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Savary: Memoirs of the Duke of Rovigo
Volume 1, Part 1, Chapter 10
The English capture a fleet dispatched to St. John d'Acre—Siege of St. John d'Acre—Retreat—-General Bonaparte's visit to the hospital of men infected with the plague at Jaffa—Landing of the Turkish army—Battle of Aboukir.

GENERAL BONAPARTE, whose foresight anticipated every difficulty, had ordered a fleet to be sent off from Alexandria, with the heavy artillery and engineering utensils on board ; it was escorted by two old frigates, which had sailed from Toulon as transport ships, and had refitted at Alexandria, after the defeat of our squadron. This fleet had on board every thing requisite for the siege of St. John d'Acre, besides a great number of muskets. Thus laden with stores of incalculable value, the fleet proceeded along the coasts of Egypt and Syria. It had been informed of the presence of two English ships in those quarters; but as none of the vessels composing it drew much water, it could sail very close in-shore, and so protect itself from attack, in the improbable event of its not finding the French troops in possession of one of the small ports along the coast, and which it was directed to enter.

It was the fate of the fleet to be commanded by an officer of extremely limited capacity, who, on making the point of Mount Carmel, dared not reconnoitre the port of Caipha, which was only three leagues off, or at least neglected to do so, fearing to find it occupied by the Turks ; whereas we were already in possession of it. He hesitated, and in this state of perplexity stood out to sea, preferring the risk of being captured by the English to the danger of falling into the hands of the Turks; a fear which his imagination constantly presented to his view. He fell, accordingly, into the power of the English, with the whole of his fleet : this fault, which it is difficult to qualify, had a prodigious influence over our future operations.

It was impossible to retreat; and there was no resource left but to besiege the place with such means as the artillery of the army would afford.

A line of circumvallation was drawn round it; the trenches were opened, and, by dint of zeal, a breach was effected: no less than ten assaults were given to this paltry fort, into which the soldiers repeatedly penetrated, but were as often repulsed, with heavy loss. The Turks, at all times formidable when protected by walls, were the more eager in defending' themselves, as they saw that our means of attack were out of proportion to their means of defence, which were, besides, directed by a French officer of artillery, whom the English had expressly landed at St. John d'Acre.

This unexpected resistance, and the time lost in the operations carried on against the town, had affected, to a certain degree, the high opinion which the neighbouring people had formed of the events of which they had too soon anticipated the results.

Their communications with us began to slacken; by degrees, provisions grew scarce, and disorders followed, as the consequence of want.

The Druses and Mutuali had returned to their homes; and at last the audacious insolence of the wandering Arabs increased to such a degree, that it became necessary to detach whole bodies of troops for the purpose of covering a larger surface of country, and of scouring it to procure provisions for the army. These corps were violently attacked and harassed by swarms of population; and General Bonaparte was obliged to march in person, for the purpose of releasing Kleber at Mount Tabor, and General Junot at Nazareth; but as the detachments did not succeed in the object which they had been sent to accomplish, they returned to the main body.

Scarcity was soon felt ; and, in addition to its distress, the army was attacked with the plague. In a situation of so much difficulty. General Bonaparte was left without any hope of bringing his operations to a successful issue ; he ran the risk, on the contrary, of losing his army, unless he hastened to take it back to Egypt.

He was induced, by another consideration, to relinquish his original plan : we were approaching the season during which a landing is easily effected in Egypt, where the coast is so low, as to compel ships to anchor at a great distance; and as they cannot, in such a position, resist the violence of the autumnal winds, they can only ride at that anchorage in summer. General Bonaparte had learned, during his stay in Syria, that an expedition was fitting out in the ports of the Archipelago; it was of importance, therefore, that he should be in Egypt at the moment of its arrival.

The troops marched back, having embarked all the sick, as well as the wounded, who reached Damietta in safety. The hospital, however, still contained many soldiers who were in a state bordering upon madness, much more owing to the terror which the malady inspired, than to the intensity of the pain. General Bonaparte determined to restore them to their wonted energy. He paid them a visit, reproached them for giving way to dejection, and yielding to chimerical fears; and in order to convince them, by the most obvious proof, that their apprehensions were groundless, he desired that the bleeding tumour of one of the soldiers should be uncovered before him, and pressed it with his own hand. This act of heroism restored confidence to the sick, who no longer thought their case desperate. Each one recruited his remaining strength, and prepared to quit a place which, but a moment before, he had expected never to leave. A grenadier, upon whom the plague had made greater ravages, could hardly raise himself from his bed. The general perceiving this, addressed to him a few encouraging words : " You are right ,

General," replied the warrior; "your grenadiers are not made to die in an hospital." Affected at the courage displayed by these unfortunate men, who were exhausted by uneasiness of mind no less than by the complaint. General Bonaparte would not quit them until he saw them all placed upon camels and the other means of transport at the disposal of the army. These, however, being found inadequate, he made a requisition for the officers' horses, delivered up his own, and, finding one of them missing, he sent for the groom, who was keeping it for his master, and hesitated to give it up.. The general growing impatient at this excess of zeal, darted a threatening look; the whole stud was placed at the disposal of the sick ; and yet it is this very act of magnanimity which the perverseness of human nature has delighted in distorting. I feel ashamed to advert to so atrocious a calumny; but the man, whose simple assertion was found sufficient to give it currency, has not been able to stifle it by his subsequent disavowal. I must, therefore, descend to the task of proving the absurdity of the charge. I do not wish to urge, as an argument, the absolute want of medicines to which the army was reduced by the rapacity of an apothecary; nor the indignation felt by General Bonaparte, when he learned that this wretch, instead of employing his camels to transport pharmaceutic preparations, had loaded them with provisions, upon which he expected to derive a profit. The necessity to which we were driven of using roots as a substitute for opium, is a fact known to the whole army. Supposing, however, that opium had been as plentiful as it was scarce, and that General Bonaparte could have contemplated the expedient attributed to him, where could there be found a man sufficiently determined in mind, or so lost to the feelings of human nature, as to force open the jaws of fifty wretched men on the point of death, and thrust a deadly preparation down their throats ? The most intrepid soldier turned pale at the sight of an infected person; the warmest heart dared not relieve a friend afflicted with the plague; and is it to be credited, that brutal ferocity could execute what the noblest feelings recoiled at ? or that there should have been a creature savage or mad enough to sacrifice his own life, in order to enjoy the satisfaction of hastening the death of fifty dying men, wholly unknown to him, and against whom he had no complaint to make ? The supposition is truly absurd, and only worthy of those who bring it forward in spite of the disavowal of its author.

I return to the infected men. They followed the steps of the army, held the same road, and always encamped at a short distance from its bivouacks. General Bonaparte had his tent pitched near the sick every night, and never passed a day without visiting them, or seeing them file off at the moment of departure. These generous cares were crowned with the happiest results. The march, the perspiration, and above all, the hope to which the general had restored them, completely eradicated the complaint. They all arrived at Cairo perfectly re -established in health.

The army was exhausted; the march and the fatigues of the campaign had been too much for its strength: it returned to Egypt in a state of absolute want ; but every thing had been foreseen, and abundance of provisions, rest, and comfortable clothing, soon made them forget all the sufferings they had undergone.

General Bonaparte, on his return to Cairo, endeavoured to ascertain the state of France. At the very moment of proceeding on his expedition to Syria, he bad received melancholy accounts of its military and political situation. Messrs. Hamelin and Livron, who came from the coast of Italy with a cargo of wine and vinegar, had crossed the Archipelago, and seen the Russian fleet pressing the siege of Corfu ; they had even put into Ragusa, where they were compelled to change vessels. The master with whom they had at first been in treaty, refused to go as far as Egypt, being apprehensive that his vessel might be confiscated, as he was a Dalmatian, and as Austria was again at war with France. They had informed the general of Suwarrow's [sic] march, and acquainted him that Bruix had in fact penetrated into the Mediterranean ; but that the army of Italy had been unable to furnish him with the troops he wished to take on board previously to his sailing for Egypt; that he had repaired to Cadiz, taken the Spanish fleet along with him, and carried it to Brest, where the Directory, not being quite satisfied respecting the protestations of Charles IV., had retained it as a guarantee for his sincerity.

The general-in-chief was greatly affected at learning this gloomy state of things, which was confirmed to him by the newspapers scattered by the English along the coast. Italy was lost to us; Corfu had surrendered ; we had been defeated upon the Rhine as well as upon the Adige; fortune had betrayed us in every quarter. To crown all these evils, discord had followed in the train of our reverses. The Councils attacked the Directory; the Directory retorted upon the Councils; and France, torn by factions, was on the point of becoming the prey of foreigners. wtj

Such appeared to him to be the confused aspect of the political horizon on his first return to Cairo. His mind was a prey to every kind of conjecture, when, twenty-two days after his return from Syria, a Turkish fleet was descried from Alexandria, escorting a numerous fleet of transports, with the very two English ships in company that had assisted in the defence of St. John d^Acre under the orders of Sir Sidney Smith.

This news did not take general Bonaparte by surprise; he bad foreseen the event, and had only detained the troops at Cairo the time requisite for recovering from the fatigues of their march from Syria; he had afterwards drawn them nearer to the coast. He had even carried the precaution so far as to inform General Desaix of what he deemed an unavoidable occurrence, and ordered him to hold his division in readiness to march.

He no sooner heard of the appearance of the Turkish fleet before Alexandria, than he sent a second order to General Desaix, directing him immediately to bring his division down the country into a position between Cairo and Alexandria, which he pointed out to him. He also left Cairo in the utmost haste, to place himself at the head of the troops which he had ordered to quit their cantonments and march down to the coast.

Whilst General Bonaparte was making these arrangements and coming in person from Cairo, the troops on board the Turkish fleet had effected a landing, and taken possession of the fort of Aboukir, and of a redoubt placed behind the village of that name, which ought to have been put into a state of defence six months before, but had been so completely neglected, that nothing was easier than to ride through the breaches, and through the spaces left by the falling in of the earth, in every direction.

The Turks had nearly destroyed the weak garrisons that occupied those two military points, when General Marmont, who commanded at Alexandria, came to their relief. This general, seeing the two posts in the power of the Turks, returned to shut himself up in Alexandria, where he would probably have been blockaded by the Turkish army, had it not been for the arrival of General Bonaparte with his forces, who was very angry when he saw that the fort and redoubt had been taken ; but, in reality, he did not blame Marmont for retreating to Alexandria : what, indeed, would have been his feelings, on the other hand, had he found this important city exposed to any danger by its garrison's being engaged in disputing a barren desert with the Turkish army  ?

General Bonaparte arrived at midnight, with his guides and the remaining part of his army, and ordered the Turks to be attacked the next morning. In this battle, as in the preceding ones, the attack, the encounter, and the route, were occurrences of a moment, and the result of a single movement on the part of our troops. The whole Turkish army plunged into the sea, to regain its ships, leaving behind them every thing they had brought on shore.

The English sailors had the inhumanity to fire upon these unfortunate groups of soldiers, who, clothed in their wide vestments, attempted to swim across the two leagues of sea that separated them from their ships, which scarcely one of them reached in safety.

Whilst this event was occurring on the seashore, a Pacha had left the field of battle, with a corps of about three thousand men, in order to throw himself into the fort of Aboukir. They soon felt the extremities of thirst, which compelled them, after the lapse of a few days, to surrender unconditionally to General Menou, who was left on the ground, to close the operations connected with the Turkish army recently defeated.

These three thousand prisoners, who were very fine men, were employed upon the works of Alexandria and Damietta (that is to say , of Lesbe), situated higher up on the right bank of the Nile, between Damietta and the sea, in front of the space where formerly stood the town of Damietta, which was taken by the crusaders; but of which we could not discover any traces.

General Desaix was still above Cairo with his division when he received the letter by which General Bonaparte informed him of the successful issue of the battle; and as General Desaix had pointed out to him, each night, the place where he intended to take up his quarters. General Bonaparte was enabled to judge that, had he wanted that division, it could not have been within reach : in his letter, therefore, he gently blamed General Desaix's conduct. An Arab courier, dispatched from the field of battle the very evening of the action, came up with us during the night, at our bivouac, near Benezeh, twenty-five leagues at least above Cairo, This circumstance added greater weight to General Bonaparte's reproaches..

General Desaix, however, was not without an excuse. He had received the instructions to return with his division at a moment when it was broken into several movable columns, which were overrunning the country to collect the tax. He must either have delayed his march until he could bring together all those detachments, or have exposed himself to the necessity of bringing only a part of his troops, if the concentration of those detachments was to have been left to the discretion of their respective commanders. General Bonaparte would not be satisfied with all these excuses, and only scolded the louder; without, however, suffering this circumstance to affect, in any manner, the esteem and friendship he always bore to General Desaix.

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