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.

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