British Victory in Egypt, 1801: The End of Napoleon's Conquest

British Victory in Egypt, 1801: The End of Napoleon's Conquest

British Victory in Egypt, 1801: The End of Napoleon's Conquest

British Victory in Egypt, 1801: The End of Napoleon's Conquest


In 1800 the British Army was the laughing-stock of Europe. A year later, after forty years of failure, its honour and reputation had been redeemed. British Victory in Egypt, 1801 recounts and analyses the story of the expeditionary force that ejected Bonaparte's crack troops from Egypt. Piers Mackesy shows how the future of the British Empire depended on the dislodging of the Napoleonic force in the Middle East. Outlining the daring assault and the masterly planning and discipline that brought victory against the odds, this book also reveals how vital Sir Ralph Abercromby, an elderly Scot and leader of the army, was to the final success of the venture. The part played in the victory by the Highland regiments is still celebrated in Scotland. British Victory In Egypt, 1801 charts a critical episode in European and military history. It also reveals the training, tactics and strategy of a unique campaign and its executors.


1808, near Vimiero in Portugal; and Sir Arthur Wellesley has engaged in his first full-scale battle of the Peninsular War. the day is 21 August, and as the 43rd and 50th Regiments prepare to charge an advancing French column, Brigadier Anstruther rides forward and calls out: Remember, my lads, the glorious 21st of March in Egypt; this day must be another glorious 21st'.

His soldiers understand him. For the past eight years the battle fought by Sir Ralph Abercromby on 21 March at Alexandria has been the pattern of what a well-led British army can do. a week after his victory Abercromby died of his wounds on board the Foudroyant in Aboukir bay, where Nelson had destroyed Bonaparte's fleet two years earlier. Today the names of the two victors are inscribed together on Cleopatra's Needle, overlooking the Thames and in sight of the dome of St Paul's which harbours Abercromby's monument and the tomb of Nelson. Presented by Mahomet Ali of Egypt, of whom more later, the ancient obelisk bears a plaque which proclaims it 'a worthy monument of our distinguished countrymen Nelson and Abercromby'.

Of Nelson we have heard; but who is Abercromby? 'It ought to be unnecessary to speak in praise of such a man', one of his soldiers protested forty years after his death. While writing two earlier books on Britain's wars against Revolutionary France I was struck by the pre-eminent reputation of Sir Ralph Abercromby for courage, honour, and professional knowledge; and by his hold on the affection of his soldiers. in Statesmen at War I described his role in the expedition of 1799 to Holland; but the succeeding volume, War without Victory, relegated his final triumph and death in Egypt to the background of the strategic contentions in Pitt's Cabinet. With the present book I hope to render justice to Abercromby, and record his legacy to the British Army.

This book is also the life-story of an army: of the disparate and ill-provided battalions which assembled in the stormy autumn of 1800 in the Straits of Gibraltar, and disbanded a year later in the highest state of discipline and morale with their task of destroying Bonaparte's Army of the Orient completed. These units had been welded into cohesion by Abercromby; and his force became the model for the victorious British Army of the Peninsular War.

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