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Siege of Toulon
Part of the French Revolutionary Wars
Anglo-Spanish fleet entering Toulon 1793.jpg
The Anglo-Spanish fleet entering Toulon, 1793.
Date 18 September to 18 December 1793
Location Toulon, France
Result French Republican victory
French Mediterranean fleet neutralized
Belligerents
France French Republic United Kingdom Great Britain
Spain Spain
France French Royalists
Kingdom of the Two Sicilies Naples and Sicily
Sardinia Sardinia
Commanders
FranceJean François Carteaux
FranceJacques François Dugommier
FranceJean François Cornu de La Poype
FranceNapoleon Bonaparte
United KingdomSamuel Hood
United KingdomCharles O'Hara
Spain Juan de Lángara
Spain Federico Gravina
Strength
62,000 (at peak) [1] about 16,000

37 British ships
32 Spanish ships
5 Napolitanian ships of the line

Casualties and losses
2,000 dead or wounded,

14 French ships of the line sunk in harbour,
15 captured

about 4,000 dead

The Siege of Toulon (18 September - 18 December 1793) was an early Republican victory over a Royalist rebellion in the Southern French city of Toulon. It is also often known as the Fall of Toulon.

Toulon was occupied by British and Spanish forces assisting the Royalist French. Napoleon Bonaparte first made his name here as a young Major of Artillery, by spotting an ideal place for his guns to be set up in such a way that they dominated the city's harbour. Napoleon took part in the assault on the fort covering this position. Once this was done, the Anglo-Spanish fleets were compelled to withdraw, and the resistance crumbled. As a result, the 24-year old Napoleon was made a brigadier-general, and it brought him to the attention of elite political circles in Paris.

Contents

Context

After the arrest of the Girondist deputies on the 31 May 1793, there followed a series of insurrections within the French cities of Lyon, Avignon, Nîmes and Marseille. In Toulon, the revolutionaries evicted the existing Jacobin faction but were soon supplanted by the more numerous royalists. Upon the announcement of the recapture of Marseille and of the reprisals which had taken place there at the hands of the revolutionaries, the royalist forces, directed by the Baron d'Imbert, called for aid from the Anglo-Spanish fleet. On 28 August, admirals Hood and Langara committed a force of 13,000 British, Spanish, Neapolitan and Piedmontese troops to the French royalists' cause. On 1 October, Baron d'Imbert proclaimed the young Louis XVII to be king of France, and hoisted the French royalist flag of the fleur de lys, delivering the town of Toulon to the British navy.

Siege

I have no words to describe Bonaparte's merit: much technical skill, an equal degree of intelligence, and too much gallantry..."

—General Jacques François Dugommier, at the Siege of Toulon

The troops of the National Convention, the army said to be of the "Carmagnoles", under the command of General Jean François Carteaux, after it had recovered Avignon and Marseille, and then Ollioules, on 8 September, arrived at Toulon. It joined up with the 6,000 men of the Alpine Maritime Army, commanded by General Jean François Cornu de La Poype, who had just taken La Valette-du-Var, and sought to take the forts of Mount Faron, which dominated the city to the East. They were reinforced by 3,000 sailors under the orders of Admiral de Saint Julien, who refused to serve the British with his chief, Trogoff.

Admiral Sir Samuel Hood who commanded the British naval forces defending the city.

The Chief of Artillery for Carteaux, commander Elzear Auguste Donmartin, having been wounded at Ollioules, had the young captain Napoleon Bonaparte imposed upon him by the special representatives of the Convention and Napoleon's friends - Augustin Robespierre and Antoine Christophe Saliceti. Bonaparte had been present in the army since Avignon, and was imposed in this way despite the mutual antipathy between these two men.

After some reconnaissance, Bonaparte conceived a plan which envisaged the capture of the forts of l'Eguillette and Balaguier, on the hill of Cairo, which would then prevent passage between the small and large harbours of the port, cutting maritime resupplying, necessary for those under siege. Carteaux, reluctant, sent only a weak detachment under Major General Delaborde, which failed in its attempted conquest on 22 September. The allies now alerted, built "Fort Mulgrave", so christened in honour of the British commander, on the summit of the hill. It was supported by three smaller ones, called Saint-Phillipe, Saint-Côme, and Saint-Charles. The apparently impregnable collection was nicknamed, by the French, "Little Gibraltar".

Bonaparte was dissatisfied by the sole battery - called the "Mountain", positioned on the height of Saint-Laurent since the 19 September. He established another, on the shore of Brégallion, called the "sans-culottes". The admiral attempted to silence it, without success, but the British fleet was obliged to harden its resolve along the coast anew, because of the high seabed of Mourillon and la Tour Royale. On the first of October, after the failure of General La Poype against the "Eastern Fort" of Faron, Bonaparte was asked to bombard the large fort of Malbousquet, whose fall would be required to enable the capture of the city. He therefore requisitioned artillery from all of the surrounding countryside, holding the power of fifty batteries of six cannon apiece. Promoted to Chief of Battalion on 19 October, he organised a grand battery, said to be "of the Convention", on the hill of Arènes and facing the fort, supported by those of the "Camp of the Republicans" on the hill of Dumonceau, by those of the "Farinière" on the hill of Gaux, and those of the "Poudrière" at Lagoubran.

On 11 November, Carteaux was dismissed and replaced by Doppet, formerly a doctor, whose indecision would cause an attempted surprise against Fort Mulgrave to fail on the 16th. Aware of his own incompetence, he resigned. He was succeeded by a career soldier, Dugommier, who immediately recognised the virtue of Bonaparte's plan, and prepared for the capture of Little Gibraltar. On the 20th, as soon as he arrived, the battery "Jacobins" was established, on the ridge of l'Evescat. Then, on the left, on 28 November, the battery of the "Men Without Fear", and then on 14 December, the "Chasse Coquins" were constructed between the two. Two other batteries were organised to repel the eventual intervention of the allied ships, they were called "The Great Harbour" and the "Four Windmills".

Pressured by the bombardment, the Anglo-Neapolitans executed a sortie, and took hold of the battery of the "Convention". A counter-attack, headed by Dugommier and Bonaparte, pushed them back and the British general, O'Hara, was captured. He initiated surrender negotiations with Robespierre the Younger and Antoine Louis Albitte and the Federalist and Royalist battalions were disarmed.

Following O'Hara's capture, Dugommier, Lapoype, and Bonaparte (now a colonel) launched a general assault during the night of 16 December. Around midnight, the assault began on Little Gibraltar and the fighting continued all night. Bonaparte was injured in the thigh by a British sergeant with a bayonet. However, in the morning, the position having been taken, Marmont was able to place artillery there, against l'Eguillette and Balaguier, which the British had evacuated without confrontation on the same day. During this time, Lapoype finally was able to take the forts of Faron and Malbousquet. The allies then decided to evacuate by their maritime route. Commodore Sydney Smith was instructed by Hood to have the delivery fleet and the arsenal burnt; this has been described as the "most crippling blow to the French navy in the second half of the 18th century".[2]

Suppression

The troops of the Convention entered the city on 19 December. The Suppression, directed by Paul Barras and Stanislas Fréron, was extremely bloody. It is estimated that between 800 and 2,000 prisoners were shot or slain by bayonet on the Champ de Mars. Bonaparte, treated for his injuries by Jean François Hernandez, was not present at the massacre. Promoted to Brigadier General on 22 December, he was already on his way to his new post in Nice as the artillery commander for the Italian Army. A gate, which comprises part of the old walls of the city of Toulon, evokes his departure; a commemorative plaque has been affixed there. This gate is called the Porte d'Italie.

References

  1. ^ See Castex, Théories Stratégiques
  2. ^ Rodger 2004, p427

Bibliography

  • Ireland, B. The Fall of Toulon: The Last Opportunity to Defeat the French Revolution. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2005. ISBN 0297846124
  • Rodger, N. The Command of the Ocean. Rodger Allen Lane, 2004.
  • Smith, D. The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book. Greenhill Books, 1998.

External links

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