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.

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