Egypt 1801- The End of Napoleon’s Eastern Empire, Stuart Reid

Egypt 1801- The End of Napoleon’s Eastern Empire, Stuart Reid

Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt is a well known story, but the British victory over the garrison he left behind is much less familiar. When it does get mentioned most of the attention focuses on General Ralph Abercromby and his death in battle outside Alexandria, but this came actually fairly early in the campaign. After Abercromby’s death his successor, John Hely-Hutchinson, was faced with a difficult situation – the defences of Alexandria were looking too strong to successfully attack and the French still had strong forces there and at Cairo, his orders were for him not to advance up the Nile towards Cairo, but a British-Indian army had landed on the Red Sea coast, and would be vulnerable if not supported, and an Ottoman army was approaching

The author is rather scathing about Hutchinson, but his performance while in charge was actually rather impressive. On taking command he decided to take the risk of advancing up the Nile towards Cairo. When the march turned out to be much harder than expected he had the sense to change his plans, but when news arrived that an Anglo-Indian army under General David Baird had landed on the Red Sea coast he turned back to secure the key point where Baird was expected to reach the Nile. Back at Alexandria he was willing to take tough decisions, including breaching a canal to flood the area south of the city, thus protecting the otherwise vulnerable British siege lines, then switched the focus of the attack from the east of the city to the west, a move that soon led to its fall. Brief summaries of his life suggest that this ended Hutchinson’s active military career, but that isn’t entirely accurate – the campaign in Egypt was almost the last act before the start of the brief Piece of Amiens, but when the war resumed he served on the south coast, before moving into more of a political and diplomatic career. 

This is an interesting book, covering a relatively unfamiliar campaign in detail. This was one of the few clear-cut British successes during the Revolutionary Wars (other than some conquests of French colonies), and thus a key step in the slow improvement of the British army. There is plenty of detail on the nature of the British army in Egypt, how it was structured, the drill it used and what made Abercromby such a key figure. There is also plenty of material on the French side, as well as on the crucial role of the Ottomans, who won one of the key victories of the campaign, thus undermining the French position in Cairo.

1 – The Mediterranean War
2 – General Abercromby and his Army
3 – The Illiad and the Odyssey
4 – Aboukir Bay
5 – Mandara
6 – Kasr Kaisera
7 – The Dawn’s Early Light
8 – Up the Nile
9 – The Heart of Darkness
10 – Another Part of the Field: The Fall of Alexandria
11 – Abercromby’s Legacy

1 – Opposing Forces March 1901
2 – The British Army in Egypt
3 – The East India Company in Egypt
4 – The French Army in Egypt
5 – Returns

Author: Stuart Reid
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Frontline
Year: 2021

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