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First Italian Campaign | The Egyptian Campaign | Second Italian Campaign | The Ulm-Austerlitz Campaign | The Prussian Campaign | The Peninsular War | The Austrian War | The Russian Campaign | From Lützen to Elba | The Waterloo Campaign


The Egyptian Campaign, 1798-99, continued

In February, 1799, restless for more victories, Bonaparte took 13,000 soldiers into Syria. The Sultan of Turkey had declared war on the French infidels, and Bonaparte went on the offensive. After a quick victory at Jaffa, he assaulted Acre, where he was forced to lay siege to the well-fortified city.

Attack after attack failed, claiming the lives of hundreds of French soldiers. Hundreds more were struck down by the bubonic plague. Bonaparte abandoned the seige and retreated to Cairo with a dispirited army of sick and wounded men.

Napoleon visits sick men

TULARD: The army was terribly demoralized. And they began asking themselves "What are we doing here in Egypt? There is no threat to the Republic. Our colleagues are dying of the plague, dysentery or in combat against a determined enemy."

But Bonaparte refused to admit the extent of the disaster. "[I] am returning [to Cairo] with many prisoners and flags," he proclaimed. "I razed the ramparts of Acre. There is not a stone left standing."

A victory over invading Turkish troops at Aboukir on July 11, 1799 failed to raise morale. The chance for glory was fading – but a new chance emerged in France. France was once again at war with Austria, Britain, and Russia. Civil war continued to tear the country apart. The government in Paris was in disarray. On August 23, 1799, Bonaparte secretly set sail for home.

"Accustomed as I am to view the opinion of posterity as the fit reward for the pains and labors of life, I leave Egypt with the deepest regret. The interests of our country, her destiny, my duty, the extraordinary circumstances alone have persuaded me to pass through enemy lines and return to Europe."

With this apologetic message, Bonaparte abandoned more than 30,000 French soldiers to the sands of Egypt.

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