Bonaparte’s despatches from Egypt (Part V)

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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. 97-107).

At the headquarters in Cairo, 5 Fructidor an 6
BONAPARTE Commander in Chief, to the AHHMED, Pasha, governor of Seïd.
In coming to Egypt to make war upon the Beys, I was performing a just action and one which corresponded to your interests, since they were your enemies. In no way did I come to make war with Moslems. You must be aware that it was my first concern on entering Malta to free the two thousand Turks who, for several years, had been groaning in chains. On arriving in Egypt I reassured the people, protected the Muftis, the Imams and the mosques. The pilgrims for Mecca have never been welcomed more warmly than I have welcomed them, the Fête du Prophet has just been celebrated more spendidly than ever before.
I send you this letter via an officer who will convey to you my intention that we should remain in close contact, mutually offering the services which commerce and the good of your states requires – for Moslems have no greater friends than the French.

At the camp before Acre (A'kkâ), 21 Floréal an 7
BONAPARTE Commander in Chief, to the executive of the DIRECTORY.

I informed you that Ahhmed Djezzâr, Pasha of Acre, Tripoli and Damascus, was nominated Pasha of Egypt, and that he had gathered together a very large army and had brought his van to êl-A'rych, threatening the rest of Egypt with animminent invasion.
I also mentioned to you that Turkish transport ships were gathering in the port of Makry, and they intended to head for Alexandria during the fine weather.
I furthermore informed you that there were movements in Arabia implying that the number of the Yamb'o, a people which had crossed the Red Sea, would be large in the spring.
You saw, from my last dispatch, the rapidity with which the army crossed the desert and how they took êla'rych, Gaza and Jaffa and dispersed the enemy taking their stores, a good number of their camels, waterskins and other campaign necessities.
There were still two more months before the arrival of the correct season for making a landing. I decided to pursue the remains of the enemy army and to make war for two months in the heart of Syria.
And so we marched on Acre.
The Qâqoùn affair
On 23 Ventose, at ten o'clock in the morning, we noticed the enemy army, set beyond the village of Qâqoùun, taking up a position on our flanks: their left, made up of men from Nablus (the ancient Samaritains), was strongly protected by a mamelon which was difficult to penetrate. The cavalry was drawn up on the right.
General Kleber came up to the enemy cavalry. General Lasnes attacked the left. General Murat deployed his cavalry in the centre.
General Lasnes routed the enemy, killing many of them and purseued them two leagues into the hills. General Kleber, after a short exchange of fire, put the the enemy's right to flight and hotly pursued them and they tok the road for Acre.
The combat at Haifa
On 27 at eight o'clock in the evening we took Haifa – a squadron of English vessels was anchored in the bay.
Four pieces of siege artillery, which I had put on board four transports in Alexandria, were taken by the English off Haifa.
Several vessels loaded with bombs and food escaped and were able to anchor in the harbour – the English wished to carry them off but they were driven back by squadron commander Lambert, and they lost a hundred men either wounded or killed, thirty men taken prisoner, and a large 36 foot launch.
The only guns we had to put in the battery before Acre were our field guns. We breached a tower on the most projecting part of the city. The mine failed and the counterscarp was not blown up. Citizen Mailly, deputy chief of staff, who went to reconnoitre the effect of the mine, was killed.
You will see from the journal of the siege that on 6, 10, 18, and 26 germinal, the enemy made vigorous sorties but General Vial pushed them back, inflicting upon them great losses.
You will also see that those mining the walls blew up the counterscarp, but the breach was not passable.
On 11, General Murat took of Ssafet (Safed), ancient Bethulia. The inhabitants showed us the place where Judith killed Holofernes.
On the same day General Junot took Nazareth.
The combat at Nazareth (Nasséret)
In the meantime, a large army had set out from Damascus and on 17 crossed the Jordan.
General Junot fought the van for the whole day on 19, and with 500 men of the Second and Nineteenth demi-brigades, he routed the enemy, took five banners and strewed the battlefield with corpses. This was a great battle and a monument to French sang-froid.
The combat at Cana (Kanah)
On 10, General Kleber left the camp at Acre and marched on the enemy, meeting them near the village of Cana. He formed the men into two squares and after mutual cannonades and fusilades both parties retired to their camps.
The battle of Mount Thâbòr
On 22, the enemy went round General Kleber's right and reached the plain of Esdrelon to join up with the men from Nâblus.
General Kleber went between the Jordan and the enemy, skirted Mount Thâbòr and marched all the night of the 26th so as to attack at night.
He did not reach the enemy until dawn. He formed his division into a square batallion. The enemy crowded round on every side. Enemy cavalry charges continued throughout the day. All these attacks were repulsed with the greatest bravery.
Bon's division left the Acre at midday on 25, and by 27 at nine o'clock in the morning it was closing up on the rear of the enemy which occupied an immense battlefield. Never had we seen such a large group of cavalry do a half turn, charge and move in every direction – we remained hidden. We looted the enemy camp which was two hours away from the battlefield. We took more than four hundred camels with all their baggage, particularly those belonging to the Mamluks.
Generals Vial and Rampon, leading their troops ranged in battalions arranged in squares, marched in different directions in order to form, with Kleber's division, the three sides of an equilateral triangle – about two thousand toises per side – with the enemy in the centre.
When they were within a cannon shot's distance they unmasked themselves: terror seized the enemy ranks. In an instant, this host of horsemen melted into disorder and headed for the Jordan. The infantry headed for the heights and the night saved them.
On the following day I had the villages Djéyn, Noùrès, Oùâlar burned so as to punish the men from Nablus.
General Kleber followed the enemy to the Jordan.

The combat at Ssafet (Safed)
In the meantime General Murat had left the camp on 23 to lift the siege of Ssafet (Safed) and take possession of the stores at Thabaryéh. He destroyed the enemy column and seized the baggage.
Thus, the army which had been announced with such clamour, the soldiers in which – as the people of the region had said – were are numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands in the sea, that strange collection of infantry and cavalrymen of every sort and origin, crossed the Jordan in the greatest haste leaving behind a large number of dead on the battlefield. If were to judge their fear from the rapidity of the departure, you would say that they had never been so scared.
You will see in the journal for the siege of Acre:
the various attempts to cross the ditch and to take hold of the tower which we mined and countermined;
how when several twenty-four calibre cannons arrived we seriously attempted to breach the town – on 7, 10 and 13 Floréal the enemy made some sorties and was vigorously driven back;
how on 19 Floréal the enemy received reinforcements from thirty Turkish warships;
how on the same day they made four sorties, all of which merely served to fill up our trenches with their corpses;
how after a particularly bloody assault we gained a foothold in one of the most important parts of the city.
Today we are masters of the principal parts of the ramparts. The enemy has made a second defence, centred on Djezzâr's castle.
All that remainds is for us to advance into the city. But we would have to dig a trench in front of every house and in that I would lose more men than I want to.
The season is too far on. I have achieved the goal I set myself. Egypt is calling me.
I have set up a battery of twenty-four calibre cannons to demolish Djezzâr's palace and the principal buildings in the town. I shall rain down a great number of bombs and these, in such a confined space, should cause no small amount of damage. And when I have reduced Acre to rubble I shall go back across the desert and be ready to receive any European or Turkish army which, in Messidor or Thermidor, wishes to disembark in Egypt.
I shall send to you from Cairo an account of the victories which General Desaix has won in Upper Egypt. Several times now he has destroyed armies coming from Arabia, and he has reduced the Mamluks to almost nothing.
In all these matters a fair number of good soldiers have been killed, notably generals Caffarelli and Rombaud. There are furthermore many wounded, amongst whom generals Bon and Lasnes.
Since my crossing the desert, 500 of my men have been killed and twice that wounded.
The enemy has lost more than fifteen thousand men.
I ask for the rank of division general for citizen Lasnes and brigadier general for citizen Songis, the commander of the artillery.
I have promoted the officers listed on the attached document.
I shall present to you the acts of bravery which a great number of the soldiers have performed.
I have been perfectly content with the army in circumstances and a type of war very new to Europeans. They have shown how real courage and military talent fears nothing and bears every sort of hardship. The result will be, we hope, an advantangeous peace and greater glory and prosperity for the Republic.
Confirmed a correct copy:
Division general, head of army headquarters,


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
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