EGYPT 1807

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EGYPT 1807

Post  AuLoNa on Tue May 05, 2009 8:03 pm

The events of this campaign are as so little known, in order to inform more space and time has been committed than other sections on this web site. The main source is J.W.Fortescue's great work on the British army with additional information from the National archives at Kew and the National army museum (some figures are to be verified and amended at a later date).The causes of Britain's short lived and the near disastrous campaign in Egypt 1807 and war with one of its few allies, Turkey, are of such complexity they require some lengthy explanation. As stated the causes are complex and as far as I can ascertain came about as stated below--if anyone discovers further material on this or even has another viewpoint I would only be to happy to see/hear it.

Since the defeat of French forces in Egypt in 1801 British politicians had tried, with marked failure to establish a Government of the country that would satisfy both Turkish territorial claims on the area and the Mameluke Beys who were the de facto rulers. The Turks on one hand quite simply would only be satisfied with the practical extermination of their Mameluke opposition while the Mameluke Beys for their part were not going to be satisfied unless their power was restored to that prior to the arrival of Napoleon's army.

High level mediation was attempted on several occasions by General John Stuart at Constantinople but to no avail, this was further complicated by the arrival of an emissary, Sebastini who it seems was suspected of re-establishing French influence in Egypt (and thereby raising once again the spectre of an overland route for a French army marching on India).

As far as, the so far, Two antagonists (Turkey and the Mamelukes) were concerned the Mamelukes were not only fighting a physical war against the Turks but also one against time. This was because their traditional route of new recruits--- Christian slaves via Turkey, was now closed, therefore it was the Mamelukes who more readily sought British (or if that failed, French) help.

By 1803, the British via Stuart, finally managed to persuade the Mameluke Beys to take their forces from the Nile delta into southern or upper Egypt while awaiting efforts on their behalf in Constantinople. (and allowing the remaining British troops in Egypt to finally embark for Malta).

The British representative General Stuart appointed in Cairo was his Military secretary Missett. This gentleman by all accounts was something of a Machiavellian schemer unfortunately as he was also physically handicapped (research yet to be done) his schemes were not based on first hand experiences/evidence, but on the reports of others.

At this point Turkey suffered a number of mutinies amongst its provinces including its Albanian troops garrisoning Cairo and the delta. Naturally enough the Mameluke Beys took advantage of this unforeseen gift and rallied the Albanians to their cause, thereby leaving the Turk's sole foothold in Egypt shut up behind the defences of Alexandria. Both sides now looked around for foreign assistance.

As if the situation could not have been more anarchic, more was follow. All the contending parties now developed pro English/pro French lobby's which the French representative was quick to take full advantage of. Meanwhile the whole situation had further descended into anarchy --the leader of the French party amongst the Mamelukes, attempted to assassinate the leader of the British party (just returning from a visit to Britain) which led to open war between the two groups. On top of this the Albanians mutinied against the Mamelukes as a whole, driving them from Cairo. (As if this was not enough, a Bedouin army also decided to have a major foray into the region).

By 1804 the Albanians in Egypt had found themselves a strong leader, unfortunately one favouring the French, Mohammed Ali. It appears that not only was Mohammed Ali blessed with leaderships skills but he was also something of a military leader of note as well. In 1805 The Turks sent a large enough force to Egypt with the intention of putting down both groups Mamelukes and Albanians, however Mohammed Ali marched his men to Cairo, overcame the Turks and their Viceroy, and proclaimed Viceroy himself. With a situation on their hands, they could not suddenly change, the Turks actually consented to this title being "official" which considering the French leanings of Mohammed Ali, naturally enough put Missett into something of a panic and soon urgent calls for British military intervention were winging their way to the British leaders.

It was at this point the Mamelukes actually began talking to the Turks "asking" for the expulsion of the Albanians and allowing Egypt to return to Mameluke control. Unbelievable as it may seem the Turks agreed to this double dealing and sent both fleet and army to enforce their will, but Mohammed Ali was far to strong "defying both". The death of the Mamelukes leaders ( from natural causes?) further strengthened Mohammed Ali's hand.

Over the years despite numerous appeals from Missett, that a military
force should be sent to Egypt to secure British interests while anarchy reigned, nothing had been done, it was now the British Government decided to act, against the strong French influence, just when the dice were heavilly weighted against such action. As, already seen Mohammed Ali was not only an able leader, but one who was strongly entrenched.

As the news that Major General Fraser's military mission, had set sail, reached him, Missett took the opportunity to inform the Mamelukes that the British forces were coming and would restore control of Egypt to them. (Even though he had himself, many times informed the British Government that the Mamelukes were not to be trusted).

The small British force that finally left Sicily on 6th of March consisted of the 20th Light Dragoons, the 31st Regiment of Foot, first and second battalions of 35th Regiment of Foot, 2nd battalion 78th regiment of Foot, De Roll's Regiment (Swiss in British service), and The Chasseurs Britannique (French and others serving in British service). This was further augmented by attached Sicilian Volunteers---one company of 100 men per British regiment serving in the Mediterranean. The two light companies of the 35th going to the light battalion while the remaining soldiers of the 35th, together with some artillery, formed the 2nd brigade under their own commander --Lieutenant Colonel John Oswald.

`From the start misfortune set in, during a gale on the night of sailing the fleet was practically scattered. By the 16th of March, Fraser (in the warship Tigre) arrived off of TURKISH HELD Alexandria with only a fraction of the intended numbers, amongst which were both battalions of the 35th. Missett it seems at this point persuaded Fraser that haste was needed (before Mohammed Ali's Albanians could arrive from Rosetta, and so he asserted "while the population would assist" the efforts of liberators).
Fraser agreed and despite a heavy surf running a storming force was landed. This included the first battalion of the 35th their attached Sicilians, De Rolls and a small artillery team. With 150 men from the 35th leading under their Colonel Oswald (one wonders if these 150 were the "Flankers" from Maida) these 1000 odd men overran a stoutly defended fortified position but found their entry point, Pompeys's gate, heavily barricaded against them.

Fraser drew his men to the West of the city and sent detachments (including some from the 35th---actual numbers/companies requires further research) to capture Aboukir Castle (this cost the 35th Regiment
2 men killed and 6 wounded) and to cover routes that Mohammed Ali would have to take to for an attempt on Alexandria. This positioning by Fraser also "secured a safe embarkation point for the rest of the army, as and when it arrived. According to Fortescue the position was the same as that of Abercromby's army during the battle of March 21st 1801.

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Re: EGYPT 1807

Post  AuLoNa on Tue May 05, 2009 8:04 pm

Early on the 20th of March the Frigate Apollo arrived. shepherding the missing transports, the sight of which finally caused Alexandria to open its gates. Unfortunately for Fraser the capitulation of the town left him with a whole set of new problems.

Missett now informed Fraser that Alexandria was on the point of running out of food altogether leaving the people to starve and army onto salted rations (Fortescue asserts this to be untrue). He explained further that the town depended on the land around Rosetta for cereals and Rahmanieh for cattle. (It can easily be suspected this was in order to support the commitment he'd made to help the Mamelukes on Britain's behalf, despite the fact he had no remit to do so). Fraser was now in a particularly difficult position, he had been ordered by his masters in London to only capture Alexandria, but had been informed by Britain's man on the spot that it could not be held without the capture of Rosetta or Rahmsnieh. To strengthen his argument Missett informed Fraser that the defences of Rosetta were in a dilapidated state and Mohammed Ali's Albanians were mere rabble. There was no argument against the 40 miles to Rosetta or the even more distant Rahmanieh nor the fact the capture of either or both of these targets would almost strip Alexandria of the very troops meant to occupy it.

In consequences of Missett's machinations Fraser dispatched the 31st Regiment, the Chasseurs Britanniques and two six pounders (1600+ all ranks) to capture Rosetta. The small column reached Rosetta and marched into the maze of narrow streets of a seemingly deserted town, before a withering fire opened up from every conceivable darkened window.

General Meade took a serious wound to the head and command devolved onto Lieutenant Bruce who managed to extricate his command from the streets of Rosetta and order a retreat. (Missett's agent affirmed that the town was actually taken and the men relaxing when the retreat sounded, other accounts are equally as contradictory as they are baffling---Missett was to send these and other accounts of the action to Britain) Whatever the truth is the losses speak volumes, 185 killed, 282 wounded all ranks out of some 1400.

On hearing of the near disaster at Rosetta Missett redoubled his case for Rosetta to be taken (presenting various officials to support his case on the food situation) while assuring Fraser the Mamelukes were already marching to assist the British. Fortescue quotes the letter that Fraser sent to Britain to quote this "My instructions tell me that the possession of Alexandria is my chief object. But we are at War with the Porte (since Britain had taken Alexandria from Turkey by force). "Which seems to have escaped both Government and Missett, so we have the whole force of the country, both Turks and Albanians, to contend with." He also asks for precise instructions which is not surprising considering the changing/complexity of the situation. Fortescue asserts that he is not surprised about this request for instructions "for it is impossible to divine for what purpose he was sent to Alexandria."

Taking into consideration all the arguments Fraser finally chose to make another attempt on Rosetta. This time a much larger force of some 2500 men would be sent under the command of Brigadier William Stewart and Brigadier John Oswald. It consisted of the 20th Light Dragoons, 1/35th (the second battalion left as garrison of Alexandria) 2/78th, the light battalion (including the 35th's light companies) De Roll's Regiment, Eleven artillery pieces and 200 seamen.

With the Light battalion leading and the first battalion 35th bringing up the rear the column marched off towards their first stopping point Aboukir, 15 or so miles away on the 3rd of April. The progress was much laboured due to baggage wagons deep sand and occasional lost directions and this watering hole was not reached until late in the day. The following morning was spent transporting the force across Aboukir Bay however during the evening the 78th and the light battalion pushed forward to Edko and by the following morning had secured the place. The rest of the column followed the 6 miles or so across open sand on the 5th of April and was soon experiencing difficulties thanks to a searing wind blowing straight out of the Sahara. Never-the-less the much suffering column reached Edko that day.

Intelligence informed Stewart that the Albanians had placed a large body of troops four miles south of Rosetta at El Hamet to control a natural isthmus separating the River Nile (Rosetta branch) from Lake Edko. Stewart decided it prudent to occupy this site in order to guard his right, rear and communications with Edko. The advanced guard (78th and light battalion) were given the task which was achieved after a brief skirmish. The position, reasonably strong, a watercourse with high banks, having just two crossing points, between lake and river, was given to Major Vogelsang and three hundred men from De Roll's Regiment plus two guns, to hold. The only weak point was where the watercourse banking dissolved at the western end leaving exposed, a half mile wide plain ideal for cavalry. Apparently Stewart relied on timely Mameluke intervention to secure this area.

Meanwhile the main body had advanced under fire into the sand hills surrounding Rosetta and took up investing positions. Unfortunately due to lack of numbers it was impossible to fully invest the town thus allowing both supplies and men in, while allowing numerous sorties out.

During one such sortie on the 8th of April the 35th Regiment was involved in a running fight with a large body of cavalry that was falling back after an attack on the 78th. Four companies under Captain Andrew Pack were sent to cut the cavalry off from retreating into the town. However the enemy cavalry were far from beaten and attempted to charge the advancing 35th's four companies. Captain Pack pulled his men back a little and began delivering perfectly controlled volleys into the Albanians this was enough and the cavalry sped away. During this skirmish the 35th lost one officer killed and one officer and several men wounded.

Brigadier Stewart by now realised Rosetta could only be taken by a regular siege (despite not fully surrounding the town) and siege lines were drawn up. By the 10th of April the first heavy guns opened fire but made little impression. Fire was returned by several enemy guns and a raid was planned to destroy one particular battery across the river. (I have seen two accounts of the action and these differ even down to the actual date--one gives the 15th another gives the 16th so here further research is needed). What is certain, is that the 35th's grenadier party accompanied the small attacking party of 200 men of the 78th Highlanders plus 40 seamen. This party succeeded in destroying the guns however as they began to pull back the alerted enemy counter attacked only to find the 35th's Grenadiers fully ready to cover the withdrawal to the waiting boats, this they accomplished with great success. Richard Trimen gives the last man to leave the east bank of the Nile as the 35th's Sergeant Wright.

The 35th Regiment was again in action on the 19th of April this time in support of the 20th light dragoons and though the action was successful bythe time it was over the 35th had lost another two officers killed and fourteen men wounded. The story of sortie following sortie was the same all along the British line. While the 35th and 20th Light Dragoons were involved with their encounter, De roll's Regiment at El-Hamet were heavily attacked by cavalry which they managed to drive off. However Stewart had become anxious about his worrying right flank and detached one of the 35th's light companies and De Roll's light company from the light battalion and sent then under Captain Tarleton (of the 35th) as reinforcements. Orders were also given that Tarleton was to use his men to drive the enemy cavalry back to the East bank of the river.

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Re: EGYPT 1807

Post  AuLoNa on Tue May 05, 2009 8:05 pm



(A -raised embankment)
The following day Tarleton attempted to carry out his orders but the enemy was far to numerous and he withdrew. Unfortunately in order to get his command to safety across the two access points he divided it (while still in the open). This was of course an invitation to the enemy cavalry and they took full advantage of. The unfortunate main target for their attack became the De Roll's men who were quickly surrounded and practically annihilated (Fortesque gives only 5 survivors).

When news reached Stewart he sent Colonel Macleod of the 78th (to take command at El hamet) with two companies of his own Regiment and the 35th's Grenadier company off as further reinforcements. (Bunbury's account, which I believe, Richard Trimen uses gives two companies of the 35th and one of 78th. This is yet one more example of differing accounts that requires further and deeper investigation, for the time being I bow to Fortescue)

By that evening Macloud had secured his position, his dispositions ran as follows, on the far right overlooking the plain that ran from water course to Lake Edko were the two companies of the 35th Regiment. (The Grenadier company, arriving that evening with Macloud and the Light Company, already at El Hamet, having been sent with Tarleton) With them were one company of the 78th and a three pound cannon, all under Tarleton. In the centre of the line stood two companies of De Roll's Regiment with a second three pound gun all commanded by Major Vogelsang (from De Roll's). On the far left with their flank resting on the River Nile stood two more companies of the 78th the remainder of De Roll's Regiment and a six pound cannon, this last section of his line Macloud determined to command in person. By now it seems Stewart had already decided upon lifting the siege of Rosetta and planned a withdrawal. Macloud was given orders that he should try to hold the position if at all possible. If not he was to begin his withdrawal from the left (the Nile), falling in turn upon the supporting troops to their right before linking up with his column (coming from Rosetta) on the shore of Lake Edko. This all sounds fine on paper and Macloud's command of six hundred plus, British, Swiss and even French Men, sounds strongly positioned enough, but they were actually staring disaster in the face.

Stewart galloped off to Rosetta in the dark narrowly missing large groups of enemy cavalry. Shortly after arriving back at Rosetta he was informed that a veritable fleet of large transport vessels were coming down the Nile (100 plus, accompanied by two square rigged warships) all intent on strengthening the forces acting against El Hamet.
Believing in his El Hamet commander, Stewart wasted no time and began his own withdrawal, sick and stores being first to depart under the protecting eyes of the remaining companies of the 78th and De Rolls Regiment (and under cover of all the artillery pieces blasting away). These troops fell back to Lake Edko where they formed square.

The covering guns were then themselves destroyed under the levelled (and effective) bayonets of the 35th's centre companies. These centre companies plus three more companies from the light battalion were given over to Brigadier Oswald as rear guard. By now Rosetta's Albanian defenders were well aware the British were leaving and mounted several major attacks on the parting troops until the rear guard joined the square at Lake Edko (and formed the rear face). The 35th suffering more due to being closer to the Albanian sharp shooters but to quote Stewart---"Nothing could surpass the steadiness of the troops". A later dispatch mentions the 35th "firing by wings and platoons retiring" and "the 78th with its front rank kneeling, as during the movements of a field day". (For a full version of this and other actions see, an Historical Memoir of the 35th Royal Sussex regiment of Foot by Richard Trimen, obtainable from the Regimental Museum--Redoubt Fortress, Eastbourne).

By 10.00 hrs this combined square with its whirling attackers had reached the point where Stewart expected to meet Macloud's force coming from El Hamet but of the missing red coats there was no sign. Stewart even tried to make foray in Macleod's direction, during which the 35th were involved in a bayonet charge. However as there was still no sign of Macloud and more attacks by enemy cavalry Stewart continued his retreat in square towards Edko. With the Albanians seeing the retreat under way in an orderly fashion plus the particularly unhealthy prospect of attacking a properly formed infantry square the enemy broke off the action.

As to events concerning Macleod's detached command, they are to say the least confusing. It seems that Macleod on seeing the approaching fleet (100 transports supported by two square riggers) came to the rapid conclusion that his left would be overwhelmed in firepower alone. (Each square rigger must have had at least 12 guns and assuming at the bare minimum 30 men/transport the force about to land and attack was at least 3000 men but my figures are just a guess and I suspect the transports were carrying far more that this).

Whatever the truth is Macleod began to retire, sadly not as ordered. It seems he ordered Vogelsang (on the extreme left) to fall back with his gun and three companies, to a small sandhill in rear of centre (instead as Macleod had been ordered, to Mohr's command on his right). Macleod then rode along the originally intended retreat route, the raised dyke. Reaching Mohr he told him to withdraw his company occupying El Hamed.

With no one to oppose their landing the approaching Albanian troops landed, rushed into the village, occupying both El Hamed and the dyke, and immediately began opening a withering fire upon the now exposed Mohr. Macleod continued along the dyke until he reached Tarleton's 35th and 78th companies whom he ordered into an open triangle pointing south with its open face resting on the dyke. By now however even this portion of the battlefield was coming under intense fire from El Hamet and soon 35th and 78th were taking heavy losses.

Before being killed Macleod's last order was, for Mohr to join Vogelsang on his sandhill. Fortescue states that the depleted elements of both Mohr and Tarleton's commands now tried to reach this supposed haven but only a few managed to reach it. (It is unclear just where Captain Tarleton met his end). Richard Trimen quotes Captain Macalister's (of the 35th) account which says that during the fight with odds of fifteen to one, he consulted both officers and men (of the 35th and 78th) if they should retreat, and was told that "they would sooner fight it out than abandon their wounded comrades ".On hearing this the remnant of "De Roll's Regiment immediately cheered and expressed a determination to follow their example". (Captain Macalister also states "a small square to their right had already been sabred to a man"). Whatever the truth is, this small isolated square fought on amidst thousands of enemies until lack of ammunition forced Vogelsang to surrender his small band (Macalister having been shot in the eye).
Even during the surrender/overrunning of the square it seems that many men of both the 35th and 78th simply refused to give in. Macalister even ordered one man-- John Dyke (It will be interesting to research the service history of this lone soldier) to surrender his musket.The reply is rather telling " you have been telling us all the morning to die with arms in our hands, and I'll be dammed if I don't" and followed this defiance by bayoneting his nearest enemy. He was soon cut down in turn, but not alone.

Of Macleods 816 plus officers and men over 292 were killed the cost to the 35th Regiment was 61 all ranks killed. Fortescue blandly quotes that the prisoners received "noble treatment". However according to Macalister, first they were transported up the Nile to Cairo by boat (beneath their feet were preserved heads of their fallen comrades) here both heads and prisoners were paraded backwards and forwards across the city to the delight of the inhabitants.The prisoners were then incarcerated throughout the Egyptian summer in the citadel until September, when the survivors were exchanged.

With Stewart entrenched behind the walls of Alexandria the campaign had, to say the least, now assumed the position of a military disaster (which may have been even greater had it not been for the steadiness of the centre companies of the 35th and 78th at Rosetta) and with it recriminations (which could well justify a book). By 19th September the British army had been evacuated and slightly more friendly terms achieved with Mohammed Ali.

As for the Mamelukes who had failed to produce any help at all, they were embroiled in their own internal fighting during which several of their leaders were killed. In 1811 Mohammed Ali finally rid himself (and his Turkish friends) of these once formidable soldiers by ordering a great massacre at Cairo citadel.

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