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Egypt 1801 (Hardback)

The End of Napoleon's Eastern Empire

Military > Frontline Books > Frontline: 17th-19th Centuries Military > Frontline Books > Frontline: Napoleonic Military > Pre-WWI > Napoleonic P&S History > By Century > 19th Century

By Stuart Reid
Frontline Books
Pages: 248
Illustrations: 1x16 colour plates
ISBN: 9781526758460
Published: 2nd June 2021




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The first campaign medal awarded to British soldiers is reckoned to be that given to those men who fought at Waterloo in 1815, but a decade and a half earlier a group of regiments were awarded a unique badge – a figure of a Sphinx - to mark their service in Egypt in 1801.

It was a fitting distinction, for the successful campaign was a remarkable one, fought far from home by a British army which had so far not distinguished itself in battle against Revolutionary France, and one moreover which had the most profound consequences in the Napoleonic wars to come.

In 1798 a quixotic French expedition led by a certain General Bonaparte not only to seize Egypt and consolidate French influence in the Mediterranean, but also to open up a direct route to Indian and provide an opportunity to destroy the East India Company and fatally weaken Great Britain.

In the event, General Bonaparte returned to France to mount a coup which would eventually see him installed as Emperor of the French, but behind him he abandoned his army, which remained in control of Egypt, still posing a possible threat to the East India Company, until in 1801 a large but rather heterogeneous British Army led by Sir Ralph Abercrombie landed and in a series of hard-fought battles utterly defeated the French.

Not only did this campaign establish the hitherto rather doubtful reputation of the British Army, and help secure India, but its capture en route of the islands of Malta gained Britain a base which would enable it to dominate the Mediterranean for the next century and a half.

This little understood, but profoundly important campaign at last receives the treatment it deserves in the hands of renowned historian Stuart Reid.

A thoroughly recommended, excellent, and detailed account of a history-making campaign that is often overlooked.

Military History Matters Issue 127 April/May 2022

"The book should form a useful addition to the library of anyone with an interest in this campaign."

The Waterloo Association

It’s always nice when you finish a book and say, “wow, I didn’t know that!” Such is the case with Stuart Reid’s Egypt 1801: The End of Napoleon’s Eastern Empire (Frontline books 2021.) If you are like me, I had always wondered why Napoleon bothered going to Egypt in the first place, and assumed that he fled Egypt after the French Flagship L’Orient blew up in Aboukir Bay.

Napoleon went to Egypt for the same reason the Italians invaded Egypt in 1940 – to grab the gateway to India and the Far East. If you are familiar with the whole Napoleon era, the key to coalition warfare against the French was Great Britain footing most of the bills. Much of their wealth at the time came from India and beyond. Cutting off the money source for the British would have had a big impact on the wars against the French. And with restless Indian nobles looking for a way to overthrow British rule, taking Egypt could have turned into the gateway to more French wealth. So, Napoleon had a good idea. Who knew! (Well, I should have as a student of the WWII Mediterranean Theater.)

And Napoleon didn’t leave because the French fleet was demolished – he left because he had accomplished what he had set out to do – namely conquer Egypt and a lot of the Middle East. Job done - go home. End of myth.

Reid’s book really takes us to the story AFTER Napoleon left, telling how the British Army responded to the loss of Egypt and the campaign to regain the country (and gateway.) It‘s the story of Sir Ralph Abercromby, a solid but functionally blind leader, and his understrength army (half the size of the French force left in the country) and their battles to regain Egypt. He was aided by 1) Napoleon wasn’t there and 2) the competent French general left behind had been assassinated, leaving a non-so-competent general leading the enemy. Reid tells much of the story through the memoirs of officers involved, so you get a good feel for the terrain, plans, and what went right and wrong – like leaving troops in plain sight (and range) of enemy guns while leaders “counselled” on what to do next. It’s a story I hadn’t heard before/

There are a couple caveats: maps are sparce, so following both the French route of conquest and Abercromby’s is difficult to follow. In addition, he occasionally drops references those British readers might pick up on, such as the obtuse Marbles reference, but others may not, adding to some confusion and stopping the narrative. But other than that, Reid has crafted an interesting, little-known story which will appeal to any student of the era. With excellent and detailed OoBs, excellent end notes and a bibliography for further study, this one is a gem.

John D. Burtt

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.

Read the full review here

History of War

This book is the story of that campaign, that resulted in the French being thrashed, seizing the island of Malta and securing India. Lots of diary excerpts and a great read.

The Armourer March 2022

"Reid’s storytelling is excellent, and he takes opportunities throughout this book to explain the composition and structure of the regiments."

Casey Baker - Journal of Military History, January 2022

"This is a thoroughly recommended, excellent and detailed account of a history-making campaign that is so often overlooked."

Peter A Clayton, Military History Matters

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The Pike and Shot Society

A Napoleonic episode dissected
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Amazon Customer

"...Reid tells the battles in great detail but with clear, engrossing, and lively prose in the best tradition of military history literature. The British had well-trained men against acclimated French veterans. The high casualties on both sides speaks to the courage of the men in both armies."

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New York Journal of Books

This book, by an author who has written extensively about the British army of the period, is very welcome. Hopefully, it will bring an interesting campaign to a new generation.

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Balkan Wargamer

If your goal is to do a deep dive into Egypt in 1801, then this is the best book around for that.

NetGalley, Francis Tapon

A thorough and informative account of what happened in Egypt in 1801 during the Napoleonic Wars. Although I have an interest in the period generally, my knowledge of the military history is limited, so this was interesting for me, coming to it with little prior knowledge. However, there was enough information that I believe it would also be of interest to someone who was not coming to it as essentially a blank slate.

NetGalley, Melanie Dolhun

The scholar will find it both useful and fascinating while those just interested in a lighter read of 19th Century British military development will find it both accessible and worth the time.

NetGalley, William Harris

An interesting read regarding a little know battle between Britain and France during Napoleons rule. The first hand accounts were great and allowed you to feel as if you were there.

NetGalley, Ron Baumer

This is a very useful counterbalance to the Waterloo centric offerings for the period. It explains Napoleon’s strategy and indeed his initial success in breaking the route to India and thereby potentially crippling the British economy. Having achieved the capture of Egypt and returned to France to deal with other pressing matters, the story switches to how Abercromby with his limited operational support, succeeded in taking back Egypt. It is a point of conjecture just how different things might have been had Napoleon succeeded strategically and had Britain been less able to bankroll the many coalitions.

Michael McCarthy. Battlefield Guide

Michael McCarthy

About Stuart Reid

Stuart Reid was born in Aberdeen in 1954 into a family with a tradition of service in the Army stretching back through the Battle of Mons to Culloden and beyond. He is the author of numerous military history publications and has written extensively upon Scottish military history during the seventeenth century Civil War and the Jacobite period.

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