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<b>Battle of the Nile

Napoleon's Lost Fleet

An Eyewitness Account of the Battle of the Nile

August 1, 1798</b>

Edited by Bear

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Admiral James Saumarez the Captain of the British ship ORION writes to his brother Sir Thomas about overtaking a French vessel after the Battle of the Nile on the 12th of August 1798.

Admiral James Saumarez

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Dear Thomas,

We have interrupted a Vessel with Dispatches and Letters from Bonaparte and the Army of Grand Cairo - they are all expressive of the great distress and suffering they experience, and now that they are cut off from all communication with their Transports and Stores at Alexandria they will be drove to despair.

The French Ship being Overtaken by the British

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One of the letters taken was by E. Poussielque which was written on August 3, 1798 while in Rosetta. He was Comptroller General of the Expense of the Eastern Army and Administrator General of the Finance. He was with Napoleon's army, on land, when the French fleet was anchored along the coast 15 miles northeast of Alexandria at the Rosetta mouth of the Nile River. Just two weeks earlier, Napoleon had captured Egypt.

Rosetta

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Poussielque writes,

We have just been Witnesses my dear Friend to a naval Combat, the most bloody an unfortunate that for many Ages has taken place. As we know not all the circumstances, but those which we are already acquainted with, are frightful in the extreme. The French Squadron consisting of thirteen sail of the line, one of which was a three Decker of 120 Guns and the three others of 80 were anchored in the line of Battle in the bay of Abouker, or Canope, the only one that exists on all the coast of Egypt. For these eight days and past several Ships and Frigates belonging to the English have at different times been in sight, reconnoitering the position of the Fleet, so that we have been in momentary expectations of being attacked.

French Fleet Anchored in the Bay of Abouker

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In a direct line from Abouker to Rosetta, the distance is about 4 Leags and a half. From the heights of the latter our Fleet is perfectly seen and distinguished. The 14th of this month at half past five O'clock in the Evening we heard the firing of Cannon. This was commencement of the Battle. We immediately got upon the Terraces, and the Top of the highest Houses, & little Eminences, from whence we plainly distinguished ten English Ships of the Line, the others we could not see. The cannonade was very heavy until a quarter after nine O'clock, when favoured by the night, we perceived an immense light which announced to us that some ship was on Fire. At this time the Thunder of the Cannon was heard with redoubled fury, & at ten O'clock the ship on fire blew up with the most dreadful Explosion of the, which was heard at Rosetta in the manner as the Explosion of the Grenille was heard at Paris. When this accident happened, the most profound silence took place for the space of about ten minutes. From the moment of the Explosion until our hearing it might take up about two. The firing commenced again and continued without intermission until 3 O'clock in the morning when it ceased almost entirely until five, when it commenced again with as great vivacity as ever.

The First Casualty

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I placed myself on a Tower which is about cannon shot from Rosetta and which is called Aboul Mandour. From thence I could distinctly see the whole Battle.

Spectators Scamble to the Rooftops to Watch the Battle

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At 8 O'clock I perceived a ship on fire & in about half an hour blew up similar to the other last night, a Ship which until the moment of her explosion was not perceived on fire at all. The other Ships moved to a greater distance from the shore, and the Fire on board her apparently diminished by which we presume that it was entirely extinguished, during the time the cannonading redoubled.

A Second Ship Explodes

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A large ship entirely dismasted was on shore on the Coast. I perceived others among the Fleet in the similar manner dismasted entirely but the two Squadrons so mingled each other that it was impossible to distinguish French from English, nor on whose side the advantage was. The firing continued with unabating vivacity until abot 2 O'clock after Mid-day of the 15th and at this hour we perceived two sail of the the Line and two Frigates under a press of sail on a Wind standing to the Eastward. We perceived the whole four were under French colours. No other Vessel made any movement & the firing ceased entirely. Towards six O'clock in the evening I returned to the tower of Aboul Mandour to reconnoitre the position of the two Fleets. It was the same as at two o'clock. The four Ships under Way, were abreast of the mouth of the Nile. We know not what to think or conjecture. Twenty four hours passed without having any person to give us any details, and in our situation it was impossible to procure any by Land, on account of the Arabs who were assembled between Rosetta and Abouker, and by Sea on account of the difficulty of getting out of the opening or branch of the Nile.

Men Struggle on Broken Ships

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You may judge of our Impatience and perplexity - nothing good could be argur'd from the Silence - however we were obliged to pass the whole of the night of the 15th in this uncertaintude, & at last on the morning of the 16th a boat which left Alexandria in the night gave us some details though little tending to our comfort, they told us that the Officers of the French Fleet who saved themselves in a Boat arrived in Alexandria, had reported that in the commencement of the Battle Admiral Brueys had received three severe wounds, one in the Head, & two in the Body that notwithstanding he perstisted in keeping his station, on the Arm, Chest, and that a fourth shot him in the Body, & cut him in two. At the same moment a Shot took off the Captain of the Ship Casablance, that at this time they perceived the Ship to be on fire in such a manner as not to be able to Extinguish it, and at last, that the Ship had blown up about ten O'clock at night.

Admiral Brueys of the French Fleet

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They added that our Fleet was totally destroyed & lost with the exception of the four Ships escaped, but that the remainder were entirely ruined. I returned to the Tower where I found things absolutely in the same situation as Yesterday. They were even so yesterday night, & this morning. I have now to Say how they appeared to our View from the Castle of Abouker on the left, sweeping the Horizon to the right.

All French Ships in Ruin but the Four that Escaped

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Four Ships are without mast and under English Colours. The second and third are in good state, but cannot distunguish theirs. The fourth had lost one mast, the 5th in good state & English Colours. The 6th has lost her topmast, this morning she hoisted her Fore top mast stay sail, and set some after sails. The 7th is without Top Gall Masts. The 8th is dismasted. The 9th is dismasted with the exception of the Bowsprit. The 11th 12th & 13th form a kind of Groupe, having only seven masts between them. The 14th has only her Fore mast. The 15th has lost her Fore and Mizen Top Gall masts. The 16th is entirely dismasted. The 17th has lost her Mizen Top Gall masts. The 18th has only a Foremast. The 19th 20th & 21st form a groupe with only four masts between them, and these without Top Gall masts. The 22nd is entirely dismasted and on shore. She has English Colours up. The People on board her are trying to get her afloat, and raise other masts. The 23rd is in good state under English Colours. The 24th also in good state.

Crews Fight to Save Their Ships

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This is all I can distinguish, from which results, that though the English have had the advantage, they have been very roughly handled, since they could not follow the vessels who went away on the 19th. For these two days these ships have been perfectly inactive and seemingly destroyed. This morning news arrived to us from Alexandria, which confirms our losses. Rear Admiral Descret is Killed, also Vice Admiral Blanquet Duchalia - five Ships have struck their Colours. The Tonnant was the last ship in action. Dupitelair who commanded her, had his two legs carried off by a Cannon shot. The Ships escaped are the Guillaume Tell, the Genereaux, with the Frigates Diana, and Justice. They say it was the Artimise which blew up the morning before yesterday. Many things relative to this Battle are yet to learn. They say that the English Admiral has sent a flag of truce to Alexandria demanding that they should receive, and take care of the wounded which amount to 1500. They will send us all our Prisoners. As yet I am ignorant of what has been decided on.

A French Ship Escapes the Battle

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You will receive in France the official Accounts of us, and the English. I know not what they will say, but you may rely upon what I have written because it is what I have seen. Communicate my letter to Citizen Corancez. His son who ought to have given him these accounts, is by me otherwise occupied. He has written six letters, and has not received one in return. I have no news of Citizen Mony whom I have named Agent at Demautrour.

An English Ship in Victory

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Berance who has been ill is quite recovered. He is with me. Martin is extremely well, but has not received one line fron his Family. I am the fortunate one among them having received three letters from you since my Arrival in Egypt. One of the second Pairial, one of the 16th & one on the 27th & 28th. Most certainly several are lost, as the English have taken many of our Cruizers.

A French Cannon Lays at the Bottom of the Bay

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I have had since my Arrival here my Potrait in Profile, taken by an able Artist Citizen Benoy. It is said to be very like, but we have so many English around us, that for fear of its falling into their hands, or going to the bottom of the sea, I dare not send it. I could wish to be the bearer of it myself. Be assured that as soon as I can obtain permission which I shall not cease to solicit, I shall take my departure. There is no fortune which shall retain me. I shall be contented to arrive with you naked as my hand. As to what remains to be said, I am in good health. Tomorrow morning I take my departure for Cairo in a handsome Boat with the money and Paymaster General, two armed Boats with 250 men as an Escort, and more than 40 passengers. I take with me a fine Arabia Horse which a Chiek made me a present of here.

Admiral Nelson Hero of the Battle

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We go by the Nile - Adieu my Dear little girl. Love me always & recall me often to the momory of all our Friends. I embrace you and also my Children.

E. Poussielque

Napoleon Returns to France a Hero Abandoning His Troops in Egypt

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The French Ships Shown in Red

Guerrier

Conquerant

Spartiate

Aquilon

Peuple Souverain

Franklin

Orient

Tonnant

Heureux

Mercure

Guillaume Tell

Genereux

Timoleon

Serieuse

Artemise

Diana

Justice

This map shows Admiral Nelsonn moving into position on the French Fleet.

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The British Ships Shown in Blue

Goliath

Zealous

Orion

Theseus

Audacious

Vanguard

Minotaur

Defence

Bellerophon

Majestic

Leander

Culloden

This Map Shows The British Overtaking the French.

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Barry

Thanks for overview, well done !

Do you have the original letter ?

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Hello Nick,

When the letter was taken by the British ship ORION it was translated on board. I think the original(french) went back to England while Admiral Samaurez kept the english version. This letter stayed with his family and a large group of them were then sold by one of his ancestors. I do have the english version and the paper is watermarked 1796.

thanks,

barry

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Nice stuff, Bear! Your book, by any chance? I have a chum who helped salvage some of Nappy's cannon off Acre who would be interested in this too.

Peter

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Marshal Lannes

Born April 10, 1769 - Died May 31, 1809

May 19, 1804 - Apointed Marechal d'Empire(10th Order)

March 19, 1808- Named duc de Montebello

Edited by Bear

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