Wednesday, September 26, 2007

French Forced to Flee from Mameloucs

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. 155-157


Cairo, the Capital of Egypt, in Africa, (29 Thermidor), August 16th.

DUMAS, Brigadier of the Company No. I, to the female Citizen DUMAS.

Dear Mother,

THIS comes to inform you of the state of my situation(1), which is far from being of the best.—We are in a country extremely hot, where we find no wine, and what is more, no bread (if we had not built ovens for ourselves), except a wretched kind of flat cake, which we cannot eat; and on which the natives of the country subsist.

I must inform you, that it is a full seventeen years since any rain fell in this country. Egypt would be quite uninhabitable, if it were not for the Nile, which is the name of the river that overflows annually, and waters all this immense country. The plague is very common here; the people are barbarians: their God is Mahomet [Muhammad]—they know no others!!! In this city there are sixty thousand Christians:the whole of its inhabitants are reckoned at a million; they are very tranquil, and appear mighty fond of the French.

We marched five days without meeting the enemy. When we reached the Nile, we found an armed flotilla which had detached from our squadron; and on which a great number of dismounted cavalry (of which I was one), immediately embarked: this was on the 12th of July. General Bonaparte ordered the commander to move forward, so as to precede the army; which we did.

The 13th, at five in the morning, we perceived the enemy, to the number of ten thousand, all mounted; marching along the left bank of the Nile, and supported by five gun-boats, which followed their movements. At six the action began. After a contest of four hours, the five gun-boats, which had kept up a terrible fire on our flotilla, boarded us. We were obliged to abandon our vessels, and flee to that part of the bank where the enemy had the fewest troops. About half an hour after, our land forces came up, and drove them back. We then recovered our vessels, and victory declared in our favour!!!

From thence we marched to the neighbourhood of Cairo, where we had a very bloody battle, in which the Mameloucs [Mamluks] lost three thousand men, and we did not loose fifty—a thing which it will be rather difficult for you to believe! Another extraordinary circumstance! We are masters of all Lower Egypt. IT IS STRONGLY REPORTED THAT WE SHALL RETURN TO FRANCE IN A FEW DAYS.

Adieu, dear mother, grandmother, sisters, and brother-in-law. I conclude with embracing you all with the utmost tenderness.



[British Translators' Notes]

(1)We should apologize for troubling the reader with the correspondence of Brigadier Dumas, were it not that his letter, absurd as it is in other respects, gives the fullest account of the defeat of the French flotilla on the Nile, which has yet come to our hands. There is no doubt of the fact, for Dumas could have no temptation, even though he might have the ability (which, poor man! Was far from being the case), to describe a defeat that never happened; and, besides, as we have already remarked, it is the only possible way of accounting for the loss of the officers’ baggage.

There is yet another circumstance in this letter worth mentioning; and that is, the report spread in the army of a speedy return to France. Since it had reached Dumas it must have been very general, for we do not give him credit for much active inquiry; and, in this case, it strikes us as a matter of singular importance.

Unlike Italy in every respect, Egypt presented no temptations to the cupidity and licentiousness of the troops, and the idea of a longer residence in it was therefore become intolerable to them. To allay this impatience, the General seems to have thrown out a hope of their leaving the country;--an expedient which, with all due deference to his judgment, we conceive to be as dangerous as it was wicked: for as it neither could, nor was ever meant to be realized, it must, in the event, have exasperated the feeling it was intended to remove.

To this letter is subjoined a short note to a Mons. Sarrauson, whom Dumas terms his honoured Comcitoyen. The note itself is nothing; but it concludes with a trait of minute politeness well worth preserving. Dumas had begun on what we should call the wrong side of the paper, and—but take it in his own words, “Excusez, si j’ai mial tourne la feuille, un peu de distraction en est la cause!”

Blog Editor's Note: This was an account of the Nile river battle of Shubrakhit (Chubrakhit, Chebreisse), by General Thomas-Alexandre Dumas, who later fathered the author of the Count of Monte Cristo. The Dumas adventure novels of Dumas Pere were influenced by his own father's exploits in the Napoleonic period, though he would only have known them second hand. Gen. Dumas did not get along with Bonaparte and requested permission to return to France after only a few months, which was granted.

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