Bonaparte’s despatches from Egypt (Part II)

Share it
What follows are excerpts translated from the collection of letters and other documents relating to the operation of the Armée d'Orient in Egypt published in June/July 1801 (pp. 75-77).

Battle of the Pyramids (continued)

After the great number of skirmishes and battles which the troops I commanded fought against numerically superior forces, I would never have expected them to show such control and sang-froid on this occasion. But it was precisely this completely new type of combat which required on their part a patience which contrasted strongly with the the usual French impetuosity. If they had let themselves go with their usual ardour, they would not have been victorious – in fact victory could only be had with the greatest sang-froid and patience.
The Mamluk cavalry showed great courage. They were fighting for their fortunes – indeed, there was not one on which our soldiers did not find three, four or five hundred gold Louis.
All their money is spent on their horses and their arms. Their houses are wretched. It would be difficult to imagine a land more fertile and a poorer, less cultivated and more primitive people. They prefer a soldier's button to a six franc ecu – in the villages they have never even seen a pair of scissors. Their houses are just a heap of mud. The only furniture they have is a straw mattress and two or three earthenware pots. In general they are very limited in what they eat and drink. They do not have mills – indeed we camped one night on huge piles of wheat but were unable to make flour. We only ate pulses and meat. What little grain they make into flour comes from mill stones. In a few villages there are some mill-stones which are turned by bulls.
We were continually harassed by bands of Arabs – Arabs are the biggest thieves in the world and the wickedest folk on the earth, who will equally kill a Turk or a Frenchman, indeed anything which comes into their hands. Brigade General Muireur and several aides-de-camp and staff officers were murdered by these wretches. They are always there, hiding behind dykes or in trenches and mounted on their excellent ponies, ready to ambush – woe to anyone who goes more than a hundred paces from the column. General Muireur, despite the remonstrations of the whole guard, wished to go alone (with that fated inevitability which I have often noticed accompanies those who have reached their last hour) to a small hill about 200 paces from the camp. There were three Bedouin behind it and they killed him. The Republic suffered a serious loss – he was one of the bravest generals I have ever known.
The Republic could not find a more perfectly adapted colony or a more fertile land than Egypt. The climate is very healthy because the nights are cool. Despite fifteen days of marching and hardships of every sort including deprivation of wine and anything else which relieves such hardship, we have not had one single sick soldier. The soldiers have found watermelons (of which there are great numbers here) particularly useful.
The artillery has particularly distinguished itself. I request the promotion to Division General for Brigade General Dommartin. I have promoted Brigade Chief Destaing, commander of the Fourth Demi-Brigade, to Brigade General. I charged General Zayonschek with several important missions and he has acted excellently.
Ordonnateur Sucy set out with our flotilla on the Nile so as to be better able to bring in food from the Delta. Seeing that I had doubled the march and since he wanted to be at my side at the battle, he set out on a cannon launch. And despite the risks, he left the flotilla behind. His launch ran aground and he was attacked by a great number of the enemy. He showed great courage, and although wounded very seriously in the arm he managed by his example to inspire the crew, and they were able to escape from the dangerous circumstance into which they had fallen.
We have had no news from France since our departure.
I will continue to send you officers giving all sorts of information on the economic, social and political situations in this country.
I shall also inform you, in the greatest detail, of those who have distinguished themselves and the promotions which I have made.
Please grant the rank of Rear-Admiral to Citizen Perrée, one of the Navy officers most distinguished through his bravery.
Please grant a payment of 1,200 livres to the wife of Citizen Larrey, the head surgeon of the army. In the middle of the desert, he has provided one of the greatest services through his hard-work and determination. As for officers leading the medical services of an army, he is one of the best that I have ever met.
Certified as matching the original
Division General, Army Chief of Staff,

Description of the fête du Nil, 1st Fructidor, Year 6 of the Republic (1213 Hegira)

The chief of staff, accompanied by all the generals and the staff of the army, the Kiâyâ, the Pasha, the Divan, the Mullah and the Aga of the Janisseries came at six o'clock in the morning to Méqyâs – a huge crowd stretched over the tops of the surrounding hillocks whicb run alongside the Nile and the canal.
With the flotilla all decked out and a part of the garrison standing at arms, the whole formed a sight which was as grand and imposing as it was splendid. When the cortege arrived at Méqyâs it was greeted with salvoes. French and Arab bands played while the men worked to open the dyke.
A moment later the Nile burst through the dyke and entered the canal like a torrent, bringing fertility to the countryside around Cairo.
The general threw thousands of Méydins to the people and many pieces of gold to the passing boats. He gave the Mullah a black animal skin and the Naqyb Redjâl a white skin, and he gave thirty-eight kaftans to the principal officers. After this the whole cortege returned to Yoùzbekyéh square, followed by a huge crowd singing praises to the Prophet and the French army, cursing the Beys and their tyranny. 'Yes', they seemed to say, 'you have come to free us at the command of the merciful God. It must be from God because you have been given victory and the best Nile flood there has been for the last hundred years, two benefits which only God can grant'.
During these days they celebrated with the greatest pomp the festival of the birth of the Prophet. From 2nd to 6th Fructidor the houses of General Dupuy and the Commander in Chief and the Sheikh êl-Bekry were illuminated. Every night at ten o'clock processions of the faithful came to sing praises to the Prophet and to do torch dances. Yesterday at eight o'clock in the evening, after an extraordinary parade made by a part of the garrison, the French officers of the headquarters and the garrison, preceded by great number of torches and a military band came to Sheikh êl-Bekry. Salvoes announced both the arrival and the departure.
After having eaten a splendid supper, served according to local customs, the commander in chief returned to his lodgings. There then began a firework display made by local firework makers which was a great success.
In the morning, the commander in chief had given to Sheikh êl-Bakry an ermine cloak in the presence of the entire Divan, granting him the position of Naqyb êl-êcherâf, a position left vacant by the departure of Effendi O'mar, the previous holder.


Pièces diverses et correspondance relatives aux opérations de l'armée d'Orient en Egypte.
Imprimée en exécution de l'arrêté du TRIBUNAT, en date du 7 Nivose an 9 de la République française.
Paris, Baudouin…Messidor an IX.

Publication Title :
Revue du Souvenir Napoléonien
Share it