Barras' View of Toulon Seige

"All confusion quickly ceased with the advent of the new general-in-chief. He at once gave directions for the necessary defensive dispositions; and at a council of war laid before us his plan of attack, which was unanimously adopted. My colleagues remained near him, while I took up my post with the left division under command of Lapoype.

The army besieging Toulon did not exceed 25,000 men as against 30,000 of the enemy. The British and Spaniards, the principal masters of the town, had repaired the forts and erected new batteries; that of Malbousquet commanded the entire plain. Dugommier rectified the blunder of our artillery, which had placed us at a disadvantage. In the course of a single night he constructed on the summit of a rock the terrible battery of the Convention which commanded the enemy.

Several sorties were repulsed, and General O'Hara, purused and surrounded by our grenadiers, fel into our hands. Finally, on the appointed day, the 18th of December, Toulon was attacked from every side; the engagement was a bloody one. Dubommier captured all the redoubts and intrenchments erected by the enemy, and drove them from the formidable positions of Balaguier and L'Aiguillette, which they occupied owing to Bonaparte's neglect to place heavy guns and perfect the means of defence at that point; once master of these important points, Dugommier ordered Bonaparte to hold them. The latter executed this movement with a slowness which rendered easy the evacuation of Toulon by the besieged, an event that took place on the 19th of December. Previous to withdrawing, the enemy, knowing they could no longer hold their position in the town, set fire to the shipping, took such ships as were aremed and under Trogoff, embarked their troops together with a portion of the rebels, set sail, and left the port and roadstead without suffering any great damage. The burning of our shipping and some of our naval establishments was checked by the men employed in the arsenal, and especially by the convicts, who accomplished wonders towards extinguishing the flames kindled by the British. It is owing to the fact that in our narrative of events we did not see fit to deny these unfortunate men the justice due them on this occasion that it has been stated we proclaimed them to be 'the only respectable people of the town of Toulon.'

While Dugommier was beating the enemy on the right, Lapoype and I were directing a successful attack on Fort Faron, considered impregnable. MassÚna, whom I had called to me from the Army of Italy, was with us. I decided to invest the fort under darkness, but our advance was so slow that we did not rech its parapets till broad daylight. A cross-fire of ball, grape, and bullets mowed down our front ranks; the troops fell back, scattered, and formed again at the base of the mountain. I knew the locality, so, after conferring with General Lapoype, who approved of my dispositions, I sent Adjutant-General Micas at the head of a detachment, with orders to seize upon the peak of the mountain. I pointed out to him, at the same time telling hime the road he was to follow. Provided with a few guns of small calibre, dragged wtih ropes up the mountain's slope, Micas, with as much celerity as courage, reached the steep pass leading to the Pas de la Masque, exterminated the Spaniards defending it, and took up his position at the base of the mountain under the shelter of some partially fallen walls, whence his fire plunged down on Fort Faron. As soon as Micas opened his cannonade, which he kept up briskly, Lapoype and I increased ours. I ahd given my orders, and was advancing on Faron, when one of the captains of the detachment I was leading, who was by my side, fell dead at my feet all covered with blood, which gushed out over my clothes. I thought he was merely wounded, and threw myself upon him in order to raise him and give him help; the soldiers surrounding us believed that I had been struck, and one of them cried out in despair, "'he people's representative is dead!' I at once drew my sword, threatening the man who had uttered the cry, as well as all repeating it and thus creating an alarm among the troops, besides making the alleged fact known to the enemy. 'No, comrades,' I said, with vehemence, 'I am still leading you on, and together we shall win the day! Forward, then, my men!'

The enemy, assailed on all sides, sallied from the fort. We at once took possession, and they retreated with utmost haste. All their inferior positions were destroyed by our fire, which dominated them; thus Toulon and Fort La Malgue, against which some of our fire was directed. The army of the enemy, defeated on the right by Bugommier, on the left by Lapoype, began its retreat while ours was breaking the gates of the rebel town. The naval troops refused to open them, and were drawn up in battle on the parade ground; but on being surrounded, they laid down their arms. We reported to the Committee of Public Safety that the Army of the Republic had entered Toulon on the 29th Frumaire."

From Memoirs of Barras, pp. 141 - 144 (1895 Harper & Brothers).

Richard R. Orsinger

Copyright © 1996 Richard R. Orsinger
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Most recent revision November 17, 1996