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The French make great progress in their approaches — The
Turks are defeated in a sortie-Anecdote of Junot and Kleber—The French gain the outer tower of Acre--Sir Sidney Smith's despatch to Lord Nelson.
the equinoctial gales had been unusually severe, and the commodore, with the Tigre and the naval force under his command, had been compelled to take shelter under the lee of Mount Carmel. On his return to the roadstead off Acre, he found that the French had taken advantage of his unwilling and enforced absence to push their attacks vigorously. Their approaches had reached the counterscarp, and had penetrated even into the ditch of the north-east angle of the town wall. This angle was defended by a tower which they were rapidly undermining, in order to increase a breach they had already made in it, but which breach they had found to be impracticable when they endeavoured to storm it on the 1st of April.
In this mining operation they were greatly impeded by the fire of the guns that had been lately captured from the French, and which had been quickly mounted and judiciously placed by Captain Wilmot * of the Alliance, who was unfortunately shot by a French rifleman a few days afterwards, the 8th of April, as he was mounting a howitzer on the breach. These guns played so actively and destructively under the direction of Colonel Phélypeaux, that the enemy's fire slackened considerably, and the widening of the breach was but slow in progress.
Yet this successful opposition had no effect upon the mine, and the most serious apprehensions were entertained that its firing would be fatal to the defence of the town. To counteract this, a sortie was resolved upon. It was finally arranged that a body of British seamen and marines was to endeavour to possess the mine, whilst the Turkish troops were to attack the French in their trenches on both sides. As this decisive operation was intended to be a surprise, the sally was made before daylight on the 7th of April. Owing to the impetuosity and noise of the Turks, this plan entirely failed, and the dreaded mine remained in all its terrors.
In no military effort upon record did the French display greater perseverance or more desperate bravery. In every one of their attacks they seemed to understand beforehand that destruction was to be the rule, and escape the exception. With this predestination strong upon them, they went up to the breach coolly and regularly, and with as much nonchalance as if death were an unimportant part of their military evolutions. Indeed, repeated attempts were made to mount the breach under such circumstances of desperation as to excite the pity of their British foes to see such vain and bloody sacrifices of energy and courage.
Though hostilities were carried on with such vigour and apparent rancour in the trenches and on the breach, yet there were frequent suspensions of operations, and the distinguished French generals, on such occasions, derived much pleasure from visiting Sir Sidney on board the Tigre. On one of these occasions, and after the . besieging party had made some progress, Generals Kleber and Junot were, with Sir Sidney Smith, walking the quarter-deck of the Tigre in a very amiable mood of amicability, one on each side the English commander-in-chief.
After a few turns in silence, Junot, regarding
the battered fortifications that lay before him, and they being dwindled by distance into much insignificancy, thus broke out in the spirit of false prophecy
• Commodore, mark my words ! three days hence, by this very hour, the French tricolor shall be flying on the remains of that miserable town.”
Sir Sidney very quickly replied, “ My good general, before you shall have that town, I will blow it and you to Jericho.”
“ Bien obligé! very much obliged,” Kleber observed ; “ much obliged indeed-it will be all in our way to India.”
With all my heart,” rejoined Sir Sidney, “ I shall be most happy to assist you, Bonaparte, and your whole army, forward in that style; and we will commence as soon as you please.”
The offer, though very kindly made, was neither accepted nor replied to.
Nine times had the enemy attempted to storm the trench, and on each occasion had been beaten back with profuse slaughter, such was the determined bravery opposed to their desperate assaults, when, on the fifty-first day of the siege, the long-expected and anxiously looked for reinforcements, under Hassan Bey, appeared in the
distance. Before its junction could be effected, and relief thrown into the town, Bonaparte was resolved to do the utmost that his genius and the bravery of his army could achieve. His efforts were, therefore, renewed with the most impetuous vigour, whilst, on the part of the besieged, they were met with a corresponding spirit. AII that skill and bravery could perform was mutually displayed. Under all disadvantages, the enemy, however, continued to advance, and at length got possession of the long-disputed northeast tower. This they accomplished, not by the explosion of the mine, but, having battered down the upper part of the structure, they ascended over the ruins, and, at daylight on the fifty-second morning of the siege, the tricolored flag was seen floating on the outer angle of the tower.
This display damped, considerably, the enterprise of the Turkish soldiers, and the fire of the besieged on the French lines was sensibly slackened. The enemy had also, during the night, obtained another important advantage, having been enabled to construct two traverses that completely screened them from the flanking fire of the Tigre and the Theseus, which, till then, had taken deadly effect upon every advance towards the breach. These two traverses were thrown up directly across the ditch, and were constructed with dead bodies intermingled with sandbags.