Soon after the French Revolution of 1789 and the establishment of the First French Republic, a coalition of nations formed to invade the French Republic, topple it, and reinstate the French Monarchy. Among these nations were Austria, Prussia, and Russia. These nations would ultimately fail in their endeavor and their actions would result in the inevitable death of the last French King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette. The First French Republic managed to fend off these coalitions and eventually insight their own European order through brilliance of Generals such as Napoleon Bonaparte. Due to his efforts and success in fending off the dreaded monarchist coalition, Napoleon grew in popularity. So much so that the Directory, the French government at the time, wished to isolate him in fear of him staging a coup d’état. (Which he eventually would). In order to attain this isolation, the French government decided to send him off to Egypt, far away from the French homeland and far enough to prevent him stirring up any ruckus.
The strategic justification of this plan was to cut off Britain’s (one of Frances greatest historical rival’s) access to is colonial wealth in the Indian subcontinent by controlling and clogging it’s greatest means of access to the region; Ottoman Controlled Egypt. The plan was first Napoleon’s after the Directory expressed a desire that the French invade the British Isles themselves, which Napoleon, quite understandably, viewed as a ridiculous idea knowing that the Royal Navy was the undisputed greatest maritime power. So it was agreed that Napoleon would set out to Egypt in secret with over fifty thousand men including 200 scholars and scientists, 40,000 soldiers, and 10,000 mariners. None of these men knew to where they were going except Napoleon and a select number of generals. The goal was to take Egypt and determine if it was suitable for a permanent French Presence in the region. If it was determined to be suitable, the French would either make twin ports to connect the Red and Mediterranean Seas, or connect the two seas via a canal. This campaign would ultimately fail and the majority of the French forces in Egypt would be stranded there with no hope of return until 1801 when the British, French, and Ottomans agreed to end the conflict. Some would never return to their homeland. In those three years of war and struggle, thousands of French soldiers would die in combat, uprisings, the desert heat, or succumb to the pneumatic plague. Despite the unsuccessful military campaign, after abandoning his troops in 1799 and returning to France, Napoleon would be greeted as a military hero and would soon after stage a military coup to overthrow the Directory. Eventually becoming the Emperor of France in 1804 and changing history forever through the Napoleonic Wars.
The following journal entries takes into account the story of the campaign from the perspective of a French soldier under Napoleon Bonaparte’s command……..
July 1st, 1798, the Mediterranean Sea of the coast off Egypt:
The rains battered the sides of the Orient and rocked her side to side. We were caught in the roaring waves of a tempest as the waters of the all mighty Nile roared into the Mediterranean reinforced by the howling winds of the Sahara. The skies before us lay black like charcoal and the clouds engulfed us like gun smoke, stripping us of view and filling our lungs. After six weeks at sea, before us laid, just in sight, the Nile Delta. The entrance to a land synonymous with riches, societal advancement, and forgotten history shrouded in myth. But to me with unmeasurable adventure, the most reckless of human endeavors, and the prospect of the end of my own history.
Six weeks ago we embarked; not knowing where to nor for how long, leaving behind the only country we knew and loved. Fifty thousand men on four hundred ships; we followed our general blindly. It was not until the twenty second of June, 1798, eleven days after the siege of Malta and five weeks after embarking on our journey, that we were told that we had embarked on an invasion of Egypt. Now, a week and a day later, we await the orders of General Napoleon Bonaparte on the eve of war.
July 2nd, 1798, Alexandria, Egypt:
The General’s orders came and regardless of the great storm before us, General Bonaparte commanded that we commence the process of disembarking. I was among the first five thousand men to disembark and charge Alexandria. It was a dangerous and meticulous process, many boats carrying equipment were sunken on the rocks, but nothing would stop General Napoleon from attaining his goal of invading Alexandria. When we reached the shore, we began our assault on the fort of Alexandria which swiftly fell our will. We then took the remainder of the city in a matter of hours. Alexandria was the second largest city in Egypt, the great capital city of the Ptolemaic Egypt and the capital of Roman Egypt. It was the great city of the Light house of Alexandria and the city of the great Library which once housed tens of thousands of rolls of ancient Egyptian papyrus. It was the great Egyptian city built by the Greek invaders in Alexander the Great’s name. It was the enlightened Greeks and Macedons who took this land from the savage Persians and built up this great city from nothing. It would be us the enlightened French who would rebuild it from its ashes in the name of Democracy! The Turks had sucked Egypt of its glory and it would be us who would reinstate it in the name of the west and enlightened man!
July 16th, 1798, Saharan Desert, Egypt:
With our rear secured, it was now time that our army make its way to Cairo, the largest city in Egypt. Our expedition split in two, with the majority of the scholars and scientists going to Rosetta and the rest of us crossing the dessert to go to Cairo. The Sahara was a horrible place scorching in the day and freezing in the nights. Each step a separate agonizing effort, we trudged across the great sea of sand in our wool uniforms, without water, I thought I would melt! “How could anyone live here?” I asked myself. Without water or apparently people for miles on end in what seemed to be an endless desert! “How did people here not go mad?” I suppose it was the indescribable and unbearable heat which had created a tenuous balance between exhaustion and sanity in my head that led me to ask such questions. The answer really was quite obvious. No one went insane here because no one lived here! I now truly understood how important the Nile River was to life and survival in Egypt. We were completely clear of the delta and the river and there was nothing but sand in sight! We hadn’t run into anyone or anything buy rocks! I never thought that the desert could be so hostile if so, many lived in it. If so, much was accomplished in it. But of course, it all made sense now! Yes, they all lived in the desert, but they also lived almost exclusively on the banks the Nile! They all lived off the Nile’s resourses! I understood now why they called Egypt the, “Gift of the Nile,” because if there were no Nile, there would be no Egypt! There would be no civilization to be cradled here in this wasteland! The desert was in fact a harsh place, but it was the Nile that bore life to it and its people. Outside the constraints of the Nile nothing could live! I don’t know how I had lived so har. But I promised myself that if I lived to see the banks of the Nile once more, I would never doubt God again! As long as I lived and breathed!
July 21st, 1798, Embabeh, Egypt:
Today a great battle will take place at Embabeh. After days of traveling through the hot desert heat without human life in sight, we made our way to the settlement of Embabeh, just outside the gates of Cairo and met the enemy with the great pyramids of Egypt on the horizon. We are facing a sea of Mamelukes, that seemed as endless as the Mediterranean we sailed over to get here. The Mamelukes, who governed Egypt on behalf of the Ottomans formed a part of the Ottoman bureaucracy. They were former Christian slaves from the Caucuses Region that had converted to Islam and trained as warriors. They were skilled and fierce. We were faced by a force led by Murad Bey to the south and in the east laid a reserve force under the command of Ibrahim Bey. We were by far outnumbered. General Bonaparte organized our army into five infantry squares of two thousand men each. We formed an all sided fortification for our generals and equipment in the center of each square. As we waited for the fighting the begin, General Bonaparte said to us all, “Soldiers, forty centuries look down upon you. Don’t disgrace yourselves before these humble spectators of history, prove yourselves worthy of their admiration and live down in the history of this land!”
“Yeah!!” we chanted. I am putting this journal away knowing not if I shall write in it again as I await the gruesome wave that is to come. God help me!
July 22nd, 1798, Saharan Dessert, Egypt:
The Mamelukes made the first move. They charged one of our five infantry squares; without guns, we easily cut them and their horses down with our bayonets; posing as an impenetrable dam to the unruly sea of Mamelukes trying to break though us. As they charged us in the front, our other four squares, I among them, moved to the Mameluke’s rear and we were able to cut them down from both sides as they shifted their forces back to face us. They were finished. We had boxed them in like a river with a dam on both sides and all that was left was for it to evaporate in the Saharan sun. This “reservoir” would not become tranquil though. It was as wild and unruly as the cataracts of the Nile by Aswan. The horse men kept coming and the blood kept spewing. The guns kept cracking and the sabers kept clashing. The air kept thickening and the clouds kept congesting. The sun kept beating and the perspiration kept dripping. The soldiers kept sabering and the Mamelukes kept reeling. The soldiers kept shooting and the Mamelukes kept falling. The sand before us became a red pulp as the bodies kept mounting of both man and horse. Knight and steed. They fought gallantly; but we were far superior. Suddenly, the seemingly infinite wave of men off to their graves ceased and the men began to retreat. What had seemed like an eternity finally came to an end. The battle I would latter learn only lasted an hour, but about six thousand Mamelukes had died and their bodies were piled for as far as the eye could see. Murad Bey and the remainder of his forces had managed to escape to the south and Ibrahim Bey and his forces had managed to escape to the north. Surely, we would follow them and continue our conquest. But for now, the road to Cairo lay unperturbed and she soon, too would fall to the Republic and soon after the rest of Egypt would fall under our dominion. From Cairo, we would follow Murad Bey and end his resistance. Surely, we would trace the lands Blue Nile and the White and take it for our own. The possibilities will be endless from Cairo! We shall stand on a great peak; the lands of Upper Egypt, Kush, and the orient before us and ours for the taking.
August 9th, 1798, Cairo, Egypt:
Cairo fell a day after the battle of the Pyramids as it is now being called. We have just learned that on the third of August, the entirety of our fleet was destroyed at Abu Qir Bay off the coast of Alexandria and Rosetta. We were now completely and utterly stranded in Egypt with no hope of attaining supplies and no way of returning to France. We had lost the only fleet the Republic had to the British! Even the great Orient had exploded. Four hundred ships, gone! The lives of ten thousand men, gone! General Bonaparte apparently knew this too, so he decided that it was time to eliminate the enemy to the south for good and take Upper Egypt. In two days, we will leave the relative peace and security of Lower Egypt and embark into the uncharted territory of southern Egypt. This time though, we shall march on the banks of the Nile to face Murad Bey.
I find the architecture of this great city to be beautiful. I have drawn the great mosque of Cairo as I sit at my post in her street. It is a wonderful city with hundreds of thousands of people. The dedication these people show to their faith is absolutely humbling. The way they make their way to the mosque by the thousands. They way the people pray in the streets at the designated time of prayer. If only our worship to the Catholic church could be so pure. If only religion could be restored to its good ways without the corruption of the Catholic Clergy or the absolute control of the state.
August 16th, 1798, Saharan Desert on the Banks of the Nile, Egypt:
We left Cairo five days ago. Thus far, we have not encountered any Mamelukes. The scholars have joined us on our expedition and seem to be absolutely ecstatic about making their way to Upper Egypt. I have befriended a scholar named Joah. He is far more enthused than I am. He can’t wait to uncover the hidden riches of the Valley of the Kings that can be found to the south of Cairo. It’s incredible how these men are so uninterested in the war and all of the adventures it brings. They seem absolutely dazed and satisfied by their archaeology and studies. They are of a good breed; of a type I never have been. This time, I’m glad to say, we will travel on the banks of the Nile. We will be able to bathe and drink from her glorious waters unlike our first trek through this grim desert land. It still is incredible to me to think how much civilization here depends on the Nile. How it is so centralized around it. I’ve had this discussion with Joah and others at length. Without the Nile, there was no water to drink. Without the Nile, here would be no water to irrigate or plant the crops with. Without the Nile, there would be no silt to fertilize the earth with, no soil for the crops. Without the Nile, there would be no cattle to eat and no grass to feed them. Without the Nile, there would be no fish to feast upon year around. Without the Nile, transportation through this desolate land would be next to impossible. Without the Nile, there would be no life.
August 26th, 1798, Luxor, Egypt:
It’s been over a month since the capture of Cairo and now the lands of Upper Egypt seem to be falling firmly in our grasp. Our travel through the desert has been far easier and comfortable this time around. We had the Nile by our side to give us water, fish, and the ability to bathe. So, it was no surprise that we’ve advanced as quickly and effortlessly was we have. Yesterday, we took the great city of Luxor, what was once the ancient city of Thebes. This time though, refreshed and unwearied, my state of mind at battle was a far more collected one than at the “Battle of the Pyramids.”
According to Joah, Thebes had been the capital of the Middle and New Kingdoms of Egypt. When I asked him what he meant by, “middle and new kingdoms,” he said that while researching, he found it helpful to split the three thousand years of Egyptian dynasties and history into three periods, the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom. Three thousand years! After that it truly dawned on me how long Egyptian society had spanned. I had often seen it all as one big blur, but through my friendship with Joah, I have learned that it most certainly was not. I viewed things that were so far apart as so close together; subconsciously viewing it all as happening at the same time.
Luxor fell easily to us, but unfortunately, the Mamelukes escaped again after our confrontation. It was another massacre. They kept sending wave after wave after wave but to no avail. Again, after what seemed like hours, the Mamelukes left. Murad Bey was ruthless. He sent thousands of men to their graves each time he confronted us but seemed not to care and these men followed unwavering. Why? I suppose we are the same with General Bonaparte, we are stranded here with no means of exit, but we still follow him, blindly.
The generals wish to continue our advance and chase of Murad Bey, but scholars wish to stay at Luxor. They found the most grand and beautiful ruins of the temple of Karnak which to explore and I am happy to say that I have explored it with them.
October 1st, 1798 Luxor, Egypt:
Our commanding officers wish to continue our advance and chase of Murad Bey, but scholars wish to stay at Luxor. They found the most grand and beautiful ruins of the temple of Karnak which to explore and I am happy to say that I have explored it with them.
While the rest of the party advances, I and a few other soldiers have had what I vies as the luxury of staying behind to protect the scholars and view their advances. Thus far, we have studied the temple of Karnak in depth. Joah and his scholar colleagues have drawn the hieroglyphics and designs on the walls of the pyramids in depth in the hopes that one day they may be able to translate them. To my shock, while they were in Rosetta, Joah and his colleagues uncovered a stone which would be the key to translating Egyptian hieroglyphics. The stone had on it a story in Greek, Demotic script, and ancient Hieroglyphics. It is the key to understanding the ancient language and hopefully, he called in Rosetta Stone. Bellow I copied in my journal the hieroglyphic part of the stone from an illustration in Joah’s notebook.
Like I have before on this journey, I find drawing to be my companion at times of stillness. So, I have drawn my surroundings at Karnak.
I drew both the present day and what I imagined the temple to look like in its days of glory.
October 13th, 1798, Valley of the Kings, just outside of Luxor, Egypt:
Two moons ago, we made our first trip to the Valley of the Kings after making our analysis of the temple of Karnak. We embarked in a large caravan carrying all the supplies we needed, including tents, water, and excavation materials in carts dragged by camels. As our guide, we enlisted a tomb raider for a handsome sum. Our greatest hope was to find a tomb and mummies. It was Joah’s greatest aspiration at this point in our expedition to learn about the process of mummification; to understand how it was performed.
We had spent an entire day in the scorching sun looking for a lead. Every hour our water supply seemed to dwindle a bit more and I sagged under the weight of my musket. Sadly, we found nothing of Joah’s great aspiration. We did find amulets and mummified animals in the very least.
The next morning, I awoke in severe pain and made my way out of my tent to relieve myself. I could not stop. My abdomen was cramping, and I felt even hotter than usual in the Saharan sun which I had started to become adapted to. I soon found that I was not the only one, Joah and a few other men also joined me outside the tent with the same look of urgency on their faces. It seemed to the doctor that we had severe dysentery. So, we were forced to make our way back to Luxor. As General Bonaparte had made clear to us before, the Egyptians lacked modern medical technology, so the doctor said that the only place where we could receive the proper treatment was Cairo. So, after taking what healing medicines we could at Luxor to relieve the pain, we were off on a ship up the Nile to Cairo to be treated. That’s where Joah and I are now. All we can do is rest, drink from the river water, and suffer in agonizing screams. The only thing that keeps my mind occupied is writing or speaking with Joah. We hope we can get out of this alive.