Fort Julien

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Fort Julien, with an Egyptian Boat, 1803

Fort Julien (or, in some sources, Fort Jullien) was a fort in Egypt, originally built by the Ottoman Empire and occupied by the French during Napoleon Bonaparte's campaign in Egypt and Syria between 1798-1801. It stood on the left bank of the Nile a couple of kilometres north-east of Rashid (Rosetta) on the north coast of Egypt. In mid-July 1799 French troops under Lieutenant Pierre-François Bouchard uncovered the famous Rosetta Stone at the fort while repairing its defences.[1] Two years later, the fort was captured by a combined British and Turkish force after a short siege and bombardment.

The fort was a low, squat fortification with a central blockhouse that overlooked the final few kilometres of the Nile before it joins the Mediterranean Sea. It had been built in the 15th century by the Mamluk Sultan Qait Bey, who also built the eponymous Citadel of Qaitbay in Alexandria. The French took possession of it on 19 July 1799, only a few days before the Battle of Abukir, and embarked on a hasty rebuilding of the dilapidated fort. It was subsequently reconstructed in a more thoroughgoing fashion and was renamed Fort Julien after Thomas Prosper Jullien, one of Napoleon's aides-de-camp. It was during this reconstruction that the Rosetta Stone was found. Qait Bey's engineers had apparently brought it to the site from elsewhere, possibly a temple at nearby Sais, to use as fill.[2]

Fort Julien was an important link in the French defensive line on the route to Cairo and barred access from the sea to the lower reaches of the river. French gunboats operated along the river nearby, blocking access to the mouth of the Nile. When the British landed at Abukir Bay on 1 March 1801, the fort was garrisoned by a total of around 300 men, comprising a unit of veterans or invalides supported by artillery and infantry from the 61st demi-brigade. The British marched on Rosetta on 8 April, accompanied by a sizeable Ottoman force, and pushed on to besiege the fort with the 2nd (The Queen's Royal) Regiment of Foot under Lord Dalhousie and a force of 1,000 Turks.[3]

The siege was complicated by the difficulties of bringing artillery to bear on the fort, a task which took eight days. Seven gunboats had to be dragged for 5 kilometres (3 mi) across sand and mud before they could be relaunched on the Nile, while 24-pound naval carronades were landed on the sea shore and dragged 6 kilometres (4 mi) overland to reach their firing positions. General Robert Lawson of the Royal Artillery took the decision to use naval carronades rather than heavier standard 24-pounders in the assumption – which proved correct – that the cement used by the French in their hasty improvement work would not yet have hardened.[3]

The French gunboats were driven back by their British opponents, enabling other British and Turkish gunboats to enter the river. On 16 April the artillery preparations were completed and the bombardment commenced, focusing on the south-west angle of the fort. A section of the wall collapsed on 18 April, exposing the French defenders to Turkish sharpshooters. At 11:00 on 19 April, the 264 surviving members of the French garrison surrendered, opening the Nile to the British and Turkish fleet.[3] The French suffered 41 casualties, killed and wounded, while the British side suffered the loss of one lieutenant and two privates.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Courrier de l'Égypte no. 37 (2 Fructidor year 7 / 1799) p. 3
  2. ^ Saunders, Nicholas J. Alexander's Tomb: The Two Thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror, p. 134. Basic Books, 2007. ISBN 978-0-465-07203-3
  3. ^ a b c Mackesy, Piers. British Victory in Egypt, 1801: The End of Napoleon's Conquest, pp. 156-157. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 978-0-203-20177-0
  4. ^ Walsh, Thomas. Journal of the late campaign in Egypt: including descriptions of that country, and of Gibraltar, Minorca, Malta, Marmorice, and Macri; with an appendix; containing official papers and documents, p. 118. T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1803

Coordinates: 31°27′29″N 30°22′34″E / 31.458051°N 30.376188°E / 31.458051; 30.376188