Monday, December 10, 2007

General Describes Deteriorating Condition of the Army

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. 3, pp. 95-99.




Head Quarters, Cairo, October 11, 1799.

DAMAS(1), General of Division, Chief of the Staff, General of the Army, to the MINISTER OF WAR.

I HAVE the honour of transmitting you, Citizen Minister, the Proclamation of General Bonaparte to the army on taking leave of it; and that of General Kleber on taking upon him the Command in Chief:

Also the orders of the day, and the four numbers of the Courier d’Egypte, which have appeared since that period:

The list of the general, staff, and commissioned officers of the different corps, who have died, up to this day:

The list of the promotions which Kleber, the Commander in Chief, has judged it indispensable to make for the good of the service.

The list of the general, staff, and commissioned officers of the different corps, who have died, up to this day:

The list of the promotions which Kleber, the Commander in Chief, has judged it indispensable to make for the good of the service. You will feel yourself the necessity of it in comparing those two lifts(2).

I entreat you, Citizen Minister, to request the Executive Directory to confirm these promotions, and to transmit me the definitive nominations.

I cannot send you a detailed estimate of the general situation of the army at present; because, when I took upon me the function of Chief of the Staff, I was not able to find the particular estimates from which it must necessarily be formed. I hope to be enabled to transmit it by the first courier.

It is also out of my power, at this moment, to collect those of the various corps of the army, scattered as they are over so prodigious an extent of country as that which we have to defend; and of whom the greater number are, besides, incessantly occupied in pursuing the Arabs, or in combating the wandering Beys and their partisans, whose numbers rapidly increase the instant we allow them a moment’s respite.

You may judge of the feeble state of the army, by its prodigious reduction since this time last year.

The number of effective men on the 22d of September 1798 was above 33,000(3); it is at present reduced below 22,000: from these must be taken 2000 sick and wounded, who are absolutely incapable of any duty whatever; besides 4000 utterly unable to take the field, or enter upon any active service. Most of these, though wounded, or labouring under diseases of the eyes, prefer staying at their quarters, to exposing themselves to the epidemic complaints which hospitals but too frequently generate in this country.

It results from this comparative statement, that the effective strength of the army is reduced a third within the last twelve months, and the actual number of those under arms decreased a full half.

The 16,000 men (comprising the forces of every description) which compose the army, are dispersed over a surface of country comprised within a triangle, of which the base extends from Marabout(4) to El Arisch, a line of near two hundred leagues, which is also the length of its two sides, of which that from El Arisch reaches beyond the first Cataracts (which may be considered as its apex), and the other from the Cataracts again to Marabout.

Experience fully proves, Citizen Minister, at this instant, that when the garrisons indispensably necessary for the security of the fortresses and the provinces are deducted form the number of men capable of bearing arms, it will be impossible to collect a force of 7000 men at any one point, to oppose the efforts of an enemy which menaces us with an irruption on every side.

I presume that the Commander in Chief, when writing to the Executive Directory, gave them more circumstantial information respecting the situation of the army, and every part of the colony.

Health and respect.



[British Translators' Notes]

(1)Damas has already appeared in the First Part of the Intercepted Correspondence. See his letter (p. 76), and what is there said of him. Though there seem to be a great degree intimacy between him and Kleber, yet he probably owes his advancement to the head of the Staff no less to his own merit than to the kindness of the Commander in Chief. He is, indeed, a very excellent officer.

(2)It has been judged proper to omit them both—the necessity of Kleber’s promotions is but too apparent form his own letter.

(3)In estimating the army that disembarked in Egypt as 42,000 (see the Second Part of the Intercepted Correspondence, p. 196), it is evident that no deception was practiced, no turn for exaggeration indulged. Even after the storming, as it is called, of Alexandria, a place so strong, that, according to Sonnini, the jackals used to leap in and out every night through the breaches in the walls, the numbers lost in crossing the Desert of the Nile, the bloody engagement on that river, and the numerous skirmishes which Bonaparte has dignified with the name of the Battles of the Pyramids, &c. &c. it appears that the effective force of the French still consisted of 33,000 men; a calculation that leave a deficit of 9000 for the sick (who appear, from Duval’s letter, Part I. P. 176, to be very numerous), the killed, and the wounded, in the short space of fifteen weeks! It is probable that none of Bonaparte’s admirers will be intrepid enough to deny this loss. But then, they will say, he acquired possession of the country by it. This may be granted them in their turn; and then it will only remain to inquire whether the loss of the 33,000 men that were left, and which is sure to be sustained in the evacuation of it, will not rather overbalance that boasted advantage?

(4)A small bay, a little to the south-west of Alexandria, where the French first landed.

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