The Battle of Alexandria - 21st March 1801


Following Napoleon's ill-fated campaign in Egypt and Syria in 1798/99 and his subsequent departure back to France, leaving his Armee d'Orient behind, the British decided the time was right to challenge the French on land and they sent an expeditionary force of around 21,000 men led by Sir Ralph Abercromby. This invasion force landed at Abukir on March 8th 1801 (see our Instagram post 08/03/2020 for information on this landing) and after fighting on the landing beaches and another engagement at Mandara on the 13th March, the British advanced on Alexandria. Here they met the main French force under the command of Jacques-Francois Menou. Having suffered casualties and stationing men in the line of communication behind him, Abercromby now fielded 14,000 infantry, 200 cavalry and 46 cannon. The French, 8,500 infantry, 1,400 cavalry and 46 cannon, although a smaller force on paper the French were all veterans of desert warfare. With the sea on one flank and Lake Abukir on the other, the British deployed their forces in readiness for the French attack.


Initial deployment of The Battle of Alexandria 21st March 1801

ORDERS OF BATTLE - we usually provide a numbers of men to models comparison, but as there are so many different Napoleonic rules out there with vastly differing unit sizes we are simply going to list units for you to select your own preferred unit size.

BRITISH ARMY

Sir Ralph Abercromby - Commander in Chief - excellent leader, inspired

Guards Division

1 Battalion Coldstream Guards - elite, smoothbore musket, well trained

1 Battalion 3rd Guards - elite, smoothbore musket, well trained

1 battery of cannon - trained, steady, 9lb guns

Coote's division

3 Battalions - trained, steady, smoothbore musket,

Cradock division

4 Battalions - trained, steady, smoothbore musket

Cavan division

6 Battalions - trained, steady, smoothbore musket

1 battery of cannon - trained, steady, 9lb guns

Cavalry

3 squadrons light Dragoons - elite, sword, carbine, well trained

Doyle's division

4 Battalions - trained, steady, smoothbore mushet

Stuart's division

3 Battalions - trained, veteran. smoothbore musket

1 squadron light Dragoons - elite, sword, carbine, well trained

Abercromby's command

3 Battalions - trained, steady, smoothbore musket

1 Battalion (42nd Scots) - elite, solid, smoothbore musket

1 Battalion (28th Gloucesters) - trained, solid, smoothbore musket

1 battery of cannon - trained, steady, 9lb guns

In the Sea

4 gunboats - trained, steady, 18lb guns

In the lake

3 Armed barges - trained, steady, 6lb guns


FRENCH ARMY

Jacques-Francois Menou - Commander-in-Chief - veteran, average leader

Lanusse division

4 Battalions - veteran, steady, smoothbore musket

1 battery of cannon -veteran, steady, 12lb guns

Rampon division

2 Battalions - veteran, steady, smoothbore musket

1 Battalion Grenadiers - veteran, elite, smoothbore musket

1 battery of cannon - veteran, steady, 12lb guns

Reynier division

5 Battalions - veteran, steady, smoothbore musket

1 battery of cannon - veteran, steady, 12lb guns

Cavalry division

2 squadrons chasseurs - veteran, elite, sword, carbine

4 squadrons hussars - veteran, elite, sword, carbine

4 squadrons dragoons, veteran, elite, sword, carbine

Bron division

2 squadrons chasseurs - veteran, elite, sword, carbine

2 squadrons hussars - veteran, elite. sword, carbine

2 squadrons dromedaries - veteran, guard, sword, carbines


THE BATTLE AS IT HAPPENED

The French made a full frontal assault on the British, with the three divisions advancing in column at speed, as they advanced Rampon's 32nd and 26th battalions veered off to their left to reinforce the Lanusse division and make the main assault along the coastline and the ruins, The fighting here was particularly hard and Abercromby was forced to bring forward his reserves to hold the line. The forward unit was the 28th (North Gloucesters) who finding themselves surrounded by infantry to the front and dragoons to their rear, famously formed into two lines one forward and one rearward facing, fighting back their foes they became the only regiment in the British army to be given a second cap badge, to be worn on the back of their caps to show they could fight from both directions.



The 42nd (Black Watch) advanced to support the forward units and captured a French standard which was then fiercely contested by French dragoons. It was at this point that Sir Ralph Abercromby found himself isolated from his men and several French dragoons charged in to him. Fighting courageously he fought them back with his sword until support arrived to save him, but not before he was dealt a critical wound that he would die of a week later.


In other sectors of the battle, the Guards easily maintained their position on the high ground and fought back the French assault, To the left, the French cavalry and dromedaries were repulsed by steady musket fire before making contact,


By 8:30pm the battle began to wane, the French weary and disheartened began to withdraw back to the city. The British had proven themselves as a new force to be reckoned with; despite the veteran experience of the French, the British had succeeded in achieving extremely fast and consistent volley fire to hold their line. It would be a characteristic that would put fear in the French for the next fifteen years.

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