Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bonaparte Book 4. Battle of the Nile

“Napoleon rules the land, but Nelson rules the sea.”

Admiral Horatio Nelson…that was a name that struck fear into the hearts of every Frenchmen, for though Napoleon ruled the land, it was Nelson who ruled the seas. The British navy was not a nice thing. Men had to be abducted and trained into sailors, but Nelson joined it for adventure ever since he was young. In India, the twenty year old seaman saw real action against Indian and French pirates, and he annihilated them quite thoroughly. Now, an Admiral of Britain, he was the most feared warrior of the sea, and his navy had entered the River Nile. They would attack our possession in Egypt. The French army was exhausted. The British navy were fresh. It was an uneven fight to say the least.

Near the wide shores of Alexandria, we sought to blockade him. Our admiral Villeneuve led the large but ill-equipped French navy against him. I was fortunate to see action and to have made a name for myself in that battle. Napoleon and Berthier were also on board, but they were land men, not seamen. And neither was I, but I am a good gunman, and such soldiers do well anywhere.

The way the British ships moved was amazing! It was as though the sails were guided by gods rather than Nelson’s navigators. They were so quick. Although we had arrived at the Nile first and knew the lay of the river better than they, we were like elephants fighting against sharks. Nelson’s ships swerved left and right and did massive damage. In simple words, Villeneuve was outclassed.

Nevertheless, the fighting was brutal. Cutlass and musket fires were everywhere. Canons shot whenever they had a chance. In many instances, our artillery fell on our own ships. The fighting was narrow. Similar mistakes were made by the English, but not quite enough. At that point, I scored a big one for Mother France. I aimed hard at Nelson’s heart, but alas, Providence protected the bastard, though my shot got him well in the left arm.

I heard later that Nelson was carried away and had to amputate his left arm. Yet, shortly afterwards, he issued commands to the English, and they fought even harder. Such was the spirit of the English fighting where they knew best….the waters. Unable to do much, we were stranded in the Egyptian deserts for another three months.

In one of the captured English soldiers, we found a French newspaper. Basically, Director Barras or “Citizen” Barras was attacking Napoleon for his failures to defeat Nelson in Egypt. Barras claimed that Napoleon was wasting valuable resources of the French economy on this Egyptian adventure. Napoleon was chagrined. While we fought for France, our corrupt paper-pushing bosses were sniping us behind our back. They had all known how popular Napoleon had become during the Italian campaign and the victory of Abu Qir and were looking for an opportunity to discredit him.

I (Allian Juppe): “Those bastards! How could they betray us after all we have done?!”

Napoleon: “They are politicians.”

Joachim Murat: “Is your brother not a politician too?”

Napoleon: “Lucien? Why yes? But he is of a different sort? I have not heard from him for a long time. Wonder how he fares in such a nest of vipers! T’is more dangerous than coming to combat as we do here.”

Murat: “Perhaps, we should throw down our weapons and surrender to Britain. HUH!!”

Napoleon: (appearing slightly annoyed) “This is the wrong attitude, Murat. You are not helping our cause.”

Lannes: (sounding drunk by that time) “Aye…we should kick some butts in Paris, I say!!”

After a moment of thought, Napoleon said, “You are right, Lannes!”

Lannes: “What do you mean, General Bonaparte?”

Napoleon: “Kick some butts! We will return to Paris and depose Barras.”

I (Allian): “This is insane, General!! You are talking treason.”

Napoleon: “Am I? Or is it Barras who has betrayed the spirit of the Revolution in return for his own ends!?!”

Murat knew that Napoleon had other causes for anger. It was said that his wife, Josephine de Beauharnais, had slept with Citizen Barras during his absence, but Murat hated Barras as much as he admired Napoleon, and so he replied, “I say, we follow Napoleon. If none shall go with the General, I alone shall brave all of France with him.”

Suddenly, I realized how much my feelings were torn between the nobility of Napoleon and the self-serving men of the Directorate and exclaimed, “I would die for you, General, and for France!”

Lannes took up another cup of champagne and said, “To General  Bonaparte! To the Revolution!”

All except Berthier raised his cup in salute to Napoleon. Napoleon looked straight into Berthier’s eyes and asked him, “Are you with us, Major Berthier?”

Solemnly, the brilliant Berthier replied, “I am always with you, General, but we must do this quietly. In addition, we can not do this without the help of Admiral Villeneuve, who commands the ships we need to sail back to Paris.”

Murat: “I shall take my sword to his neck and see if Villeneuve sides with us or those pigs in the Directorate.”

Suddenly, Villeneuve entered the room, much to the surprise of us all and he replied, looking straight into Murat’s eyes, “There is no need for coercion, Joachim. Though I outrank Napoleon himself, there is no man greater than he in destiny and fortitude, no better leader for France than him. Like you, Allian Juppe, I would take a bullet for the General Bonaparte.”

And so, it was decided…that we should sail back to Paris and grab destiny by its horns.

At that time, there were only about 12,000 French soldiers under Napoleon’s command, 1000 Egyptian mercenaries who were deemed loyal, and Villenueve probably had another 5,000 sailors. However, we held some 100,000 Mamelukes and Ottoman soldiers as prisoners. With the prisoners outnumbering us by five times, there was no question of keeping them. They had to be killed.

As we shot some of them, Napoleon said “We are wasting too many bullets.”

At this point, a common soldier said, “I have a way to prevent this waste, General.”

Surprised, Napoleon asked the private, “What is your name, son?”

“Ney”, the private replied.

Napoleon: “Have a try then. We have many wars to fight ahead of us.”

And so, Ney took command as was Napoleon’s style. He ordered the French soldiers to drive the prisoners to the sea at gunpoint, and any who turned back were killed with bayonets. In this way, many prisoners foolishly risked drowning by trying to swim through the sea. There was less blood and no bullets wasted, but it was effective nevertheless.

One Mameluke warrior, obviously a warrior of general rank, resisted violently, murdered some French soldiers, and made for Ney and Napoleon themselves. Ney defended himself with the bayonet, and the warrior had great courage and fought back grabbing the French’s weapon. Before he could harm Ney, however, he was shot dead by a bullet that seemingly came out of nowhere.

Colonel Berthier examined the dead body and informed Napoleon, “It is Pasha Muhammad Ibrahim. Before our conquest of Egypt, the Ottomans put this province in his care.”

Looking down at the dead body of the warlord, Napoleon asked the mystery sniper, “What is your name, son? Why have you not obeyed my directions not to use bullets? Do you know the what punishment for insubordination is?”

The young sniper looked at Napoleon with iron determination and replied confidently, “My name is Messina, General? I know that countermanding a senior officer’s command could lead to capital punishment, but I have also sworn to protect my General and comrades with my life.”

Napoleon made a grim expression and said, “Then face the consequences bravely, young man.”
There was no fear in Messina’s face either. Suddenly, Napoleon smiled, turned around and ordered Colonel Joachim Murat, “Murat!”

Murat: “Yes sir!”

Napoleon: “From today onwards, I promote Ney and Messina to the ranks of Major.”

“Major!” a collective gasp went up amongst the soldiers, and then, there was applause. Napoleon’s armies were true meritocracies. A man who was willing to give his life for France and deliver victories could be promoted from obscurity to greatness overnight. This was why we loved our “Little Corporal” so much!!

Just then, a dispatch arrived from Admiral Villeneuve:
“To General Napoleon, order a march to the Nile Delta. It is the only area safe from British blockade. I await you there, my fellow patriot.”

And so, we set off for the great march across the hot Sahara once more, having disposed of all the prisoners with two new majors and little waste of ammunition.

One incident during the Long March across the Sahara truly warmed my heart. We were all very thirsty. One water boy bought us some water, but it was really only enough for Napoleon to drink. As Napoleon reached for the water, my parched throat ached for it too.

However, to the surprise of all, Napoleon poured all the water away. It quickly evaporated in the hot desert sand. Then he said, “I shall not drink while France thirsts.”

Although we were all so thirsty that it pained to even speak, we cheered him. Such was the simple ways in which Napoleon won the hearts of French soldiers. That day, I re-affirmed my faith in him. Treason we may attempt, but we do it to protect the Republic, and I would die for Napoleon if it was the price to pay.

After all spirits were lifted, we marched forward and finally reached the Nile Delta. There, Villeneuve picked up the forces. We circumvented Nelson’s blockade and made it back to France at the port of Aquitaine. Needless to say, the British gained control of Egypt, but there was little we could do at that time. At least, Nelson did not succeed in convincing the Ottomans into returning to the War against France, and Napoleon, with the gold he received as Ottoman reparations, was a wealthy man…and in the Revolution’s time, wealth was power.

In Aquitaine, Napoleon set to work at once. The Fifth Infantry had served him well during the Italian Campaign, and they would be loyal to his command, while Joachim Murat had many friends in the Second Cavalry during the time he served under the now deceased hero General Kellermann, who also had great respect for Napoleon.
“Time is of the essence, gentlemen.” Napoleon began, “Murat, Lannes, you lead the Second Cavalry to Paris immediately. Once there, Lannes will block any opposition to our cause at the Vendee. Let them know that it was I who commanded to suppression of the monarchist coup and that you march under my orders. Murat, you shall blockade the Directorate’s residence and cut of all communications. Put Barras under arrest until I reach Paris. In the meanwhile, I will lead the Fifth Infantry to Paris. A month from now, France will be saved.”

“Affirmative, General!” Both Murat and Lannes replied in unison. And then, I marched along with the Fifth Infantry.

The march was swift. In a matter of weeks, all opposition from Napoleon’s rule was swept away from Paris. Napoleon confronted Barras directly in the Directorate’s Residence.

Barras: “This is treason, General Bonaparte.”

Napoleon: “But against whom, Citizen Barras? The Republic, the Directorate, or simply you?!”

Barras: “Against the Republic of course. I am but a loyal servant of the State, and YOU…should be in Egypt serving your country in like manner.”

Napoleon: “While you withhold supplies and men from us and spew poison into the ears of our countrymen?!? I think not, Citizen. The Republic will fall if those in charge like yourself care more about your own pockets and safety than that of the country. It is YOU! Who have spawned treason against the Republic. You are not longer a Director of France. In fact, the Directorate is over.”

With the help of his brother Lucien, who was now President of the Assembly, Napoleon gained a majority of voices from the remaining Directors to dissolve the Directorate. Some of the directors tried to kill him, but Murat and Lannes escorted him to safety. None of the directors were hurt, but all were dismissed but two. With Napoleon, they formed the Consulate. The citizens of France first voted Napoleon as First Consul for life by an incredible majority, such was the admiration that France had for the hero of Agricola.

That day, as the confetti spilled across the streets of Paris, and Napoleon and Josephine united at last looked over the citizens they now ruled, I stood next to Murat.

Murat: “Looks like we’ve lost Egypt but gained France. Just to let you know, Juppe, I will marry the First Consul’s sister in a few months.”

I (Allian): “Is that so? Does he know?”

Murat: “Gods! No.” Then, he smiled and walked away. Indeed, Murat’s words still rung true to my ears. Napoleon was now truly the ruler of France.

Only ten years ago, he was still a poor soldier without the means to proper living. But destiny reached out to him, and he took it by the horns.

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