On This Day in Napoleonic History – 22 August 1799

5Napoleon informs General Jacques-François Menou that he is leaving Egypt for France

As early as July, Napoleon had written to the Directory, exaggerating the reality and preparing for his triumphal return: ‘We are masters of all the deserts.’ When he learnt that most of the territory he gained in Italy had been lost to the Allies, Napoleon knew the time had come to leave Egypt. Although he had been often accused of abandoning his troops, in reality he was marching to the sound of the guns. As France’s best general, it made little sense for him to remain in Egypt when France itself was under threat of invasion.

Napoleon left a long letter of instruction to General Jean Baptiste Kléber, leaving him in charge. Kléber was not impressed, telling his staff, ‘That bugger has deserted us with his bridges full of shit. When we get back to Europe, we’ll rub his face in it.’ He wouldn’t be able to do so, however, having been assassinated in June 1800 by a 24-year old student named Soleyman El-Halaby.

Napoleon sailed for France with most of his senior staff, including Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Jean Lannes and Auguste de Marmont. ‘Don’t fear anything. We’ll soon be in Paris and we’ll find a lot of beautiful women and a lot of money. You’ll see, we’ll be very happy,’ he told Roustam, a Mamluk slave boy who was presented to him by Sheikh of Cairo and would be his faithful bodyguard for the next 15 years. It was clear from these words how much Napoleon had missed France.

Leave a Reply