Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bonaparte Sends Orders to Admiral Stationed at Malta

From: Copies of original letters from the army of General Bonaparte in Egypt, intercepted by the fleet under the command of Admiral Lord Nelson. With an English translation (London, J. Wright, 1798-1800, 3 vols.), vol. 2, pp. 167-170.


Head Quarters, Cairo(1st Fructidor), August 18th.

BONAPARTE, Commander in Chief, to Rear Admiral VILLENEUVE, on board the Guillaume Tell, at Malta(1).

I HAVE received, Citizen General, the letter which you wrote me at sea, ten leagues from Cape Celidonia. If it were possible to find fault with you, it must be for not having put to sea immediately after the blowing up of the L'Orient; since the position which the Admiral had taken, had been forced, and completely surrounded for more than three hours by the enemy.

You have rendered in this circumstance, as well as in many others, an essential service to the Republic, by preserving a part of the fleet. The Rear Admirals, Gantheaume and Ducheyla, as well as all the sailors and soldiers of the fleet, whether wounded or not, are at Alexandria; all our prisoners having been restored.

The two ships of the line, Le Causse, and Le Dubois, are manned and armed, as are the frigates, the Junon, the Alceste, the Minion, the Carrere, and all the other Venetian frigates. You will find at Malta two sail of the line, and a frigate; and you will wait the arrival of three Venetian sail of the line, and two frigates, which are coming from Toulon. You will make every effort, and do whatever you think necessary to bring us the whole.

My plan is to unite the three vessels which we have at Ancona, and that the Corfou, with the two we have in the port of Alexandria(2), that we may be enabled, at all events, to keep the Turkish squadron in check; and then, to make an attempt to form a junction with the seven vessels which you will by this time have under you; and of which the chief concern at present, is to favour the passage of the packets, &c. which will be dispatched to us from France.

I send an order to General Vaubois to supply you with a hundred additional French troops for each ship of war: this re-inforcement will fully enable you to keep your crews in order(3); these you will raise to their full complement, by taking all the Maltese sailors you can find.

I salute you, and send you my compliments.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)On the cover of this, and the two following letters, was written, "Pacquet contenant les depeches du General en Chef, pour Malte, a etre jette a la mer en cas de renconure de l'ennemi." Packet, containing the dispatches of the Commander in Chief, for Malta, to be thrown into the sea in case of falling in with the enemy.

It is needless to add that the activity of our seamen baffled the General's precautions.

(2)The first thought that occurred to us on reading this most important letter was, that Bonaparte, in the plentitude of his occupations, had totally forgot there was such as people as the English in the world. He arranges, we see, the departure and arrival of his marine forces, with as much facility as if there were no obstacles to their movements. He condescends, indeed, to mention the Turkish squadron, which, at the time he wrote, was not at sea, but of the English squadron, which had just destroyed his own, which held him closely blocked up, and which rode in undisputed sovereignty from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, he takes not the slightest notice.

When we found in the letters of Le Pere, and others, a hope expressed that the English would return to Gibraltar, &c. we passed it over as one of those involuntary reveries in which the mind sometimes indulges, in spite of better knowledge. But now that we see the "Commander of the army of the East," not only take up the same absurd idea, but act upon it, as if it were a reality, we confess that we want language to express our astonishment.

We have frequently heard, and from very respectable authorities, that the merit of Bonaparte's Italian campaigns (such as it is) should be attributed to Berthier. A few such letters as this before us, would put the matter out of all doubt, for it is scarcely possible that a man so totally devoid of consideration, as he here appears, should ever be fit for any thing but a partizan; for a desperate conductor of a desultory war, for an active and intrepid leader of a horde of Cossacks!

(3)This looks as if there had been some mutiny on board the Guillaume Tell, subsequent to the engagement. We believe there was once a design of surrendering the ship to Lord Nelson, whether on the part of the officers, or crew, is uncertain;--this, however, we can say, that in either case it was not prevented by Villeneuve, who is totally unworthy of the praises lavished on him by Bonaparte.

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