Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Officer Discusses "Conversions" of Local Tribes

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. 192-196.


Head Quarters, Rosetta, Aug. 4.

Aid-de-Camp LOYER, to Citizen KLEBER, General of Division.

My General,

I ARRIVED here yesterday morning at 7 o’clock, without any accident: instead of following the rest of the flotilla, we took a good offing—which answered extremely well. About two in the morning we were in sight of an English frigate(1), who certainly did not perceive us, or, at least, did not condescend to take any notice of us.

General Menou had not yet been informed of our unhappy disasters. He expressed a great deal of uneasiness to me for the fate of a convoy of light artillery, consisting of 11 pieces, with carriages, sponges, &c. and a prodigious quantity of musquet cartridges.

Many days have already elapsed since this convoy was dispatched from Alexandria. Not being able to get over the bar of the Nile, it had come to anchor at Aboukir, where every thing was to be put on board the light vessels of the country. Nothing, however, has yet been disembarked of all this cannon, ammunition, &c. except two eight-pounders. The rest is exposed to the seizure of the enemy, if it is not already in their possession. Citizen Dumanoir can give you some information on the subject: a detachment of troops may not yet be too late, perhaps, to preserve a convoy so necessary to the service.

I cannot conceive what motive could induce Admiral Brueys to set the Cheriff(2) at liberty, the night of the engagement. I took it for granted that he had been some how or other released by that event—but no such thing: he was sent here, I find, and had been walking about the town for several hours, during the absence of General Menou: on his return, however, the General sent him on board an advice boat, where he remains in custody. I am very sorry that you did not furnish me with the whole of your correspondence, that I might have laid before the Commander in Chief, the more than suspicious conduct of this Cheriff. As I am acquainted, however, with the principal reasons which induced you to remove him from Alexandria, I will mention them to General Bonaparte.

Our communications by the Nile are not yet quite safe. General Menou is arming an advice boat to take me to Cairo. I should have set out to day, but for the news from the army which has just reached him. An Adjutant General is this moment arrived from Cairo: he brings an official detail of the march of our army, and of the combats it has sustained; orders to some of the troops here to join without delay, and systems of organization for the country. For the rest, all is tranquil. Your division is at Boulac. The chief of battalion, Goyne of the 25th, tells me that it is far from being pleased with your(3) r----, and that it regrets exceedingly that you are not at its head.

The divisions of Desaix and Bon are the only ones that seem to have been in action. You see from the dispatches that our loss is trifling.

General Menou is about a treaty of pacification, and even of alliance with some of the Chiefs of the tribes. He has hopes of bringing over the tribe from which General Damas suffered so much. One of the subordinate chiefs has already made peace, and had a place of encampment assigned him. He has just been here to know the General’s pleasure—would to Heaven these conversions may increase(4)!

To-morrow morning I shall set out with the Cheriff, and a great number of our people, who are quartered here. It will take us four days to reach Cairo, and perhaps as many to return, on account of the winds. Do not, therefore, look for me, my dear General, in less than ten or twelve days(5). I will use all possible diligence to rejoin you speedily. I hope to be the bearer of good news—news which will remove you from Alexandria and its deserts, to the banks of the Nile—the Elysium of Egypt.

Your devoted Aid-de-Camp,


The official dispatches of the marine on the calamitous event of the 2d, have just been remitted to General Menou. I shall take them with me.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)this is incorrect. Lord Nelson had no frigate with him at this time; nor, indeed, till two or three days afterwards.

(2)Of this Cheriff we find the following account in a letter from Alexandria. “Bonaparte endeavoured to gain the confidence and friendship of the Cheriff; he decorated him with the tri-coloured scarf, and in every instance paid him the most distinguished attention. The Cheriff, laying his hand on his breast, took Allah to witness that he would be grateful. But General Kleber soon found that the traitor maintained a secret correspondence with the Mameloucs. He therefore ordered him into confinement on board the L’Orient; from whence he was put on shore a little before the catastrophe.”

The meaning of all this is—that Brueys, who was not in the secret, thought the innocence of this man a sufficient reason for setting him at liberty. We sincerely wish that the rest—(the children of the most respectable families, who were barbarously torn from their parents, as hostages, by the unfeeling Bonaparte—“Bonaparte exigea pour otages, les enfans les plus apparens du pays”—is the expression of the letter)—may have been dismissed at the same time: but we fear they all perished in the explosion of the L’Orient.

For the rest; this letter confirms the account of the horrid massacre mentioned by Boyer (No. XXII.) “Tout ce qui resistoit a mordu la poussiere, et nos soldats brulant de venger la mort de leurs compagnons d’armes, ONT IMPITOYABLEMENT PASSE AU FIL DE L’EPEE, LES RESTES DES TURCS QUI S’ETOIENT REFUGIES DANS UNE MOSQUEE.”

(3)Representative. He means Dugua.—See Damas’s letter to Kleber, p. 78.

(4)Drowning men will catch at straws. We do not, therefore, wonder to see the sensible Loyer flattering himself with the hopes of advantages to be derived from the “conversions” of the Arabs, notwithstanding he must have seen their fallaciousness. Bonaparte had some time before, not only converted, but even associated thousands of them to his army; so, at least, he says, and so all France repeats after him. And what were the important advantages derived from it? Hatred, and immediate desertion.—In short, (for we are unwilling to dwell on a subject so obvious to every man of common information) every hope of maintaining an alliance with such a people, is more absurd than the day-dreams of a madman.

(5)Loyer did not come back quite so soon as he expected. It took him eleven days, only to reach Bonaparte, whom he met returning from an unsuccessful attempt to rob the caravan: for this we can confidently assure our readers, was the true purport of the General’s boasted expedition towards Syria.

He had with him, as he says himself, most of the staff officers with the divisions of Regnier, Lannes, and Dugua.—All these, however, were completely baffled, by the gallantry and skill of Ibrahim Bey, and finally compelled to retreat with great loss towards Cairo, without accomplishing any part of their object! One regiment of grenadiers was nearly cut to pieces.—So much for the conquest of Syria, so triumphantly announced, and so gravely commented upon in the opposition papers!

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