Sunday, October 28, 2007

French Commissary Demands Provisions of Wine, Brandy, Rum

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. 83-88.


Grand Cairo, July 27.

GENERAL Desaix enjoins me, my dear Douzelot, to request thee not to forget his baggage; and we are persuaded that it is unnecessary to put thee in mind of our own. We look for it as anxiously as for the coming of the Messiah—leave nothing behind, positively nothing.

Belonging to General Desaix.

4 Trunks.
1 Portmanteau.
1 Forme(1) with curtains, and a small box.
1 Writing desk.
2 Mattresses, 1 white coverlet, 1 pair of sheets.
1 Horse cloth, 1 chaise seat, and a chaise on board the transport, No. 54.
16 Deal cases, marked with the General’s name, containing wine.
1 Tun pitched at both ends, and containing wine.
1 Barrel of vinegar.
5 Bottles of wine in a coffer in Citizen Le Roi’s closet.

All which you will find in the bread-room of the ship.

To Clement.

1 Trunk—his direction is on it.
1 Portmanteau, and his hammock.

To Rap.

1 Large leather case, 1 trunk, and his hammock.

To Savary

1 Black square trunk.
1 Ditto, long.
1 Blue portmanteau.
1 Case containing saddles—it is a flat square one, and shuts with a lock.

[Sick or not, I must have my servant]

My hammock if possible, and if not, my mattress, my coverlet, my sheets, and my bolster.

It thou hast an opportunity of purchasing a few bottles of good rum, do it.

We have no cook here; if thou can’st find one, bring him with thee.

Tell thy servant to go on board the transport where the horses are, and fetch Joli-coeur’s baggage; tell him too, to ask Citizen Martin, quarter-master of the 20th dragoons, for the portmanteau of the dragoon.

Alex. Timber, who is with me at present, and looks after my horse.

If thou find’st any difficulty in embarking Desaix’s carriage, the General wishes thee to take it on shore, have it put together, and then lay it up in some safe place in Alexandria.

Thy brother charges me to tell thee to bring every thing that belongs to him, as well as to thyself, and to forget nothing—positively nothing.

Do not forget Bourdon’s things.

If thou can’st not embark thy horse, sell him, or turn him over to the artillery, and take receipt for him. We will find thee one here; thy brother has three.

We wish thee to pay a little attention to what follows: In crossing the Desert one night, we had our quarters beat up, and during the confusion, lost a mare of General Desaix’s, saddled and bridled (of the 7th hussars), thy brother’s two horses, my own, saddled (of the 20th dragoons), a black mare, one of Rap’s (of the 7th hussars), and one of Clement’s, dock-tailed; they all galloped off, and, as we hear, were stopped at Rosetta, and sent to the depot of the artillery. If thou canst discover them in passing that way, take receipts for them, and we shall be paid the money here.

I write what follows, at the request, and, indeed, in the words of thy brother; “We live here more wretchedly than ever we lived in our lives; we have not one drop of wine, nor even brandy.” Thy brother intreats thee to take measures for bringing on shore as much of both as possible (not less than a tun of each) from the transports of Civita Vecchia. Remember to get all though canst from Collasse(2).

Do not forget; wine, brandy, and rum; it is an age since we have been in the utmost need of them all. There is very little here, and that little is extremely bad, above all price, and not to be procured.

Another thing which thou art desired to do, is to embark the packages of shoes and shirts for the division, as well as the baggage of General Desaix. The men are absolutely without either, and we fear they will be given to others.

If thou art in want of money, take some of mine, and set it down.

Adieu; we expect thee; do the best thou canst; above all, do not forget that we shall have no wine nor brandy but what thou bringest with thee; remember too, that of the sixteen deal cases, fourteen belong to General Bonaparte. In the name of God, bring us our baggage and our brandy; the whole army is ill of a diarrhea, with drinking water. In the name of God, WINE, BRANDY, AND RUM(3). Don’t forget the baggage of General Beliard; leave nothing at Alexandria, at least as little as possible: as for Miereur(4), thou knowst that he is killed.



We are going to send you sixty of the country barks; there is possibility of your finding some tartans at Alexandria, in that case I would have you endeavour to come in one of them. Bring my servant with you, sick or well; I will cure him here.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1) Kind of settee, or stuffed cushion, to sleep on.

(2) Commissary at war, and superintendant of the port, & of Alexandria.

(3) Anxiety cannot be expressed in stronger words than these before us; it marks the distresses to which the French were reduced, and the urgent want of those indispensable articles of health and convenience which were left at Alexandria, in the most striking manner.

It is proper in this place, to inform such of our readers as may not be well acquainted with the topical history of Egypt, that Alexandria, where all the baggage and all the stores were left when the army marched to Cairo, is situated in the Desert, properly speaking, and has no communication whatever with Egypt (at least in its present circumstances) but by that branch of the Nile which throws itself into the sea below Rosetta.

It follows, therefore, that while the coast is in our possession (which it now completely is, by the glorious victory of the first of August), nothing of consequence can pass; and the correspondence between the two parts of the French army (that of Alexandria and that of Cairo) is nearly as impracticable (at least as to any purpose of relief) as if the Atlantic rolled between them.

An army, indeed, might cross the Deserts, as Bonaparte’s did, but the French have not now any armies to spare; and if they had, it is not sure that they would attempt it, after the experience they have had of its difficulties and dangers. And even if they should, nothing would be gained by it, for they could carry nothing with them; no, not a day’s provisions, and if they ever reached Cairo, it would be only to perish under the same wants as those who preceded them.

One word more—it appears from some of these letters, that the transports and troops at Alexandria were in the greatest need of water and provisions; the latter, Bonaparte was sending them from Cairo, in sixty schermes, or country boats, which, when the latest of these dispatches were made up, had not reached Rosetta; and most certainly will never get to Alexandria.

What the wants of the grand army at Cairo are, our readers have seen: we will take upon us confidently to predict, that they will never be supplied; for if the little skiff that was creeping along shore to Alexandria with these letters, could not escape the vigilance of our indefatigable tars, how can larger vessels hope to do it? Add to this, that the mouth of the Nile is exceedingly difficult to be passed, on account of the surf that always prevails upon the bar, and asks a thousand precautions which can only be taken in a time of full security.

What the effect of this want of communication may be at Alexandria, we know not; at Cairo it must be dreadful. “In the name of God,” says Savary, “bring us our brandy and our rum, for the whole army is ill of a diarrhea.” Observe, this is the army which Bonaparte and Berthier represent, in their official dispatches, as in perfect health! We want no better test of their veracity!

(4)”Mireur,” says Bonaparte, in his official letter to the Directory, dated July 24th, “and several other aid-du-camps, and officers of the staff, have been killed by these wretches” (the Arabs, who, if killing makes them wretches, are certainly not greater wretches than the French; some people may think not so great); “the Republic has sustained a loss in Mireur; he was “the Bravest General I ever knew;” and then follows some impious rant about destiny, &c. We gather from the correspondence, that the army are all turned decided fatalists. We do not wonder at it, for, if we must speak our minds, we will venture to pronounce, that prudence or forecast had very little to do with the expedition.

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