Part 4 out of 24
will no longer exist.
The people amongst whom we are going to live are Mahometans. The
first article of their faith is this: "There is no God but God, and
Mahomet is his prophet." Do not contradict them. Behave to them as
you have behaved to the Jews--to the Italians. Pay respect to their
muftis, and their Imaums, as you did to the rabbis and the bishops.
Extend to the ceremonies prescribed by the Koran and to the mosques
the same toleration which you showed to the synagogues, to the
religion of Moses and of Jesus Christ.
The Roman legions protected all religions. You will find here
customs different from those of Europe. You must accommodate
yourselves to them. The people amongst whom we are to mix differ
from us in the treatment of women; but in all countries he who
violates is a monster. Pillage enriches only a small number of men;
it dishonours us; it destroys our resources; it converts into
enemies the people whom it is our interest to have for friends.
The first town we shall come to was built by Alexander. At every
step we shall meet with grand recollections, worthy of exciting the
emulation of Frenchmen.
During the voyage, and particularly between Malta and Alexandria,
I often conversed with the brave and unfortunate Admiral Brueys.
The intelligence we heard from time to time augmented his uneasiness.
I had the good fortune to obtain the confidence of this worthy man.
He complained bitterly of the imperfect manner in which the fleet had
been prepared for sea; of the encumbered state of the ships of the line
and frigates, and especially of the 'Orient'; of the great number of
transports; of the bad Outfit of all the ships and the weakness of their
crews. He assured me that it required no little courage to undertake the
command of a fleet so badly equipped; and he often declared, that in the
event of our falling in with the enemy, he could not answer for the
consequences. The encumbered state of the vessels, the immense quantity
of civic and military baggage which each person had brought, and would
wish to save, would render proper manoeuvres impracticable. In case of
an attack, added Brueys, even by an inferior squadron, the confusion and
disorder amongst so great a number of persons would produce an inevitable
catastrophe. Finally, if the English had appeared with ten vessels only,
the Admiral could not have guaranteed a fortunate result. He considered
victory to be a thing that was impossible, and even with a victory, what
would have become of the expedition? "God send," he said, with a sigh,
"that we may pass the English without meeting them!" He appeared to
foresee what did afterwards happen to him, not in the open sea, but in a
situation which he considered much more favourable to his defence.
On the morning of the 1st of July the expedition arrived off the coast of
Africa, and the column of Septimus-Severus pointed out to us the city of
Alexandria. Our situation and frame of mind hardly permitted us to
reflect that in the distant point we beheld the city of the Ptolemies and
Caesars, with its double port, its pharos, and the gigantic monuments of
its ancient grandeur. Our imaginations did not rise to this pitch.
Admiral Brueys had sent on before the frigate Juno to fetch M. Magallon,
the French Consul. It was near four o'clock when he arrived, and the sea
was very rough. He informed the General-in-Chief that Nelson had been
off Alexandria on the 28th--that he immediately dispatched a brig to
obtain intelligence from the English agent. On the return of the brig
Nelson instantly stood away with his squadron towards the north-east.
But for a delay which our convoy from Civita Vecchia occasioned, we
should have been on this coast at the same time as Nelson.
It appeared that Nelson supposed us to be already at Alexandria when he
arrived there. He had reason to suppose so, seeing that we left Malta on
the 19th of June, whilst he did not sail from Messina till the 21st.
Not finding us where he expected, and being persuaded we ought to have
arrived there had Alexandria been the place of our destination; he sailed
for Alexandretta in Syria, whither he imagined we had gone to effect a
landing. This error saved the expedition a second time.
Bonaparte, on hearing the details which the French Consul communicated,
resolved to disembark immediately. Admiral Brueys represented the
difficulties and dangers of a disembarkation--the violence of the surge,
the distance from the coast,--a coast, too, lined with reefs of rocks,
the approaching night, and our perfect ignorance of the points suitable
for landing. The Admiral, therefore, urged the necessity of waiting till
next morning; that is to say, to delay the landing twelve hours. He
observed that Nelson could not return from Syria for several days.
Bonaparte listened to these representations with impatience and ill-
humour. He replied peremptorily, "Admiral, we have no time to lose.
Fortune gives me but three days; if I do not profit by them we are lost."
He relied much on fortune; this chimerical idea constantly influenced his
Bonaparte having the command of the naval as well as the military force,
the Admiral was obliged to yield to his wishes.
I attest these facts, which passed in my presence, and no part of which
could escape my observation. It is quite false that it was owing to the
appearance of a sail which, it is pretended, was descried, but of which,
for my part, I saw nothing, that Bonaparte exclaimed, "Fortune, have you
abandoned me? I ask only five days!" No such thing occurred.
It was one o'clock in the morning of the 2d of July when we landed on the
soil of Egypt, at Marabou, three leagues to the west of Alexandria. We
had to regret the loss of some lives; but we had every reason to expect
that our losses would have been greater.
At three o'clock the same morning the General-in-Chief marched on
Alexandria with the divisions of Kleber, Bon, and Menou. The Bedouin
Arabs, who kept hovering about our right flank and our rear, picked up
Having arrived within gunshot of Alexandria, we scaled the ramparts, and
French valour soon triumphed over all obstacles.
The first blood I saw shed in war was General Kleber's. He was struck in
the head by a ball, not in storming the walls, but whilst heading the
attack. He came to Pompey's Pillar, where many members of the staff were
assembled, and where the General-in-Chief was watching the attack. I
then spoke to Kleber for the first time, and from that day our friendship
commenced. I had the good fortune to contribute somewhat towards the
assistance of which he stood in need, and which, as we were situated,
could not be procured very easily.
It has been endeavoured to represent the capture of Alexandria, which
surrendered after a few hours, as a brilliant exploit. The General-in-
Chief himself wrote that the city had been taken after a few discharges
of cannon; the walls, badly fortified, were soon scaled. Alexandria was
not delivered up to pillage, as has been asserted, and often repeated.
This would have been a most impolitic mode of commencing the conquest of
Egypt, which had no strong places requiring to be intimidated by a great
Bonaparte, with some others, entered the city by a narrow street which
scarcely allowed two persons to walk abreast; I was with him. We were
stopped by some musket-shots fired from a low window by a man and a
woman. They repeated their fire several times. The guides who preceded
their General kept up a heavy fire on the window. The man and woman fell
dead, and we passed on in safety, for the place had surrendered.
Bonaparte employed the six days during which he remained in Alexandria in
establishing order in the city and province, with that activity and
superior talent which I could never sufficiently admire, and in directing
the march of the army across the province of Bohahire'h. He sent Desaix
with 4500 infantry and 60 cavalry to Beda, on the road to Damanhour.
This general was the first to experience the privations and sufferings
which the whole army had soon to endure. His great mind, his attachment
to Bonaparte, seemed for a moment about to yield to the obstacles which
presented themselves. On the 15th of July he wrote from Bohahire'h as
follows: "I beseech you do not let us stop longer in this position. My
men are discouraged and murmur. Make us advance or fall back without
delay. The villages consist merely of huts, absolutely without
In these immense plains, scorched by the vertical rays of a burning sun,
water, everywhere else so common, becomes an object of contest. The
wells and springs, those secret treasures of the desert, are carefully
concealed from the travellers; and frequently, after our most oppressive
marches, nothing could be found to allay the urgent cravings of thirst
but a little brackish water of the most disgusting description.
--[Some idea of the misery endured by the French troops on this
occasion may be gathered from the following description is
Napoleon's Memoirs, dictated at St. Helena:
"As the Hebrews wandering in the wilderness complained, and angrily
asked Moses for the onions and flesh-pots of Egypt, the French
soldiers constantly regretted the luxuries of Italy. In vain were
they assured that the country was the most fertile in the world,
that it was even superior to Lombard; how were they to be persuaded
of this when they could get neither bread nor wine? We encamped on
immense quantities of wheat, but there was neither mill nor oven in
the country. The biscuit brought from Alexandria had long been
exhausted; the soldiers were even reduced to bruise the wheat
between two stones and to make cake which they baked under the
ashes. Many parched the wheat in a pan, after which they boiled it.
This was the best way to use the grain; but, after all, it was not
bread. The apprehensions of the soldiers increased daily, and rose
to such a pitch that a great number of them said there was no great
city of calm; and that the place bring that name was, like
Damanhour, a vast assemblage of mere huts, destitute of everything
that could render life comfortable or agreeable. To such a
melancholy state of mind had they brought themselves that two
dragoons threw themselves, completely clothed, into the Nile, where
they were drowned. It is nevertheless true that, though there was
neither bread nor wine, the resources which were procured with
wheat, lentils, meat, and sometimes pigeons, furnished the army with
food of some kind. But the evil was, in the ferment of the mind.
The officers complained more loudly than the soldiers, because the
comparison was proportionately more disadvantageous to them. In
Egypt they found neither the quarters, the good table, nor the
luxury of Italy. The General-in-Chief, wishing to set an example,
tried to bivouac in the midst of the army, and in the least
commodious spots. No one had either tent or provisions; the dinner
of Napoleon and his staff consisted of a dish of lentils. The
soldiers passed the evenings in political conversations, arguments,
and complaints. 'For what purpose are we come here?' said some of
them, 'the Directory has transported us.' 'Caffarelli,' said others,
'is the agent that has been made use of to deceive the General-in-
Chief.' Many of them, having observed that wherever there were
vestiges of antiquity they were carefully searched, vented their
spite in invective against the savants, or scientific men, who, they
said, had started the idea of she expedition to order to make these
searches. Jests were showered upon them, even in their presence.
The men called an ass a savant; and said of Caffarelli Dufalga,
alluding to his wooden leg, 'He laughs at all these troubles; he has
one foot to France.'"
The mirage--Skirmishes with the Arabs--Mistake of General Desaix's
division--Wretchedness of a rich sheik--Combat beneath the General's
window--The flotilla on the Nile--Its distress and danger--The
battle of Chebreisse--Defeat of the Mamelukes--Bonaparte's reception
of me--Letter to Louis Bonaparte--Success of the French army--
Triumphal entrance into Cairo--Civil and military organisation of
Cairo--Bonaparte's letter to his brother Joseph--Plan of
On the 7th of July General Bonaparte left Alexandria for Damanhour. In
the vast plains of Bohahire'h the mirage every moment presented to the
eye wide sheets of water, while, as we advanced, we found nothing but
barren ground full of deep cracks. Villages, which at a distance appear
to be surrounded with water, are, on a nearer approach, discovered to be
situated on heights, mostly artificial, by which they are raised above
the inundations of the Nile. This illusion continually recurs; and it is
the more treacherous, inasmuch as it presents to the eye the perfect
representation of water, at the time when the want of that article is
most felt. This mirage is so considerable in the plain of Pelusium that
shortly after sunrise no object is recognisable. The same phenomenon has
been observed in other countries. Quintus Curtius says that in the
deserts of Sogdiana, a fog rising from the earth obscures the light, and
the surrounding country seems like a vast sea. The cause of this
singular illusion is now fully explained; and, from the observations of
the learned Monge, it appears that the mirage will be found in almost
every country situated between the tropics where the local circumstances
The Arabs harassed the army without intermission. The few wells met with
in the desert were either filled up or the water was rendered unfit for
use. The intolerable thirst with which the troops were tormented, even
on this first march, was but ill allayed by brackish and unwholesome
water. The army crossed the desert with the rapidity of lightning,
scarcely tasting a drop of water. The sufferings of the troops were
frequently expressed by discouraging murmurs.
On the first night a mistake occurred which might have proved fatal.
We were advancing in the dark, under feeble escort, almost sleeping on
our horses, when suddenly we were assailed by two successive discharges
of musketry. We aroused ourselves and reconnoitred, and to our great
satisfaction discovered that the only mischief was a alight wound
received by one of our guides. Our assailants were the division of
General Desaix, who, forming the advanced guard of the army, mistook us
for a party of the enemy, and fired upon us. It was speedily ascertained
that the little advanced guard of the headquarters had not heard the "Qui
vive?" of Desaix's advanced posts.
On reaching Damanhour our headquarters were established at the residence
of a sheik. The house had been new whitened, and looked well enough
outside, but the interior was inconceivably wretched. Every domestic
utensil was broken, and the only seats were a few dirty tattered mats.
Bonaparte knew that the sheik was rich, and having somewhat won his
confidence, he asked him, through the medium of the interpreter, why,
being in easy circumstances, be thus deprived himself of all comfort.
"Some years ago," replied the sheik, "I repaired and furnished my house.
When this became known at Cairo a demand was made upon me for money,
because it was said my expenses proved me to be rich. I refused to pay
the money, and in consequence I was ill-treated, and at length forced to
pay it. From that time I have allowed myself only the bare necessaries
of life, and I shall buy no furniture for my house." The old man was
lame in consequence of the treatment he had suffered. Woe to him who in
this country is suspected of having a competency--a hundred spies are
always ready to denounce him. The appearance of poverty is the only
security against the rapine of power and the cupidity of barbarism.
A little troop of Arabs on horseback assailed our headquarters.
Bonaparte, who was at the window of the sheik's house, indignant at this
insolence, turned to one of his aides de camp, who happened to be on
duty, and said, "Croisier, take a few guides and drive those fellows
away!" In an instant Croisier was in the plain with fifteen guides. A
little skirmish ensued, and we looked on from the window. In the
movement and in the attack of Croisier and his party there was a sort of
hesitation which the General-in-Chief could not comprehend. "Forward,
I say! Charge!" he exclaimed from the window, as if he could have been
heard. Our horsemen seemed to fall back as the Arabs returned to the
attack; and after a little contest, maintained with tolerable spirit, the
Arabs retired without loss, and without being molested in their retreat.
Bonaparte could no longer repress his rage; and when Croisier returned he
experienced such a harsh reception that the poor fellow withdrew deeply
mortified and distressed. Bonaparte desired me to follow him and say
something to console him: but all was in vain. "I cannot survive this,"
he said. "I will sacrifice my life on the first occasion that offers
itself. I will not live dishonoured." The word coward had escaped the
General's lips. Poor Croisier died at Saint Jean d'Acre.
On the 10th of July our headquarters were established at Rahmahanie'h,
where they remained during the 11th and 12th. At this place commences
the canal which was cut by Alexander to convey water to his new city; and
to facilitate commercial intercourse between Europe and the East.
The flotilla, commanded by the brave chief of division Perree, had just
arrived from Rosette. Perree was on board the xebec 'Cerf'.
--[Bonaparte had great confidence in him. He had commanded, under
the General's orders, the naval forces in the Adriatic in 1797.--
Bonaparte placed on board the Cerf and the other vessels of the flotilla
those individuals who, not being military, could not be serviceable in
engagements, and whose horses served to mount a few of the troops.
On the night of the 14th of July the General-in-Chief directed his march
towards the south, along the left bank of the Nile. The flotilla sailed
up the river parallel with the left wing of the army. But the force of
the wind, which at this season blows regularly from the Mediterranean
into the valley of the file, carried the flotilla far in advance of the
army, and frustrated the plan of their mutually defending and supporting
each other. The flotilla thus unprotected fell in with seven Turkish
gunboats coming from Cairo, and was exposed simultaneously to their fire
and to that of the Mamelukes, fellahs, and Arabs who lined both banks of
the river. They had small guns mounted on camels.
Perree cast anchor, and an engagement commenced at nine o'clock on the
14th of July, and continued till half past twelve.
At the same time the General-in-Chief met and attacked a corps of about
4000 Mamelukes. His object, as he afterwards said, was to turn the corps
by the left of the village of Chebreisse, and to drive it upon the Nile.
About eleven in the morning Perree told me that the Turks were doing us
more harm than we were doing them; that our ammunition would soon be
exhausted; that the army was far inland, and that if it did not make a
move to the left there would be no hope for us. Several vessels had
already been boarded and taken by the Turks, who massacred the crews
before our eyes, and with barbarous ferocity showed us the heads of the
Perree, at considerable risk, despatched several persons to inform the
General-in-Chief of the desperate situation of the flotilla. The
cannonade which Bonaparte had heard since the morning, and the explosion
of a Turkish gunboat, which was blown up by the artillery of the xebec,
led him to fear that our situation was really perilous. He therefore
made a movement to the left, in the direction of the Nile and Chebreisse,
beat the Mamelukes, and forced them to retire on Cairo. At sight of the
French troops the commander of the Turkish flotilla weighed anchor and
sailed up the Nile. The two banks of the river were evacuated, and the
flotilla escaped the destruction which a short time before had appeared
inevitable. Some writers have alleged that the Turkish flotilla was
destroyed in this engagement. The truth is, the Turks did us
considerable injury, while on their part they suffered but little. We
had twenty men killed and several wounded. Upwards of 1500 cannon-shots
were fired during the action.
General Berthier, in his narrative of the Egyptian expedition, enumerates
the individuals who, though not in the military service, assisted Perree
in this unequal and dangerous engagement. He mentions Monge, Berthollet,
Andreossy, the paymaster, Junot, and Bourrienne, secretary to the
General-in-Chief. It has also been stated that Sucy, the commissary-
general, was seriously wounded while bravely defending a gunboat laden
with provisions; but this is incorrect.
We had no communication with the army until the 23d of July. On the 22d
we came in sight of the Pyramids, and were informed that we were only
about, ten leagues from Gizeh, where they are situated. The cannonade
which we heard, and which augmented in proportion as the north wind
diminished, announced a serious engagement; and that same day we saw the
banks of the Nile strewed with heaps of bodies, which the waves were
every moment washing into the sea. This horrible spectacle, the silence
of the surrounding villages, which had hitherto been armed against us,
and the cessation of the firing from the banks of the river, led us to
infer, with tolerable certainty, that a battle fatal to the Mamelukes had
been fought. The misery we suffered on our passage from Rahmahanie'h to
Gizeh is indescribable. We lived for eleven days on melons and water,
besides being momentarily exposed to the musketry of the Arabs and the
fellahs. We luckily escaped with but a few killed and wounded. The
rising of the Nile was only beginning. The shallowness of the river near
Cairo obliged us to leave the xebec and get on board a djerm. We reached
Gizeh at three in the afternoon of the 23d of July.
When I saluted the General, whom I had not seen for twelve days, he thus
addressed me: "So you are here, are you? Do you know that you have all
of you been the cause of my not following up the battle of Chebreisse?
It was to save you, Monge, Berthollet, and the others on board the
flotilla that I hurried the movement of my left upon the Nile before my
right had turned Chebreisse. But for that, not a single Mameluke would
"I thank you for my own part," replied I; "but in conscience could you
have abandoned us, after taking away our horses, and making us go on
board the xebec, whether we would or not?" He laughed, and then told me
how sorry he was for the wound of Sucy, and the death of many useful men,
whose places could not possibly be filled up.
He made me write a letter to his brother Louis, informing him that he had
gained a complete victory over the Mamelukes at Embabeh, opposite Boulac,
and that the enemy's loss was 2000 men killed and wounded, 40 guns, and a
great number of horses.
The occupation of Cairo was the immediate consequence of the victory of
Embabeh. Bonaparte established his head-quarters in the home of Elfy
Bey, in the great square of Ezbekye'h.
The march of the French army to Cairo was attended by an uninterrupted
succession of combats and victories. We had won the battles of
Rahmahanie'h, Chebreisse, and the Pyramids. The Mamelukes were defeated,
and their chief, Mourad Bey, was obliged to fly into Upper Egypt.
Bonaparte found no obstacle to oppose his entrance into the capital of
Egypt, after a campaign of only twenty days.
No conqueror, perhaps, ever enjoyed a victory so much as Bonaparte, and
yet no one was ever less inclined to abuse his triumphs.
We entered Cairo on the 24th of July, and the General-in-Chief
immediately directed his attention to the civil and military organization
of the country. Only those who saw him in the vigour of his youth can
form an idea of his extraordinary intelligence and activity. Nothing
escaped his observation. Egypt had long been the object of his study;
and in a few weeks he was as well acquainted with the country as if he
had lived in it ten years. He issued orders for observing the strictest
discipline, and these orders were punctually obeyed.
The mosques, the civil and religious institutions, the harems, the women,
the customs of the country-all were scrupulously respected. A few days
after they entered Cairo the French were freely admitted into the shops,
and were seen sociably smoking their pipes with the inhabitants,
assisting them in their occupations, and playing with their children.
The day after his arrival in Cairo Bonaparte addressed to his brother
Joseph the following letter, which was intercepted and printed. Its
authenticity has been doubted, but I saw Napoleon write it, and he read
it to me before he sent it off.
7th. Thermidor (25th July 1798)
You will see in the public papers the bulletins of the battles and
conquest of Egypt, which were sufficiently contested to add another
wreath to the laurels of this army. Egypt is richer than any
country in the world in coin, rice, vegetables, and cattle. But the
people are in a state of utter barbarism. We cannot procure money,
even to pay the troops. I maybe in France in two months.
Engage a country-house, to be ready for me on my arrival, either
near Paris or in Burgundy, where I mean to pass the winter.
--[Bonaparte's autograph note, after enumerating the troops and
warlike stores he wished to be sent, concluded with the following
1st, a company of actors; 2d, a company of dancers; 3d, some dealers
in marionettes, at least three or four; 9th, a hundred French women;
5th, the wives of all the men employed in the corps; 6th, twenty
surgeons, thirty apothecaries, and ten Physicians; 7th, some
founders; 8th, some distillers and dealers in liquor; 9th fifty
gardeners with their families, and the seeds of every kind of
vegetable; 10th, each party to bring with them: 200,000 pints of
brandy; 11th, 30,000 ells of blue and scarlet cloth; 12th, a supply
of soap and oil.--Bourrienne.]--
This announcement of his departure to his brother is corroborated by a
note which he despatched some days after, enumerating the supplies and
individuals which he wished to have sent to Egypt. His note proves, more
convincingly than any arguments, that Bonaparte earnestly wished to
preserve his conquest, and to make it a French colony. It must be borne
in mind that the note here alluded to, as well as the letter above
quoted, was written long before the destruction of the fleet.
MEMOIRS OF NAPOLEON BONAPARTE, VOLUME 3.
By LOUIS ANTOINE FAUVELET DE BOURRIENNE
His Private Secretary
Edited by R. W. Phipps
Colonel, Late Royal Artillery
Chapter XV. To Chapter XXVI. 1799
Establishment of a divan in each Egyptian province--Desaix in Upper
Egypt--Ibrahim Bey beaten by Bonaparte at Balehye'h--Sulkowsky
wounded--Disaster at Abonkir--Dissatisfaction and murmurs of the
army--Dejection of the General-in-Chief--His plan respecting Egypt
--Meditated descent upon England--Bonaparte's censure of the
From the details I have already given respecting Bonaparte's plans for
colonising Egypt, it will be seen that his energy of mind urged him to
adopt anticipatory measures for the accomplishment of objects which were
never realised. During the short interval in which he sheathed his sword
he planned provisional governments for the towns and provinces occupied
by the French troops, and he adroitly contrived to serve the interests of
his army without appearing to violate those of the country. After he had
been four days at Cairo, during which time he employed himself in
examining everything, and consulting every individual from whom he could
obtain useful information, he published the following order:
9th Thermidor, year VI.
BONAPARTE, MEMBER OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE,
AND GENERAL-IN-CHIEF, ORDERS:
Art. 1. There shall be in each province of Egypt a divan, composed
of seven individuals, whose duty will be to superintend the
interests of the province; to communicate to me any complaints that
may be made; to prevent warfare among the different villages; to
apprehend and punish criminals (for which purpose they may demand
assistance from the French commandant); and to take every
opportunity of enlightening the people.
Art. 2. There shall be in each province an aga of the Janizaries,
maintaining constant communication with the French commandant. He
shall have with him a company of sixty armed natives, whom he may
take wherever he pleases, for the maintenance of good order,
subordination, and tranquillity.
Art. 3. There shall be in each province an intendant, whose
business will be to levy the miri, the feddam, and the other
contributions which formerly belonged to the Mamelukes, but which
now belong to the French Republic. The intendants shall have us
many agents as may be necessary.
Art. 4. The said intendant shall have a French agent to correspond
with the Finance Department, and to execute all the orders he may
While Bonaparte was thus actively taking measures for the organization of
--[Far more thoroughly and actively than those taken by the English
Government in 1882-3-4]--
General Desaix had marched into Upper Egypt in pursuit of Mourad Bey. We
learned that Ibrahim, who, next to Mourad, was the most influential of
the bays, had proceeded towards Syria, by the way of Belbeis and
Salehye'h. The General-in-Chief immediately determined to march in
person against that formidable enemy, and he left Cairo about fifteen
days after he had entered it. It is unnecessary to describe the well-
known engagement in which Bonaparte drove Ibrahim back upon El-Arish;
besides, I do not enter minutely into the details of battles, my chief
object being to record events which I personally witnessed.
At the battle of Salehye'h Bonaparte thought he had lost one of his
'aides de camp', Sulkowsky, to whom he was much attached, and who had
been with us during the whole of the campaign of Italy. On the field of
battle one object of regret cannot long engross the mind; yet, on his
return to Cairo, Bonaparte frequently spoke to me of Sulkowsky in terms
of unfeigned sorrow.
"I cannot," said he one day, "sufficiently admire the noble spirit and
determined courage of poor Sulkowsky." He often said that Sulkowsky
would have been a valuable aid to whoever might undertake the
resuscitation of Poland. Fortunately that brave officer was not killed
on that occasion, though seriously wounded. He was, however, killed
The destruction of the French squadron in the roads of Aboukir occurred
during the absence of the General-in-Chief. This event happened on the
1st of August. The details are generally known; but there is one
circumstance to which I cannot refrain from alluding, and which excited
deep interest at the time. This was the heroic courage of the son of
Casablanca, the captain of the 'Orient'. Casablanca was among the
wounded, and when the vessel was blown up his son, a lad of ten years of
age, preferred perishing with him rather than saving himself, when one of
the seamen had secured him the means of escape. I told the 'aide de
camp', sent by General Kleber, who had the command of Alexandria, that
the General-in-Chief was near Salehye'h. He proceeded thither
immediately, and Bonaparte hastened back to Cairo, a distance of about
In spite of any assertions that may have been made to the contrary, the
fact is, that as soon as the French troops set foot in Egypt, they were
filled with dissatisfaction, and ardently longed to return home.'
--['Erreurs' objects to this description of the complaints of the
army, but Savary (tome i. pp. 66, 67, and tome i. p. 89) fully
confirms it, giving the reason that the army was not a homogeneous
body, but a mixed force taken from Rome, Florence, Milan, Venice,
Genoa, and Marseilles; see also Thiers, tome v. p. 283. But the
fact is not singular. For a striking instance, in the days of the
Empire, of the soldiers in 1809, in Spain, actually threatening
Napoleon in his own hearing, see De Gonneville (tome i. pp. 190-
193): "The soldiers of Lapisse's division gave loud expression to
the most sinister designs against the Emperor's person, stirring up
each other to fire a shot at him, sad bandying accusations of
cowardice for not doing it." He heard it all as plainly as we did,
and seemed as if be did not care a bit for it, but "sent the
division into good quarters, when the men were as enthusiastic as
they were formerly mutinous." In 1796 d'Entraigues, the Bourbon spy,
reports, "As a general rule, the French soldier grumbles and is
discontented. He accuses Bonaparte of being a thief and a rascal.
But to-morrow the very same soldier will obey him blindly" (Iung's
Bonaparte, tome iii. p. 152).]--
The illusion of the expedition had disappeared, and only its reality
remained. What bitter murmuring have I not heard from Murat, Lannes,
Berthier, Bessieres, and others! Their complaints were, indeed, often so
unmeasured as almost to amount to sedition. This greatly vexed
Bonaparte, and drew from him severe reproaches and violent language.
--[Napoleon related at St. Helena that in a fit of irritation he
rushed among a group of dissatisfied generals, and said to one of
them, who was remarkable for his stature, "you have held seditious
language; but take care I do not perform my duty. Though you are
five feet ten inches high, that shall not save you from being
When the news arrived of the loss of the fleet, discontent increased.
All who had acquired fortunes under Napoleon now began to fear that they
would never enjoy them. All turned their thoughts to Paris, and its
amusements, and were utterly disheartened at the idea of being separated
from their homes and their friends for a period, the termination of which
it was impossible to foresee.
The catastrophe of Aboukir came like a thunderbolt upon the General-in-
Chief. In spite of all his energy and fortitude, he was deeply
distressed by the disasters which now assailed him. To the painful
feelings excited by the complaints and dejection of his companions in
arms was now added the irreparable misfortune of the burning of our
fleet. He measured the fatal consequences of this event at a single
glance. We were now cut off from all communication with France, and all
hope of returning thither, except by a degrading capitulation with an
implacable and hated enemy. Bonaparte had lost all chance of preserving
his conquest, and to him this was indeed a bitter reflection. And at
what a time did this disaster befall him? At the very moment when he was
about to apply for the aid of the mother-country.
From what General Bonaparte communicated to me previously to the 1st of
August, his object was, having once secured the possession of Egypt; to
return to Toulon with the fleet; then to send troops and provisions of
every kind to Egypt; and next to combine with the fleet all the forces
that could be supplied, not only by France, but by her allies, for the
purpose of attacking England. It is certain that previously to his
departure for Egypt he had laid before the Directory a note relative to
his plans. He always regarded a descent upon England as possible, though
in its result fatal, so long as we should be inferior in naval strength;
but he hoped by various manoeuvres to secure a superiority on one point.
His intention was to return to France. Availing himself of the departure
of the English fleet for the Mediterranean, the alarm excited by his
Egyptian expedition, the panic that would be inspired by his sudden
appearance at Boulogne, and his preparations against England, he hoped to
oblige that power to withdraw her naval force from the Mediterranean, and
to prevent her sending out troops to Egypt. This project was often in
his head. He would have thought it sublime to date an order of the day
from the ruins of Memphis, and three months later, one from London. The
loss of the fleet converted all these bold conceptions into mere romantic
When alone with me he gave free vent to his emotion. I observed to him
that the disaster was doubtless great, but that it would have been
infinitely more irreparable had Nelson fallen in with us at Malta, or had
he waited for us four-and-twenty hours before Alexandria, or in the open
sea. "Any one of these events," said I, "which were not only possible
but probable, would have deprived us of every resource. We are blockaded
here, but we have provisions and money. Let us then wait patiently to
see what the Directory will do for us."--"The Directory!" exclaimed he
angrily, "the Directory is composed of a set of scoundrels! they envy and
hate me, and would gladly let me perish here. Besides, you see how
dissatisfied the whole army is: not a man is willing to stay."
The pleasing illusions which were cherished at the outset of the
expedition vanished long before our arrival in Cairo. Egypt was no
longer the empire of the Ptolemies, covered with populous and wealthy
cities; it now presented one unvaried scene of devastation and misery.
Instead of being aided by the inhabitants, whom we had ruined, for the
sake of delivering them from the yoke of the beys, we found all against
us: Mamelukes, Arabs, and fellahs. No Frenchman was secure of his life
who happened to stray half a mile from any inhabited place, or the corps
to which he belonged. The hostility which prevailed against us and the
discontent of the army were clearly developed in the numerous letters
which were written to France at the time, and intercepted.
The gloomy reflections which at first assailed Bonaparte, were speedily
banished; and he soon recovered the fortitude and presence of mind which
had been for a moment shaken by the overwhelming news from Aboukir.
He, however, sometimes repeated, in a tone which it would be difficult to
describe, "Unfortunate Brueys, what have you done!"
I have remarked that in some chance observations which escaped Napoleon
at St. Helena he endeavoured to throw all the blame of the affair on
Admiral Brueys. Persons who are determined to make Bonaparte an
exception to human nature have unjustly reproached the Admiral for the
loss of the fleet.
The Egyptian Institute--Festival of the birth of Mahomet--Bonapartes
prudent respect for the Mahometan religion--His Turkish dress--
Djezzar, the Pasha of Acre--Thoughts of a campaign in Germany--Want
of news from France--Bonaparte and Madame Fours--The Egyptian
fortune-teller, M. Berthollet, and the Sheik El Bekri--The air
"Marlbrook"--Insurrection in Cairo--Death of General Dupuis--Death
of Sulkowsky--The insurrection quelled--Nocturnal executions--
Destruction of a tribe of Arabs--Convoy of sick and wounded--
Massacre of the French in Sicily--projected expedition to Syria--
Letter to Tippoo Saib.
The loss of the fleet convinced General Bonaparte of the necessity of
speedily and effectively organising Egypt, where everything denoted that
we should stay for a considerable time, excepting the event of a forced
evacuation, which the General was far from foreseeing or fearing. The
distance of Ibrahim Bey and Mourad Bey now left him a little at rest.
War, fortifications, taxation, government, the organization of the
divans, trade, art, and science, all occupied his attention. Orders and
instructions were immediately despatched, if not to repair the defeat, at
least to avert the first danger that might ensue from it. On the 21st of
August Bonaparte established at Cairo an institute of the arts and
sciences, of which he subsequently appointed me a member in the room of
M. de Sucy, who was obliged to return to France, in consequence of the
wound he received on board the flotilla in the Nile.
--[The Institute of Egypt was composed of members of the French
Institute, and of the men of science and artists of the commission
who did not belong to that body. They assembled and added to their
number several officers of the artillery and staff, and others who
bad cultivated the sciences and literature.
The Institute was established in one of the palaces of the bey's.
A great number of machines, and physical, chemical, and astronomical
instruments had been brought from France. They were distributed in
the different rooms, which were also successively filled with all
the curiosities of the country, whether of the animal, vegetable, or
The garden of the palace became a botanical garden. A chemical
laboratory was formed at headquarters; Merthollet performed
experiments there several times every week, which Napoleon and a
great number of officers attended ('Memoirs of Napoleon')]--
In founding this Institute, Bonaparte wished to afford an example of his
ideas of civilisation. The minutes of the sittings of that learned body,
which have been printed, bear evidence of its utility, and of Napoleon's
extended views. The objects of tile Institute were the advancement and
propagation of information in Egypt, and the study and publication of all
facts relating to the natural history, trade, and antiquities of that
On the 18th Bonaparte was present at the ceremony of opening the dyke of
the canal of Cairo, which receives the water of the Nile when it reaches
the height fired by the Mequyas.
Two days after came the anniversary festival of the birth of Mahomet. At
this Napoleon was also present, in company with the sheik El Bekri,' who
at his request gave him two young Mamelukes, Ibrahim, and Roustan.
--[The General-in-Chief went to celebrate, the feast of the Prophet
at the house of the sheik El Bekri. The ceremony was began by the
recital of a kind of litany, containing the life of Mahomet from his
birth to his death. About a hundred sheiks, sitting in a circle, on
carpets, with their legs crossed, recited all the verses, swinging
their bodies violently backwards and forwards, and altogether.
A grand dinner was afterwards served up, at which the guests sat on
carpets, with their legs across. There were twenty tables, and five
or six people at each table. That of the General-in-Chief and the
sheik El Bekri was in the middle; a little slab of a precious kind
of wood ornamented with mosaic work was placed eighteen inches above
the floor and covered with a great number of dishes in succession.
They were pillaws of rice, a particular kind of roast, entrees, and
pastry, all very highly spiced. The sheiks picked everything with
their fingers. Accordingly water was brought to wash the hands
three times during dinner. Gooseberry-water, lemonade, and other
sorts of sherbets were served to drink, and abundance of preserves
and confectionery with the dessert. On the whole, the dinner was
not disagreeable; it was only the manner of eating it that seemed
strange to us.
In the evening the whole city was illuminated. After dinner the
party went into the square of El Bekri, the illumination of which,
in coloured lamps, was very beautiful. An immense concourse of
people attended. They were all placed in order, in ranks of from
twenty to a hundred persons, who, standing close together, recited
the prayers and litanies of the Prophet with movements which kept
increasing, until at length they seemed to be convulsive, and some
of the most zealous fainted sway ('Memoirs of Napoleon').]--
--[Roustan or Rustan, a Mameluke, was always with Napoleon from the
time of the return from Egypt till 1814, when he abandoned his
master. He slept at or near the door of Napoleon. See Remusat,
tome i, p. 209, for an amusing description of the alarm of
Josephine, and the precipitate flight of Madame de Remusat, at the
idea of being met and killed by this man in one of Josephine's
nocturnal attacks on the privacy of her husband when closeted with
It has been alleged that Bonaparte, when in Egypt, took part in the
religious ceremonies and worship of the Mussulmans; but it cannot be said
that he celebrated the festivals of the overflowing of the Nile and the
anniversary of the Prophet. The Turks invited him to these merely as a
spectator; and the presence of their new master was gratifying to the
people. But he never committed the folly of ordering any solemnity.
He neither learned nor repeated any prayer of the Koran, as many persons
have asserted; neither did he advocate fatalism, polygamy, or any other
doctrine of the Koran. Bonaparte employed himself better than in
discussing with the Imaums the theology of the children of Ismael. The
ceremonies, at which policy induced him to be present, were to him, and
to all who accompanied him, mere matters of curiosity. He never set foot
in a mosque; and only on one occasion, which I shall hereafter mention,
dressed himself in the Mahometan costume. He attended the festivals to
which the green turbans invited him. His religious tolerance was the
natural consequence of his philosophic spirit.
--[From this Sir Walter Scott infers that he did not scruple to join
the Musselmans in the external ceremonies of their religion. He
embellishes his romance with the ridiculous farce of the sepulchral
chamber of the grand pyramid, and the speeches which were addressed
to the General as well as to the muftis and Imaums; and he adds that
Bonaparte was on the point of embracing Islamism. All that Sir
Walter says on this subject is the height of absurdity, and does not
even deserve to be seriously refuted. Bonaparte never entered a
mosque except from motives of curiosity,(see contradiction in
previous paragraph. D.W.) and be never for one moment afforded any
ground for supposing that he believed to the mission of Mahomet.--
Doubtless Bonaparte did, as he was bound to do, show respect for the
religion of the country; and he found it necessary to act more like a
Mussulman than a Catholic. A wise conqueror supports his triumphs by
protecting and even elevating the religion of the conquered people.
Bonaparte's principle was, as he himself has often told me, to look upon
religions as the work of men, but to respect them everywhere as a
powerful engine of government. However, I will not go so far as to say
that he would not have changed his religion had the conquest of the East
been the price of that change. All that he said about Mahomet, Islamism,
and the Koran to the, great men of the country he laughed at himself.
He enjoyed the gratification of having all his fine sayings on the
subject of religion translated into Arabic poetry, and repeated from
mouth to mouth. This of course tended to conciliate the people.
I confess that Bonaparte frequently conversed with the chiefs of the
Mussulman religion on the subject of his conversion; but only for the
sake of amusement. The priests of the Koran, who would probably have
been delighted to convert us, offered us the most ample concessions.
But these conversations were merely started by way of entertainment,
and never could have warranted a supposition of their leading to any
serious result. If Bonaparte spoke as a Mussulman, it was merely in his
character of a military and political chief in a Mussulman country.
To do so was essential to his success, to the safety of his army, and,
consequently; to his glory. In every country he would have drawn up
proclamations and delivered addresses on the same principle. In India he
would have been for Ali, at Thibet for the Dalai-lama, and in China for
--[On the subject of his alleged conversion to Mahometanism
Bonaparte expressed himself at St. Helena as follows:
"I never followed any of the tenets of that religion. I never
prayed in the mosques. I never abstained from wine, or was
circumcised, neither did I ever profess it. I said merely that we
were the friends of the Mussulmans, and that I respected Mahomet
their prophet, which was true; I respect him now. I wanted to make
the Imaums cause prayers to be offered up in the mosques for me, in
order to make the people respect me still more than they actually
did, and obey me more readily. The Imaums replied that there was a
great obstacle, because their Prophet in the Koran had inculcated to
them that they were not to obey, respect, or hold faith with
infidels, and that I came under that denomination. I then desired
them to hold a consultation, and see what was necessary to be done
in order to become a Musselman, as some of their tenets could not be
practised by us. That, as to circumcision, God had made us unfit
for that. That, with respect to drinking wine, we were poor cold
people, inhabitants of the north, who could not exist without it.
They consulted together accordingly, and in about three weeks issued
a fetham, declaring that circumcision might be omitted, because it
was merely a profession; that as to drinking wine, it might be drunk
by Mussulmans, but that those who drank it would not go to paradise,
but to hell I replied that this would not do; that we had no
occasion to make ourselves Mussulmans in order to go to hell, that
there were many ways of getting there without coining to Egypt, and
desired them to hold another consultation. After deliberating and
battling together for I believe three months, they finally decided
that a man might become a Mussulman, and neither circumcise nor
abstain from wine; but that, in proportion to the wine drunk, some
good works must be done. I then told them that we were all
Mussulmans and friends of the Prophet, which they really believed,
as the French soldiers never went to church, and had no priests with
them. For you must know that during the Revolution there was no
religion whatever in the French army. Menou," continued Napoleon,
"really turned Mahometan, which was the reason I left him behind."
--(Voices from St. Helena.)]--
The General-in-Chief had a Turkish dress made, which he once put on,
merely in joke. One day he desired me to go to breakfast without waiting
for him, and that he would follow me. In about a quarter of an hour he
made his appearance in his new costume. As soon as he was recognised he
was received with a loud burst of laughter. He sat down very coolly; but
he found himself so encumbered and ill at ease in his turban and Oriental
robe that he speedily threw them off, and was never tempted to a second
performance of the masquerade.
About the end of August Bonaparte wished to open negotiations with the
Pasha of Acre, nicknamed the Butcher. He offered Djezzar his friendship,
sought his in return, and gave him the most consolatory assurances of the
safety of his dominions. He promised to support him against the Grand
Seignior, at the very moment when he was assuring the Egyptians that he
would support the Grand Seignior against the beys. But Djezzar,
confiding in his own strength and in the protection of the English, who
had anticipated Bonaparte, was deaf to every overture, and would not even
receive Beauvoisin, who was sent to him on the 22d of August. A second
envoy was beheaded at Acre. The occupations of Bonaparte and the
necessity of obtaining a more solid footing in Egypt retarded for the
moment the invasion of that pashalic, which provoked vengeance by its
barbarities, besides being a dangerous neighbour.
From the time he received the accounts of the disaster of Aboukir until
the revolt of Cairo on the 22d of October, Bonaparte sometimes found the
time hang heavily on his hands. Though he devoted attention to
everything, yet there was not sufficient occupation for his singularly
active mind. When the heat was not too great he rode on horseback; and
on his return, if he found no despatches to read (which often happened),
no orders to send off; or no letters to answer, he was immediately
absorbed in reverie, and would sometimes converse very strangely. One
day, after a long pause, he said to me:
"Do you know what I am thinking of?"--"Upon my word, that would be very
difficult; you think of such extraordinary things."--"I don't know,"
continued lie, "that I shall ever see France again; but if I do, my only
ambition is to make a glorious campaign in Germany--in the plains of
Bavaria; there to gain a great battle, and to avenge France for the
defeat of Hochstadt. After that I would retire into the country, and
He then entered upon a long dissertation on the preference he would give
to Germany as the theatre of war; the fine character of the people, and
the prosperity and wealth of the country, and its power of supporting an
army. His conversations were sometimes very long; but always replete
--[So early as 1794 Napoleon had suggested that Austria should
always be attacked in Germany, not in Italy. "It is Germany that
should be overwhelmed; that done, Italy and Spain fall of
themselves. Germany should be attacked, not Spain or Italy. If we
obtain great success, advantage should never be taken of it to
penetrate into Italy while Germany, unweakened, offers a formidable
front" (Iung's Bonaparte, tome ii. p. 936), He was always opposed
to the wild plans which had ruined so many French armies in Italy,
and which the Directory tried to force on him, of marching on Rome
and Naples after every success in the north.]--
In these intervals of leisure Bonaparte was accustomed to retire to bed
early. I used to read to him every evening. When I read poetry he would
fall asleep; but when he asked for the Life of Cromwell I counted on
sitting up pretty late. In the course of the day he used to read and
make notes. He often expressed regret at not receiving news from France;
for correspondence was rendered impracticable by the numerous English and
Turkish cruisers. Many letters were intercepted and scandalously
published. Not even family secrets and communications of the most
confidential nature were respected.
About the middle of September in this year (1798), Bonaparte ordered to
be brought to the house of Elfy Bey half a dozen Asiatic women whose
beauty he had heard highly extolled. But their ungraceful obesity
displeased him, and they were immediately dismissed. A few days after he
fell violently in love with Madame Foures, the wife of a lieutenant of
infantry. She was very pretty, and her charms were enhanced by the
rarity of seeing a woman in Egypt who was calculated to please the eye of
a European. Bonaparte engaged for her a house adjoining the palace of
Elfy Bey, which we occupied. He frequently ordered dinner to be prepared
there, and I used to go there with him at seven o'clock, and leave him at
This connection soon became the general subject of gossip at head-
quarters. Through a feeling of delicacy to M. Foures, the General-in-
Chief gave him a mission to the Directory. He embarked at Alexandria,
and the ship was captured by the English, who, being informed of the
cause of his mission, were malicious enough to send him back to Egypt,
instead of keeping him prisoner. Bonaparte wished to have a child by
Madame Foures, but this wish was not realised.
A celebrated soothsayer was recommended to Bonaparte by the inhabitants
of Cairo, who confidentially vouched for the accuracy with which he could
foretell future events. He was sent for, and when he arrived, I,
Venture, and a sheik were with the General. The prophet wished first to
exercise his skill upon Bonaparte, who, however, proposed that I should
have my fortune told first, to which I acceded without hesitation.
To afford an idea of his prophetic skill I must mention that since my
arrival in Cairo I had been in a very weak state. The passage of the
Nile and the bad food we had had for twelve days had greatly reduced me,
so that I was miserably pale and thin.
After examining my hands, feeling my pulse, my forehead, and the nape of
my neck, the fortune-teller shrugged his shoulders, and, in a melancholy
tone, told Venture that he did not think it right to inform me of my
fate. I gave him to understand that he might say what he pleased, as it
was a matter of indifference to me. After considerable hesitation on his
part and pressing on mine, he announced to me that the earth of Egypt
would receive me in two months.
I thanked him, and he was dismissed. When we were alone the General said
to me, "Well, what do you think of that?" I observed that the fortune-
teller did not run any great risk in foretelling my death, which was a
very probable circumstance in the state in which I was; "but," added I,
"if I procure the wines which I have ordered from France, you will soon
see me get round again."
The art of imposing on mankind has at all times been an important part of
the art of governing; and it was not that portion of the science of
government which Bonaparte was the least acquainted with. He neglected
no opportunity of showing off to the Egyptians the superiority of France
in arts and sciences; but it happened, oftener than once, that the simple
instinct of the Egyptians thwarted his endeavours in this way. Some days
after the visit of the pretended fortune-teller he wished, if I may so
express myself, to oppose conjurer to conjurer. For this purpose he
invited the principal sheiks to be present at some chemical experiments
performed by M. Berthollet. The General expected to be much amused at
their astonishment; but the miracles of the transformation of liquids,
electrical commotions and galvanism, did not elicit from them any symptom
of surprise. They witnessed the operations of our able chemist with the
most imperturbable indifference. When they were ended, the sheik El
Bekri desired the interpreter to tell M. Berthollet that it was all very
fine; "but," said he, "ask him whether he can make me be in Morocco and
here at one and the same moment?" M. Berthollet replied in the negative,
with a shrug of his shoulders. "Oh! then," said the sheik, "he is not
half a sorcerer."
Our music produced no greater effect upon them. They listened with
insensibility to all the airs that were played to them, with the
exception of "Marlbrook." When that was played they became animated, and
were all in motion, as if ready to dance.
An order which had been issued on our arrival in Cairo for watching the
criers of the mosques had for some weeks been neglected. At certain
hours of the night these cries address prayers to the Prophet. As it was
merely a repetition of the same ceremony over and over again, in a short
time no notice was taken of it. The Turks, perceiving this negligence,
substituted for their prayers and hymns cries of revolt, and by this sort
of verbal telegraph, insurrectionary excitement was transmitted to the
northern and southern extremities of Egypt. By this means, and by the
aid of secret emissaries, who eluded our feeble police, and circulated
real or forged firmans of the Sultan disavowing the concord between
France and the Porte, and provoking war, the plan of a revolution was
organised throughout the country.
The signal for the execution of this plan was given from the minarets on
the night of the 20th of October, and on the morning of the 21st it was
announced at headquarters that the city of Cairo was in open
insurrection. The General-in-Chief was not, as has been stated, in the
isle of Raeuddah: he did not hear the firing of the alarm-guns. He rose
when the news arrived; it was then five o'clock. He was informed that
all the shops were closed, and that the French were attacked. A moment
after he heard of the death of General Dupuis, commandant of the
garrison, who was killed by a lance in the street. Bonaparte immediately
mounted his horse, and, accompanied by only thirty guides, visited all
the threatened points, restored confidence, and, with great presence of
mind adopted measures of defence.
He left me at headquarters with only one sentinel; but he had been
accurately informed of the situation of the insurgents; and such was my
confidence in his activity and foresight that I had no apprehension, and
awaited his return with perfect composure. This composure was not
disturbed even when I saw a party of insurgents attack the house of M.
Esteve, our paymaster-general, which was situated on the opposite side of
Ezbekye'h Place. M. Esteve was, fortunately, able to resist the attack
until troops from Boulac came up to his assistance.
After visiting all the posts, and adopting every precautionary measure,
Bonaparte returned to headquarters. Finding me still alone with the
sentinel, he asked me, smiling, "whether I had not been frightened?"--
"Not at all, General, I assure you," replied I.
--It was about half-past eight in the morning when Bonaparte returned to
headquarters, and while at breakfast he was informed that some Bedouin
Arabs, on horseback, were trying to force their entrance into Cairo. He
ordered his aide de camp, Sulkowsky, to mount his horse, to take with him
fifteen guides, and proceed to the point where the assailants were most
numerous. This was the Bab-el-Nasser, or the gate of victory. Croisier
observed to the General-in-Chief that Sulkowsky had scarcely recovered
from the wounds at Salehye'h, and he offered to take his place. He had
his motives for this. Bonaparte consented; but Sulkowsky had already set
out. Within an hour after, one of the fifteen guides returned, covered
with blood, to announce that Sulkowsky and the remainder of his party had
been cut to pieces. This was speedy work, for we were still at table
when the sad news arrived.
Mortars were planted on Mount Mokatam, which commands Cairo. The
populace, expelled from all the principal streets by the troops,
assembled in the square of the Great Mosque, and in the little streets
running into it, which they barricaded. The firing of the artillery on
the heights was kept up with vigour for two days.
About twelve of the principal chiefs of Cairo were arrested and confined
in an apartment at headquarters. They awaited with the calmest
resignation the death they knew they merited; but Bonaparte merely
detained them as hostages. The aga in the service of Bonaparte was
astonished that sentence of death was not pronounced upon them; and he
said, shrugging his shoulders, and with a gesture apparently intended to
provoke severity, "You see they expect it."
On the third the insurrection was at an end, and tranquillity restored.
Numerous prisoners were conducted to the citadel. In obedience to an
order which I wrote every evening, twelve were put to death nightly. The
bodies were then put into sacks and thrown into the Nile. There were
many women included in these nocturnal executions.
I am not aware that the number of victims amounted to thirty per day, as
Bonaparte assured General Reynier in a letter which he wrote to him six
days after the restoration of tranquillity. "Every night," said he,
"we cut off thirty heads. This, I hope, will be an effectual example."
I am of opinion that in this instance he exaggerated the extent of his
Some time after the revolt of Cairo the necessity of ensuring our own
safety forced the commission of a terrible act of cruelty. A tribe of
Arabs in the neighbourhood of Cairo had surprised and massacred a party
of French. The General-in-Chief ordered his aide de camp Croisier to
proceed to the spot, surround the tribe, destroy the huts, kill all the
men, and conduct the rest of the population to Cairo. The order was to
decapitate the victims, and bring their heads in sacks to Cairo to be
exhibited to the people. Eugene Beauharnais accompanied Croisier, who
joyfully set out on this horrible expedition, in hope of obliterating all
recollection of the affair of Damanhour.
On the following day the party returned. Many of the poor Arab women had
been delivered on the road, and the children had perished of hunger,
heat, and fatigue. About four o'clock a troop of asses arrived in
Ezbekye'h Place, laden with sacks. The sacks were opened and the heads
rolled out before the assembled populace. I cannot describe the horror
I experienced; but I must nevertheless acknowledge that this butchery
ensured for a considerable time the tranquillity and even the existence
of the little caravans which were obliged to travel in all directions for
the service of the army.
Shortly before the loss of the fleet the General-in Chief had formed the
design of visiting Suez, to examine the traces of the ancient canal which
united the Nile to the Gulf of Arabia, and also to cross the latter. The
revolt at Cairo caused this project to be adjourned until the month of
Before his departure for Suez. Bonaparte granted the commissary Sucy
leave to return to France. He had received a wound in the right hand,
when on board the xebec 'Cerf'. I was conversing with him on deck when
he received this wound. At first it had no appearance of being serious;
but some time after he could not use his hand. General Bonaparte
despatched a vessel with sick and-wounded, who were supposed to be
incurable, to the number of about eighty. All, envied their fate, and
were anxious to depart with them, but the privilege was conceded to very
few. However, those who were, disappointed had, no cause for regret. We
never know what we wish for. Captain Marengo, who landed at Augusta in
Sicily, supposing it to be a friendly land, was required to observe
quarantine for twenty-two days, and information was given of the arrival
of the vessel to the court, which was at Palermo. On the 25th of January
1799 all on board the French vessel were massacred, with the exception of
twenty-one who were saved by a Neapolitan frigate, and conducted to
Messing, where they wore detained.
Before he conceived the resolution of attacking the Turkish advanced
guard in the valleys of Syria, Bonaparte had formed a plan of invading
British India from Persia. He had ascertained, through the medium of
agents, that the Shah of Persia would, for a sum, of money paid in
advance consent to the establishment of military magazines on certain
points of his territory. Bonaparte frequently told me that if, after the
subjugation of Egypt, he could have left 15,000 men in that country, and
have had 30,000 disposable troops, he would have marched on the
Euphrates. He was frequently speaking about the deserts which were to be
crossed to reach Persia.
How many, times have I seen him extended on the ground, examining the
beautiful maps which he had brought with him, and he would sometimes make
me lie down in the same position to trace to me his projected march.
This reminded him of the triumphs of his favourite hero, Alexander, with
whom he so much desired to associate his name; but, at the same time, he
felt that these projects were incompatible with our resources, the
weakness of the Government; and the dissatisfaction which the army
already evinced. Privation and misery are inseparable from all these
This favourite idea still occupied his mind a fortnight before his
departure for Syria was determined on, and on the 25th of January 1799
he wrote to Tippoo Saib as follows:--
You are of course already informed, of my arrival on the banks of
the Red Sea, with a numerous and invincible army. Eager to deliver
you from the iron yoke of England, I hasten to request that you will
send me, by the way of Mascate or Mocha, an account of the political
situation in which you are. I also wish that you could send to
Suez, or Grand Cairo, some able man, in your confidence, with whom I
--[It is not true, as has often been stated, that Tippoo Saib wrote
to General Bonaparte. He could not reply to a letter written on the
23th of January, owing to the great difficulty of communication, the
considerable distance, and the short interval which elapsed between
the 25th of January and the fall of the Empire of Mysore, which
happened on the 20th of April following. The letter to Tippo Saib
Bonaparte's departure for Suez--Crossing the desert--Passage of the
Red Sea--The fountain of Moses--The Cenobites of Mount Sinai--Danger
in recrossing the Red Sea--Napoleon's return to Cairo--Money
borrowed at Genoa--New designs upon Syria--Dissatisfaction of the
Ottoman Porte--Plan for invading Asia--Gigantic schemes--General
Berthier's permission to return to France--His romantic love and the
adored portrait--He gives up his permission to return home--Louis
Bonaparte leaves Egypt--The first Cashmere shawl in France--
Intercepted correspondence--Departure for Syria--Fountains of
Messoudish--Bonaparte jealous--Discontent of the troops--El-Arish
taken--Aspect of Syria--Ramleh--Jerusalem.
On the 24th of December we set out for Suez, where we arrived on the
26th. On the 25th we encamped in the desert some leagues before Ad-
Geroth. The heat had been very great during the day; but about eleven at
night the cold became so severe as to be precisely in an inverse ratio to
the temperature of the day. This desert, which is the route of the
caravans from Suez, from Tor and the countries situated on the north of
Arabia, is strewed with the bones of the men and animals who, for ages
past, have perished in crossing it. As there was no wood to be got, we
collected a quantity of these bones for fuel. Monge himself was induced
to sacrifice some of the curious skulls of animals which he had picked up
on the way and deposited in the Berlin of the General-in-Chief. But no
sooner had we kindled our fires than an intolerable effluvium obliged us
to, raise our camp and advance farther on, for we could procure no water
to extinguish the fires.
On the 27th Bonaparte employed himself in inspecting the town and port of
Suez, and in giving orders for some naval and military works. He feared-
what indeed really occurred after his departure from Egypt--the arrival
of some English troops from the East Indies, which he had intended to
invade. These regiments contributed to the loss of his conquest.
--[Sir David Baird, with a force of about 7000 men sent from India,
landed at Cosseir in July 1801.]--
On the morning of the 28th we crossed the Red Sea dry-shod, to go to the
Wells of Moses, which are nearly a myriametre from the eastern coast, and
a little southeast of Suez. The Gulf of Arabia terminates at about 5,000
metres north of that city. Near the port the Red Sea is not above 1,500
metres wide, and is always fordable at low water. The caravans from Tor
and Mount Sinai always pass at that part,
--[I shall say nothing of the Cenobites of Mount Sinai, as I had not
the honour of seeing them. Neither did I see the register
containing the names of Ali, Salah-Eddin, Ibrahim or Abraham,
on which Bonaparte is said to have inscribed his name. I perceived
at a distance some high hills which were said to be Mount Sinai.
I conversed, through the medium of an interpreter, with some Arabian
chiefs of Tor and its neighbourhood. They had been informed of our
excursion to the Wells, and that they might there thank the French
General for the protection granted to their caravans and their trade
with Egypt. On the 19th of December, before his departure from
Suez, Bonaparte signed a sort of safeguard, or exemption from
duties, for the convent of Mount Sinai. This had been granted out
of respect to Moses and the Jewish nation, and also because the
convent of Mount Sinai is a seat of learning and civilisation amidst
the barbarism of the deserts.--Bourrienne.]--
either in going to or returning from Egypt. This shortens their journey
nearly a myriametre. At high tide the water rises five or six feet at
Suez, and when the wind blows fresh it often rises to nine or ten feet.
We spent a few hours seated by the largest of the springs called the
Wells of Moses, situated on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Arabia.
We made coffee with the water from these springs, which, however, gave it
such a brackish taste that it was scarcely drinkable.
Though the water of the eight little springs which form the Wells of
Moses is not so salt as that of many wells dug in other parts of the
deserts, it is, nevertheless, exceedingly brackish, and does not allay
thirst so well as fresh water.
Bonaparte returned to Suez that same night. It was very dark when we
reached the sea-shore. The tide was coming up, and the water was pretty
high. We deviated a little from the way we had taken in the morning; we
crossed a little too low down; we were thrown into disorder, but we did
not lose ourselves in the marshes as has been stated. There were none.
I have read somewhere, though I did not see the fact, nor did I hear it
mentioned at the time, that the tide, which was coming up, would have
been the grave of the General-in-Chief had not one of the guides saved
him by carrying him on his shoulders. If any such danger had existed,
all who had not a similar means of escape must have perished.
This is a fabrication. General Caffarelli was the only person who was
really in danger, for his wooden leg prevented his sitting firmly on his
horse in the water; but some persons came to his assistance and supported
--[Bonaparte extricated himself as the others did from the real
danger he and his escort had run. At St. Helena he said, "Profiting
by the low tide, I crossed the Red Sea dry-shod. On my return I was
overtaken by the night and went astray in the middle of the rising
tide. I ran the greatest danger. I nearly perished in the same
manner as Pharaoh did. This would certainly have furnished all the
Christian preachers with a magnificent test against me."
On his return to Cairo the General-in-Chief wished to discover the site
of the canal which in ancient times formed a junction between the Red Sea
and the Nile by Belbeis. M. Lepere, who was a member of the Egyptian
Institute, and is now inspector-general of bridges and highways, executed
on the spot a beautiful plan, which may confidently be consulted by those
who wish to form an accurate idea of that ancient communication, and the
level of the two seas.
--[Since accurately ascertained during the progress of the works for
the Suez Canal.]--
On his arrival at the capital Bonaparte again devoted all his thoughts to
the affairs of the army, which he had not attended to during his short
absence. The revenues of Egypt were far from being sufficient to meet
the military expenditure. To defray his own expenses Bonaparte raised
several considerable loans in Genoa through the medium of M. James. The
connection of James with the Bonaparte family takes its date from this
--[Joseph Bonaparte says that the fathers of Napoleon and of M.
James had long known one another, and that Napoleon had met James at
Autun. ('Erreurs', tome i, p. 296).]--
Since the month of August the attention of General Bonaparte had been
constantly fixed on Syria. The period of the possible landing of an
enemy in Egypt had now passed away, and could not return until the month
of July in the following year. Bonaparte was fully convinced that that
landing would take place, and he was not deceived. The Ottoman Porte
had, indeed, been persuaded that the conquest of Egypt was not in her
interest. She preferred enduring a rebel whom she hoped one day to
subdue to supporting a power which, under the specious pretext of
reducing her insurgent beys to obedience, deprived her of one of her
finest provinces, and threatened the rest of the empire.
On his return to Cairo the General-in-Chief had no longer any doubt as to
the course which the Porte intended to adapt. The numerous class of
persons who believed that the Ottoman Porte had consented to our
occupation of Egypt were suddenly undeceived. It, was then asked how we
could, without that consent, have attempted such an enterprise? Nothing,
it was said, could justify the temerity of such an expedition, if it
should produce a rupture between France, the Ottoman empire, and its
allies. However, for the remainder of the year Bonaparte dreaded nothing
except an expedition from Gaza and El-Arish, of which the troops of
Djezzar had already taken possession. This occupation was justly
regarded as a decided act of hostility; war was thus practically
declared. "We must adopt anticipatory measures," thought Napoleon;
"we must destroy this advanced guard of the Ottoman empire, overthrow
the ramparts of Jaffa and Acre, ravage the country, destroy all her
resources, so as to render the passage of an army across the desert
impracticable." Thus was planned the expedition against Syria.
General Berthier, after repeated entreaties, had obtained permission to
return to France. The 'Courageuse' frigate, which was to convey him
home, was fitting out at Alexandria; he had received his instructions,
and was to leave Cairo on the 29th of January, ten days before
Bonaparte's departure for Syria. Bonaparte was sorry to part with him;
but he could not endure to see an old friend, and one who had served him
well in all his campaigns, dying before his eyes, the victim of nostalgia
and romantic love. Besides, Berthier had been for some time past,
anything but active in the discharge of his duties. His passion, which
amounted almost to madness, impaired the feeble faculties with which
nature had endowed him. Some writers have ranked him in the class of
sentimental lovers: be this as it may, the homage which Berthier rendered
to the portrait of the object of his adoration more frequently excited
our merriment than our sensibility.
One day I went with an order from Bonaparte to the chief of his staff,
whom I found on his knees before the portrait of Madame Visconti, which
was hanging opposite the door. I touched him, to let him know I was
there. He grumbled a little, but did not get angry.
The moment was approaching when the two friends were to part, perhaps
forever. Bonaparte was sincerely distressed at this separation, and the
chief of his staff was informed of the fact. At a moment when it was
supposed Berthier was on his way to Alexandria, he presented himself to
the General-in-Chief. "You are, then, decidedly going to Asia?" said
he.--"You know," replied the General, "that all is ready, and I shall set
out in a few days."--"Well, I will not leave you. I voluntarily renounce
all idea of returning to France. I could not endure to forsake you at a
moment when you are going to encounter new dangers. Here are my
instructions and my passport." Bonaparte, highly pleased with this
resolution, embraced Berthier; and the coolness which had been excited by
his request to return home was succeeded by a sincere reconciliation.
Louis Bonaparte, who was suffering from the effects of the voyage, was
still at Alexandria. The General-in-Chief, yielding to the pacific views
of his younger brother, who was also beginning to evince some symptoms of
nostalgia, consented to his return home. He could not, however, depart
until the 11th of March 1799. I felt the absence of Louis very much.
On his return to France Louis passed through Sens, where he dined with
Madame de Bourrienne, to whom he presented a beautiful shawl, which
General Berthier had given me. This, I believe, was the first Cashmere
that had ever been seen in France. Louis was much surprised when Madame
de Bourrienne showed him the Egyptian correspondence, which had been
seized by the English and printed in London. He found in the collection
some letters addressed to himself, and there were others, he said, which
were likely to disturb the peace of more than one family on the return of
On the 11th of February 1799 we began our march for Syria, with about
12,000 men. It has been erroneously stated that the army amounted to
only 6000: nearly that number was lost in the course of the campaign.
However, at the very moment we were on our way to Syria, with 12,000 men,
scarcely as many being left in Egypt, the Directory published that,
"according to the information which had been received," we had 60,000
infantry and 10,000 cavalry; that the army had doubled its numbers by
battles; and that since our arrival in Egypt, we had lost only 300 men.
Is history to be written from such documents?
We arrived, about four o'clock in the afternoon, at Messoudiah, or,
"the Fortunate Spot." Here we witnessed a kind of phenomenon, which was
not a little agreeable to us. Messoudiah is a place situated on the
coast of the Mediterranean, surrounded with little dunes of very fine
sand, which the copious rains of winter readily penetrate. The rain
remains in the sand, so that on making with the fingers holes of four or
five inches in depth at the bottom of these little hills, the water
immediately flows out. This water was, indeed, rather thick, but its
flavour was agreeable; and it would have become clear if we could have
spared time to allow it to rest and deposit the particles of sand it
It was a curious spectacle to behold us all lying prostrate, digging
wells in miniature; and displaying a laughable selfishness in our
endeavours to obtain the most abundant source. This was a very important
discovery to us. We found these sand-wells at the extremity of the
desert, and it contributed, in no small degree, to revive the courage of
our soldiers; besides, when men are, as was the case with us, subject to
privations of every kind, the least benefit which accrues inspires the
hope of a new advantage. We were approaching the confines of Syria, and
we enjoyed by anticipation, the pleasure we were about to experience, on
treading a soil which, by its variety of verdure and vegetation, would
remind us of our native land. At Messoudiah we likewise possessed the
advantage of bathing in the sea, which was not more than fifty paces from
our unexpected water-supply.
Whilst near the wells of Messoudiah, on the way to El-Arish, I one day
saw Bonaparte walking alone with Junot, as he was often in the habit of
doing. I stood at a little distance, and my eyes, I know not why, were
fixed on him during their conversation. The General's countenance, which
was always pale, had, without my being able to divine the cause, become
paler than usual. There was something convulsive in his features--a
wildness in his look, and he several times struck his head with his hand.
After conversing with Junot about a quarter of an hour he quitted him and
came towards me. I never saw him exhibit such an air of dissatisfaction,
or appear so much under the influence of some prepossession. I advanced
towards him, and as soon as we met, he exclaimed in an abrupt and angry
tone, "So! I find I cannot depend upon you.--These women!--Josephine!
--if you had loved me, you would before now have told me all I have heard
from Junot--he is a real friend--Josephine!--and I 600 leagues from her--
you ought to have told me.--That she should thus have deceived me!--'Woe
to them!--I will exterminate the whole race of fops and puppies!--As to
her--divorce!--yes, divorce! a public and open divorce!--I must write!
--I know all!--It is your fault--you ought to have told me!"
These energetic and broken exclamations, his disturbed countenance and
altered voice informed me but too well of the subject of his conversation
with Junot. I saw that Junot had been drawn into a culpable
indiscretion; and that, if Josephine had committed any faults, he had
cruelly exaggerated them. My situation was one of extreme delicacy.
However, I had the good fortune to retain my self-possession, and as soon
as some degree of calmness succeeded to this first burst, I replied that
I knew nothing of the reports which Junot might have communicated to him;
that even if such reports, often the offspring of calumny, had reached my
ear, and if I had considered it my duty to inform him of them,
I certainly would not have selected for that purpose the moment when he
was 600 leagues from France. I also did not conceal how blamable Junot's
conduct appeared to me, and how ungenerous I considered it thus rashly to
accuse a woman who was not present to justify or defend herself; that it
was no great proof of attachment to add domestic uneasiness to the
anxiety, already sufficiently great, which the situation of his brothers
in arms, at the commencement of a hazardous enterprise, occasioned him.
Notwithstanding these observations, which, however, he listened to with
some calmness, the word " divorce" still escaped his lips; and it is
necessary to be aware of the degree of irritation to which he was liable
when anything seriously vexed him, to be able to form an idea of what
Bonaparte was during this painful scene. However, I kept my ground.
I repeated what I had said. I begged of him to consider with what
facility tales were fabricated and circulated, and that gossip such as
that which had been repeated to him was only the amusement of idle
persons; and deserved the contempt of strong minds. I spoke of his
glory. "My glory!" cried he. "I know not what I would not give if that
which Junot has told me should be untrue; so much do I love Josephine!
If she be really guilty a divorce must separate us for ever. I will not
submit to be a laughing-stock for all the imbeciles in Paris. I will
write to Joseph; he will get the divorce declared."
Although his agitation continued long, intervals occurred in which he was
less excited. I seized one of these moments of comparative calm to
combat this idea of divorce which seemed to possess his mind.
I represented to him especially that it would be imprudent to write to
his brother with reference to a communication which was probably false.
"The letter might be intercepted; it would betray the feelings of
irritation which dictated it. As to a divorce, it would be time to think
of that hereafter, but advisedly."
These last words produced an effect on him which I could not have
ventured to hope for so speedily. He became tranquil, listened to me as
if he had suddenly felt the justice of my observations, dropped the
subject, and never returned to it; except that about a fortnight after,
when we were before St. Jean d'Acre, he expressed himself greatly
dissatisfied with Junot, and complained of the injury he had done him by
his indiscreet disclosures, which he began to regard as the inventions of
malignity. I perceived afterwards that he never pardoned Junot for this
indiscretion; and I can state, almost with certainty, that this was one
of the reasons why Junot was not created a marshal of France, like many
of, his comrades whom Bonaparte had loved less. It may be supposed that
Josephine, who was afterwards informed by Bonaparte of Junot's
conversation, did not feel particularly interested in his favour.
He died insane on the 27th of July 1813.
--[However indiscreet Junot might on this occasion have shown
himself in interfering in so delicate a matter, it is pretty certain
that his suspicions were breathed to no other ear than that of
Bonaparte himself. Madame Junot, in speaking of the ill-suppressed
enmity between her husband and Madame Bonaparte, says that he never
uttered a word even to her of the subject of his conversation with,
the General-in-Chief to Egypt. That Junot's testimony, however,
notwithstanding the countenance it obtained from Bonaparte's
relations, ought to be cautiously received, the following passage
from the Memoirs of the Duchesse d'Abrantes, vol. i. p. 250,
demonstrative of the feelings of irritation between the parties,
"Junot escorted Madame Bonaparte when she went to join the General-
in-Chief in Italy. I am surprised that M. de Bourrienne has omitted
mentioning this circumstance in his Memoirs. He must have known it,
since he was well acquainted with everything relating to Josephine,
and knew many facts of high interest in her life at this period and
subsequently. How happens it too that he makes no mention of
Mademoiselle Louise, who might be called her 'demioselle de
compagnie' rather than her 'femme de chambre'? At the outset of the
journey to Italy she was such a favourite with Josephine that she
dressed like her mistress, ate at table with her, and was in all
respects her friend and confidante.
"The journey was long, much too long for Junot, though he was very
much in love with Mademoiselle Louise. But he was anxious to join
the army, for to him his General was always the dearest of
mistresses. Junot has often spoken to me, and to me alone, of the
vexations he experienced on this journey. He might have added to
his circumstantial details relative to Josephine the conversation he
is reported go have had with Bonaparte to Egypt; but he never
breathed a word on the subject, for his character was always noble
and generous. The journey to Italy did not produce the effect which
usually arises from such incidents in common life; namely, a closer
friendship and intimacy between the parties. On the contrary,
Madame Bonaparte from that moment evinced some degree of ill-humour
towards Junot, and complained with singular warmth of the want of
respect which he had shown her, in making love to her 'femme de
chambre' before her face."
According to 'Erreurs (tome i. pp. 4, 50) Junot was not then in
Syria. On 10th February Napoleon was at Messoudiah. Junot only
arrived from Egypt at Gaza on the 25th February. Madame d'Abrantes
(ii. 32) treats this conversation as apocryphal. "This (an anecdote
of her own) is not an imaginary episode like that, for example, of
making a person speak at Messoudiah who never was there."]--
Our little army continued its march on El-Arish, where we arrived on the
17th of February. The fatigues experienced in the desert and the
scarcity of water excited violent murmurs amongst the soldiers during
their march across the isthmus. When any person on horseback passed them
they studiously expressed their discontent. The advantage possessed by
the horsemen provoked their sarcasms. I never heard the verses which
they are said to have repeated, but they indulged in the most violent
language against the Republic, the men of science, and those whom they
regarded as the authors of the expedition. Nevertheless these brave
fellows, from whom it was not astonishing that such great privations
should extort complaints, often compensated by their pleasantries for the
bitterness of their reproaches.
Many times during the crossing of the isthmus I have seen soldiers,
parched with thirst, and unable to wait till the hour for distribution of
water, pierce the leathern bottles which contained it; and this conduct,
so injurious to all, occasioned numerous quarrels.
El-Arish surrendered on the 17th of February. It has been erroneously
stated that the garrison of this insignificant place, which was set at
liberty on condition of not again serving against us, was afterwards
found amongst the besieged at Jaffa. It has also been stated that it was
because the men composing the El-Arish garrison did not proceed to
Bagdad, according to the capitulation, that we shot them at Jaffa. We
shall presently see the falsehood of these assertions.
On the 28th of February we obtained the first glimpse of the green and
fertile plains of Syria, which, in many respects, reminded us of the
climate and soil of Europe. We now had rain, and sometimes rather too
much. The feelings which the sight of the valleys and mountains called.
forth made us, in some degree, forget the hardships and vexations of an
expedition of which few persons could foresee the object or end. There
are situations in life when the slightest agreeable sensation alleviates
all our ills.
On the 1st of March we slept at Ramleh, in a small convent occupied by
two monks, who paid us the greatest attention. They gave us the church
for a hospital. These good fathers did not fail to tell us that it was
through this place the family of Jesus Christ passed into Egypt, and
showed us the wells at which they quenched their thirst.
--[Ramleh, the ancient Arimathea, is situated at the base of a chain
of mountains, the eastern extremity of which is washed by the
Persian Gulf, and the western by the Mediterranean.--Bourrienne.]--
The pure and cool water of these wells delighted us.
We were not more than about six leagues from Jerusalem.
I asked the General whether he did not intend to direct his march by the
way of that city, so celebrated in many respects. He replied, "Oh no!
Jerusalem is not in my line of operations. I do not wish to be annoyed
by mountaineers in difficult roads. And, besides, on the other aide of
the mountain I should be assailed by swarms of cavalry. I am not
ambitious of the fate of Cassius."
We therefore did not enter Jerusalem, which was not disturbed by the war.
All we did was to send a written declaration to the persons in power at
Jerusalem, assuring them that we had no design against that country, and
only wished them to remain at peace. To this communication no answer was
returned, and nothing more passed on the subject.
--[Sir Walter Scott says, speaking of Bonaparte, that he believes
that little officer of artillery dreamed of being King of Jerusalem.
What I have just stated proves that he never thought of such a
thing. The "little officer of artillery" had a far more splendid
dream in his head.--Bourrienne.]--
We found at Ramleh between two and three hundred Christians in a pitiable
state of servitude, misery, and dejection. On conversing with them I
could not help admiring how much the hope of future rewards may console
men under present ills. But I learned from many of them that they did
not live in harmony together. The feelings of hatred and jealousy are
not less common amongst these people than amongst the better-instructed
inhabitants of rich and populous cities.
Arrival at Jaffa--The siege--Beauharnais and Croisier--Four thousand
prisoners--Scarcity of provisions--Councils of war--Dreadful
necessity--The massacre--The plague--Lannes and the mountaineers--
Barbarity of Djezasi--Arrival at St Jean d'Acre, and abortive
attacks--Sir Sidney Smith--Death of Caffarelli--Duroc wounded--
Rash bathing--Insurrections in Egypt.
On arriving before Jaffa, where there were already some troops, the first
person. I met was Adjutant-General Gresieux, with whom I was well
acquainted. I wished him good-day, and offered him my hand. "Good God!
what are you about?" said he, repulsing me with a very abrupt gesture;
"you may have the plague. People do not touch each other here!
"I mentioned the circumstance to Bonaparte, who said, "If he be afraid of
the plague, he will die of it." Shortly after, at St. Jean d'Acre, he
was attacked by that malady, and soon sank under it.
On the 4th of March we commenced the siege of Jaffa. That paltry place,
which, to round a sentence, was pompously styled the ancient Joppa, held
out only to the 6th of March, when it was taken by storm, and given up to
pillage. The massacre was horrible. General Bonaparte sent his aides de
camp Beauharnais and Croisier to appease the fury of the soldiers as much
as possible, and to report to him what was passing. They learned that a
considerable part of the garrison had retired into some vast buildings,
a sort of caravanserai, which formed a large enclosed court. Beauharnais
and Croisier, who were distinguished by wearing the 'aide de camp' scarf
on their arms, proceeded to that place. The Arnauts and Albanians, of
whom these refugees were almost entirely composed, cried from the windows
that they were willing to surrender upon an assurance that they would be
exempted from the massacre to which the town was doomed; if not, they
threatened to fire on the 'aides de camp', and to defend themselves to
the last extremity. The two officers thought that they ought to accede
to the proposition, notwithstanding the decree of death which had been
pronounced against the whole garrison, in consequence of the town being
token by storm. They brought them to our camp in two divisions, one
consisting of about 2500 men, the other of about 1600.
I was walking with General Bonaparte, in front of his tent, when he
beheld this mass of men approaching, and before he even saw his 'aides de
camp' he said to me, in a tone of profound sorrow, "What do they wish me
to do with these men? Have I food for them?--ships to convey them to
Egypt or France? Why, in the devil's name, have they served me thus?"
After their arrival, and the explanations which the General-in-Chief
demanded and listened to with anger, Eugene and Croisier received the
most severe reprimand for their conduct. But the deed was done. Four
thousand men were there. It was necessary to decide upon their fate.
The two aides de camp observed that they had found themselves alone in
the midst of numerous enemies, and that he had directed them to restrain
the carnage. "Yes, doubtless," replied the General-in-Chief, with great
warmth, "as to women, children, and old men--all the peaceable
inhabitants; but not with respect to armed soldiers. It was your duty to
die rather than bring these unfortunate creatures to me. What do you want
me to do with them?" These words were pronounced in the most angry tone.
The prisoners were then ordered to sit down, and were placed, without any
order, in front of the tents, their hands tied behind their backs.
A sombre determination was depicted on their countenances. We gave them
a little biscuit and bread, squeezed out of the already scanty supply for
On the first day of their arrival a council of war was held in the tent
of the General-in-Chief, to determine what course should be pursued with
respect to them the council deliberated a long time without coming to any
On the evening of the following day the daily reports of the generals of
division came in. They spoke of nothing but the insufficiency of the
rations, the complaints of the soldiers--of their murmurs and discontent
at seeing their bread given to enemies who had been withdrawn from their
vengeance, inasmuch as a decree of death; in conformity with the laws of
war, had been passed on Jaffa. All these reports were alarming, and
especially that of General Bon, in which no reserve was made. He spoke
of nothing less than the fear of a revolt, which would be justified by
the serious nature of the case.
The council assembled again. All the generals of division were summoned
to attend, and for several hours together they discussed, under separate
questions, what measures might be adopted, with the most sincere desire
to discover and execute one which would save the lives of these
(l.) Should they be sent into Egypt? Could it be done?
To do so; it would be necessary to send with them a numerous escort,
which would too much weaken our little army in the enemy's country. How,
besides, could they and the escort be supported till they reached Cairo,
having no provisions to give them on setting out, and their route being
through a hostile territory, which we had exhausted, which presented no
fresh resources, and through which we, perhaps, might have to return,
(2.) Should they be embarked?
Where were the ships?--Where could they be found? All our telescopes,
directed over the sea could not descry a single friendly sail Bonaparte,
I affirm, would have regarded such an event as a real favour of fortune.
It was, and--I am glad to have to say it, this sole idea, this sole hope,
which made him brave, for three days, the murmurs of his army. But in
vain was help looked for seaward. It did not come.
(3.) Should the prisoners be set at liberty?
They world then instantly proceed to St. Jean d'Acre to reinforce the
pasha, or else, throwing themselves into the mountains of Nablous, would
greatly annoy our rear and right-flank, and deal out death to us, as a
recompense for the life we had given them. There could be no doubt of
this. What is a Christian dog to a Turk? It would even have been a
religious and meritorious act in the eye of the Prophet.
(4.) Could they be incorporated, disarmed, with our soldiers in the
Here again the question of food presented itself in all its force. Next
came to be considered the danger of having such comrades while marching
through an enemy's country. What might happen in the event of a battle
before St. Jean d'Acre? Could we even tell what might occur during the
march? And, finally, what must be done with them when under the ramparts
of that town, if we should be able to take them there? The same
embarrassments with respect to the questions of provisions and security
would then recur with increased force.
The third day arrived without its being possible, anxiously as it was
desired, to come to any conclusion favourable to the preservation of
these unfortunate men. The murmurs in the camp grew louder the evil went
on increasing--remedy appeared impossible--the danger was real and
imminent. The order for shooting the prisoners was given and executed on
the 10th of March. We did not, as has been stated, separate the Egyptians
from the other prisoners. There were no Egyptians.
Many of the unfortunate creatures composing the smaller division, which
was fired on close to the seacoast, at some distance from the other
column, succeeded in swimming to some reefs of rocks out of the reach of
musket-shot. The soldiers rested their muskets on the sand, and, to
induce the prisoners to return, employed the Egyptian signs of
reconciliation in use in the country. They, came back; but as they
advanced they were killed, and disappeared among the waves.
I confine myself to these details of this act of dreadful necessity, of
which I was an eye-witness. Others, who, like myself, saw it, have
fortunately spared me the recital of the sanguinary result. This
atrocious scene, when I think of it, still makes me shudder, as it did on
the day I beheld it; and I would wish it were possible for me to forget
it, rather than be compelled to describe it. All the horrors imagination
can conceive, relative to that day of blood, would fall short of the
I have related the truth, the whole truth. I was present at all the
discussions, all the conferences, all the deliberations. I had not, as
may be supposed, a deliberative voice; but I am bound to declare that.
the situation of the army, the scarcity of food, our small numerical
strength, in the midst of a country where every individual was an enemy,
would have induced me to vote in the affirmative of the proposition which
was carried into effect, if I had a vote to give. It was necessary to be
on the spot in order to understand the horrible necessity which existed.
War, unfortunately, presents too many occasions on which a law, immutable
in all ages, and common to all nations, requires that private interests
should be sacrificed to a great general interest, and that even humanity
should he forgotten. It is for posterity to judge whether this terrible
situation was that in which Bonaparte was placed. For my own part, I
have a perfect conviction that be could not do otherwise than yield to
the dire necessity of the case. It was the advice of the council, whose
opinion was unanimous in favour of the execution, that governed him,
Indeed I ought in truth to say, that he yielded only in the last
extremity, and was one of those, perhaps, who beheld the massacre with
the deepest pain.
After the siege of Jaffe the plague began to exhibit itself with a little
more virulence. We lost between seven and eight hundred, men by the
contagion during the campaign of Syria'
--[Sir Walter Scott says, that Heaven seat this pestilence amongst
us to avenge the massacre of Jaffa]--
During our march on St. Jean d'Acre, which was commenced on the 14th of
March, the army neither obtained the brilliant triumphs nor encountered
the numerous obstacles spoken of in certain works. Nothing of importance
occurred but a rash skirmish of General Lannes who, in spite of contrary
orders, from Bonaparte, obstinately pursued a troop of mountaineers into
the passes of Nabloua. On returning, he found the mountaineers placed in
ambush in great numbers amongst rocks, the windings of which they were
well, acquainted with, whence they fired close upon our troops; whose
situation rendered them unable to defend themselves. During the time of
this foolish and useless enterprise; especially while the firing was
brisk, Bonaparte, exhibited much impatience, and it must be confessed,
his anger was but natural: The Nablousians halted at the openings of the
mountain defiles. Bonaparte reproached Lannes bitterly for having
uselessly exposed himself, and "sacrificed, without any object, a number
of brave men." Lannes excused himself by saying that the mountaineers
had defied him, and he wished to chastise the rabble. "We are not in a
condition to play the swaggerer," replied Napoleon.
In four days we arrived before St. Jean d'Acre, where we learned that
Djezzar had cut off the head of our envoy, Mailly-de-Chateau-Renaud, and
thrown his body into the sea in a sack. This cruel pasha was guilty of a
great number of similar executions. The waves frequently drove dead
bodies towards the coast, and we came upon them whilst bathing.
The details: of the siege of Acre are well known. Although surrounded by
a wall, flanked with strong towers, and having, besides, a broad-and deep
ditch defended by works this little fortress did not appear likely to
hold out against French valour and the skill of our corps of engineers
and artillery; but the ease and rapidity with which Jaffa had been taken
occasioned us to overlook in some degree the comparative strength of the
two places, and the difference of their respective situations. At Jaffa
we had sufficient artillery: at St. Jean d'Acre we had not. At Jaffa we
had to deal only with a garrison left to itself: at St. Jean d'Acre we
were opposed by a garrison strengthened by reinforcements of men and
supplies of provisions, supported by the English fleet, and assisted by
European Science. Sir Sidney Smith was, beyond doubt, the man who did us
the greatest injury.
--[Sir Sidney Smith was the only Englishman besides the Duke of
Wellington who defeated Napoleon in military operations. The third
Englishman opposed to him, Sir John Moore, was compelled to make a
precipitate retreat through the weakness of his force]--
Much has been said respecting his communications with the General-in-
Chief. The reproaches which the latter cast upon him for endeavouring to
seduce the soldiers and officers of the army by tempting offers were the
more singular, even if they were well founded, inasmuch as these means
are frequently employed by leaders in war.
--[At one time the French General was so disturbed by them as to
endeavour to put a stop to them; which object he effected by
interdicting all communication with the English, and signifying, in
an order of the day, that their Commodore was a madman. This, being
believed in the army, so enraged Sir Sidney Smith, that in his wrath
he sent a challenge to Napoleon. The latter replied, that he had
too many weighty affairs on his hands to trouble himself in so
trifling a matter. Had it, indeed, been the great Marlborough, it
might have been worthy his attention. Still, if the English sailor
was absolutely bent upon fighting, he would send him a bravo from
the army, and show them a smell portion of neutral ground, where the
mad Commodore might land, and satisfy his humour to the full.--
(Editor of 1836 edition.)]--
As to the embarking of French prisoners on board a vessel in which the
plague existed, the improbability of the circumstance alone, but
especially the notorious facts of the case, repell this odious
accusation. I observed the conduct of Sir Sidney Smith closely at the
time, and I remarked in him a chivalric spirit, which sometimes hurried
him into trifling eccentricities; but I affirm that his behaviour towards
the French was that of a gallant enemy. I have seen many letters, in
which the writers informed him that they "were very sensible of the good
treatment which the French experienced when they fell into his hands."
Let any one examine Sir Sidney's conduct before the capitulation of El-
Arish, and after its rupture, and then they can judge of his character.
--[Napoleon, when at St. Helena, in speaking of the siege of Acre,
said,--Sidney Smith is a brave officer. He displayed considerable
ability in the treaty for the evacuation of Egypt by the French. He
took advantage of the discontent which he found to prevail amongst
the French troops at being so long away from France, and other
circumstances. He manifested great honour in sending immediately to
Kleber the refusal of Lord Keith to ratify the treaty, which saved
the French army; if he had kept it a secret seven or eight days
longer, Cairo would have been given up to the Turks, and the French
army necessarily obliged to surrender to the English. He also
showed great humanity and honour in all his proceedings towards the
French who felt into his hands. He landed at Havre, for some
'sotttice' of a bet he had made, according to some, to go to the
theatre; others said it was for espionage; however that may be, he
was arrested and confined in the Temple as a spy; and at one time it
was intended to try and execute him. Shortly after I returned from
Italy he wrote to me from his prison, to request that I would
intercede for him; but, under the circumstances in which he was
taken, I could do nothing for him. He is active, intelligent,
intriguing, and indefatigable; but I believe that he is 'mezzo
"The chief cause of the failure at Acre was, that he took all my
battering train, which was on board of several small vessels.
Had it not been for that, I would have taken Acre in spite of him.
He behaved very bravely, and was well seconded by Phillipeaux, a
Frenchman of talent, who had studied with me as an engineer. There
was a Major Douglas also, who behaved very gallantly. The
acquisition of five or six hundred seamen as gunners was a great
advantage to the Turks, whose spirits they revived, and whom they
showed how to defend the fortress. But he committed a great fault
in making sorties, which cost the lives of two or three hundred
brave fellows without the possibility of success. For it was
impossible he could succeed against the number of the French who
were before Acre. I would lay a wage that he lost half of his crew
in them. He dispersed Proclamations amongst my troops, which
certainly shook some of them, and I in consequence published an
order, stating that he was read, and forbidding all communication
with him. Some days after he sent, by means of a flag of truce,
a lieutenant or a midshipman with a letter containing a challenge to
me to meet him at some place he pointed out in order to fight a
duel. I laughed at this, sad sent him back an intimation that when
he brought Marlborough to fight me I would meet him. Not,
withstanding this, I like the character of the man." (Voices from
St. Helena, vol. 4, p. 208).]--
All our manoeuvres, our works, and attacks were made with that levity and
carelessness which over-confidence inspires. Kleber, whilst walking with
me one day in the lines of our camp, frequently expressed his surprise
and discontent. "The trenches," said, he, "do not come up to my knees."
Besieging artillery was, of necessity, required: we commenced with field
artillery. This encouraged the besieged, who perceived the weakness of
our resources. The besieging artillery, consisting only of three twenty-
four pounders and six, eighteen pounders, was not brought up until the
end of April, and before that period threw assaults had taken place with
very serious loss. On the 4th of May our powder began to fail us. This
cruel event obliged us to slacken our fire. We also wanted shot; and an
order of the day fixed a price to be given for all balls, according to
their calibre, which might be picked up after being fired from the
fortress or the two ships of the line, the 'Tiger' and 'Theseus', which
were stationed on each side of the harbour: These two vessels embarrassed
the communication, between the camp and the trenches; but though they
made much noise, they did little harm. A ball from one of them; killed
an officer on the evening the siege was raised.
The enemy had within the walls some excellent riflemen, chiefly
Albanians. They placed stones, one over the other, on the walls, put
their firearms through the interstices, and thus, completely sheltered,
fired with destructive precision.
On the 9th of April General Caffarelli, so well known for his courage and
talents, was passing through the trench, his hand resting as he stooped
on his hip, to preserve the equilibrium which his wooden leg, impaired;
his elbow only was raised above the trench. He was warned that the
enemy's shot, fired close upon us did not miss the smallest object.
He paid no attention to any observation of this kind, and in a few
instants his elbow joint was fractured. Amputation of the arm was judged
indispensable. The General survived the operation eighteen days.
Bonaparte went regularly twice a day to his tent. By his order, added to
my friendship for Caffarelli, I scarcely ever quitted him. Shortly
before he expired he said to me, "My dear Bourrienne, be so good as to
read to me Voltaire's preface to 'Esprit des Lois'." When I returned to
the tent of the General-in-Chief he asked, "How is Caffarelli?" I
replied, "He is near his end; but he asked me to read him Voltaire's
preface to the 'Esprit de Lois', he has just fallen asleep." Bonaparte
said, "Bah! to wish to hear that preface? how singular!" He went to see
Caffarelli, but he was still asleep. I returned to him that evening and
received his last breath. He died with the utmost composure. His death.
was equally regretted by the soldiers and the men of science, who
accompanied us. It was a just regret due to that distinguished man, in