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.

On the refusal of Suleiman Pacha to yield up Beyrout, the bombardment commenced, and continued for several days. In the meantime theCarysfort, Captain Martin, with the Dido, followed by the Cyclops steamer, with a body of 220 marines and 150 mountaineers, was despatched to attack the strong castle of D’jebl, to the northward. The ships having bombarded the place for an hour, a body of seaman under Captain Austin, and some marines, under Captain Robinson, were landed, protected by the fire of the ships, and proceeded to the assault. They advanced with their usual gallantry, but when they had got within thirty yards of the strong and lofty towers, a destructive fire was opened on them from a crenelated outwork, with a deep ditch in front. In vain the commanding officers looked for some part of the castle which might prove practicable; the muzzles of the enemy’s muskets were alone visible through the loop-holes. As the men were falling rapidly without a prospect of success, it became necessary to draw them off, it being evident that the place could not betaken until a breach had been made in the walls, though the immense solidity of the building prevented much hope of this being done. As the party were on the point of re-embarking, it was discovered that an English flag, which had been planted on a garden wall by the pilot of the Cyclops as a signal to the ships, had been left behind. On this Lieutenant Grenfell, and McDonald, a seaman of the Cyclops, undertook to bring it off, and set out on their hazardous expedition. They were seen from the decks of the ships, and their object being understood, were watched with intense anxiety. Pushing on amid the bullets levelled at them, they reached the garden wall, seized the flagstaff, and escaping the bullets, hastened to the shore. Loud cheers greeted them as they returned on board uninjured with their prize. The next morning it was found that the garrison had evacuated the castle. Five marines were killed in the attack, and eighteen men wounded, including Lieutenant Gifford, R.N., and Lieutenant Adair, of the marines.

Beyrout still held out in spite of the battering it was receiving. Suleiman Pacha proved that he was as courteous as he was brave, for the Indian mail arriving by way of Bagdad, he ordered a flag of truce to be hoisted, and on a boat being sent on shore, delivered the mail, with a polite message, assuring the British that all letters to and from India should be carefully forwarded. Admiral Stopford immediately sent in a letter of thanks to the pacha, and accompanied it with some cases of wine which had been seized in an Egyptian vessel directed to Suleiman, rightly conjecturing that it would not prove an unwelcome present.

Firing was then resumed. Information having been brought by an Egyptian gunner, a deserter, that a train had been laid along the bridge to the eastern castle, where a large quantity of powder was concealed, he undertook to guide a party to cut the train and seize the powder. Commander Worth, who immediately offered to perform this dangerous service, was joined by numerous volunteers. The party embarked in one of the boats of the Hastings, and, protected by the Edinburgh’s launch and pinnace, as well as by the fire from the ships, dashed on in face of a heavy fire of musketry, and landed on the bridge. Having succeeded in cutting off the train, they forced their way into the castle, over the walls of which they threw some sixty or seventy casks of powder, and succeeded in bringing off upwards of thirty more. In this exploit, unfortunately, a midshipman of the Hastings, Mr Luscombe, was killed, and the Egyptian guide, with three seamen, were wounded.

Commodore Napier, at the head of his marines and Turks, had a gallant skirmish on the Kelbson, or Dog River, when he dispersed the Egyptian forces, and took between 400 and 500 prisoners. Next day he returned on board his ship.

While talking with Sir Robert Stopford on the 25th of September, he remarked that Sidon was not yet in our possession, and, according to an article in the Malta Times, said to the admiral, “If you like, I will go down and take it, and be back in eight and forty hours.” He started with theThunderer, Cyclops, Gorgon, and Hydra, with 500 marines and 800 Turks. On his way he fell in with the Stromboli, from England, with a detachment of 200 marines. These he took with him, and after firing shot and shell at the town for a couple of hours, he made a breach and landed at the head of his men. The struggle was a sharp one, but after a great number of the enemy, who would neither give nor receive quarter, had been killed, as well as the Egyptian commander, who, although the bayonets of two marines were at his breast, resisted, the Egyptian troops, to the number of 500, threw down their arms. Fifteen thousand were afterwards taken. The commodore put himself at the head of the British marines, and breaking into the barracks, as soon as Captain Henderson and another party had lodged themselves in a house above the building, he marched his battalion along the wall from the upper gate, waving his hat at the point of his sword, and cheering on his men, and seized the castle. Among other acts of gallantry must be mentioned a race which took place from the spot where they landed, between Mr James Hunt, a midshipman of the Stromboli, and Senhor Dominica Chinca, a midshipman of the Austrian frigate Guerriera, each striving who should first plant his colours on the walls of the town. It was won by the English reefer. Without in any way detracting from Mr Hunt’s gallantry, it is right to state that Lieutenant Anderson, of the marines, had already planted a Union Jack nearly on the same spot, but which he had afterwards carried to a higher part of the town. The Turkish troops were gallantly led by their colonel, accompanied by Walker Bey and Captain Austin, under a heavy fire, as were the English marines under Captain Whylock and Lieutenants Anderson and Hockins, the latter, who had just landed from England, being unfortunately killed. The Egyptians held out till their leader was killed, when nearly 2000 laid down their arms. The remainder retired through the streets, pursued by the attacking parties, and at length took refuge in a vaulted barrack, where upwards of a thousand men were found lying down ready for a sortie. They at once yielded, and thus in five hours from the commencement of the bombardment, Sidon was captured. The total loss to the allies and Austrians was 4 killed and 21 wounded, while only 12 Turks were wounded.

At what is called the Battle of Boharsof, Commodore Napier, with his gallant aides-de-camp, Lieutenants Bradley and Duncan, and Mr Pearn, master of the Powerful, at the head of his Turks and marines, attacked Ibrahim Pacha, posted in the neighbourhood of Mount Lebanon, among rugged and almost inaccessible rocks. The Egyptians’ position was stormed, and Ibrahim’s army took to flight, he, with a few men, escaping, and leaving 600 or 700 prisoners in the hands of the victors. Beyrout, in consequence of this victory, was abandoned, and taken possession of by the Turks. Thus the gallant old commodore, in about a month, freed nearly the whole of the Lebanon, took 500 prisoners, and gained over an equal number of deserters.

On the 17th of September Caiffa was bombarded and captured by the Castor and Pique, and a Turkish frigate, under Captain Collier. By the same ships, in a similar manner, Tyre was taken on the 24th, without the loss of a man. On the 25th of September Tortosa was attacked by Captain Houston Stuart, commanding the Benbow, in company with the Carysfort and Zebra, he having been informed that a large quantity of provisions was stored in the place, and should they be destroyed the troops in the neighbourhood must evacuate the country, and leave open the communication with the mountains, whose inhabitants were anxious to join the Turks. Unfortunately, when the boats were sent on shore to storm the place, it was found that a reef of rocks, or a sunken mole, would allow only the smaller ones to reach the beach. A gallant party, under Lieutenants Charlwood and Maitland, with scarcely thirty men, were able to get on shore, and both they and the larger boats were exposed to a heavy fire of musketry from numerous loop-holes and crevices from the fortress. Lieutenant Charlwood having broken open several stores, which he in vain attempted to set on fire, the ammunition of the marines, who had followed Lieutenant Maitland, being wet, they were ordered by Captain Stuart to retire. In this disastrous affair 5 were killed and 17 wounded.

The celebrated fortress of Saint Jean d’Acre, which, when held by Sir Sidney Smith, had resisted the arms of Napoleon, had been captured by Ibrahim Pacha in 1837, and still held out. Sir Robert Stopford having received orders to attack it, the ships of the allied fleet proceeded thither, and arrived off it on the 2nd of November. They consisted of the Princess Charlotte, of 104 guns, the Powerful and Thunderer, 84, Bellerophon, 80, Revenge, 76, Benbow and Edinburgh, 72, Castor, frigate, 36, and the Carysfort, 26, the Gorgon, Phoenix, Stromboli, and Vesuvius, steam-frigates, and the Austrian flag-ship, an Austrian frigate and corvette, and the Turkish flag-ship, an 84. Rear-Admiral Walker—the Pique and Talbotfrigates, the Hasard, 18-gun sloop, and the Wasp, 16-gun brig—had been there for some days. The fortress of Acre stands on a point of land, thus presenting two sides to the sea, one facing the east, and the other the south-east. In consequence of this, it was necessary that the squadron should attack in two divisions. Sir Robert Stopford went on board the Phoenix to superintend the attack. Napier led the way in the Powerful to the northward, closely followed by the Princess Charlotte, Thunderer, Bellerophon, and Pique, while Captain Collier, of the Castor, commanded on the south. The Powerful, followed by the other ships, having got round a shoal which lies off the city, bore up and ran along shore towards the north angle, anchoring about 700 yards distant from the sea wall, considerably inside the buoys which had been laid down to assist the ships in taking up their stations. As the ships successively brought up, they opened a tremendous fire on the batteries and sea wall, where the shot was so well directed that it would have been almost impossible for any human beings to have stood their ground. The Egyptians, supposing that the ships would anchor close to the buoys, had pointed their guns too high; consequently most of their shot flew over the decks of the ships, wounding chiefly the rigging and spars, while the clouds of smoke which immediately enveloped the fleet prevented them from remedying their mistake. TheRevenge had been ordered to keep under way as a reserve, but Napier signalled to her to take up a position ahead of him, to attack a heavy battery of five guns. This Captain Waldegrave did in gallant style.

In the meantime Captain Collier’s squadron were engaging the batteries on the south, well supported by the Austrians, and Admiral Walker, who, running inside all the squadron, took up a warm berth abreast of a new and strong work. The steamers were not idle, as they kept up a hot fire of shot and shell, doing much execution. While the fleet were thus engaged, an incessant roar showing the rapidity of the firing, and clouds of smoke filling the air, a thundering sound was heard—for an instant the whole fortress was illumined with an intense blaze of light, which was as suddenly succeeded by a dense cloud of smoke, dust, bursting shells, and large fragments of stone hurled upwards and in every direction. The principal magazine, containing many thousand barrels of gunpowder, had exploded, in consequence, as was supposed, of a shell having been thrown into it by one of the steam-ships. A large number of the garrison were blown up by the explosion, and many more probably were buried amid the ruins. Notwithstanding this catastrophe, the five guns opposed to the Revenge continued their fire, and kept it up to the last. About sunset the signal was made to discontinue the engagement, but Napier fired away for some time after dusk, lest the enemy should be tempted to re-man their guns. At length the admiral’s flag-lieutenant brought an order for the ships to withdraw. The Revenge, slipping her anchor, made sail without difficulty. The Princess Charlotte picked up both hers and made sail, but, casting the wrong way, nearly got on shore. She was, however, conducted in a most seamanlike manner, not a word being heard on board her. The Powerful was towed out by the Gorgon. The Thunderer andBellerophon, as also the southern squadron, remained at anchor.

During the night a boat brought off information that the Egyptian troops were leaving the town, and, in consequence, at daylight, 300 Turks and a party of Austrian marines landed and took unopposed possession of it. The casualties of the allies amounted to only 14 English and 14 Turks killed, and 42 wounded. Notwithstanding the long continued fire to which the ships had been exposed, they escaped with slight damage. The havoc caused by the bombardment on the walls and houses was very great, while it was calculated that the explosion had destroyed between one and two thousand persons, two entire regiments being annihilated, with a number of animals. On the 4th another explosion took place, by which a marine was killed, and Captain Collier had his leg fractured.

This was the first occasion on which the advantages of steam had been fully proved in battle, by the rapidity with which the steamers took up their positions, and the assistance they rendered to the other ships, as also by the destruction the shells thrown from them produced. The survivors of the garrison, amounting to 3000, were taken prisoners, while nearly 200 guns and mortars and field-pieces were captured. Ibrahim’s army, which in September had amounted to 75,000 men, had now dwindled to 20,000, who, hard-pressed, were making their way back to Egypt. On the fall of Acre, Napier proceeded to Alexandria, where he entered into a convention with Mahomet Ali, who agreed to evacuate Syria and to restore the Turkish fleet as soon as he had received final notification that the sultan would grant him the hereditary government of Egypt, which, the Turkish fleet being given up, the sultan soon afterwards did. On the return of the Powerful to the fleet, before proceeding to Malta, the ships manned the rigging and cheered, the bands playing “Charlie is my darling.”

This terminated the duties of the fleet on the coast of Syria.