Thursday, March 27, 2008

British Attempt to Repulse French Invasion

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. 47-51.

TIGRE, at Anchor off Jaffa, May 30, 1799.


The providence of Almighty God has been wonderfully manifested in the defeat and precipitate retreat of the French army. The means we had of opposing its gigantic efforts against us being totally inadequate of themselves to the production of such a result. The measure of their iniquities seems to have been filled by the massacre of the Turkish prisoners at Jaffa, in cool blood, three days after their capture; and the plain of Nazareth has been the boundary of Bonaparte’s extraordinary career. He raised the siege of Acre on the 20th May, leaving all his heavy artillery behind him, either buried or thrown into the sea, where, however, it is visible, and can easily be weighed. The circumstances which led to this event, subsequent to my last dispatch on the 9th instant, are as follow:--Conceiving that the ideas of the Syrians, as to the supposed irresistible prowls of these invaders, must be changed, since they had witnessed the checks which the besieging army daily meet with in their operations before the town of Acre, I wrote a circular letter to the Princess and Chiefs of the Christians of mount Lebanon, and also to the Sheiks of the Druses, recalling them to a sense of their duty, and engaging them to cut off the supplies from the French camp. I sent them at the same time, a copy of Bonaparte’s impious proclamation, in which he boasts at having overthrown all Christian establishments, accompanied by a suitable exhortation, calling upon them to choose between the friendship of a Christian knight and that of an unprincipled renegade. This letter had all the effect I could desire. They immediately sent me two Ambassadors, professing not only friendship, but obedience; assuring me, that in proof of the latter, they had sent out parties to arrest such of the mountaineers as should be found carrying wine and gun powder to the French camp, and placing eighty prisoners of this description at my disposal. I had thus the satisfaction to find Bonaparte’s career farther northward effectually stopped by a warlike people inhabiting an impenetrable country. General Kleber’s division was sent eastward, towards the ford of the Jordan, to oppose the Damascus army; it was recalled from thence to take its turn in the daily efforts to mount the breach at Acre, in which every other division in succession had failed, with the loss of their brave men, and above three-fourths of their officers. It seems much was hoped from this division, as it had, by its fierceness, and the steady front it opposed in the form of a hollow square, kept upwards of 10,000 men in check, during a whole day, in the plain between Nazareth and Mount Tabor, till Bonaparte came with his horse-artillery, and extricated these troops, dispersing the multitude of irregular cavalry, by which they were completely surrounded.

A Turkish Regiment having been censured due to the ill success of their sally, and their unsteadiness in the attack of the garden, made a fresh sally the next right. Solimon Aga, the Lieutenant Colonel, being determined to retrieve the honor of the regiment by the punctual execution of the orders I had given him to make himself master of the enemy’s third parallel, and this he did most effectually; but the impetuosity of a few carried them on to the second trench where they lost some of their standards, though they spiked four guns before their retreat. Kleber’s division, instead of mounting the breach according to Bonaparte’s intention, was thus obliged to spend its time and its strength in recovering these works, in which it succeeded, after a conflict of three hours, leaving everything in status quo, except the loss of men, which was very considerable on both sides. After this failure, the French grenadiers absolutely refused to mount the breach any more over the putrid bodies of their unburied companions, sacrificed in former attacks by Bonaparte’s impatience and precipitation, which led him to commit such palpable errors as even seamen could take advantage of. He seemed to have no principle of action but that of pressing forward, and appeared to stick at nothing to obtain the object of his ambition, although it must be evident to everybody else, that even if he succeeded to take the town, the fire of the shipping must drive him out of it again in a short time; however, the knowledge the garrison had of the inhuman massacre at Jaffa rendered them desperate in their personal defense. Two attempts to assassinate me in the town having failed, recourse was had to a most flagrant breach of every law of honor and of war. A flag of truce was sent into the town by the hand of an Arab Dervice, with a letter to the Pasha, proposing a cessation of arms, for the purpose of burying the dead bodies, the French became intolerable, and threatened the existence of every one of us on both sides, many having suffered diseases within a few hours after being seized with the symptoms of infection. It was natural that we should gladly listen to the proposition, and that we should consequently be off our guard during the conference. A volley of shot on a sudden announced an assault, which, however, the garrison was ready to receive, and the assailants only contributed to increase the number of dead bodies in question to the eternal disgrace of the general, who thus disloyally sacrificed them. I saved the life of the Arab from the effect of the indignation of the Turks, and took him off to the Tigre with me, from whence I sent him back to the General, with a message, which made the army ashamed of having been exposed to such a merited reproof. Subordination was now at an end, and all hopes of success had now vanished, the enemy had no alternative left but a precipitate retreat, which was put in execution in the night between the 20th and 21st. I have above said, that the battering train of artillery (Except the carriages, which were burnt) is now in our hands, amounting to 23 pieces. The howitzers and medium twelve-pounders, originally conveyed by land with much difficulty, and successfully employed to make the first breach, were embarked in the country vessels at Jaffa, to be conveyed coastwise; together with the worst among the two thousand wounded, which embarrassed the march of the army. This operation was to be expected: I took care, therefore, to be between Jaffa and Damietta before the French army could get at the former place. The vessels being hurried to sea without seamen to navigate them, and the wounded being in want of every necessary, even water and provisions, they steered straight to His Majesty’s ships, in full confidence of receiving the succors of humanity, in which they were not disappointed. I have sent them on to Damietta, where they will receive such farther aid as their situation requires, and which it was out of my power to give to so many. Their expressions of gratitude to us were mingled with execrations on the name of their General, who had, as they said, thus exposed them to peril rather than fairly and honorably renew the intercourse with the English, which he had broken off by a false and malicious assertion, that I had intentionally exposed the former prisoners to the infection of the plague. To honor the French army be it said, this assertion was not received by them, and it thus recoiled on its author. The intention of it was evidently to do away the effect which the Proclamation of the Porte began to make on the soldiers, whose eager hands were held above the parapet of their works to receive them when thrown from the breach. He cannot plead misinformation as his excuse, his Aid-de-camp, Mr Laliemand, having had free intercourse with these prisoners on board the Tigre when he came to treat about them; and having been ordered, though too late, not to repeat their expressions of contentment at the prospect of going home. It was evident to both sides, that when a general had recourse to such a shallow, and, at the same time, to such a mean artifice, as a malicious falsehood, all better resources were at an end, and the disaffection in his army was consequently increased to the highest pitch.

The utmost disorder has been manifested in the retreat, and the whole track between Acre and Gaza is strewed with the dead bodies of those who had sunk under their fatigue, or the effect of slight wounds; such as could walk, unfortunately for them, not having been embarked. The rowing gun boats annoyed the van column of the retreating army in its march along the beach, and the Arabs harassed its rear when it turned inland to avoid their fire. We observed the smoke of musquetry behind the sand hills from the attack of a party of them which came down to our boats, and touched our flag, with every token of union and respect. Ismael Pasha, governor of Jerusalem, to whom notice was sent of Bonaparte’s preparations for retreat, having entered this town by land at the same time that we brought our guns to bear on it by sea, a stop was put to the massacre and pillage already begun by the Naplousians. The English flag, re-hoisted on the consort’s house (under which the Pasha met him), serves as an asylum for all religions, and every description of the surviving inhabitants. The heaps of unburied Frenchmen lying on the bodies of those whom they massacred two months ago, afford another proof of Divine Justice, which has caused these murderers to perish by the infection arising from their own atrocious act. Seven poor wretches are left alive in the hospital, where they are protected, and shall be taken care of. We have had a most dangerous and painful duty in disembarking here to protect the inhabitants, but it has been effectually done; and Ismael Pasha deserves every credit for his humane exertions and cordial cooperation to that effect. Two thousand cavalry are just dispatched to harass the French rear, and I am in hopes to overtake their van in time to profit by their disorder; but this will depend on the assembling of sufficient force, and on exertions of which I am not absolutely master, though I do my utmost to give the necessary impulse, and a right direction. I have every confidence that the officers and men of the three ships under my orders, who, in the face of a most formidable enemy, have fortified a town that had not a single heavy gun mounted on the land side, and who have carried on all intercourse by boats, under a constant fire of musquetry and grape, will be efficaciously to assist the army in its future operations. This letter will be delivered to your Lordship by Lieutenant Canes, first of the Tigre, whom I have judged worthy to command the Theseus, as captain, ever since the death of my much lamented friend and coadjutor Captain Miller. I have taken Lieutenant England first of that ship, to my assistance in the Tigre, by whose exertions, and those of Lieutenant Summers, and Mr. Atkinson, together with the bravery of the rest of the officers and men, that ship was saved, though on fire in five places at once, from a deposit of French shells bursting on board her. I have the honor to be,

W. Sidney Smith.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

British and Turks Defend Acre from French Attack

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. 43-47.

Copy of a Letter from Captain Sir William Sidney Smith, of his Majesty’s ship Tigre, to Evan Napean, Esq. dated off Mount Lebanon, June 16, 1799.

Sir Morten Eden has forwarded a duplicate of your letter of the 4th of May, informing me of the sailing of the French fleet from Brest. I take for granted this fleet is bound for these seas to support Bonaparte’s operations, not knowing that his expedition to Syria has completely failed, as the enclosed duplicates will inform their lordships.

My Lord, Tigre, Acre, May 9, 1799.

I had the honor to inform your lordship by my letter of the 2d instant, (in which Sir Sidney states the heroism and perseverance of the English and Turks to be almost unexampled; and that the repeated efforts of the French to take Acre by storm had been uniformly unsuccessful: But the nature of these proceedings is so fully and clearly given in the present dispatch as to supercede the necessity of inserting that of the 2d.) that we were busily employed in completing two ravelins for the reception of cannon to flank the enemy’s nearest approaches, distant only ten yards from them. They were attacked that very night, and almost every night since, but the enemy have each time been repulsed with very considerable loss; the enemy continued to batter in breach with progressive success, and have nine several attempted to storm, but have as often been beaten back with immense slaughter. Our best mode of defense have been frequent sorties to keep them on the defensive, and impede the progress of their covering works. We have thus been in one continued battle ever since the beginning of the siege, interrupted only as short intervals by the excessive fatigue of every individual on both sides. We had been long anxiously looking for a reinforcement, without which we could not expect to be able to keep the place so long as we have. The delay of its arrival being occasioned by Hassan Bey’s having originally received orders to join me in Egypt, I was obliged to be very peremptory in the repetition of my orders for him to join me here; it was not, however, till the evening of the day before yesterday, the fifty first day of the siege, that this fleet of corvettes and transports made its appearance. The approach of this additional strength was the signal to Bonaparte for a most vigorous and persevering assault, in hopes to get possession of the town before the reinforcement to the garrison could disembark.

The constant fire of the besiegers was suddenly increased ten fold. Our flanking fire from afloat was, as usual, plied to the utmost; but with less effect than heretofore, as the enemy had thrown up epaulments and traversers of sufficient thickness to protect him from it. The guns that could be worked to the Greatest advantage were a French crass eighteen-pounder in the Light house castle, manned from the Theseus under the direction of Mr. Scroder, master’s mate, and the last mounted twenty four pounder in the North Ravelin, manned from the Tigre, under the direction of Mr. Jones, midshipman. These guns being within grape distance of the head of attacking column, added to the Turkish musquetry, did great execution; and I take this opportunity of recommending these two petty officers, whose indefatigable vigilance and zeal merit my warmest praise. The Tigre’s two 68 pound cannonades, mounted in two germes lying in the mole; and worked under the direction of Mr. Bray, carpenter of the Tigre (one of the bravest and most intelligent men I have served with,) threw shells into the center of this column with evident effect, and checked it considerably. Still, however, the enemy gained ground, and made a lodgment in the second story of the north-east Tomer: the upper part being entirely battered down, and the ruins in the ditch forming the ascent by which they mounted. Day light shewed us the French standard on the outer angle of the tower. The fire of the besieged was much slackened in comparison to that of the besiegers, and our flanking fire was become of less effect, the enemy having covered themselves in this lodgment and the approach to it by two traverses across the ditch, which they had constructed under the fire that had been opposed to them during the whole of the night, and which were now seen composed of sand bags, and the bodies of their dead built in them, their bayonets only been visible above them. Hassan Bey’s troops were in the boats, though as yet but half was to shore. This was a most critical point of the contest; and an effort was necessary to preserve the place for a short time till their arrival.

I accordingly landed the boats at the mole, and took the crews up to the breach armed with pikes. The enthusiastic gratitude of the Turks, men, women, and children, at the sight of such a reinforcement, at such a time is not to be described. Many fugitives returned with us to the breach, which we found defended by a few brave Turks, whose most destructive missile weapons were heavy stones, which striking the assailants on the head, overthrew the foremost down the slope, and impeded the progress of the rest. A succession, however, ascended to the assault, the heap of ruins between the two parties serving as a breast work for both, the muzzles of their muskets touching, and the spear heads of the standards locked. Gezza Pacha, hearing the English were on the breach, quitted his station, where, according to the ancient Turkish custom, he was fitting to reward such as should bring him the heads of the enemy, and distributing musket cartridges with his own hands. The energetic old man coming behind us, pulled us down with violence, saying, if any harm happened to his English friends, all was lost. This amicable contest, as to who should defend the breach, occasioned, a rush of Turks to the spot, and thus time was gained for the arrival of the first body of Hassan Bey’s troops. I had now to combat the Pacha’s repugnance to admitting any troops but his Albanians into the garden of his ferraglio, become a very important post, as occupying the terre-plein of the rampart. There was not above 200 of the original 1000 Albanians left alive. This was no time for debate, and I over ruled his objections by introducing the Chisslick regiment 1000 men armed with bayonets, disciplined after the European method under Sultan Selim’s own eye, and placed by his Imperial Majesty’s express commands at my disposal. The garrison animated by the appearance of such a reinforcement, was now all on foot, and there being consequently enough to defend the breach, I proposed to the Pacha to get rid of the objects of his jealousy, by opening his gates to let them make a sally and take the assailants in flank: He readily complied, and I gave directions to the Colonel to get possession of the enemy’s third parallel or nearest trench, and there fortify himself by shifting the parapet outwards. This order being clearly, understood, the gates were opened: and the Turks rushed out; but they were not equal to such a movement, and were driven back to the town with loss. Mr Bray, however, as usual, protected the town gate efficaciously with grape from the sixty eight pounders. The sortie had this good effect, that it obliged the enemy to expose themselves above their parapets, so that our flanking fire brought down numbers of them, and drew their force from the breach, so that a small number remaining on the lodgment were killed or dispersed by our few remaining hand grenades, thrown by Mr. Savage, midshipman of the Theseus. The enemy began a new breach by an incessant fire directed to the southward of the lodgment, every shot knocking down the whole sheets of a wall much less solid than that of the tower on which they had expended so much time and ammunition. The group of Generals and Aid-du-camp which the shells from the 68 pounders had frequently dispersed, was now re-assembled on Richard Coeur de Lion’s Mount. Bonaparte was distinguishable in the centre of a semicircle; his gesticulations indicated a renewal of attack, and his dispatching an Aid-du-camp to the camp shewed that we waited only for a reinforcement. I gave directions for Hassan Bey’s ships to take their stations in the shoal water to the southward, and made the Tigre’s signal to join the Theseus to the northward. A massive column appeared advancing into the breach with a solemn step. The Pacha’s idea was no: to defend the brink this time, but rather to let a certain number of the enemy in, and then close with them, according to the Turkish mode of war. The column thus mounted the breach unmolested, and descending from the rampart into Pacha’s garden, where, in a very few minutes, the bravest and most advanced among them lay headless corpses. The sabre, with the addition of a dagger in the other hand, proving more than a match for the bayonet; the rest retreated precipitately; and the commanding officer, who was seen manfully encouraging his men to mount the breach, and who we have since learnt to be General Lasne, was carried off, wounded by a musquet shot. General Rambaud was killed. Much confusion arose in the town from the actual entry of the enemy, it having been impossible, nay impolitic, to give previous information to every body of the mode of defense adopted, lest the enemy should come at a knowledge of it by means of their numerous emissaries. The English uniform which had hitherto served as a rallying point for the old garrison wherever it appeared was now in the dusk mistaken for French, and newly arrived Turks not distinguishing between one hat and another in the crowd, and thus many a severe blow of sabre was parried by our officers, among which Colonel Douglas, Mr. Ives, and Mr. Jones, had nearly lost their lives, as they were forcing their way through a torrent of fugitives. Calm was restored by the Pacha’s exertions, aided by Mr. Trotter, who had just arrived with Hassan Bey, and thus the contest of twenty five hours ended, both parties being so fatigued as to be unable to move. Bonaparte will, no doubt, renew the attack, the breach being, as above described, perfectly practicable for fifty men abreast; indeed the town is not, nor ever has been defensive according to the rules of art, but, according to every other rule, it must and shall be defended, not that it is in itself worth defending but we feel that it is by this breach Bonaparte means to march to farther conquests. It is on the issue of this conflict that depends the opinion of the multitude of spectators on the surrounding hills, who wait only to join the victor, and with such reinforcement for the execution of his known projects. Be assured my Lord, the magnitude of our obligations does but increase the energy of our efforts to discharge our duty, and though we may, and probably shall by overpowered, I can venture to say that the French will be so much farther weakened before it prevails, as to be little able to profit by its dear bought victory.

W. Sidney Smith.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

French Announce Victory at Aboukir

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.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

French Poised to Attack Aboukir

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. 36-39.

Battle of Aboukir.

Head Quarters, Alexandria, 11th Thermidor, (July 29.)

IMMEDIATELY upon his return to Cairo form the Syrian Expedition, Bonaparte directed his attention to the formation of different corps. He soon put the army in a state to march to new combats. He had destroyed one part of the general plan of attack combined between the Porte and England, and he every moment expected that he would have to attack the other parts.

The march of Murad Bey, and the movements of the Arabs on the Lakes of Natron and at Marjout, indicated a plan for protecting a descent either at the Tour of the Anates, or at Aboukir.

General Lagrance, with a movable column, left Cairo on the 22d Messidor (July 10), and arrived at Sababiar, where he surprised the Mamelukes in their camp. They had scarcely time to escape, and abandon all their baggage, and 700 camels. We took fifty of their horses. The Mamelukes fled into the Desert.

General Murat, with another movable column, received orders to proceed to the Lakes of Natron, disperse the Arabs collected there, second the operations of General Destaing, and cut off the retreat of Murad Bey. This General arrived at the Lakes of Natron at Kischef, and thirty Mamelukes were pursued, along with some Arabs, by General Destaing. Murad Bey, when near the Lakes of Natron, learned that the French were there, and made a retrograde movement. On the 25th (July 13), he rested near the Pyramids of Gizeh on the side of the Desert.

Bonaparte being informed of these movements, left Cairo on the 26th Messidor (July 14th), with the horse and foot guides, the grenadiers of the 32d and 18th demi-brigades, the pioneers, and two pieces of cannon. He determined to stop all night at the Pyramids, where he ordered General Murat to join him: arrived at the Pyramids, his advanced guard pursued the Arabs who followed Murad Bey, and who had begun in the morning to return towards the Fayum. A number of Arabs were killed, and some camels taken.

The General in Chief, with the head quarters, left Gizeh, on the 28th Messidor (July 16), stopped that night at Wardan, the next at Terrane, and on the 30th at Schabours. He arrived on the 1st Thermidor (July 19), at Rhamanie, where the division of the army formed a junction on the 2d and 3d.

Bonaparte received intelligence that the 100 sail of Turkish vessels, which anchored off Aboukir on the 24th (July 12), had landed about 3000 men, and some artillery, on the 27th (july 15), and attacked the redoubt of Aboukir, which they carried by storm. The fort of Aboukir, the commandant of which was killed, surrendered by one of those acts of cowardice which merit a severe example on the part of the government.

The fort is defended by a ditch twenty feet wide, and has a counterscarp cut in the rock. The interior works are in a good condition, and it might have held out until it was relieved. Adjutant-General Jellien displayed much ability in his conduct both in a political and military point of view. He placed in the front of Rosetta all his provisions and ammunition, and the sick of his corps; but he remained in the town with about 100 men under his command. He preserved confidence and tranquility in his province, and repressed the agents of the enemy.

General Marmont wrote, that the enemy had taken Aboukir by capitulation; that he was employed in landing his artillery; that he had cut the pontoons which we had constructed for the communication with Rosetta, on the passage which joins Lake Madie to the road of Aboukir; that the spies he had sent out brought intelligence that the enemy intended to besiege Alexandria, and was about 15,000 men strong.

Bonaparte was sensible that the enemy daily acquired new strength: that it was important to take a position, from which he might be equally well attacked, whether he proceeded to Rosetta, or invested Alexandria; and finally, such a position as would afford the opportunity of marching to Aboukir, if the enemy should remain there, attacking him, seizing his artillery, driving him into the sea, bombarding him in the fort, and retaking it from him.

Bonaparte determined to take a position at the village of Birket, situated near one of the angles of Lake Madie, from which we could march with equal felicity to Lecco, Rosetta, Alexandria, and Aboukir. The position had likewise the advantage of confining the enemy to the peninsula of Aboukir, of interrupting his communication with the country, and intercepting the reinforcements which he might expect from the Mamelukes and Arabs.

General Murat, with the cavalry, the dromedaries, the grenadiers, and the first battalion of the 69th demi-brigade, departed from Rhamanie on the 2d Thermidor (July 20), in the evening, to proceed to Birket. He was ordered to preserve a communication with Alexandria by detachments.

The army and the head-quarters removed from Rhamanie on the 4th Thermidor (July 22). On the 5th, it took a position at Birket. The miners were sent to Leda to gid wells; springs were discovered; the wells formed and guarded.

General Mormount was reinforced at Alexandria by the General of Brigade Destaing, who returned with a movable column from Mariout, where he had defeated a corps of Arabs and Mamelukes. In a consequence of the orders of the Commander in Chief, he sent to General Murat 150 cavalry, 40 dromedaries, and two 18 pounders, belonging to General Destaing’s column. This enabled General Murat to form a corps of 600 cavalry, 100 dromedaries, and five pieces of light artillery.

The army departed from Birket in the night of the 5th. One division took a position at Hafr-Lin, and another at Leda. The head quarters proceeded to Alexandria.

In the afternoon Bonaparte left Alexandria with the head quarters, and took position at the wells between Alexandria and Aboukir.

The cavalry of General Murat, the divisions of Lannes, and Rampon, were ordered to proceed to the same position. They arrived there at midnight on the 6th, and likewise 400 cavalry from Upper Egypt.

Monday, March 10, 2008

French Ravage the Countryside in Retaliatory Attacks

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. 33-36.

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

Prairial 1.—The enemy, who had been bombarded and cannonaded by a very severe fire, and who saw the destruction of the palace of Dgezzar [Jazzar, Cezzar], of that part of their fortifications which had not yet been attacked, and of all the public edifices, attempted another sortie at the 1st prarial, at day break; they were again repulsed. At three in the afternoon they rushed forward, and attacked every point. They availed themselves of the reinforcements they had received, and their object was to throw themselves into our batteries. This attack was made with more than their usual ferocity; they were, however, repulsed on all sides, except at the turn of the glacis, near the breach tower, of which they took possession; but it was soon retaken by General Lagrange, who attacked the enemy with two companies of grenadiers, and even pursued them into their external armed post, of which he made himself master, and compelled the enemy to retire into the place.—The enemy, in that reconnoiter, lost a considerable number of their bravest troops.

The whole of the siege artillery was now removed. It was replaced in the batteries by some field piece. What was useful was thrown into the sea. By means of a mine, and sapping, we destroyed an aqueduct of several leagues in length, with which Acre was supplied with fresh water; all the magazines and the harvest in the environs of Acre were reduced to ashes. At nine in the evening of the 1st Prairial, the drums were beat to march, and the siege, which lasted sixty-one days after the opening of the trenches, was raised. When they had passed the bridge, the division of Kleber began likewise to move. It was followed by the cavalry, who left 100 dragoons dismounted to protect, the workmen employed in destroying the two bridges. They had orders not to quit the banks of the river till two hours after the last of the infantry had crossed. General Junot, with his corps, had proceeded to the mill of Kerdanna, to cover the left wing of the army.

The enemy continued to fire upon our parallels during the whole night, and did not perceive till next day that the siege was raised. They had suffered so much, that they did not attempt any movement to follow us.

The army conducted the march with the greatest order. On the 2d we arrived at Cantoura, a port which had been our landing place for the articles coming from Damietta to Jaffa, and where it had been landing our besieging artillery, and the Turkish field pieces taken at Jaffa. This artillery, consisting of forty pieces, had been, from time to time, carried to the camp of Acre, to supply the place of the French field-pieces which we were obliged to employ as battering pieces in the siege. Bonaparte had not horses sufficient to draw this immense quantity of Turkish artillery. He preferred the mode of carrying off by sea to Jaffa his sick and wounded. He resolved to carry off only twenty Turkish pieces. He caused twenty to be thrown into the sea, and burnt the carriages and cases on the harbor of Cantoura.

On the 3rd the army slept upon the ruins of Cesarea. The following day several Naplousians appeared at the port of Abouzaboura. Some of them were taken and shot; the rest retired. Their purpose was to plunder the stragglers who are to be found about an army.

On the 4th the army encamped four leagues from Jaffa, up on a river which formed a kind of creek. Detachments were sent to burn the villages which had sent parties to harass out convoys during the siege. The grain was burnt, and the cattle carried off.

On the 5th the army arrived at Jaffa. A bridge of boats had been thrown over the little river of Bahahia, which is with difficulty passed at a ford along the bar, formed at the place where it falls into the sea. On the 6th, 7th, and 8th, the army stopped at Jaffa. This interval was employed in punishing the villages which had conducted themselves improperly. The corn, as well as the cattle, was carried off. The fortifications of Jaffa were blown up. The merchants of Jaffa paid a contribution of 150,000 livres.

General Dugna wrote to Bonaparte from Egypt, informing him that symptoms of revolt had manifested themselves in the provinces of Benisness, Carkie, and especially in that of Bahire; that the English had made their appearance at Suez: that the Mamelukes who were driven from Upper Egypt, and who had descended into the provinces of Lower Egypt, made several attempts to stimulate the people to insurrection; but every thing was quieted by the activity of the troops; and the vigilant conduct of the generals, but that the city of Cairo, and the other principal cities of Egypt, had remained in the most perfect tranquility.

These insurrections were a ramification of the plan of a general attack, which was to have been made upon the French in Egypt, and that at the time Dgezzar was to go into Syria, and when the Anglo-Turkish fleet was to present itself before Damietta.

The army set out on the 9th; Regnier’s division forming the left column, marching by Ramie, with orders to burn the villages, and destroy all the harvest. The head quarters, the division of Bon, and that of Lannes, took the central road, and likewise burnt the villages and the corn harvest. A column of cavalry was detached to the right along the coast. They scoured the downs, and drove in all the cattle that had there been collected. Kleber’s division formed the rear guard, and had orders not to quit Jaffa until the 10th. In this order the army marched as far as Jounisse; that immense plain presented but one blaze of fire; so dreadful was the vengeance inflicted for the assassinations committed on our troops, and for the very frequent attacks on our convoys, while this severe measure, rendered necessary by the laws of war, deprived the enemy of all means of furnishing magazines and securing provisions. The army encamped on the 10th at Mecheltal, and arrived on the 11th at Gaza, form which it moved again on the 12th. That city had conducted itself very peaceably: it was therefore entitled to protection of persons and property. The fortress was blown up, and three of the rich inhabitants, whose conduct had been very hostile, we taxed with a contribution of one hundred thousand livres. Kleber’s division continued a day’s march behind. The army arrived at Kan-Jounesse on the 12th, and again pursued their march on the 13th. They entered the Desert, followed by an immense quantity of cattle which they had taken from the enemy, and with which they intended to provision El-arisch. The desert between this place and Kan-Jounesse comprises a space of eleven leagues, inhabited by the Arabs, who had frequently attacked our convoys. We burnt several of their camps; we carried away a great number of their cattle and camels, and set fire to a small harvest that was collected in some parts of the desert.

On the 14th, the army stopped for the day at El-arisch. Bonaparte there left a garrison. He ordered new works to be constructed for the defense of the fort. He caused it to be supplied with stores and provisions. The army continued its march to Cathich, where it arrived on the 19th. The divisions, although marching successively, sustained great inconvenience from want of water. The desert is 22 leagues in extent, in which there is no supply to be had, except about half way, where there is a bad well of brackish water.

On the 18th the army continued its march. The head quarters were removed on the 19th, in order to proceed to Salchich. The division of Kleber marched to Tiach, to embark for Damietta.—The rest of the army was collected at Cathich, where it remained for some time, and then proceeded to Cairo, where it arrived on the 26th. The natives were astonished to see the army in the same state as it just came out of barracks. The soldiers considered themselves as it were in their native country in returning to Cairo, and the inhabitants received us as their compatriots.

The army engaged in the Syrian Expedition, in four months lost about 700 men by disease, 500 killed in battle, and about 1000 wounded, 90 of whom underwent amputation, and were rendered incapable of serving but in the invalids. Almost all the other wounded men are cured, and have joined their corps.


Alexander Berthier.

General of Division, Chief of Staff.

Cairo, 6 Messidor, Year 7.

Friday, March 7, 2008

French Further Isolated as Britain Signs Treaty with the Porte

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. 30-33.

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

Floreal 12.—We now vigorously attacked the breach, and carried it. About a hundred men had descended into the place; orders had been given that at the same time our troops that were in the breach-tower, should attack some of the enemy who had posted themselves on the ruins of a second tower which commanded the right of the breach. Orders had also been issued to fall upon the outer armed posts of the enemy. The enemy, as they came out from their outer armed posts, fled off in the ditch to the right and left, and commenced a fire of musquetry, which attacked the rear of the breach; some Turks who had not been dislodged from the second tower which commanded the right of the breach also began a fire of musquetry, which took us in flank. They threw down combustible materials, which struck confusion into those who were engaged in sealing the breach; the fire from the houses, the streets, the palace of Dgezzar, &c. &c. which came on the rear of those who descended from the breach into the town, produced a retrograde movement among some of those who had already got into the town, and who had succeeded in taking two pieces of cannon, and two mortars. Night now came on, and orders were given to retreat. General Rambeaud was killed in the place.

We learnt, as we returned to the camp, that Rear-Admiral Perree had taken, upon a cruize before Jaffa, two ships belonging to the Turkish fleet, on board of which were four hundred men, six pieces of field artillery, and a considerable quantity of harnesses, provisions, and 150,000 livres in specie, and the inspector of the Turkish fleet, who had given in an account of the forces embarked in the flotilla, and also a statement of the quantity of warlike armaments.

On the 21st, at two o’clock in the morning, Bonaparte advanced to the foot of the breach; the pioneers belonging to the divisions, the grenadiers of the 75th, and of the 19th, the carabineers of the 2d light infantry, were ordered to advance and to surprise the enemy. They arrived at the appointed spot, and put the outposts to the sword, but they discovered a series of internal entrenchments which stopped their progress.

In these assaults we lost about 500 men in killed and wounded. Adjutant General Fouler and the Chief of the 25th, Citizen Venoux, were killed, and General Bon was mortally wounded: the assistant Adjutant Netherwood and Montpatis, and Citizen Arrighy, my Aid-de-Camp, were severely wounded;--Adjutant Pinault was killed; and the assistant adjutant Genbault was mortally wounded; as also citizen Crosier, Aid-de-camp of the General in Chief. General Verdier commanded in these two affairs the grenadiers and the pioneers.

22—On the morning of the 22d, Bonaparte sent a flag of truce to Dgezzar, by a Turk who had been taken as a spy(with barbarians you cannot venture to follow the usages of civilized nations!). He was fired at, and the fire of the place continued. On the 24th the flag of truce was again sent in. He now got into the town; but they still continued their fire. There was no appearance of our receiving an answer: on the contrary, about six in the evening, on the signal of a cannonshot, the enemy came out from the right and left, but they were repulsed. Bonaparte beheld the object of his expedition accomplished. The army had traversed the Desert which separates Africa from Asia and had surmounted every obstacle with more firmness and perseverance than an army of Arabs. They had taken possession of all the fortresses which defend the wells of the Desert; they had dispersed, in the plains of Esdrelon and of Mount Tabor, an army of 28,000 horses assembled from all parts of Asia, in the hopes of plundering Egypt, thirty ships with a Turkish army destined to besiege the ports of Egypt, had been compelled to hasten to Acre, where that squadron closed its destiny. In fine, with about 10,000 men they succeeded in keeping up the war during three months, in the very heart of Syria; they took forty field pieces, killed or made prisoners of 7,000 men, carried away fifty stand of colours, opened the fortresses of Gaza, Jaffa, Caissa, Acre, destroyed the enemy that was marching to invade Egypt, took their field equipage, their camels, their General, &c. The season of embarking for Egypt called him thither imperiously; diseases of different kinds, were making a dreadful havoc in Syria; 700 men had already fallen victims to them; and by the accounts that came from Sour, we learnt that more than 60 men died daily in the fortresses of Acre from these distempers.

Bonaparte did not think advisable farther to prolong his stay before Acre, where a few days more would give him hope to take the Pacha himself in the midst of his palace. He imagined that, during that season, the capture of the fortress of Acre, would not compensate the loss of a few days, and of some brave men whom he might be obliged to leave there, and who would be absolutely necessary to him in more essential operations. All those who have carried on sieges against the Turks are well apprised that they all, even women and children, expose themselves to death, and defend to the last heap of stones that remains. They place no reliance in the good faith of capitulations, because they know of nothing else than murdering their enemies. Bonaparte decided upon raising the siege; but several days would be requisite for the removal of the sick and wounded. During that interval, he ordered all the batteries, both of cannon and mortars, to be directed against the palace of Dgezzar, and that all the siege ammunition should be expended in demolishing it, together with the fortifications, and other public buildings.

On the 27th, about half past two in the morning, the enemy made a sortie, but he was repulsed; at seven in the morning, he made another sortie on all points: He was again repulsed: the ground was every where strewd with their dead. We lost 60 men killed and wounded. General Verdiere commanded the attack on the trenches.

On the 28th, an English flag of truce advanced towards us, and brought back the Turks whom we had sent as a flag of truce to Dgezzar on the 2d. The flag of truce brought a letter from the English Commodore, the purport of which was to inform us, that at Dgezzar was under the protection of the English fleet, he could make no reply to us, but through the medium of the English Commodore. A packet was also brought to us, containing suppositious proclamations of the Porte, and certified by the signature—“Sidney Smith.”—These proclamations, charging us with violating the Rights of Nations, and forgetting treaties, were read by the whole army, who returned no other answer to them, but that contempt with which a dastardly action inspires true honor. The English Admiral informed us that a treaty was agreed upon between England and the Porte—signed the 5th of January, 1799. The English canoe, and the officer, were sent back without any answer. The fire was continued on both sides.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Berthier Describes Siege Warfare

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. 29-30.

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

Four pieces of 18 pounders were on the 12th playing from the battery; their direction was to continue to demolish the tower at the breach; the other batteries were directed against the rampart, and the out-works of the enemy.—In the evening, thirty of our men were ordered to take their post in the tower. The succeeding evening the enemy. Availing themselves of a serpentine fortification, which they had in the ditch, fired from behind at the breach; our grenadiers withdrew, after having reconnoitered the difficulty of getting down into the lower of the place…The enemy, at the moment we were mounting the breach at the tower, made a strong sortie from their height; but two companies of grenadiers shot forward, cut them off, and drowned all those who could not get under the protection of the batteries of the place.—In the attacks of that day, the enemy had 500 killed or wounded. Bonaparte ordered a second breach to be made in the curtain of the fortifications to the cast of the place, and a sapping, in order to march against the ditch; he set the miners to work in it, and blew up the counterscarp. On the 15th ammunition began to fail, and the fire consequently slackened.

The sappings of the enemy were pushed on with great boldness on the 16th, especially on their right, where it was their endeavor to cut our sappings for the mine.—Bonaparte gave orders that at ten o’clock at night some companies of grenadiers should throw themselves into the outworks of the enemy. The order was executed; the enemy were surprised and put to the sword; their works were taken possession of; three of their cannon were spiked; but our troops were not able to maintain their possession of the works for a sufficient length of time to destroy them so far as effectually to prevent the enemy from re-occupying them. These works were in fact too much under the protection of the place. The enemy re-entered them on the 16th, and immediately set about repairing them: but their main object was to counterscarp; being sensible of the difficulty of counteracting it outwardly, they resolved upon cutting the counterscarp towards the mask of our mine, to forward which we could only work during the night, as we were but eight fathom from the counterscarp of a ditch, which was only twenty feet broad. On the 17th, at three o’clock, we perceived that the enemy were debouching by a covert sapping against the mask of the mine. We commenced a cannonade against them; but the mischief was done. During the night, we again moved against them, and we again drove them from their serpentine fortifications, but the mine was completely counter-worked, and the vent opened.—On the night between the 17th and 18th, Bonaparte gave it as his opinion, that the breach at the tower was the only passage which we should continue to open; consequently issued orders for attacking on the night the armed posts of the enemy, and for carrying his serpentine fortifications which flanked the breach, and more especially that completing the gracis near our first mine. He likewise gave orders to drive the enemy from the breach, and there also to effect a lodgment.—On the 18th we descried nearly thirty sail of ships, which proved to be a Turkish flotilla, coming from the port of Maeris, in the island of Rhodes bringing very considerable reinforcements of men, provisions, and ammunition. This convoy was escorted by a caravel, and several armed corvettes. Bonaparte, previous to the disembarkation of the succors sent to the enemy, ordered the division of Bon to make the same attack during the night between the 18th and 19th, which had been ordered for the preceding night. At ten o’clock at night, the two armed posts of the enemy, their fortification on the glacis, and the tower of the breach, were all carried. A lodgment was taken in the tower and the fortification on the glacis, and the tower of the breach, were all carried. A lodgment was taken in the tower, and the fortification on the glacis of the old mine. The 18th and 32d demi-brigades filled up the enemy’s fortifications with the dead bodies of their slain; they also carried off several stand of colors, and spiked the cannon—never was more intrepidity displayed. On the morning of the 19th, Bonaparte gave orders for battering in breach the curtain to the right of the tower. The curtain fell, and discovered a breach far from being impracticable. Bonaparte rushed towards it, and ordered an assault. The division of Lannes was on this duty, having before him his pioneers and grenadiers, under the command of the General of Brigade, Rambeaud.