Memoirs of the Private Life, Return, and Reign of Napoleon in 1815, Vol. II
by Pierre Antoine Edouard Fleury de Chaboulon
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A corps of infantry, under General Ziethen, attempted to dispute the passage of the Sambre. The fourth corps of chasseurs, supported by the ninth, broke it sword in hand, and took three hundred prisoners. The sappers and mariners of the guard, sent after the enemy, to repair the bridges, did not allow them time to destroy them. They followed them as sharp shooters, and penetrated with them into the great square. The brave Pajol soon arrived with his cavalry, and Charleroy was ours. The inhabitants, happy at seeing the French once more, saluted them unanimously with continued shouts of "Long live the Emperor! France for ever!"

General Pajol immediately sent the hussars of General Clary in pursuit of the Prussians, and this brave regiment finished its day by the capture of a standard, and the destruction of a battalion, that ventured to resist it.

During this time, the second corps passed the Sambre at Marchiennes, and overthrew every thing before it. The Prussians, having at length rallied, attempted to oppose some resistance to it; but General Reille broke them with his light cavalry, took two hundred prisoners, and killed or dispersed the rest. Beaten in every part, they retired to the heights of Fleurus, which had been so fatal to the enemies of France twenty years before[42].

[Footnote 42: The Emperor, before he quitted Paris, had conceived the design of rendering the plains of Fleurus witnesses to new battles. He had sent for Marshal Jourdan, and had obtained from him a great deal of very important strategical information.]

Napoleon reconnoitred the ground at a glance. Our troops rushed on the Prussians full gallop. Three squares of infantry, supported by several squadrons and some artillery, sustained the shock with intrepidity. Wearied of their immoveableness, the Emperor ordered General Letort, to charge them at the head of the dragoons of the guard. At the same moment General Excelmans fell upon the left flank of the enemy; and the twentieth of dragoons, commanded by the brave and young Briqueville, rushed on the Prussians on one side, while Letort attacked them on the other. They were broken, annihilated; but they sold us the victory dear: Letort was killed.

This affair, of little importance in its results, for it cost the enemy only five pieces of artillery, and three thousand men killed or taken prisoners, produced the happiest effects on the army. The sciatica of Marshal Mortier[43], and the treason of General Beaumont, had given birth to sentiments of doubt and fear, which were entirely dissipated by the successful issue of this first battle.

[Footnote 43: The Duke of Treviso, to whom Napoleon had entrusted the command of the young guard, was attacked at Beaumont with a sciatica, that obliged him to take to his bed.]

Hitherto each chief of a corps had retained its immediate command, and it is easy to suppose, what their ardour and emulation must have been: but the Emperor fell into the error of overturning the hopes of their courage and their ambition; he placed General Erlon and Count Reille under the orders of Marshal Ney, whom he brought forward too late; and Count Gerard, and Count Vandamme, under those of Marshal Grouchy, whom it would have been better to have left at the head of the cavalry.

On the 16th, in the morning, the army, thus distributed, occupied the following positions.

Marshal Ney, with the 1st and 2d corps, the cavalry of General Lefevre-Desnouettes, and that of General Kellerman, had his advanced guard at Frasnes, and the other troops disseminated round Gosselies[44].

[Footnote 44:


Under Marshal Ney. 1st Corps. Infantry 16,500 Cavalry 1,500

2d Corps. Infantry 21,000 Cavalry 1,500 Cavalry of Desnouettes 2,100 Cuirassiers of Kellerman 2,600 ——— 45,200 Artillery, horse and foot 2,400 And 116 pieces of ordnance.


Under Marshal Grouchy. 3d Corps. Infantry 13,000 Cavalry 1,500

4th Corps. Infantry 12,000 Cavalry 1,500 Cavalry of Pajol 2,500 ——— 30,500

Cavalry of Excelmans 2,600 Cuirassiers of Milhaud 2,600


Artillery, horse and foot 2,250 And 112 pieces of ordnance.


Under the Emperor. 6th Corps.

Infantry 11,000 Old guard 5,000 Middle guard 5,000 Young guard 4,000 Horse grenadiers 1,200 Dragoons 1,200 27,400 Artillery, horse and foot 2,700 And 134 pieces of ordnance.


Infantry 87,500 Cavalry 20,800 Artillery, horse and foot 7,350 Engineers 2,200

Total 111,850 Pieces of ordnance 362]

Marshal Grouchy, with the 3d and 4th corps, and the cavalry of Generals Pajol, Excelmans, and Milhaud, was placed on the heights of Fleurus, and in advance of them.

The 6th corps and the guard were in echelon between Fleurus and Charleroi.

The same day the army of Marshal Blucher, ninety thousand strong, collected together with great skill, was posted on the heights of Bry and Sombref, and occupied the villages of Ligny and St. Amand, which protected his front. His cavalry extended far in advance on the road to Namur[45].

[Footnote 45: General Blucher had not had time to collect the whole of his forces.]

The army of the Duke of Wellington, which this general had not yet had time to collect, was composed of about a hundred thousand men scattered between Ath, Nivelle, Genappe, and Brussels.

The Emperor went in person, to reconnoitre Blucher's position; and penetrating his intentions, resolved to give him battle, before his reserves, and the English army, for which he was endeavouring to wait, should have time to unite, and come and join him.

He immediately sent orders to Marshal Ney, whom he supposed to have been on the march for Quatre Bras, where he would have found very few forces, to drive the English briskly before him, and then fall with his main force on the rear of the Prussian army.

At the same time he made a change in the front of the imperial army: General Grouchy advanced toward Sombref, General Gerard toward Ligny, and General Vandamme toward St. Amand.

General Gerard, with his division, five thousand strong, was detached from the 2d corps, and placed in the rear of General Vandamme's left, so as to support him, and at the same time form a communication between Marshal Ney's army and that of Napoleon.

The guard, and Milhaud's cuirassiers, were disposed as a reserve in advance of Fleurus.

At three o'clock the 3d corps reached St. Amand, and carried it. The Prussians, rallied by Blucher, retook the village. The French, entrenched in the churchyard, defended themselves there with obstinacy; but, overpowered by numbers, they were about to give way, when General Drouot, who has more than once decided the fate of a battle, galloped up with four batteries of the guard, took the enemy in the rear, and stopped his career.

At the same moment Marshal Grouchy was fighting successfully at Sombref, and General Gerard made an impetuous attack on the village of Ligny. Its embattled walls, and a long ravine, rendered the approaches to it not less difficult than dangerous: but these obstacles did not intimidate General Lefol, or the brave fellows under his command; they advanced with the bayonet, and in a few minutes the Prussians, repulsed and annihilated, quitted the ground.

Marshal Blucher, conscious that the possession of Ligny rendered us masters of the event of the battle, returned to the charge with chosen troops: and here, to use his own words, "commenced a battle, that may be considered as one of the most obstinate mentioned in history." For five hours two hundred pieces of ordnance deluged the field with slaughter, blood, and death. For five hours the French and Prussians, alternately vanquished and victors, disputed this ensanguined post hand to hand, and foot to foot, and seven times in succession was it taken and lost.

The Emperor expected every instant, that Marshal Ney was coming to take part in the action. From the commencement of the affair, he had reiterated his orders to him, to manoeuvre so as to surround the right of the Prussians; and he considered this diversion of such high importance, as to write to the marshal, and cause him to be repeatedly told, that the fate of France was in his hands. Ney answered, that "he had the whole of the English army to encounter, yet he would promise him, to hold out the whole day, but nothing more." The Emperor, better informed, assured him, "that it was Wellington's advanced guard alone, that made head against him;" and ordered him anew, "to beat back the English, and make himself master of Quatre Bras, cost what it might." The marshal persisted in his fatal error. Napoleon, deeply impressed with the importance of the movement, that Marshal Ney refused to comprehend and execute, sent directly to the first corps an order, to move with all speed on the right of the Prussians; but, after having lost much valuable time in waiting for it, he judged, that the battle could not be prolonged without danger, and directed General Gerard, who had with him but five thousand men, to undertake the movement, which should have been accomplished by the twenty thousand men of Count Erlon; namely, to turn St Amand, and fall on the rear of the enemy.

This manoeuvre, ably executed, and seconded by the guard attacking in front, and by a brilliant charge of the cuirassiers of General Delore's brigade and of the horse grenadier guards, decided the victory. The Prussians, weakened in every part, retired in disorder, and left us, with the field of battle, forty cannons and several standards.

On the left, Marshal Ney, instead of rushing rapidly on Quatre Bras, and effecting the diversion, that had been recommended to him, had spent twelve hours in useless attempts, and given time to the Prince of Orange to reinforce his advanced guard. The pressing orders of Napoleon not allowing him, to remain meditating any longer; and desirous, no doubt, of repairing the time he had lost; he did not cause either the position or the forces of the enemy, to be thoroughly reconnoitred, and rushed on them headlong. The division of General Foy commenced the attack, and drove in the sharpshooters, and the advanced posts. Bachelu's cavalry, aided, covered, and supported by this division, pierced and cut to pieces three Scotch battalions: but the arrival of fresh reinforcements, led by the Duke of Wellington, and the shining bravery of the Scotch, the Belgians, and the Prince of Orange, suspended our success. This resistance, far from discouraging Marshal Ney, revived in him an energy, which he had not before shown. He attacked the Anglo-Hollanders with fury; and drove them back to the skirts of the wood of Bassu. The 1st of chasseurs and 6th of lancers overthrew the Brunswickers; the 8th of cuirassiers defeated two Scotch battalions, and took from them a flag. The 11th, equally intrepid, pursued them to the entrance of the wood: but the wood, which had not been examined, was lined with English infantry. Our cuirassiers were assailed by a fire at arm's length, which at once carried dismay and confusion into their ranks. Some of the officers, lately incorporated with them, instead of appeasing the disorder, increased it by shouts of "Every one for himself (sauve qui peut!)" This disorder, which in a moment spread from one to another as far as Beaumont, might have occasioned greater disasters, if the infantry of General Foy, remaining unshaken, had not continued to sustain the conflict with equal perseverance and intrepidity.

Marshal Ney, who had with him only twenty thousand men, was desirous of causing the first corps, which he had left in the rear, to advance: but the Emperor, as I have said above, had sent immediate orders to Count Erlon, who commanded it, to come and join him, and this general had commenced his march. Ney, when he heard this, was amid a cross fire from the enemy's batteries. "Do you see those bullets?" exclaimed he, his brow clouded with despair: "I wish they would all pass through my body.". Instantly he sent with all speed after Count Erlon, and directed him, whatever orders he might have received from the Emperor himself, to return, Count Erlon was so unfortunate and weak as to obey. He brought his troops back to the marshal; but it was nine o'clock in the evening, and the marshal, dispirited by the checks he had received, and dissatisfied with himself, and others, had discontinued the engagement.

The Duke of Wellington, whose forces had increased successively to more than fifty thousand men, retired in good order during the night to Genappe.

Marshal Ney was indebted to the great bravery of his troops, and the firmness of his generals, for the honour of not being obliged, to abandon his positions.

The desperation, with which this battle was fought, made those men shudder, who were most habituated to contemplate with coolness the horrors of war. The smoking ruins of Ligny and St. Amand were heaped with the dead and dying: the ravine before Ligny resembled a river of blood, on which carcasses were floating: at Quatre Bras there was a similar spectacle! the hollow way, that skirted the wood, had disappeared under the bloody corses of the brave Scotch and of our cuirassiers. The imperial guard was every where distinguished by its murderous rage: it fought with shouts of "The Emperor for ever! No quarter!" The corps of General Gerard displayed the same animosity. It was this, that, having expended all its ammunition, called out aloud for more cartridges and more Prussians.

The loss of the Prussians, rendered considerable by the tremendous fire of our artillery, was twenty-five thousand men. Blucher, unhorsed by our cuirassiers, escaped them only by a miracle.

The English and Dutch lost four thousand five hundred men. Three Scotch regiments, and the black legion of Brunswick, were almost entirely exterminated. The Prince of Brunswick himself, and a number of other officers of distinction, were killed.

We lost, in the left wing, near five thousand men, and several generals. Prince Jerome, who had already been wounded at the passage of the Sambre, had his hand slightly grazed by a musket shot. He remained constantly at the head of his division, and displayed a great deal of coolness and valour.

Our loss at Ligny, estimated at six thousand five hundred men, was rendered still more to be regretted by General Gerard's receiving a mortal wound. Few officers were endued with a character so noble, and an intrepidity so habitual. More greedy of glory than of wealth, he possessed nothing but his sword; and his last moments, instead of resting with delight on the remembrance of his heroic actions alone, were disturbed by the pain of leaving his family exposed to want.

The victory of Ligny did not entirely fulfil the expectations of the Emperor. "If Marshal Ney," said he, "had attacked the English with all his forces, he would have crushed them, and have come to give the Prussians the finishing blow: and if, after having committed this first fault, he had not been guilty of his second folly, in preventing the movement of Count Erlon, the intervention of the 1st corps would have shortened the resistance of Blucher, and rendered his defeat irreparable: his whole army would have been taken or destroyed."

This victory, though imperfect, was not the less considered by the generals as of the highest importance. It separated the English army from the Prussians, and left us hopes of being able to vanquish it in its turn.

The Emperor, without losing time, was for attacking the English on one side at daybreak, and pursuing Blucher's army without respite on the other. It was objected to him, that the English army was intact, and ready to accept battle; while our troops, harassed by the conflicts and fatigue of Ligny, would not perhaps be in a condition, to fight with the necessary vigour. In fine, such numerous objections were made, that he consented to let the army take rest. Ill success inspires timidity. If Napoleon, as of old, had listened only to the suggestions of his own audacity, it is probable, it is certain, and I have heard General Drouot say it, that he might, according to his plan, have led his troops to Brussels on the 17th; and who can calculate what would have been the consequences of his occupying that capital?

On the 17th therefore, the Emperor contented himself with forming his army into two columns; one of sixty-five thousand men, headed by the Emperor, after having joined to it the left wing, followed the steps of the English. The light artillery, the lancers of General Alphonse Colbert, and of the intrepid Colonel Sourd, kept dose after them to the entrance of the forest of Soignes, where the Duke of Wellington took up his position.

The other, thirty-six thousand strong, was detached under the orders of Marshal Grouchy, to observe and pursue the Prussians. It did not proceed beyond Gembloux.

The night of the 17th was dreadful, and seemed to presage the calamities of the day. A violent and incessant rain did not allow the army, to take a single moment's rest. To increase our misfortunes, the bad state of the roads retarded the arrival of our provision, and most of the soldiers were without food: however, they gaily endured this double ill luck; and at daybreak announced to Napoleon by repeated acclamations, that they were ready to fly to a fresh victory.

The Emperor had thought, that Lord Wellington, separated from the Prussians, and foreseeing the march of General Grouchy, who, on passing the Dyle, might fall on his flank, or on his rear, would not venture to maintain his position, but would retire to Brussels[46]. He was surprised, when daylight discovered to him, that the English army had not quitted its positions, and appeared disposed, to accept battle. He made several generals reconnoitre these positions; and, to use the words of one of them, he learned, that they were defended "by an army of cannons, and mountains of infantry."

[Footnote 46: This conjecture was well founded: but Blucher, who had escaped Grouchy, had formed a communication with Wellington through Ohaim, and promised him to make a diversion on our right. Thus Wellington, who had prepared to retreat, was induced to remain.]

Napoleon immediately sent advice to Marshal Grouchy, that he was probably about to engage in a grand battle with the English, and ordered him, to push the Prussians briskly, to approach the grand army as speedily as possible, and to direct his movements so as to be able to connect his operations with it[47].

[Footnote 47: I have heard, that the officer, who carried this order, instead of taking the direct road, thought proper to take an immense circuit, in order to avoid the enemy.]

He then sent for his principal officers, to give them his instructions.

Some of them, confident and daring, asserted, that the enemy's position should be attacked and carried by main force. Others, not less brave, but more prudent, remonstrated, that the ground was deluged by the rain; that the troops, the cavalry in particular, could not manoeuvre without much difficulty and fatigue; that the English army would have the immense advantage of awaiting us on firm ground in its intrenchments; and that it would be better, to endeavour to turn these. All did justice to the valour of our troops, and promised, that they would perform prodigies; but they differed in opinion with regard to the resistance, that the English would make. Their cavalry, said the generals who had fought in Spain, are not equal to ours; but their infantry are more formidable, than is supposed. When intrenched, they are dangerous from their skill in firing: in the open field, they stand firm, and, if broken, rally again within a hundred yards, and return to the charge. Fresh disputes arose; and, what is remarkable, it never entered into any one's head, that the Prussians, pretty numerous parties of whom had been seen towards Moustier, might be in a situation to make a serious diversion on our right.

The Emperor, after having heard and debated the opinions of all, determined, on considerations to which all assented, to attack the English in front. Reiterated orders were despatched to Marshal Grouchy; and Napoleon, to give him time to execute the movement he had enjoined, spent the whole morning in arranging his army.

The English army was reconnoitred anew by the Emperor in person. Its central position, resting on the village of Mont St. Jean, was supported on the right by the farm of Hougoumont, on the left by that of La Haie Sainte. Its two wings extended beyond the hamlets of Terre la Haie and Merkebraine. Hedges, woods, ravines, an immense quantity of artillery, and eighty-five or ninety thousand men, defended this formidable position.

The Emperor disposed his army[48] in the following order.

[Footnote 48:

2d Corps.

Infantry 16,500} } 18,000 Cavalry 1,500}

1st Corps.

Infantry 12,500} } 13,700 Cavalry 1,200}

6th Corps.

Infantry 7,000 {4,000 had} 7,000 {been joined to Grouchy}

Division of Domont and Suberwick 2,500

Cuirassiers 4,800

Foot guards 2,500} Light cavalry 2,100} 16,600 Grenadiers and dragoons 2,000}

Artillery 4,500 ——— 67,100

Gerard's division 3000 men.]

The 2d corps, of which Prince Jerome always made a part, was posted opposite the woods, that surrounded Hougoumont.

The 1st corps opposite La Haie Sainte.

The 6th corps was sent to the extremity of the right, so as to be able to form a communication with Marshal Grouchy, when he should appear.

The light cavalry and cuirassiers were flanked in a second line, behind the first and second corps.

The guard and cavalry were kept in reserve on the heights of Planchenois.

The old division of General Gerard was left at Fleurus.

The Emperor, with his staff, took his station on a little knap, near the farm of La Belle Alliance, which commanded the plain, and whence he could easily direct the movements of the army, and observe those of the English.

At half after twelve, the Emperor, persuaded that Marshal Grouchy must be in motion, caused the signal for battle to be given.

Prince Jerome, with his division, proceeded against Hougoumont. The approaches were defended by hedges and a wood; in which the enemy had posted a number of artillery. The attack, rendered so difficult by the state of the ground, was conducted with extreme impetuosity. The wood was alternately taken and retaken. Our troops and the English, most frequently separated by a single hedge, fired on each other reciprocally, their muskets almost touching, without retreating a single step. The artillery made fearful ravages on both sides. The event was doubtful, till General Reille ordered Foy's division to support the attack of Prince Jerome, and thus succeeded in compelling the enemy, to abandon the woods and orchards, which they had hitherto so valiantly defended and kept possession of.

It was one o'clock. A few moments before, an intercepted despatch informed the Emperor of the near approach of thirty thousand Prussians, commanded by Bulow[49].

[Footnote 49: This corps had joined the Prussian array since the battle of Ligny.]

Napoleon thought, that the strength of this corps, some of the skirmishers of which had appeared on the heights of St. Lambert, was exaggerated; and persuaded too, that Grouchy's army was following it, and that it would soon find itself between two fires, it gave him but little uneasiness. However, rather from precaution than from fear, he gave orders to General Domont, to advance with his cavalry and that of General Suberwick, to meet the Prussians and directed Count de Lobau, to be ready to support General Domont in case of necessity. Orders were despatched at the same time to Marshal Grouchy, to inform him of what was passing, and enjoin him anew, to hasten his march, to pursue, attack, and crush Bulow.

Thus by drawing off the divisions of Domont and Suberwick, and by the paralyzation of the 6th corps, our army was reduced to less than fifty-seven thousand men: but it displayed so much resolution, that the Emperor did not doubt its being sufficient, to beat the English.

The second corps, as I have already said, had effected the dislodgment of the English from the woods of Hougoumont; but the first corps, notwithstanding the continual play of several batteries, and the resolution of our infantry and of the light horse of General Lefevre Desnouettes and Guyot, had been unable to force either La Haie Sainte, or Mont St. Jean. The Emperor ordered Marshal Ney, to undertake a fresh attack, and to support it by eighty pieces of cannon. A tremendous fire of musketry and artillery then took place throughout the whole line. The English, insensible to danger, supported the charges of our foot and of our horse with great firmness. The more resistance they displayed, the more furiously did our soldiers engage. At length the English, driven from one position to another, evacuated La Haie Sainte and Mont St. Jean, and our troops seized on them with shouts of "Long live the Emperor!"

To sustain them there, Count d'Erlon immediately sent the second brigade of General Alix. A body of English horse intercepted the passage, threw the brigade into disorder, and then, falling on our batteries, succeeded in dismounting several pieces of artillery. The cuirassiers of General Milhaud set off at a gallop, to repulse the English horse. A fresh division of these came and fell upon our cuirassiers. Our lancers and chasseurs were sent to their assistance. A general charge ensued, and the English, broken, overthrown, cut down, were forced to retire in disorder.

Hitherto the French army, or, to speak more properly, the forty thousand men of Generals Reille and d'Erlon, had obtained and preserved a marked superiority. The enemy, driven back, appeared hesitating on their movements. Dispositions had been observed, that seemed to indicate an approaching retreat. The Emperor, satisfied, joyfully exclaimed: "They are ours: I have them:" and Marshal Soult, and all the generals, considered, as he did, the victory certain[50]. The guard had already received orders to put itself in motion, to occupy the ground we had gained, and finish the enemy, when General Domont sent to inform the Emperor, that Bulow's corps had just formed in line, and was advancing rapidly on the rear of our right. This information changed the design of Napoleon; and, instead of employing his guard to support the first and second corps, he kept it in reserve; ordering Marshal Ney to maintain his ground in the woods of Hougoumont, at La Haie Sainte, and at Mont St. Jean, till the event of the movement, which Count Lobau was about to make against the Prussians, was known.

[Footnote 50: The enemy themselves confess, that at this moment they thought the battle lost. "The ranks of the English," says Blucher, "were thrown into disorder; the loss had been considerable; the reserves had been advanced into the line; the situation of the Duke was extremely critical, the fire of musketry continued along the front, the artillery had retired to the second line."

I will add, that still greater disorder prevailed in the rear of the English army: the roads of the forest of Soignes were encumbered with waggons, artillery, and baggage, deserted by the drivers; and numerous bands of fugitives had spread confusion and affright through Brussels and the neighbouring roads.

Had not our successes been interrupted by the march of Bulow; or had Marshal Grouchy, as the Emperor had reason to hope, followed at the heels of the Prussians; never would a more glorious victory have been obtained by the French. Not a single man of the Duke of Wellington's army would have escaped.]

The English, informed of the arrival of Bulow, resumed the offensive; and endeavoured to drive us from the positions, that we had taken from them. Our troops repulsed them victoriously. Marshal Ney, carried away by his boiling courage, forgot the orders of the Emperor. He charged the enemy at the head of Milhaud's cuirassiers and the light cavalry of the guard, and succeeded, amid the applauses of the army, in establishing himself on the heights of Mont St. Jean, till then inaccessible.

This ill-timed and hazardous movement did not escape the Duke of Wellington. He caused his infantry to advance, and fell upon us with all his cavalry.

The Emperor immediately ordered General Kellerman and his cuirassiers, to hasten to extricate our first line. The horse grenadiers and dragoons of the guard, either from a misconception of Marshal Ney, or spontaneously, put themselves in motion, and followed the cuirassiers, without its being possible to stop them. A second conflict, more bloody than the first, took place at all points. Our troops, exposed to the incessant fire of the enemy's batteries and infantry, heroically sustained and executed numerous brilliant charges during two hours, in which we had the glory of taking six flags, dismounting several batteries, and cutting to pieces four regiments; but in which we also lost the flower of our intrepid cuirassiers, and of the cavalry of the guard.

The Emperor, whom this desperate engagement vexed to the heart, could not remedy it. Grouchy did not arrive: and he had already been obliged to weaken his reserves by four thousand of the young guard, in order to master the Prussians, whose numbers and whose progress were still increasing.

Mean time our cavalry, weakened by a considerable loss, and unequal contests incessantly renewed, began to be disheartened, and to give ground. The issue of the battle appeared to become doubtful. It was necessary to strike a grand blow by a desperate attack.

The Emperor did not hesitate.

Orders were immediately given to Count Reille, to collect all his forces, and to fall with impetuosity on the right of the enemy, while Napoleon in person proceeded, to attack the front with his reserves. The Emperor had already formed his guard into a column of attack, when he heard, that our cavalry had just been forced, to evacuate in part the heights of Mont St. Jean. Immediately he ordered Marshal Ney, to take with him four battalions of the middle guard, and hasten with all speed to the fatal height, to support the cuirassiers by whom it was still occupied.

The firm countenance of the guard, and the harangues of Napoleon, inflamed their minds: the cavalry, and a few battalions, who had followed his movement to the rear, faced about towards the enemy, shouting "The Emperor for ever!"

At this moment the firing of musketry was heard[51]. "There's Grouchy!" exclaimed the Emperor: "the day is ours!" Labedoyere flew to announce this happy news to the army: in spite of the enemy, he penetrated to the head of our columns: "Marshal Grouchy is arriving, the guard is going to charge: courage! courage! 'tis all over with the English."

[Footnote 51: It was afterwards known, that it was General Ziethen, who, on his arrival in line, had taken the troops commanded by the Prince of Saxe Weimar for Frenchmen, and compelled them, after a brisk fire, to abandon a little village, which they were appointed to defend.]

One last shout of hope burst from every rank: the wounded, who were still capable of taking a few steps, returned to the combat; and thousands of voices eagerly repeated, "Forward! forward!"

The column commanded by the bravest of the brave, on his arrival in face of the enemy, was received by discharges of artillery, that occasioned it a terrible loss. Marshal Ney, weary of bullets, ordered the batteries to be carried by the bayonet. The grenadiers rushed on them with such impetuosity, that they neglected the admirable order, to which they had been so often indebted for victory. Their leader, intoxicated with intrepidity, did not perceive this disorder. He and his soldiers rushed on the enemy tumultuously. A shower of balls and grape burst on their heads. Ney's horse was shot under him, Generals Michel and Friant fell wounded or dead, and a number of brave fellows were stretched on the ground. Wellington did not allow our grenadiers time to recollect themselves. He caused them to be attacked in flank by his cavalry, and compelled them to retire in the greatest disorder. At the same instant the thirty thousand Prussians under Ziethen, who had been taken for Grouchy's army, carried by assault the village of La Haye, and drove our men before them. Our cavalry, our infantry, already staggered by the defeat of the middle guard, were afraid of being cut off, and precipitately retreated. The English horse, skilfully availing themselves of the confusion, which this unexpected retreat had occasioned, pierced through our ranks, and rendered them completely disordered and disheartened. The other troops of the right, who continued to resist with great difficulty the attacks of the Prussians, and who had been in want of ammunition above an hour, seeing some of our squadrons pell mell, and some of the guards running away, thought all was lost, and quitted their position. This contagious movement was communicated in an instant to the left; and the whole army, after having so valiantly carried the enemy's strongest posts, abandoned them with as much eagerness, as they had displayed ardour in conquering them.

The English army, which had advanced in proportion as we retreated, and the Prussians, who had not ceased to pursue us, fell at once on our scattered battalions; night increased the tumult and alarm; and soon the whole army was nothing but a confused crowd, which the English and Prussians routed without effort, and massacred without pity.

The Emperor, witnessing this frightful defection, could scarcely believe his eyes. His aides-de-camp flew to rally the troops in all directions. He also threw himself into the midst of the crowd. But his words, his orders, his entreaties, were not heard. How was it possible for the army to form anew under the guns, and amid the continual charges of eighty thousand English, and sixty thousand Prussians, who covered the field, of battle?

However, eight battalions, which the Emperor had previously collected, formed in squares, and stopped the way against the Prussian and English armies. These brave fellows, resolute and courageous as they were, could not long resist the efforts of an enemy twenty times their number. Surrounded, assaulted, cannonaded on all sides, most of them at length fell. Some sold their lives dearly: others, exhausted with fatigue, hunger, and thirst, had no longer strength to fight, and suffered themselves to be killed, without being able to make any defence. Two battalions[52] alone, whom the enemy were unable to break, retreated disputing the ground, till, thrown into disorder and hurried along by the general movement, they were obliged themselves to follow the stream.

[Footnote 52: They had at their head Generals Petit and Pelet de Morvan.]

One last battalion of reserve, the illustrious and unfortunate remains of the granite column of the fields of Marengo, had remained unshaken amid the tumultuous waves of the army. The Emperor retired into the ranks of these brave fellows, still commanded by Cambronne! He formed them into a square, and advanced at their head, to meet the enemy. All his generals, Ney, Soult, Bertrand, Drouot, Corbineau, de Flahaut, Labedoyere, Gourgaud, &c. drew their swords, and became soldiers. The old grenadiers, incapable of fear for their own lives, were alarmed at the danger that threatened the life of the Emperor. They conjured him to withdraw. "Retire," said one of them: "you see, that Death shuns you." The Emperor resisted, and ordered them to fire. The officers around him seized his bridle, and dragged him away. Cambronne and his brave fellows crowded round their expiring eagles, and bade Napoleon an eternal adieu. The English, moved by their heroic resistance, conjured them to surrender. "No," said Cambronne, "the guard can die, but not yield!" At the same moment they all rushed on the enemy, with shouts of "Long live the Emperor!" Their blows were worthy of the conquerors of Austerlitz, Jena, Wagram, and Montmirail. The English and Prussians, from whom they still detained the field of victory, united against this handful of heroes, and cut them down. Some, covered with wounds, fell to the ground weltering in their blood; others, more fortunate, were killed outright: in fine, they whose hopes were not answered by death, shot one another, that they might not survive their companions in arms, or die by the hands of their enemies.

Wellington and Blucher, thus become quiet possessors of the field of battle, traversed it as masters. But at what expense of blood was this unjust triumph purchased! Never, no never, were the blows of the French more formidable or more deadly to their adversaries. Thirsting after blood and glory, they rushed daringly on the blazing batteries of their enemy; and seemed to multiply in number, to seek, attack, and pursue them in their inaccessible intrenchments. Thirty thousand English or Prussians[53] were sacrificed by their hands on that fatal day; and when it is considered, that this horrible carnage was the work of fifty thousand men[54], dying with fatigue and hunger, and striving in miry ground against an impregnable position and a hundred and thirty thousand fighting men, we cannot but be seized with sorrowful admiration, and decree to the vanquished the palm of victory.

[Footnote 53:


The general loss of the army of the Duke of Wellington, in killed and wounded, was about 25,000

And that of Prince Blucher 35,000 ——— 60,000 ——— That of the French may be estimated as follows:

The 15th and 16th, killed and wounded 11,000 The 18th, killed and wounded 18,000 Prisoners 8,000 ——— 37,000

The loss of the French would have been greater, had it not been for the generous care taken of them by the inhabitants of Belgium. After the victory of Fleurus and of Ligny, they hastened to the field of battle, to console the wounded, and give them every assistance. Nothing could be more affecting, than the sight of a number of women and girls endeavouring to revive, by cordial liquors, the extinguished lives (la vie eteinte) of our unfortunate soldiers, while their husbands and brothers supported our wounded in their arms, stanched their blood, and closed their wounds.

The precipitancy of our march had not allowed us, to prepare conveyances and field hospitals, to receive our wounded. The good and feeling inhabitants of Belgium supplied the deficiency with eagerness. They carried our poor Frenchmen from the field of battle, and offered them an asylum, and all the attention necessary.

At the time of our retreat, they lavished on us proofs of their regard not less affecting, and not less valuable. Braving the rage of the ferocious Prussians, they quitted their houses, to show us the paths, that would favour our escape, and guide our course through the enemy's columns. When they parted from us, they still followed us with their eyes, and expressed from a distance how happy they were at having been able to save us.

When they knew, that a great number of Frenchmen remained prisoners with the conqueror, they were eager to offer, and to lavish on them, consolation and assistance. The Prince of Orange himself, as formidable in the heat of battle, as magnanimous after victory, became the protector of a number of brave fellows, who, having learned how to esteem him on the field of battle, had nobly invoked his support.

In fine, completely to acquit the debt of gratitude, at that period so painful to remember, when persecution, exile, death, compelled so many Frenchmen to flee their native land, the inhabitants of Belgium, always tender-hearted, always benevolent, opened their hospitable doors to our unfortunate proscribed countrymen, and more than one brave man, already preserved by them from the vengeance of foreigners, was a second time saved by their generous hands from the fury of enemies still more implacable.]

[Footnote 54: I say fifty thousand men, for more than ten thousand of the guard took no share in the action.]

At the moment, when Bulow's corps penetrated our right, I was at head-quarters at the farm of Caillou.

One of the grand marshal's aides-de-camp came from him, to inform the Duke of Bassano, that the Prussians were proceeding in that direction. The duke, having received orders from the Emperor to remain there, would not quit the place, and we resigned ourselves to wait the event. In fact, the enemy's dragoons soon made themselves masters of the little wood, that covered the farm, and attacked our people sword in hand. Our guard repulsed them with their muskets; but, returning in greater number, they assailed us anew, and compelled us, in spite of the stoicism of M. de Bassano, to yield up the place to them very speedily. The imperial carriages, furnished with able horses, carried us rapidly from the enemy's pursuit. The duke was not so fortunate: his carriage, having poor horses, received several shots; and he was at length forced to escape on foot, and take refuge in mine.

The cessation of the firing, and the precipitate retreat of the wreck of the army, too powerfully confirmed to us the fatal issue of the battle. We inquired on all sides after the Emperor, but no one could satisfy our painful anxiety. Some assured us, that he had been taken prisoner; others, that he was killed. To put an end to the anxiety that overwhelmed us, I took the horse of the principal of our attendants (chef de nos equipages), and, accompanied by one of our principal piqueurs, named Chauvin, who had returned with Napoleon from the island of Elba, I hastened back toward Mont St. Jean. After having in vain wearied a multitude of officers with questions, I met a page, young Gudin, who assured me, that the Emperor must have quitted the field of battle. I still pushed on. Two cuirassiers, raising their sabres, stopped me. "Where are you going?"—"I am going to meet the Emperor."—"You lie; you are a royalist; you are going to rejoin the English." I know not how the business would have ended, had not a superior officer of the guard, sent by heaven, fortunately known me, and extricated me from the difficulty. He assured me, that the Emperor, whom he had escorted a long way, must be before. I returned to the Duke of Bassano. The certainty, that the Emperor was safe and sound, alleviated our sorrows for a few moments: but they soon resumed all their strength. He must have been no Frenchman, who could behold with dry eyes our dreadful catastrophe. The army itself, after recovering from its first impressions, forgot the perils with which it was still menaced, to meditate with sadness on the future. Its steps were dejected, its looks dismayed; not a word, not a complaint, was heard to interrupt its painful meditations. You would have said it was accompanying a funeral procession, and attending the obsequies of its glory and of its country.

The capture and plundering of the baggage of the army had suspended for a moment the enemy's pursuit. They came up with us at Quatre Bras, and fell upon our equipage. At the head of the convoy marched the military chest, and after it our carriage. Five other carriages, that immediately followed us, were attacked and sabred. Ours, by miracle, effected its escape. Here were taken the Emperor's clothes: the superb diamond necklace, that the princess Borghese had given him; and his landau, that in 1813 had escaped the disasters of Moscow.

The Prussians, raging in pursuit of us, treated with unexampled barbarity those unfortunate beings, whom they were able to overtake. Except a few steady old soldiers, most of the rest had thrown away their arms, and were without defence; but they were not the less massacred without pity. Four Prussians killed General ...... in cold blood, after having taken from him his arms. Another general, whose name also I cannot call to mind, surrendered to an officer: and this officer had the cowardice still more than the cruelty, to run him through the body. A colonel, to avoid falling into their hands, blew out his brains. Twenty other officers, of various ranks, imitated the example. An officer of cuirassiers, seeing them approach, said: "They shall have neither me, nor my horse." With one of his pistols he shot his horse dead; with the other, himself[55]. A thousand acts of despair, not less heroic, illustrate this fatal day.

[Footnote 55: This circumstance was told to me, but the following I witnessed myself. A cuirassier, in the heat of the battle, had both his arms disabled with sabre wounds: "I will go and get myself dressed," said he, foaming with rage: "if I cannot use my arms, I'll use my teeth—I'll eat them."]

We continued our retreat to Charleroi. The further we advanced, the more difficult it became. They who preceded us, whether to impede the enemy, or through treachery, obstructed the way, and at every step we had to break through barricades. When halting for a moment, I heard cries and moanings at our side. I went to the place, and found they came from a ditch on the road-side, into which two large waggon-loads of wounded men had been overturned. These unfortunate people, tumbled in a heap under the waggons, that were upset upon them, implored the compassion of those who passed by; but their feeble voices, drowned by the noise of the carriages, had not been heard. We all set to work, and succeeded in extricating them from their tombs. Some were still breathing; but the greater number were stifled. The joy of these poor wretches affected us to tears; but it was of short duration—we were forced to leave them.

Still pursued and harassed by the enemy, we arrived at Charleroi, which place was so encumbered, and in such confusion, that we were obliged to leave behind us our carriage and our baggage. The secret portfolio of the cabinet was carried off by the keeper of the portfolio; the other important papers were destroyed; and we left only some letters and reports of no moment, which were afterwards printed at Brussels[56]. The Duke of Bassano and I were continuing our journey on foot, when I saw some piqueurs with led horses of the Emperor's, and I ordered them, to bring them to us. Such was the respect of the duke for every thing belonging to Napoleon, that he hesitated to avail himself of this good fortune. Happily for him, I succeeded in overcoming his scruples; for the Prussians had come up with us, and the firing of musketry informed us, that they were engaging only a few paces behind us. We were equally obliged to abandon the military chest. The gold in it was distributed among the Emperor's domestics; all of whom faithfully delivered it to him.

[Footnote 56: Among these letters printed was one of mine, written from Bale to the Emperor on the subject of M. Werner.]

The Emperor, accompanied by his aides-decamp and a few orderly officers, on quitting the field of battle, had taken the road to Charleroi. On his arrival at this place, he attempted to rally a few troops; but his efforts were vain, and, after having given orders to several generals, he continued his course.

Count Lobau, the generals of the guards Petit and Pelet de Morvan, and a number of other officers, equally endeavoured to form the army anew. With swords drawn, they stopped the troops on their way, and forced them, to draw up in order of battle; but scarcely were they formed, when they dispersed again immediately. The artillery, that had been able to be brought off, alone preserved its structure unshaken. The brave gunners, feeling the same attachment to their guns as soldiers to their colours, followed them quietly. Obliged by the roads being so much encumbered, to halt at every step, they saw the tide of the army flow by them without regret: it was their duty, to remain by their guns; and they remained, without considering, that their devotion might cost them their liberty or their lives.

By chance M. de Bassano and I took the road to Philippeville. We learned, with a joy of which we did not think ourselves any longer susceptible, that the Emperor was in the town. We ran to him. When he saw me, he condescended to present me his hand. I bathed it with my tears. The Emperor himself could not suppress his emotion: a large tear, escaping from his eyes, betrayed the efforts of his soul.

The Emperor caused orders to be despatched to generals Rapp, Lecourbe, and Lamarque, to proceed by forced marches to Paris, and to the commanders of fortified towns, to defend themselves to the last extremity. He afterward dictated to me two letters to Prince Joseph. One, intended to be communicated to the council of ministers, related but imperfectly the fatal issue of the battle: the other, for the prince alone, gave him a recital, unhappily too faithful, of the rout of the army. He concluded however: "All is not lost. I suppose I shall have left, on re-assembling my forces, a hundred and fifty thousand men. The federates and national guards, who have heart, will supply me with a hundred thousand men; the depot battalions, with fifty thousand. Thus I shall have three hundred thousand soldiers, to oppose to the enemy immediately. I shall supply the artillery with horses by means of those kept as articles of luxury. I shall levy a hundred thousand conscripts. I shall arm them with the muskets of the royalists and ill-disposed national guards. Dauphiny, the Lyonese, Burgundy, Lorraine, and Champagne, I shall levy in mass. I shall overwhelm the enemy: but it is necessary for me to be assisted, and not perplexed. I am going to Laon. No doubt I shall find men there. I have heard nothing of Grouchy; if he be not taken, as I am afraid he is, in three days time I may have fifty thousand men. With these I could keep the enemy employed, and give time to Paris and France, to do their duty. The English march slowly. The Prussians are afraid of the peasantry, and dare not advance too far. Every thing may yet be repaired. Write me word of the effect, that the horrible result of this rash enterprise produces in the chamber. I believe the deputies will feel, that it is their duty on this great occasion, to join with me, in order to save France. Prepare them, to second me worthily."

The Emperor added with his own hand: "Courage, and firmness."

While I was despatching these letters, he dictated to M. de Bassano instructions for the major-general. When he had finished, he threw himself on a sorry bed, and ordered preparations to be made for our departure.

A postchaise half broken to pieces, a few waggons and some straw, had just been prepared, as nothing better was to be had, for Napoleon and us; when some carriages belonging to Marshal Soult entered the town. These we seized upon. The enemy having already some scouts in the neighbourhood of Philippeville and Marienbourg, two or three hundred fugitives of all sorts were collected, to form an escort for the Emperor. He set off with General Bertrand in a calash. It was thus Charles XII. fled before his conquerors after the battle of Pultowa.

The Emperor's suite was in two other calashes. One, in which I was, contained M. de Bassano, General Drouot, General Dejean, and M. de Canisy, first equerry: the other was occupied by Messrs. de Flahaut, Labedoyere, Corbineau, and de Bissi, aides-de-camp.

The Emperor stopped beyond Rocroi, to take some refreshment. We were all in a pitiable state: our eyes swelled with tears, our countenances haggard, our clothes covered with blood or dust, rendered us objects of compassion and horror to one another. We conversed on the critical situation, in which the Emperor and France would find themselves. Labedoyere, in the abundant candour of a young and inexperienced heart, persuaded himself, that our dangers would unite all parties, and that the chambers would display a grand and salutary energy. "The Emperor," said he, "without stopping on the road, should repair directly to the seat of the national representation; frankly avow his disasters; and, like Philip Augustus, offer to die as a soldier, and resign the crown to the most worthy. The two chambers will revolt at the idea of abandoning Napoleon, and join with him, to save France."—"Do not imagine," answered I, "that we live still in those days, when misfortune was sacred. The chamber, far from pitying Napoleon, and generously coming to his assistance, will accuse him of having ruined France, and endeavour to save it by sacrificing him."—"Heaven preserve us from such a misfortune!" exclaimed Labedoyere: "if the chambers separate themselves from the Emperor, all is over with us. The enemy will be at Paris in a week. The next day we shall see the Bourbons; and then what will become of liberty, and of all those who have embraced the national cause? As for me, my fate is not doubtful. I shall be the first man shot."—"The Emperor is a lost man, if he set his foot in Paris:" replied M. de Flahaut: "there is but one step he can take, to save himself and France; and this is, to treat with the allies, and cede the crown to his son. But, in order to treat, he must have an army; and perhaps at this very moment, while we are talking, most of the generals are already thinking of sending in their submissions to the king[57]."—"So much the more reason is there," resumed Labedoyere, "why he should hasten to make common cause with the chambers and the nation; and set out without loss of time."—"And I maintain with M. de Flahaut," rejoined I, "that the Emperor is lost, if he set foot in Paris. He has never been forgiven for having abandoned his army in Egypt, in Spain, at Moscow: still less would he be pardoned for leaving it here, in the centre of France."

[Footnote 57: M. de Flahaut saw truly, for it appears certain, that Marshal Grouchy had held parleys with the allies, and that an arrangement on the plan of the Duke of Ragusa was about to be signed, when General Excelmans arrested the Prussian colonel, who was sent to the marshal, to conclude the treaty already agreed upon.]

These different opinions, blamed or approved, supplied us with subjects for discussion; when a person came to inform us, that the English were at la Capelle[58], four or five leagues from us. With this General Bertrand was instantly made acquainted: but the Emperor continued talking with the Duke of Bassano, and we had infinite trouble, to make him resume his journey.

[Footnote 58: This information was false.]

We arrived at Laon. The Emperor alighted at the foot of the walls. Our defeat was already known. A detachment of the national guard came to meet the Emperor. "Our brothers and sons," said the commanding officer to him, "are in the garrison towns, but dispose of us, sire; we are ready to die for our country, and for you." The Emperor thanked him heartily. Some peasants came round us, and gaped at us with stupid looks: they often shouted, "Long live the Emperor!" but these shouts annoyed us. In prosperity they are pleasing; after a battle lost they wound the heart.

The Emperor was informed, that a considerable number of troops were perceived at a distance. He sent one of his aides-de-camp, to reconnoitre them. They were about three thousand Frenchmen, horse and foot, whom Prince Jerome, Marshal Soult, General Morand, and Generals Colbert, Petit, and Pelet de Morveau, had succeeded in rallying. "Then," said Napoleon, "I will remain at Laon, till the rest of the army joins. I have given orders for all the scattered soldiers to be sent to Laon and Rheims. The gendarmerie and national guard shall scour the country, and collect the laggers; the good soldiers will join of themselves; in four and twenty hours we shall have a nucleus of ten or twelve thousand men. With this little army I will keep the enemy in check, and give Grouchy time to arrive, and the nation to face about." This resolution was strongly combated. "Your Majesty," it was urged, "has seen with your own eyes the complete rout of the army. You know, that the regiments were confounded together; and it is not the work of a few hours, to form them anew. Even supposing, that a nucleus of ten thousand soldiers could be collected, what could your Majesty do with such a handful of men, for the most part destitute of arms and stores? You might stop the enemy at one point; but you could not prevent their advancing at another, as all the roads are open to them. The corps of Marshal Grouchy, if he have crossed the Dyle, must have fallen into the hands of Blucher or of Wellington: if he have not crossed it, and attempt to effect his retreat by way of Namur, the Prussians must necessarily arrive at Gembloux or at Temploux before him, and oppose his passage; while the English will proceed through Tilly and Sombref to his right flank, and cut off all hopes of his saving himself. In this state of things, your Majesty cannot reasonably reckon upon any assistance from his army: he has none. France can only be saved by herself. It is necessary, that all the citizens take arms: and your Majesty's presence at Paris is requisite, to repress your enemies, and animate and direct the zeal of the patriots. The Parisians, when they see your Majesty, will fight without hesitation. If your Majesty remain at a distance from them, a thousand false reports concerning you will be spread: now it will be said, that you are killed; anon, that you are made prisoner, or surrounded. The national guard and federates, disheartened by the fear of being abandoned or betrayed, as they were in 1814, will fight heartlessly, or not at all."

These considerations induced the Emperor, to change his resolution. "Well!" said he, "since you deem it necessary, I will go to Paris; but I am persuaded, that you make me act foolishly. My proper place is here. Hence I could direct what is to be done at Paris, and my brothers would see to the rest."

The Emperor then retired into another room with M. de Bassano and me; and, after having despatched fresh orders to Marshal Soult on the rallying and movements of the army, he put the finishing hand to the bulletin of Mont St. Jean, which had been already sketched at Philippeville. When it was ended, he sent for the grand marshal, General Drouot, and the other aides-de-camp. "Here," said he, "is the bulletin of Mont St. Jean: I wish you to hear it read: if I have omitted any essential circumstances, you will remind me of them; it is not my intention, to conceal any thing. Now, as after the affair of Moscow, the whole truth[59] must be disclosed to France. I might have thrown on Marshal Ney," continued Napoleon, "the blame of part of the misfortunes of that day: but the mischief is done; no more is to be said about it." I read this new twenty-ninth bulletin: a few slight changes, suggested by General Drouot, were assented to by the Emperor; but, from what whim I know not, he would not confess, that his carriages had fallen into the hands of the enemy. "When you get to Paris," said M. de Flahaut to him, "it will be plainly seen, that your carriages have been taken. If you conceal this, you will be charged with disguising truths of more importance; and it is necessary, to tell the whole, or say nothing." The Emperor, after some demur, finally acceded to this advice.

[Footnote 59: This shows how unjustly Napoleon has been reproached with having falsified the truth, and calumniated the army, in that bulletin.]

I then read the bulletin a second time; and, every person agreeing in its accuracy, M. de Bassano sent it off to Prince Joseph by a courier extraordinary.

At the moment when it arrived, Paris was resounding with transports of joy, to which the splendid victory of Ligny, and the good news received from the armies of the West and of the Alps, had given rise.

Marshal Suchet, always fortunate, always able, had made himself master of Montmelian, and from one triumph had proceeded to another, till he had driven the Piedmontese from the passes and valleys of Mount Cenis.

General Desaix, one of his lieutenants, had driven back from the side of Jura the enemy's advanced posts, taken Carrouge, crossed the Arva, and, in spite of the difficulty of the country, made himself master of all the defiles in the twinkling of an eye.

The war of la Vendee had justified the Emperor's conjectures.

The Marquis of Roche-jaquelin, ashamed of the defeat at Aisenay, awaited with impatience an opportunity for redeeming the disgrace. Informed, that a fresh English fleet was bringing him arms and stores, he thought this opportunity was arrived; and immediately made preparations to favour the landing announced, and, if necessary, to give battle to the imperialists.

These preparations, badly contrived, and badly ordered, did not obtain the unanimous assent of the army. Part of the generals, and of the troops, already wearied and disgusted by marches and countermarches without end and without utility, executed with ill will the orders given them. Another part, questioning the reality of the disembarkation, hesitated. In fine, the corps of M. d'Autichamp, one of the most considerable, plainly refused, to take any part in this hazardous expedition; and this example, for which the other divisions waited, was soon imitated by MM. de Sapineau and Suzannet. La Roche-jaquelin, too proud to retract, too presumptuous to be sensible of the danger and folly of his resolutions, saw in the resistance opposed to him nothing but odious treachery; and, in the delirium of his anger, announced, as master, the dismissal of the rebellious generals. One division alone, that of his brother, remaining faithful to him, he put himself at its head, and rashly plunged into the Marsh[60], where fresh disasters and death awaited him.

[Footnote 60: The general name of that part of the country, which borders the coast.]

General Lamarque had penetrated at a glance the designs of his imprudent adversary, and given orders to the formidable Travot, to quit Nantes, and advance with all speed on the rear of the royal army. This bold scheme was ably executed. Travot's advanced guard bore down every thing that opposed its way, made itself master of St. Gilles, kept off the English fleet, and obstructed the disembarkation. Travot, with the rest of his troops, at the same time crossed the river Vic at Bas-Oupton, and closed the road against La Roche-jaquelin. The Vendeans, pressed on all sides, retreated, and took post at St. Jean de Mont. Orders were given to General Esteve, to attack them. They awaited him with firmness; and Esteve, knowing the inexperience of their leader, feigned a retreat. The Vendeans, deceived by this, came out of the intrenchments, by which they were protected. The imperialists suddenly faced about, and soon dispersed their credulous and unfortunate enemies with the bayonet. La Roche-jaquelin, his brains turned, and in despair, ran about every where to give orders, to which no one would listen, which no one would follow, and at length got himself killed[61].

[Footnote 61: This affair, and the death of La Roche-jaquelin, took place on the 11th of June, and were not known at Paris till the 19th.]

La Roche-jaquelin had been the principal instigator of this war from zeal and from ambition; and it was supposed, that his death would be followed by peace: but news of the approaching commencement of hostilities revived the courage of the Vendeans, restored concord among their chiefs, and they prepared for fresh battles.

General Lamarque, informed that MM. de Sapineau, de Suzannet, and d'Autichamp, were united to favour a third disembarkation, went in pursuit of them, at the head of the divisions of General Brayer and Travot. He came up with them at la Roche Serviere. Their position appeared impregnable: but the imperial troops, animated to fight by the news of the battle of Ligny received by the telegraph, performed prodigies of valour; and had it not been for their generals, who were sparing of French blood, it is probable, that the royal army, driven from its intrenchments, defeated, and put to the rout, would have been entirely annihilated.

This fratricidal victory, the last France should have to deplore, left the Vendeans no other resource than peace. This they demanded, and in a few days obtained. If the talents, the vigour, of Generals Lamarque, Travot, and Brayer, &c., added new lustre to their military reputation, their humanity and moderation acquired them still more glorious claims to national gratitude. In hands less truly French, this war would have covered the insurgent country with a funeral pall; in their tutelary hands, it deprived the nation only of a few of its sons.

So many joint successes, magnified too by report, had diffused confidence and intoxication throughout Paris. The fears disseminated by malevolence, or conceived by the anxious solicitude of the patriots, were diminished. People began to contemplate the future with security; they gave themselves up to the hope, that fortune was becoming once more propitious to France; when this deceitful dream was suddenly broken by the news of the misfortunes of our army, and by the arrival of the Emperor.

On alighting at the Elyseum, the Emperor was received by the Duke of Vicenza, his censor in prosperity, his friend in adversity. He appeared sinking under grief and fatigue: his breast was affected, his respiration difficult. After a painful sigh, he said to the duke: "The army performed prodigies; a panic terror seized it; all was lost.... Ney conducted himself like a madman; he got my cavalry massacred for me.... I can say no more.... I must have two hours rest, to enable me to set about business: I am choking here:" and he laid his hand upon his heart.

He gave orders for a bath to be prepared for him; and, after a few moments' silence, resumed: "My intention is, to assemble the two chambers in an imperial sitting. I will describe to them the misfortunes of the army: I will demand from them the means of saving their country: after that, I will set out again."—"Sire," answered the Duke of Vicenza, "the news of your disasters has already transpired. Men's minds are in great agitation: the dispositions of the deputies appear more hostile than ever: and, since your Majesty deigns to listen to me, it is my duty to say, that it is to be feared the chamber will not act agreeably to your expectations. I am sorry, Sire, to see you in Paris. It would have been better, not to have separated from your army: that constitutes your strength, your safety."—"I have no longer an army," replied the Emperor: "I have nothing but fugitives. I shall find men, but how are they to be armed? I have no muskets left. However, with unanimity every thing may be repaired. I hope the deputies will second me; that they will feel the responsibility, that will rest upon them. I think you have formed a wrong judgment of their spirit: the majority is good; it is French. I have against me only Lafayette, Lanjuinais, Flaugergues, and a few others. These would fain have nothing to do with me, I know. I am a restraint upon them. They would labour for themselves ... I will not let them. My presence here will control them."

The arrival of Prince Joseph and Prince Lucien in succession interrupted this discourse. They confirmed the Duke of Vicenza's opinion respecting the ill disposition of the chamber; and advised the Emperor, to defer the convocation of an imperial session, and allow his ministers to act first.

While the Emperor was in the bath, the ministers and great officers of state hastened to the Elyseum, and eagerly questioned the aides-de-camp and officers, who were returned from Mont St. Jean. The spectacle of the rout and destruction of the army was still present to their eyes: they omitted no particular, and imprudently conveyed terror and discouragement into every heart. They said aloud, that it was all over with Napoleon; and whispered, that he had no other means of saving France than by his abdication.

The Emperor, recovered from his fatigue, assembled his council. He made the Duke of Bassano read the bulletin of the battle of Mont St. Jean, and said: "Our misfortunes are great. I am come to repair them: to impress on the nation, on the army, a great and noble movement. If the nation rise, the enemy will be crushed: if disputation be substituted instead of levies, instead of extraordinary measures, all is lost. The enemy is in France. To save the country it is necessary, that I should be invested with great power, with a temporary dictatorship. For the good of the country I might seize on this power: but it would be advantageous, and more national, that it should be given me by the chambers." The ministers held down their heads, and made no answer. The Emperor then called upon them, to give their opinion on the measures, that circumstances required to be taken for the public safety.

M. Carnot was of opinion, that it was necessary, to declare the country in danger, call the federates and national guards to arms, place Paris in a state of siege, defend it, at the last extremity retire behind the Loire, form intrenchments there, recall the army of La Vendee and the corps of observation in the South, and keep the enemy in check, till a sufficient force had been collected and organized, to resume acting on the offensive, and drive them out of France.

The Duke of Vicenza recalled to mind the events of 1814, and maintained, that the occupation of the capital by the enemy would decide the fate of the throne a second time. That it was necessary for the nation to make a grand effort, to preserve its independence: that the safety of the state did not depend on this or that measure; the question was in the chambers, and their union with the Emperor.

The Duke of Otranto, and several other ministers, joined in this opinion; and thought, that by acting towards the chambers with confidence and good faith, they would be brought to feel, that it was their duty to join with the Emperor, that by energetic measures they might together preserve the honour and independence of the nation.

The Duke Decres declared plainly, that they were wrong to flatter themselves with the hope of gaining the deputies; that they were ill-disposed, and appeared decided, to proceed to the most violent extremes.

Count Regnault added, he did not think, that the representatives would consent to second the views of the Emperor; they seemed persuaded, that it was no longer in his power, to save the country; and he was afraid, that a great sacrifice would be necessary.—"Speak plainly," said the Emperor to him: "it is my abdication they want, is it not?"—"I believe so, Sire," replied M. Regnault: "painful as it is to me, it is my duty, to open your Majesty's eyes to your true situation. I will add, it is even possible, that, if your Majesty should not resolve to offer your abdication of your own accord, the chamber would venture to demand it."

Prince Lucien warmly replied: "I have already found myself placed in circumstances of difficulty; and I have seen, that, the more important the crisis, the greater the energy we ought to display. If the chamber will not second the Emperor, he will dispense with its assistance. The safety of our country ought to be the first law of the state; and since the chamber does not appear disposed, to join the Emperor in saving France, he must save it alone. He must declare himself dictator, place France in a state of siege, and call to its defence all the patriots, and all good Frenchmen."

Count Carnot declared, it appeared to him indispensable, that, during this crisis, the Emperor should be invested with great and imposing authority.

The Emperor then took up the discourse, and said: "The presence of the enemy on their native land will, I hope, bring the deputies to a sense of their duty. The nation did not send them to displace, but to support me. I do not fear them. Let them do what they will, I shall still be the idol of the people and of the army. Were I to say a single word, they would be all knocked on the head. But, while I fear nothing on my own account, I fear every thing for France. If we quarrel, instead of preserving a good understanding with each other, we shall experience the fate of the Lower Empire: all will be lost.... The patriotism of the nation, its hatred to the Bourbons, its attachment to myself, offer us still immense resources: our cause is not desperate."

He then, with admirable skill and strength of expression, passed successively in review the means of repairing the disasters of Mont St. Jean; and delineated with a bold pencil the innumerable calamities, with which discord, the foreigners, and the Bourbons threatened France. Every thing he said carried conviction to the minds of his ministers; their opinions, hitherto divided, were tending to an agreement; when the council was interrupted by a message from the chamber of representatives, containing the following resolutions.

"The chamber of representatives declares, that the independence of the nation is threatened.

"The chamber declares itself in a state of permanence. Any attempt to dissolve it is a crime of high treason: whoever shall be guilty of such an attempt will be a traitor to his country, and immediately condemned as one.

"The army of the line and national guard, who have fought, and still fight, in defence of the liberty, the independence, and the territory of France, have deserved well of their country.

"The ministers at war, of foreign affairs, and of the interior, are desired, to repair immediately to the assembly[62]."

[Footnote 62: These resolutions were sent to the chamber of peers also: but this chamber, knowing, that it had no right, to send for the Ministers, contented itself, considering the present circumstances, with giving its approbation to the first three articles.]

These resolutions had been adopted, almost at the first dash, on the proposal of M. de Lafayette. Each of the articles was an infringement of the constitution, and an usurpation of sovereign authority. The Emperor at once foresaw all the consequences. "I was right in thinking," said he with vexation, "that I ought to dismiss those fellows, before I departed. It is all over; they are on the point of ruining France." He broke up the sitting, adding: "I see Regnault did not deceive me: If it must be so, I will abdicate." This imprudent and fatal speech, which was reported immediately to the enemies of Napoleon, strengthened their designs, and increased their boldness. Scarcely had the Emperor uttered the words, however, but he was aware of their impropriety; and, returning, announced, that, previously to taking any decided step, it would be proper, to know, where all this would end. Accordingly he directed M. Regnault, to repair to the chamber, endeavour to calm it, and feel the ground. "You will announce to them, that I am returned; that I have just convened the council of ministers; that the army, after a signal victory, has fought a great battle; that all was going on well; that the English were beaten; and that we had taken from them six pair of colours; when some ill-disposed persons excited a panic. That the army is assembling together; that I have given orders, to stop the fugitives; that I am come, to concert measures with my ministers, and with the chambers; and that I am this moment engaged on those steps, which circumstances require for the public safety."

By the Emperor's orders, M. Carnot set out at the same moment, to make a similar communication to the chamber of peers. It was listened to there with suitable calmness: but M. Regnault, with his utmost efforts, could not moderate the impatience of the representatives; and they imperiously renewed their desire to the ministers, by a second message, to appear at their bar.

The Emperor, offended at the chamber's arrogating to itself an authority over his ministers, forbade them to stir. The deputies, finding they did not come, considered their delay as a contempt for the nation. Some, to whom contempt both of the Emperor and of constitutional principles was already familiar, moved, that the ministers should be ordered to attend the assembly, setting all other business aside. Others, alarmed by their own consciences, and, fearing a politic stroke, created phantoms of their own imagination. Persuaded, that Napoleon was marching troops, to maim and dissolve the national representation, they demanded with loud cries, that the national guard should be summoned, to protect the chamber. Others moved, that the command of this guard should be taken from the Emperor and General Durosnel, and conferred on General Lafayette.

The Emperor, weary of all this noise, authorised his ministers, to inform the president, that they should soon be with him: but not choosing to let it be thought, that they obeyed the injunctions of the chamber, he deputed them to it as bearers of an imperial message drawn up for the purpose. Prince Lucien was appointed to accompany them, under the title of commissioner general. That this innovation might not hurt the feelings of the ministers, the Emperor said to them, that Prince Lucien, by means of his temporary office of commissioner general, might answer the interrogatories of the representatives, without its having any future consequences, and without giving the chamber a right to assert, that their power of sending for the ministers and interrogating them had been acknowledged and conceded. But this was not the real motive. The Emperor had not been satisfied with the lukewarmness, which the majority of the ministers had displayed; and he was desirous of placing in hands more to be depended on the task of defending his person and his throne. At six o'clock the ministers, with Prince Lucien at their head, were introduced into the chamber.

The Prince announced, that the Emperor had appointed him commissioner extraordinary, to concert with the representatives prudential measures: he laid on the president's desk the commission and message of the Emperor, and demanded, that the assembly would think proper to form itself into a secret committee.

This message contained a brief sketch of the disasters experienced at Mont St. Jean. It recommended to the representatives, to join the head of the state to preserve their country from the misfortune of falling again under the yoke of the Bourbons, or becoming, like the Poles, the prey of foreigners. In fine it announced, that it appeared necessary for the two chambers, to appoint each a committee of five members, to concert with ministers the proper measures for securing the public safety, and treating for a peace with the combined powers.

Scarcely was the reading finished, when questions put to the ministers from all parts of the hall instantly threw the deliberations of the assembly into confusion. All the deputies, who had risen, addressed to them at once questions as absurd as they were arrogant, and were astonished, indignant, that they did not satisfy their eager and insatiable curiosity.

The disturbance being calmed, one member, M. Henry Lacoste, was able to make himself heard. "The veil then is torn," said he: "our misfortunes are made known; but, fearful as these disasters are, perhaps they are not yet entirely disclosed to us. I shall not discuss the communications made to us: the moment is not come, to call the head of the state to account for the blood of our brave soldiers, and the loss of the honour of the nation: but I require him, in the name of the public safety, to disclose to us the secret of his thoughts, of his policy; to teach us the means of closing the abyss, that yawns beneath our feet. Ministers of Napoleon, you talk to us of the national independence, you talk to us of peace; but what new basis will you give to your negotiations? What new means of communication have you in your power? You know, as well as we, that Europe has declared war against Napoleon alone! Will you henceforth separate the nation from Napoleon? For my part, I declare, that I see but one man between us and peace. Let him speak, and the country will be saved."

Prince Lucien attempted, to answer this violent attack. "What!" said he, "shall we still have the weakness to believe the words of our enemies? When victory was for the first time faithless to us, did they not swear, in the presence of God and man, that they would respect our independence and our laws? Let us not fall a second time into the snare, that they have set for our confidence, for our credulity. Their aim, in their endeavour to separate the nation from the Emperor, is, to disunite us, in order to vanquish us, and replunge us more easily into that degradation and slavery, from which his return delivered us. I conjure you, citizens, by the sacred name of our country, rally all of you round the chief, whom the nation has so solemnly replaced at its head. Consider, that our safety depends on our union; and that you cannot separate yourselves from the Emperor, and abandon him to his enemies, without ruining the state, without being faithless to your oaths, without tarnishing for ever the national honour."

This speech, uttered amid the coil of parties, was drowned, interrupted, by the tumultuous noise of the assembly: few of the deputies listened to it, or heard it: their minds, however, astonished by the blow aimed at Napoleon, appeared disquieted and irresolute. The Duke of Vicenza, and the Prince of Eckmuhl, had given satisfactory explanations, one of the means of coming to an understanding with the allies, the other of the imaginary approach of troops intended to act against the national representation. The friends of the Emperor had succeeded in bringing over to his cause a majority of the assembly, and every thing seemed to presage a favourable issue, when one of the Emperor's enemies, M. de la Fayette, obtained a hearing. "You accuse us," said he, addressing Prince Lucien, "of failing in our duties towards our honour, and towards Napoleon. Have you forgotten all that we have done for him? have you forgotten, that we followed him in the sands of Africa, in the deserts of Russia, and that the bones of our sons and brothers every where attest our fidelity? For him we have done enough: it is our duty now, to save our country." A number of voices rose together in confusion, to accuse or defend Napoleon. M. Manuel, M. Dupin, displayed the dangers, with which France was threatened. They hinted at the means of preserving it, but durst not pronounce the word abdication: so difficult it is to overcome the respect, that a great man inspires.

In fine, after a long debate, it was agreed, conformably to the conclusions of the message, that a committee of five members, consisting of the president and vice-presidents of the chamber, Monsieur Lanjuinais, and MM. de la Fayette, Dupont de l'Eure, Flaugergues, and Grenier, should concert measures with the council of ministers, and with a committee of the chamber of peers (if this chamber should think proper to appoint one), to collect every information respecting the state of France, and propose every means that might be conducive to the public safety.

Prince Lucien, in the same capacity of commissioner extraordinary, repaired immediately to the chamber of peers; and this chamber, after having heard the imperial message, hastened also to appoint a committee; which was composed of Generals Drouot, Dejean, and Andreossy, and MM. Boissy d'Anglas, and Thibaudeau.

On his return to the Elyseum, the prince did not conceal from the Emperor, that the chamber had declared itself too strongly, to allow any hope of ever reclaiming it: and that it was necessary, either to dissolve it immediately, or submit to an abdication. Two of the ministers present, the Duke of Vicenza and the Duke of Bassano, remonstrated, that the chamber had acquired too great hold of the public opinion, for an act of authority to be attempted against it. They respectfully hinted to Napoleon, that it was more prudent to submit: that, if he hesitated, the chamber would indubitably decree his deposition, and perhaps he would not have it in his power, to abdicate in favour of his son.

Napoleon, without promising, without refusing, without giving any indication of his resolves, contented himself with the answer of the Duke of Guise: "They dare not." But it was easy to perceive, that he stood in fear of the chamber; that he thought his abdication inevitable; and that he only sought, in the hope of some favourable event, to put off the catastrophe as long as possible.

The committees of the two chambers, the ministers, and the ministers of state, met the same day at eleven in the evening, Prince Lucien being present.

It was decided by a majority of sixteen against five:

1st, That the safety of the country required the Emperor to consent, that the two chambers should appoint a committee, to negotiate directly with the combined powers, on the condition of their respecting the independence of the nation, and the right every people have, to give themselves such a constitution, as they may deem proper.

2dly, That it was advisable, to back these negotiations by the complete display of the national force.

3dly, That the ministers of state should propose suitable measures for supplying men, horses, and money; as well as those necessary for curbing and repressing domestic enemies.

This resolution was combated by M. de la Fayette. He stated, that it did not answer the general expectation; that the most certain, the most speedy means of putting an end to the state of crisis, in which France found itself, rested solely and exclusively in the abdication of Napoleon; and that it was necessary to call upon him, in the name of the country, to lay down the crown.

Prince Lucien declared, that the Emperor was ready, to make any sacrifice, which the safety of France might require: but that the time for recurring to this desperate resource was not yet arrived; and that it was advisable, with a view to the interests of France itself, to wait the result of the overtures, that should be made to the allied powers.

The assembly agreed in this opinion, and broke up from weariness at three o'clock in the morning.

General Grenier was appointed by his colleagues, to give the chamber an account of the result of this conference: an embarrassing mission, since the principal object of the conference, which, in the opinion of the representatives, ought to have been, to determine on the abdication of Napoleon, had been eluded, and left out of sight. M. ***, whom I refrain from naming, advised him, to speak out plainly, and to declare, that the committee, though it had not formally declared it, felt the necessity of desiring the Emperor to abdicate. But the inflexible and virtuous Dupont de l'Eure, always the friend of rectitude and sincerity, raised his voice like a man of honour against this shameful suggestion; and protested, that he would ascend the tribune, to declare the truth, if the reporter dared to disregard or falsify it. Accordingly General Grenier confined himself, to giving a faithful account of the sitting of the committee: but he added, from instructions just given him by the ministers of state, that the chamber would presently receive a message, by which the Emperor would declare, that he approved of the assembly's appointing ambassadors, to send to the allies; and that, if he were an insuperable obstacle to the nation's being admitted to treat of its independence, he should always be ready, to make the sacrifice required of him.

This explanation answered every end: but, instead of calming the minds of the representatives, it excited the irascibility of all those, who, from fear of the enemy, from ambition, or from a mistaken patriotism, considered Napoleon's immediate abdication necessary. They did not perceive, that on the contrary it was of importance, to leave Napoleon nominally on the throne, in order to give the negotiators an opportunity of bartering with the foreign powers his abdication in exchange for peace.

M. Regnault, witnessing the irritation that prevailed, went to acquaint the Emperor, that the chamber appeared disposed, to pronounce his deposition, if he did not abdicate immediately. The Emperor, not accustomed to receive the law, was indignant at the force attempted to be put upon him: "Since this is the case," said he, "I will not abdicate. The chamber is composed of Jacobins, fanatics, and ambitious men, who thirst after places and disturbance. I ought to have denounced them to the nation, and expelled them: the time lost may be repaired...."

The Emperor's agitation was extreme. He strode about his closet, and muttered broken phrases, that it was impossible to comprehend. "Sire," at length answered M. Regnault, "do not endeavour, I conjure you, to struggle any longer against the stream of events. Time passes on: the enemy is advancing. Do not give the chamber, do not give the nation, room to accuse you of having prevented it from obtaining peace. In 1814 you sacrificed yourself for the common safety; repeat to-day this great, this generous sacrifice."

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