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.


IT Tips said...

The enemy continued to fire upon our parallels during the whole night, and did not perceive till next day that the siege was raised.

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Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

Your article is very well done, a good read.