On 21 July 1798, Napoleon’s forces engaged in battle with the Mamluks, elite Egyptian warriors who were now a semi-autonomous group within the Ottoman Empire. The Mamluks’ strength lay in their cavalry and, aware of this, Napoleon arranged his forces, under Generals Reynier, Dugua, Vial and Bon, into large divisional squares, while General Desaix led a detachment south to occupy Biktil, a nearby village. The Mamluk chieftain, Murad Bey, divided his forces between the garrison at Embabeh, with his cavalry deployed north of Geneyneh. Ibrahim Bey (futilely) mobilized a Mamluk division on the Nile’s east bank. Mamluk cavalry hurled themselves at the French formations, who repulsed them with artillery and musket fire. After failing to dent the French ‘squares’ they retreated southwards, where Desaix repelled them, while Bon routed the Embabeh garrison. Defeated, many of the Mamluks tried to swim to safety across the Nile, but died in the attempt.
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