Appointed General in Chief of the expedition to the East1, Napoleon began an activity without equal to prepare what was to ensure the success of his gigantic enterprise. The more he asked, the more was given, as directors wanted the removal of such a dangerous rival for them. Within a short time, the fleet that was to contribute to this great expedition met and 72 warships, 400 transport boats, manned by 10,000 seamen, and carrying 36,000 troops came together. The squadron was commissioned by Admiral Brueys. Everything was ready, the General in Chief, accompanied by his wife and his personal secretary, Bourrienne, left Paris on May 4, 1798 for Toulon, where he arrived on the 9th. Ten days after, in the high morning, The Orient, that carried Napoleon with his staff, made sail.
The squadron did not leave the bay without difficulty. Several vessels labored against the wind which was non-stop, but The Orient, which had 120 cannons and had a deeper draft, listed significantly enough to give concern to the many spectators who covered the shore, and especially to Ms. Bonaparte , who followed the movements of the flagship, from the balcony of the Hotel de l'Intendance where she had stayed. She was soon reassured by seeing the boat majestically enter the open sea to cheers from the crowds, the noise of bands and artillery of forts. The squadron sailed along the coast of Provence until around Genoa, where she joined the convoy from this city, but then turned to the Corsica cape and was joined by the convoy of Ajaccio. There it waited several days unnecessarily at Civita-Vecchia. Napoleon attached much importance to the arrival of the convoy that should have carried Desaix. Admiral Brueys sent on this search the frigate The Artémise, commanded by Captain Stangnelet, to which he gave precise instructions to merely reconnoiter and to report back immediately. Finally, tired of waiting for the return of the frigate and fearing an encounter with Nelson’s fleet, Brueys went on to Malta.
Boredom was the greatest evil from which most of the guests had to defend themselves. During the early days they resorted to gambling, but as this gambling was nothing less than moderate and as the resources of the players were not inexhaustible, the money all together soon found itself in a few pockets of the better players; then they were left with reading, and the library, that the General in Chief himself had requested, was a great resource. Arnault, who had the key, became a man of great importance. While entrusting him, Napoleon had given instructions that he must lend books to persons who were allowed to enter the council chamber, who took them to the meeting lounge, and individuals who were part of the greater headquarters, others would have to read without moving the books.
The first few days, the librarian had few requests to meet, but they multiplied as soon as the unhappy gamblers, such as that of Regnard, were advised to seek consolation in philosophy. The collection of novels barely sufficed. The time to eat lunch was when these gentlemen devoted to reading, lounging on the couches that prevailed around the room. From time to time, Napoleon out of his room and went around the salon, pulling happily on the ear of one, ruffling the hair of another, he could afford to do so without difficulty, each having removed the crêpés (powdering) and the toupets (toupees) to adopt the hair styles of Titus or of Caracalla.
In one of these tours, fascination overcame the General in Chief as to what everyone read:
Duroc also read a novel, as well as Berthier, who had asked Arnault for something good and had been affected by the sentimental passions of Young Werther.
As long as Napoleon was at sea, he rarely got up before eight o'clock in the morning. The Orient was an image of a colony of two thousand inhabitants. It was an admirable scene that this countless congregation of boats of every size full of grandeur, a city floating above which the vessels with tall sails surmounted, just the same as the churches of a capital rise above its highest houses, and that The Orient, as a veritable cathedral, dominated throughout by its height. Every day the General in Chief invited some people to dine with him, along with the admiral, the staff, the colonels, and those who usually ate at his table. After dinner, when time permitted, he visited the gallery, which, by its magnitude, could serve as a promenade. One afternoon, Napoleon who had thrown every bit of his clothing on his bed, told Berthier:
It happened. On entering:
Arnault fetched the Odyssey. As he was returning, the aide-de-camp Duroc, who had been alerted by a bell, had come to take orders from his general, received an injunction not to let any individual in, and not even himself until called.
This was what the librarian of the Army of Egypt read aloud: "How is it that the suitors of Penelope ate, while living in her court, the legacy of prudent Ulysses, the heritage of the young Telemachus, and her dowry; slitting the throat of their oxen, skinning them, dismembering them, roasting or boiling them, and enjoying them as well as their wine." It would be difficult to say to what extent this naive painting of ancient mores cheered Napoleon, but suddenly, interrupting his reader he rose abruptly from his bed:
Arnault nicely replied that we should not judge Homer according to the modern taste; Napoleon interrupted always repeating in a jeering tone:
And taking a copy of this poet, stylishly bound in red morocco with gold edges, which was still on a small table near his bed, as well as that of Homer, under the Alexandrian bolster, the General in Chief began to declaim from Témora, his favorite poem.
It must be said, though Napoleon related very well the memoire, when read, he was far from proving this point. Following his little habit of reading aloud, often turning the language; sometimes even replacing a t with a s, and sometimes also a s with a t, it was the so-called dangerous liaisons. Mangling in this way the words, or putting a word in the place of another, as a result of his natural hurriedness and the emphasis with which he read his text, he lent less of an epic than a burlesque with his enthusiasm, however, he stopped after reading two or three stanzas, and cried:
Napoleon, which never stood for being beaten, would retaliate, when we opened the door: it was Duroc.
General, as the squadron has been a failure, General Kléber took advantage of the circumstances to come to you, he is there, in the council chambers.
Duroc withdrew totally baffled. Arnault was scarcely not less than him. Finally, signs of his mood had disappeared:
These thoughts made Napoleon smile, he threw himself at the foot of the bed and received Kléber.
However, he was approaching Malta. The frigate that led the march suddenly pointed to sails to the south.
General quarters were sounded. All bulkheads that partitioned the ship were removed, all the baggage brought to the bilge, and the posts assigned. Nobody should be unnecessary: the military had to fight, scientists were powder monkeys.
A naval battle led by Napoleon would have had to have a special character. Preparations were being made when the signal light of the squadron announced that the fleet coming in view, was the Civita-Vecchia convoy that the Artémise had returned to search for, and which she now escorted. This was soon confirmed by Captain Stangnelet himself. The captain, a few days after the leaving the fleet, met the convoy near the mouth of the Tiber, making course with him and, rightly assuming that the squadron had to wait, instead of visiting Maretimo, went right to Malta, where, after waiting for the Orient, he returned to meet her. That was the summary of the report he gave for the Admiral in the presence of the General in Chief.
Confident of the concern that the prolonged absence of the Artémise had caused to Napoleon, those who were present were fearful of the Captain’s challenge. His figure, previously with an impassive expression took on the formidable; as blue as they were in a calm, his eyes became black, appearing to throw sparks.
Crushed by these words, Stangnelet did not answered at all. Admiral Brueys, one of the best men who in the world, was shocked himself. He left the master, and meeting with Berthier, with Junot, with Lavalette and others to appease the General in Chief; he managed to calm down the affair.
That evening, and long after his dinner, as he came out on the gallery, talking of the panic in the morning, a thud was suddenly heard. “A man overboard!” was cried out. Immediately the cages à poulet (chicken coop), the lifebuoys, the longboats were casts in the water. The weather was calm, but the night was so dark that it was impossible to distinguish anything. At the sound of the fall, a Provencal sailor had launched into the sea. The interest excited by the peril of the first was naturally increased by the peril of the latter. Craning over the railing of the gallery, like all the assistants, Napoleon was waiting anxiously for the ending of this scene, when a voice cried out: “There they are! They are saved!” And immediately there in the shadows entered the swimmer, who was pushing a body in front of him of an enormous size: applauds for the courage broke out en mass, for his devotion and addressed to the Provençal. But who did he save? ... The carcass of an old cow that the cook of the ship did not feel obliged to feed the crew, because she had died in the morning of a natural death. A general inextinguishable laughter welcomed the discovery of the mistake. When his own hilarity was calmed down a bit:
And he gave him some écus (money), which was augmented with gifts from the audience.
You should be well-pleased, said the General in Chief that the fleet did not pull away from you; that it had calm winds, wouldn’t you still have been in the woods then?
Confound it! Not afraid: I’d have swum to Malta.
Or, what if the fleet kept moving, would you have been able to join it?
Ah-So! I’d have swam to Egypt, tron de Dieu! 2
The next day, June 10, at the break of day, the Island of Malta was reported. The General in Chief asked the Grand Master of the Order of the faculty for water supplies in the various moorings of his island; he refused. That evening, the town was surrounded on all sides and the rest of the island occupied by our troops. On the 13th, at midnight, supporting powers of the Grand Master came aboard the flagship to ask for a final capitulation, and on the 15th, the French Army entered one of the most fortified places of Europe and one that had withstood for two years the invincible Dragut. Five days were enough for Napoleon to destroy the power of the Knights of Malta. Thirteen days later, the sun, which has been called so many times since the sun of Bonaparte, shone in the minarets of Alexandria. The Tower of the Arabs, from which was flown the first tricolor flag, raised by the army at the end of its journey, Egypt, the ancient land of wonders, where great things were going to be accomplished!
The day he arrived in Toulon, May 8, 1797, Napoleon had reviewed the army, which was already assembled in this city, but did not know its true destination yet. After going through the ranks, the General in Chief addressed the brave who surrounded him and told them:
“Officers and soldiers! It has been two years since I commanded you. At that time, you were on the river of Genoa, in absolute poverty, having given up your appearances for your livelihood. I promised to put a stop to your decay, I knew you in Italy; there everything was granted to you. Did I not keep my word?”
Here Napoleon interrupted himself, crossed his arms over his chest and with this powerful and noble gesture that became so popular since; unanimous cries of: “Yes! Yes! It is true!” resounded enthusiastically to these words.
“Well! He continued when the enthusiasm had abated somewhat, I will now take you to a country where, for your future exploits, you will surpass those that amaze your admirers today, and provide the homeland with the service it is entitled to expect from an army of invincibles. I promise that every soldier that returns from the expedition will have at his disposal six acres of land to purchase. You are going to run new dangers: you share with your fellow seamen. Come on board with the intelligence that characterizes men purely motivated and dedicated to the good of the same cause. They, like you, acquired the rights for national recognition, in the difficult art of the Navy. Imitate the Roman soldiers, who knew how to beat Carthage both in the plain and the Carthaginians in their fleets!”
Let us judge the effect that
had been produced on the army by such language, delivered by its general idolatry! Cries
of Vive Bonaparte! of Vive la République! the Marseillaise,
intoned by all these men in one
Before touching land in Egypt, he had detached the frigate Juno, to find out what was happening in Alexandria and bring on board the consul of France, M. Magallon. He informed the General in Chief that, a few days earlier, the English had appeared in Alexandria with formidable forces, and while he spoke he pointed into the distance, a shroud of war. Immediately Napoleon ordered to the squadron to anchor as close as possible to the point of Marabou. Some boats were detached to cross the front of the new harbor and the old port of Alexandria. Moreover, as he understood that the English squadron might appear at any moment, he ordered an immediate disembarking that, under any other circumstances, he probably would have postponed.
The army knew nothing of the dangers to which it was exposed, and the sea was soon covered with rowboats, an Egyptian pilot, engaged at a high price; guided them through the dangerous reefs. That was a scene of bravery during the night, piled on flimsy boats during a storm, and having confidence in the hands of a Muslim who might be a traitor! Several boats were lost, and the galley on which were Napoleon, Berthier and the staff itself failed to reach the beach, until one o'clock in the morning, the French covered the shore of Egypt, four miles from Alexandria.
Brueys had proposed to the General in Chief to wait overnight to make the landing:
It was the first time since the time of the crusades that men of the East and those of the West would find themselves face to face: the shock would be terrible!
Immediately, the General in Chief held a review without even a change clothes, although his party were flooded with water.
He was unable to unload the artillery or horses. Napoleon ordered the generals Menou, Kléber and Bon to put their divisions into three columns and march: General Bon on the right, that of General Kléber in the middle, and General Menou on the left. General Regnier was left in custody of the point where the landing was made, and boats took preparation to anchor in the Bay of Marabou, after the fleet was fixed to disembark the rest of the troops, horses and food as soon as possible. Napoleon therefore began marching with the army, where he was on foot, as well as his staff, confused among the infantrymen of the advanced guard, and with the generals Dammartin, Dumas and Caffarelli. The last, despite his wooden leg, showed the troops an example of courage and cheerfulness advancing through the sand, which increased the difficulties for him to walk.
Finally, the French army arrived
within a half-league of Alexandria. At the sight of ours, a corps of
Arabs on horseback retreated and took the road to Cairo. In front of
Alexandria. Napoleon tried several times to parley with the people to avoid
the horrors of an assault. His efforts had been useless, he gave the
order to attack: it was terrible, but a few hours later and despite the strong
resistance of the enemy, our brave climbed the walls, and the besieged felt
compelled to take refuge in the towers and leave the town. In that attack,
Once master of the city, Napoleon, to whom we brought a captain
of Turkish Navy, made his intentions and provisions of the army known to this
man and returned to the negotiation of the siege. Before the end of
the day, all
The next day, a convoy deployed out of the city, with drum and flag flying: it was for brave killed the day before that we were going to bury them at the foot of the column of Pompey.
After having organized a government in Alexandria and put the port and the city into a state of defense, Napoleon, who felt the importance to move quickly on the Cairo to oppose the Mamelucks, went to the city through the desert of Damanhour. As the squadron had moved away from land and had not yet been possible to unload the reserve supplies, the Army had to march without having been provided with the needed food: but every moment was precious, and Napoleon had long accustomed his soldiers to do the impossible.
So these brave men marched in the midst of hot sand, under a sky no less burning, dying of hunger and with no other ambition than to reach the wells of Beda and Berket. But, alas! They found these wells filled by Arabs and saw their comrades fall around them, for want of a little water that would save them. Worse still, the mirage appeared to show them an immense lake; hopeful, they marched ... This lake disappeared as a temptation always reborn and always false. We should not believe that the night brought relief to so many miseries: it merely changed the nature of the torment that our soldiers endured during the day, because with the night came a cold dew that numbed and harassed their members seeming to crush them with a still tougher embrace. Well! They bore these tests so far with courage without an example in the glories of history. There were perhaps complaints and recriminations against the General in Chief, but they were not unanimous, and, once received at the end of the march, the army had forgotten their suffering. “The Army of Alexander, on such an occasion,” said the official story of General Berthier, prompting cries of pain against the conqueror of the world ... The French accelerated their march.”
It was on July 8th that our troops arrived in Damanhour. On the 10th, before sunrise, and after two days of rest, an operation began on Rahmanich. Here, Napoleon, followed by some staff officers, having left the bulk of the army, fell in the middle of a corps of Bedouins, but was hidden by a small hill that appeared as if by a miracle. Escaping this peril, the General in Chief said happily to those of his officers who begged him not to expose himself in this way:
Just a few more miles of road, and the Nile would soon appear; the Nile with its blue and fresh waters, the Nile whose shores are covered with rich harvests. The French will finally taste some rest. No! ... We must conquer before this rest. The Mamelucks ran to arms: their defeat will not be delayed. The artillery of Desaix fired, and an hour later, sitting on the banks of the river, enjoying an abundance made necessary by so many privations, the soldiers excitedly shouted “Long live General Bonaparte!”
At night, it began marching, escorted by the fleet, led by Admiral Duperré, but soon this fleet, driven by the strong winds, was thrown in the middle of the enemy fleet and placed under the fire of these naval troops and that of four thousand Mamelucks. We fought very hard. Meanwhile, Napoleon, warned that the Mamelucks that occupied an advantageous position in the village of Chebreïss, had left their support of the Nile, ordered Adjutant-General Roger to reconnoiter this position; and, prepared himself in battle order of a large parallelogram he formed his soldiers, their baggage and ammunition in the middle, he placed the little cavalry he had at his disposal so that each division flanked another. Artillery, which occupied the center, lashed the approaching Mamelucks, and when they all arrived at half-artillery range:
Immediately thousands of detonations took place; every shot, shell or bullet accurately swept the cavalry, which, not daring to carry home the charge, appeared at first in front, and then, on all corners of the formidable square, and then went on behind, but everywhere they found the same resistance and the same fire. Finally, after trying the most desperate efforts, it retreated in disarray, leaving instead a large number of dead and wounded.
At the combat of Chebreïsse was lost the brave Gallois, who fell into the hands of the Arabs; they led him off and murdered him. It was also regrettable that General Mireux, one of the bravest officers of the army, who, after the battle, had the temerity to only expose himself to a group of Bedouins, was killed. In a glorious order of the day, Napoleon cited the Chief of Ordnance Sucy, the Head of Brigade Ferrata and Chief Surgeon Larrey, that he would later say of in his testament: “This is the most virtuous man I have known.”
The French army, which had no rest after that the victory, arrived, after five days of marching, July 21, at Omdinar. Here, twenty-three beys, with all their strength, had entrenched at the heights of Cairo and had topped the defensive with over three hundred pieces of cannon. The sight of those troops, dressed in all the wealth of the Orient was a magnificent spectacle. Right behind them was the Nile; to the left stood the Pyramids.
Suddenly the army shook out, the entrenchments were taken with bayonet; fifteen hundred Mamelucks and as many Fellahs were torn to pieces, despite the bravery with which they defended it. Mourad-Bey, though wounded in the head, just fell upon the column of Desaix with six thousand horses. Our lines surprised by this unexpected shock, were at first disordered, but they who soon reformed and receive the Mamelucks that charged. General Régnier flanked them on the left; Napoleon, who held in the square of General Dugua, came to be placed between the Nile and the corps commanded by Regnier; then a horrible carnage began, but soon, and despite valiant efforts, the Mameluc cut into our artillery, recoiled and returned to the mountains, leaving six hundred of them on the battlefield and abandoning forty pieces of cannon, their tents and four hundred camels loaded with baggage, as our troops, who had only had taken a few roots for food for the last fifteen days, found themselves amply provided for.
The 25th, Napoleon made his entrance into Cairo, and, on the same day, soldiers climbed on the Pyramids and engraved their names with the tip of their bayonets.
For several days the flag planted on the top of the Pyramids, had announced to the people of Egypt's commemoration of the founding of the French Republic, the General in Chief had ordered that it should be celebrated with a civic festival in all the places where the army; he had himself outlined the organization and the program.
In Alexandria, we had illuminated the Needle of Cleopatra; in Cairo, he raised in the middle of the Place of Esbeekih, a column with four faces that was to receive on each, the names of the French dead during the conquest of Egypt. The maneuvers, races and illuminations would contribute to the solemnity of the day. In Upper Egypt, it was at the ruins of Thebes that the troops celebrated this anniversary. On the eve of the festival, Napoleon sent the army the following proclamation:
“Soldiers! Tomorrow we will celebrate the first day of year VI of the Republic. Five years ago, the independence of French people was threatened, but you took Toulon: it was the harbinger of the downfall of our enemies! One year later, you beat the Austrians at Dégo; the following year, you were on the top of the Alps and, two years ago, the you carried off the famous victory of Saint George! Last year, you were at the sources of the Drava and the Isonzo, returning from Germany. Who would have said then that you would be today on the banks of the Nile, in the center of the old continent? From the perfidious English up to the hideous Bedouin, you have continued to have the eyes of the world fixed upon you... Troops! Your destiny is beautiful because you are worthy of what you have done, and the views that people have of you. You die with honor, as the brave whose names are inscribed on the Pyramids, or you will return to your homeland covered with laurels and admiration of all peoples!”
The next day, the fifth day of celebration (22 August l798), at sunrise, three salvos, repeated by all the artillery divisions, were the signal of festivities. Immediately the general defeated in the city; all troops, in the most beautiful dress, took up their arms and moved on Esbekich Place.
There was a circular track of two hundred toises (400 yards) diameter, decorated with tricolor flags bearing the name of each of the departments of the Republic. At the entrance to this circuit a triumphal arch was erected, upon which was represented the Battle of the Pyramids, with this inscription in Arabic: There is but one God, and Muhammad is his Prophet! Amid the circle was an obelisk, and on one of its sides was etched in gold letters: The French Republic! On the other: the expulsion of Mamelucks!
When the troops were gathered in the square of Esbekich, Napoleon went there, along with everyone in the General Staff, scientists from the Institute of Egypt, the pasha and members of the cabinet (divan). The General in Chief came and his cortége were placed on the platform surrounding the obelisk. The musicians of the demi-brigades played exuberant war marches and songs of victory. Then the troops, after executing the maneuvers ordered by Napoleon fill in around the obelisk, a thousand times repeating the cries of Long live the Republic! The musicians then performed a hymn composed of the lyrics of Perceval, and the music of Rigel, and the March of Marseilles; and all of troops and then paraded in front of the General in Chief, who the returned to headquarters.
The headquarters, senior staff of the government departments, scholars, members of the cabinet (divan), and the Turkish commanders, were invited to a dinner by Napoleon. A table of one hundred and fifty seats, sumptuously served, was erected in the lower hall of the house he occupied. The French colors were united with the Turkish colors, the cap of liberty and the turban, the Table of Human Rights and the Koran, were on the same line. He gave the Muslims the freedom of food and drinks: they appeared very satisfied with the ways that we had for them. For dessert, many toasts were reported, each was greeted by pure applause of all people, and whenever this happened the musicians performed similar tunes. The patriotic verses, sung by officers, happily ended this banquet.
At four o’clock, the races began. The first prize in running was won by Corporal Pathon, of the 1st Battalion of the 75th demi-brigade and the second, by the name of Mariton, also a corporal in the 3rd Battalion of the same demi-brigade. The horse races were eagerly anticipated by the audience, everybody wanting to see the French horses compete for prizes with the Arabian horses. The reputation of the latter was great, but this day would see their destruction. The distance was to go 1350 toises (about 1.5 English miles); at the signal, six horses, including five Arabians launched into the course ... The French horse took a consistent lead over others, and arrived as the first without appearing tired, while the others were out of breath. The first prize was awarded therefore to citizen Sucy, Chief Commissioner Ordinator, owner of the Normand horse who had covered the distance in four minutes; the second prize to General Berthier, owner of an Arabian horse that arrived in second place, the third to Junot, aide-de-camp General in Chief, arriving in third. The winners were then marched in triumph around the circuit.
A few days later, there were still several meetings in Cairo
for the French to celebrate the anniversary of vendémiaire 13, the
day which had started to place Napoleon in the spot light. The citizen
Benaben took this opportunity to read an ode of his composition, where we
note the strophe:
Not afraid of times ravages;
Napoleon had long wanted to visit the Isthmus of Suez, examining the traces of the old canal that united the Nile to the Arabian Gulf, and through this sea. The Revolt of Cairo surprised this project but was not postponed because, in the following December they put it into effect and left for Suez with a few scholars, several officers of his staff and a company of its guides, having at the head a trumpeter named Krettly. The General in Chief traveled in a Berlin with his private secretaries Bourrienne, Monge and Bertholet. During the first day of march, the heat of the crossing the desert heat was unbearable, but in the evening, the cold was felt inverse to the temperature of the day, everyone suffered. This immense desert, whose only road was that followed by the caravans to Suez, Sinai and the areas north of Arabia, saw for centuries, many individuals not afraid to cross perish by any number of causes, so that their bones sown on the road, sufficiently indicated to the traveler bold enough to undertake such a perilous journey. To supply them with wood that was altogether missing, Napoleon had the idea to collect a large amount of these bones to make a fire. Monge, himself, sacrificed several skulls of a special form that he had gathered on the road and dropped into the carriage of the General in Chief. But when he decided to stop for the night in a camp, which had been chosen, just as this pile of bones was lit, an unbearable smell forced them to break camp and bring it forward, water being too rare to be the employed to extinguish this infectious outbreak.
Two days later, Napoleon and his small troop crossed the Red Sea in bare feet, as once the Israelites had, in order to visit the fountains of Moses. The night was late when they returned from the edge of the sea and the tide began to rise. It was presumably a little away from the path they had followed in the morning, but they were mistaken. But the tide was still climbing; the horses already had water up to their chest. Disorder soon began in the ranks of the guides. Krettly, the trumpeter, who swam like a veritable goldfish, gave up his mount and managed to win the Bay, but he saw that General Caffarelli, dismounted, struggled to the surface and would perish. You know that this brave commander of genius had a wooden leg. The trumpeter plunged in immediately, harpooned the General, and, assisted by a maréchal-des-logis, managed to bring Caffarelli to the bank. This action earned generous praise to trumpeter from the General in Chief, of the he began to appreciate the event.
After almost miraculously escaped the danger he encountered for his part, Napoleon said quietly to his escort officers:
On the way back to Cairo, the General in Chief wanted to
determine if there was any possibility to unite one day, the Red Sea to the
Mediterranean by a canal. This time, he made the trip on horseback. He
began this march, followed only by a picket of guides who trumpeter Krettly
was still a part. But, always willing to venture, Napoleon pushed his
excellent Arabian horse, which, fast as the wind, left the escort of its master
far behind him. However, among the guides, two of them, probably better
mounted than the others, had followed: the first a
Napoleon could not help but laugh at the comparison.
Napoleon, who did not lose sight of a single movement of Krettly, began to laugh with a vengeance when he saw him pull from his haversack a piece of mule hock, tied in a coarse cloth musette that his comrades given him on his departure from the Isthmus of Suez, then cleanly cut this piece into two equal parts, with the help of his sword, and graciously submitted one of the two pieces, saying:
And immediately Krettly offered him some paniosques 3.
Napoleon repeated a moment later:
And Krettly passed to Napoleon a kind of tobacco pouch of goat skin, and three-quarters filled with brackish and nauseating water. Napoleon took it quickly, but after drinking a few sips, he returned it to him with an exclamation of disgust.
The General in Chief finishing with pleasure, remounted his horse, and the small caravan resumed its march at a gallop. Napoleon who ordered Brigadier Henri of a little further out on the right, to make sure if he couldn’t see in the distance far away a few officers of the general staff or guides escort. Krettly alone stayed with him.
The night was quite a venue.
Bonaparte is never alone, even in the desert! Napoleon answered in a tone of inspiration.
As the trumpet was not feeling of strong enough to fight the mysticism and the grandeur of the general, he confined himself to save this beautiful quote in his memoires, like many others that we will mention in the course of this story.
Napoleon finally regained his suite, which was very concerned about his disappearance. Greetings were exchanged and the trumpeter Krettly was complimented on having the good luck having lost his face-to-face discussions with the General in Chief.
In the course of its rapid march on Saint-Jean-d'Acre, which began on February 6, 1799, the French army, still driving along the sea, nor not gain any major triumphs or overcome any major obstacles, compared to what it had already accomplished. The commanding officer had formed in Egypt two squads of a new arm destined to lighten the army and give chase to the Arabs: it was the Regiment of Dromedaries. Each of these animals bore, sitting back to back, two men perfectly armed. The strength and speed of the camel was such that this light cavalry could, in one day and without stopping, traverse twenty-five and even thirty miles.
Therefore it was not bothered during this long and arduous road through the deserts of Syria. Zéta, where they slept at the end of the first day, did not afford any resources. While they were erecting the tents, the General in Chief appeared intrigued to hear a quite fierce cannonade.
And as a guide named Bolardeau was on duty at the entrance of his tent, he added, addressing this soldier:
Saddle up while it is still day and go down to shore to see what this music is about.
With a man like Napoleon, he should also be emphasized that he gave the orders that were to be executed as quickly as he thought. Soon the guide had crossed the space between himself and the sea, but as he progressed, the noise went away, and when he arrived on shore, he did not see anything but a sky on fire and a calm sea which had deposited a few corpses on the beach. Fearing that cannonade could only be the announcement of a sad event, he had, on his return, the boldness to say this to the commanding officer, who shrugged and answered in a dry tone, turning his back to him suddenly:
Although Napoleon had become familiar with most of his guides, especially those who had been with him on the latest campaigns Italy, and that he knew almost all of them, this did not however severely affect his reluctance to recall those who did not know to be circumspect; but this familiarity was something that was worthy to those who were proud and happy when, designating them by their names, he spoke to them, if only to reproach them slightly, because, in this case, it was still a sign of interest. This one felt perfectly that he over stepped in his mission in telling his thoughts, but unfortunately he was not deceived; he stood therefore warned, and, taking his horse by the bridle, he went without a word to his bivouac, where he took advantage on his own account the recommendation of the General in Chief that he should not have done that to his mount.
Upon entering Syria, Napoleon, whose foresight embraced all the difficulties, had given the order to Brigadier General Marmont to be shipped, in a few brigs, the ammunition he needed to begin the siege. Fate willed that this small convoy, captained by Stangnelet, fell to the power of the English. That was the cause of cannonade he had heard at sea. It was therefore necessary to consider undertaking the siege with the only means that afford itself with the artillery that had been brought.
On 18 March, the army came to Saint-Jean-d'Acre and began by establishing its camp north of the city. Napoleon was posted for several hours on a small rise that dominated this city, a thousand toises (2000 yards) away or so. The enemy saw the headquarters of the General in Chief without having to wait overnight, tried out the ability of its cannoneers on him. The bombs were launched so that one of them entered the ground a few steps from the General in Chief, and two of his aides-de-camp: Captain Croisier and Eugene de Beauharnais.
He did not believe he spoke so truly, but he had the evidence soon enough; because only a little distant, another bomb came down, carving out a foot of earth in the middle of a group of soldiers sitting quietly on the grass and making soup. Everything disappeared, including the pot, and of the nine infantrymen that were there, only two survived. One of them, who was not caught, said happily to his friend, blinded by the earth he had received in the face at the time of the explosion:
Napoleon, who heard this remark, turned around and smiled:
Saint-Jean-d'Acre is located at the tip of a tongue of land fortified on the side of the sea by large-caliber batteries and a pharillon that protected several pieces of cannon. The enclosure on the side of the land consisted of a high wall cut by a tower charged with pieces of every size. This tower was rightly called the Cursed Tower. Small gardens surrounding the town in a fairly large area; and, as they were all formed by cactus and those big plants so common in Egypt, when reconnoitering the outskirts of the square, to push the Turkish tirailleurs who, on the arrival of the French, had hidden behind this type of moving fences, and had stopped firing on them and harassing them. After this battled this jutting tower for several days in a row, it was found necessary to be dismantled by the use of some miners with an officer. The troops set about running to the tower, but they found themselves suddenly halted by a ditch fifteen feet wide and ten deep, mounting a good counter escarpment, which nobody had known of previously. This necessitated blowing up this work, and young Mailly of Château-Renaud, one of the staff officers of the Adjutant General Berthier, was charged with entering the Cursed Tower. A dozen miners lodged there with him, to work on the drilling so that the infantry could become masters of the ditch. The intrepid young man and his twelve soldiers executed their mission perfectly, but during the operation, the enemy fire on our troops was so fierce, they were forced to abandon the ditch. The brave Mailly, and his twelve companions were strangled during the night by the Turks.
Even before his arrival at the site, the General in Chief had sent to Djezzar to the elder brother of the unfortunate Mailly, carrying words of condolence for the commander of Saint-Jean-d'Acre; but this young officer was treated as a prisoner of war and temporarily locked up in the pharillon with hundreds of Christians that the bloodthirsty Pasha had taken on the shores of Syria. The day after the failure of the first attack, soldiers warned General Vial, who was in the trench, when they saw on the seashore facing many corpses he had cut the heads from. It was the complement to the massacre by the Turks made the previous night. Vial recognized among them the bodies of the two Mailly. The two brothers were butchered together and perhaps without having had the consolation of a kiss before dying.
When Napoleon was aware of this new trait of cruelty of Djezzar (the name means the butcher), he convulsively shook his fists and uttered the words of barbaric and savage, and then he ordered that the duty due to the martyrs was a war of extermination.
All provisions relating to the siege of Saint-Jean-d'Acre were made, he claimed, with the lightness and this insouciance that always inspired too much confidence in success. The trench works were just three feet deep, so many soldiers, not quite covered, were victims of this little providence of the commander of the engineers.
One morning that General Kléber was walking along the lines of the camp with Eugene de Beauharnais, in his capacity as Commanding Captain of the Guides the General in Chief, that required some of these riders should always be escorts, he heard him testify to his high dissatisfaction that the trenches were not more advanced and deeper.
That General loved Eugene as a son. Eugene was just nineteen years, and in calling him familiarly blondy, Kléber was referring to his beautiful hair, but barely had he uttered those words, than a shot from the Cursed Tower removing the ear of his boot turndown and breaking the thigh of the guide who was beside him. For a movement that was also as quick as lightning, the General had jumped in front of Eugene and had extended his arms to protect him, then he turned his wounded head side while saying coldly to Eugene:
This action, these words, this gesture of Kléber opposing his large chest to the blows of the enemy to protect his young friend, are sublime; and this must be because later Prince Eugene could not recall this incident without having tears brought to his eyes.
The Turks are wonderful soldiers behind a wall; those of Saint-Jean-d'Acre the proved this throughout the siege. Added to this was that they were under the command of two French expatriates specially responsible for the defense of place5, you will understand the astonishment that had to felt by the General in Chief at the sight of the trajectory of the first bombs with which welcomed the arrival of our troops. In addition, they launched their own projectiles that Sir Sydney Smith had taken from Captain Stangnelet. It was thus that General Caffarelli was hit in the left elbow and it took off his arm.
The day after this date, the General in Chief went in the morning to the trench, accompanied by Captain Croisier, one of his aides-de-camp, who sought in vain for death since the beginning of the siege, because his life had become unbearable. At the time, Bonaparte again found in Damanhour, a group of Arabs on horseback ravaging the headquarters. Napoleon, who was at the window of the home of a sheik, indignant at this boldness, turned, and, addressing Captain Croisier, who was on duty to his person:
In an instant the captain appeared on the plain with a dozen riders. The skirmish began, but the side of the guides showed, in attack as in defense, a reluctance that Napoleon could not conceive. So from, the window where he stayed, he began to shout, as if they you could hear him:
But against their irregulars, the guides ceded as soon as the Arabs returned to the charge. Finally it ended with their quiet retreat after a short but stubborn enough battle, without experiencing any loss, and without interfering with their retirement. The anger of the General in Chief could not be contained. He erupted without reservation against his aide de camp when he came to the house of Sheik to report to his general on this burlesque of an expedition. It is presumed that the way he was treated was not particularly kind because Croisier, so brave and so proud on all occasions, had tears in his eyes when exiting. However, an officer among his friends tried, but without, effect to calm him.
It was before Saint-Jean-d'Acre that the unfortunate young man found what he wanted so ardently. While the commanding officer had his back turned, he climbed onto a battery; in this position, his large size could not fail to attract the blows of the enemy.
The captain remained in the same place without responding.
The amputation had not been considered essential, the captain was placed on a stretcher and taken out of the lines, but a few days later he died of tetanus.
However field artillery was too small to destroy the famous Cursed Tower. The only recourse was a mine. While people worked with a lot of activity and secrecy, grenadiers and sappers tried to live there. The portion who watched the city remained occupied by the siege, which never ceased to rain down upon us a hail of balls and bullets. But the French refugees soon discovered our mine work and were engaged in countermining in the ditch. To this end, they ordered a general sortie, and, this time the operation was conducted with such impetuosity that part of the boyaux trench was destroyed. The enemy column was commanded by English officers, well educated in these things, because one of them came to the entrance of the mine, where he was killed by a grenadier. The papers we found on him identified him as the Captain Haldfield. His death led to the hesitation of the troops he commanded. The latter, attacked with energy, returned to the square, leaving behind a lot of dead and wounded.
The affair of 6 April was even more deadly than the previous ones, but without success. The enemy had offered the day before a hideous spectacle. It had planted on the ramparts of the Cursed Tower half a dozen spears at the tip of each of was placed the head of one freshly cut from ours. They were easily recognized by the length of queues and braids with which they were adorned, and that the Maugrebins who had taken them prisoner were kept from removing, so we could recognize them more easily. On this view, the irritation of the soldiers was at its peak. The assault was soon ordered, and for five consecutive hours, four hundred men stayed on the attack, without being able to cross the gulf that separated the place-could not move and yet not wanting to go back, although the grapeshot was overwhelming. Finally, the fall of the night put an end this slaughter, and the abandonment of the position.
It was in this attack that the brave General Raimbaud made this energetic response to a head of demi-brigade, showing him the ground covered with his men and telling him that the place was not tenable.
In this day, the army still sustained huge losses, especially among the engineering officers. General Caffarelli, who initially had left initially with some hope for recovery, ceased to live. The death of Captain Croisier had been carefully concealed from him, for he had taken on a deep friendship, but, whatever was done for him to conceal this sad news, anxiety and sorrow increased his illness. He said, whenever we were going to inquire about his health for the General in Chief:
Those who spoke and did not believe a word of what he said, because more than anyone he had to be convinced that, sooner or later, if his body was not being used as forage for the Nile crocodile, his head, as those of his unfortunate companions, would appear on the windows of the Cursed Tower.
Caffarelli did not lived long. The loss of young Say, his chief of staff, could not be hidden from him, throwing him into a full relapse. The day before his death, he told the aide-de-camp that Napoleon had sent to him:
He took the book and began to read aloud: it was the preface to Voltaire on the Spirit of the Laws, but barely had he turned the second sheet that Caffarelli had fallen asleep. The aide-de-camp and went home to the Senior General.
He went to his tent, but the moribund slept, he would not interrupt his sleep. During the night, Caffarelli breathed his last; this death excited the regrets of the entire army.
On the same day that Caffarelli had shattered his elbow, another aide-de-camp of General-in-Chief, Duroc, then a brigade head, had been sent an hour before, to judge the progress of the breech. A shell which exploded between his legs gave him an injury in the thick of the thigh so deep, that he remained crippled the rest of his life. He had arranged with a few planks, a kind of cot that had been covered with dry grass. A staff aide would see him quite often, in fear that he might have need of a few things. On entering his tent in the morning, he found him asleep in a deep slumber. The excessive heat had forced him to get rid of his clothes, and part of his wound, that Larrey had prescribed to let dry, was discovered. He suddenly saw a small scorpion, which climbed up the foot of the bed, heading slowly on the injury of the patient. He took the insect with quickly, but not with enough skill that it didn’t raise him from his sleep, so he said with great humor:
Upon leaving the tent, the eyes of the staff aid met by chance the just cursed scorpion that had led the bullying, for making a charitable action. He crushed it with the heel of his boot, with more enjoyment perhaps than it would have been to plunge his sword into the throat of a Maugrebin.
Already the army had delivered twelve assaults on place and supported twenty-six sorties. A new mine had been started; it was close to reaching the point where it had to be loaded when the enemy prevented it again. Finally our batteries had destroyed much of the curtain which presented a wide space for the assault; the grenadiers of the division Kléber were responsible for this honorable and dangerous mission. They entered the city, but they found new obstacles and a fire fuelled even more than they had previously had to meet. The bravest perished there; fewer troops now filled the trench. The commanding officer was reluctant to engage in a fourteenth assault, but the grenadiers and most of the officers pressed with such insistence to leave once again, that another attempt was allowed. So Kléber, sword in hand, placed himself standing on the back side of a ditch and, in a vivid voice, led his soldiers in the middle of dead and dying.
Seeing this general, whose size exceeded that of any grenadiers height up the head, seeing, we say, the beautiful figure of Kléber and the hair streaming on his broad shoulders, we could not help comparing him to one of the heroes of Homer. The noise and smoke of the cannon, the shouts of soldiers, screaming Turks, all these troops rushing on one another, were the beating heart of enthusiasm. Nobody doubted that the city was not taken, when suddenly the first column of attack stopped. The General in Chief had placed himself in a battery gap to examine the movement of soldiers. He had placed his glass between the fascines, when a cannon ball came through knocking the upper fascine. Napoleon fell into the arms of Berthier. For a moment he was believed dead; fortunately he had not been hit at any poin: it was only a result of the concussion in the air. In vain Berthier engaged him there to withdraw, he received one of those dry answers from him that no one insists on. While people watched this singular lack of any movement on the part of troops, a bullet came through the head of the young Arrighi, who was placed next to the general; almost immediately afterwards, two guides were killed before it was possible to remove Napoleon.
Meanwhile in the interval between assaults, the enemy had taken the time to fill the breech with all kinds of flammable materials. This gap, too broad to be crossed, could not be gotten around. Our soldiers in the presence of a sea of fire, and furious that they could not proceed, however were too obstinate to fall back, although they were incessantly hit with canister there. Also, a lot of meritorious officers were killed there, a large number of soldiers and several generals, from which we had to regret, among others, General of Division Bon and Adjutant General Foulers. Despite the efforts of the most foolhardy nature, the French had to yield to the stubborn resistance of the besieged, and Napoleon lifted the siege of Saint-Jean-d'Acre. The army had lost 3,000 men taken by plague or in the fighting. This return to Egypt was accompanied by further pain and fatigue like the march on Syria. We had to carry a large number of wounded and sick; Napoleon took care of them with extreme care. He wanted all available horses, those of the staff, even his own, were reserved.
The army came slowly along the Mediterranean, in the midst of shifting and burning sands. In this way, Napoleon failed to be killed. An Arab of Nablus ambushed him from a bush, firing at him at almost point-blank range, a shot in which the ball without touching him, however past through the horn of his hat. This miserable one escaped and managed to gain, in the middle of the sea, a rock where he hoped to be free from any vengeance, but the bullets of our soldiers soon found justice.
The troops stopped four days from Jaffa to rest. The plague had not stopped creating victims. The commanding officer made a new visit to the hospital and gave the order to evacuate from Egypt all who were in a state to bear the transportation; that order was promptly executed, and Napoleon arrived in Cairo on 14 June 1799.
It was time that take back the reins of government. A fatal slackness was manifest in the civil and military administrations. On the other hand, Mourad-Bey, had escaped Desaix menacing Lower-Egypt; and, again, reached the French at the foot of the Pyramids. Napoleon had everything planned and ordered for a battle. This time, it was he who took the position of the Mamelucks and had the river behind them, but the next morning, Mourad-Bey had disappeared. The General in Chief could not believe his eyes. But by the end of the day, it was explained: the fleet which he had thought would arrive was before Aboukir, and Mourad, by diverting paths, left during the night, to join the Turkish army, which had landed in the bay.
Pasha, said Mourad-Bey, give thanks to the prophet that the French agree to withdraw, because if they returned, you will disappear in front of them, you and your soldiers, as the dust before the north wind.
At the moment Mourad-Bey, the son of the desert, prophesized, as a few days away, on July 25, Napoleon arrived, and after three hours of a stubborn battle, the Turks folded and fled. Mustapha Pasha extended with his bloody hand his saber to General Murat; two hundred men went with him, two thousand remained on the battlefield, ten thousand had drowned. Twenty pieces of cannon, tents, luggage, fell into our hands, the fort was taken and Aboukir ejected the Mamelucks to the mercy of the desert.
Kléber, who could not get his division to the ground until two hours after the defeat of the Turkish army, in addressing Napoleon on the battlefield, had be thrown suddenly down by his horse, and drunk with enthusiasm , kissed him with effusion exclaiming:
Three weeks after (the 21st of August), Napoleon gave the commander - in-chief of the Army of the East to Kléber. The 24th he embarked on The Muiron to return to France, and on October 9 he landed at Frejus. The 16th he arrived in Paris, amid cheers of the population that ran along his path, because the people foresaw that General Bonaparte was to become the savior of the motherland.
3 Small Arabic biscuits.
4Liquor composed of honey, dates and onions of the country that is distilled. The aragui is Arabian cognac.
5Phelippeau, an engineer of a rare merit, former co-disciple of Napoleon at de Brienne, and Tromelin a very distinguished artillery officer.
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