Friday, August 10, 2007

Battle of Shubrakhit (Chebraiss): Bourrienne

From a Gutenberg e-text of Bourrienne's biography of Napoleon Bonaparte (R.W. Phipps trans.):

On the 10th of July our headquarters were established at Rahmahanie'h, where they remained during the 11th and 12th. At this place commences the canal which was cut by Alexander to convey water to his new city; and to facilitate commercial intercourse between Europe and the East.

The flotilla, commanded by the brave chief of division Perree, had just arrived from Rosette. Perree was on board the xebec 'Cerf'.

--[Bonaparte had great confidence in him. He had commanded, under the General's orders, the naval forces in the Adriatic in 1797.-- Bourrienne]--

Bonaparte placed on board the Cerf and the other vessels of the flotilla those individuals who, not being military, could not be serviceable in engagements, and whose horses served to mount a few of the troops.

On the night of the 14th of July the General-in-Chief directed his march towards the south, along the left bank of the Nile. The flotilla sailed up the river parallel with the left wing of the army. But the force of the wind, which at this season blows regularly from the Mediterranean into the valley of the file, carried the flotilla far in advance of the army, and frustrated the plan of their mutually defending and supporting each other. The flotilla thus unprotected fell in with seven Turkish gunboats coming from Cairo, and was exposed simultaneously to their fire and to that of the Mamelukes, fellahs [peasants], and Arabs who lined both banks of the river. They had small guns mounted on camels.

Perree cast anchor, and an engagement commenced at nine o'clock on the 14th of July, and continued till half past twelve.

At the same time the General-in-Chief met and attacked a corps of about 4000 Mamelukes. His object, as he afterwards said, was to turn the corps by the left of the village of Chebreisse [Shubrakhit], and to drive it upon the Nile.

About eleven in the morning Perree told me that the Turks were doing us more harm than we were doing them; that our ammunition would soon be exhausted; that the army was far inland, and that if it did not make a move to the left there would be no hope for us. Several vessels had already been boarded and taken by the Turks, who massacred the crews before our eyes, and with barbarous ferocity showed us the heads of the slaughtered men.

Perree, at considerable risk, despatched several persons to inform the General-in-Chief of the desperate situation of the flotilla. The cannonade which Bonaparte had heard since the morning, and the explosion of a Turkish gunboat, which was blown up by the artillery of the xebec, led him to fear that our situation was really perilous. He therefore made a movement to the left, in the direction of the Nile and Chebreisse [Shubrakhit], beat the Mamelukes, and forced them to retire on Cairo. At sight of the French troops the commander of the Turkish flotilla weighed anchor and sailed up the Nile. The two banks of the river were evacuated, and the flotilla escaped the destruction which a short time before had appeared inevitable. Some writers have alleged that the Turkish flotilla was destroyed in this engagement. The truth is, the Turks did us considerable injury, while on their part they suffered but little. We had twenty men killed and several wounded. Upwards of 1500 cannon-shots were fired during the action.

General Berthier, in his narrative of the Egyptian expedition, enumerates the individuals who, though not in the military service, assisted Perree in this unequal and dangerous engagement. He mentions Monge, Berthollet, Andreossy, the paymaster, Junot, and Bourrienne, secretary to the General-in-Chief. It has also been stated that Sucy, the commissary- general, was seriously wounded while bravely defending a gunboat laden with provisions; but this is incorrect.

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