Saturday, February 16, 2008

French Campaign in Syria Continues

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. 23-25.

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

On the 9th, a Turkish frigate moored in the road of Caissa. The Turkish vessel being ignorant of our arrival, sent her boat ashore, with her Lieutenant and 20 men. On their landing the French surrounded, made them prisoners, and took possession of their boat. On the 10th, the enemy made a sally, but was repulsed with a considerable loss. Destroyes, the Chief of a brigade of artillery, was killed. Dgezzar had sent his emissaries to Aleppo, to Damas, to Said, and to the Naplousians, with a considerable sum of money, for the purpose of raising in a mass all the Mussulmen, who were capable of carrying arms. He said in his sermons, that they were to fight with the infidels; that we were only a handful of men, unprovided with artillery; and that as he was sustained by a powerful English force, they had only to appear in order to exterminate us. We learned through the Christians, that a body of troops was accordingly formed at Damas, and that a large supply of provisions was collected in the fortress of Sabarie, occupied by the Maugrebins. Dgezzar expected every moment to see this force from Damas make its appearance, and this it was which encouraged him to make such frequent sorties.

On the 12th, our besieging artillery was not arrived; we learned, on the contrary, that three vessels of our fleet, which sailed from Damietta, laden with ammunition and provisions had missed their way, and fallen in, during a fog, with the English, by whom they were captured. The rest arrived safely at Jaffa. As some of our besieging artillery was on board the captured vessels, Bonaparte sent orders to Rear-Admiral Perree, and to Damietta, to replace them. The same day we again battered in breach, and blew up a small part of the counterscarp. Bonaparte gave orders that we should try to make a lodgment in the tower of the breach but in this we were unsuccessful.

General Vial set out at break of day on the 14th Germinal at the head of 4000 men, in order to take possession of Sous, the ancient Tyre. He reached it after a march of eleven hours. The road was impracticable for artillery on the way to Cape Blanc; on the top of a mountain appear the remains of a castle, built by mutualis an hundred years ago, and since destroyed by Dgezzar. After having passed Capre Blanc, we discovered, on entering on a plain, the vestiges of an ancient fortress, and the ruins of two temples. General Vial tranquillized the alarms of the inhabitants of Sous, who fled at his approach. They returned to the town; Turks and Christians met with equal protection; he placed a Garrison in the town of Mutualis. The population of Sous amounts to 1500 souls. The town is enclosed with a wall without any entrenchments. The walls are in some measure raised upon the stocks of antique pillars. General Vial returned to the camp under Acre with his detachment on the 16th Germinal. The English Commodore observed the troops of the Dgezzar to have been repulsed in a variety of sorties. He concerted a fresh sortie, in concert with the French emigrant Phelippeaux. On the 18th, the enemy, at break of day, came on with any attack against our left and our centre; each column was headed by naval troops belonging to English ships, and their colours were seen waving in conjunction with those of Dgezzar, and the batteries were all manned by English troops. The enemy made an attempt to surprise our advanced posts, but their design was seen through: we received them with a brisk fire from our parallels, and all that attempted to appear against us were either killed or wounded. The enemy ultimately retired without gaining an inch towards destroying our works. The central column acted with more obstinacy—their object was to penetrate to the entrance of our mine; they were commanded by Captain Thomas Oldfield; he advanced boldly towards the entrance of the mine, at the head of some of his intrepid countrymen; they attacked like heroes, and were received by heroes; death only checked their bold career; the approaches of our parallels remained covered with the dead bodies of English and of Turks. The corpse of Captain Thomas Oldfield was carried off by our grenadiers; they brought him to our headquarters; he was at the point of death, and soon after his arrival was no more.

Some deserters who escaped from shore informed us, that English gunners were actually serving in the batteries, and that the English Commodore had with him a French officer of artillery, named Phelippeaux. The deserters told us, that the French who were either killed or wounded in the different assaults, had been, according to the atrocious and barbarous custom of the East, mutilated by the Turks, who cut off their heads, in order to convert them into trophies. Some days after the assault of the 8th, a quantity of bags were perceived on shore: our soldiers opened them, and oh, horror! They found the bodies of our unfortunate men, tied in pairs, enclosed in the stacks, and thrown into the sea by order of the Dgezzar, and the English Flag floated on the ramparts alongside of that of the Dgezzar, at the moment when 400 men had been thus cowardly assassinated.

The Commandant of the Castle of Sasset informed us that some troops had passed the Bridge of Jacob, on the Jordan. The advanced posts of Nazareth also intimated that another column had passed the Bridge of Gizel Micanie, and had advanced to Tabarie: that the Arabs had shewn themselves in the openings of the mountains of Naplouse, and that Tabaire and Genin of brigade, Junot, had been sent to Nazareth to observe the enemy: he learned that they had already thrown themselves in the village of Loubi.

On the 19th Germinal, General Junot having been informed that the enemy was assembling in considerable numbers on the heights of Loubl, for leagues from Nazareth, in the direction of Tabarie, he began his march at the head of the 2d light infantry, and three companies of grenadiers on the 19th, forming about 300 men, together with a detachment of 160 horse, belonging to different corps; with these he proceeded to reconnoiter the enemy. He descried them at a small distance from Kascana, on the top of the heights of Loubl; he pursued his march, turned the mountain, and found himself surrounded by 4,000 horsemen, the most intrepid of whom poured down upon his corps; he had only time to attend upon circumstances, and he fought with a courage and coolness that did equal honour to the Commander and the soldiers: the enemy left five stand of colours among the troops. While the battle raged, General Junot gradually gained the heights, as far as Nazareth; he was followed as far as Kastcana, about two leagues from the field of battle. The enemy lost together with their five standards, about 5 or 600 men; we had 60 men killed or wounded. The Chief of Brigade, Duvivier, distinguished himself as usual. General Kleber, in consequence of the news of the battle of Loubi, received orders to set out from the camp at Acre with the remainder of the advanced guard, in order to join General Junot at Nazareth. Scarcely had he reached the heights of Sed Jarra a quarter of a league from the heights of Loubi, when the enemy, pouring down form these heights debouched into the plain, surrounded General Kleber with nearly 4,000 horse, and 4 or 600 foot, and prepared to charge him. This the General anticipated, by attacking at the same time the cavalry and the village of Sed Jarra, which he carried. The enemy retreated. The troops then returned to the position of Nazareth. Sed Jarra is situated at the distance of a league and a half from Cana. After the affair of Sed Jarra, the enemy fell back, partly on Tabaire, partly on the bridge of Giz-el-Makanie, and partly upon Baizard. This latter place, on the borders of the Jordan, soon became their principal rallying point, form whence, on the 25th, the whole of the hostile army moved into the plain. There they formed a junction with the Samaritans, or Naplousians. General Kleber informed General Bonaparte that the enemy’s forces amounted to 15 or 18,000 men, and that they were expected to be from 40 to 50,000 strong by the inhabitants of the country. He likewise informed him that he was on his march to attack them. Bonaparte learned at the same time from the Commandant of Sasset, that on the 24th the enemy advanced, and laid waste its neighbourhood; that he himself retired into the fortress which the enemy afterwards attacked; that they attempted to scale the walls, but that they were repulsed with considerable loss; that he however found himself blocked up with little provisions and but little ammunition. Citizen Simon, Captain Commandant of the fortress, distinguished himself much. Citizen Tedesco, of the Administration, the only Frenchman who had a horse, offered to go to reconnoiter the enemy, and was killed. Bonaparte was of opinion, that a decisive battle should be fought with a multitude, who only came to action when they killed it, and by whom he was harassed with the advantage of superior numbers. He was sensible of the inconveniences of attempting an engagement near his position before Acre; he therefore gave orders for making every necessary disposition to attack the enemy on all points, and to force them to repass the Jordan, (we arrived from Damas by passing the Jordan to the right of the lake of Tabarie, by the bridge of Jacob, three leagues from which is situated the castle of Saffet, and on the left of the lake by the bridge of Giz-el-Makanie, a short distance from the short distance form the fort of Tabarie.) These two fortresses are to the right of the Jordan.

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