Bonaparte’s despatches from Egypt (Part IV)

Share it
What follows are excerpts translated from the collection of letters and other documents relating to the operation of the Armée d'Orient in Egypt published in June/July 1801 (pp. 92-97).

At the headquarters in Jaffa, 23 Ventose,
an 7 of the Republic
BONAPARTE Commander in Chief, to the Directory
On 5th Fructidor, I sent an officer to Djezzâr, the Pasha of St Jean d'Acre. The officer was poorly received and the Pasha did not send a reply.
On 29th Brumaire, I wrote another letter to the Pasha. He had the bearer's head cut off.
The French at St Jean d'Acre were arrested and cruelly treated.
Djezzâr rained firmans down upon the provinces of Egypt, and in them he did not conceal his hostile intentions and announced his arrival.
And he went further. He invaded the provinces of Jaffa (Yâfâ), Ramléh and Gaza. His van took up a position at êl-A'rych ten miles into the desert on the Egyptian side of the border where there are some good wells and a fort.
I therefore had no choice. I was provoked to make war. And I thought it best that I personally should take it to him, without further delay.
General Reynier reached his own van on 16 Pluviose. They, under the orders of the indefatigable General Lagrange, were at Qathyéh, three-days march into the desert in a place where I had amassed a great deal of stores.
General Kleber arrived from Damietta via Lake Menzaléh (where he had built some gunboats) on 18 Pluviose and disembarked at Pelusium and made his way to Qathyéh.

The Battle at êl-A'rych
General Reynier left Qathyéh with his division on 18 Pluviose making his way to êl-A'rych. He had to march across the desert for several days without finding water – they overcame difficulties of every sort. They attacked the enemy, drove them back, took the village of êl-A'rych, and cooped the whole of the enemy's van inside the fort.
Attack by night
But in the meantime Djezzâr's cavalry, supported by an infantry corps, had taken up a position to our rear, cutting off the besieging army's retreat.
General Kleber sent orders to General Reynier. At midnight the enemy camp was encircled, attacked and taken. One of the Beys was killed; personal effects, arms and baggage were seized. Most of the men had the time to escape. Some of Ibrahim-Bey's kâchefs were taken prisoner.
The Siege of the êl-A'rych fort
The trench was opened up in front of the êl-A'rych fort; one of our mines was laid bare and the men digging the mine were driven back. On 28 Pluviose, a breach battery and two approach batteries were set up. The cannons fired for the whole of the following day. On 30, at midday, the walls were breached. I ordered the commandant to surrender and he did so.
At êl-A'rych we found three hundred horses, a good deal of hard tack and rice, five hundred Albanians, five hundred men from the Maghreb, and two hundred men from Anatolia and Caria. The men from the Maghreb joined us and I made them an auxiliary corps.
We left êl-A'rych on 4 Ventose. The van got lost in the desert and suffered greatly from a lack of water. We had no food. We were forced to eat some of the horses, mules and camels.
On 5, we reached the columns placed along the border of Africa and Asia.
On 6, we bivouacked in Asia. The following day we set out marching to Gaza. At ten o'clock in the morning we came upon three to four thousand cavalrymen riding towards us.
The Combat at Gaza
Commander-in-chief of the cavalry, General Murat, managed – in the face of the enemy – to bring his men across several rivers by means of carefully executed manoeuvres.
General Kleber came upon Gaza from the left. General Lasne and his light infantry supported the cavalry – this was ranged in two lines and behind each line stood a reserve squadron. We charged the enemy close to the heights which overlook Hebron and where Samson carried the gates of Gaza. The enemy did not resist the charge but gave way. Several men were killed, amongst others, the Kâyâ of the Pasha.
The twenty-second of the infantry performed exceedingly well, pursuing the retreating cavalry at a galop, despite not having had a decent meal or having drunk sufficiently for several days.
We entered Gaza. We found fifteen kilos of powder, some ammunition, some bombs, some tools and more than a two hundred thousand rations of hard tack as well as six cannons.
The weather became terrible, with a great deal of thunder and rain. We had not had a storm since our departure from France.
We bivouacked on 10 Ventose at Esdòd, ancient Azotte.
We bivouacked on 11 Ventose at Ramléh. The had abandoned the place so quickly that they left behind a hundred thousand rations of hard tack, a great deal more barley, and fifteen hundred waterskins which Djezzâr had prepared for crossing the desert.
The Siege of Jaffa (Yâfâ)
Kleber's division approached Jaffa from the front and then went on to the river Hhayah so as to make the siege complete. Bon's division approached the right flanks of the city while Lasne's faced the left.
The enemy unveiled about fifty cannon placed at all points on the perimeter wall and they gave a lively and sustained fire.
On 16 Ventose, two approach batteries – the breach battery and the mortar battery – were ready to fire. The garrison made a sally. We then saw a crowd of men dressed in costumes of all sorts and colours rushing towards the breach battery – there were men from the Maghreb, Albania, Kurdistan, Anatolia, Caria, Damascus, Aleppo, and blacks from Tekoùr. They were fircely repulsed and returned to the city rather more quickly than they might have liked. My aide-de-camp Duroc, a man in whom I have the greatest confidence, particularly distinguished himself.
At first light, on 17, I sent an envoy to the governor. He had the messenger's head cut off and made no reply. At seven o'clock we opened fire. By one o'clock I judged the breach passable. General Lasne arranged the dispostions for the assault. Netherwood, the adjutant-generals' deputy, with six fusiliers went first into the breach and he was followed by three companies of grenadiers of the thirteenth and the sixty-ninth demi-brigade, commanded by adjutant-general Rambaud, for whom I request the rank of Brigadier General.
By five o'clock we were in command of the city, and for twenty-four hours it was subject to pillage and all the horrors of war – indeed they had never before seemed to me so hideous.
Four thousand men from Djezzâr's troops were put to the sword, of which eight hundred were artillerymen – some of the inhabitants of the city were massacred.
On the following days some ships came from St Jean d'Acre with food and ammunition supplies. We seized them in the port. They were astonished to see that the town was in our hands. They had expected the town to hold us up for six months.
Abd-oûllah, Djezzâr's general, adroitly hid himself amongst the Egyptians and came to throw himself at my feet.
I sent back to Damascus and Aleppo more than five hundred inhabitants of those cities. I also sent to those cities four to five hundred Egyptians.
I pardoned all the Mamluks and the kâchefs I captured at êl-A'rych. I pardoned O'mar Makrâm, the Sheikh of Cairo. I was as merciful to the Egyptians as I was to people of Jaffa, but I was severe against the garrison because they took up arms against me.
In Jaffa, we found more than fifty cannons, of which thirty were part of the campaign and made in Europe, some ammunition, more than four hundred thousand rations of hard tack, two thousand quintals of rice and some stores full of soap.
The corps de génie and artillery greatly distiguished themselves.
General Caffarelli, who has directed the sieges and fortified the various sites in Egypt, is an officer remarkable for his ability to get things done, his courage and rare talents.
Samson, the head of the brigade de génie, led the van in the taking of Qathyéh and on every occasion has performed the greatest services.
Captain Sabatier of the génie was wounded in the siege of êl-A'rych.
Citizen Aimé was the first to enter Jaffa via an enormous tunnel which led inside the city.
Brigadier Songis, director of the artillery, was able only with the utmost difficulty to bring up the cannons. He commanded the principal attack upon Jaffa.
We lost Citizen Lejeune, commander of the twenty-second light infantry, killed at the breach. This officer is sorely missed by the army. The soldiers of his corps wept as if it were for their own father. I nominated Magni in his place as commander of the battalion and Magni was seriously wounded. These various events have cost us fifty dead and two hundred wounded.
The army of the Republic is master of the whole of Palestine.


Pièces diverses et correspondance relatives aux opérations de l'armée d'Orient en Egypte.
Imprimée en exécution de l'arrêté du TRIBUNAT, en date du 7 Nivose an 9 de la République française.
Paris, Baudouin…Messidor an IX.

Publication Title :
Revue du Souvenir Napoléonien
Share it