Monday, February 4, 2008

French Armies Arrive in Palestine

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. 17-20.

[ALEXANDER BERTHIER, General of Division, Chief of the Staff of the Army, to the Minister at War].

On the 6th Ventose, the head quarters of the army marched to Kan Jounesse, the first village of Palestine, when you get out of the Desert. Gen. Regnier’s division had orders to remain at El-Arisch till dispositions were made for putting the fortress in a state of defense, and the park of artillery in motion. About a league and a half distance from Kan Jounesse, we discovered [opposite] a road a few columns of granite, and some fragments of marble dispersed here and there, which betokened the remains of an ancient monument, as well, bearing the name of which, is to be found in that neighborhood. Abdalla Pacha, and the Mamelukes who had encamped in the front of Kan Jounesse, informed of the approach of our army, raised their camp during the night of the 6th, and fell back upon Gaza.

On the 7th, the army marched against Gaza; at the distance of two leagues from the fortress, we perceived upon the heights a body of cavalry of the enemy. Bonaparte formed his three divisions each into a square body; that of Kleber was ordered to march against Gaza; General Bon’s division moved against the centre; that of General Lannes was to occupy the heights on our right, in order to turn those that were possessed by the enemy’s cavalry. The enemy made several movements, and seemed undecided. They at length put themselves in motion to advance toward us; they, however, made immediately a retrograde movement; we marched against them with fixed bayonets, upon which they withdrew. Kleber’s division cut off and killed several of their riflemen; our cavalry also maneuvered to entice an attack, but they could not succeed in engaging the hostile cavalry, who disappeared altogether in the evening. The head-Quarters were established at Gaza, and the army took its position upon the heights.

Gaza has a circular fort, in good condition, forming in the interior a pentagon of about [240 feet] in diameter. It contained 15,000 lbs of powder, several cannon, a quantity of carcasses, carriages, with a large store of warlike provisions. In the town were also found about 100,000 rations of biscuit, with rice, tobacco, tents, and a large quantity of barley. The inhabitants had sent Commissioners to meet Bonaparte, and were therefore treated as friends.

8, & 9—The Commander in Chief passed those days in organizing the place and the country, both in a civil and military point of view. A Divan was formed of the principal Turks inhabiting the town. The provisions and ammunition found here, were more acceptable, as the supplies which were to have been sent after us from Cathick were greatly delayed, from the difficulty of conveyance across the Desert.

10.—The main body of the army began to advance toward Jaffa, where the enemy were collecting their forces, for the purpose of making a stand. We encamped on the 11th at Esdodes, and on the 12th at Ramlay, a town inhabited for the greater part by Christians. We there found some magazines and biscuit, which the enemy had not time to remove. We also found some at the village of Ledda. On the 13th, the division under General Kleber, which formed the advanced guard, marched to Jaffa. The enemy, on his arrival, entered the body of the place, and cannonaded his division, whilst it took its position. Bonaparte, and the other bodies of the army, arriving in succession, Kleber’s division and the cavalry were ordered to advance to the banks of Lahoya, about two leagues on the way to Acre, for the purpose of covering the siege of Jaffa, which is enclosed by a wall, and flanked by towers provided with cannon. Towards the sea are two fort, which defended the harbor and the road. The place appeared well provided with means of defense.

15.—In the preceding night the trenches were opened, and exertions were used to open a battery in breach against the most commanding of the square towers, and two counter batteries. Another battery was also erected to the north of the place, to make a diversion by a false attack.

16.—This, as well as the preceding day, was employed in completing our works. The enemy attempted two sallies, but were driven back with considerable loss. The batteries then opened their fire, and at four o’clock in the evening, a breach was made, which appeared to be practicable. An assault was ordered; the light carabineers, and the 22d brigade were the first to advance. They had with them the workmen of the engineers, and of the artillery: the chief of the brigade was killed. Our brave fellows flew to the breach, and ascended it in spite of a flanking fire, which we could not by any means subdue. We made a lodgment in the square tower, and hoisted our flag. The enemy made every effort to attack the repulse our troops; but there being supported by the division of General Lanos, and by our artillery, which fired grape-shot into the town, following the progress made by our troops, advanced from roof to roof, and from street to street, until they took and hoisted our flag on the fort. They at length reached the harbour, and terror seized on the garrison, the greater part of which was put to the sword. About 300 Egyptians, who escaped from the assault, were sent to Egypt, and restored to their families. We lost about thirty men killed in the breach and in the town, and had also several wounded.

The garrison was composed of about 1,200 Turkish gunners, about 2,500 Maugrabins, or Arnauts, and some Egyptians. We found in the place ten pieces of cannon, and 16 lb howitzers for the field equipage, sent by the Grand Seignior to the Dgezzar Pacha, and twenty bad brass and iron pieces, which were placed on the ramparts. 17th.—Bonaparte being master of all the forts, ordered that the inhabitants should be spared, and General Robin took the command of the place. He succeeded in extinguishing the disorders which naturally follow an assault. The inhabitants were protected, and immediately returned to their own habitations. In the harbor we found fifteen small trading vessels. Bonaparte formed a Divan, consisting of the most distinguished Turks in the place; he took measures for reporting it to a state of defense, and also established a hospital. Jaffa was to the army a place of the highest importance, as it became the depot of every thing that was to be sent to us from Alexandria and Damietta.

25.—Kleber’s division was encamped at Miski, where it had covered the siege of Jaffa. On the 24th, the divisions of Bon and Lasne departed from Jaffa, and encamped at Miski. The army then marched onward to Zeta. At noon the advanced guard discovered a body of the enemy’s cavalry. Abdallah Pacha, with about 1000 horse, was on the heights of Korsum, on his left was a body of 50,000 Naplousians, who occupied the mountaints. The divisions of Kleber and Bon, with our horse, advanced against the enemy’s cavalry: but the latter, by several maneuvers, avoided an engagement. The division of Lasne was ordered to march forward to the right, in order to cut off Abdallah Pacha from the Naplousians, and to disconcert his plan, by forcing him to retreat either to Acre or to Damas. Borne away by its ardor, this division advanced amongst the mountains, and attacked the Naplousians, who took to flight, and were pursued too far by our light infantry. It fell back, after repeated orders; but the Naplousians, looking on this movement as a retreat, pursued our infantry, firing on them from the rocks, by which means they wounded about thirty men and killed Citizn Barthelemy, chief of the 69th demi-brigade. They were checked, however, at the opening into the mountain. This affair cost the Naplousians more than 200 men killed and wounded. Our army was under arms all night, near the tower of Zetta, about one league from Korsum—We encamped on the 26th at Saburieu, near the opening of the defiles of Mount Carmel, on the plan of Acre. General Kleber marched upon Caissa, which the enemy abandoned on our approach. We there found 20,000 rations of biscuit, and as many of rice.

A squadron, consisting of two English ships of the line, a frigate, and two advice boats, were moored in the road of Caissa. The port of Caissa would have been of great use to us, if the fort had been armed, but the enemy had removed with his troops, all the artillery, and ammunition. We took possession of the magazines, and left a garrison in the castle.

Caissa is enclosed by strong walls, flanked with towers. A castle defends the port and the road. A tower, with embrasures, commands the town, at the distance of 150 toises, but is itself commanded by the heights of Mount Carmel. The place is not tenable against artillery.

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