Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Officer Descibres Desperate Situation 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. 3, pp. 156-160



Cairo, October 13, 1799.

DOGUA(1), General of Division, to Citizen BARRAS, Director.

Citizen Director,

I HAVE written several letters to you since the arrival of the army in Egypt; I know not if any of them have reached you; very few private letters have arrived at the place of their destination(2).

I mentioned to you, in some of these letters, that I was exceedingly anxious to return to France; but this anxiety was subordinate to the desire of returning there in a flattering manner, and not with an air of having quitted the army through disgust or fickleness; or through fear, either of the plague, or of the numerous enemies, Ruffians, English, Turks, Arabs, and Mameloucs, which threaten Egypt in four or five different points—Alexandria, El Arisch, the Red Sea, and the Desert.

I seize the opportunity of your cousin’s return, to give you a few details respecting our actually situation, which, perhaps, has not yet been set before you in its true light. I had the command of two thirds of Egypt during the expeditions of Syria and Aboukir. I KNOW its produce, its resources, the strength of the places, which some people call fortresses, the roads by which they may be avoided, the disposition of the inhabitants, the state of the army, of the arsenals and the magazines, and the finances. I am about to present you with a rapid sketch of all these various objects; and you will then be enabled to judge if it be not absolutely indispensable for Government to come to our immediate assistance.

I shall say but little to you on the departure of the General. It was only communicated to those who were to accompany him. It was precipitated. The army was thirteen days without a Commander in Chief. There was not a sous in any of the military chests; no part of the service arranged; the enemy scarce retired from Aboukir was still before Damietta. Such was our situation at Cairo from the 18th of August to the 30th.

I confess to you, Citizen Director, that I could never have believed General Bonaparte would have abandoned us in the condition in which we were; without money, without powder, without ball, and one part of the soldiers without arms. Alexandria is a vast intrenched camp, which the expedition into Syria has deprived of a considerable portion of the heavy artillery necessary for its defence. Lesbe, near Damietta, is scarcely walled in; part of the wall of El Arisch is tumbling of itself. Debts to an enormous amount; more than a third of the army destroyed by the plague, the dysentery, by opthalmia, and by the war; that which remains almost naked, and the enemy but eight days march from us! Whatever may be told you at Paris, this description is but too true. You know me to be incapable of imposing on you by a false one.

A numerous army is assembling in Syria; fleets of which we know not the strength, threaten our coasts, which we know to be accessible in many places. The Commander in Chief cannot bring together more than 7000 fighting men; the enemy have it in their power to make three separate attacks at the same time—what can 7000 men (and those necessarily divided) hope to do?

We have against us the Mussulman fanaticism, which cannot be softened or diminished; the idea of a Christian government is a real torment for the people. The severest examples do not prevent the country people from rising against us at least report to our disadvantage, or at the most insignificant sirman dispersed against us.

The country, however, is very fine; the possession of it may be useful to the Republic in many points of view. The productions of every quarter of the globe may be raised here. If these advantages determine the Government to exert itself to preserve Egypt, there is not a moment to lose; men, arms, powder, lead, cannon-balls, &c. &c. must be sent us without the smallest delay.

If the Government cannot succour us, if it cannot appease the Ottoman Court, and recall it to its true interests; if, in short, we are abandoned here to ourselves, compelled to continue fighting, one against ten, to struggle with the most cruel maladies, all that France will ever see again of the “Army of Egypt,” will be the maimed and the blind, if the Turks should have the humanity to send them back. The rest will perish here, exhausted by their fatigues and their victories!

I repeat my solemn assurances, Citizen Director, that what you have just read is the most exact truth. A thousand reasons may have prevented its being hitherto fairly laid before you. I have done it, because I persuade myself that I could not have given you a more convincing proof of my sincere attachment; and because I owe these details of the “Army of Egypt” to the Government and to my country.

Health and respect.



[British Translators' Notes]

(1)Though last not least. If there be yet any doubts of the falsehood, incompetence, and unfeeling barbarity of Bonaparte, this excellent letter must effectually remove them. It is written by an officer high in command, confident in his knowledge, and appealing without hesitation to his established character for the credit of facts which Bonaparte will now find it impossible to palliate or deny.

(2)This alludes to a circumstance frequently hinted at in the course of this Correspondence. A very general persuasion prevailed in the army, that the letters of individuals were examined by Bonaparte’s orders; and, if found hostile to his views, kept back and destroyed.

A suspicion of this nature can neither be proved nor disproved here; indeed it so happens, that it is of no consequence either way, since the belief that he was capable of such a crime does him as little honour as the actual commission of it.

For the rest, it is needless to call the reader’s attention to slight remarks from the perusal of this most important document. It contradicts the General’s statements in every point, and that with a boldness derived from superior knowledge and truth: it arraigns the base and cowardly desertion of his army in terms strong and manly indignation; and it speaks of the sufferings and despair of that deserted army in a manner that, if there be one spark of feeling, one sentiment of honour yet left in France, will produce a cry of universal indignation and horror, and drive the “IDOL OF A FORTNIGHT” from his imaginary throne.

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