On This Day in Napoleonic History – 11 March 1798

Napoleon visits the sick in Jaffa

11After the French army took Jaffa during the Egyptian campaign, many soldiers became infected with the plague. Napoleon visited the hospital and, according to one of the officers, picked up and carried a plague victim who was lying across the doorway. ‘This action scared us a lot because the sick man’s clothes were covered in foam,’ wrote the officer.

Napoleon spoke to the sick, trying to comfort and raise their morale. The incident was immortalised in 1804 in Antoine-Jean Gros’ painting ‘Bonaparte Visiting the Plague Victims in Jaffa’. Napoleon later said that, as general-in-chief, he believed it was part of his duty to give the sick soldiers confidence and reanimate them by visiting frequently. He claimed he had caught the disorder himself, recovering quickly, but there was no evidence to support this.

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