Description

    Napoleon Bonaparte Document Signed "Bonaparte" as commander-in-chief of the French army in Egypt. Two pages in French, 8" x 12.5", Egypt, "21st of Messidor, year 7 [July 7, 1798]," to Major General Louis Desaix at Cairo Headquarters on stationery headed, "République Française / Bonaparte, Général en Chef." Napoleon, direct and succinct while trying to get his Egyptian invasion underway, fits a lot of military information into these two pages. Still, he finds room to comment on the "strange looking uniforms" of the Egyptian Mameluks. The future French emperor has signed in bold, black ink on page two. Minor stains to the paper. Smoothed folds.

    In part as translated: "It is of vital importance that we round up our cavalry corps which is scattered about everywhere. Keep the 22nd regiment of Light Infantry and the 20th of Dragoons, and send me all that you have from the 7th Regiment of Hussards, and the Dragoons of the 14th and 15th. We still have two or three hundred men to be mounted; if you can send us a few horses, as you mentioned to me, that would help us a great deal. If you can manage to spare one Batallion, send me the 61st, so that I may reunited and reorganize this demi-Brigade. Since the two battalions are elsewhere, I will unite all three in Rosetta. General Murat captured 40 Mameluks commanded by Selim Kochef. They were surrounded by the Annadis who march with us. They were driven back, and our troops captured them. Yesterday, some 100 men, of whom 60 or so were Mameluks, came from Upper Egypt, arrived at a village about two leagues from Bilbes. They were looking for water. A French detachment pursued them; they reached the desert, and now they are on their way to Syria. I believe that they are the ones in strange looking uniforms, and it is likely that the presence of General Brugon [?] caused them to flee. Among them were two Beys: Osman Bey . . . and Passim Bey. General Friant has to leave for Royenne on the 18th. I imagine that Mourad Bey will push deep into the interior of Africa. If he passes at Lake Natron, General Lannes awaits him there. If he returns to the oasis, you will keep harassing him. Truly yours [signed] Bonapart."

    The French Executive Directory appointed Citizen Bonaparte commander-in-chief of the expedition and directed him to seize Egypt while scattering the English anywhere he found them. Napoleon and his large French force-the Army of the Orient, as they were called-landed in Egypt in July 1798. He signed this letter only days after arriving in Alexandria, Egypt, and launching the difficult work of conquering a hostile land. Egypt was controlled at the time by twenty-four Mameluke beys (former Christian slaves). Napoleon attempted to arrest the Mamelukes and confiscate their property, which is obvious from this letter. Though accused of not planning well for this invasion, Napoleon did have the foresight to bring on this expedition a large group of naturalists, scientists, and scholars. One year after writing this letter, the French scholars discovered an important stele at Rosetta, the location that Napoleon plans in this letter to unite two battalions ("Since the two battalions are elsewhere, I will unite all three in Rosetta"). The Rosetta Stone, a stele with writing in three scripts dating back to 196 B.C.E., was a particularly important discovery because it helped scholars to finally successfully translate Egyptian hieroglyphs. The expensive and logistically complicated campaign of conquering Egypt was a mistake and a huge failure. Napoleon's plans to live off the land proved too difficult and costly as hundreds of French soldiers died of hunger and thirst. As Alan Schom has written, "Given the unique circumstances of this invasion, the entire responsibility for its failure then lay with Divisional General Bonaparte alone" (Napoleon Bonaparte, Harper Collins: 1997, 115-116). Also included with this letter is a chromolithograph of Emperor Napoleon (6.5" x 10").


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