Wednesday, October 31, 2007

French Captain Chronicles Arrival in Egypt

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. 1, pp. 96-98.


Head Quarters, Cairo, July 27.

Dear Mother,

I TAKE the earliest opportunity of acquainting you with the arrival of the French army, in which I have the honour to serve, at Alexandria in Egypt. On our passage we took possession of the island, port, and city of Malta, which is 1100 leagues from Toulon; and now we are at Grand Cairo, the capital city of Egypt, which is 1000 leagues from France(1).

I suffered a vast deal during two months that our voyage lasted. During the whole time, I was sea-sick, without intermission, and brought up blood all day long. When we set foot upon land, however, under the walls of Alexandria, I was cured of my sea-sickness, but my sufferings were by no means at an end.

We lost 300 men in scaling the ramparts of the city. After a halt of four days, we set out in pursuit of the Arabs, who had retreated and encamped in the Desert: but the first night of our march was a very terrible one for me. I was with the advanced guard: we came suddenly upon a corps of the enemy’s cavalry; and my horse, which you know was always a very hot one, was the unfortunate cause of all my trouble. He sprung forward like a lion, upon the horses and horsemen of the enemy; but unluckily, in rearing, he fell quite backwards, and to avoid being crushed to death, I was obliged to fling myself on one side of him. As it was night, I had not time to seize him again: he got up, and set off like lightning after the enemy’s cavalry, which was quitting the field.

I had put on all my old clothes, for the sake of preserving my new ones, which were packed up in my portmanteau; so that I lost my horse completely bridled and saddled, my pistols, my cloak, my portmanteau, every thing that was in it, my clothes, twenty-four louis d’ors which I received at Marseilles to fit me out; and, what is still worse, my port-folio, which contained all my papers.

Thus I found myself in an instant stript of every thing, and obliged to march barefoot for nineteen days on the burning sand and gravel of the Desert; for the very day after this unhappy affair, I lost the soles of my old boots which I happened to have on my legs: my coat and my old breeches were very soon torn to a thousand tatters:--not having a bit of bread to eat, nor a drop of water to moisten my mouth, all the comfort I had was in cursing and damning the trade of war, more than hundred times a day.

At last, on the 22d of this month, we arrived at the gates of Cairo, where all the enemy’s army was intrenched, and waiting for us with great boldness; but without our usual impetuosity we marched to attack them in their intrenchments; in about three quarters of an hour, they had 3000 killed outright; the rest not being able to save themselves, plunged into the Nile, which is a river as large as the Rhine—consequently they were all drowned, or shot under water. After such a victory, we entered, with drums beating, into the city of Cairo; consequently masters of all Egypt.

I do not know, my dear mother, when I shall have the pleasure of seeing you. I repent much and much of ever coming here; but it is now too late: in a word, I resign myself to the Supreme will. In spite of the seas which separate us, your memory will be always graven on my heart, and the moment circumstances permit, I will break through all obstacles to return to my country.

Adieu—take care of yourself—a thousand things to my relations.

Your son,



[British Translators' Notes]

(1)The French are poor geographers in general, but the ridiculous miscalculations above, is probably a mistake; it is, however, correctly translated. We have several other letters from this unhappy youth, from which it appears that he is a Captain in the 25th half-Brigade. As he afterwards relates that the enemy’s cavalry were all killed or taken, we hope we may congratulate him on the recovery of his charger, and his new clothes.

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