On This Day in Napoleonic History – 7 July 1798

5Napoleon marches to Cairo

Ordering the fleet to be moored in Aboukir Bay, Napoleon and his army set off to Cairo on what was the first desert crossing by a Western army.

The soldiers were unaccustomed to heat. Faced with severe temperatures, mosquitoes, snakes and scorpions, the swirling sandstorms, hostile Mamluks and Bedouin tribesmen riding on their flanks, ready to kill stragglers, morale plummeted.

The army suffered terribly with thirst, since many of the wells along the way had been poisoned or filled with stones. Berthier recalled that water sold for the same price as gold on that march. Soldiers were seen to throw themselves in the Nile in desperation. ‘Well, General, are you going to take us to India like this?’ shouted a disgruntled soldier to Napoleon. General Bonaparte replied, ‘No, I wouldn’t undertake that with soldiers such as you.’

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