Empire of Liberty: The One True Sultan

Excerpt from Harris Chandler’s “A History of Napoleonic France, Vol. I”, Random House Publishing, 2018.

Napoleon briefly entered Constantinople around 4:30 p.m. but would not reach the palace until the next morning for fears of an assassination amidst the chaos. Around 6 p.m. the coalition secured the Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia and other landmarks of the central city. For the most part, the taking of the city was not a bloody affair. Looting did occur in the initial chaos but Napoleon ordered a curfew and organized armed patrols scoured the streets that evening. The worst events occurred around 4 p.m. when the Greek regiment reached the phanariot quarter and hung several well-known Greek enemies of the republic. The revelation of the flight of some notable Phanariotes and the ecumenical patriarch scandalized the Greek troops who quickly sent word back to Athens. The real or perceived (depending on which version of history one believes) betrayal would have lasting consequences for the Greek state.  Napoleon immediately arrested the vigilantes and placed all of the Greek neighborhoods under the watch of his Consular Guard. Alemdar Mustafa Pasha led his troops to the palace quicker than the rest of the coalitionary army could keep pace. Having just missed Mustafa’s court he found the palace deserted save for some confused slaves.

The remaining gates opened between 6:30 and 8:00 p.m. allowing supplies and troop movements along any point of the wall. Volunteer teams began identifying and burying the dead shortly after. Most of the casualties from the day were at the Golden Gate. In all, the day’s battle cost 900 coalition soldiers their lives, nearly 2,500 were wounded and a handful mysteriously missing. The Russians and Turks lost 4,700 men. Accurate numbers for wounded and missing soldiers are impossible to calculate since thousands bled back into the city during the chaos. Any lingering violence ended around 8 p.m. Gorchakov and the Russian hold outs surrendered just before 9 p.m. By midnight, the city lay quiet and under vigilant patrol.

The morning of August 2nd was like something the city had not seen in centuries as Napoleon finally got his triumph. Parading through the (cleaned up) Golden Gate like the Roman Emperors of antiquity, Napoleon, Soult, Saint-Hilaire and much of the Consul’s entourage rode up the Divanyolu, the ancient Roman turned Ottoman “Road to the Imperial Council” that once connected Constantinople with Rome. The journey led the Consul to the Hagia Sofia, which they briefly toured, and then to Topkapi Palace. That evening, the coalition navy finally entered the Golden Horn. Napoleon greeted Villeneuve and Rear Admiral William Carnegie, 7th Earl of Northesk, the new commanding officer of the British navy following Collingwood’s death.

That evening, Napoleon held a war council at the palace to determine next steps. The army could not linger in Constantinople indefinitely and the siege had depleted its supplies, everything from food to munitions, significantly. The fine port allowed easier resupply from the sea but the lengthy operation through the Balkans and the long supply lines were taking their toll on the French economy back home. Still relatively new to his position as Consul, Napoleon truly wanted to return to France as soon as possible. Despite their reduced standing at the meeting, Carnegie and Nightingall both desired a solution that placed Selim on the throne (the sultan’s fleet was entering the Dardanelles as the meeting commenced), concluded the war with Russia and Mustafa, and saw the evacuation of the French from the region. The capture of Constantinople was a major success but none of the allies knew where the Russian ships were taking Mustafa and his janissarial court nor did they have much intelligence on the pending military situation. None of the men knew that Benningsen was organizing an 80,000 man army near Moscow, nor did they know that Bagration’s army was marching from its positions along the Pontus towards transport ships docked at Rize. The Tsar would not learn of the city’s capture until September. For all purposes, the capture of the capital hardly meant the end of the war. However, by good chance loyal Turkish officers found the city’s harbormaster that afternoon who oversaw the preparations of Ushakov’s fleet, including the ship carrying Mustafa and Pazvantoğlu. While the destination was unknown, the hurried manner in which the ships were provisioned and the sheer number of passengers brought aboard during the flight meant they had a range of just four, possibly five, days sail. Russian ports at Odessa and Sevastopol would be just out of range, which meant their destination must be along the Anatolian coast. Ports like Zonguldak, Sinop, and Samsun made the most sense. Knowing Mustafa lacked support amongst the Pontic Greeks (hence why Bagration was campaigning in the region), his destination would surely be Zonguldak.

The coalition leaders were dead one with their estimate. Mustafa and the Russian fleet docked at Zonguldak on August 4 and arrived at the town of Karabük on August 7. Despite the loss of Constantinople, Mustafa still enjoyed decent, if diminished, support in northern Anatolia. The ancient heartland of the Ottomans (indeed the Turks since their arrival to Anatolia centuries before), these lands were very traditional and many opposed Selim’s reform efforts (already somewhat underway in southern Anatolia). It also helped Mustafa that the region had a gun to its head. On August 13, Bagration’s army of 30,000 arrived at Zonguldak. Combined with the evacuees from Constantinople and Mustafa’s local troops, the Russo-Turks commanded an army nearly 65,000 men strong. The Battle of Marmara also meant the coalition navy did not have the strength to operate in the Black Sea. Confined to the Bosporus, large tracts of Anatolia still lay in Mustafa’s hands.

On August 3, Selim III finally arrived at Constantinople. Hardly the triumphal entry he desired, Selim found himself in the humiliating position of accepting his own throne thanks to the Europeans that did his dirty work for him. Selim needed to prove himself, and he needed a victory. Unfortunately, with Bagration’s soldiers in the mix, Selim had no way to finish the war on his own. He needed Napoleon’s divisions and the Consul had no desire to send his troops on a wild goose chase across the mountains of Anatolia, well beyond the practical limit of resupply. This also meant Napoleon had immeasurable leverage against Selim, leverage he was more than happy to use. Even if Napoleon was more than ready to return to Paris, he was not about to leave when the Tsar still had no inclination about the situation and there was a sizeable Russian army knocking on Constantinople’s doorstep. He would finish the job…for a price.

The August 8, 1804 Treaty of Constantinople humorously saw Napoleon and Selim formally end the former state of war that existed stemming from the initial invasion of Egypt nearly six years before. Selim relinquished Egypt, Algiers and Crete directly to France. Greece and Serbia were given their independence. France would be permitted to anchor ships and station soldiers in Constantinople. Finally, Selim signed an alliance with France. Despite British protestations and the threat that they would withdraw from the war effort altogether, Selim signed the treaty. On August 9, Rear Admiral Carnegie withdrew the Royal Navy squadron from the Bosporus and sailed for Naples. Parliament might not have known what just happened but all the work of expelling Russia from the Ottoman Empire just failed as France took the role of lead antagonist. As far as Carnegie, Nightingall and the rest of the British were concerned, a new war was mere months away.


Excerpt from www.alternatehistory.com forum debate titled “What If Napoleon Signs A Less Stringent Treaty of Constantinople?”

Colty: Let’s say Napoleon doesn’t go “full emperor” after capturing Constantinople and signs a treaty that is more amicable to Britain. No Algeria or Crete cessation, no permanent French presence in the region…would it be possible that a satisfying conclusion to the 3rd war prevents the 4th coalition war?

Whyruhere: I assume if he isn’t forcing Selim to cede Algeria then Macdonald is still in Egypt? If so then no Nottingham Incident and a very different North Africa. The US probably leaves which might mean no constitutions and would have long-term impacts since North Africa was so important to US expansion in the old world.

Alwaysless: “@whyruhere I have to agree it would have major regional impacts. I still think the 4th coalition war happens. Peace between Britain and France was on borrowed time and the balance of power in Europe still died at Craiova. Its important to remember that even without the Treaty, the Holy Roman Revolution is still coming.”

J_Smits: I have to think not much would change except Napoleon is shooting himself in the foot for the next war. Everyone knew the next war was coming by this point; Napoleon already had already dispatched Macdonald to Algeria, which only makes sense if you consider that Napoleon needed to control the Mediterranean coast to outflank the British held islands. Russia didn’t fully pursue the 4th Russo-Persian War because the tsar knew he needed the troops elsewhere at a moments notice. And we know that the British anticipated a war between themselves and the US at some point which meant another coalition fight with France. So hand waving into a less harsh treaty maybe delays the war or costs Napoleon in the long-run because of the lesser position with the British in Constantinople but I don’t think it butterflies away the 4th coalition war. Like @Alwaysless said, the HRR is still coming. And Russia is still rebuilding.

Lonestar: I think peace sticks actually. We know the admiralty had a lot of heartburn about their ability to hold India, the Indies and the rest of the empire after the naval losses during the war at the Nile and Marmara. If it was just France alone, maybe because of the HRR but as long as the US and France are aligned, Britain needs time to regroup. And there was four years of peace anyways! I bet it holds until at least Nappy dies or something major happens with the US or Russia. The Brits didn’t want to rush into a war.

Alpha Orinus: @Lonestar if they didn’t want to rush into war then why did the Brits vote out Portland?

Lonestar: @Alpha Orinus why did Liverpool still wait four years?


Excerpt from Harris Chandler’s “A History of Napoleonic France, Vol. I”, Random House Publishing, 2018.

Satisfied, Napoleon had the remaining coalition ships transport the army across the strait on August 11. Once more Napoleon arrived in Asia. Coordinating with the Ottoman government, Napoleon established new supply lines and began marching into Anatolia. In a few days’ time he expected to be in Düzce from which he could sortie against Zonguldak (cutting Bagration off from resupply) or Karabük (possibly forcing a decisive battle or capturing Mustafa). He arrived at Düzce on August 17 and, learning that Bagration’s army was camped near Mustafa’s new capital, opted to finish the war once and for all. Bagration, having learned of Napoleon’s whereabouts two days prior, had no desire to run or let Napoleon approach Karabük. Marching towards the French the two armies met on several hilly meadows near the town of Gerede.

Located in a valley about three miles wide, the town of Gerede dates back to antiquity and is located in a region that gives it cold, wet winters and exceedingly pleasant summers. Pine trees cover the mountains flanking the valley while the valley below varies between flat terrain and stubby plateaus. Several streams cross the battlefield leading to a small river, the Ulu Cayi, which crosses the middle of the valley. A fine site for a line engagement the battle technically occurred around the village of Doğancı. Late in the day on August 19, Napoleon arrived in this valley and, seeing enemy encampments further up the valley, ordered Bernadotte’s division onto one of the short plateaus. This risked coming perilously close to the Russian guns but the positioning would allow them to form up and make a rapid advance once the battle began. Moving artillery onto the hill in the night, Napoleon hoped that a daring advance by Bernadotte would open the valley allowing Soult and Moreau the room they needed for maneuvers.

The Battle of Gerede began at 6:30 a.m. on August 20, 1804. Napoleon had been up since 1 a.m. scouting advance positions with one of Bernadotte’s divisional commanders General Olivier Rivaud de la Raffinière. A torrent of orders cascaded from Napoleon’s tent around 3 a.m. as he organized his generals and their divisions. Saint-Hilaire (Soult remained in Constantinople) would push up the road towards Gerede while Moreau would come up on the right. Ney would guard the extreme right flank while the Consular Guard stood in reserve to exploit any weaknesses. After haranguing Bernadotte’s division at 6 a.m. the deployment, and thus the battle, began.

Rivaud advanced on the village of Yakakaya in columns, prepared to deploy into a line once they had cleared the village but became disoriented in an early morning fog and struck the enemy between Yakakaya and Göynükören. As the fog slowly lifted, stubborn fighting persisted for nearly two hours, disorganizing the French and using up valuable ammunition. Mustafa’s janissarial cavalry began forming up near the high ground at Sungurlar around this point. Bernadotte, pressing forward, passed his second line through his first and cleared the plateau to Aydinlar before turning towards Nuhören around 9:30 a.m.. Beyond Nuhören, the valley becomes rather flat, ideal for cavalry. This push allowed Saint-Hilaire to march his troops up the road in columns and capture Gerede. By 10 a.m. the French completely pushed the Russians off the plateau, into the flat valley below while janissary forces remained spread out across the foothills to the east and the valley plain. Moreau pushed along the French right flank around 9:30 a.m. sweeping up those Russians pushed down from the plateau. Around 9:45 a.m. Moreau’s march stalled as he sent troops to assist Bernadotte in clearing the plateau but also when he formed square to stave off a janissarial cavalry attack. At 11 a.m. Saint-Hilaire pushed out of Gerede and captured the highpoints near Sungurlar and Çayören. With all of the divisions linked up by 11:30 a.m. the strategy became apparent to Bagration. Before, Bagration attempted to keep the French from folding his lines so he could sweep them out of the valley, using line troops on the plateau and foothills and janissary cavalry on the valley floor. The stubborn French refused to fold back, instead elongating their line along the foothills and capturing the length of the road. At 11:30 a.m. though, the French possessed the high ground overlooking the entire valley and the Russians were now caught out of position, their backs to the Ulu Cayi River. Napoleon determined the time was right for a major assault. Cannon on the high ground rained shot down on the trapped Russians while the French army pushed forward in thick skirmish lines followed by battalion columns. The Russians held on for impressive hour but the trap was too much. With Bernadotte and Saint-Hilaire pushing down north from the hills and Moreau sweeping them from the west, and the river at their backs, the Russian and janissarial lines broke and ran around 1 p.m. Ottoman cavalry finished the operation. As the Russo-Turks fled the battlefield, slowed by the crossing of the river, Ottoman cavalry swept along the length of the field and pursued any escapees up the road into the mountains. So complete was the victory that Napoleon and Selim had captured their prizes on the field. Bagration was wounded and taken into custody neat the village of Çoğullu where his officers placed him in a barn as the battle lines broke. Osman Pazvantoğlu, arguably the instigator of the entire conflict, lie dead on the foothill approaches of Sungular. Mustafa was captured fleeing into the mountains near Salur, a full 14 kilometers from Gerede. There would be no tricks or escapes, Selim ordered Mustafa strangled that evening.

“My love, I’ve executed some fine maneuvers against the Russians,” Napoleon bragged to Josephine from Gerede at 3 a.m. on August 21. “I won a great victory yesterday. The enemy numbered 90,000; I have taken 20,000 prisoners, 80 artillery pieces, and flags. The Ottoman usurper was captured as well and the rightful Sultan immediately put him to death, ending this conflict once and for all. I have been in bivouac for three days. I am wonderfully well.”

In true Napoleonic fashion the numbers are exaggerated but the core of the letter holds true. The French did take nearly 20,000 prisoners, captured 74 guns and Mustafa lie dead in a Turkish valley. Having defeated four Russian armies on two continents and captured one of the great defensive cities in world history (the only conqueror to do so without naval superiority) while making the Mediterranean into a French lake, the masterful Bosporus Campaign of the War of the Third Coalition marks the zenith of Napoleon’s battlefield prowess. While the soon to be Emperor had plenty more victories left in his spurs, no campaign would match the totality of superiority that Napoleon achieved on the road from Vidin to Gerede. It is certain that Napoleon was “wonderfully well.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.