Friday, July 20, 2012

Napoleon in Egypt: Siege of Acre (1799)

Napoleon and his army of 35,000 soldiers arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, on July 1, 1798. After winning the Battle of the Pyramids, they marched into Cairo, the capital of Egypt, on July 22.

But the people of Egypt did not invite Napoleon and his army to take control of their lives. Not liking their rule at all, the people of Cairo revolted against it on October 21. Napoleon used his army and its cannons to crush the revolt without mercy.

In 1798 Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire and had been for almost 300 years. Selim 3rd, ruler of that empire, did not invite Napoleon and his army to take control of Egypt either.

After the destruction of Napoleon’s warships in the Battle of the Nile, Selim decided to send Ottoman soldiers to destroy Napoleon’s army. Selim ordered one of his armies to attack Napoleon’s soldiers from Syria. He ordered a second army to sail from the island of Rhodes to Alexandria and attack Napoleon’s soldiers from there.

In January 1799, Ottoman soldiers from Syria took control of Arish: a city on the Mediterranean coast of the Sinai Peninsula. The city was only 10 miles (16 km) from the border, in those days, between Syria and Egypt and 214 miles (344 km) northeast of Cairo.

Napoleon learned of Selim’s plans to attack him with two armies. He decided to attack the first Ottoman army in Syria before the second Ottoman army came from Rhodes. He left Cairo with an army of 13,000 on February 6, 1799. French soldiers attacked Ottoman soldiers in Arish on February 9 and took control of the city on February 19.

Napoleon then marched his army north through Gaza to Jaffa. Jaffa was a great port in those days. Napoleon’s army began its attack on March 3. Jaffa fell four days later. During the following two days, 2,500 people captured during the battle were murdered by French soldiers.

Then something unexpected began to happen. French soldiers started dying of the plague.

Napoleon and his army next marched north 19 mi (30 km) and reached the port of Acre on March 17. Napoleon had to take Acre or lose Egypt. Napoleon ordered constant attacks against the defenders of the city but could not take control of the city from them. He tried one last time on May 10 but failed. Ten days later he ordered what was left of his army back to Egypt.

During its retreat, Napoleon’s army stole all the food, animals, and property it could carry. It set fire to everything else. To make his army’s retreat even faster, Napoleon told his men to murder all their prisoners. He even ordered them to murder all French soldiers who were too sick or wounded to walk.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.