Reviews: Books


Captain Joseph-Marie Moiret: Memoirs of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition 1798 – 1801

Moiret, Joseph-Marie.  Captain Joseph-Marie Moiret: Memoirs of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition 1798 – 1801. Brindle, Rosemary (Editor and Translator).  London: Greenhill Books, 2001. 206 Pages. ISBN# 1853674491. $35. Hardcover.

Memoirs of Napoleon's Egyptian Expedition cover

My long time complaint has been the scarcity of English translations of Napoleonic era memoirs by French or other nationalities. Once again Greenhill Books fills this void and has provided us with a translation of a memoir by a French company-grade officer who was part of the French expedition to Egypt.  This memoir was first prepared for publication in 1818, but for a variety of reasons was never published until 1984. 

Memoirs of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition tells the story of one officer and his experiences during the campaign and occupation of Egypt.  Moiret was a company commander in the 75th Demi-Brigade.  He writes of marches and counter-marches, the boredom of garrison duty in towns and villages far from Cairo, the dangers of punishment raids and constant skirmishing with bandits and guerrillas, battles and sieges, and being wounded during the Syrian Campaign and having to retreat across miles of desert harassed by Bedouins.  Moiret also spent time in Cairo and leaves vivid descriptions of life among the French colony there. Especially interesting is account of the funeral of General Kléber, who was assassinated by an Egyptian student. Interspersed in the memoir, are numerous original documents including Napoleon’s proclamation to the troops announcing that they were going to Egypt, letters to the troops from Napoleon and other commanders (General Kléber and Menou), and the 1800 agreement between the Ottoman Grand Vizier and General Kléber that would have permitted the French to evacuate Egypt.  

Memoirs of Napoleon’s Egyptian Expedition is written in a matter-of-fact style and easy to read.  Moiret is not an admirer of Napoleon and is very bitter about his abandonment of his army in Egypt. Because the book was first prepared for publication in 1818, Moiret may have written it to curry favor with the Bourbons.   However, Moiret was a very junior officer, so how great of an impact it would have one can only guess.

The editor does a fine job and provides numerous footnotes explaining the more obscure events, places, and personalities mentioned in the text.  The book contains a section providing biographies of some of the more notable people Moiret writes about.  Additionally there are three appendices, one listing the ships in the French expedition, another listing the French scientists who accompanied the expedition and who set up the Egyptian Institute, and a private letter from the author about some of the officers he encountered.  There are also 16 pages of illustrations and four pages of maps.

My only complaint with the work is that it ends with Moiret’s return to France in 1801. He obviously survives the turmoil of the next seventeen years, but there is no information on what he does.  Did he resign from the army upon his return?  Did he transfer to another regiment or did stay with the 75th?  Nonetheless, this is a minor flaw. The book will have great appeal for those interested in the Egyptian Campaign or those wanting to see what life was like for a junior officer in Napoleon’s army.

Reviewed by Robert Burnham
Placed on the Napoleon Series: February 2002

 

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