I confess that Bonaparte frequently conversed with the chiefs of the Mussulman religion on the subject of his conversion; but only for the sake of amusement. The priests of the Koran, who would probably have been delighted to convert us, offered us the most ample concessions. But these conversations were merely started by way of entertainment, and never could have warranted a supposition of their leading to any serious result. If Bonaparte spoke as a Mussulman, it was merely in his character of a military and political chief in a Mussulman country. To do so was essential to his success, to the safety of his army, and, consequently; to his glory. In every country he would have drawn up proclamations and delivered addresses on the same principle. In India he would have been for Ali, at Thibet for the Dalai-lama, and in China for Confucius.
—[On the subject of his alleged conversion to Mahometanism Bonaparte expressed himself at St. Helena as follows:
"I never followed any of the tenets of that religion. I never prayed in the mosques. I never abstained from wine, or was circumcised, neither did I ever profess it. I said merely that we were the friends of the Mussulmans, and that I respected Mahomet their prophet, which was true; I respect him now. I wanted to make the Imaums cause prayers to be offered up in the mosques for me, in order to make the people respect me still more than they actually did, and obey me more readily. The Imaums replied that there was a great obstacle, because their Prophet in the Koran had inculcated to them that they were not to obey, respect, or hold faith with infidels, and that I came under that denomination. I then desired them to hold a consultation, and see what was necessary to be done in order to become a Musselman, as some of their tenets could not be practised by us. That, as to circumcision, God had made us unfit for that. That, with respect to drinking wine, we were poor cold people, inhabitants of the north, who could not exist without it. They consulted together accordingly, and in about three weeks issued a fetham, declaring that circumcision might be omitted, because it was merely a profession; that as to drinking wine, it might be drunk by Mussulmans, but that those who drank it would not go to paradise, but to hell I replied that this would not do; that we had no occasion to make ourselves Mussulmans in order to go to hell, that there were many ways of getting there without coming to Egypt, and desired them to hold another consultation. After deliberating and battling together for I believe three months, they finally decided that a man might become a Mussulman, and neither circumcise nor abstain from wine; but that, in proportion to the wine drunk, some good works must be done. I then told them that we were all Mussulmans and friends of the Prophet, which they really believed, as the French soldiers never went to church, and had no priests with them. For you must know that during the Revolution there was no religion whatever in the French army. Menou," continued Napoleon, "really turned Mahometan, which was the reason I left him behind." —(Voices from St. Helena.)]—
The General-in-Chief had a Turkish dress made, which he once put on, merely in joke. One day he desired me to go to breakfast without waiting for him, and that he would follow me. In about a quarter of an hour he made his appearance in his new costume. As soon as he was recognised he was received with a loud burst of laughter. He sat down very coolly; but he found himself so encumbered and ill at ease in his turban and Oriental robe that he speedily threw them off, and was never tempted to a second performance of the masquerade.
About the end of August Bonaparte wished to open negotiations with the Pasha of Acre, nicknamed the Butcher. He offered Djezzar his friendship, sought his in return, and gave him the most consolatory assurances of the safety of his dominions. He promised to support him against the Grand Seignior, at the very moment when he was assuring the Egyptians that he would support the Grand Seignior against the beys. But Djezzar, confiding in his own strength and in the protection of the English, who had anticipated Bonaparte, was deaf to every overture, and would not even receive Beauvoisin, who was sent to him on the 22d of August. A second envoy was beheaded at Acre. The occupations of Bonaparte and the necessity of obtaining a more solid footing in Egypt retarded for the moment the invasion of that pashalic, which provoked vengeance by its barbarities, besides being a dangerous neighbour.
From the time he received the accounts of the disaster of Aboukir until the revolt of Cairo on the 22d of October, Bonaparte sometimes found the time hang heavily on his hands. Though he devoted attention to everything, yet there was not sufficient occupation for his singularly active mind. When the heat was not too great he rode on horseback; and on his return, if he found no despatches to read (which often happened), no orders to send off; or no letters to answer, he was immediately absorbed in reverie, and would sometimes converse very strangely. One day, after a long pause, he said to me:
"Do you know what I am thinking of?"—"Upon my word, that would be very difficult; you think of such extraordinary things."—"I don't know," continued he, "that I shall ever see France again; but if I do, my only ambition is to make a glorious campaign in Germany—in the plains of Bavaria; there to gain a great battle, and to avenge France for the defeat of Hochstadt. After that I would retire into the country, and live quietly."
He then entered upon a long dissertation on the preference he would give to Germany as the theatre of war; the fine character of the people, and the prosperity and wealth of the country, and its power of supporting an army. His conversations were sometimes very long; but always replete with interest.
—[So early as 1794 Napoleon had suggested that Austria should always be attacked in Germany, not in Italy. "It is Germany that should be overwhelmed; that done, Italy and Spain fall of themselves. Germany should be attacked, not Spain or Italy. If we obtain great success, advantage should never be taken of it to penetrate into Italy while Germany, unweakened, offers a formidable front" (Iung's Bonaparte, tome ii. p. 936), He was always opposed to the wild plans which had ruined so many French armies in Italy, and which the Directory tried to force on him, of marching on Rome and Naples after every success in the north.]—
In these intervals of leisure Bonaparte was accustomed to retire to bed early. I used to read to him every evening. When I read poetry he would fall asleep; but when he asked for the Life of Cromwell I counted on sitting up pretty late. In the course of the day he used to read and make notes. He often expressed regret at not receiving news from France; for correspondence was rendered impracticable by the numerous English and Turkish cruisers. Many letters were intercepted and scandalously published. Not even family secrets and communications of the most confidential nature were respected.
About the middle of September in this year (1798), Bonaparte ordered to be brought to the house of Elfy Bey half a dozen Asiatic women whose beauty he had heard highly extolled. But their ungraceful obesity displeased him, and they were immediately dismissed. A few days after he fell violently in love with Madame Foures, the wife of a lieutenant of infantry. She was very pretty, and her charms were enhanced by the rarity of seeing a woman in Egypt who was calculated to please the eye of a European. Bonaparte engaged for her a house adjoining the palace of Elfy Bey, which we occupied. He frequently ordered dinner to be prepared there, and I used to go there with him at seven o'clock, and leave him at nine.
This connection soon became the general subject of gossip at head-quarters. Through a feeling of delicacy to M. Foures, the General-in-Chief gave him a mission to the Directory. He embarked at Alexandria, and the ship was captured by the English, who, being informed of the cause of his mission, were malicious enough to send him back to Egypt, instead of keeping him prisoner. Bonaparte wished to have a child by Madame Foures, but this wish was not realised.
A celebrated soothsayer was recommended to Bonaparte by the inhabitants of Cairo, who confidentially vouched for the accuracy with which he could foretell future events. He was sent for, and when he arrived, I, Venture, and a sheik were with the General. The prophet wished first to exercise his skill upon Bonaparte, who, however, proposed that I should have my fortune told first, to which I acceded without hesitation. To afford an idea of his prophetic skill I must mention that since my arrival in Cairo I had been in a very weak state. The passage of the Nile and the bad food we had had for twelve days had greatly reduced me, so that I was miserably pale and thin.
After examining my hands, feeling my pulse, my forehead, and the nape of my neck, the fortune-teller shrugged his shoulders, and, in a melancholy tone, told Venture that he did not think it right to inform me of my fate. I gave him to understand that he might say what he pleased, as it was a matter of indifference to me. After considerable hesitation on his part and pressing on mine, he announced to me that the earth of Egypt would receive me in two months.
I thanked him, and he was dismissed. When we were alone the General said to me, "Well, what do you think of that?" I observed that the fortune-teller did not run any great risk in foretelling my death, which was a very probable circumstance in the state in which I was; "but," added I, "if I procure the wines which I have ordered from France, you will soon see me get round again."
The art of imposing on mankind has at all times been an important part of the art of governing; and it was not that portion of the science of government which Bonaparte was the least acquainted with. He neglected no opportunity of showing off to the Egyptians the superiority of France in arts and sciences; but it happened, oftener than once, that the simple instinct of the Egyptians thwarted his endeavours in this way. Some days after the visit of the pretended fortune-teller he wished, if I may so express myself, to oppose conjurer to conjurer. For this purpose he invited the principal sheiks to be present at some chemical experiments performed by M. Berthollet. The General expected to be much amused at their astonishment; but the miracles of the transformation of liquids, electrical commotions and galvanism, did not elicit from them any symptom of surprise. They witnessed the operations of our able chemist with the most imperturbable indifference. When they were ended, the sheik El Bekri desired the interpreter to tell M. Berthollet that it was all very fine; "but," said he, "ask him whether he can make me be in Morocco and here at one and the same moment?" M. Berthollet replied in the negative, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Oh! then," said the sheik, "he is not half a sorcerer."
Our music produced no greater effect upon them. They listened with insensibility to all the airs that were played to them, with the exception of "Marlbrook." When that was played they became animated, and were all in motion, as if ready to dance.
An order which had been issued on our arrival in Cairo for watching the criers of the mosques had for some weeks been neglected. At certain hours of the night these cries address prayers to the Prophet. As it was merely a repetition of the same ceremony over and over again, in a short time no notice was taken of it. The Turks, perceiving this negligence, substituted for their prayers and hymns cries of revolt, and by this sort of verbal telegraph, insurrectionary excitement was transmitted to the northern and southern extremities of Egypt. By this means, and by the aid of secret emissaries, who eluded our feeble police, and circulated real or forged firmans of the Sultan disavowing the concord between France and the Porte, and provoking war, the plan of a revolution was organised throughout the country.
The signal for the execution of this plan was given from the minarets on the night of the 20th of October, and on the morning of the 21st it was announced at headquarters that the city of Cairo was in open insurrection. The General-in-Chief was not, as has been stated, in the isle of Raeuddah: he did not hear the firing of the alarm-guns. He rose when the news arrived; it was then five o'clock. He was informed that all the shops were closed, and that the French were attacked. A moment after he heard of the death of General Dupuis, commandant of the garrison, who was killed by a lance in the street. Bonaparte immediately mounted his horse, and, accompanied by only thirty guides, visited all the threatened points, restored confidence, and, with great presence of mind adopted measures of defence.
He left me at headquarters with only one sentinel; but he had been accurately informed of the situation of the insurgents; and such was my confidence in his activity and foresight that I had no apprehension, and awaited his return with perfect composure. This composure was not disturbed even when I saw a party of insurgents attack the house of M. Esteve, our paymaster-general, which was situated on the opposite side of Ezbekye'h Place. M. Esteve was, fortunately, able to resist the attack until troops from Boulac came up to his assistance.
After visiting all the posts, and adopting every precautionary measure, Bonaparte returned to headquarters. Finding me still alone with the sentinel, he asked me, smiling, "whether I had not been frightened?"—"Not at all, General, I assure you," replied I.
—It was about half-past eight in the morning when Bonaparte returned to headquarters, and while at breakfast he was informed that some Bedouin Arabs, on horseback, were trying to force their entrance into Cairo. He ordered his aide de camp, Sulkowsky, to mount his horse, to take with him fifteen guides, and proceed to the point where the assailants were most numerous. This was the Bab-el-Nasser, or the gate of victory. Croisier observed to the General-in-Chief that Sulkowsky had scarcely recovered from the wounds at Salehye'h, and he offered to take his place. He had his motives for this. Bonaparte consented; but Sulkowsky had already set out. Within an hour after, one of the fifteen guides returned, covered with blood, to announce that Sulkowsky and the remainder of his party had been cut to pieces. This was speedy work, for we were still at table when the sad news arrived.
Mortars were planted on Mount Mokatam, which commands Cairo. The populace, expelled from all the principal streets by the troops, assembled in the square of the Great Mosque, and in the little streets running into it, which they barricaded. The firing of the artillery on the heights was kept up with vigour for two days.
About twelve of the principal chiefs of Cairo were arrested and confined in an apartment at headquarters. They awaited with the calmest resignation the death they knew they merited; but Bonaparte merely detained them as hostages. The aga in the service of Bonaparte was astonished that sentence of death was not pronounced upon them; and he said, shrugging his shoulders, and with a gesture apparently intended to provoke severity, "You see they expect it."
On the third the insurrection was at an end, and tranquillity restored. Numerous prisoners were conducted to the citadel. In obedience to an order which I wrote every evening, twelve were put to death nightly. The bodies were then put into sacks and thrown into the Nile. There were many women included in these nocturnal executions.
I am not aware that the number of victims amounted to thirty per day, as Bonaparte assured General Reynier in a letter which he wrote to him six days after the restoration of tranquillity. "Every night," said he, "we cut off thirty heads. This, I hope, will be an effectual example." I am of opinion that in this instance he exaggerated the extent of his just revenge.
Some time after the revolt of Cairo the necessity of ensuring our own safety forced the commission of a terrible act of cruelty. A tribe of Arabs in the neighbourhood of Cairo had surprised and massacred a party of French. The General-in-Chief ordered his aide de camp Croisier to proceed to the spot, surround the tribe, destroy the huts, kill all the men, and conduct the rest of the population to Cairo. The order was to decapitate the victims, and bring their heads in sacks to Cairo to be exhibited to the people. Eugene Beauharnais accompanied Croisier, who joyfully set out on this horrible expedition, in hope of obliterating all recollection of the affair of Damanhour.
On the following day the party returned. Many of the poor Arab women had been delivered on the road, and the children had perished of hunger, heat, and fatigue. About four o'clock a troop of asses arrived in Ezbekye'h Place, laden with sacks. The sacks were opened and the heads rolled out before the assembled populace. I cannot describe the horror I experienced; but I must nevertheless acknowledge that this butchery ensured for a considerable time the tranquillity and even the existence of the little caravans which were obliged to travel in all directions for the service of the army.
Shortly before the loss of the fleet the General-in Chief had formed the design of visiting Suez, to examine the traces of the ancient canal which united the Nile to the Gulf of Arabia, and also to cross the latter. The revolt at Cairo caused this project to be adjourned until the month of December.
Before his departure for Suez. Bonaparte granted the commissary Sucy leave to return to France. He had received a wound in the right hand, when on board the xebec 'Cerf'. I was conversing with him on deck when he received this wound. At first it had no appearance of being serious; but some time after he could not use his hand. General Bonaparte despatched a vessel with sick and-wounded, who were supposed to be incurable, to the number of about eighty. All, envied their fate, and were anxious to depart with them, but the privilege was conceded to very few. However, those who were, disappointed had, no cause for regret. We never know what we wish for. Captain Marengo, who landed at Augusta in Sicily, supposing it to be a friendly land, was required to observe quarantine for twenty-two days, and information was given of the arrival of the vessel to the court, which was at Palermo. On the 25th of January 1799 all on board the French vessel were massacred, with the exception of twenty-one who were saved by a Neapolitan frigate, and conducted to Messing, where they wore detained.
Before he conceived the resolution of attacking the Turkish advanced guard in the valleys of Syria, Bonaparte had formed a plan of invading British India from Persia. He had ascertained, through the medium of agents, that the Shah of Persia would, for a sum, of money paid in advance consent to the establishment of military magazines on certain points of his territory. Bonaparte frequently told me that if, after the subjugation of Egypt, he could have left 15,000 men in that country, and have had 30,000 disposable troops, he would have marched on the Euphrates. He was frequently speaking about the deserts which were to be crossed to reach Persia.
How many, times have I seen him extended on the ground, examining the beautiful maps which he had brought with him, and he would sometimes make me lie down in the same position to trace to me his projected march. This reminded him of the triumphs of his favourite hero, Alexander, with whom he so much desired to associate his name; but, at the same time, he felt that these projects were incompatible with our resources, the weakness of the Government; and the dissatisfaction which the army already evinced. Privation and misery are inseparable from all these remote operations.
This favourite idea still occupied his mind a fortnight before his departure for Syria was determined on, and on the 25th of January 1799 he wrote to Tippoo Saib as follows:—
You are of course already informed, of my arrival on the banks of the Red Sea, with a numerous and invincible army. Eager to deliver you from the iron yoke of England, I hasten to request that you will send me, by the way of Mascate or Mocha, an account of the political situation in which you are. I also wish that you could send to Suez, or Grand Cairo, some able man, in your confidence, with whom I may confer.
—[It is not true, as has often been stated, that Tippoo Saib wrote to General Bonaparte. He could not reply to a letter written on the 23th of January, owing to the great difficulty of communication, the considerable distance, and the short interval which elapsed between the 25th of January and the fall of the Empire of Mysore, which happened on the 20th of April following. The letter to Tippo Saib commenced "Citizen-Sultan!"—Bourrienne]—
Bonaparte's departure for Suez—Crossing the desert—Passage of the Red Sea—The fountain of Moses—The Cenobites of Mount Sinai—Danger in recrossing the Red Sea—Napoleon's return to Cairo—Money borrowed at Genoa—New designs upon Syria—Dissatisfaction of the Ottoman Porte—Plan for invading Asia—Gigantic schemes—General Berthier's permission to return to France—His romantic love and the adored portrait—He gives up his permission to return home—Louis Bonaparte leaves Egypt—The first Cashmere shawl in France— Intercepted correspondence—Departure for Syria—Fountains of Messoudish—Bonaparte jealous—Discontent of the troops—El-Arish taken—Aspect of Syria—Ramleh—Jerusalem.
On the 24th of December we set out for Suez, where we arrived on the 26th. On the 25th we encamped in the desert some leagues before Ad-Geroth. The heat had been very great during the day; but about eleven at night the cold became so severe as to be precisely in an inverse ratio to the temperature of the day. This desert, which is the route of the caravans from Suez, from Tor and the countries situated on the north of Arabia, is strewed with the bones of the men and animals who, for ages past, have perished in crossing it. As there was no wood to be got, we collected a quantity of these bones for fuel. Monge himself was induced to sacrifice some of the curious skulls of animals which he had picked up on the way and deposited in the Berlin of the General-in-Chief. But no sooner had we kindled our fires than an intolerable effluvium obliged us to, raise our camp and advance farther on, for we could procure no water to extinguish the fires.
On the 27th Bonaparte employed himself in inspecting the town and port of Suez, and in giving orders for some naval and military works. He feared—what indeed really occurred after his departure from Egypt—the arrival of some English troops from the East Indies, which he had intended to invade. These regiments contributed to the loss of his conquest.
—[Sir David Baird, with a force of about 7000 men sent from India, landed at Cosseir in July 1801.]—
On the morning of the 28th we crossed the Red Sea dry-shod, to go to the Wells of Moses, which are nearly a myriametre from the eastern coast, and a little southeast of Suez. The Gulf of Arabia terminates at about 5,000 metres north of that city. Near the port the Red Sea is not above 1,500 metres wide, and is always fordable at low water. The caravans from Tor and Mount Sinai always pass at that part,
—[I shall say nothing of the Cenobites of Mount Sinai, as I had not the honour of seeing them. Neither did I see the register containing the names of Ali, Salah-Eddin, Ibrahim or Abraham, on which Bonaparte is said to have inscribed his name. I perceived at a distance some high hills which were said to be Mount Sinai. I conversed, through the medium of an interpreter, with some Arabian chiefs of Tor and its neighbourhood. They had been informed of our excursion to the Wells, and that they might there thank the French General for the protection granted to their caravans and their trade with Egypt. On the 19th of December, before his departure from Suez, Bonaparte signed a sort of safeguard, or exemption from duties, for the convent of Mount Sinai. This had been granted out of respect to Moses and the Jewish nation, and also because the convent of Mount Sinai is a seat of learning and civilisation amidst the barbarism of the deserts.—Bourrienne.]—
either in going to or returning from Egypt. This shortens their journey nearly a myriametre. At high tide the water rises five or six feet at Suez, and when the wind blows fresh it often rises to nine or ten feet.
We spent a few hours seated by the largest of the springs called the Wells of Moses, situated on the eastern shore of the Gulf of Arabia. We made coffee with the water from these springs, which, however, gave it such a brackish taste that it was scarcely drinkable.
Though the water of the eight little springs which form the Wells of Moses is not so salt as that of many wells dug in other parts of the deserts, it is, nevertheless, exceedingly brackish, and does not allay thirst so well as fresh water.
Bonaparte returned to Suez that same night. It was very dark when we reached the sea-shore. The tide was coming up, and the water was pretty high. We deviated a little from the way we had taken in the morning; we crossed a little too low down; we were thrown into disorder, but we did not lose ourselves in the marshes as has been stated. There were none. I have read somewhere, though I did not see the fact, nor did I hear it mentioned at the time, that the tide, which was coming up, would have been the grave of the General-in-Chief had not one of the guides saved him by carrying him on his shoulders. If any such danger had existed, all who had not a similar means of escape must have perished.
This is a fabrication. General Caffarelli was the only person who was really in danger, for his wooden leg prevented his sitting firmly on his horse in the water; but some persons came to his assistance and supported him.
—[Bonaparte extricated himself as the others did from the real danger he and his escort had run. At St. Helena he said, "Profiting by the low tide, I crossed the Red Sea dry-shod. On my return I was overtaken by the night and went astray in the middle of the rising tide. I ran the greatest danger. I nearly perished in the same manner as Pharaoh did. This would certainly have furnished all the Christian preachers with a magnificent test against me." —Bourrienne.]—
On his return to Cairo the General-in-Chief wished to discover the site of the canal which in ancient times formed a junction between the Red Sea and the Nile by Belbeis. M. Lepere, who was a member of the Egyptian Institute, and is now inspector-general of bridges and highways, executed on the spot a beautiful plan, which may confidently be consulted by those who wish to form an accurate idea of that ancient communication, and the level of the two seas.
—[Since accurately ascertained during the progress of the works for the Suez Canal.]—
On his arrival at the capital Bonaparte again devoted all his thoughts to the affairs of the army, which he had not attended to during his short absence. The revenues of Egypt were far from being sufficient to meet the military expenditure. To defray his own expenses Bonaparte raised several considerable loans in Genoa through the medium of M. James. The connection of James with the Bonaparte family takes its date from this period.
—[Joseph Bonaparte says that the fathers of Napoleon and of M. James had long known one another, and that Napoleon had met James at Autun. ('Erreurs', tome i, p. 296).]—
Since the month of August the attention of General Bonaparte had been constantly fixed on Syria. The period of the possible landing of an enemy in Egypt had now passed away, and could not return until the month of July in the following year. Bonaparte was fully convinced that that landing would take place, and he was not deceived. The Ottoman Porte had, indeed, been persuaded that the conquest of Egypt was not in her interest. She preferred enduring a rebel whom she hoped one day to subdue to supporting a power which, under the specious pretext of reducing her insurgent beys to obedience, deprived her of one of her finest provinces, and threatened the rest of the empire.
On his return to Cairo the General-in-Chief had no longer any doubt as to the course which the Porte intended to adapt. The numerous class of persons who believed that the Ottoman Porte had consented to our occupation of Egypt were suddenly undeceived. It, was then asked how we could, without that consent, have attempted such an enterprise? Nothing, it was said, could justify the temerity of such an expedition, if it should produce a rupture between France, the Ottoman empire, and its allies. However, for the remainder of the year Bonaparte dreaded nothing except an expedition from Gaza and El-Arish, of which the troops of Djezzar had already taken possession. This occupation was justly regarded as a decided act of hostility; war was thus practically declared. "We must adopt anticipatory measures," thought Napoleon; "we must destroy this advanced guard of the Ottoman empire, overthrow the ramparts of Jaffa and Acre, ravage the country, destroy all her resources, so as to render the passage of an army across the desert impracticable." Thus was planned the expedition against Syria.
General Berthier, after repeated entreaties, had obtained permission to return to France. The 'Courageuse' frigate, which was to convey him home, was fitting out at Alexandria; he had received his instructions, and was to leave Cairo on the 29th of January, ten days before Bonaparte's departure for Syria. Bonaparte was sorry to part with him; but he could not endure to see an old friend, and one who had served him well in all his campaigns, dying before his eyes, the victim of nostalgia and romantic love. Besides, Berthier had been for some time past, anything but active in the discharge of his duties. His passion, which amounted almost to madness, impaired the feeble faculties with which nature had endowed him. Some writers have ranked him in the class of sentimental lovers: be this as it may, the homage which herthier rendered to the portrait of the object of his adoration more frequently excited our merriment than our sensibility.
One day I went with an order from Bonaparte to the chief of his staff, whom I found on his knees before the portrait of Madame Visconti, which was hanging opposite the door. I touched him, to let him know I was there. He grumbled a little, but did not get angry.
The moment was approaching when the two friends were to part, perhaps forever. Bonaparte was sincerely distressed at this separation, and the chief of his staff was informed of the fact. At a moment when it was supposed Berthier was on his way to Alexandria, he presented himself to the General-in-Chief. "You are, then, decidedly going to Asia?" said he.—"You know," replied the General, "that all is ready, and I shall set out in a few days."—"Well, I will not leave you. I voluntarily renounce all idea of returning to France. I could not endure to forsake you at a moment when you are going to encounter new dangers. Here are my instructions and my passport." Bonaparte, highly pleased with this resolution, embraced Berthier; and the coolness which had been excited by his request to return home was succeeded by a sincere reconciliation.
Louis Bonaparte, who was suffering from the effects of the voyage, was still at Alexandria. The General-in-Chief, yielding to the pacific views of his younger brother, who was also beginning to evince some symptoms of nostalgia, consented to his return home. He could not, however, depart until the 11th of March 1799. I felt the absence of Louis very much.
On his return to France Louis passed through Sens, where he dined with Madame de Bourrienne, to whom he presented a beautiful shawl, which General Berthier had given me. This, I believe, was the first Cashmere that had ever been seen in France. Louis was much surprised when Madame de Bourrienne showed him the Egyptian correspondence, which had been seized by the English and printed in London. He found in the collection some letters addressed to himself, and there were others, he said, which were likely to disturb the peace of more than one family on the return of the army.
On the 11th of February 1799 we began our march for Syria, with about 12,000 men. It has been erroneously stated that the army amounted to only 6000: nearly that number was lost in the course of the campaign. However, at the very moment we were on our way to Syria, with 12,000 men, scarcely as many being left in Egypt, the Directory published that, "according to the information which had been received," we had 60,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry; that the army had doubled its numbers by battles; and that since our arrival in Egypt, we had lost only 300 men. Is history to be written from such documents?
We arrived, about four o'clock in the afternoon, at Messoudiah, or, "the Fortunate Spot." Here we witnessed a kind of phenomenon, which was not a little agreeable to us. Messoudiah is a place situated on the coast of the Mediterranean, surrounded with little dunes of very fine sand, which the copious rains of winter readily penetrate. The rain remains in the sand, so that on making with the fingers holes of four or five inches in depth at the bottom of these little hills, the water immediately flows out. This water was, indeed, rather thick, but its flavour was agreeable; and it would have become clear if we could have spared time to allow it to rest and deposit the particles of sand it contained.
It was a curious spectacle to behold us all lying prostrate, digging wells in miniature; and displaying a laughable selfishness in our endeavours to obtain the most abundant source. This was a very important discovery to us. We found these sand-wells at the extremity of the desert, and it contributed, in no small degree, to revive the courage of our soldiers; besides, when men are, as was the case with us, subject to privations of every kind, the least benefit which accrues inspires the hope of a new advantage. We were approaching the confines of Syria, and we enjoyed by anticipation, the pleasure we were about to experience, on treading a soil which, by its variety of verdure and vegetation, would remind us of our native land. At Messoudiah we likewise possessed the advantage of bathing in the sea, which was not more than fifty paces from our unexpected water-supply.
Whilst near the wells of Messoudiah, on the way to El-Arish, I one day saw Bonaparte walking alone with Junot, as he was often in the habit of doing. I stood at a little distance, and my eyes, I know not why, were fixed on him during their conversation. The General's countenance, which was always pale, had, without my being able to divine the cause, become paler than usual. There was something convulsive in his features—a wildness in his look, and he several times struck his head with his hand. After conversing with Junot about a quarter of an hour he quitted him and came towards me. I never saw him exhibit such an air of dissatisfaction, or appear so much under the influence of some prepossession. I advanced towards him, and as soon as we met, he exclaimed in an abrupt and angry tone, "So! I find I cannot depend upon you.—These women!—Josephine! —if you had loved me, you would before now have told me all I have heard from Junot—he is a real friend—Josephine!—and I 600 leagues from her—you ought to have told me.—That she should thus have deceived me!—'Woe to them!—I will exterminate the whole race of fops and puppies!—As to her—divorce!—yes, divorce! a public and open divorce!—I must write!—I know all!—It is your fault—you ought to have told me!"
These energetic and broken exclamations, his disturbed countenance and altered voice informed me but too well of the subject of his conversation with Junot. I saw that Junot had been drawn into a culpable indiscretion; and that, if Josephine had committed any faults, he had cruelly exaggerated them. My situation was one of extreme delicacy. However, I had the good fortune to retain my self-possession, and as soon as some degree of calmness succeeded to this first burst, I replied that I knew nothing of the reports which Junot might have communicated to him; that even if such reports, often the offspring of calumny, had reached my ear, and if I had considered it my duty to inform him of them, I certainly would not have selected for that purpose the moment when he was 600 leagues from France. I also did not conceal how blamable Junot's conduct appeared to me, and how ungenerous I considered it thus rashly to accuse a woman who was not present to justify or defend herself; that it was no great proof of attachment to add domestic uneasiness to the anxiety, already sufficiently great, which the situation of his brothers in arms, at the commencement of a hazardous enterprise, occasioned him.
Notwithstanding these observations, which, however, he listened to with some calmness, the word "divorce" still escaped his lips; and it is necessary to be aware of the degree of irritation to which he was liable when anything seriously vexed him, to be able to form an idea of what Bonaparte was during this painful scene. However, I kept my ground. I repeated what I had said. I begged of him to consider with what facility tales were fabricated and circulated, and that gossip such as that which had been repeated to him was only the amusement of idle persons; and deserved the contempt of strong minds. I spoke of his glory. "My glory!" cried he. "I know not what I would not give if that which Junot has told me should be untrue; so much do I love Josephine! If she be really guilty a divorce must separate us for ever. I will not submit to be a laughing-stock for all the imbeciles in Paris. I will write to Joseph; he will get the divorce declared."
Although his agitation continued long, intervals occurred in which he was less excited. I seized one of these moments of comparative calm to combat this idea of divorce which seemed to possess his mind. I represented to him especially that it would be imprudent to write to his brother with reference to a communication which was probably false. "The letter might be intercepted; it would betray the feelings of irritation which dictated it. As to a divorce, it would be time to think of that hereafter, but advisedly."
These last words produced an effect on him which I could not have ventured to hope for so speedily. He became tranquil, listened to me as if he had suddenly felt the justice of my observations, dropped the subject, and never returned to it; except that about a fortnight after, when we were before St. Jean d'Acre, he expressed himself greatly dissatisfied with Junot, and complained of the injury he had done him by his indiscreet disclosures, which he began to regard as the inventions of malignity. I perceived afterwards that he never pardoned Junot for this indiscretion; and I can state, almost with certainty, that this was one of the reasons why Junot was not created a marshal of France, like many of, his comrades whom Bonaparte had loved less. It may be supposed that Josephine, who was afterwards informed by Bonaparte of Junot's conversation, did not feel particularly interested in his favour. He died insane on the 27th of July 1813.
—[However indiscreet Junot might on this occasion have shown himself in interfering in so delicate a matter, it is pretty certain that his suspicions were breathed to no other ear than that of Bonaparte himself. Madame Junot, in speaking of the ill-suppressed enmity between her husband and Madame Bonaparte, says that he never uttered a word even to her of the subject of his conversation with, the General-in-Chief to Egypt. That Junot's testimony, however, notwithstanding the countenance it obtained from Bonaparte's relations, ought to be cautiously received, the following passage from the Memoirs of the Duchesse d'Abrantes, vol. i. p. 250, demonstrative of the feelings of irritation between the parties, will show:
"Junot escorted Madame Bonaparte when she went to join the General-in-Chief in Italy. I am surprised that M. de Bourrienne has omitted mentioning this circumstance in his Memoirs. He must have known it, since he was well acquainted with everything relating to Josephine, and knew many facts of high interest in her life at this period and subsequently. How happens it too that he makes no mention of Mademoiselle Louise, who might be called her 'demioselle de compagnie' rather than her 'femme de chambre'? At the outset of the journey to Italy she was such a favourite with Josephine that she dressed like her mistress, ate at table with her, and was in all respects her friend and confidante.
"The journey was long, much too long for Junot, though he was very much in love with Mademoiselle Louise. But he was anxious to join the army, for to him his General was always the dearest of mistresses. Junot has often spoken to me, and to me alone, of the vexations he experienced on this journey. He might have added to his circumstantial details relative to Josephine the conversation he is reported go have had with Bonaparte to Egypt; but he never breathed a word on the subject, for his character was always noble and generous. The journey to Italy did not produce the effect which usually arises from such incidents in common life; namely, a closer friendship and intimacy between the parties. On the contrary, Madame Bonaparte from that moment evinced some degree of ill-humour towards Junot, and complained with singular warmth of the want of respect which he had shown her, in making love to her 'femme de chambre' before her face."
According to 'Erreurs (tome i. pp. 4, 50) Junot was not then in Syria. On 10th February Napoleon was at Messoudiah. Junot only arrived from Egypt at Gaza on the 25th February. Madame d'Abrantes (ii. 32) treats this conversation as apocryphal. "This (an anecdote of her own) is not an imaginary episode like that, for example, of making a person speak at Messoudiah who never was there."]—
Our little army continued its march on El-Arish, where we arrived on the 17th of February. The fatigues experienced in the desert and the scarcity of water excited violent murmurs amongst the soldiers during their march across the isthmus. When any person on horseback passed them they studiously expressed their discontent. The advantage possessed by the horsemen provoked their sarcasms. I never heard the verses which they are said to have repeated, but they indulged in the most violent language against the Republic, the men of science, and those whom they regarded as the authors of the expedition. Nevertheless these brave fellows, from whom it was not astonishing that such great privations should extort complaints, often compensated by their pleasantries for the bitterness of their reproaches.
Many times during the crossing of the isthmus I have seen soldiers, parched with thirst, and unable to wait till the hour for distribution of water, pierce the leathern bottles which contained it; and this conduct, so injurious to all, occasioned numerous quarrels.
El-Arish surrendered on the 17th of February. It has been erroneously stated that the garrison of this insignificant place, which was set at liberty on condition of not again serving against us, was afterwards found amongst the besieged at Jaffa. It has also been stated that it was because the men composing the El-Arish garrison did not proceed to Bagdad, according to the capitulation, that we shot them at Jaffa. We shall presently see the falsehood of these assertions.
On the 28th of February we obtained the first glimpse of the green and fertile plains of Syria, which, in many respects, reminded us of the climate and soil of Europe. We now had rain, and sometimes rather too much. The feelings which the sight of the valleys and mountains called. forth made us, in some degree, forget the hardships and vexations of an expedition of which few persons could foresee the object or end. There are situations in life when the slightest agreeable sensation alleviates all our ills.
On the 1st of March we slept at Ramleh, in a small convent occupied by two monks, who paid us the greatest attention. They gave us the church for a hospital. These good fathers did not fail to tell us that it was through this place the family of Jesus Christ passed into Egypt, and showed us the wells at which they quenched their thirst.
—[Ramleh, the ancient Arimathea, is situated at the base of a chain of mountains, the eastern extremity of which is washed by the Persian Gulf, and the western by the Mediterranean.—Bourrienne.]—
The pure and cool water of these wells delighted us.
We were not more than about six leagues from Jerusalem.
I asked the General whether he did not intend to direct his march by the way of that city, so celebrated in many respects. He replied, "Oh no! Jerusalem is not in my line of operations. I do not wish to be annoyed by mountaineers in difficult roads. And, besides, on the other aide of the mountain I should be assailed by swarms of cavalry. I am not ambitious of the fate of Cassius."
We therefore did not enter Jerusalem, which was not disturbed by the war. All we did was to send a written declaration to the persons in power at Jerusalem, assuring them that we had no design against that country, and only wished them to remain at peace. To this communication no answer was returned, and nothing more passed on the subject.
—[Sir Walter Scott says, speaking of Bonaparte, that he believes that little officer of artillery dreamed of being King of Jerusalem. What I have just stated proves that he never thought of such a thing. The "little officer of artillery" had a far more splendid dream in his head.—Bourrienne.]—
We found at Ramleh between two and three hundred Christians in a pitiable state of servitude, misery, and dejection. On conversing with them I could not help admiring how much the hope of future rewards may console men under present ills. But I learned from many of them that they did not live in harmony together. The feelings of hatred and jealousy are not less common amongst these people than amongst the better-instructed inhabitants of rich and populous cities.
Arrival at Jaffa—The siege—Beauharnais and Croisier—Four thousand prisoners—Scarcity of provisions—Councils of war—Dreadful necessity—The massacre—The plague—Lannes and the mountaineers— Barbarity of Djezasi—Arrival at St Jean d'Acre, and abortive attacks—Sir Sidney Smith—Death of Caffarelli—Duroc wounded— Rash bathing—Insurrections in Egypt.
On arriving before Jaffa, where there were already some troops, the first person. I met was Adjutant-General Gresieux, with whom I was well acquainted. I wished him good-day, and offered him my hand. "Good God! what are you about?" said he, repulsing me with a very abrupt gesture; "you may have the plague. People do not touch each other here!" I mentioned the circumstance to Bonaparte, who said, "If he be afraid of the plague, he will die of it." Shortly after, at St. Jean d'Acre, he was attacked by that malady, and soon sank under it.
On the 4th of March we commenced the siege of Jaffa. That paltry place, which, to round a sentence, was pompously styled the ancient Joppa, held out only to the 6th of March, when it was taken by storm, and given up to pillage. The massacre was horrible. General Bonaparte sent his aides de camp Beauharnais and Croisier to appease the fury of the soldiers as much as possible, and to report to him what was passing. They learned that a considerable part of the garrison had retired into some vast buildings, a sort of caravanserai, which formed a large enclosed court. Beauharnais and Croisier, who were distinguished by wearing the 'aide de camp' scarf on their arms, proceeded to that place. The Arnauts and Albanians, of whom these refugees were almost entirely composed, cried from the windows that they were willing to surrender upon an assurance that they would be exempted from the massacre to which the town was doomed; if not, they threatened to fire on the 'aides de camp', and to defend themselves to the last extremity. The two officers thought that they ought to accede to the proposition, notwithstanding the decree of death which had been pronounced against the whole garrison, in consequence of the town being token by storm. They brought them to our camp in two divisions, one consisting of about 2500 men, the other of about 1600.
I was walking with General Bonaparte, in front of his tent, when he beheld this mass of men approaching, and before he even saw his 'aides de camp' he said to me, in a tone of profound sorrow, "What do they wish me to do with these men? Have I food for them?—ships to convey them to Egypt or France? Why, in the devil's name, have they served me thus?" After their arrival, and the explanations which the General-in-Chief demanded and listened to with anger, Eugene and Croisier received the most severe reprimand for their conduct. But the deed was done. Four thousand men were there. It was necessary to decide upon their fate. The two aides de camp observed that they had found themselves alone in the midst of numerous enemies, and that he had directed them to restrain the carnage. "Yes, doubtless," replied the General-in-Chief, with great warmth, "as to women, children, and old men—all the peaceable inhabitants; but not with respect to armed soldiers. It was your duty to die rather than bring these unfortunate creatures to me. What do you want me to do with them?" These words were pronounced in the most angry tone.
The prisoners were then ordered to sit down, and were placed, without any order, in front of the tents, their hands tied behind their backs. A sombre determination was depicted on their countenances. We gave them a little biscuit and bread, squeezed out of the already scanty supply for the army.
On the first day of their arrival a council of war was held in the tent of the General-in-Chief, to determine what course should be pursued with respect to them the council deliberated a long time without coming to any decision.
On the evening of the following day the daily reports of the generals of division came in. They spoke of nothing but the insufficiency of the rations, the complaints of the soldiers—of their murmurs and discontent at seeing their bread given to enemies who had been withdrawn from their vengeance, inasmuch as a decree of death; in conformity with the laws of war, had been passed on Jaffa. All these reports were alarming, and especially that of General Bon, in which no reserve was made. He spoke of nothing less than the fear of a revolt, which would be justified by the serious nature of the case.
The council assembled again. All the generals of division were summoned to attend, and for several hours together they discussed, under separate questions, what measures might be adopted, with the most sincere desire to discover and execute one which would save the lives of these unfortunate prisoners.
(1.) Should they be sent into Egypt? Could it be done? To do so; it would be necessary to send with them a numerous escort, which would too much weaken our little army in the enemy's country. How, besides, could they and the escort be supported till they reached Cairo, having no provisions to give them on setting out, and their route being through a hostile territory, which we had exhausted, which presented no fresh resources, and through which we, perhaps, might have to return,
(2.) Should they be embarked? Where were the ships?—Where could they be found? All our telescopes, directed over the sea could not descry a single friendly sail Bonaparte, I affirm, would have regarded such an event as a real favour of fortune. It was, and—I am glad to have to say it, this sole idea, this sole hope, which made him brave, for three days, the murmurs of his army. But in vain was help looked for seaward. It did not come.
(3.) Should the prisoners be set at liberty? They world then instantly proceed to St. Jean d'Acre to reinforce the pasha, or else, throwing themselves into the mountains of Nablous, would greatly annoy our rear and right-flank, and deal out death to us, as a recompense for the life we had given them. There could be no doubt of this. What is a Christian dog to a Turk? It would even have been a religious and meritorious act in the eye of the Prophet.
(4.) Could they be incorporated, disarmed, with our soldiers in the ranks?
Here again the question of food presented itself in all its force. Next came to be considered the danger of having such comrades while marching through an enemy's country. What might happen in the event of a battle before St. Jean d'Acre? Could we even tell what might occur during the march? And, finally, what must be done with them when under the ramparts of that town, if we should be able to take them there? The same embarrassments with respect to the questions of provisions and security would then recur with increased force.
The third day arrived without its being possible, anxiously as it was desired, to come to any conclusion favourable to the preservation of these unfortunate men. The murmurs in the camp grew louder the evil went on increasing—remedy appeared impossible—the danger was real and imminent. The order for shooting the prisoners was given and executed on the 10th of March. We did not, as has been stated, separate the Egyptians from the other prisoners. There were no Egyptians.
Many of the unfortunate creatures composing the smaller division, which was fired on close to the seacoast, at some distance from the other column, succeeded in swimming to some reefs of rocks out of the reach of musket-shot. The soldiers rested their muskets on the sand, and, to induce the prisoners to return, employed the Egyptian signs of reconciliation in use in the country. They, came back; but as they advanced they were killed, and disappeared among the waves.
I confine myself to these details of this act of dreadful necessity, of which I was an eye-witness. Others, who, like myself, saw it, have fortunately spared me the recital of the sanguinary result. This atrocious scene, when I think of it, still makes me shudder, as it did on the day I beheld it; and I would wish it were possible for me to forget it, rather than be compelled to describe it. All the horrors imagination can conceive, relative to that day of blood, would fall short of the reality.
I have related the truth, the whole truth. I was present at all the discussions, all the conferences, all the deliberations. I had not, as may be supposed, a deliberative voice; but I am bound to declare that. the situation of the army, the scarcity of food, our small numerical strength, in the midst of a country where every individual was an enemy, would have induced me to vote in the affirmative of the proposition which was carried into effect, if I had a vote to give. It was necessary to be on the spot in order to understand the horrible necessity which existed.
War, unfortunately, presents too many occasions on which a law, immutable in all ages, and common to all nations, requires that private interests should be sacrificed to a great general interest, and that even humanity should be forgotten. It is for posterity to judge whether this terrible situation was that in which Bonaparte was placed. For my own part, I have a perfect conviction that he could not do otherwise than yield to the dire necessity of the case. It was the advice of the council, whose opinion was unanimous in favour of the execution, that governed him, Indeed I ought in truth to say, that he yielded only in the last extremity, and was one of those, perhaps, who beheld the massacre with the deepest pain.
After the siege of Jaffe the plague began to exhibit itself with a little more virulence. We lost between seven and eight hundred, men by the contagion during the campaign of Syria'
—[Sir Walter Scott says, that Heaven seat this pestilence amongst us to avenge the massacre of Jaffa]—
During our march on St. Jean d'Acre, which was commenced on the 14th of March, the army neither obtained the brilliant triumphs nor encountered the numerous obstacles spoken of in certain works. Nothing of importance occurred but a rash skirmish of General Lannes who, in spite of contrary orders, from Bonaparte, obstinately pursued a troop of mountaineers into the passes of Nabloua. On returning, he found the mountaineers placed in ambush in great numbers amongst rocks, the windings of which they were well, acquainted with, whence they fired close upon our troops; whose situation rendered them unable to defend themselves. During the time of this foolish and useless enterprise; especially while the firing was brisk, Bonaparte, exhibited much impatience, and it must be confessed, his anger was but natural: The Nablousians halted at the openings of the mountain defiles. Bonaparte reproached Lannes bitterly for having uselessly exposed himself, and "sacrificed, without any object, a number of brave men." Lannes excused himself by saying that the mountaineers had defied him, and he wished to chastise the rabble. "We are not in a condition to play the swaggerer," replied Napoleon.
In four days we arrived before St. Jean d'Acre, where we learned that Djezzar had cut off the head of our envoy, Mailly-de-Chateau-Renaud, and thrown his body into the sea in a sack. This cruel pasha was guilty of a great number of similar executions. The waves frequently drove dead bodies towards the coast, and we came upon them whilst bathing.
The details: of the siege of Acre are well known. Although surrounded by a wall, flanked with strong towers, and having, besides, a broad-and deep ditch defended by works this little fortress did not appear likely to hold out against French valour and the skill of our corps of engineers and artillery; but the ease and rapidity with which Jaffa had been taken occasioned us to overlook in some degree the comparative strength of the two places, and the difference of their respective situations. At Jaffa we had sufficient artillery: at St. Jean d'Acre we had not. At Jaffa we had to deal only with a garrison left to itself: at St. Jean d'Acre we were opposed by a garrison strengthened by reinforcements of men and supplies of provisions, supported by the English fleet, and assisted by European Science. Sir Sidney Smith was, beyond doubt, the man who did us the greatest injury.
—[Sir Sidney Smith was the only Englishman besides the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napoleon in military operations. The third Englishman opposed to him, Sir John Moore, was compelled to make a precipitate retreat through the weakness of his force]—
Much has been said respecting his communications with the General-in-Chief. The reproaches which the latter cast upon him for endeavouring to seduce the soldiers and officers of the army by tempting offers were the more singular, even if they were well founded, inasmuch as these means are frequently employed by leaders in war.
—[At one time the French General was so disturbed by them as to endeavour to put a stop to them; which object he effected by interdicting all communication with the English, and signifying, in an order of the day, that their Commodore was a madman. This, being believed in the army, so enraged Sir Sidney Smith, that in his wrath he sent a challenge to Napoleon. The latter replied, that he had too many weighty affairs on his hands to trouble himself in so trifling a matter. Had it, indeed, been the great Marlborough, it might have been worthy his attention. Still, if the English sailor was absolutely bent upon fighting, he would send him a bravo from the army, and show them a smell portion of neutral ground, where the mad Commodore might land, and satisfy his humour to the full.— (Editor of 1836 edition.)]—
As to the embarking of French prisoners on board a vessel in which the plague existed, the improbability of the circumstance alone, but especially the notorious facts of the case, repel this odious accusation. I observed the conduct of Sir Sidney Smith closely at the time, and I remarked in him a chivalric spirit, which sometimes hurried him into trifling eccentricities; but I affirm that his behaviour towards the French was that of a gallant enemy. I have seen many letters, in which the writers informed him that they "were very sensible of the good treatment which the French experienced when they fell into his hands." Let any one examine Sir Sidney's conduct before the capitulation of El-Arish, and after its rupture, and then they can judge of his character.
—[Napoleon, when at St. Helena, in speaking of the siege of Acre, said,—Sidney Smith is a brave officer. He displayed considerable ability in the treaty for the evacuation of Egypt by the French. He took advantage of the discontent which he found to prevail amongst the French troops at being so long away from France, and other circumstances. He manifested great honour in sending immediately to Kleber the refusal of Lord Keith to ratify the treaty, which saved the French army; if he had kept it a secret seven or eight days longer, Cairo would have been given up to the Turks, and the French army necessarily obliged to surrender to the English. He also showed great humanity and honour in all his proceedings towards the French who felt into his hands. He landed at Havre, for some 'sotttice' of a bet he had made, according to some, to go to the theatre; others said it was for espionage; however that may be, he was arrested and confined in the Temple as a spy; and at one time it was intended to try and execute him. Shortly after I returned from Italy he wrote to me from his prison, to request that I would intercede for him; but, under the circumstances in which he was taken, I could do nothing for him. He is active, intelligent, intriguing, and indefatigable; but I believe that he is 'mezzo pazo'.
"The chief cause of the failure at Acre was, that he took all my battering train, which was on board of several small vessels. Had it not been for that, I would have taken Acre in spite of him. He behaved very bravely, and was well seconded by Phillipeaux, a Frenchman of talent, who had studied with me as an engineer. There was a Major Douglas also, who behaved very gallantly. The acquisition of five or six hundred seamen as gunners was a great advantage to the Turks, whose spirits they revived, and whom they showed how to defend the fortress. But he committed a great fault in making sorties, which cost the lives of two or three hundred brave fellows without the possibility of success. For it was impossible he could succeed against the number of the French who were before Acre. I would lay a wage that he lost half of his crew in them. He dispersed Proclamations amongst my troops, which certainly shook some of them, and I in consequence published an order, stating that he was read, and forbidding all communication with him. Some days after he sent, by means of a flag of truce, a lieutenant or a midshipman with a letter containing a challenge to me to meet him at some place he pointed out in order to fight a duel. I laughed at this, sad sent him back an intimation that when he brought Marlborough to fight me I would meet him. Not, withstanding this, I like the character of the man." (Voices from St. Helena, vol. 4, p. 208).]—
All our manoeuvres, our works, and attacks were made with that levity and carelessness which over-confidence inspires. Kleber, whilst walking with me one day in the lines of our camp, frequently expressed his surprise and discontent. "The trenches," said, he, "do not come up to my knees." Besieging artillery was, of necessity, required: we commenced with field artillery. This encouraged the besieged, who perceived the weakness of our resources. The besieging artillery, consisting only of three twenty-four pounders and six, eighteen pounders, was not brought up until the end of April, and before that period threw assaults had taken place with very serious loss. On the 4th of May our powder began to fail us. This cruel event obliged us to slacken our fire. We also wanted shot; and an order of the day fixed a price to be given for all balls, according to their calibre, which might be picked up after being fired from the fortress or the two ships of the line, the 'Tiger' and 'Theseus', which were stationed on each side of the harbour: These two vessels embarrassed the communication, between the camp and the trenches; but though they made much noise, they did little harm. A ball from one of them; killed an officer on the evening the siege was raised.
The enemy had within the walls some excellent riflemen, chiefly Albanians. They placed stones, one over the other, on the walls, put their firearms through the interstices, and thus, completely sheltered, fired with destructive precision.
On the 9th of April General Caffarelli, so well known for his courage and talents, was passing through the trench, his hand resting as he stooped on his hip, to preserve the equilibrium which his wooden leg, impaired; his elbow only was raised above the trench. He was warned that the enemy's shot, fired close upon us did not miss the smallest object. He paid no attention to any observation of this kind, and in a few instants his elbow joint was fractured. Amputation of the arm was judged indispensable. The General survived the operation eighteen days. Bonaparte went regularly twice a day to his tent. By his order, added to my friendship for Caffarelli, I scarcely ever quitted him. Shortly before he expired he said to me, "My dear Bourrienne, be so good as to read to me Voltaire's preface to 'Esprit des Lois'." When I returned to the tent of the General-in-Chief he asked, "How is Caffarelli?" I replied, "He is near his end; but he asked me to read him Voltaire's preface to the 'Esprit de Lois', he has just fallen asleep." Bonaparte said, "Bah! to wish to hear that preface? how singular!" He went to see Caffarelli, but he was still asleep. I returned to him that evening and received his last breath. He died with the utmost composure. His death. was equally regretted by the soldiers and the men of science, who accompanied us. It was a just regret due to that distinguished man, in whom very extensive information was united with great courage and amiable disposition.
On the 10th of May; when an assault took place, Bonaparte proceeded at an early hour to the trenches.
—[Sir Sidney Smith, in his Official report of the assault of the 8th of May, says that Napoleon was distinctly seen directing the operation.]—
Croisier, who was mentioned on our arrival at Damanhour and on the capture of Jaffa, had in vain courted death since the commencement of the siege. Life had become insupportable to him since the unfortunate affair at Jaffa. He as usual accompanied his General to the trenches. Believing that the termination of the siege, which was supposed to be near, would postpone indefinitely the death which he sought, he mounted a battery. In this situation his tall figure uselessly provoked all, the enemy's shots. "Croisier, come down, I command you; you have no business there," cried Bonaparte, in a loud and imperative tone. Croisier remained without making any reply. A moment after a ball passed through his right leg. Amputation was not considered, indispensable. On the day of our departure he was placed on a litters which was borne by sixteen men alternately, eight at a time. I received his farewell between Gaza and El-Arish, where, he died of tetanus. His modest tomb will not be often visited.
The siege of St. Jean d'Acre lasted sixty days. During that time eight-assaults and-twelve sorties took place. In the assault of the 8th of May more than 200 men penetrated into the town. Victory was already shouted; but the breach having been taken in reverse by the Turks, it was not approached without some degree of hesitation, and the men who had entered were not supported. The streets were barricaded. The cries, the howlings of the women, who ran trough the streets throwing, according to the custom of the country, dust in the, air, excited the male inhabitants to a desperate resistance, which rendered unavailing, this short occupation of the town, by a handful of men, who, finding themselves left without assistance, retreated towards the breach. Many who could not reach it perished in the town.
During this assault Duroc, who was in the trench, was wounded in the right thigh by the a splinter from a shell fired against the fortifications. Fortunately this accident only carried away the flesh from the bone, which remained untouched. He had a tent in common with several other 'aides de camp'; but for his better accommodation I gave him mine, and I scarcely ever quitted him. Entering his tent one day about noon, I found him in a profound sleep. The excessive heat had compelled him to throw off all covering, and part of his wound was exposed. I perceived a scorpion which had crawled up the leg of the camp-bed and approached very near to the wound. I was just in time to hurl it to the ground. The sudden motion of my hand awoke Duroc.
We often bathed in the sea. Sometimes the English, perhaps after taking a double allowance of grog, would fire at our heads, which appeared above water. I am not aware that any accident was occasioned by their cannonade; but as we were beyond reach of their guns, we paid scarcely any attention to the firing. It was seen a subject of amusement to us.
Had our attack on St. Jean d'Acre been less precipitate, and had the siege been undertaken according to the rules of war; the place would not have held out three days; one assault, like that of the 8th of May, would have been sufficient. If, in the situation in which we were on the day when we first came in sight of the ramparts of Acre; we had made a less inconsiderate estimate of the strength of the place; if we had likewise taken into consideration the active co-operation of the English and the Ottoman Porte; our absolute want of artillery of sufficient calibre; our scarcity of gunpowder and the difficulty of procuring food; we certainly should not have undertaken the siege; and that would have been by far the wisest course.
Towards the end of the siege the General-in-Chief received intelligence of some trifling insurrections in northern Egypt. An angel had excited them, and the heavenly messenger, who had condescended to assume a name, was called the Mahdi, or El Mohdy. This religious extravagance, however, did not last long, and tranquillity was soon restored. All that the fanatic Mahdi, who shrouded himself in mystery, succeeded in doing was to attack our rear by some vagabonds, whose illusions were dissipated by a few musket shots.
The siege of Acre raised—Attention to names is bulletins—Gigantic project—The Druses—Mount Caramel—The wounded and infected— Order to march on foot—Loss of our cannon—A Nablousian fires at Bonaparte—Return to Jaffa—Bonaparte visits the plague hospital— A potion given to the sick—Bonaparte's statement at St. Helena.
The siege of St. Jean d'Acre was raised on the 20th of May. It cost us a loss of nearly 3000 men, in killed, deaths by the plague, or wounds. A great number were wounded mortally. In those veracious documents, the bulletins, the French loss was made 500 killed, and 1000 wounded, and the enemy's more than 15,000.
Our bulletins may form curious materials for history; but their value certainly will not depend on the credit due to their details. Bonaparte attached the greatest importance to those documents; generally drawing them up himself, or correcting them, when written by another hand, if the composition did not please him.
It must be confessed that at that time nothing so much flattered self-love as being mentioned in a bulletin. Bonaparte was well aware of this; he knew that to insert a name in a bulletin was conferring a great honour, and that its exclusion was a severe disappointment. General Berthier, to whom I had expressed a strong desire to examine the works of the siege, took me over them; but notwithstanding his promise of secrecy; he mentioned the circumstance to the General-in-Chief, who had desired me not to approach the works. "What did you go there for?" said Bonaparte to me, with some severity; "that is not your place." I replied that herthier told me that no assault would take place that day; and he believed there would be no sortie, as the garrison had made one the preceding evening. "What matters that? There might have been another. Those who have nothing to do in such places are always the first victims. Let every man mind his own business. Wounded or killed, I would not even have noticed you in the bulletin. You could have been laughed at, and that justly."
Bonaparte; not having at this time experienced reverses, having continually proceeded from triumph to triumph, confidently anticipated the taking of St, Jean d'Acre. In his letters to the generals in Egypt he fixed the 25th of April for the accomplishment of that event. He reckoned that the grand assault against the tower could not be made before that day; it took place, however, twenty-four hours sooner. He wrote to Desaix on the 19th of April, "I count on being master of Acre in six days." On the 2d of May he told Junot, "Our 18 and 24 pounders have arrived. We hope to enter Acre in a few days. The fire of their artillery is completely extinguished." Letters have been printed, dated 30th Floreal' (19th. May), in which he announces to, Dugua and to Poussielque that they can rely on his being in Acre on 6th Floreal (25th April). Some mistake has evidently been made. "The slightest circumstances produce the greatest events," said Napoleon, according to the Memorial of St. Helena; "had St. Jean d'Acre fallen, I should have changed the face of the world." And again, "The fate of the East lay in that small town."
This idea is not one which he first began to entertain at St. Helena; he often repeated the very same words at St. Jean d'Acre. On the shore of Ptolemes gigantic projects agitated him, as, doubtless, regret for not having carried them into execution tormented him at St. Helena.
Almost every evening Bonaparte and myself used to walk together, at a little distance from the sea-shore. The day after the unfortunate assault of the 8th of May Bonaparte, afflicted at seeing the blood of so many brave men uselessly shed, said to me, "Bourrienne, I see that this wretched place has cost me a number of men, and wasted much time. But things are too far advanced not to attempt a last effort. If I succeed, as I expect, I shall find in the town the pasha's treasures, and arms for 300,000 men. I will stir up and arm the people of Syria, who are disgusted at the ferocity of Djezzar, and who, as you know, pray for his destruction at every assault. I shall then march upon Damascus and. Aleppo. On advancing into the country, the discontented will flock round my standard, and swell my army. I will announce to the people the abolition of servitude and of the tyrannical governments of the pashas. I shall arrive at Constantinople with large masses of soldiers. I shall overturn the Turkish empire, and found in the East a new and grand empire, which will fix my place in the records of posterity. Perhaps I shall return to Paris by Adrianople, or by Vienna, after having annihilated the house of Austria." After I had made some observations which these grand projects naturally suggested, he replied, "What! do you not see that the Druses only wait for the fall of Acre to rise in rebellion? Have not the keys of Damascus already been offered me? I only stay till these walls fall because until then I can derive no advantage from this large town. By the operation which I meditate I cutoff all kind of succour from the beys, and secure the conquest of Egypt. I will have Desaix nominated commander-in-chief; but if I do not succeed in the last assault I am about to attempt, I set off directly. Time presses,—I shall not be at Cairo before the middle of June; the winds will then lie favourable for ships bound to Egypt, from the north. Constantinople will send troops to Alexandria and Rosetta. I must be there. As for the army, which will arrive afterwards by land, I do not fear it this year. I will cause everything to be destroyed, all the way, to the entrance of the desert. I will render the passage of an army impossible for two years. Troops cannot exist amoung ruins."
As soon as I returned to my tent I committed to paper this conversation, which was then quite fresh in my memory, and, I may venture to say that every word I put down is correct. I may add, that during the siege our camp was, constantly filled with the inhabitants, who invoked Heaven to favour our arms, and prayed fervently at every assaualt for our success, many of them on their knees, with their faces to the city. The people of Damascus, too, had offered the keys to Bonaparte. Thus everything contributed to make him confident in his favourite plan.
The troops left St. Jean d'Acre on the 20th of May, taking advantage of the night to avoid a sortie from the besieged, and to conceal the retreat of the army, which had to march three leagues along the shore, exposed to the fire of the English vessels lying in the roads of Mount Carmel. The removal of the wounded and sick commenced on the. 18th and 19th of May.
Bonaparte then made a proclamation, which from one end to the other offends against truth. It has been published in many works. The season of the year for hostile landing is there very dexterously placed in the foreground; all the rest is a deceitful exaggeration. It must be observed that the proclamations which Bonaparte regarded as calculated to dazzle an ever too credulous public were amplifications often ridiculous and incomprehensible upon the spot, and which only excited the laughter of men of common sense. In all Bonaparte's correspondence there is an endeavour to disguise his reverses, and impose on the public, and even on his own generals. For example, he wrote to General Dugua, commandant of Cairo, on the 15th of February, "I will bring you plenty of prisoners and flags!" One would almost be inclined to say that he had resolved, during his stay in the East, thus to pay a tribute to the country of fables.
—[The prisoners and flags were sent. The Turkish flags were entrusted by Berthier to the Adjutant-Commandant Boyer, who conducted a convoy of sick and wounded to Egypt. Sidney Smith acknowledges the loss of some flags by the Turks. The Turkish prisoners were used as carriers of the litters for the wounded, and were, for the most part, brought into Egypt. (Erreurs, tome i. pp. 47 and 160)]—
Thus terminated this disastrous expedition. I have read somewhere that during this immortal campaign the two heroes Murat and Mourad had often been in face of one another. There is only a little difficulty; Mourad Bey never put his foot in Syria.
We proceeded along the coast, and passed Mount Carmel. Some of the wounded were carried on litters, the remainder on horses, mules, and camels. At a short distance from Mount Carmel we were informed that three soldiers, ill of the plague, who were left in a convent (which served for a hospital), and abandoned too confidently to the generosity of the Turks, had been barbarously put to death.
A most intolerable thirst, the total want of water, an excessive heat, and a fatiguing march over burning sand-hills, quite disheartened the men, and made every generous sentiment give way to feelings of the grossest selfishness and most shocking indifference. I saw officers, with their limbs amputated, thrown off the litters, whose removal in that way had been ordered, and who had themselves given money to recompense the bearers. I saw the amputated, the wounded, the infected, or those only suspected of infection, deserted and left to themselves. The march was illumined by torches, lighted for the purpose of setting fire to the little towns, villages, and hamlets which lay in the route, and the rich crops with which the land was then covered. The whole country was in a blaze. Those who were ordered to preside at this work of destruction seemed eager to spread desolation on every side, as if they could thereby avenge themselves for their reverses, and find in such dreadful havoc an alleviation of their sufferings. We were constantly surrounded by plunderers, incendiaries, and the dying, who, stretched on the sides of the road, implored assistance in a feeble voice, saying, "I am not infected—I am only wounded;" and to convince those whom they addressed, they reopened their old wounds, or inflicted on themselves fresh ones. Still nobody attended to them. "It is all over with him," was the observation applied to the unfortunate beings in succession, while every one pressed onward. The sun, which shone in an unclouded sky in all its brightness, was often darkened by our conflagrations. On our right lay the sea; on our left, and behind us, the desert made by ourselves; before were the privations and sufferings which awaited us. Such was our true situation.
We reached Tentoura on the 20th of May, when a most oppressive heat prevailed, and produced general dejection. We had nothing to sleep on but the parched and burning sand; on our right lay a hostile sea; our losses in wounded and sick were already considerable since leaving Acre; and there was nothing consolatory in the future. The truly afflicting condition in which the remains of an army called triumphant were plunged, produced, as might well be expected, a corresponding impression on the mind of the General-in-Chief. Scarcely had he arrived at Tentoura when he ordered his tent to be pitched. He then called me, and with a mind occupied by the calamities of our situation, dictated an order that every one should march on foot; and that all the horses, mules, and camels should be given up to the wounded, the sick, and infected who had been removed, and who still showed signs of life. "Carry that to Berthier," said he; and the order was instantly despatched. Scarcely had I returned to the tent when the elder Vigogne, the (General-in-Chief's groom), entered, and raising his hand to his cap, said, "General, what horse do you reserve for yourself?" In the state of excitement in which Bonaparte wad this question irritated him so violently that, raising his whip, he gave the man a severe blow on the head; saying in a terrible voice, "Every-one must go on foot, you rascal—I the first—Do you not know the order? Be off!"
Every one in parting with his horse was now anxious to avoid giving it to any unfortunate individual supposed to be suffering from plague. Much pains were taken to ascertain the nature of the diseases of the sick; and no difficulty was made in accommodating the wounded of amputated. For my part I had an excellent horse; a mule, and two camels, all which I gave up with the greatest pleasure; but I confess that I directed my servant to do all he could to prevent an infected person from getting my horse. It was returned to me in a very short time. The same thing happened to many others. The cause maybe easily conjectured.
The remains of our heavy artillery were lost in the moving sands of Tentoura, from the want of horses, the small number that remained being employed in more indispensable services. The soldiers seemed to forget their own sufferings, plunged in grief at the loss of their bronze guns, often the instruments of their triumphs, and which had made Europe tremble.
We halted at Caesarea on the 22d of May, and we marched all the following night. Towards daybreak a man, concealed in a bush upon the left of the road (the sea was two paces from us on the right), fired a musket almost close to the head of the General-in-Chief, who was sleeping on his horse. I was beside him. The wood being searched, the Nablousian was taken without difficulty, and ordered to be shot on the spot. Four guides pushed him towards the sea by thrusting their carbines against his back; when close to the water's edge they drew the triggers, but all the four muskets hung fire: a circumstance which was accounted for by the great humidity of the night. The Nablousian threw himself into the water, and, swimming with great agility and rapidity, gained a ridge of rocks so far off that not a shot from the whole troop, which fired as it passed, reached him. Bonaparte, who continued his march, desired me to wait for Kleber, whose division formed the rear-guard, and to tell him not to forget the Nablousian. He was, I believe, shot at last.