Warning: Mature Adults only
PART II: ACRE
Captain Standelet of the Navy of the Republic of France peered into the fog apprehensively from the deck of the transport Cerf. The remaining eight ships of his convoy were hidden by the thick mist, the periodic chiming of their bells the only indication that they were strung out behind him in a long line.
It had been a long, tense journey, but they were near the end. Just let him go another hour undetected and they would rendezvous with General Bonaparte's army, which should just now be occupying Haifa and its harbor, and land their cargo of seven 24-pounders and four 18-pound siege guns to begin the battering down of the ancient walls of Acre. As he rounded the cape of Mount Carmel, the fog was holding. He had to keep close into shore to keep his bearings.
But just then, fortune abandoned Captain Standelet. A massive shape, almost looking like one of the great rocks along the coast, loomed out of the gloom before him. With fearful speed, it closed, and more and more of its details became visible. Within a minute, there was no doubt remaining; it was a British ship-of-the-line, bearing down upon him. In the dimness behind it, he could see two other indistinct shapes, obviously two more warships. He turned to his first mate.
"Signal the convoy! Enemy present in force at Acre! Reinforce sail and hold closely to the wind!"
They still had the weather gauge on the enemy, if the convoy could see his signal flags in the fog, they could scatter out to sea in nine different directions. His heart sank as only the third ship in the convoy, the Pluvier, altered course according to his signal. The dense fog, which till now had been his friend, was now his enemy. Perhaps he could entice at least one of the warships to pursue him out to sea, away from the convoy. His hopes rose as the lead ship, the biggest of the three, luffed sail and began to run along a parallel course to his. But when she was within the range of a short cannon shot, she turned back. Obviously, she knew where the true prize was to be had. Sighing, Standelet set a course for Toulon and safety. There was nothing more he could do here.
The second transport in the line, now in the lead, was still trying to reverse their course when the Tigre pulled along side. One look at the marines crowding the gunwales, muskets aimed, and in particular, one look at the seven-barreled gun in the hands of a particularly large marine convinced them to hastily lower their sails. Ahead, through the thinning fog, Harper could hear the boom! of the Theseus' cannon as she fired a warning shot to convince the remaining five transports that their was no future in trying to make a run for it.
These siege guns would never be used to attack the walls of Acre. Instead, they would be turned against their original owners, General Bonaparte and the army of the French Republic.
General Bonaparte set up his headquarters near the remains of an ancient aqueduct raised up on pillars, named Tel el-Fukhar. It had been known for centuries as "King Richard's Hill," because Richard Coeur de Leon had used it as his base during the Third Crusade. But from now on, it would be called "Napoleon's Hill." To Bonaparte's right, opposite Acre's northern wall, was Kleber's division. To his left, facing the city's eastern wall, was Reynier's sector. Bon and Lannes' forces Bonaparte kept in reserve.
And now, on 19th March, Bonaparte conferred with his generals, while overlooking Acre. General Caffareli, Bonaparte's chief engineer, pointed to its northeastern corner.
"We should make our attack there. It's difficult to defend, and the wall forms a sharp angle that we can bombard from either side. It's also the point farthest from the sea, and so the British ships will have a hard time firing on us."
He indicated the ancient conduit, the beginning of which they stood upon, and the remains of which ran to the city's walls, while Bonaparte nodded in agreement.
"If we advance along this old conduit, it will provide some cover for our troops."
On the wall of Acre, at just that point, Colonel Phelipeaux was pointing out to Sir Sidney the probable route of the French attack.
"They'll attack here, because they think it's our weak spot."
Sir Sidney nodded, seeing it in his mind's eye. He now sported a large, handlebar mustache, which he had grown out of deference to the Turks, few of whom were clean-shaven. He indicated a tall, square tower at the angle where the two walls met.
"But they haven't figured on the Devil's Tower, here. It makes this place the strongest part of the wall."
He peered out through his telescope at the French army deployed on the gentle slopes before the city. He could see Bonaparte and Kleber walking through a newly dug French trench. The former just barely showed his hat above ground level, while his taller companion was visible from the chest up.
"Only shallow trenches begun, and no parallels. No hint of trying to mine our walls to open a breach. And he isn't waiting for his replacement siege guns to arrive. Bonaparte is overconfident. He thinks he can batter down a breach, just as he did at Jaffa."
He slid his telescope shut with a click.
"That's the first mistake we'll make him pay for."
The defenders had constructed two earthwork redoubts south of the wall's angle. The redoubts bristled with cannon, and sleeping quarters had been set up in them, so they might be manned around the clock. They would be home for some six hundred marines for the greater part of the siege. A further two hundred were in the city with Sir Sidney, ready to back up the Turkish defense of any breach in the wall. Harper and Finnigan were among these, stationed on the wall near the Devil's Tower. Harper could see Bonaparte and his staff on King Richard's Hill; saw him point with his telescope in the Tower's direction. He was impressed with the brilliant colors of the French uniforms. Blue cloth was in short supply in Egypt, so each demi-brigade was coated in the colors of the rainbow, sky-blue, light green, red, purple, red-brown (Calvet's 18th), with contrasting facings. Harper had learned to estimate troop numbers, and was also struck by how small the French army was, not much more than twelve thousand, it seemed. He wondered when an opportunity to desert to them would appear. He would just have to be alert to what chance threw his way.
But first, Sir Sidney had another mission for the marines. The little port of Haifa, at the southern tip of the bay, was in French hands, and Sir Sidney wanted to take it back. So in the early hours of the 21st, six boats of marines quietly made their way south across the bay to where they could see the lights of Haifa twinkling. The Patroclus, a gunboat with a thirty-two-pounder in her prow, and the Selim, a Turkish gunboat with a twenty-four pounder, accompanied them.
Harper watched the lights come closer; the only noise the quiet slapping of the oars. The French had been sending whole sections of the army to the east. They couldn't have a force of any significance to spare for Haifa. And with the advantage of surprise, the marines stood a good chance of grabbing it.
As they approached closer, they could see a flag flying from the tallest building. The dawn was lightening the east, and a morning breeze made the banner snap out for a moment. It was a red flag with a gold half-moon and star! The Turks had control of the town! Harper flashed a quick grin at Finnigan. This would be easy! They'd be back in Acre before noon.
The boats grounded in the harbor and the marines filed out. An officer shouted something in Turkish. But why were there no Turks to meet them?
The crew of the Patroclus, which was st anding out in the harbor, was first to see the Turkish flag hauled down, to be replaced by a French tricolor. In the next instant, musket barrels protruded from behind every wall, crate, barrel, or any other cover. The crackle of musketry split the morning air; they had walked into a trap! The marines were under fire from their front and both flanks. Taken by surprise, many of them fell from the first volley before they could even get their own muskets up. Their firing line was uneven, formed in the haste of the moment, and they had no clear targets, the French were all firing from concealed positions. More of them fell as the musketry continued. From somewhere off to the left, they heard the "boom!" of a concealed battery that had now opened up on the gunboats. Grape and canister swept the Patroclus and the Selim. The former got off one shot before her crew were all down, the Turks on the Selim didn't even manage that.
The marines let off a ragged, ineffective volley. Harper fired his musket at a cloud of smoke behind a stone wall, but couldn't tell if he hit anyone. He heard a command.
"Close with them! Give them cold steel!"
Harper, Finnigan, and a score of other marines rushed forward, bayonets lowered. But they still had no clear target. All ahead of them was smoke and firing. The marine on Harper's right groaned and went down. They were still taking hits from three sides; the French had transformed the area in front of the harbor into a killing ground.
More marines were falling every minute. Exposed, fighting a hidden enemy, this was a battle they couldn't win. Harper heard a second command through the smoke and confusion.
"Withdraw! Withdraw! Back to the boat-arghhh!"
The command was chocked off as the officer was hit. Harper unslung his volley gun from his shoulder, aimed it at the source of the closest French target he could see, and squeezed the trigger. The bellow of the massive weapon was deafening, but Harper could still hear the yells of pain, and smiled in satisfaction. Somebody had felt that!
The marines piled back into their boats, some fifty fewer than they had been when they had landed, and the sailors rowed back out the bay, frantic to put some distance between themselves and the French fire. The two gunboats, slewed crazily in the water, there were not enough left alive to sail them, and their few survivors had swum to the marines' boats. He could see French light troops rushing out to the quay, forming a firing line and letting off a quick volley, and marines in the boats were using their muskets. Harper quickly reloaded and got off a shot, saw a Frenchman fall, but could not know for sure if it was his shot that had put him down. A splash from a near miss of grapeshot soaked Harper and his companions, but they were already getting out of range of grape, and fortunately, the French had no round shot near at hand.
This one went to the Frogs. They would keep Haifa. What was worse, they now had the two gunboats' heavy cannon for their siege.
A week later, at dawn, a series of distant "booms" and clouds of gunpowder smoke signaled the beginning of the French bombardment. Like blows of a sledgehammer, twelve-pound round shot smacked in to the wall's angle, one after another. Flakes of stone fell into the dry moat, but there was no other visible effect. At first, Bonaparte concentrated fire from maximum range on the portion of the wall he had chosen. But it soon became plain that this was ineffective, the walls were still holding up. They were obviously stronger than he had expected.
The following day, Harper could see the French hauling their cannon closer; assembling them in a single great battery hunkered down in the shell of a drained reservoir next to the conduit. The site of his proposed break-in point was plain to the Turks and the British, and they concentrated their defenders there to repel him. Colonel Phelipeaux commanded the two redoubts that the marines were manning, and now concentrated the fire of their nearly sixty guns on the reservoir, including the captured French siege cannon, dismounting French cannon and occasionally hitting a caisson of ammunition, with a very satisfying explosion resulting. So devastating was his crossfire that by the morning of the planned French attack, some forty French gunners were dead or wounded, and all but three of their guns were out of commission. The French had to continually re-construct their battery, further upsetting Bonaparte's timetable.
So by the morning of the 28th, the day scheduled for the assault on the breach, there as yet was no breach to assault. But at noon, a portion of the tower slid with a low rumble into the moat. A great shout of triumph arose from the French army, with an answering moan of dismay from the Turks. The British said nothing. The breach was high, difficult though not impossible to reach. It was time for the onslaught to commence. The Turks tried a wild sortie from the Devil's Tower, but a single disciplined French volley sent them running back. Harper could see the French deploying in the reservoir. There was a Forlorn Hope of about two hundred, both engineers and grenadiers, who would storm the breach first and hold it for the eight hundred-man column to follow. Kleber was drawn up to the right of the conduit, Reynier to the left, first to provide covering fire, and then to add their weight to the assault. Lannes and Bon were held in reserve, while Murat's cavalry patrolled the outside perimeter, alert against outside interference.
A second blast attracted Harper's attention. As he looked down, he saw a cloud of smoke and dust arising from the conduit channel, just where it ran into the moat. The French had exploded a mine there, undetected by the defenders. Their theory was that the rubble from the explosion would fill the moat before the breach, and the Forlorn Hope would use its extra height so that their ladders might reach it. The practice was that the moat held firm, for its outside wall had been solidly reinforced with stones, unnoticed by the French. No rubble fell into the moat, and when the men of the Forlorn Hope jumped in, they found their ladders fell short of the breach by nearly nine feet. So far, they were not coming under much fire, the defenders seem to have been thrown into a state of shock by the collapse of the wall. So the French threw their short ladders against the breach and slowly scrambled up, holding onto the dusty stone rubble. Behind them, the main assault force hesitated on the far edge of the moat, as they contemplated its twenty-four foot drop to the dirt below. Some of Djezzar's men, recovering themselves, began to fire at them, but most were wavering, some running back into the town. Harper aimed his musket down the slope of the breach and fired, dropping a grenadier to the dirt below with a bullet in his head. But the marines alone were too few to hold the breach.
Djezzar Pasha was seated at his post near the parapet; ready to hand out rewards to his soldiers for every French head they brought him. When he saw what was happening, he ran forward. Before Harper knew what was happening, the fierce old man leaped down among them, his white beard gleaming in the wind, waving his scimitar and shouting.
"What are you afraid of? Look, they are retreating!"
The Turkish soldiers feared Djezzar Pasha more than the French, so they stayed. And the French attack was losing its momentum. Only about a single company had risked the drop into the moat, and they now milled around, looking for ladders. The Turks and British poured an increasingly withering fire down upon them. They couldn't miss.
"It's like shooting fish in a bloody barrel," said Finnigan.
The French had no cover. The rest of the assault force was still packed in a dense mass on the moat's far edge, hesitant to advance, unwilling to retreat. The British ships at anchor around the city opened fire on this tempting target, and the marines manning the guns of the two redoubts to either side of the breach joined in with grape and canister. Harper quickly got into the rhythm of load, present, fire, again and again, no time to think about it. He worked with an efficiency that would have made his father proud (No! Don't think of that!). The bellow of the heavy guns and the cloud of smoke obscured his vision, so he didn't even try to see the havoc it was wreaking at the breach a hundred feet below him. . He just kept on with Finnigan and the rest of the marines, loading and firing, loading and firing, again and again.
The French casualties were piling up, both in the moat and on its far bank. As the French assault weakened, the Turks gained heart and increased their fire, adding it to that of the marines. Most of the assault force in the moat were dead now, and the main force was giving back. Then a squad of Djezzar Pasha's Sudanese mercenaries swarmed over the survivors in the breach. Leading them was a giant, scimitar-wielding figure who could only be Ardath Bey. With every stroke of the great blade, arms and heads went flying, sometimes, he hewed through entire torsos. Looking at all this, Harper was glad that the man seemed to have forgotten their encounter on the way to the Pasha's palace, or at any rate, held no grudge.
From Kleber's position on the right of the conduit, Calvet watched in silent frustration. The assault force had gained no foothold, and so Kleber's men had not gone in. But give his lads a chance and the Turks would see what it was like to fight Frenchmen! And it would be the last thing they would ever see.
The French assault finally collapsed, and they pulled back to their starting point in the reservoir. Harper guessed that they left behind some twenty-five dead, and perhaps a hundred wounded. In the aftermath, the defenders began to repair the breach, using stones and baulks of timber to build a new wall where the old had collapsed. Colonel Phelipeaux covered the whole with bales of cloth soaked in water, in case the French tried to ignite the wood with red-hot shot. The marines trained fresh guns on the breach in case the French wanted to try again.
Ardath Bey stood in the dry moat, leaning on his bloody scimitar and scanning the wall for a certain big Irish marine - there he was! And Ardath Bey smiled cruelly.
In the aftermath of the assault, Finnigan came up to where Harper was resting on the wall. His face was grim.
"Djezzar Pasha just executed the hundred most prominent Christians in Acre. Had Ardath Bey behead them, stuffed their heads and bodies in boxes, and floated them across the bay for the French to find."
Harper was aghast. "Why?"
"He suspected them of being in sympathy with the 'Christian' French. Sir Sidney didn't learn about it until too late, or he would have put a stop to it."
Harper shuddered. He definitely didn't want to desert to Djezzar Pasha's army. It wasn't healthy. With the failure of the assault, a new quietness reigned over the siege. Bonaparte had expended too much ammunition for another assault, and would have to await the arrival of his remaining siege guns and further ammunition from Egypt.
Two weeks after the failure of the first assault on Acre, Captain Jean Calvet looked death in the face, and decided that he didn't like how it looked.
The sun baked down on his head, inadequately shielded by his officer's bicorn. Long ago, amidst all the shooting, reloading, and shooting again, amidst bellowing orders to his men through the endless clouds of dust, all moisture had disappeared from his mouth. And still, the Turks, in inexhaustible numbers, swarmed around the small square that his 18th Demi-brigade de Ligne formed one side of. The end wasn't far off, not far at all. During a lull in the endless fighting and shooting, he reflected on how he and his men had gotten into this mess. Deep down inside, he had always known that someday, they would get in one too deeply to get out again. And today was the day.
General Bonaparte had been well aware that while besieging Acre, his rear was vulnerable to attack, from the Turkish army being assembled at Damascus, from the hill tribes of Samaria, from the remnants of Mamaluk cavalry that he had been fighting ever since landing in Egypt, and from local Bedouin tribes. To fend off these dangers, he had decided to form a defensive perimeter in western Galilee. It was a fertile land that would provide ample supplies for his army, and his quartermasters were soon busy making purchases in the local markets.
He meanwhile placed troops at strategic strong points, in Ras el-Nakura in the north, Danum in the east, and Shafr Amr at the entrance to the valley of Jezreel in the south. They would give him ample warning of an attack from any direction. He sent Murat towards Damascus with a small force and orders to occupy Safet, the mountain capital of central Galilee, where he made an alliance with local tribes hostile to Djezzar Pasha. He drove the small Turkish garrison out of Safet with little trouble, and then held off a counterattack that night. Leaving two hundred men under Captain Simon in Safet as a garrison, Murat returned to Acre.
Meanwhile, General Junot marched southeast on Bonaparte's orders. He pushed through Shafr Amr and reached Nazareth on 31st March, the first Christian army to enter the town since the Crusades. The inhabitants received him enthusiastically, and he set up his headquarters in the local Franciscan monastery, where he easily repulsed an attack by the local Bedouin tribe. Sending a reconnaissance southward, he saw a very ominous buildup of hill tribe horsemen in the foothills of Samaria, numbering five to six thousand. Prudently, he did not engage this force, but shadowed its movements.
This was only the precursor to the much larger force of thirty-three thousand Turks who were marching from Damascus to the Jordan River. Eight thousand of them now surrounded Safet and besieged it, though for the time being, the tiny French garrison held out. A second force occupied the village of Lubya, very near Nazareth. Junot came out to give battle, leaving only a handful in the town. A force of Turkish cavalry attacked his rearguard. The French counterattacked, and the Turks fell back and allowed Junot to occupy a strong hilltop position. A larger Turkish force arrived, and there was a hot battle as Junot's square held off seven times their number, before the Turks finally withdrew.
Meanwhile, the main Turkish army under Ahmed Pasha, numbering some twenty-five thousand, entered lower Galilee, where they reunited with the forces that had attacked Junot. Eight thousand hill tribesmen, four thousand Bedouins, and two thousand Mamalukes further increased their numbers. Now over forty thousand strong, they began slowly to push westward to relieve Acre.
To meet this threat, Bonaparte sent Murat at the head of a thousand troops to reinforce Safet, while Kleber, with two thousand five hundred, advanced to Nazareth to reinforce Junot's five hundred there. And where Kleber marched, Captain Jean Calvet marched with him.
Murat had contacted Captain Simon, still besieged at Safet, instructing him to sally out to support him when the time came. On April 15th, Murat moved south of Safet, and saw the Turks arrayed before him at the Bridge of Jacob's Daughters. Beyond them was their camp. And camps meant loot. That was all the urging that Murat's men needed; they poured down the slope and sent the Turks flying, while Simon marched out and struck the Turks from behind. After some fruitless assaults on the French squares, the Turks pulled out, and Murat looted their camp, first removing four Turkish lances with French heads impaled on them. From there, he marched south, capturing the town of Tiberias without a fight. The fortress could have made a stout defense, but the Turks simply abandoned it. Murat found more supplies at Tiberias.
Kleber's advance guard reached Nazareth on 10th April, and the main army the day after, linking up with Junot's force. Calvet and his men were happy to stop after marching through the arid highlands, but he made sure that they kept good order. That night, they bivouacked in a stable, sharing the straw with the ox and donkeys. If any of his men saw some significance in staying in a stable in Jesus Christ's hometown, they did not show it, and Calvet had no time for such mythology, he was a soldier of the Republic.
The next day, Kleber advanced in the direction of Safet with about half of his force, in order to link up with Murat. The Turks occupied the heights before them, and obviously meant to dispute the passage. Kleber just had time enough to form two squares when their cavalry charged. There followed the usual milling of horsemen around the squares as the French shot them down. One of Calvet's men stopped to comment.
"These lads just don't learn."
"No talking! Save your breath for shooting!" Calvet snarled.
After perhaps an hour, the Turks drew off. The French had perhaps fifty casualties, the Turks at least three times as many. Acting on intelligence that put them near the main Turkish army, Kleber returned to Nazareth that night. The main battle obviously would be here in the south, not up north with Murat. And Kleber intended to be right in the middle of it.
The next day, the 14th April, Kleber received reinforcements; a cavalry unit and four guns with their ammunition. He decided to find the Turks and attack, and dispatched a quick note to Bonaparte, advising him of his intentions.
It seemed insane, he was outnumbered almost fourteen to one, but if he could surprise the Turkish camp by night, he could annihilate it, thus eclipsing Reynier's triumph at El Arish. Bonaparte would see that he was not the only general in the Army of the Republic of France!
His scouts brought him word that the Turkish army was encamped in the valley of Jezreel to the south, preparing to move on Acre. At first, he wanted to divide his force, taking half in a long approach through Kafr Kanna and around Mount Tabor, unseen by the Turks as they entered the valley of Jezreel, while the other half, under Junot, occupied their attention by entering the same valley from Nazareth. Junot convinced him to scrap that plan, pleading that a junction of two forces at night, in unknown ground, was too chancy. So all of Kleber's three thousand men made the march.
Of all this grand strategy, Calvet and his men knew nothing. They only knew that two hours after sunset on the 15th, the shouldered their haversacks and fell into the column, marching off in the darkness, over rough roads or no roads at all, and up into the heights. The air was chill and damp, and the only sound was the creaking of the cannon's wheels and the cursing of stumbling soldiers.
But Kleber had not accounted for the roughness of the route, some fourteen miles, and his maps were inadequate. He had planned to fall on the Turkish camp at about two hours after midnight. That time came and passed, and they were nowhere near the Turkish camp. They trudged along through the darkness. In the distance, Calvet could hear a jackal howl. It had a mocking quality that somehow chilled him.
Four o'clock. The Turkish camp was still miles away. Those in the know were getting fearful. Five o'clock. The sun was beginning to lighten the eastern sky. It was becoming plain to all; the surprise was not going to happen. Then some Bedouin scouts appeared on a ridge, just outside of musket range. They pointed wildly, and then fled. In the direction of the Turkish camp.
Six o'clock. It was now daylight. They looked down on the Turkish camp, and on an army of forty thousand Turks deployed and waiting for them.
Turkish cavalry had been sniping at the flanks for the past hour, and now the attacks grew stronger. Armored Mamaluks joined into the fray. The hill tribes added their weight to the charge. By seven o'clock, Kleber had taken a defensive position near the village of Fula. Perhaps a hundred Frenchmen occupied the ruins of an old Crusader castle on the slopes of Djebel-el-Dahy. The rest formed two squares, one commanded by Kleber, one by Junot. In the center sheltered their camels and other beasts carrying supplies and ammunition. Between the two of them, they had six four-pounder cannon. And this was all they had against the horde that raged and stormed along their perimeter.
Hour stretched into hour, and still they held out. The Turkish attacks were unrelenting, when one group got tired, another took its place, shooting their pistols and carbines as they rode by, clashing their scimitars against the bayonets of the square's first rank. The ones behind pushed the ones in front onto the wall of bayonets, while the muskets fired and fired and fired. At times, the attackers even got in each other's way, bowling over other horsemen in their eagerness to close with the French. The sun blazed down, the water in their canteens was steadily drained. But still they loaded and fired, loaded and fired, biting the cartridge, priming the pan, ramming the cartridge, spitting the ball down the barrel, ramming it in place, presenting arms and firing, and then beginning it all over again. Long ago, the officer's commands of "Presentez! Tirez!" had ceased, now it was fire at will, as fast as you could reload. The enemy was crowding too thickly for them to miss. The dead, both horses and men, piled up in front of the squares, and the enemy drove their horses up them and tried to leap into the squares. Most were thrown by their horses, which, wiser than their riders, would not charge into certain death. A few fell upon the impaling wall of bayonets. And fewer still made it over the ranks and into the squares, where they were promptly killed. And though the Turkish dead far exceeded those of the French, still, the square's casualties were mounting up, and they could not afford them as could their enemies.
Calvet noticed one of his men, the one who had disparaged the Turks' quality as soldiers before Jaffa. He was now reloading frantically, a look of barely controlled terror on his face. Calvet bent down and shouted in his ear.
"Still think the Turks are nothing, Private? Keep on firing!"
By noon, Junot's square was on the point of collapse, and the pressure of the Turkish cavalry was flattening it out. Kleber signaled to Junot with a wave of his hat that the two squares should combine. Concentrating their fire on the horsemen between them, they began a wheel to the left, changing from the usual point-to-point alignment and bringing one side of their square in line with Junot's, then moving together until the two sides merged, stepping over the dead men and horses that littered the gap between them. All this time, the Turks kept up a relentless pressure on them, trying to drive them into each other.
Now one large square, they realigned, companies being dispatched to where the ranks were weakest. And the firing went on. The water was all gone, and shimmering a short distance away, were the cool waters of the Sea of Galilee. So close, and yet so far. In much same way the Crusaders had met catastrophic defeat quite near here at the Horns of Hattim, over six centuries before.
Calvet now stood in the ranks with his men, loading and firing a musket with the rest of them. There was no more time for distinctions of rank. Ammunition was going fast now, and those who still had a crust of bread would have traded it gladly for another cartridge. He risked a glance behind him; saw Kleber and Junot having a hasty conference as the battle raged on all sides of them. Their faces were grim, obviously, they were considering their options and not finding any good ones.
Kleber was actually proposing that they abandon their supplies and wounded, destroy their guns, and make a break for Nazareth. Junot argued, quite correctly, that with the odds they were facing, such a move would be nothing short of suicide.
And so Calvet continued loading and firing, loading and firing. It was now almost four o'clock, they had been fighting for nearly ten hours. And sometime during the course of the day, he had realized that this was going to be the day that he died. Sooner or later, the vast superiority of the Turkish numbers would break them down, and they would be annihilated. But he was determined to go down fighting to the last bullet, and to see that every man in his company did the same. He wondered if, once his arms were gone, he could jump high enough to get his teeth in a horseman's throat.
Then, he began to hear a muttering among some of the ranks, a muttering that grew in volume with each passing minute.
"Le petite Corporale!"
Calvet started at that, and craned his gaze westward. Could it be -? But no, last minute rescues only happened in children's stories. And Calvet had long since outgrown such nonsense. General Bonaparte couldn't possibly be coming. But he could see Kleber climbing the slopes of Djebel-el-Dahy, looking west with his telescope, and then speaking to one of his aides. And the fighting continued, as savage as ever, while the merciless sun blazed down on them all.
But then, a far distant group of infantryman ran up on top of a dike, waving a flag. And there was no mistaking the French tricolor! And now out of the chest-high field of wheat to the west came a line of bayonets, and then the leather caps of French grenadiers. The men in the square gave a great, ragged cheer, waving their own caps at the tips of their muskets. They returned to fighting with the renewed vigor of hope.
Bonaparte had left the previous afternoon at the head of Bon's division, sensing immediately that Kleber's attack would almost certainly get him and his command wiped out unless he got help. Now Bonaparte marched in four parallel columns out of the wheat, threatening not the Turkish army, but their camp and line of retreat. The three nearest columns veered towards them, forming square with parade-ground precision, and opened fire on the Turks. At the same time, a great cloud of smoke began to billow upward from the enemy camp.
It was as if a great hand had collectively slapped the entire Turkish army in the face. They recoiled in shock. A few cavalry made a half-hearted charge against the new squares, but were dispersed in seconds by the solid wall of musket fire. The new arrival broke the spirit of the Turkish army more thoroughly than a full day of fighting could have ever done. Utter panic spread like a wildfire through their ranks.
Now Kleber formed his square into column and advanced with the bayonet. The Turks could no more stand up to them than they could sprout wings and fly. Calvet's men, imprisoned within the ranks of the square all afternoon and expecting to be dead by sundown, now unleashed the full frenzy of their vengeance on the fleeing enemy. All thought of burning thirst was gone, to be replaced by thirst for Turkish blood. The Turks lost ten times more in their retreat than they had lost during the entire battle. The French pursued and bayoneted and clubbed and shot, until the last fleeing enemy they could see had ran into the river Jordan, preferring drowning to facing these devils.
In the aftermath, Calvet sat down on the ground, too exhausted to care who saw him in such an un-officer-like position. He neither knew nor cared that the day's butcher bill was some three hundred French dead, and over ten times as many Turks. Some distance away, he could see Bonaparte and Kleber embracing, and then saluting, their comparative sizes making them seem almost like father and son. He though he might head over to the Turkish camp and see if he could scrounge some food.
The next day, the French spread out through the valley of Jezreel. It was time to punish the tribesmen who had allied with the Turks. Kleber moved north, meeting up with Murat at Mejami's Bridge. General Rambaud burned down the villages of Nuris and Shunem in the mountains of Gilboa, while Junot found the deserted village of Jenin, in the foothills of Samaria, and likewise burned it. Later that day, the tribes sent a deputation to Bonaparte asking for peace, providing hostages and swearing an oath to no longer bear arms against the Republic of France.
In the space of a day, Bonaparte had eliminated the threat of the army from Damascus, and secured all of Galilee and the valley of Jezreel. More and more tribesmen were rallying to his cause, promising troops and supplies. That night, the French encamped around Nazareth. Bonaparte stayed in the Franciscan monastery, where a solemn Te Deum was sung to give thanks to his victory. Some of his officers snickered during the service, until a warning look from their commander silenced them.
Some of Calvet's men, fresh from butchering fleeing Turks, suddenly remembered they were Christians and sought out monks to make their confessions to. One had lost a finger, and had carried it all day. Now, he buried it with proper ceremony in the monastery churchyard.
"I don't know what will become of the rest of my carcass, but at least I'll have a finger in the Holy Land."
Calvet left them to commemorate the day as they wished. Just as long as they were ready to march when called upon.
For Bonaparte had been absent for five days, and he had unfinished business to attend to.