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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

The massacre at Jaffa is perhaps defensible


several of the victims had already fought against him at El Arisch, and had violated their promise that they would fight no more against the French in that campaign. M. Lanfrey's assertion that there is no evidence for the identification is untenable, in view of a document which I have discovered in the Records of the British Admiralty. Inclosed with Sir Sidney Smith's despatches is one from the secretary of Gezzar, dated Acre, March 1st, 1799, in which the Pacha urgently entreats the British commodore to come to his help, because his (Gezzar's) troops had failed to hold El Arisch, and the _same troops_ had also abandoned Gaza and were in great dread of the French at Jaffa. Considered from the military point of view, the massacre at Jaffa is perhaps defensible; and Bonaparte's reluctant assent contrasts favourably with the conduct of many commanders in similar cases. Perhaps an episode like that at Jaffa is not without its uses in opening the eyes of mankind to the ghastly shifts by which military glory may have to be won. The alternative to the massacre was the detaching of a French battalion to conduct their prisoners to Egypt. As that would seriously have weakened the little army, the prisoners were shot.

A deadlier foe was now to be faced. Already at El Arisch a few cases of the plague had appeared in Kleber's division, which had come from Rosetta and Damietta; and the relics of the retreating Mameluke and Turkish forces seem also to have

bequeathed that disease as a fatal legacy to their pursuers. After Jaffa the malady attacked most battalions of the army; and it may have quickened Bonaparte's march towards Acre. Certain it is that he rejected Kleber's advice to advance inland towards Nablus, the ancient Shechem, and from that commanding centre to dominate Palestine and defy the power of Gezzar.[114]


Always prompt to strike at the heart, the commander-in-chief determined to march straight on Acre, where that notorious Turkish pacha sat intrenched behind weak walls and the ramparts of terror which his calculating ferocity had reared around him. Ever since the age of the Crusades that seaport had been the chief place of arms of Palestine; but the harbour was now nearly silted up, and even the neighbouring roadstead of Hayfa was desolate. The fortress was formidable only to orientals. In his work, "Les Ruines," Volney had remarked about Acre: "Through all this part of Asia bastions, lines of defence, covered ways, ramparts, and in short everything relating to modern fortification are utterly unknown; and a single thirty-gun frigate would easily bombard and lay in ruins the whole coast." This judgment of his former friend undoubtedly lulled Bonaparte into illusory confidence, and the rank and file after their success at Jaffa expected an easy triumph at Acre.

This would doubtless have happened but for British help. Captain Miller, of H.M.S. "Theseus," thus reported on the condition of Acre before Sir Sidney Smith's arrival:

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