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. 39-42.
Battle of Aboukir.
Head Quarters, Alexandria, 11th Thermidor, (July 29.)
The army began to move at daybreak on the 7th thermidor. The advanced guard was commanded by General Murat, who had under his order 400 cavalry, and the brigadier general Destaing, with three battalions, and two pieces of cannon. Brigadier General Davoust, with two squadrons, and 100 dromedaries, was ordered to take a position between Alexandria and the army, in order to oppose the Arabs and Murad Bey, who were every moment expected to arrive, with the design of joining the Turkish army, and in order to preserve the communication with Alexandria.
The General of division, Menou, who had proceeded to Rosetta, was ordered to take post by the day-break at the extremity of the bar of Rosetta, at Aboukir, and near the entrance of the Lake Madie, in order to cannonade such of the enemy’s vessels as he might find on the Lake, and to harass his left.
The enemy’s first line was posted about half a league in front of the fort of Aboukir. About 1000 men occupied a mount of sand, defended on its right towards the sea by entrenchments, and supported by a village to the distance of about 300 toises, which was occupied by 1200 men, and four pieces of cannon. The left was upon a detached sand hill, to the left of the peninsula, and about 600 toises in front of the first line. This position was very badly fortified, and was besides of no real importance; but the enemy occupied it in order to cover the most plentiful wells of Aboukir. Some gun-boats appeared to be stationed so as to protect the space between this position and the second line, which was also occupied by 2000 men, provided with six pieces of cannon. The enemy’s second position was about 300 toises in the rear of the first village; his centre at the redoubt which he had taken form us; his right behind and entrenchment which he had extended from his redboubt to the sea, a space of about 150 toises; his left was posted between the redoubt and the sea, on some low land hills and the shore, commanded by the fire form the redoubt and the gun-boats. In this position there was about 7000 men, and twelve pieces of cannon. About 100 toises behind the redoubt lay the village and fort of Aboukir, occupied by nearly 1500 men. The train of the pacha, who had the chief command, consisted of 80 horsemen.
Bonaparte ordered the columns to halt, and made his dispositions for the attack.
Brigadier-General Destaing, with his three battalions, was to carry the height of the enemy’s right, which was occupied by 1000 men, while a piquet of cavalry was at the same time to cut off the retreat of this corps upon the village.
The division of Lannes was ordered to advance upon the sand hill, to the left of the first line of the enemy, where he had 2000 men, and six pieces of cannon. A squadron of cavalry was ordered to observe the motions of this corps, and to cut off its retreat.
General Destaing adanved upon the enemy at the charge of bayonet. He abandoned his entrenchments, and retreated towards the village. The fugitives were cut in pieces by the cavalry.
The corps against which the division of Lannes marched, seeing the first line give way, and the cavalry about to turn its position, fired only a few shot, and immediately quitted it. Two squadrons of cavalry, and a platoon of guides on horseback cut off their retreat, and killed or drive into the sea this body of 2000 men, of which not an individual escaped.
The village was then carried, and the enemy pursued as far as the redoubt, in the centre of the second position.
This second position was very strong, the redoubt being flanked by a ditch of communication, which secured the peninsula on the right as far as the sea. Another ditch of the like kind stretched along on the left, at a small distance from the redoubt.
The remaining space was occupied by the enemy stationed on the sand hills and in the batteries. In this position the enemy had from 8 to 9000 men.
Whilst the troops took breath, some pieces of artillery were planted in the village, and long the shore on our left. A fire was opened on the redoubt, and on the enemy’s right.
The cavalry on our right attacked the enemy’s left, which it repeatedly charged with the greatest impetuosity, cutting down or driving into the sea, every one that came in their way. But they could not penetrate beyond the redoubt without being put between its fire and that of the gun boats. Hurried by their bravery into this terrible defile, they fell back at each charge, and the enemy made a stand with fresh forces on the dead bodies of their companions.
The chief of brigade Duvivier was killed, but the Adjutant General Rouize continued to direct their movement with distinguished ability and coolness. The Adjutant-General Leturc, the chief of brigade Bessieres, and the cavalry guides, were at the head of the charging column. Leturc thought that it was necessary to have a reinforcement of infantry: on communicating his desire, the General in chief sent him a battalion of the 75th. He again joined the cavalry; his horse was shot; he then put himself at the head of the infantry, and flew from the centre to the left, in order to join the van of the 18th, which he saw on their march to attack the enemy’s right.
The 18th marched towards the entrenchments; the enemy at the same instant sallied upon the right: the heads of the columns sought body to body; the Turks endeavoured to wrest from our men the bayonets, which proved fatal to them. They flung their muskets behind them, and fought with their sabers and pistols, for every Turk carries a musket, two pistols in his girdle, and a sabre. The 18th at length reached the entrenchments; but the fire from the redoubt, which every where flanked the entrenchments, where the enemy again rallied, checked the column at the moment when every thing yielded to its impulse, General Fuguieres and Adjutant-General Leturc performed prodigies of valour. The former received a wound in the head, but he still continued to fight; a ball then shot off his left arm, and he was obliged to follow the 18th, which retreated to the village, keeping up however, a hot fire during the movement. The adjutant General Leturc, having in vain exhorted the column to throw itself into the enemy’s entrenchments, rushed into them himself, he was unsupported, and met a glorious death. The chief of brigade Monrangie was wounded.
The General in Chief direct a battalion of the 23d light infantry, and one of the 69th, to advance upon the left of the enemy. General Lannes, who was at the head of these troops, seized the moment when the enemy had imprudently left his entrenchments. He attacked the redoubt vigorously upon its left and on the breast work. The 22d and 69th leaped into the ditch, and were soon upon the parapet, and within the redoubt. Meanwhile the 18th pushed forward at the charging step of the enemy.
General Murat, who followed every movement, who commanded the advanced guard, who was constantly with the sharp shooters, and who on this day displayed as much coolness as talent, seized the moment when General Lannes attacked the redoubt to order a corps of infantry to charge and traverse all the enemy’s positions as far as the ditch of the fort of Aboukir. This movement was executed with so much impetuosity, and so opportunely, that at the moment the redoubt was forced, this corps had already reached its destination, and entirely cut off the enemy’s retreat to the fort. The route was complete. Confused and terrified, the enemy found every where the bayonet and death. The cavalry cut them down with their sabers. They believed they had no resource left but to fly to the sea, into which 6 or 7,000 threw themselves. There they were assailed by muskets and grape-shot. Never was so terrible a spectacle exhibited before. Not a man escaped—the ships were two leagues distant in the road of Aboukir.
Mustapha Pacha, Commander in Chief of the Turkish army, was taken, with about 200 Turks; two thousand men lay on the field of battle. All the tents, the baggage, and 20 pieces of cannon (two of which were English, being given by the court of London to the Grand Seignior) fell into our hands. Two English boats fled from our grape shot. Ten thousand Turks were drowned.
We took a near position, and removed the killed and wounded. Our loss, in this action, was 150 killed, and 750 wounded; among the latter was General Murat, who was wounded in the head, but not dangerously. The chief of the brigade of engineers, died of his wounds, as also did Citizen Guibert.
During the night the enemy’s squadron communicates with the fort. The troops are re-organized—the fort defends itself. We have established batteries or mortars and cannon to batter it, and it is to be presumed that it will soon be in our power. General Lannes was wounded in the leg.
In expectation of the fort surrendering, Bonaparte returned to Alexandria, where he examined the state of the garrison. Too much praise cannot be given to General Maramont, with respect to the works of that place, which he has extended and increased with equal industry and judgment. Every part of the service is completely organized. In a word, General Marmont has fully justified the confidence the General in Chief placed in him, when he entrusted him with so important a command.
General of Division, Chief of the Staff.