On this day in 1177 King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem & 200 knights defeated Saladin in the Battle of Montgisard, in an early campaign of the Global War on Terror.
The 16-year-old King Baldwin IV, seriously afflicted by leprosy, led an out-numbered Christian force against the army of Saladin. The Islamic force was routed and their casualties were massive, only a fraction managed to flee to safety.
Saladin planned to invade the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem from Egypt. Learning of Saladin's plans, Baldwin IV left Jerusalem with (according to William of Tyre) only 375 knights to attempt a defense at Ascalon. Baldwin was stalled there by a 26,000-strong detachment of Saladin's troops. Accompanying Baldwin was Raynald of Châtillon, lord of Oultrejordain, who had just been released from captivity in Aleppo (Syria) the previous year. Raynald was a fierce enemy of Saladin, and with King Baldwin too ill with leprosy to personally command, was the effective commander of the Crusader Army. Also present were Odo de St Amand, Master of the Knights Templar - So Mote It Be - Baldwin of Ibelin, his brother Balian, Reginald of Sidon, and Joscelin III of Edessa. Another Templar force attempted to meet Baldwin at Ascalon, but they were besieged at Gaza.
Saladin continued marching towards Jerusalem, thinking Baldwin would not dare to follow him with so few men. He attacked Ramla, Lydda and Arsuf, but because Baldwin was supposedly not a danger, he allowed his army to be spread out over a large area, pillaging and foraging. However, unknown to Saladin, the forces he had left behind to subdue the Crusader King were insufficient and now both Baldwin and the Templars were marching to intercept him before he reached Jerusalem.
The Crusaders pursued the Muslims along the coast, finally catching their enemies at Mons Gisardi, near Ramla. Saladin was taken totally by surprise. His army was in disarray, out of formation and tired from a long march. The Islamic army, in a state of panic, scrambled to make battle lines against the enemy. However, in the distance, the Christian army was completely quiet. King Baldwin ordered the relic of the True Cross to be raised in front of the troops. The King, whose teenage body was already ravaged by aggressive leprosy, was helped from his horse and dropped to his knees before the cross. He prayed to God for victory and rose to his feet to cheers from his army. As Saladin's army rushed to prepare, Baldwin began the charge across the sand.
The Jerusalem army smashed into the hurriedly arranged Muslims, inflicting huge casualties. The King, fighting with bandaged hands to cover his terrible wounds and sores, was in the thick of the fighting and Saladin's men were quickly overwhelmed. They tried to flee but hardly any escaped. Saladin himself only avoided capture by escaping on a racing camel.
King Baldwin's victory was total. He had utterly destroyed the invasion force, captured Saladin's baggage train and killed his nephew, Taqi ad-Din's son Ahmad.
Baldwin pursued Saladin until nightfall, and then retired to Ascalon. Deluged by ten days of heavy rains and suffering the loss of roughly ninety percent of his army, including his personal bodyguard of Mamluks, Saladin fled back to Egypt, harassed by Bedouins along the way. Only one tenth of his army made it back to Egypt with him.
Saladin, fearing the tenuousness of both his hold on Egypt and the alliance with his Syrian vassals, spread propaganda that the Christians had in fact lost the battle. Baldwin memorialized his victory by erecting a Benedictine monastery on the battlefield, dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose feast day fell on the day of the battle. However, it was a difficult victory; Roger des Moulins, master of the Knights Hospitaller, reported that 1,100 men had been killed and 750 returned home wounded.