lambouri, made of loose stones, piled together; and, concealed behind them, they watched an opportunity of picking off an incautious enemy. It was in vain represented to them, that this practice was attended with considerable danger; and that whenever a ball struck the tambouri, numerous individuals were exposed to be killed or seriously wounded by the stones, it would cause to fly about in every direction. Several, in order to protect themselves against the explosion of shells, erected small sheds with two or three planks, and laid themselves down under them at night; crying with all their might, guardia alesta (the watchword); till overpowered by sleep, they reposed with as much security as under the roofs of their quiet villages. How many were in this position surprised by death! Others, childish enough to believe firmly, that the surest way of preventing the explosion of a shell, was striking it with a leaden ball, stood ever ready with their muskets or rifles, watching when one was about to fall near them, to discharge their pieces against it. Whenever it did not burst, they assumed the merit of that accident to themselves; when it did, to their having missed their aim.—It was for us, Franks, a source of no small entertainment, to listen at night to the singular conversations, which were habitually carried on between the Greek sentinels and Turkish outposts. It began in general with much apparent harmony; the most striking news of the day were rehearsed; often with much humour, and that natural ironical air, congenial to most Roumeliots, till the party, to which they were most unfavourable, vented the most insulting epithets on the other. The most opprobrious words, possessed by the Greek language, were then mutually interchanged; they then threatened one another in the most braggart manner, related the cruelties they had practised, insulted their respective creeds and leaders, &c. till those, who found themselves weakest in this altercation, terminated it by a discharge of musketry against their opponents. Often were they separated and reduced to momentary silence by a Greek, who, possessed of a remarkably fine voice, began singing revolutionary


The citadel, constructed on the more elevated portion of the rocky declivity, on which Neocastro stands, commands the town entirely; and by closing its own gate, becomes completely separated from it. Its batteries, which are constructed so as to defend it chiefly on the land side, were mounted by about twenty-four pieces. But as it is commanded by three surrounding eminences, there can be no doubt, that, if properly besieged by an European force, it could offer but a very transient resistance. In 1770, Orloff, having established his batteries a little below the small chapel of Saint Nichola, succeeded, in a few days, in making a large breach in the walls of the citadel, and thus compelled the garrison to capitulate. Instead of imitating his example, the effects of which are to this day visible, the reparation of the breach being very apparent close to the eastern gate, Ibrahim chose on the slope of Mount Saint Nichola a more elevated position for the erection of his battery. It had not only the disadvantage of being exposed to the fire of the Greek vessels, as they entered and left the harbour, and to that of half the batteries of Neocastro; but, being more distant from the walls, and striking them in a slanting direction, his cannons, which were mostly eighteen-pounders, could act but very feebly against them. The portion of the wall, selected by the enemy to open his breach, was equally injudiciously chosen. Had he, after making it, ventured on storming, and succeeded in scaling it, his troops would have penetrated merely into the town; while the besieged, shutting themselves up in the

songs, and those, celebrating the exploits of the Greeks, since the beginning of the revolution; and such is the power of music to “soothe the savage breast” that Ibrahim himself would come down from his tent, to listen to the melody of our Tyrtæus; and make him the handsomest offers to induce him to go over to his service.

fortress, by directing the fire of its batteries and their musketry against them, would have massacred them all. The ignorance of Turkish artillerists was strikingly exemplified by the manner in which they sought to practise the breach. Instead of adopting the European method of firing, first, according to two perpendicular lines, and then in a horizontal one; and thus terminating it in twenty-four hours; they directed their random-shots without the slightest method; and were so many days before they attained their purpose, that the besieged had ample time to construct not one, but ten counter breaches. The defence of the citadel was intrusted to
Macrojani, Jerasimo Phoca, a Bulgarian capitano, the two Callergis, the governor, &c.

During the whole of the time, D. Stactouri remained with us, he displayed on every occasion much zeal, energy, firmness, and surprising patience. His courage was great; yet, notwithstanding his best intentions, he could not perform his duty any better than a man, who has spent all his life on board a merchant-ship; nor could he help hourly committing the most ludicrous blunders. His inflexible temper forced the ever-jarring capitani to observe his orders; but the establishment of even the shadow of discipline and subordination among the soldiers was too herculean a task for him to achieve. Out of many instances, it may be mentioned, that, notwithstanding the scantiness of our ammunition, every one, who chose, might fire the cannons ad libitum; draw water out of the cisterns, although only three existed in the fortress; leave his watch when sleepy; enter into conversation with the enemy; leave the fortress, &c. &c. In vain did Stactouri attempt, also, to reform that abuse, now sanctioned by long custom, of the capitani receiving twice and even three times more rations, than they had men. The mere proposal of
giving every soldier his ration would inevitably have produced a revolution in the garrison, against the governor. Had these additional provisions been consumed or put by, the evil would not have been so crying; but they were either wantonly wasted, or when an opportunity presented itself, sold to the Zantiot boats, which conveyed water to the fortress; to the captains of the ships which brought us provisions; and even to the Spezziots: and so great was the liberty allowed to every soldier, of leaving the fortress, whenever he felt disposed, that upwards of three hundred (mostly Moriots) gradually disappeared under various pretexts.

Some time after our arrival, an empty Mainot bombarda entered a little before night the port of Navarino, and came to anchor close to the fortress. All that could be learned from the captain was, that he had brought letters to Beysadè from his father Petrobey. As the dissatisfaction of the Mainots and their chief was well known, and it had been observed, that, instead of impeding the desertion of his men, he had rather encouraged it; strong suspicions naturally arose, that this ship had been sent, at his request, to embark himself with the remaining part of his troop. This was the more practicable, as the sea-gate had entirely been intrusted to their charge. Determined to impede this, Stactouri invited Torjachi to an assembly of the capitani, which was always held in the fortress; and in the meanwhile signified to the bombarda, that unless she instantly departed, the fire of the batteries would be opened against her. From that day Beysadè was lodged in the citadel, and the sea-gate intrusted to another.

Capitano Panagi Phoca, under the plea of bringing wine and fresh provisions, departed with forty men for Philiatra; but, like Noah’s dove, having found
there a pleasant resting-place, he forgot to return to the ark. A few days before, the men of Nicola Zavella grew so outrageous, that it was deemed prudent to allow them to leave Neocastro; whose garrison thus insensibly dwindled below a thousand. Let it be remembered, too, at the same time, that the island of Sphacteria was at this very moment perfectly defenceless.

But the smallness of the numbers, composing the garrison, though itself a just motive of alarm, did not so much warrant sinister apprehensions for the future, as the moral disposition of the soldiers. So completely ignorant of the simplest principles of the art of resistance were they, as not to know even how to load a cannon; much less to point it; and yet they presumptuously disdained listening to the advice of Philhellenes*;—men of the very first merit even in their own countries; and who accompanied their disinterested counsels with the warmest entreaties. The soldiers hourly murmured against their capitani, who, deceiving them by fair assurances, had led them to a place, where the shameful negligence of government exposed them to certain loss; but, as if inspired

* After Cavaliere Collegno and Count Santa Rosa, the most interesting Frank in the fortress, was a major, belonging to the illustrious Venetian family of Cornaro. He had come to Greece, after the disasters of the constitutional party in Spain, with Colonel Fabrier and Delong. He now found himself, by mere chance, at Neocastro, where he had come to reclaim from the eparch some cases of books and instruments, left in his charge by the colonel on his departure from this fortress, where he had the intention of settling. But the instruments were not to be found; and as to the valuable and expensive works, they had served to wrap up the butter and caviari, sold by the town shopkeepers. He gave me some details relative to the colonel, and his unfortunate attempt on Coron; which I propose publishing in the Second Part of these Memoirs, as they are strongly illustrative of the Greek character, as well as of his own firmness.

by fatality, at the same time that they spoke of starvation as imminent, they wasted the provisions with the most wanton prodigality. The Moriots, especially, were loudest in their complaints; and bitterly vented themselves against
Conduriotti and his friends; who, after destroying the sinews of their country, employing the national loan and public revenues to entertain civil broils, and enrich themselves, did not show themselves worthy of preventing the landing of Arabs, and preserve a place so important and so easily defended as Neocastro.

To the ill-directed attacks of the enemy, a feeble and ineffectual resistance was offered by the disheartened Greeks; and although all our batteries on the south of the fortifications were directed against his, so very little injury was inflicted on the Egyptians, from the beginning of the siege, that all the firing of the garrison was little better than mere waste of powder and shot. During a fortnight, Ibrahim bombarded us with great activity and precision, from a battery of nine mortars, which he had erected on the north-east of the fortress. But, comparatively speaking, he did not cause us much harm; for, on account of the great elevation given to the shells, their direction could easily be remarked, and in general every one, at the cry of bomba! bomba! uttered by the sentinels in the videttes, had time to take shelter under the arched vaults, which are purposely constructed around the walls of the citadel, and in many parts of the town wall. It is right here to remark, how much the present Turks have degenerated from their ancestors; who, in almost every branch of military science, and in that of besieging fortresses especially, showed themselves, even in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, so much superior to the best troops of Christendom. The energy, resolution, intrepidity,
and skill exhibited by the Mussulman troops, during the prolonged and arduous sieges of Rhodes, Candia, Nicosia, Famagousta, Anapli, Modon, &c. are unrivalled in the annals of nations. Even their rivals acknowledged their inferiority: “Essendo molto maggiore la perizia e la virtu de suoi soldati nell’ espugnare le fortezze, che non era l’ arte e l’ industria de christiani nel fabbricarle o nel diffenderle, come s’ avea per tante esperienze potuto conoscere.”—
P. Paruta, Istoria della Guerra di Cipro.

But now, even the improved soldiers of Mehmet Ali, which are looked upon as the flower of the Ottoman troops, showed themselves, here and in other places, incapable of rescuing an ill-fortified place out of the hands of a Greek peasantry, totally unacquainted with the first elements of war.

On the 1st of May, the combined Egyptian and Turkish fleet was perceived off Modon, composed of upwards of sixty sail. It was returning, for the third time this year, from Candia, having now on board Husseim Bey Giritli; the troops, horses, beasts of burden, &c. left by Ibrahim on that island; or which had arrived there after his departure. To the great disappointment of the pasha, the Albanian troops of Husseim Bey had refused to embark; insisting on the full payment of their arrears before they crossed over to Peloponnesus. The Ottoman fleet was followed by a Greek division of thirty-five sail under Miavuli. As usual, although at more than three miles distance, the two fleets were firing their broadsides, as actively as if in close engagement. Husseim Bey observing, on his arrival, how ineffectual the efforts of Ibrahim had hitherto been against Neocastro, represented to him, how much more expeditiously and safely, he would force that place to surrender, by possessing himself of Old Navarino, and the island of Sphacteria (properly the key of the
harbour), and thus cutting our land and sea communications entirely off. Once master of Sphacteria, not only would he direct its battery against us, but, by sailing into the port with his fleet, he would reduce the fortress to atoms, should it persist in resisting.

These sensible counsels were approved of immediately by Ibrahim, and his divan; and Husseim Bey, whose talents as general, and courage as soldier, were universally acknowledged, was thought the most qualified person to preside at the attack of the island. Soliman Bey was directed to follow him with his regiment, which now was three thousand strong, in order to justify the hopes he had inspired in his new coreligionaries. On the 6th of May the troops embarked; and two thousand irregulars volunteered to accompany them. Ibrahim took upon himself to attack the position of Old Navarino, now occupied by the bishop of Modon, Chagi Cristo, and other minor capitani, whom Mavrocordato had prevailed upon to come to the defence of Neocastro. The secretary of state, whose zeal and activity, since his departure from Tripolitza, were highly praiseworthy, had this day returned from Scala, and passed in person over to the island; where he convoked the navy captains, Anagnostaia, Stactouri, our governor, &c., to deliberate on the best means of putting the island in a state of defence, so as to thwart the intended attack of the enemy.

After reconnoitring the place, the determination was taken, of bringing three cannons to protect the points, where a landing appeared most practicable. The other parts of the island were thought to be sufficiently defended by perpendicular rocks. Capitano Zocri, whose terrific looks reminded those who had witnessed his cowardice, of an ass in a lion’s skin, received the order of repairing there with two hundred and fifty men, taken from our garrison. Four
hundred more crossed over from Old Navarino; so that with the soldiers of
Mavrocordato and Anagnostaia, the different positions were lined with from eight to nine hundred men. Count Santa Rosa, whose firmness and resolution remained unshaken by ill treatment, and what proved to him more galling yet, the contemptuous sneers, with which his counsels had been constantly slighted by the capitani of the garrison, insisted, notwithstanding the entreaties of his friends, on accompanying Zocri. A detachment of the Callergi company went with him; and, assisted by the Greek sailors, undertook serving the principal battery. Tamado, with some of his sailors, charged himself with the carronade, defending the weakest point of the island, and where, in all probability, the enemy would attempt landing. During the whole day, the fleet was prevented by the weather and the Greek ships from approaching the island. Ibrahim, after having some useless skirmishes with the troops at Old Navarino, retired in the evening, to Petrochori and Talova; positions from which he effectually blockaded the Greeks.

The next morning (May the 7th) the weather was fine and calm, the Greek division at many miles distance, and every circumstance favourable to the execution of the enemy’s design. Forty-six ships, ten of which were frigates and corvettes, gradually drew close to the island; while the remaining portion of the fleet cruised before the mouth of the port, to watch the movements of the five Greek ships within. About nine o’clock the cannonade began. After it had been kept up incessantly for more than two hours, Husseim Bey made the signal to the troops to enter the boats. Placing himself in the foremost one, he ordered them to follow without firing; and the Turkish vessels to suspend their fire, and depart as
soon as the boats returned. The Greek musketry opened against the advancing Egyptians, and their balls fell like hail around them. Husseim leaped, undismayed, sword in hand, on shore; and, followed by
Soliman Bey, rushed towards the battery of Tsamado. The Arab drums sounded the charge, and animated by its sounds and the cries of Allah! Allah! the disciplined troops advanced intrepidly with crossed bayonets against the frail tambouri of the Greeks. Terrified by this mode of fighting, to which they were strangers, and which they could not oppose, having themselves no bayonets, and overpowered by numbers, the Greeks precipitately betook themselves to flight. This cowardly example so rapidly influenced the rest, that, in less than half an hour after the landing of the Egyptians, we perceived from the fortress the Mussulman crescent and green standards coming down the heights of Sphacteria, and the Arabs actively pursuing the Greeks, who bounded from rock to rock with unavailing nimbleness. A few, however, seeing death inevitable, disdained falling so ingloriously. The most conspicuous of these were the brave Tsamado, several Hydriots, Stavro Sacchini, Count Santa Rosa, &c. Mavrocordato, who, from the beginning of the affair, had kept aloof, very nearly escaped falling into the hands of the enemy. He owed his life on this occasion to his followers, who seeing him on the ground in a complete state of syncope, conveyed him to the Hydriot boat belonging to Tsamado. Closely pursued by the Arabs, Stactouri leapt into the sea, and succeeded in swimming to the ship of Tsamado, of which he assumed the command. As soon as the Greeks in the ships, at anchor in the harbour, saw the overthrow of their countrymen, after waiting a short time for the return of their sailors, who were on the island, fearing lest the enemy should
turn the cannons of the battery against them, and also lest the Turkish ships should enter the port and destroy them, if they no longer delayed their flight, they cut their cables; and, assisted by a breeze which providentially sprung up, were fortunate enough to make their way through the numerous bulky vessels of the Egyptian division, which sought in vain to prevent them. Tsamado’s ship remained alone behind. The sailors would not leave the port without their captain. Alas! they waited in vain. They gave up all hopes only when they saw the Arabs actually lining the shore, and firing on their boat. It was impossible not to feel a lively interest, on seeing this single merchant brig, mounted with fourteen carronades, boldly advancing upon the huge men-of-war of the enemy; or to forbear invoking the assistance of Providence, on observing the active manner, in which it defended itself against upwards of forty vessels; the smallest of which was sufficient to sink it. So great was the terror, inspired by the Hydriots in the Turkish sailors, that instead of endeavouring to intercept its passage, or attempting to board it, they endeavoured to make full sail, in order to avoid the encounter of what they thought a fire-ship. Heartfelt was our joy, on perceiving it escape, unhurt, from a conflict, the most unequal, and, perhaps, the most gallant of any recorded in ancient or modern times. Had not the clumsiness of the gunners on board the Turkish fleet been beyond what any one could have imagined, it might appear fabulous, that, after being exposed for upwards of two hours to the broadsides of a whole fleet, the above mentioned five vessels not only escaped destruction, but had altogether not twenty men killed. Indeed the closer the low Greek ship lies to a huge Turkish one, the less liable it is to be injured. For the Turks are in the habit of firing on the same level,
without making the least allowance for difference of elevation or distance, so that little damage is done, except to the mast and rigging; and even this is, in general, so little, that
Lord Byron quaintly, but justly, observed, that “Turkish artillerymen were to be feared only when they did not take aim.”

About a hundred Greeks had time to save themselves by crossing the ford to Old Navarino. Tsocri and Œconomapoulo were among the first. Six individuals succeeded in swimming to Neocastro, many were drowned in the attempt, and the rest were killed or surrendered to the enemy. Amongst the former was Anagnostara; the news of whose death occasioned unrestricted joy to the capitani of the garrison. For it seemed in the eyes of most, to be a compensation for the loss of Sphacteria. Griva, who had a private enmity against him, exclaimed on hearing it; “Happen what will, now this keratà is no more!”

About two hundred prisoners were sent to Modon; among whom was the brother of Capitan Zaphiropoulo, who had been taken at Fourgi, Catzaro, captain of Mavrocordato’s body-guard, a German named Becker, &c. Truth compels me here to add, that, before surrendering or receiving the fatal blow, the Greeks in general threw down their arms, and weeping like women, implored the mercy of the enemy.

Considerable booty fell on this occasion to the lot of the Arabs; as most of the Greeks were Roumeliots, wearing arms decked with silver, and having purses well lined with sequins and sovereigns. Not to mention others, Catzaro had, besides his splendid arms, the value of one thousand five hundred dollars around his waist. Yet before the revolution this man was a vineyard keeper at Vrachori. He had amassed this sum, considerable for Greece, while in Mavrocordato’s service. So universal indeed is the spirit of
accumulation among the Greeks, that similar and even much more striking instances of sudden wealth are far from being uncommon. Several had concealed themselves in the numerous natural caverns found on this island; but as the Turkish natives of Neocastro were well acquainted with the spots, they were soon discovered, and we repeatedly saw them shot in the act of surrendering. In the most spacious of these caverns, the Greeks, who amounted to upwards of eighty, continued to defend themselves so actively during two days, that, unwilling uselessly to expose his troops,
Hussein Bey ordered a brig to anchor opposite its mouth, and to fire into it with ball and grape-shot. Seeing their doom certain, if they continued in this position, the Greeks offered at last to surrender, on condition, that their lives were spared; but having fallen into the hands of some Moriot Turks, who never gave quarter, they were, in retaliation for the cruelties, practised by their countrymen on this very island, put to death, without exception. I knew afterwards a Turk from Phanari, who assured me that he killed with his own hands, Anagnostara. In fact he wore his arms.

Close to this cavern there is a narrow fissure in the rocks, into which thirteen individuals had crept. So well was it concealed by projecting stones, that they escaped discovery; but the aperture was so low, that they were compelled to remain extended on the belly; not being able even to raise their heads. Three days they remained in this fatiguing position, continually tormented by the horrible sensation of suffocation, by thirst and hunger; but how cruel soever their bodily sufferings were, they were trifling in comparison with the torturing agitation, they hourly endured, on hearing the voices of the
blood-thirsty soldiers in search of more prey, and the shrieks and groans of the half-murdered Greeks slowly expiring in the midst of tortures, and on tremblingly reflecting that a similar fate, perhaps in a few moments, awaited them. What aggravated the horror of their position still more, and increased their fears, was the circumstance of one of their companions being mortally wounded. Martyrised by the thirst a burning fever and profuse hemorrhage brought upon him, in vain he sought to restrain the groans, which the lingering agony of death forced him to utter. Were they but heard, by the Turks, the doom of every one was fixed. Fortunately for them, however, he expired in twenty-four hours.

At the end of the third day one of them, who knew how to swim, favoured by the obscurity of night, succeeded, unperceived, in stealing down to the shore; and, assisted by despair, arrived at Neocastro. No sooner did he inform us of the position of his companions, than a boat, belonging to some Zantiots, was got ready. Some Hydriots volunteered to row it. They slowly drew, at the dead of night, near the spot where they impatiently awaited his return. The voice of the sweetest angel of mercy could not bring more joy to the unfortunate plunged in the abyss of despair, than the whisper by which he invited his desponding companions to follow him, with all possible precaution. They descended to the small promontory behind which lay the boat. Their feelings, when they precipitated themselves into it, may be conceived. The noise they then made, and that of the departing oars, drew the attention of the drowsy Turkish sentinels. They sounded the alarm, and a lively but useless fire was made upon the now happy Greeks, who could have replied with huzzas of exulta-
tion, had they not feared to draw the attention of the Turkish ships, which, after entering the port, had anchored close to the island.

I gladly saw, among these individuals, three persons whom I knew. Two of these had been formerly patients of mine, belonging to Mavrocordato’s bodyguard. The third was a Philhellene, named Ernest, belonging to a respectable family at Zurich. It was singular to observe the striking moral change, which the horrible position, in which he had remained during three days, had wrought on this young man. Instead of rejoicing at having so miraculously escaped, and reassuming his former liveliness on finding himself amongst the Franks, he exhibited, during several days, all the symptoms of mental derangement. His looks were savage, his humour sullen, peevish, and fretful; he muttered curses against those, who showed him most kindness; sought solitude; and sat sulkily in a corner of the vault where I lodged, shedding abundance of tears. The danger, to which we were during several days exposed, contributed, no doubt, to maintain him in this state; and it was only when the capitulation was granted to the garrison, that he became himself again.