Monday, January 21, 2008

Bonaparte Describes Military Campaigns to the Directors

From: An Account of the French Expedition in Egypt; Written by Bonaparte and Berthier; with Sir William Sidney Smith’s Letters. With an English translation (London, Edward Baines, 1800.), pp. 2-6

BONAPARTE Commander in Chief to the DIRECTORY.

Camp before Acre, 21 Floreal, An. 7. (May 10, 1799.)


I HAVE already transmitted to you the information, that Achmet Dgazzar, the Pacha of Acre, of Tripoli, and of Damas, had been appointed Pacha of Egypt; that he had raised a considerable army, and that his advanced guards had even marched to El-Arisch, threatening the rest of Egypt with a speedy invasion; that the Turkish transport vessels were collected in the port of Macri, for the purpose of transporting the army to Alexandria, when the season should admit; and that, for the movements which existed in Arabia, it was to be expected that the number of the people of Yambo, who had passed the Red Sea, would be greatly augmented in the course of the spring.

You have seen, by my last dispatch, the rapidity with which the army crossed the Desert. You have learned, also, the capture of El-Arisch, of Gaza, and of Jaffa, with the discomfiture of the army of the enemy, who lost all their magazines, a part of their camels, their stores, and camp-equipage.

There still remained two months, before the season of debarkation in Egypt. I therefore determined to pursue the remains of the hostile army, and to carry the war, during that interval, into the heart of Syria. We put ourselves, in consequence, on our march to Acre.

On the 25th Ventose (March 15), at ten o’clock in the morning, we perceived the enemy on the other side of the village of Kakoun. They had taken a position on our flank: their left, being composed of the people of Naplouse (the ancient Samaritans), was supported by a small hill, rather difficult of access; their cavalry was drawn up on the right.

General Kleber advanced against the enemy’s horse; General Lasne attacked the left wing; and General Murat led the cavalry in the centre. General Kleber, after a slight discharge of musketry, put to fight the enemy’s right wing, and pursued them with impetuosity; they took the road to Acre.


ON the 27th, at eight o’clock in the evening, we took possession of Kaissa. An English Squadron was moored in the road. Four pieces of battering artillery, which I had caused to be embarked at Alexandria on board four transport vessels, were taken off the cast of Kaissa by the English.

Several vessels, laden with bombs and provisions, escaped, and cast anchor at Kaissa. The English wished to carry them off; but Lambert, the Commodore of the squadron, repulsed them, having killed or wounded an hundred of their men, taken thirty prisoners, and got possession of the gun-vessel, with a 36 pound cannonade.

We had, as yet, nothing to place on our batteries before Acre but our field pieces. We battered in breach a tower which formed the most remote angle of the place. Our mine failing, the counterscarp was not blown up. The citizen Mailly, and adjoint to the staff, was killed in advancing to reconnoiter the effect of the mine.

You will see, by the Journal of the Seige, that on the 6th, 10th, and 18th, and 26th Germinal (March 26, 30, April 7, and 15), the enemy made several brisk forties, but were always repulsed with loss by General Vial.

On the 12th (April 1), our miners blew up the counterscarp; but the breach did not prove to be practicable.

On the 11th (March 31), General Murat took possession of Saffet, the ancient Bethulia. The inhabitants shew the place where Judith killed Holophemes. On the same day General Junot entered into and possessed Nazareth.

IN the mean time, a numerous army was advancing from Damas. It passed the Jordan on the 17th (April 6). The advanced guard was engaged, during the whole day, on the 19th, with General Junot, who, with 500 men of the 2d and 19th demi-brigades, put the enemy completely to the route, took from them five standards, and covered the field of battle with dead bodies. This was a distinguished action, which did honour to the valour and coolness of the French.


On the 20th, General Kleber left the camp before Acre. He marched to meet the enemy, and found them at the village of Cana. He formed his troops into two square bodies. The armies, after exchanging a fire of Cannon and Musquetry, which sailed the greater part of the day, returning at night into their several camps.

On the 22d (April 11), the enemy moved from the right of General Kleber, and advanced to the plain of Aledecten, in order to form a junction with the Naplousians. General Kleber pushed forward between the river Jordan and the enemy, turned Mont-Tabor, and marched the whole of the night of the 26th (April 15), for the purpose of taking the enemy by surprise. He did not arrive in presence of the enemy until after day-break. He then formed his division into a square battalion. A cloud of enemies surrounded him on every side. He had to encounter, through the whole day, repeated charges of cavalry; but they were all repulsed with the greatest bravery.

The division of General Bon left the camp before Acre at noon on the 25th (April 14); and on the 27th, at nine o’clock in the morning, he found himself on the rear of the enemy, who occupied an immense plain. We never before saw such a number of cavalry, wheeling, charging and maneuvering in every direction. We did not make our appearance at all. Our cavalry carried the camp of the enemy, which was distant two leagues from the field of battle. We there took upwards of 400 camels and all the baggage, particularly that of the Mameloucs.

The Generals Vial and Rampon, at the head of their troops, formed into square battalions, marched in different directions, in such a manner as to form with the division of Kleber the three angles of an equilateral triangle, extending about [4000 yards] on each side, of which the enemy formed the centre. Being arrived within cannon shit, our troops all presented themselves at once, and terror seemed to pervade the ranks of the enemy. In a moment, this immense cloud of horsemen was scattered in disorder, and reached the banks of the Jordan. The infantry ascended the neighbouring heights and escaped under cover of the night.

On the following day I ordered the villages of Genine, Hourez, and Onalm, to be burned, for the purpose of the punishing the Naplousians. General Kleber was engaged in pursuing the enemy to the banks of the Jordan.

General Murut, during this time, had left the camp before Acre on the 23d (April 12), in order to raise the siege of Saffet, and to seize and bear off the magazines at Tabarich.

He defeated the enemy’s column, and got possession of all their baggage. Thus this army, the approach of which was announced with so much pomp, being, according to the reports of the natives, “As numerous as the stars of the heavens, or the sands of the sea,” a strange body of horse and foot soldiers, of every colour, and of every country, repassed the Jordan with the utmost precipitation, after having left an immense quantity of dead upon the field of battle. If we may judge of their fears from the rapidity of their flight, the terror with which they were seized was beyond all example!

You will observe, in the journal of the Siege of Acre, the efforts which were made, on the one side and on the other, to effect the passage of the moat, and to lodge ourselves in the tower, where mines were met by counter-mines. Several 24-pounders having at length arrived, we proceeded seriously to batter the place. On the 7th, 11th, and 13th Floreal, the enemy made several sallies, which were vigorously repulsed. On the 8th of May, the enemy received a reinforcement, which was brought by thirty Turkish ships of war. On that day they made four forties. They filled our trenches with their dead bodies, and we effected a lodgement, after a most bloody assault, within one of the most essential points of the place.

We were now masters of the principal points of the rampart, the Enemy had drawn a second line of entrenchments which had the castle of Dgezzar for their point of support. It remained for us to make our way through the town: it would have been necessary to open trenches before every house, and to sacrifice a great number of men, to which I was by no means inclined. The season, in addition to this, was too far advanced. The object which I had proposed to myself was accomplished; and now Egypt called me away.

I ordered a battery of 24-pounders to be erected, for the purpose of demolishing the palace of the Dgezzar, and the principal buildings of the town. I ordered also a thousand bombs to be thrown in which, in a place so confined, must have done considerable mischief. Having reduced Acre to a pile of rubbish, I shall repass the Desart, and be ready to receive the European or the Turkish army, which in Thermidor or Messidor (June or July) may be inclined to land in Egypt. I shall send to you, from Cairo, an account of the victories which General Desaix has obtained in Upper Egypt: he has several times routed the forces which came against him from Arabia, and has nearly scattered the whole of Mameloucs.

In all the actions, a great number of brave men fell, at the head of whom I must place the Generals Caffarelli and Rombaud. A greater number still has been wounded, amongst whom are the Generals Bon and Lasne.

I have lost, since my passage through the Desart, five hundred men killed, and twice that number wounded. The enemy has lost more than fifteen thousand men.

I demand of you the rank of General of Division for General Lasne, and that of General of Brigade for Citizen Songis, Chief of the Brigade of Artillery. I have given promotion to other officers, as you will find by the list annexed to this letter. I shall take occasion to inform you of the traits of courage by which a number of brave men have distinguished themselves.

I have been completely satisfied with the army. In a kind of new warfare so new to Europeans, it has made evident that true courage and warlike talents can surmount every obstacle, and are not to be disheartened by any privations. The result will be, we trust, an advantageous peace and an increase of glory and prosperity to the Republic.


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