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Napoleon Bonaparte and the Siege of Toulon

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Napoleon Bonaparte and the Siege of Toulon
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Author(s): Charles James Fox
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 120
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-352-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-351-9

The first steps to greatness

The blood tide that swept away the Bourbons in the terror of the French revolution also heralded the Revolutionary Wars in which Republican France not only sought to spread its doctrine through Europe, but also had to initially contend with French Royalist forces who fought to re-establish the old regime. In 1793, the coastal town of Toulon in Southern France lay under siege. Its defenders were French monarchists supported by Spanish, Sardinian and British forces. Outside the defences, among the guns of his beloved artillery, was a 24 year old major in the Republican Army. His genius for war was here given free rein and was instrumental in breaking the siege and bringing about a decisive victory for the cause he espoused. Recognition of his achievement elevated him swiftly to the rank of brigadier general and placed him at the hub of French power in a Europe then seething with unrest and ripe for sweeping change. That young man was, of course, Napoleon Bonaparte. What may have occurred had anyone realised that this single man was capable of overturning regimes and bathing the Continent in fire and bloodshed until his eventual downfall over 20 years in the future we may only speculate. This book explains that pivotal moment in the history of the Western world as the man who would become an emperor took his first steps on the path to greatness. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

At 4 o’clock the news reached Hood that Fort Mulgrave was taken. Bonaparte put Marmont, the future Duc de Raguse in charge of the artillery of the captured post and directed him to turn the guns against the ships. In the morning when the other troops at Balaguier and Eguillette discovered the enemy in possession of Mulgrave they crowded “to the water like the herd of swine, that ran furiously into the sea possessed of the devil.” The ships and mortar boats of the Allies bombarded Fort Mulgrave, but before long the Courageux made the signal “wanting boat to tow”. Smith wrote:<br>
The idea of sauve qui peut now seemed to possess everybody, the fleets of the different nations alarmed at the idea of being burnt by red hot shot or shells from Fort Mulgrave, Balaguier and Eguillette (now in possession of the enemy) weighed anchor and crowded out of the road in such haste as to alarm the troops on shore lest they should be left behind.<br>
This same morning Faron was attacked on three sides at once, east, west and north. After some resistance and the usual “sauve qui peut!” and “la trahison”, after which the cowardly no longer impeded the advance, the Republicans succeeded in establishing themselves there. “Lapòype tant calomnieé s’est aussi parfaiternent bien comporte”. Thaon described this success as “aussi funeste qu’incroyable”. Napoleon, after making his dispositions at Fort Mulgrave, proceeded to turn his batteries on Fort Malbosquet, for although he felt certain that the Allies would soon evacuate the city, he was determined that his shot and shells should hasten their departure.<br>
Fréron wrote Dec 18:<br>
Ils ont pris des mesures pour mettre leur flotte à l’abri de nos canons et de nos bombes qui n’ont cessé de les accablés.<br>
This constant artillery fire had a most demoralizing effect upon the Allies. In the night of the 17th. they abandoned Fort Malbousquet and Fort Pomets and very soon all the outside posts were in the hands of the Republicans except Fort Mulgrave which the Allies were forced to hold to protect the embarkation. <br>
As soon as the news reached Hood that Mulgrave was taken a hurried council of war was called, on the morning of the 17th. Hood, Langara, Gravina, Dundas, Elliot, Thaon de Revel and others were present. The question was whether after the loss of Balaguier and Faron it was advisable to hold the town. Hood and Gravina, counting upon the reinforcements promised from Gibraltar, and on the 5000 Austrian troops who were on their way, voted for resistance, but gave in at last to the opinion of the majority; which was to abandon the city.<br>
It was decided; that the garrisons of Malbousquet and Misiessy should hold out to the last extremity to cover the retreat; to inform the inhabitants that the powers would use all means to carry away those who desire to leave the city; to embark the sick and wounded at once; to carry off the French vessels which remained armed during the siege and to destroy the others, as well as the magasins de la Marine and the arsenal. Immediately afterwards preparations were made for the embarkation although it was not until the next morning, Dec. 18 that the time was set. At first the inhabitants of the town, kept in ignorance of the intended departure, were quiet and orderly. The next day things began to change.<br>
As the Republicans drew nearer and nearer, as the troops were seen getting ready for departure in such large numbers, and especially as the shot and shell began to create havoc in the town and harbour, it dawned upon the inhabitants what was taking place. Then the wildest confusion reigned, some rushing to the shore for boats, others donning the red cockade, and vowing vengeance upon their fellow-citizens, who still remained royalists. Blood was shed in the streets between the rival factions. This state of affairs was rendered more terrible by the fire of the enemy.