Warfare in Syria with Mahomet Ali.
Mahomet Ali, who, from a common soldier, had raised himself to a high command in the Turkish army, having been sent to Egypt, had deposed the pacha of that province and slipped into his shoes. Nothing stopped him in his ambitious career. Finding the Mamelukes troublesome, he invited about 500, all he could collect, to a feast in the citadel of Cairo, where, with the exception of one chief, who leaped his horse over a high wall and escaped, he caused the whole band to be massacred. Consolidating his power, he made himself independent of the Ottoman Empire, and began to consider the possibility of mounting the throne of the caliphs. To effect this object he assembled a large army, which he sent under his adopted son, Ibrahim Pacha, into Syria. Ibrahim Pacha, on his successful march northward, was encouraged, it is supposed, by the French, when England, with Prussia, Austria, and Russia, thought it time to interfere. The Turks were almost helpless. A large army sent against Ibrahim Pacha had been defeated, and the Turkish fleet had joined that of the Egyptians. The four powers now sent an ultimatum to Mahomet Ali, offering him the hereditary sovereignty of Egypt, and the pachalia of Saint Jean d’Acre for life, provided he would withdraw his troops from Syria, notifying that if he refused he would be compelled to assent by force of arms. Mahomet replied that the territories he had won with the sword he would defend with the sword. An English fleet was accordingly sent out to the Mediterranean under the command of Admiral Sir Robert Stopford, who was joined by some Austrian and Turkish ships, and the ports of Syria and Egypt were blockaded. Captain Charles Napier was appointed to the Powerful, as commodore, with the Ganges, Thunderer, Edinburgh, Castor, and Gorgon under his command. On fitting out the Powerful at Portsmouth, he had the following characteristic announcement placarded on the walls: “Wanted active seamen for the Powerful, Captain Napier. The Powerful is a fine ship, and in the event of a war will not fail to take her own part.” Captain Napier’s character being well known, the Powerful soon obtained an efficient crew.
The attitude taken up by France was so doubtful that it was expected that at any moment war might break out, and the officers of the British squadron were cautioned to be on their guard against surprise. It was, indeed, the most exciting time since the last war. While Sir Robert Stopford was blockading Alexandria, Napier’s squadron anchored off Beyrout on the 12th of August, 1840. At this time Suleiman Pacha, at the head of 15,000 Egyptian troops, occupied Beyrout. Ibrahim was at Balbec with 10,000 more; the garrison of Sidon consisted of 3000 men, that in Tripoli of 5000, while between 40,000 and 50,000 Egyptians were scattered through various parts of Syria. A small Turkish squadron had been fitted out and placed under the command of Captain Baldwin Walker, who was known as Walker Bey. After Napier had been employed some time in examining the coast, Admiral Stopford, who was commander-in-chief of the land as well as sea forces of the allies, in consequence of the illness of Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Charles Smith, appointed him to take the direction of the military force on shore. This was much to the taste of Napier, who was as fond of fighting on land as at sea. Heading the troops on a small pony, in his usual free and easy dress, he carried all before him, and the Egyptian troops being put to flight, the mountaineers crowded in numbers under the standard of the sultan. It was determined to bombard Beyrout; the bombardment of Algiers had shown what could be done against stone walls. A new power was now introduced into naval warfare—a considerable number of steam-ships being among the fleet. They were the Gorgon, Cyclops, Vesuvius, Hydra, Phoenix, and Confiance. At that time little confidence was placed in them as vessels of war, though it was acknowledged that they might prove useful in towing line-of-battle ships into action, or in acting as despatch-boats, or as transports for throwing troops on shore at any particular point.