Friday, February 8, 2008

The French Army Besieges Acre

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. 20-23.

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

The army began its march against Acre on the 26th Ventose; the army arrived very late on the mouth of the little river of Acre, which is at the distance of about 1500 fathoms from the fortress. The night was employed in constructing a bridge; the 27th, at break of day, the whole army passed over. On the 28th the Commander in Chief ascended an eminence, that commands St. Jean d’Acre at the distance of 1000 fathom; he ordered to attack the enemy, who were drawn up in the garden that environed the town, and compelled them to retire within the fortress. The army was encamped upon an insulated eminence, that runs near to, and parallel with the sea, and which extends as far as Cape Blanc, about a league and a half to the northward, commanding to the east a plain, about a league and three quarters in length, terminated by the mountains that lie between Acre and the Jordan. On the 29th Generals Dommartin and Cassareli went out to reconnoiter the fortress. It was resolved to attack the front of the angle at the eastward of the town. The chief of Brigade, Samson, was wounded in the hand by a ball, which passed through it. No intelligence had yet arrived of the siege artillery that was sent by sea. The works of the breaching batteries, and of the counter batteries, were commenced. The commander of the English squadron was well informed that there was a great quantity of provisions at Caissa; he resolved upon seizing them, and also upon carrying off some small vessels that had arrived from Jaffa with provisions for us, Bonaparte had provisionally entrusted the command of Caissa to the Chief of Squadron, Lambert, a distinguished officer. We heard a heavy cannonade on the 2d Germinal from the camp at Acre, on the side of Caissa. We were soon informed that several English sloops of war, armed with cannonades of 32, had arrived, attacked Caissa, and had advanced against our ships, with a design to take possession of them; that the Chief of Squadron, Lambert, had given orders to permit the English to approach, without displaying any movement or measure of defense; that he had also concealed a howtizer; that he placed in ambuscade about sixty men, who composed his garrison; that at the moment the enemy were on the point of landing, he took occasion to fall upon them, attacked them with a sharp fire of musquetry; that he had boarded and taken one of the sloops, and an artillery piece of 32, and made prisoners seventeen English; that he had discharged his howitzer against the other sloops, which took to flight, having almost the whole of their crews killed or wounded, amongst whom were two officers.

The English Commodore relinquished his designs against Caissa. He came and cast anchor before Acre. On the 5th the works of the siege were pushed on with activity. The enemy made a fortie, on the 6th in which they were repulsed with loss. On the 8th, the breaching and the counter batteries were finished. About three in the evening a breach was made; a mine was branched out to blow up in the counterscarp. The mine exploded, and we imagined the effect complete. The impatience of the troops determined upon the assault. The grenadiers sprung forward; but they soon found themselves arrested in their progress by a trench of 15 feet, well provided with a counterscarp. This obstacle did not damp their ardor. They proceeded to place their ladders; the grenadiers descended, but the breach was still from eight to ten feet above the ruins: some ladders were placed to it. Mailly, the Assistant Adjutant-General, ascended the first; he climbed the breach, and was killed. The fire from the fortress was tremendous; the counterscarp checked the progress, and compelled the grenadiers to retreat, who advanced the first’ the Adjutants General Lescalles and Laugnier were killed. An emotion of fear had seized the enemy—they fled towards the harbour, but were soon fought back to the breach, where the bravest of Dgezzar’s troops were engaged. The height of the breach above the ruins prevented our grenadiers from ascending it, which afforded the enemy sufficient time to return to the top of the tower, form whence they threw down stones, discharged grenades, and poured down combustible materials. The division of grenadiers, nor being able to pass through it, were obliged to take shelter under our trenches. Six men were killed, and twenty wounded. The eagerness to begin the assault, made our men take for certain that the mine had blown up the counterscarp, while it only pierced a tunnel into the glacis.


Ralph Hitchens said...

Juan, David, thanks very much for posting this series. One can, on the one hand, admire the professionalism of the French Army, while simultaneously seeing the whole campaign as completely harebrained.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

Do you mention how he blew the nose off of the sphinix because it resembled an African man? If so, i think i will get your book, my preference has been chekih Anta Diop and Ali Mazuri (sp). And would u mind if i added your blog Juan cole to my roll?