On This Day in Napoleonic History – 19 March 1798

Siege of Acre

19Napoleon begins his assault on Acre, surrounding the town with fortifications and trenches. Defending the port were 4000 Afghans, Albanians and Moors, as well as Commodore Sir Sidney Smith with 200 marines. Napoleon launched no fewer than nine major and three minor attacks on Acre over the next nine weeks.

Sir Sidney Smith suggested to Napoleon to decide the fate of the city between the two of them, challenging Napoleon to a duel by the city walls. Thinking he was dealing with a lunatic, Napoleon refused with contempt, saying that he didn’t see Smith as his equal. The French were never successful in taking Acre. Soon Napoleon was describing Acre to his chief-of-staff, Louis-Alexandre Berthier, as a mere grain of sand, an indication that he was considering abandoning the siege.

On May 11 the siege was lifted by Napoleon as he decided to return to Egypt. In a deceptive letter to the Directory Napoleon wrote, ‘The season is too far advanced. The end I had in view had been accomplished. My presence is required in Egypt. I have reduced Acre to a heap of stones. I shall recross the desert.’ All the way in France, the Directory had no way of knowing the true state of events.

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