Monday, October 22, 2007

General Describes Battle with Mameloucs

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. 48-51.


Gizeh, July 24.

EMMANUEL PERRE’E, General of Division, to Vice Admiral BRUEYS, Commander in Chief of the Naval Force stationed before Alexandria.

Citizen General,

SINCE our separation, I have lost no opportunity of recalling to the mind of the Commander in Chief, the situation in which I left you. He takes a lively interest in it, and has seized the first opportunity which offered, of sending you 58 vessels laden with different articles.

As for us, our position has not been the most agreeable since we parted. On the 13th of July we fell in with the enemy’s army, at break of day. I had then with me 3 gun boats, the galley, and the Cerf. The enemy had 7 gun boats, carrying from 24 to 36 pounders. The action began at nine; two of my gun boats, and the galley were run on shore, and quitted by the crews, on account of the terrible fire which the enemy opened upon us from their boats, and from the banks of the river.

The enemy were already in possession of them, but the brisk fire from the Cerf, and the remaining gun boats obliged them to abandon their prey.

I sunk the vessel which carried their flag; confusion immediately took place, and they had only time to make their escape. Had not three of my best vessels been obliged to give way, I should certainly have destroyed the whole of their flotilla(1).

I had twenty of my men wounded and several killed. A ball struck my sword out of my hand, and carried away a piece of my left arm. I do not think, however, that it will be attended with any bad consequences; indeed, it is already nearly well.

I cannot describe to you what we suffered in this expedition. We were reduced for several days to subsist entirely on water-melons; during which we were constantly exposed to the fire of the Arabs, although, with the exception of a few killed and wounded, we always came off victorious.

The Nile is very far from answering the description I had received of it. It winds incessantly, and is withal so shallow, that I was compelled to leave the chebeck, the galley, and two of my gun boats, thirteen leagues below Cairo, which I reached yesterday evening.

The little time I have to spare prevents me from entering into farther particulars. Our army has had a smart action with the Mamelouks, who lost more than 1200 men. Our loss is very trifling; it amounts, I understand, to about 20 killed, and 150 wounded.

Health and respect.


P.S. Pray send me immediately five or six intelligent officers, and about forty men. You will oblige me very much, as well as the Commander in Chief.


[British Translators' Notes]

(1)This is admirable. Had he not been beaten and lost half his fleet, he would have been victorious! The plan truth, however, appears from several letters, particularly from one of Adjutant General Boyer’s (see No. XXII.), who commanded the land forces on board, is, that he was defeated, and only saved from absolute destruction by the appearance of the van of the army. Notwithstanding this foolish gasconade, General Perree seems to be a man of courage and abilities.

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