It was now the evening of the 16th. All the colonels of cavalry belonging to 2nd Corps had found this method of sparing their men so effective that by common accord we all used it in the battle of the 18th. When the enemy started firing their cannons, we sent out our foot-soldiers, and as they would have captured the guns if they were not defended, the enemy had to send infantrymen to defend them, and so the guns were silenced on both sides. The commanders of the enemy cavalry which faced us, having probably realised what we were up to, started doing the same, so that on the third day the guns attached to the cavalry of both parties were much less used. This did not prevent vigourous cavalry engagements, but at least they were directed to the taking or holding of positions, in which we did not spare ourselves, but the cannonades aimed at stationary targets, which too often replace cavalry to cavalry actions, do nothing but kill good men for no useful purpose. This was something which Exelmans did not grasp, but as he was on the move all the time from one wing to the other, as soon as he had left a regiment the colonel sent out his foot-soldiers and the guns were silent.
All the cavalry generals, including Sbastiani, were so much persuaded of the advantages of this method, that eventually Exelmans was ordered not to irritate the enemy gunners by firing our guns at them, when the cavalry was only standing-to and had neither an attack nor a defence to undertake. Two years later I used the same tactics at Waterloo against the English guns and I lost far fewer men than I would have done otherwise: but now let us return to Markranstadt.
It was while the Emperor and the divisions which had come out of Leipzig were halted at this spot, that we heard the dreadful news of the destruction of the bridge at Lindenau, which deprived the army of almost all its artillery and half of its men, who were taken prisoner; and which delivered some thousands of our wounded comrades to the assaults and knives of the brutish enemy, full of liquor and encouraged to massacre by their unscrupulous officers! There was widespread grief! Each regretted the loss of a relative, a friend, some comrade in arms! The Emperor seemed appalled!...However, he ordered Sbastiani's cavalry to retrace their steps to the bridge, in order to gather and protect any stragglers who had been able to cross the river at some point, after the explosion.
In order to speed this help, my regiment and the 24th who were the best mounted in the corps were told to go ahead of the column and leave at a rapid trot. As General Wathiez was indisposed, and I was the next in seniority, I had to take command of the brigade.
When we had reached half way to Leipzig, we heard much gunfire, and as we approached the avenues we could hear the despairing cries of the unfortunate French, who having no means of retreat and no cartridges for their firearms, were unable to defend themselves, and hunted from street to street and house to house, were overwhelmed by numbers and disgracefully butchered by the enemy, mainly the Prussians, the Badeners and the Saxon guards.
It would be impossible for me to express the fury felt then by the two regiments which I commanded. All longed for vengeance and regretted that this was denied them, since the Elster, with its broken bridge, separated us from the assassins and their victims. Our anger was increased when we came across about 2000 Frenchmen, most of them without clothes and nearly all wounded, who had escaped death only by jumping into the river and swimming across in the face of the shots being fired at them from the opposite bank. Marshal Macdonald was among them; he owed his life to his physical strength and his ability as a swimmer. The Marshal was completely naked and his horse had been drowned, so I quickly found some clothes for him and lent him the spare horse which always came with me, which allowed him to go immediately to rejoin the Emperor at Markranstadt and to give him an account of the disaster of which he had been a witness, and in which one of the principal episodes had been the death of Prince Poniatowski, who had perished in the waters of the Elster.
The remainder of the French who had managed to cross the river had been obliged to discard their arms in order to swim, and had no means of defence. They ran across the fields to avoid falling into the hands of four or five hundred Prussians, Saxons and Badeners who, not satisfied with the blood-bath of the massacres in the town, had made a footbridge of beams and planks across the remaining arches of the bridge, and had come to kill any of our unfortunate soldiers whom they could find on the road to Markranstadt.
As soon as I caught sight of this group of assassins, I instructed Colonel Schneit of the 24th to combine with my regiment to form a vast semi-circle round them, and then sounded the charge.... The result was horrifying! The bandits, taken by surprise, put up very little resistance and there ensued a massacre, for no quarter was given.
I was so enraged at these wretches, that before the charge started I had promised myself that I would run my sabre through any of them I could catch, however when I found myself in their midst and saw that they were drunk and leaderless except for two Saxon officers who were fear-stricken at our vengeful approach, I realised that this was not a fight but an execution, and that it would not be a good thing for me to take part in it. I feared that I might find pleasure in killing some of these scoundrels, so I put my sabre back in its scabbard and left to our soldiers the business of exterminating these assassins, two thirds of whom were laid dead.
The remainder, including two officers and several Saxon guards, fled towards the debris of the bridge, hoping to recross the footbridge; but as they could cross only one by one and our Chasseurs were hard on their heels, they entered a large nearby inn and began to shoot at my men, helped by some Prussians and Badeners on the opposite bank.
As it seemed likely that the noise of firing would attract larger forces to the bank from where, without crossing the river, they could destroy my regiment by small-arms and cannon fire, I decided to bring matters to a conclusion, and ordered the majority of the Chasseurs to dismount and taking their carbines and plenty of ammunition to attack the rear of the inn and set on fire the stables and the hay loft. The assassins shut in the inn, seeing that they were about to be caught in the flames, tried to make a sortie; but as soon as they appeared in the doorway our Chasseurs shot them with their carbines.
It was in vain that they sent one of the Saxon officers to me to intercede; I was pitiless, and refused to treat as soldiers surrendering after an honourable defence, these monsters who had murdered our comrades who were prisoners of war. So the four to five hundred Prussians, Badeners and Saxons who had crossed the footbridge were all killed! I sent this information to General Sbastiani, who halted midway the other brigades of the Light Cavalry. .
The fire which we had lit in the forage store of the inn soon spread to the neighbouring houses. A major part of the village of Lindenau, which lines both sides of the road, was burned, delaying the repair of the bridge and the passage of enemy troops, bent on pursuing and harrying the retreating French army.
The mission being completed, I led the brigade back to Markranstadt, together with the 2000 French, who had escaped from the calamity at the bridge. Among them were several officers of all ranks; The Emperor questioned them on what they knew about the blowing up of the bridge and about the massacre of the French prisoners of war. It seems likely that this sorry tale made the Emperor regret that he had not taken the advice given him in the morning, to bar the enemy advance by setting fire to the suburbs, and even, if need be, the town of Leipzig itself, most of whose inhabitants had fled during the three day's battle.
In the course of this return to the bridge of Lindenau, the brigade which I was commanding suffered only three casualties, one of which was a member of my regiment; but it was one of my finest sous-officiers. He had been awarded the Legion of Honour and was named Foucher. A bullet wound, received at the inn had gone through both thighs, leaving four holes; but in spite of this serious injury the brave Foucher made the retreat on horseback, refused to enter the hospital at Erfurt, which we passed a few days later and remained with the regiment until we reached France. It is true that his friends and all the men in his platoon took great care of him, but he thoroughly deserved it.
As I left Leipzig, I was concerned about the fate of the wounded from my regiment, whom I had left behind, including Major Pozac; but luckily the distant suburb in which I had put them was not visited by the Prussians.
You have seen that during the last day of the great battle, an Austrian Corps tried to cut off our retreat by capturing Lindenau, through which passes the main road leading to Weissenfels and Erfurt, and how, on the Emperor's orders, they had been driven off by General Bertrand, who, after re-opening this route, had made his way to Weissenfels, where we rejoined him.
After the losses occasioned by the destruction of the bridge at Lindenau, it was impossible to think of stopping what remained of the army at the Saale, so Napoleon crossed the river.
A fortnight before the battle, this water-course had offered him an impregnable position, which he had spurned to risk a general engagement in open country, putting behind him three rivers and a large town, which presented obstructions at every step.... The great captain had relied too much on his "star" and on the incapacity of the enemy generals.
In the event, they made such serious mistakes that in spite of an immense superiority in numbers, they were not only unable, during a battle lasting three days, to take from us a single one of the villages we were defending. I have heard the King of Belgium, who was then serving with the Russian army, say to the Duc d'Orleans that on two occasions the allies were in such confusion that the order for a retreat was given: but then the situation changed and it our army which had to submit to the fortune of war.
After crossing the Saale, Napoleon thanked and dismissed those officers and soldiers of the Confederation of the Rhine, who either from some sense of honour or from lack of opportunity were still in our ranks. He even carried magnanimity so far as to allow them to retain their arms, although he was entitled to treat them as prisoners of war, since their sovereigns had joined the forces of our enemies. The French army continued its retreat to Erfurt, without anything happening but an encounter at Kosen, where a single French division defeated an Austrian army corps and took prisoner its commanding general the Comte de Giulay.
Led on always by the hope of a fighting return to Germany, and by the help which he would receive in such a case from the fortresses which he was now forced to leave behind him, Napoleon put a numerous garrison into Erfurt. He had left in Dresden 25,000 men, under the command of Saint-Cyr; at Hamburg 30,000 under Davout, and many strongholds on the Oder and the Elbe, manned in accordance with their importance. These garrisons comprised a loss in manpower to add to that due to the forts of Danzig and the Vistula.
I shall not repeat what I have already said about the disadvantages of deploying too many of one's troops to man forts which one is forced to leave behind. I shall merely point out that Napoleon left in the forts of Germany 80,000 men, not one of whom returned to France until after the fall of the empire, which they might perhaps have prevented, had they been defending our frontiers.
The arsenal at Erfurt was able to make good the loss of our artillery. The Emperor, who up till now had borne his reverses with stoical resignation, was however upset by the departure of his brother-in-law, the King Murat, who, with the excuse that he was going to defend his kingdom of Naples, abandoned Napoleon, to whom he owed everything.... Murat, at one time so brilliant in war, had done nothing much during this campaign of 1813. It is certain that, although he was in our ranks, he was carrying on a correspondence with M. de Metternich, the prime minister of Austria, who dangling before his eyes the example of Bernadotte, guaranteed, in the name of the allied sovereigns, the protection of his kingdom if he would join Napoleon's enemies. Murat left the French army at Erfurt and had scarcely arrived in Naples when he began preparations for war against us.
It was also at Erfurt that the Emperor learned of the audacious scheme of the Bavarians, his former allies, who, after deserting his cause, and joining with an Austrian Corps and several groups of Cossacks, had set off under the command of General the Comte de Wrde, whose ambition it was not only to stop the French army, but to make it captive, along with its Emperor.
General de Wrde marching parallel to us but at two days distance had already reached Wartzbourg with 60,000 men. He detached 10,000 to Frankfort and with the remaining 50,000 he went to the little fort of Hanau in order to bar the passage of the French. General de Wrde, who had fought on our side in Russia, thought that he would find the French army in the deplorable state to which cold and hunger had reduced those retreating from Moscow by the time they reached the Beresina, but we soon showed him that in spite of our misfortunes, we still had soldiers in good heart, and quite capable of defeating Austro-Bavarians.
General de Wrde, who did not know that the troops which we had fought at Leipzig, though following us were a long way behind, had become very bold and believed he could trap us between two fires. It was not possible for him to do so, though as several enemy corps were trying to mount an attack on our right by going through the mountains of Franconia, while the Bavarians stood in front of us the situation could have become serious.
Napoleon rose to the challenge and marched briskly towards Hanau, whose approaches are protected by thick forests and notably by the well-known pass of Gelnhausen, through which runs the river Kinzig. This river, whose banks are very steep, runs between two mountains which are separated by a narrow gap which allows the passage of the river, beside which has been made a fine main road, cut into the rock, and running from Fulde to Frankfort-on-main via Hanau.
Sbastiani's cavalry corps which had been the advance-guard from Weissenfels to Fulde, where one enters the mountains, should have been replaced by infantry at this point. I have never understood for what reason this well known principle of warfare was not followed in these grave circumstances; but to our astonishment, Exelmans' cavalry division continued to march in front of the army, led by my regiment and the 24th Chasseurs. I was in command of the brigade. We learned from the peasants that the Austro-Bavarian army already occupied Hanau, and that a strong division was facing the French, to dispute the passage of the defile.
My position, as commander of the advance-guard, was now very difficult; for how could I, without a single infantryman and with cavalry packed between two high mountains and an uncrossable torrent, fight troops on foot whose scouts, climbing up the rocks would shoot us at close range? I sent at once to warn the divisional general, but Exelmans could not be found. However I had been ordered to advance and I could not stop the divisions which were following me, so I continued my march until at a bend in the valley my scouts told me that they were in sight of a detachment of enemy Hussars. The Austro-Bavarians had made the same mistake as our leaders; for if the latter had sent cavalry to attack a long and narrow pass, where no more the ten or twelve horsemen could ride abreast, our enemies had sent cavalry to defend a position where a hundred sharpshooters could hold up ten regiments of cavalry. I was highly delighted to see that the enemy had no infantry, and as I knew from experience that when two opposing columns meet at a narrow spot, victory always goes to the one which, hurling itself at the head of the enemy, drives it back into the troops behind it, I launched at the gallop my elite company, of which only the leading platoon could engage the enemy; but they did so with such lan that the head of the Austrian column was overwhelmed and the rest thrown into such complete confusion that my troopers had only to take aim.
We continued the pursuit for more than an hour. The enemy regiment in front of us was that of General Ott. I had never seen such well turned out Hussars. they had come from Vienna, where they had been fitted with completely new uniforms, Their outfit, although a little theatrical, looked very handsome: the pelisse and dolman in white and the trousers and the shako in lilac; all clean bright and shining. One might have thought they were going to a ball, or to play in a musical comedy. This brilliant appearance contrasted somewhat with the more modest toilette of our Chasseurs, many of whom were still dressed in the worn clothing in which they had bivouacked for eighteen months, in Russia, Poland, and Germany, and whose distinguishing colours had been dimmed by the smoke of cannon and the dust of battlefields. However, under those threadbare garments were brave hearts and sturdy limbs. So the white pelisses of Ott's Hussars became horribly bloodstained, and this pretty regiment lost in killed and wounded more than 200 men without one of our Chasseurs having the smallest sabre cut, the enemy having always fled without ever turning to fight. Our Chasseurs took a large number of excellent horses and gold-braided pelisses.
Up until then everything had gone well, but as I galloped after the victors who pursued the vanquished, I was a bit worried about the end of this strange encounter, for the diminishing height of the mountains which bordered the Kinzig indicated that we were nearing the end of the valley, and it was likely that we would find ourselves in a small plain, full of infantry whose volleys and cannon fire would make us pay dearly for our success: but happily there was no such thing, and as we emerged from the pass we saw not a single infantryman, but only some cavalry, part of which comprised the main body of that section of Ott's regiment of Hussars, which we had so roughly manhandled and who in their panic continued their headlong flight, taking with them some fifteen squadrons, who retired to Hanau.
General Sbastiani then deployed his three divisions of cavalry which were soon supported by the infantry of Marshals Macdonald and Victor and several batteries. Then the Emperor with part of his guard, appeared and the rest of the French army followed.
It was now the evening of the 29th of October; we established our bivouacs in a nearby wood; we were only a league from Hanau and the Austro-Bavarian army.
Here now are the reasons why Exelmans dropped behind when we were going through the pass. Before we entered the valley, the scouts had brought to him two Austrian soldiers absentees from their unit, who were scrounging and drinking in an isolated village. Exelmans was having them questioned in German by one of his aides, when he was surprised to hear them reply in fluent French. One of these men, half drunk, and thinking it would do him good, announced that they were Parisians. As soon as he uttered these words, the general, furious that Frenchmen should take up arms against their fellow countrymen, ordered them to be immediately shot. The poor lad who had boasted of being French was about to be put to death, when his companion, sobered by this fearful spectacle, protested that neither of them had ever set foot in France, but having been born in Vienna to parents who, although they came from Paris, were naturalised Austrians, they were regarded as Austrian subjects and had been forced to join the regiment assigned to them. To prove this he showed his army record which confirmed the fact. Exelmans, yielding to the advice of his aides-de-camp, agreed to spare the innocent man.
At this stage, hearing the sound of firing, the General wished to reach the head of the column which I was commanding; but on his arrival at the mouth of the pass, he found it impossible to get through and take a place in the ranks because of the speed with which the two regiments were galloping after the enemy. After trying many times he was so jostled that he fell with his horse into the Kinzig and nearly drowned.
The Emperor, who was preparing for battle, took advantage of the night to reduce the amount of wheeled transport by sending all the baggage off to the right, in the direction of Coblentz, escorted by some battalions of infantry and the cavalry of Lefebvre-Denouettes and Milhau. This was a great relief to the army.
On the morning of the 30th, the Emperor had at his disposal only the infantry Corps of Macdonald and Victor, amounting to 5000 men, supported by Sbastiani's cavalry division.
In the direction from which we were coming, a large forest, through which the road runs, covers the approach to Hanau. The tall trees of this forest allow movement without much difficulty. The town of Hanau is built on the other side of the river Kinzig.
General de Wrde, although not lacking in military skill, had, however, made the serious mistake of placing his army where it had the river at its back, which deprived it of the support which it could have received from the fortifications of Hanau, with which he could not communicate except by the bridge of Lamboy, which was his only road of retreat. It is true that the position he occupied barred the way to Frankfort and to France, and he felt certain that he could prevent us from forcing a passage.
On the 30th of October at dawn the battle began, like a great hunting party. Some grape-shot and some small-arms fire from our infantry, together with a charge in open order by Sbastiani's cavalry, scattered the first line of the enemy, somewhat unskillfully placed at the extreme edge of the wood; but as one penetrated a little further, our squadrons could not operate except in the few clearings which they came across, only the Light Infantry followed in the steps of the Bavarians, whom they pursued from tree to tree to the end of the forest. At that point they had to stop, faced by an enemy line of forty thousand men, whose front was covered by eighty guns.
If the Emperor had had with him all the troops which he brought from Leipzig, a vigorous attack would have made him master of the Lamboy bridge, and General de Wrde would have paid dearly for his temerity, but Marshals Mortier and Marmont and General Bertrand, as well as the artillery, were held up by various passes, mainly that of Gelnhausen, and had not yet arrived. Napoleon had no more than ten thousand troops. The enemy should have taken advantage of this to attack us in force, but they did not dare, and this hesitation gave time for the artillery of the Imperial Guard to arrive.
As soon as General Drouet, their commander, had fifteen pieces in the field, he began firing, and his line grew in size until he had fifty cannons, which he advanced, firing continuously, although he still had very few troops behind him to give support; however it was not possible for the enemy to see through the thick smoke from the guns, that the gunners had little to back them up. Eventually the infantry Chasseurs of the Imperial Old Guard appeared, just as a gust of wind blew away the smoke.
At the sight of their busbies, the Bavarian infantry recoiled in fear. General de Wrde in an effort to stop this disorder at all costs, ordered all his cavalry, Austrian, Bavarian and Russian, to charge our artillery, and in an instant our battery was surrounded by a swarm of horsemen... but at the voice of their commander, General Drouet, who, sword in hand, set them an example in resistance, the French gunners, taking their muskets, remained calmly behind their guns, from where they fired point-blank at the enemy. Nevertheless, the great number of the latter would have eventually triumphed, had not, on the Emperor's order, all Sbastiani's cavalry, along with all that of the Imperial Guard , mounted Grenadiers, Dragoons , Chasseurs, Mamelukes, Lancers and Guards of Honour, hurled themselves furiously on the enemy cavalry, killing a great number and dispersing the rest.
Then, falling on the Bavarian infantry squares, they broke them and inflicted tremendous losses, at which stage the Bavarian army, put to rout, fled to the bridge over the Kinzig and to the town of Hanau.
General de Wrde was a brave man, so, before admitting himself beaten by forces half as numerous as his, he resolved to make another effort, and gathering all the troops remaining to him, he made a surprise attack on us. Suddenly a fusillade broke out and the forest rang once more to the sound of artillery; cannon-balls whistled through the trees, from which great branches fell with a crash....The eye sought in vain to pierce the depths of the wood; one could hardly see the flash of the guns, which lit, at intervals, the shade cast by the foliage of the huge beeches, beneath whose canopy we fought.
Hearing the noise made by this attack, the Emperor sent from his position the infantry Grenadiers of his Old Guard, led by General Friant who soon overcame this last effort of the enemy, who now hastily left the field of battle to re-group under the protection of the fort of Hanau, which they abandoned during the night, leaving behind a great number of wounded. The French occupied the fort.
We were no more than two short leagues from Frankfort, a considerable town, with a stone bridge across the Main. The French army would need to go along the bank of this river to reach Mainz and the frontier of France, which was a day's march from Frankfort; so Napoleon detached Sbastiani's corps and a division of infantry to go and occupy Frankfort, and to take over and destroy the bridge. The Emperor and the bulk of the army bivouacked in the forest.
The main road from Hanau to Frankfort runs along the right bank of the river Maine. General Albert, a friend of mine, who commanded the infantry which accompanied us, had been married, some years previously, at Offenbach, a charming little town, built on the left bank exactly opposite the spot where, after emerging from the woods of Hanau, we rested our horses on the immense and beautiful plain of Frankfort.
Finding himself so close to his wife and their children, General Albert was unable to resist the temptation to have news of them, and to reassure them of his well-being after the dangers he had encountered at the battles of Leipzig and Hanau. To do this he exposed himself to more risk, perhaps, than he had run during either of these sanguinary affairs, for advancing on horseback and in uniform to the edge of the river, in spite of our warnings, he hailed a boatman who knew him; but while he was chatting with this man, a Bavarian officer ran up with a picket of infantry who, aiming their weapons, prepared to shoot at the French general. However, a large body of citizens and boatmen crowded in front of the soldiers and prevented them from firing, for General Albert was very well liked in Offenbach.
As I looked at this town, to where I had come while fighting for my country, I did not dream that one day it would be my refuge from the proscription of a French government, and that I would spend three years there in exile.
After leaving the forest of Hanau to go on his way to Frankfort, the Emperor had hardly gone two leagues when he learned that fighting had broken out once more behind him. This was because the Bavarian general who, following his defeat the day before, had expected to be chased, with the Emperor at his heels, had taken reassurance from seeing the French army more concerned to reach the Rhine than to pursue him, and had launched a brisk attack on our rear-guard. However Macdonald, Marmont and Bertrand, who with their troops had occupied Hanau during the night, having allowed the Bavarians to attack them on that side of the Kinzig, received them with their bayonets, overwhelmed and massacred them. General de Wrde was seriously injured, and his son-in-law, Prince d'Oettingen was killed.
The command of the enemy army then devolved onto the Austrian General Fresnel who ordered a retreat, and the French army continued on its way peacefully towards the Rhine. We recrossed the river on the 2nd and 3rd of November 1813, after a campaign which included brilliant victories and disasterous defeats, the main cause of which, as I have said, was the mistake made by Napoleon when, instead of making peace in June, following the victories of Lutzen and Bautzen, he quarreled with Austria, which involved the Confederation of the Rhine, that is to say all of Germany, so that he soon had the whole of Europe ranged against him.
After we had returned to France, the Emperor spent only six days at Mainz, and then went to Paris, preceded by twenty-six flags taken from our enemies. The army disapproved of this rapid departure on the part of Napoleon. It was accepted that there were important political reasons which called him to Paris, but it was thought that he should have divided his time between his capital and the need to re-organise his army, and that he should have gone from one to the other to encourage the activity of each, for he should have learned by experience that in his absence little or nothing was done.
The last cannon shots which I heard in 1813 were fired at the battle of Hanau, where I nearly spent the last day of my life. My regiment carried out five charges, two on infantry squares, one on artillery and two on Bavarian cavalry; but the greatest danger I ran was when an ammunition wagon, loaded with mortar bombs, caught fire and exploded close to me. I have told how, on the Emperor's order, all the cavalry were in action at a particularly difficult moment. Now, in these circumstances, it is not good enough for a unit commander to send his troops blindly forward, a thing I have seen done on several occasions, but he must pay the closest attention to the ground over which his squadrons are about to pass, in case he sends them into bogs and marshes.
I was therefore, a few paces ahead, followed by my regimental staff and with my trumpeter at my side, who at a given command would signal to the various squadrons the obstacles which they would find in their way. Although the trees were widely spaced, the passage through the forest was difficult for the cavalry because the ground was littered with dead and wounded men and horses, arms, cannons and ammunition wagons, abandoned by the Bavarians. You can understand that in these conditions when one is galloping through shot and shell to reach the enemy one cannot always take much care of oneself, and I relied greatly on the intelligence and suppleness of my excellent and brave Turkish horse, Azolan. The little group which followed me had been much reduced by a blast of grape-shot which had wounded several of my orderlies and I had beside me only the trumpeter, a charming and good young man, when I heard from all along the line, cries of "Look out, Colonel!" And I saw ten paces away Bavariana ammunition wagon which one of our shells had set on fire.
A huge tree which had been knocked down by cannon-balls barred my way forward, and to go round it would have taken too long. I shouted to the trumpeter to duck, and crouching on my horse's neck, I urged him to jump the tree. Azolan leapt a long way, but not far enough to clear all the leafy branches in which his legs became entangled. The wagon was now in flames and the powder about to catch. I thought I was done for... when my horse, as if he realised our common danger, started bounding four or five feet into the air, getting always further from the wagon, and as soon as he was clear of the branches he galloped off with such speed that he really seemed to be "Ventre terre".
I was shaken when the explosion occurred, but it seemed I was out of range of the bursting shells for neither I nor my horse were touched.
Sadly it was not so for my poor young trumpeter, for when we resumed our march after the explosion we saw his body, mutilated by the shell fragments, and his horse also cut to pieces.
My brave Azolan had already saved my life at the Katzbach. I now owed him my life for the second time. I made much of him, and as if to show his pleasure he whinnied at the top of his voice. It is at times like these that one has to believe that some animals are more intelligent than is generally thought.
I greatly regretted the death of my trumpeter, who by his courage and his behaviour had made himself liked by all the regiment. He was the son of a teacher at the college in Toulouse, and had had a good education. He delighted in producing Latin quotations, and an hour before his death, the poor lad, having noticed that almost all the trees in the forest of Hanau were beeches, whose branches stretched out to make a sort of roof, had thought it a suitable occasion to declaim one of Virgil's eclogues, beginning:
"Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi..."
which greatly amused Marshal Macdonald who happened to be passing and who exclaimed, "There's a jolly lad whose memory isn't upset by his surroundings; I'll bet it's the first time anyone has recited Virgil to the sound of enemy cannon fire!"
"Those who live by the sword, perish by the sword" says the scripture, and if this is not applicable to every soldier, it was to a great many under the Empire. For example, M. Guindet, who killed Prince Louis of Prussia in the fighting at Saalefeld, was himself killed at the battle of Hanau. It was no doubt the fear of meeting a similar fate which led the Russian General Czernicheff to run away from danger.
You may remember that in the first months of 1812, this officer, then a colonel, an aide-de-camp and favourite of the Emperor Alexander, came to Paris where he abused his position to corrupt two poor employees in the Ministry of War , who were executed for having sold to him situation reports on the French army, and that the Russian Colonel only escaped the penalty of the law by secretly fleeing the country. On his return to Russia, M.de Czernicheff, although he was a courtier rather than a soldier, was given the rank of general officer and the command of a division of 3000 Cossacks, the only Russian troops who appeared at Hanau where their leader played a rle which made him a laughing stock among the Austrians and Bavarians who were present at this engagement.
Czernicheff, as he marched towards us, spoke loudly of victory, believing that he had to face only soldiers who were sick and disorganised; but he changed his tune when he saw himself in the presence of the hardy and vigorous troops returning from Leipzig. General de Wrde had great difficulty in persuading him to enter the line, and as soon as he heard the fearsome cannonade of our artillery, he and his 3000 Cossacks trotted bravely off the field, to the cat-calls of the Austro-Bavarian troops, who witnessed this shameful conduct. When General de Wrde went personally to make some scathing observations, M. de Czernicheff replied that his regiment's horses needed feeding and that he was taking them for this purpose to nearby villages. This excuse was regarded as so ridiculous that for some time afterwards the walls of German villages were decorated by caricatures of M. de Czernicheff feeding his horses with bunches of laurels gathered in the forest of Hanau.
Once across the Rhine, the soldiers who made up the remains of the French army expected to see an end to their hardships as soon as they set foot on the soil of their motherland; but they were much mistaken, for the government, and the Emperor himself, had so much counted on success, and had so little foreseen that we might leave Germany, that nothing had been made ready at the frontier to receive and re-organise the troops. So, from the very day of our arrival at Mainz, the men and the horses would have gone short of food if we had not spread them out and lodged them with the inhabitants of nearby villages and hamlets; but since the first wars of the revolution, they had lost the habit of feeding soldiers, and complained vociferously, and it is true that the expense was too great for the communes.
As it was necessary to guard, or at least to watch over the immensely long frontier formed by the Rhine from Basle to Holland, we settled, as best we could the numerous sick and wounded in the hospitals of Mainz. All fit men rejoined the core of their regiments, and the various units of the army, which for the most part consisted only of a small cadre, were spread along the river. My regiment, together with what was left of Sbastiani's cavalry corps, went down the Rhine by short marches; but although the weather was perfect and the countryside charming, we were all deeply unhappy, for one could foresee that France was going to lose possession of this fine land, and that her misfortunes would not stop there.
My regiment spent some time in Cleves, next a fortnight in the little town of Urdingen, and then went on to Nimeguen. During this sad journey we were painfully affected by the sight of the inhabitants on the opposite bank, the Germans and the Dutch, tearing down the French flag from their steeples and replacing it with the flags of their former sovereigns. In spite of these gloomy reflections, all the colonels tried to re-organise the few troops which remained to them, but what could one do without clothing, equipment or replacement of arms?...
The need to provide food for the army compelled the Emperor to keep it dispersed, whereas to re-organise it would require the creation of large centres of concentration. We were therefore in a vicious circle. However, the allies, who should have crossed the Rhine a few days after us, to prevent our re-organisation, felt themselves still so weakened as a result of the hard blows we had delivered during the last campaign, that they needed time to recover.
They left us in peace for the months of November and December, the greater part of which I spent on the bank of the Rhine, in the ghost of the army corps commanded by Marshal Macdonald.
I was eventually ordered, as were the other cavalry colonels, to take all my dismounted men to my regimental depot for the task of building up new squadrons. The depot of the 23rd was still at Mons, in Belgium, and that is where I went. It was there that I saw the end of the year 1813, so filled with great events and in which I had had encountered many dangers and undergone so many trials.
Before I end my chronicle of the year, I ought to summarise briefly the final events of the campaign of 1813.
The German fortresses in which the retreating French had left garrisons were soon surrounded and in some cases besieged. Almost all surrendered. Four only were still holding out at the end of 1813.
The first of these was Hamburg, commanded by the intrepid Marshal Davout, who held on to this important fort until after the abdication of the Emperor, when the French government recalled the garrison to France; the second was Magdeburg, where General Le Marois, an aide-de-camp to the Emperor, also held out until the end of the war; the third was Wittemburg, defended by the elderly General Lapoype, and which was taken by assault on the 12th of the following January; and finally Erfurt, which had to capitulate for lack of food.
All the other fortresses beyond the Rhine, which the Emperor had wanted to keep, the most important of which were Dresden, Danzig, Stettin, Zamosk, Torgau and Modlin, were already in the hands of the enemy.
The circumstances surrounding the taking over of the first two of these fortresses do not reflect much honour on the allies. After the battle of Leipzig, Napoleon withdrew with the remains of his army, leaving at Dresden a corps of 25000 men commanded by Marshal Saint-Cyr, who tried by force of arms to cut a passage through the enemies who blocked his way. He drove them back several times but eventually overcome by stronger forces and short of food he was compelled to accept the honourable capitulation which was offered to him. This stipulated that the garrison would keep its arms, would not be made prisoners of war and would march back to France in day-long stages.
The Marshal wanted his troops to move as a corps and to bivouac all together at the same place, which would allow them to defend themselves in case of treachery; but the enemy generals pointed out that owing to the exhaustion of the countryside, it would be impossible to provide at any one place twenty-five thousand rations, and the French marshal had to accept this. He then agreed that his force should be divided into several small columns of 2 or 3000 men who would travel one or even two days apart.
For the first few days all went well, but as soon as the last French column had left Dresden, having handed over the fort and the munitions of war, the foreign generals announced that they did not have the authority to sign the capitulation without the agreement of their generalissimo, Prince Schwartzenberg, and as he did not approve, the agreement was null and void. They offered to allow our troops to return to Dresden in exactly the same state as they had been previously, that is to say with only enough food for a few days, a shortage which they had concealed from the enemy for as long as they occupied the place, and which, as it was now known to them, made the offer worthless.
Our troops were indignant at this odious lack of good faith, but what action could be taken by isolated detachments of 2 or 3000 men, whom the enemy had taken the precaution of surrounding by battalions of their own, before they could hear of the breakdown of the capitulation? Any resistance was impossible and our men were forced to lay down their arms.
To the treachery practised on the field of battle, was now added that of the breaking of agreements of capitulation. This did not prevent the Germans from celebrating a victory, for they regarded any measures, however despicable, as justified in order to defeat Napoleon. This new morality was put into operation at Danzig.
General Rapp had defended this place for a long time but having run out of food he was compelled to surrender on condition that the garrison would be allowed to return to France. However, in spite of a treaty signed by the Prince of Wurtemberg, the commander of the army which conducted the siege, the conditions were violated and the garrison of 16000 men were sent as prisoners to Russia where most of them died.
One of the most remarkable stories of this siege concerns a Captain de Chambure, who asked for and obtained permission to form an independent company, chosen from hand-picked volunteers. They engaged on the most daring ventures, going out at night and surprising enemy posts, getting into their entrenchments, into their camps, destroying their siege-works under the nose of their batteries, spiking their guns and going far into the country to capture or pillage their convoys. Chambure, having gone out one night with his men, surprised a Russian cantonment, set fire to an ammunition dump, destroyed several stores and killed or wounded one hundred and fifty men, for the loss of three of his own; and returned to the fort in triumph.
Now, however, let us return to examine the position of the French armies in December 1813.
Spain, the principal cause of all the catastrophes which marked the end of Napoleon's reign, had been stripped, in the course of the year, of all its best troops, which the Emperor had sent to reinforce the army in Germany. However, the effective strength of those who remained in the Iberian peninsula amounted to more than 100,000 men. A number which, although inadequate, would have contained the enemy if Napoleon had left the command to Marshal Soult; but as he most earnestly wished to make of his brother Joseph a general who could defend the kingdom which he had given him, it was to this prince, an estimable man but no soldier, that the Emperor entrusted the command of the armies of Spain. He gave him, it is true, as chief of staff and military advisor, Marshal Jourdan; but the Marshal was prematurely aged and had not been involved in active warfare since the first campaigns of the revolution. He was so worn out, both mentally and physically, that he inspired no confidence in the troops. So, in spite of the talents displayed by the generals who served under the orders of King Joseph, the Anglo-Portuguese army commanded by Lord Wellington and helped by Spanish guerrillas, caused us irreparable losses.
The French, under pressure at every point, had already been compelled to abandon Madrid, the two Castiles, and to recross the Ebro, to concentrate their main forces round the town of Vittoria. Attacked in this position by three times their number, they lost a battle; a loss which was made all the more disastrous by the fact that King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan had made no arrangements for the carrying out of a retreat, so that it became chaotic. The King's suite, the artillery parks, the many coaches of a crowd of Spaniards, who having taken sides with Joseph, sought to escape the vengence of their compatriots, the wagons of the treasury, of the military administration, etc., etc., all found themselves piled up in confusion, so that the roads were obstructed and the regiments had great difficulty in moving. However they did not lose their formation, and in spite of vigorous attacks by the enemy, the greater part of the army managed to reach Salvatierra and the road to Pamplona, by which the retreat was made.
The battle of Vittoria demonstrated the talent and courage of General Clausel, who rallied the army and gave it some direction. It was, however, an unhappy day. The French lost 6000 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner and left in the hands of the enemy a large part of their artillery and almost all their baggage.
Despite this set-back, the troops whose morale was excellent, could have remained in Navarre with the aid of the fortress of Pamplona and the Pyrenees mountains, but King Joseph ordered the continuation of the retreat and the crossing of the Bidassoa, where our rear-guard, commanded by General Foy, was ordered to blow up the bridge. So, from the end of June, we abandoned that part of the Spanish frontier; nevertheless, Marshal Suchet still held out in Aragon (The region of Zaragossa. Ed.) and Catalonia, and in the kingdom of Valencia; but the results of the battle of Vittoria had so much weakened us that when Wellington sent reinforcements to central Spain Suchet found it necessary to leave the town and the kingdom.
These events were taking place at a time when Napoleon was still triumphant in Germany. As soon as he was told of the state of affairs across the Pyrenees, he hastily revoked the powers which he had given to King Joseph and Marshal Jourden, and appointed Marshal l Soult commander of all the armies in Spain.
Soult, after re-organising the divisions, made a great effort to help the French garrison left in Pamplona, but in vain. They were forced to capitulate and Marshal Soult had to take his troops back across the Bidassoa. The fortress of San-Sebastian, governed by General Rey, held out for a long time; but was eventually taken by assault by the Anglo-Portuguese, who, ignoring the laws of humanity, robbed, raped and massacred the unfortunate inhabitants of this Spanish town, although they were their allies. The English officers made no attempt to stop these atrocities, which went on for three days, to the shame of Wellington, his generals and the English.
Marshal Soult defended the Pyrenees foot by foot and beat Wellington on several occasions; but the greater numbers at the latter's disposal allowed him unceasingly to take the offensive, so that he was able eventually to cross our frontier and set up his headquarters in Saint-Jean de Luz, the first town in France and a town which had never previously been lost, even during the defeats suffered by Francis I, or the disastrous wars of the end of the reign of Louis XIV.
It was evident that after the defection of the German troops at Leipzig, Marshal Soult could not hope to keep in the army of the Pyrenees several thousand soldiers from across the Rhine. They all went over to the enemy in a single night, thus augmenting Wellington's strength.
However, Marshal Soult, after concentrating several divisions below the ramparts of Bayonne, once more attacked the Anglo-Portuguese. On the 9th of December, at Saint-Pierre de Rube, there was a battle which lasted for five days, and was one of the bloodiest of the war, for it cost the enemy 16,000 lives and the French 10,000, but we were able to remain in position around Bayonne.
Before these events in the Pyrenees, Marshal Suchet, having learned of the reverses suffered by Napoleon in Germany, realised that it would be impossible for him to remain in the middle of Spain, and prepared to return to France. To do this he withdrew to Tarragon, where after taking the garrison into his army he blew up the ramparts. The retreat, although harried by the Spanish, was carried out in good order, and by the end of December 1813, Suchet and the troops under his command were established in Gerona.
To complete this examination of the position of the French armies at the end of 1813, one needs to recall that in the spring of that year, the Emperor, who distrusted Austria, had built up in the Tyrol and in his kingdom of Italy, a large army, the command of which he had given to his step-son Eugne de Beauharnais, the viceroy of the country. This prince was a good man, very gentle and greatly devoted to the Emperor, but although much more of a soldier than King Joseph of Spain, he lacked many of the qualities required to lead an army. The Emperor's affection for Eugne led him astray in this matter.
It was on the 24th of August, the day when the armistice between Napoleon and the allies was due to expire, that the Austrians abandoned their neutrality and declared themselves our enemies. The Italian troops continued to serve with us, but the Dalmatians (Croats) left us to join the Austrians. Prince Eugne had under his command a number of excellent lieutenants, but the fighting was never very strenuous because the commanders on both sides realised that the events in Germany would determine the outcome of the campaign. There were however, a number of actions, with various results. In the end the larger forces of the Austrians, who were shortly joined by an English contingent which disembarked in Tuscany forced the viceroy to lead the Franco-Italian army beyond the Adige.
In November came news of the defection of Murat the King of Naples. The Emperor to whom he owed everything, could not at first believe it. It was, however, only too true. Murat had joined forces with the Austrians, against whom he had fought for so long, and his troops already occupied Bologna. Such is the volatility of the Italians that everywhere they welcomed with acclamation the Austro-Neapolitans, whom they had previously detested and whom they would soon hate even more. By December, the vice-roi's army of only 43,000 men, occupied Verona and its surroundings.
The Emperor, seeing the whole of Europe combined against him, could not fail to realise that the first condition which a peace would demand of him would be the re-installment of the Bourbons on the throne of Spain. He decided therefore to do of his own volition what he would be forced to do later: he set free King Ferdinand, who had been detained at Valancay, and ordered Suchet's army to retire behind the Pyrenees.
Thus, at the end of 1813, we had lost all of Germany, all of Spain, and the greater part of Italy. Wellington's army, which had crossed the Bidassoa and the western Pyrenees, was encamped on French soil and threatening Bayonne, Navarre and Bordeaux.
I began the year 1814 at Mons. Where I did not undergo such physical dangers as I had done in previous years, but where I suffered much more mentally.
As I had left, at Nimeguen, all the troopers of my regiment who still had horses, I had none at Mons, where the depot was situated, except dismounted men, for whom I was trying to get horses from the Ardennes, when events prevented this.
On the 1st of January, the enemies, after hesitating for three months before invading France, crossed the Rhine at several points, the two most important of these being firstly at Kaub, a market town situated between Bingen and Coblentz, where a rocky gorge greatly reduces the width of the river, and then at Basle where the Swiss handed over the stone bridge, in violation of their neutrality, a neutrality which they maintain or abandon according to their interests.
It is estimated that some five to six hundred thousand allied soldiers entered a France exhausted by twenty-five years of war, half of whose troops were prisoners in foreign lands, and many of whose provinces were ready to defect on the first suitable occasion. Amongst which was that containing the department of Jemmapes, of which Mons was the principal town.
This huge area of rich country which had been annexed to France, firstly "de facto" by the war of 1792, and then by right after the treaty of Amiens, had been so accustomed to this union that after the disasters of the Russian campaign, it had shown great enthusiasm and made considerable sacrifices to help the Emperor to put his troops back on a sound footing. Men, horses, equipment, clothing... it had complied with all demands without a murmur; but the losses we had suffered in Germany had discouraged the Belgians, and I found the attitude of the populace had completely changed. They loudly regretted the paternal government of the house of Austria, under which they had lived for so long, and were most anxious to separate themselves from France, whose continual wars were ruining their trade and industry. In a word, Belgium awaited only a favourable moment to revolt, an event which would be the more serious for us because, by its geographical situation the province was in the rear of the weakened army corps which we still had on the Rhine. The Emperor sent some troops to Brussels, whom he placed under the command of General Maisons, a capable and very determined man. Maisons, having, visited several departments, recognised that Jemmapes, and particularly the town of Mons, was the most disaffected. There was there, open discussion of the possibility of taking up arms against the weak French garrison, something which its commander general "O"... could not have prevented, for the old general, stricken by gout, and lacking in energy, who had been born in Belgium, seemed afraid to earn the dislike of his compatriots. General Maisons suspended him from duty and gave me the command of the department of Jemmapes.
My job was made more difficult because, after the inhabitants of Lige, those who live in Borinage are the boldest and most turbulent in all Belgium, and to control them I had only a small unit of 400 conscripts, a few gendarmes and 200 unmounted cavalrymen from my regiment, among whom there were some fifty men who were born in the area and who, in case of trouble, would join the insurgents. I could rely entirely only on the other 150 Chasseurs, who born in France, and having been in action with me, would have followed me anywhere.
There were some good officers; those in the infantry, and in particular the battalion commander, were very willing to back me up.
I could not, however, disguise the fact that if it came to blows, the two sides were not equally matched. From the hotel where I stayed I saw every day 3 or 4,000 peasants and workmen from the town, armed with big sticks who gathered in the main square to listen to speeches from former Austrian officers, all of them wealthy nobles, who had quitted the service on the union of Belgium with France, and now spoke out against the Empire, which had loaded them with taxes, taken their children to send them to the wars, etc.,etc. These speeches were listened to with all the more attention, in that they were delivered by great landed proprietors, and addressed to their tenants and employees, over whom they wielded much influence.
Add to this that each day brought news of the advance of our enemies, who were approaching Brussels, driving before them the debris of Marshal Macdonald's Corps. All the French employees left the department to take refuge in Valenciennes and Cambrai. Finally the mayor of Mons, M. Duval of Beaulieu, an honourable man, thought it his duty to warn me that neither my feeble garrison nor myself were safe in the midst of an excited and numerous population, and that I would be wise to leave the town, a move which would not be opposed since my regiment and I had always lived at peace with the inhabitants.
I was aware that this proposition came from a committee composed of former Austrian officers, which had instructed the mayor to put it to me, in the hope that I would be intimidated. I resolved then to show my teeth, I said to M. Duval that I would be most grateful if he would summon the town council and the leading citizens, and that I would then give my reply to the proposals which he had brought me.
Half an hour later, all the garrison were armed, and when the municipal council accompanied by the wealthiest citizens had assembled in the square, I mounted on horseback, in order to be heard by all, and after I had told the mayor that before talking with him and his council, I had an important order to give to my troops, I told my men about the suggestion which had been made that we should abandon, without a struggle, the town which had been put in our care.
They were most indignant, and said so loudly! I added that I could not conceal the fact that the ramparts were broken down at several points, and a lack of artillery would make defence difficult against regular troops, though if need be we would do our best; but that if it was the inhabitants of the town and the countryside who rose against us, we would not confine ourselves to defence, we would attack with all the means at our disposal, for we would be dealing with revolutionaries. As a consequence I was ordering my men to take over the church tower, from where, after a delay of half an hour and three rolls on the drums they would fire on the occupants of the square, while patrols would clear the streets by shooting, mainly at those who had left their work in the country to come and do us harm. I added that if it came to fighting, I would order, as the best means of defence, the setting on fire of the town, in order to keep the inhabitants busy, and I would shoot at them continually to prevent its extinction.
This speech may seem a little drastic, but consider the critical position in which I found myself; with no more than 700 men, few of whom had seen action, no expectation of reinforcements, and surrounded by a multitude which increased in size by the moment, for the officer in charge of the detachment sent to the church tower told me that the roads leading to the town were full of miners from the pits of Jemmapes, heading for the town of Mons. My little troupe and I were at risk of being wiped out if I had not taken decisive action. My address had produced a marked effect among the rich noblemen, the promoters of this disturbance, and also among the townspeople, who began to disperse; but as the peasants did not budge, I brought up two ammunition wagons to issue a hundred cartridges to each soldier, and when they had loaded their weapons, I ordered the three rolls on the drums, the prelude to the fusillade.
At this frightening sound, the huge crowd which filled the square began to run in tumult to the neighbouring streets, where each one rushed to find shelter, and a few moments later the leaders of the Austrian party, with the mayor at their head, came to clutch at my hand and beg me to spare the town. I agreed on the condition that they would send immediately to tell the miners and workmen to go back to their homes. They hastened to comply, and the elegant young men who were the best mounted, jumped on their fine horses and went out through all the city gates to meet the mob which they sent back to their villages without any opposition.
This passive obedience confirmed me in my opinion that the disturbance had powerful backers, and that my garrison and I would have been held prisoner, had I not frightened the leaders by threatening to use all means, even fire rather than hand over to rioters the town confided to my charge.
The Belgians are very fond of music, and it so happened that there was a concert to be given that evening, to which I and my officers had been invited, as was M.de Laussat the prefect of the department.
We agreed that we should go there as usual, which was the right decision, for we were received with cordiality, at least on the surface. While talking to the nobles, who had been behind the disturbance, we put it to them that it was not for the populace to decide by rebellion the fate of Belgium, but rather for the contending armies; and it would be folly on their part to incite the workmen and peasants to shed their blood, in order to hasten by a few days a solution which would presently become evident.
An elderly Austrian general, who had retired to Mons, his birthplace, then said to his compatriots that they had been wrong to plot the seizure of the garrison, for that would have resulted in much damage to the town, as no soldiers would lay down their arms without a fight. They all agreed that this assessment was correct, and from that day forward the garrison and the townsfolk lived peacefully together as in the past. The people of Mons even gave us a few days later a striking demonstration of their support.
As the allied armies advanced, a crowd of partisans, mainly Prussians, disguised themselves as Cossacks, and driven by the desire for plunder they grabbed anything which had belonged to the French administration, and had no hesitation in seizing the goods of even non-military French citizens.
A large band of these imitation Cossacks, having crossed the Rhine and spread out on the left bank, had reached as far as the gates of Brussels, and had pillaged the imperial chteau of Tervueren, from where they took all the horses of the stud farm which the Emperor had installed there; then, splitting into smaller groups, these marauders infested Belgium. Some of them came to the department of Jemmapes, where they tried to stir up the populace, but when they did not succeed in doing so, they put this down to the fact that Mons, the principal town of the region, had not supported them because of the terror inspired by the colonel in command of the garrison. Whereupon they decided to capture or kill me, but in order not to awaken my suspicions by employing too great a number of men for this exploit, they limited the number to three hundred. It appeared that the leader of these partisans had been well briefed, for, knowing that I had too few men to guard the old gates and ancient, partly demolished, ramparts, he took his men, during a dark night, to the rampart, where the major part of them dismounted and made their way silently through the streets to the main square and the Hotel de la Poste, where I had at first stayed. However, since I had heard of the crossing of the Rhine by the enemy, I had gone every evening to the barracks, where I spent the night surrounded by my troops. It was as well that I had done so, for the German Cossacks surrounded the hotel and rifled through all the rooms. Then, furious at not finding any French officers, they set on the inn-keeper, whom they robbed and maltreated, and whose wine they drank until both officers and soldiers were drunk.
A Belgian, a former corporal in my regiment, named Courtois, for whom I had obtained a decoration as one of my bravest soldiers, arrived at this moment at the hotel. This man, born at Saint-Ghislain near Mons, had lost a leg in Russia the previous year, and happily I had been able to save him by securing means for him to return to France. He was so grateful for this that during my stay in Mons in the winter of 1814, he came often to visit me, and on those occasions he dressed in the uniform of the 23rd Chasseurs which he had once so honourably worn. Now, it so happened that on the night in question, Curtois, while returning to the house of one of his relatives where he had been staying, saw the enemy detachment heading in the direction of the hotel, and although the gallant corporal knew that I did not sleep there, he wanted to be sure that his colonel was in no danger, so he went to the hotel, taking with him his relative.
At the sight of the French uniform and the Legion of Honour, the Prussians shamefully grabbed the crippled man and tried to snatch the cross of the Legion from him. When he resisted, the Prussian Cossacks killed him and dragged his body into the street before continuing their drinking.
Mons was so large in comparison to my small garrison, that I had taken refuge in the barracks and having arranged my defences for the night at this spot, I had forbidden my men to go near the main square, although I had been told that the enemy were there, because I did not know their strength and feared that the local populace would combine with them; but when the townspeople heard of the murder of Courtois, their fellow countryman and one regarded with affection by all, they resolved to be revenged, and forgetting their complaints against the French, they sent a deputation, comprising the brother of the dead man and some of the leading citizens, to ask me to put myself at their head in order to drive away these "Cossacks".
I was well aware that the pillage and excess at the Hotel de La Poste inspired in every bourgeois fear for his family and his house, which motivated them to expel the Cossacks as much as the death of Curtois, and that they would have acted very differently if, instead of robbers and assassins, it had been regular troops who had entered the town. Nonetheless I thought it my duty to take advantage of the good-will of those inhabitants who were prepared to take up arms to help us. I then took part of my troop and set off for the square, while the remainder, in charge of the battalion commander, who knew the town well, I sent to lie in wait at the breach in the wall through which the Prussian Cossacks had entered.
At the first shots fired by our people at these rogues, there was a great tumult in the hotel and the square. Those who were not killed took to their heels, but many got lost in the streets and were finished off one by one. As for those who reached the place where they had left their horses tied up to trees in the promenade, they ran into the battalion commander, who greeted them with a withering fusillade. At daylight we counted in the town and in the old breach more than 200 dead, while we had not lost a single man because our adversaries, fuddled by wine and strong liquor had offered no defence. Those of them who escaped into the country were caught and killed by the peasantry, who were enraged at the death of the unfortunate Curtois, who was something of a local celebrity, and who, given the name of "Jambe de bois", had become as dear to them as General Daumesnil, another "Jambe de bois". was to the working class of Paris.
I do not cite this fighting in Mons as something to be particularly proud of, for with the national guard, I had twelve or thirteen hundred men compared to the three hundred of the Prussians; but I thought it worth recording this bizarre encounter to demonstrate the volatility of the masses, which is displayed by the fact that all the peasants and coal miners of Borinage who a month previously had come in a mass to exterminate or at least disarm the few Frenchmen remaining in Mons, had come to join us to oppose the Prussians because they had killed one of their compatriots. I greatly regretted the death of the brave Courtois, who had fallen victim to his regard for me.
The most important trophy from our victory was the three hundred horses which the enemy abandoned. They nearly all came from the region of Berg and were of very good quality so I took them into my regiment, for which this unexpected provision of remounts was extremely welcome.
I passed a further month at Mons, whose inhabitants treated us perfectly well despite the approach of the enemy armies. However their continued advance meant that the French were forced not only to abandon Brussels but the whole of Belgium, and recross the frontiers into their motherland. I was ordered to take my regimental depot to Cambrai where, with the horses which I had taken from the Prussian Cossacks I was able to remount 300 good troopers who had returned from Leipzig, and make two fine squadrons, which commanded by Major Sigaldi, were sent to the army which the Emperor was assembling in Champagne. There they upheld the honour of the 23rd chasseuers, particularly at the battle of Champaubert, where the gallant Captain Duplessis, an outstanding officer, was killed.
I have always favoured the lance, a lethal weapon in the hands of a good cavalryman. I asked for and obtained permission to distribute to my squadrons some lances which artillery officers had been unable to carry away when they left the forts on the Rhine. They were so much appreciated that several other cavalry units followed my example, and were glad to have done so.
The regimental depots were obliged to cross to the left bank of the Seine to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy, mine went to Nogent-le-Roi, an arrondissment of Dreux. We had a fair number of troopers but almost no horses. The government was making great efforts to collect some at Versailles, where it had created a central cavalry depot commanded by General Prval.
The General, like his predecessor General Bourcier, knew much more about remounts and organisation than he did about war, in which he had rarely been involved. He did his utmost to fulfil the difficult task which the Emperor had given him; but as he could not improvise horses or equipment, and as he would not send out detachments until they were fully organised, departures were not very frequent. I grumbled, but no colonel could return to his unit without the permission of the Emperor, who to conserve his resources, had forbidden the employment of more officers in any unit than was justified by the number of men they had to command. It was therefore useless for me to beg General Prval to let me go to Champagne. He fixed my departure for the end of March, at which time I would lead to the army a draft composed of mounted men from my own depot and several others.
Until this time I was authorised to live in Paris with my family, for M. Caseneuve, my second-in-comand could take care of the 200 men who were still at Nogent-le-Roi, which I could reach if necessary, in a few hours. So I went to Paris, where I spent the greater part of March, which, although I was with those I loved most, was one of the most miserable months of my life. The imperial government, to which I was attached, and which I had for so long defended at the cost of my blood, was everywhere crumbling. The armies of the enemy, spreading from Lyon, occupied a large part of France, and it was easy to see that they would soon arrive at the capital.
The Emperor's greatest antagonists are forced to admit that he excelled himself in the winter campaign which he conducted in the first three months of 1814. No previous general had ever shown such talent, or achieved so much with such feeble resources. With a few thousand men, most of whom were inexperienced conscripts, one saw him face the armies of Europe, turning up everywhere with these troops, which he led from one point to another with marvellous rapidity.
Taking advantage of all the resources of the country in order to defend it, he hurried from the Austrians to the Russians, and from the Russians to the Prussians, going from Blcher to Schwarzenberg and from him to Sacken, sometimes beaten by them, but much more often the victor. He hoped, for a time, that he might drive the foreigners, disheartened by frequent defeats, from French soil and back across the Rhine. All that was required was a new effort by the nation; but there was general war-weariness, and there was in all parts, and particularly in Paris, plotting against the Empire.
There are those who have expressed surprise that France did not rise in mass, as in 1792, to repel the invader, or did not follow the Spanish in forming, in each province, a centre of national defence.
The reason is that the enthusiasm which had improvised the armies of 1792 had been exhausted by twenty-five years of war, and the Emperor's over-use of conscription, so that in most of the departments there remained only old men and children. As for the example of Spain, it is not applicable to France, where too much influence has been allowed to Paris, so that nothing can be done unless Paris leads the way, whereas in Spain each Province was a little government and was able to create its own army, even when Madrid was occupied by the French. It was centralisation which led to the loss of France.
It is no part of the task which I have set myself, to relate the great feats performed by the French army during the campaign of 1814, to do so I would have to write volumes, and I do not feel inclined to dwell on the misfortunes of my country. I shall content myself by saying that after disputing, foot by foot, the territory between the Marne, the Aube, the Sane and the Seine, the Emperor conceived a daring plan which, if it had succeeded, would have saved France. This was to go, with his troops, by way of Saint-Dizier and Vitry towards Alsace and Lorraine, which by threatening the rear of the enemies, would make them fear being cut off from their depots and finding themselves without any route of retreat. This would decide them to withdraw to the frontier while they still had the opportunity.
However, to ensure the success of this splendid strategic movement, it required the fulfilment of two conditions which failed him. These were the loyalty of the high officers of state, and some means of preventing the enemy from seizing Paris if they ignored the movement of the Emperor towards their rear and launched an attack on the city.
Sadly, loyalty to the Emperor was so much diminished in the Senate and the legislative body, that there were leading members of these assemblies, such as Tallyrand, the Duc de Dalberg, Laisn and others, who through secret emissaries informed the allied sovereigns of the dissatisfaction among the upper-class Parisians with Napoleon, and invited them to come and attack the capital.
As for defences, it must be admitted that Napoleon had not given this sufficient thought, and they were limited to the erection of a spiked palisade at the gates on the right bank, without the provision of any positions for guns. As the garrison, formed by a very small number of troops of the line, of invalids, veterans and students from the polytechnic was insufficient to even attempt resistance, the Emperor, when he left the capital in January to go and head the troops assembled in Champagne, confided to the National Guard the defence of Paris, where he left the Empress and his son. He had called together at the Tuileries the officers of this bourgeois militia, who had responded with numerous vows and bellicose undertakings to the rousing speech which he addressed to them. The Emperor named the Empress as Regent and appointed as overall commander his brother Joseph the ex-King of Spain, the pleasantest but most unsoldierlike of men.
Napoleon, under the illusion that he had thus provided for the safety of the capital, thought that he could leave it for some days to its own devices, while he went with those troops which still remained to him to carry out the project of getting behind the enemy. He left for Lorraine about the end of March; but he had been on his way for only a few days, when he learned that the allies, instead of following him as he had hoped, had headed for Paris, driving before then the weak debris of Mortier's and Marmont's corps who, positioned on the heights of Montmartre, attempted to defend the city without any help from the National Guard except an occasional infantryman.
This alarming news opened Napoleon's eyes; he turned his troops to march towards Paris, for where he set out immediately.
On the 30th of March, the Emperor, riding post and with no escort, had just passed Moret when a brisk cannonade was heard; he held on to the hope of arriving before the allies entered the capital, where his presence would certainly have had a remarkable effect on the population, who were demanding arms. (There were one hundred thousand muskets and several million cartridges in the barracks of the Champ de Mars, but General Clarke, the Minister for War, would not allow their distribution.)
On his arrival at Fromenteau, only five leagues from Paris, the Emperor could no longer hear gunfire and he realised that the city was in the hands of the allies, which was confirmed at Villejuif. Marmont had, in fact signed a capitulation which delivered the capital to the enemy.
As danger approached, the Empress and her son, the King of Rome, had gone to Blois, where they were shortly joined by King Joseph, who abandoned the command which the Emperor had given him. The troops of the line left by the Fontainebleau gate, a route by which the Emperor was expected to arrive.
It is not possible to describe the agitation which seized the city whose inhabitants, divided by so many different interests, had been surprised by an invasion which few of them had foreseen... As for me, who had expected it, and who had seen at close quarters the horrors of war, I was most anxiously thinking of a way to ensure the safety of my wife and our young child, when the elderly Marshal Srurier offered a shelter for all my family at Les Invalides, of which he was the governor. I was comforted by the thought that as everywhere the homes for old soldiers had always been respected by the French, the enemy would act in the same way towards ours. I therefore took my family to the Invalides and left Paris, before the entry of the allies, to report to General Prval at Versailles. I was given command of a small column made up of available cavalrymen from my own regiment and from the 9th and 12th Chasseurs.
Even if the allies had not marched on Paris, this column was due to be assembled at Rambouillet, and it is to there that I went. I found there my horses and my equipment, and I took command of the squadrons which had been allotted to me. The road was full of the carriages of those who were flying from the capital. I was not surprised by that; but I was unable to understand where the great number of troops of all arms came from, which one saw arriving from all directions in detachments, which if they had been combined would have formed a corps of sufficient size to hold up the enemy at Montmartre, and allow time for the army which was hurrying from Champagne and Brie to arrive and save Paris. The Emperor misled by his Minister for War, had given no instructions regarding the matter, and was probably unaware that he still had so great a capacity for defence at his disposal, a description of which follows, taken from Ministry of War documents.
There were at Vincennes, the military school of the Champ de Mars and the central artillery depot some four hundred cannons with ammunition and 50,000 muskets. As for men, there were the troops brought by Marshals Marmont and Mortier, which together with troops gathered from other sources including 20,000 workmen, nearly all of them old soldiers, who had volunteered to help defend the city, amounted to some 80,000.
It would have been possible for Joseph and Clarke to assemble this force in a few hours and to defend the city until the arrival of the Emperor and the army which was following him.
Joseph and Clarke had forty-eight hours warning of the enemy approach, but did nothing, and as a final act of incompetence, at the moment when the enemy troops were attacking Romainville, they sent 4000 men of the Imperial Guard to Blois, to reinforce the escort of the Empress, which was already quite big enough.
When the Emperor learned that Paris had capitulated and that the two small corps of Marmont and Mortier had left, and were retiring towards him, he sent them orders to take up positions at Essonnes, seven leagues from Paris and mid-way between that city and Fontainebleau. He went himself to this last town, where were arriving the heads of the columns coming from Saint-Dizier, an indication that he intended to march on Paris as soon as his army was gathered together.
The enemy generals have later stated that if they had been attacked by the Emperor, they would not have risked a battle, with the Seine behind them and also the great city of Paris, with its million inhabitants, which might rise in revolt at any moment during the fighting and barricade the streets and the bridges, thus cutting off their line of retreat. So they had decided to draw back and camp on the heights of Belleville, Charonne, Montmartre and the slopes of Chaumont, which dominate the right bank of the Seine and the route to Germany, when new events in Paris kept them in the city.
M. de Tallyrand, a former bishop now married, who had always appeared to be devoted to the Emperor, by whom he had been loaded with riches and made prince of Benevento, Grand Chamberlain, etc., etc., felt his pride injured when he was no longer Napoleon's confidant, and the minister directing his policy. So, after the disasters of the Russian campaign, he had put himself at the head of an underground conspiracy, which included all the malcontents from every party, but mainly the Faubourg Saint-Germain, that is to say the high aristocracy, who, after appearing at first submissive and even serving Napoleon in the time of his prosperity, had become his enemy and without openly compromising themselves, attacked, by all means, the head of government.
These people, guided by Tallyrand, the most cunning and scheming of them all, had been waiting for an occasion to overthrow Napoleon. They realised that they would never have a more favourable opportunity than that offered by the occupation of the country by a million and a half enemies, and the presence in Paris of all the crowned heads of Europe, most of whom had been grossly humiliated by Napoleon at one time or another. Napoleon, however, though greatly weakened, was not yet entirely beaten, for, apart from the army which he had with him, and with which he had performed prodigies, there was Suchet's army, between the Pyrenees and the Haute-Garonne, there were troops commanded by Marshal Soult, there were two fine divisions at Lyon, and finally, the army in Italy was still formidable, so that in spite of the occupation of Bordeaux by the English, Napoleon might still assemble considerable forces and prolong the war indefinitely, by raising a population, exasperated by the exactions of the enemy.
Tallyrand, for his part, realised that if they gave the Emperor time to bring to Paris the troops who were with him, he might beat the allies in the streets of the capital, or withdraw to some loyal provinces, where he might continue the war, until the allies were exhausted and ready to make peace. In the view of Tallyrand and his friends, it was therefore necessary to change the government. Here there arose a great difficulty, for they wanted to restore the Bourbons to the throne, in the person of Louis XVIII, while other parts of the country wanted to retain Napoleon, or at most to install his son.
The same difference of opinion existed amongst the allied sovereigns. The kings of England and Prussia were on the side of the Bourbons, while the emperor of Russia, who had never liked them, and who feared that the antipathy felt by the French nation towards these princes and the migrs would lead to a fresh revolution, was inclined to favour Napoleon's son.
To cut short these discussions, and decide the question by making the first move, the astute Tallyrand, in an attempt to force the hand of the foreign sovereigns, arranged for a group of about twenty young men from the Faubourg Saint-Germain to appear on horseback in Louis XV square, decked with white cockades, and led by Vicomte Talon, my former comrade in arms, from whom I have these details. They went towards the mansion in the rue Saint-Florentin occupied by the Emperor Alexander, shouting at the top of their voices "Long live King Louis XVIII! Long live the Bourbons! Down with the tyrant!"
The effect produced on the curious gathering of onlookers by these cries, was at first one of astonishment, which was quickly succeeded by threats and menaces from the crowd, which shook even the boldest of the cavalcade. This first royalist demonstration having been unsuccessful, they repeated the performance at various points on the boulevards. At some places they were booed, at others applauded. As the entry procession of the allied sovereigns approached, and as the Parisians need a slogan to animate them, the one produced by Vicomte Talon and his friends rang in the ears of the Emperor Alexander throughout the whole day, which permitted Tallyrand to say to that monarch in the evening, "Your Majesty can judge for himself with what unanimity the nation desires the restoration of the Bourbons!"
From that moment, although his supporters greatly outnumbered those of Louis XVIII, as the events of the following year would show, Napoleon's cause was lost.
End of Volume 2, The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot. Translated by Oliver.C.Colt