Augereau had a fearsome opponent, an excellent swordsman, a professional duelist, who as a warm-up, awaiting the contest, had killed two sergeants of the Guards, on the days previously. Augereau, without allowing himself to be intimidated by the reputation of this bravo, went to the caf where he knew he was to appear, and while awaiting him sat down at a table. The Gendarme arrived, and when his opponent had been pointed out to him, he pulled aside his coat-tails, and sat down insolently on the table, his backside not a foot from Augereau's face. Augereau was drinking a cup of very hot coffee at the time and he gently eased back the opening, called the ventouse, which existed then at the back of a cavalryman's leather breeches, and poured the steaming liquid onto the the buttocks of the impudent Gendarme, who turned round in a fury! The quarrel having now been engaged upon, they went outside, followed by a crowd of Gendarmes and Carabiniers. As they went along, the ferocious Gendarme, to mock the man whom, he felt confident, would be his victim, asked Augereau, in a bantering tone, whether he would prefer to be buried in the town or in the country. "The country" replied Augereau, "I have always liked the open air." "Fine," said the gendarme, and, turning to his second, he said, "Put him with the other two I killed yesterday and the day before." This was not very encouraging, and anyone but Augereau might have been put out, but determined to sell his life dearly, he defended himself with such skill that his adversary lost his temper and made a false move, which allowed Augereau, who had remained calm, to run him through, saying that it was he who would be buried in the country.
The camp being ended, the Carabiniers returned to Saumur, where Augereau was peacefully continuing his military service when a disastrous event precipitated him into a life of high adventure.
A young officer of exalted birth, but with a very nasty temper, having found something to complain about concerning the grooming of horses, rounded on Augereau, and in an access of rage offered to strike him with his riding whip in front of the whole squadron. Augereau indignantly seized the officer's whip and threw it away, whereupon the latter, in a fury, drew his sword and confronted Augereau, saying, "Defend yourself!" Augereau restricted himself at first merely to parrying, but having been slightly wounded, he made a riposte and the officer fell dead.
The general, Comte de Malseigne, who commanded the Carabiniers in the name of Monsieur, was soon told of this affair, and although eye-witnesses agreed in saying that Augereau, provoked by the most unjustifiable attack, had legitimately defended himself, the general, who favoured Augereau, thought it would be wiser to get him out of the way. To do this he called on a Carabinier named Papon, a native of Geneva whose term of service was due to expire in a few days, and invited him to give his travel permit to Augereau, promising to give him another one later. Papon agreed to this, and Augereau was always most grateful to him, for when he arrived in Geneva, he learned that the court-martial, in spite of the evidence of the witnesses, had condemned him to death for raising his sword against an officer.
The Papon family had a business which exported a large number of watches to the east. Augereau decided to go with a representative whom they were sending there, and travelled with him to Greece, to the Ionian islands, to Constantinople and the shores of the Black Sea.
He was in the Crimea when a Russian colonel, guessing from his bearing that he had been a soldier, offered him the rank of sergeant.
Augereau accepted, and served for several years in the Russian army, which the famous Souwaroff commanded in a war against the Turks, and was wounded in the assault on Ismailoff.
When peace was made between the Porte and Russia, the regiment in which Augereau was serving was ordered to go to Poland; but he did not wish to stay any longer with the semi-barbarous Russians, so he deserted and went to Prussia, where he served at first in the regiment of Prince Henry, and then, on account of his height and good looks, he was posted to the famous guards of Frederick the Great. He was there for two years, and his captain had led him to hope for promotion, when one day the king, who was reviewing his guards stopped in front of him and said, "There is a fine looking Grenadier!....Where does he come from?" "He is French sire," came the reply. "Too bad," said Frederick, who had come to detest the French as much as he had once liked them. "Too bad. If he had been Swiss or German we could have made something of him".
Augereau, from then on, was convinced he would get nowhere in Prussia, since he had heard it from the lips of the king himself, and so he resolved to leave the country. This was a very difficult matter, because as soon as the desertion of a soldier was signalised by the firing of a cannon, the population set off in pursuit of him, in the hope of obtaining the promised reward, and the deserter when captured was invariably shot.
In order to avoid this fate and to regain his liberty, Augereau, who knew that a good one third of the guards, foreigners like himself, had only one wish, and that was to get out of Prussia, spoke with some sixty of the most daring, to whom he pointed out that a single deserter had no chance of escape, since it required only two or three men to arrest him, so that it was essential to leave in a body with arms and ammunition for defence. This is what they did, under the leadership of Augereau.
This determined group of men, attacked on their way by peasants, and even a detachment of soldiers, lost several of their company, but killed many of their adversaries, and in one night they reached a small area of the country of Saxony which is not more than ten leagues from Potsdam. Augereau went to Dresden, where he gave lessons in dancing and fencing, until the birth of the first Dauphin, the son of Louis XVI, an event which the government celebrated by granting an amnesty to all deserters, which allowed Augereau not only to return to Paris, but to rejoin the Carabiniers, his sentence having been quashed, and General de Malseigne having insisted that he was one of the finest N.C.O.s in the corps.
In 1788, the King of Naples, feeling the need to put his army on a good footing, requested the King of France to send him a number of officers and N.C.O.s to act as instructors, whom he undertook to promote to a rank above their present one on their arrival. Augereau was included in this party and was promoted to sous-lieutenant. He served there for several years, and had just been promoted to lieutenant, when he fell in love with the daughter of a Greek merchant. When her father refused his consent to the union, the two lovers were married in secret, and embarking on the first vessel they found about to leave, they went to Lisbon, where they lived peacefully for some time.
It was now the end of 1792; the French Revolution was spreading rapidly, and all the sovereign heads of Europe feared the introduction of these new principles into their states, and were suspicious of everything French. Augereau has often assured me that during his stay in Portugal he never said or did anything which could alarm the government, nevertheless, he was arrested and incarcerated in the prison of the Inquisition.
He had been languishing there for several months, when Madame Augereau, his wife, a woman of courage, saw come into the harbour a ship flying the tricolour. She went on board to give the captain a letter, informing the French government of the arbitrary arrest of her husband. The captain, although not a naval officer, went boldly to the Portuguese ministry and demanded the release of his compatriot; failing which, he said that he would declare war in the name of France. Whether the Portuguese believed this, or whether they realised that they had acted unjustly, they set Augereau free, and he and his wife went back to Havre in the ship of the gallant captain.
On his arrival in Paris, Augereau was designated captain, and was sent to the Vende, where by his advice and example he saved the army of the incompetent General Ronsin, which gained him the rank of battalion commander. Sick of fighting his fellow Frenchmen, Augereau asked to be posted to the Pyrenees, and was sent to the camp at Toulouse commanded by my father, who, recognising his ability, made him adjutant-general, (That is colonel of the general staff), and showed him many marks of affection, something which Augereau never forgot. Having become general, he distinguished himself in the wars in Spain and Italy, and in particular, at Castiglione.
On the eve of this battle, the French army, beset on all sides, found itself in a most critical position, and the commander-in-chief, Bonaparte, called a council of war; the only one he ever consulted. All the generals, even Massna, proposed a retreat, but Augereau, having explained what, in his opinion, could be done to get out of the situation, said, "Even if you all go, I shall stay here and will attack the enemy, with my division, at dawn." Bonaparte, impressed by the arguments which Augereau had put forward, then said that he would stay with him. After which there was no more talk of retreat, and the next day a brilliant victory, due in large part to the courage and tactical skill of Augereau, established, for a long time, the position of the French army in Italy. Bonaparte was always mindful of this day, and when, as Emperor, he created a new nobility, he named Augereau Duc de Castiglione.
When General Hoche died, Augereau replaced him in the army of the Rhine. After the establishment of the consulate, he was put in charge of an army composed of French and Dutch troops which fought the campaign of 1800 in Franconia, and won the battle of Burg-Eberach.
When peace had been declared, he bought the estate and chteau of La Houssaye. I may say, in regard to this purchase, that there has been much exaggeration of the fortunes of some generals of the army of Italy. Augereau, after having held for twenty years the rank of commander-in-chief, or of marshal, and having enjoyed for seven years a salary of two hundred thousand francs, and an award of twenty-five thousand francs, due to his Legion of Honour, left at his death an income of no more than forty-eight thousand francs.
There was never a man more generous, unselfish and obliging. I could give a number of examples, but will limit myself to two. General Bonaparte, after his elevation to the consulate, created a large unit of Guards, the infantry portion of which was placed under the command of General Lannes. Lannes was a distinguished soldier, but had no understanding of administration. Instead of conforming to the tariff laid down for the purchase of clothing, fabrics and other items, nothing was too good for him; so that the suppliers of clothing and equipment to the guards, delighted to be able to deal by mutual agreement with the manufacturers, (in order to get back-handers,) and believing that their malversations would be covered by the name of General Lannes, the friend of the First Consul, made uniforms in such luxurious style that when the accounts were drawn up, they exceeded by three hundred thousand francs the sum allowed by the ministerial regulations. The First Consul, who had resolved to restore order to the finances, and to compel commanders not to go beyond the permitted expenditure, decided to make an example. In spite of his affection for Lannes, and his certainty that not a centime had gone into his pocket, he held him responsible for the deficit of three hundred thousand francs, and gave him no more than eight days to pay this sum into the Guard's account, or face court-martial.
This uncompromising ruling had an excellent effect in putting an end to the extravagance which had got into unit accounting, but General Lannes, although he had recently married the daughter of a senator, had no hope of making this payment. When General Augereau heard of the fix in which his friend found himself, he went to his lawyer, drew out the sum required, and instructed his secretary to pay it into the Guard's account, in the name of General Lannes. When the First Consul heard of this, he warmly approved of what Augereau had done, and to put Lannes in a position to pay him back, he had him sent to Lisbon as ambassador, a very lucrative post.
Here is another example of Augereau's generosity. He was not a close friend of General Bernadotte, who had bought the estate of Lagrange, for which he expected to pay with his wife's dowry; but there was some delay in the transfer of this money, and his creditors were pressing him, so he asked Augereau to lend him two hundred thousand francs for five years. Augereau having agreed to this, Madame Bernadotte took it on herself to ask what rate of interest he would expect. He replied that although bankers and businessmen required interest on money which they lent, when a marshal was in the happy position of being able to help a comrade, he should not expect any reward but the pleasure of being of service. That is the man whom some have represented as being hard and avaricious. At this moment, I shall say nothing more about the life of Augereau, which will unroll itself in the course of my story, which will show up his faults as well as his fine qualities.
Let us now go back to Bayonne, where I had just joined Augereau's staff. The winter, in this part of the country, is very mild; which allowed us to train and exercise troops in preparation for an attack on the Portuguese. However, the court of Lisbon having conceded all that the French government required, we gave up the idea of crossing the Pyrenees, and General Augereau was ordered to go to Brest and take command of the 7th army corps, which was earmarked for an invasion of Ireland.
General Augereau's first wife, the Greek, being in Pau, he wished to visit her and take his leave of her, and he took with him three aides-de-camp, of which I was one.
Normally, a commander-in-chief had a squadron of "Guides", a detachment of which always escorted his carriage, as long as he was in a part of the country occupied by troops under his command. Bayonne did not yet have any "Guides," so they were replaced by a platoon of cavalry at each of the post-houses between Bayonne and Pau. These came from the regiment which I had just left, the 25th Chasseurs; so that from the carriage in which I was taking my ease, beside the Commander in Chief, I could see my former companions trotting beside the door. I did not take any pride in this, but I must admit that when we came to Puyoo, where you saw me arrive two years previously on foot, bedraggled and in the hands of the gendarmerie, I was weak enough to put on an air, and to make myself known to the worthy mayor, Bordenave, whom I presented to the commander-in-chief to whom I had told the story of what had happened to me in this commune in 1801; and as the brigade of gendarmes from Pyrehorade had joined the escort to Pau, I was able to recognise the two who had arrested me. The old mayor was sufficiently malicious to inform them that the officer whom they saw in the commander-in-chief's fine carriage was the same traveller whom they had taken for a deserter, although his papers were in order, and the good fellow was, at the same time, very proud of the judgement he had given on this occasion.
After a stay of twenty-four hours at Pau, we returned to Bayonne, from where the general despatched me and Mainville to Brest, in order to prepare his headquarters. We took seats in the mail-coach as far as Bordeaux; but there, owing to the lack of public transport, we were forced to take to the hacks of the posting houses, which of all means of travelling, is surely the most uncomfortable. It rained. The roads were appalling. The nights pitch dark; but in spite of this, we had to press on at the gallop, as our mission was urgent. Although I have never been a very good horseman, the fact that I was accustomed to riding, and a year spent in the riding school at Versailles, gave me enough assurance and stamina to drive on the dreadful screws which we were forced to mount. I got well enough through this apprenticeship in the trade of courier, in which, you will see later, I had to perfect myself; but it was not so with Mainville, so we took two days and two nights to reach Nantes, where he arrived bruised and worn out and incapable of continuing to ride at speed. However we could not leave the commander-in-chief without lodgings when he arrived at Brest, so it was agreed that I would go on ahead, and that Mainville would follow later by coach.
On my arrival, I rented the town house of M. Pasquier, the banker, brother of the Pasquier who had been chancellor and president of the house of peers. Mainville and several of my comrades came to join me a few days later, and helped to make the necessary arrangements for the commander-in-chief to maintain the sort of state expected of him.
We began the year 1804 at Brest. The 7th Corps was made up of two divisions of infantry and a brigade of cavalry; as these troops were not encamped but were billeted in the neighbouring communes, all the generals and their staffs stayed in Brest, where the anchorages and the harbour were packed with vessels of all sorts. The admirals and senior officers of the fleet were also in the town, and other officers came there every day, so that Brest afforded a most animated spectacle. Admiral Truguet and the commander-in-chief held a number of brilliant receptions, scenes that have often been the prelude to war.
In February General Augereau left for Paris, to where the First Consul had summoned him to discuss with him the plan for the invasion of Ireland. I went with him.
On our arrival in Paris, we found a very tense political situation. The Bourbons, who had hoped that in taking the reins of government, Bonaparte would support them, and would be prepared to play the part that General Monk had once played in England, when they discovered that he had no intention of restoring them to the throne, resolved to overthrow him. To this end they concocted a conspiracy which had as its leaders three well known men, although of very different character. These were General Pichegru, General Moreau and Georges Cadoudal.
Pichegru had taught Bonaparte mathematics at the college of Brienne, but he had left there to join the army. The revolution found him a sergeant in the artillery. His talent and courage raised him rapidly to the rank of general. It was he who achieved the conquest of Holland, in the middle of winter, but ambition was his downfall. He allowed himself to be seduced by agents of the Prince de Cond, and entered into correspondence with the Prince, who promised him great rewards and the title of "Constable" if he would use the influence which he had with the troops to establish Louis XVIII on the throne of his forefathers.
Chance, that great arbiter of human destiny, decreed that following a battle in which French troops, commanded by Moreau, had defeated the division of the Austrian General Kinglin, the latter's supply wagon was captured, which contained letters from Pichegru to the Prince de Cond. It was taken to Moreau, who was a friend of Pichegru, to whom he owed some of his promotion, and who concealed his discovery as long as Pichegru retained his influence; but Pichegru having become a representative of the people in the house of elders, where he continued to favour the Bourbons, was arrested with several of his colleagues. Whereupon Moreau hurriedly sent to the directorate the documents which incriminated Pichegru, and led to his deportation to the wilds of Guyana.
Pichegru contrived to escape from Guyana to America, from whence he went to England; where having no longer any need for secrecy, he put himself openly in the pay of Louis XVIII and aimed at the overthrow of the consular government. However, he could not pretend that, deprived of his rank, banished and absent from France for more than six years, he could any longer wield as much influence over the army as General Moreau, the victor of Hohenlinden, and on this account, very popular with the troops, of whom he was the inspector-general. Pichegru, then, out of devotion to the Bourbon cause, agreed to forget the reasons he had for disliking Moreau, and to unite with him for the triumph of the policy to which he was committed. Moreau, who was born in Brittany, was studying law at Rennes when the revolution of 1789 broke out. The students, young and turbulent, elected him as their leader, and when they formed a battalion of volunteers, they named Moreau as their commander. Having made his dbut in the profession of arms as a senior officer, he proved himself both courageous and competent, and was rapidly promoted to general and army commander. He won several battles, and conducted, in the face of Prince Charles of Austria, a justly celebrated retreat. But though a good soldier, Moreau lacked civic courage. We have seen him refuse to put himself at the head of the government, while Bonaparte was absent in Egypt, however, though he had helped the latter on the 18th Brumaire, he became envious of his power when he saw him raised to the position of First Consul, to the extent that he sought by all means to supplant him; driven on, it is said, by the jealousy felt by his wife and mother-in-law towards Josephine. Given this situation, it would not be difficult to persuade Moreau to conspire with Pichegru to overthrow the government.
A Breton, named Lajolais, an agent of Louis XVIII, and a friend of Moreau, became the intermediary between him and Pichegru; he travelled frequently between London and Paris, and it soon became evident to him that Moreau, while agreeing to the overthrow of Bonaparte, intended to keep power for himself, and not to hand it to the Bourbons. It was then thought that a meeting between him and Pichegru might lead him to change his mind, so Pichegru was landed on the coast of France from an English vessel at a spot near Trepot, and went to Paris, to where Georges Cadoudal had preceded him, along with M. de Rivire, the two Polignacs, and other royalists.
Georges Cadoudal was the youngest son of a miller from Morbihan; but as there was a bizarre custom, in that part of lower Brittany, whereby the last-born of a family inherited all the estate, Georges, whose father was comfortably off, had been given a certain amount of education. He was a short man, with wide shoulders and the heart of a tiger, whose audacity and courage had raised him to the high command of all the groups of "Chouans" in Brittany.
Since the pacification of Brittany he had lived in London; but his fanatical devotion to the house of Bourbon did not allow him any repose as long as the First Consul was at the head of the government. He formed a plan to kill him. Not by a clandestine assassination, but in broad daylight, by attacking him on the road to Saint-Cloud with a party of thirty or forty mounted "Chouans" well armed and wearing the uniform of the consular guard. This plan had the more chance of success, since, at this time, Bonaparte's escort was usually no more than four cavalrymen.
A meeting was arranged between Pichegru and Moreau; it took place at night, near the Church of La Madeleine, which was then being built. Moreau agreed to the deposition, and even the death of the First Consul, but he refused to consider the restoration of the Bourbons.
Bonaparte's secret police having warned him that there was underground plotting going on in Paris, he ordered the arrest of a number of former "Chouans" who were in the city. One of these gave some information which seriously compromised General Moreau, whose arrest was then agreed upon by the council of ministers.
This arrest initially created a very bad impression amongst the general public, because Cadoudal and Pichegru not having been arrested, no one believed they were in France, and it was said that Bonaparte had invented the conspiracy in order to get rid of Moreau. The government then had the strongest reasons to prove that Cadoudal and Pichegru were in Paris, and that they had met Moreau. All the barriers were closed for several days, and the most drastic punishment was decreed for anyone sheltering the conspirators. From that moment it became very difficult for them to find any place of safety, and soon Pichegru, M. de Rivire and the Polignacs fell into the hands of the police. These arrests began to convince the public of the reality of the conspiracy, and the capture of Georges Cadoudal dispelled any remaining doubts.
Cadoudal having stated in his interrogation that he had come with the intention of killing the First Consul, and that the conspiracy was backed by a prince of the royal family, the police started an investigation to discover the location of all the princes of the house of Bourbon. They found that the Prince D'Enghien, the grandson of the great Cond, had been living for some time at Ettenheim, a little town situated some leagues from the Rhine, in the country of Baden. It has never been proved that the Duc D'Enghien was involved in the conspiracy, but he certainly had, on several occasions, been imprudent enough to enter French territory. However that may be, the First Consul sent, secretly, and by night, a detachment of troops led by General Ordener, to the town of Ettenhiem, where they seized the Duc D'Enghien. He was taken immediately to Vincennes, where he was tried, condemned, and shot before the public was aware of his arrest.
This execution was greeted with general disapproval. It was held that had the prince been captured on French territory, he could have been tried under a law which in this case carried the death penalty, but that to go and seize him beyond the frontiers, in a foreign land, was a gross infringement of human rights.
It appeared, however, that the First Consul had not intended the execution of the prince, and had wished only to frighten the royalists who were conspiring against him; but that General Savary, the head of the gendarmerie, who had gone to Vincennes, took custody of the prince after sentence had been pronounced and in an excess of zeal, had him shot, in order, he said, to save the First Consul the trouble of ordering his death, or of sparing the life of so dangerous an enemy. Savary has since denied that he expressed such sentiments, but I have been assured by people who heard him that he did. Bonaparte is known to have blamed Savary for his hastiness, but the deed having been done, he had to accept the consequences.
General Pichegru, ashamed to be associated with assassins, and that the conqueror of Holland should stand in the dock with criminals, hanged himself in prison by his cravat. It has been claimed that he was strangled by Mamelukes of the Guard, but this is a fabrication. Bonaparte had no incentive to commit such a crime. It was more in his interest to have Pichegru disgraced before a public tribunal than to have him killed in secret.
Georges Cadoudal, condemned to death, along with several accomplices, was executed. The brothers Polignac, and M. de Rivire, who received the same sentence, had it commuted to life imprisonment. They were locked up in Vincennes, but after several years they obtained permission to live on parole in a nursing home. However, in 1814, on the approach of the allies, they left and went to join the Comte d'Artois in Franche-comt; then in 1815 they were most savage in their pursuit of the Bonapartists.
As for General Moreau, he was sentenced to two years detention. The First Consul pardoned him on condition that he went to the United States. He lived there in obscurity until 1813, when he went to Europe to range himself among the enemies of his country, and died fighting against the French; thus confirming all the accusations which were made against him at the time of Pichegru's conspiracy.
The French nation, weary of revolutions, and recognising the extent to which Bonaparte was needed for the maintenance of good order, chose to forget what was odious in the affair of the Duc d'Enghien, and raised Bonaparte to the throne, by declaring him Emperor on May 25th, 1804.
Almost all nations recognised the new sovereign of France. To mark the occasion, eighteen generals, selected from the most notable, were elevated to the dignity of Marshals of the Empire.
After the trial of Moreau, we returned to Brest, from where we shortly came back to Paris, as the marshal had to assist in the distribution of the decoration of the Legion d'Honneur, an award which the Emperor had recently instituted for the recognition of all sorts of meritorious actions. In this connection I recall an anecdote which was widely circulated at the time. In order to bestow the award on all these soldiers who had distinguished themselves in the Republican armies, the Emperor took into consideration all those who had been given Armes d'Honneur, and he selected a great number of these for the Legion d'Honneur, although several of them had returned to civilian life. M. de Narbonne, a returned migr, was living quietly in Paris in the Rue de Miromesnil, in the house next to my mother's, when, on the day that the medals were distributed, he discovered that his footman, a former soldier in Egypt, had just been decorated. Being about to dine, he sent for the footman and said to him, "It is not right that a recipient of the Legion d'Honneur should hand round plates; and it would be even less right that you should put aside your decoration to serve at table. Sit down with me and we shall dine together, and tomorrow you shall go to my country estate where you shall be a game-keeper. An occupation which is not incompatible with wearing your decoration."
When the Emperor was told of this display of good taste, he sent for M. de Narbonne, whom he had wanted to meet for a long time, having heard so much about his wit and intelligence, and was so pleased with him that he made him an aide-de-camp.
After distributing the crosses in Paris, the Emperor went, for the same purpose, to the camp at Boulogne, where the troops were drawn up in a semi-circle facing the sea. The ceremony was imposing. The Emperor appeared for the first time on a throne, surrounded by his marshals. The enthusiasm was indescribable! The English fleet who could see what was going on, sent several light vessels in an attempt to disrupt the event by a cannonade, but our coastal batteries briskly returned their fire.
There was a story current at the time which related that, after the ceremony was over, the Emperor was returning to Boulogne followed by his marshals and an immense retinue, when he stopped in the shelter of one of these batteries, and calling to Marmont, who had served in the artillery, said "Let us see if we can remember our old trade and land a bomb on that English brig." And dismissing the corporal who was in charge of the weapon, the Emperor aimed and fired at the vessel. The bomb brushed the vessel's sails and fell into the sea. Marmont tried but with no better fortune. The Emperor then recalled the corporal to his post and the latter took aim and fired with such effect that he landed a bomb on the brig, which promptly sank, to the great delight of the onlookers, whereupon Napoleon pinned a medal to the soldier's uniform. How much truth there is in this tale, I do not know. I shared in the favours being distributed on that day. I had been a sous-lieutenant for five and a half years, and had been through several campaigns. The Emperor, at the request of Augereau promoted me to lieutenant; but for a moment I thought he was going to refuse me this rank, for remembering that a Marbot had figured in the conspiracy of Rennes, he frowned when the marshal spoke up for me and, looking closely at me he said "Is it you who...?" "No sire, it is not me who!..." I replied. "Ah!" he said, "you are the one who was at Genoa and Marengo. I appoint you lieutenant."
The Emperor also granted me a place at the military school of Fontainebleau for my younger brother, Flix, and from that day on he no longer confused me with my elder brother for whom he always had antipathy, though Adolphe had done nothing to deserve it.
As the troops of 7th Corps were not concentrated in an encampment, Marshal Augereau's presence in Brest was of very little use; so he was given permission to spend the rest of the summer and the autumn at his fine estate of La Houssaye, near Tournan, in Brie. I even suspect that the Emperor preferred to have him there rather than in the depths of Brittany at the head of a large army. However, any doubts which the Emperor may have had about Augereau's loyalty were without foundation, and arose from the underground plots of a General S....
S.... was a brigadier-general serving in 7th Corps. A capable officer, but over-ambitious. He was regarded as untrustworthy by his fellow generals, who did not associate with him. Angered by this rejection, and bent on revenge, he sent to the Emperor a letter in which he denounced all the generals, as well as the marshal, as conspiring against the empire. Napoleon, to his credit, did not employ any secret means to ascertain the truth: he simply passed the general's letter on to Marshal Augereau. The marshal felt sure that nothing serious was going on in his army; however as he knew that several generals and colonels had engaged in some thoughtless talk, he resolved to put an end to this sort of thing. As he did not wish to jeopardize the career of those officers to whom he intended to deliver a rebuke, he thought it would be best if his words were carried by an aide-de-camp, and he chose to take me into his confidence for this important mission.
I left La Housaye in August, in very hot weather, and rode at full speed the one hundred and sixty leagues between the chteau and the town of Brest, and as many again on the way back. I stayed no more than twenty-four hours in the town, so I arrived back completely worn out, for I think that there is no more exhausting job than riding rapidly on horseback from post-house to post-house. I had found things a good deal more serious than the marshal had thought; there was, in fact a considerable ferment in the army, but the message I had brought calmed down the generals, almost all of whom were devoted to the marshal.
I was beginning to recover from my exertions when the marshal said to me one morning, that the generals wanted to denounce S.... as a spy. He added that it was absolutely essential that he sent one of his aides-de-camp, and he wanted to know if I felt able to make the journey again. He said he would not order me to go, but would leave it to me to decide whether I could do it or not. If it had been merely a matter of reward or even promotion, I think I would have refused the task, but it was a question of obliging my father's friend, who had welcomed me with so much kindness, so I said that I would be ready to go in an hour's time. I was worried that I might not be able to complete the journey, because of the extremely tiring nature of this form of travel; I rested for no more than two hours out of the twenty-four, when I flung myself down on a heap of straw in the post-house stables. It was fearfully hot weather, but I managed to reach Brest and return without accident, and had the satisfaction of being able to tell the marshal that the generals would limit themselves to expressing their mistrust of S....
General S... being now discredited, deserted and went to England, and is said to have wandered over Europe for twenty years before dying in poverty.
After my second return from Brest, the marshal rewarded me by putting me in direct contact with the Emperor. He sent me to Fontainebleau to meet Napoleon and conduct him to La Houssaye, where he was to spend a day in the company of several of his marshals. It was while walking with them and discussing his plans, and the manner in which he intended to uphold his dignity and theirs, that he presented each of them with a sum of money sufficient for them to purchase a mansion in Paris. Marshal Augereau bought that of Rochechouart, in the Rue Grenelle-St-Germain, which is today occupied by the ministry of information. The mansion was superb, but the marshal preferred to stay at La Houssaye, where he kept up a great state; for over and above his aides-de-camp, each of whom had his own apartments, the number of invited guests was always considerable. One enjoyed complete liberty; the marshal allowed his guests to do as they pleased, provided that no noise reached the wing of the chteau occupied by his wife.
This excellent woman, who had become a chronic invalid, lived very quietly, and appeared only rarely at the table or in the salon, but when she did, far from constraining our high spirits, she took pleasure in encouraging them.
She had with her two extraordinary lady companions. The first of these always wore men's clothing, and was known by the name of Sans-gene. She was the daughter of one of the leaders who, in 1793, defended Lyon against the forces of the convention. She escaped, with her father, both of them disguised as soldiers, and took refuge in the ranks of the 9th Dragoon regiment; where they assumed nommes de guerre and took part in campaigning.
Mlle. Sans-Gene, who combined with her masculine attire and appearance, a most manly courage, received several wounds, one of them at Castiglione, where her regiment was part of Augereau's division. General Bonaparte, who had often witnessed the prowess of this remarkable woman, when he became First Consul, gave her a pension and a position beside his wife; but life at court did not suit Mlle. San-Gene. She left Mme. Bonaparte, who by mutual consent handed her over to Mme. Augereau to whom she became secretary and reader. The second lady companion of Mme. Augereau was the widow of the sculptor Adam, and in spite of her eighty years was the life and soul of the chteau.
Noisy parties and practical jokes were the order of the day at this period of time, particularly at La Houssaye, whose proprietor was not happy unless he could see his guests and the younger members of his staff gay and animated. The marshal came back to Paris in November; the time for the coronation was drawing near and already the Pope, who had come for the ceremony, was at the Tuileries. A crowd of magistrates and deputations from various departments had collected in the capital, where also were all the colonels of the army, with detachments from their regiments, to whom the Emperor distributed, on the Champ de Mars, the eagles, which became so celebrated. Paris, resplendent, displayed a luxury hitherto unknown. The court of the new Emperor became the most brilliant in the world; everywhere were ftes, balls, and joyous assemblies.
The coronation took place on the 2nd December. I accompanied the marshal at this ceremony, which I shall not describe, since the details are so well known. Some days later the marshals held a ball in honour of the Emperor and Empress. There were eighteen marshals, and Marshal Duroc, although he was only Prefect of the Palace, joined with them, which made nineteen subscribers, each one of whom paid up 25,000 francs for the expenses of the event, which therefore cost 475000 francs. The ball took place in the great ballroom of the Opera, where never before had something so magnificent been seen. General Samson of the engineers was the organiser; the aides-de-camp acted as stewards, to welcome the guests and to distribute tickets. Everyone in Paris wanted one, so the aides were overwhelmed by letters and requests. I never had so many friends! Everything went off perfectly, and the Emperor appeared very pleased. So we ended the year 1804 in the midst of celebrations, and entered the year 1805, which was to be a year of many important events.
In order that his army could participate in the general jollifications, Marshal Augereau went to Brest, in spite of the rigours of winter, and gave a number of magnificent balls, at which he entertained a succession of officers, and even a good number of soldiers. At the beginning of spring, he returned to La Houssaye to await the moment for the invasion of England.
This expedition, which was regarded as chimerical, was, however, on the point of realisation. The presence of an English squadron of about fifteen ships, cruising endlessly in the Channel, made it impossible to transport a French army to England in boats and barges which would have sunk on the least contact with a larger vessel; but the Emperor could dispose of sixty ships of the line, either French or foreign, dispersed in the harbours of Brest, Lorient, Rochefort, Le Ferrol, and Cadiz; it was a matter of concentrating them, unexpectedly, in the Channel, and crushing, by a greatly superior force, the little English squadron, to become masters of the passage, if only for three days.
To achieve this, the Emperor ordered Admiral Villeneuve, the commander-in-chief of all these forces, to gather together, from the French and Spanish ports whatever ships were available, and head, not for Boulogne, but for Martinique, to where it was certain the English fleet would follow him. While the English were making their way to the Antilles, Villeneuve was to quit the islands, and returning round the north of Scotland, was to enter the eastern end of the channel with sixty ships, which would easily overcome the fifteen which the English maintained before Boulogne, and so put Napoleon in command of the crossing; while the English, on their arrival at the Antilles, would search around for Admiral Villeneuve's fleet, and thus waste valuable time.
A part of this fine plan was now put into action. Villeneuve left, with not sixty, but some thirty ships. He reached Martinique. The English, led astray, hurried to the Antilles, which Admiral Villeneuve had left, but the French admiral, instead of returning via Scotland, made for Cadiz in order to pick up the Spanish fleet, as if thirty ships were not enough to overcome or chase away the fifteen English vessels!
That, however, is not all. Having arrived at Cadiz, Villeneuve spent a great deal of time repairing his ships; time during which the enemy fleet also returned to Europe, and established a patrolling force off Cadiz. In the end, the coming of the equinox gales having made sailing from this port difficult, Villeneuve found himself blockaded; so the ingenious plans of the Emperor came to nothing, and he, realising that the English would not be taken in a second time, gave up the idea of invading Britain, or at least postponed it indefinitely, and turned his attention to the continent.
Before I recount the principal events of this long war, and the part which I played in it, I must describe a terrible misfortune which befell the family.
My brother, Flix, who was at the military school of Fontainebleau, was a little short-sighted; he had, therefore, hesitated before taking up a military career; nevertheless, once embarked on it, he worked with such enthusiasm that he soon became a sergeant-major, a position difficult to maintain in a school. The pupils, an unruly lot, were in the habit of burying in the earth of the fortifications which they were digging, the implements which had been issued to them for the work. General Bellavene, the head of the school, a very strict man, ordered that the implements should be issued to the sergeant-majors, who would then be accountable for them.
One day, my brother, having seen a pupil bury a pick, rebuked him. The pupil replied very rudely and added that in a few days they would be leaving school, and being then the equal of his sergeant-major, he would demand satisfaction for the reprimand. My brother replied indignantly that there was no need to wait so long.
Lacking swords, they used compasses fixed to wooden batons: Jacqueminot, who later became a lieutenant-general, was my brother's second. My brother's poor eyesight put him at a disadvantage, but he succeeded in wounding his opponent, though he received in return a wound which penetrated his right arm. His companions dressed it secretly.
By an unhappy coincidence, the Emperor had come to Fontainebleau, and had decided to conduct manoeuvres for several hours, under a blazing sun. My poor brother, compelled to run without rest, his arm dragged down by the weight of his heavy musket, was overcome by the heat and his wound re-opened! He should have fallen out on the pretext of an indisposition, but he was in front of the Emperor who, at the end of the session, would distribute the commissions of sous-lieutenant, so eagerly desired. Flix made superhuman efforts to resist, but at last his strength failed him and he collapsed and was carried away in a most serious condition.
General Bellavene sent an unfeeling message to my mother, saying that if she wished to see her son, she must come immediately, for he was dying. My mother was so distressed by this news, that she was unable to make the journey. I posted there as quickly as I could, but on my arrival I was told that my brother was dead. Marshal Augereau did all that he could for us, in these unhappy circumstances, and the Emperor sent the marshal of the palace, Duroc, to convey his condolences to my mother.
All too soon another source of sadness would come to afflict her; I would be forced to leave her, as war was about to break out on the continent.
At a time when it might have been thought that the Emperor had the greatest need to be at peace with the continental powers, in order to execute his design for the invasion of England, he issued a decree whereby he annexed the state of Genoa to France. This was greatly to the advantage of the English, who profited from this decision to frighten all the peoples of the continent, to whom they represented Napoleon as aspiring to become the master of the whole of Europe. Austria and Russia declared war on us, Prussia, more circumspect, made preparations, but as yet, said nothing.
The Emperor had no doubt foreseen these reactions, and a wish to see hostilities break out perhaps underlay his seizure of Genoa; for, despairing of ever seeing Villeneuve in control of the channel, he wanted a continental war to deflect the ridicule to which his proposed invasion, threatened for three years, but never put into action, might have exposed him by displaying his impotence in the face of England. The new coalition extricated him nicely from an awkward situation.
Three years under arms had had an excellent effect on our soldiers. France had never had an army so well trained, so well organised, so keen for action, nor a leader in control of so much power and such moral and material resources, who was so skillful in their employment. So Napoleon accepted the outbreak of war with pleasure, so confident was he of conquering his enemies, and of making use of their defeat to strengthen his position on the throne; for he knew the enthusiasm which the prospect of military triumph always stirred up in the martial French spirit.
The great army which the Emperor was about to set in motion against Austria, now had its back to that Empire, since the forces deployed on the coasts of the North Sea, the Channel and the Atlantic were facing England. On the right wing the 1st Corps, commanded by Bernadotte, occupied Hanover; the 2nd, under the orders of Marmont, was in Holland; the 3rd under Davout was in Bruges; the 4th, 5th and 6th commanded by Soult, Lannes and Ney, were encamped at Boulogne and in the surrounding district, while finally the 7th commanded by Augereau was in Brest, and formed the extreme left.
To break up this long cordon of troops and form them into a large body which could march toward Austria, it was necessary to effect an immense turn round from front to back. Each army had to make an about turn, in order to face Germany, and form columns, to march there by the shortest route. Thus the right wing became the left, and the left the right.
Obviously, to go from Hanover or Holland to the Danube, the 1st and 2nd Corps had a much shorter distance to travel than those who came from Boulogne, and they in turn were nearer than Augereau's corps, which, in order to go from Brest to the frontiers of Switzerland on the upper Rhine, had to cross the whole of France, a journey of some three hundred leagues. The troops were on the road for two months, marching in several columns; Marshal Augereau was the last to leave Brest, but he then went on ahead, and stopped first at Rennes and then successively at Alonon, Melun, Troyes and Langres, at which stops he inspected the various regiments, whose morale was raised by his presence. The weather was superb: I spent the two months travelling endlessly in an open carriage, from one column to another, carrying the marshal's orders to the generals, and was able to stop twice at Paris to see my mother. Our equipment had gone on in advance. I had a mediocre servant, but three excellent horses.
While the Grande Arme was wending its way towards the Rhine and the Danube, the French troops stationed in northern Italy, under the command of Massna, concentrated in the Milan area in order to attack the Austrians in the region of Venezia.
To transmit his orders to Massna, the Emperor was obliged to send his aides-de-camp through Switzerland, which remained neutral. Now it so happened that while Marshal Augereau was at Langres, an officer who was carrying Napoleon's despatches was thrown out of his carriage and broke his collar-bone. He was taken to Marshal Augereau whom he told that he was unable to continue his mission. The marshal, knowing how important it was that the Emperor's despatches should arrive in Italy without delay, entrusted me with the task of delivering them, and also of going through Huningue, where I was to pass on his order to have a bridge built over the Rhine at this spot. I was delighted to have this mission, as it meant that I would have an interesting journey and would be sure of rejoining 7th Corps before they were in action against the Austrians.
It did not take me long to reach Huningue and Basle; I went from there to Berne and on to Rapperschwill, where I left my carriage: then, on horseback and not without some danger, I crossed the Splgen pass, at that time almost impracticable. I entered Italy at Chiavenna, and joined Marshal Massna near Verona. I went off again without any delay, for Massna was as impatient to see me go with his replies to the Emperor as I was to rejoin Marshal Augereau before there was any fighting. However my return journey was not as rapid as my journey out, because a very heavy fall of snow had covered not only the mountains but also the valleys of Switzerland; it had begun to freeze hard, and horses slipped and fell at every step. It was only by offering 600 francs that I was able to find two guides who were prepared to cross the Splgen with me. It took us more than twelve hours to make the crossing, walking through snow sometimes up to our knees. The guides were on the point of refusing to go any further, saying that it was too dangerous, but I was young and venturesome, and I knew the importance of the despatches which the Emperor was awaiting.
I told my guides that even if they turned back, I would go on without them. Every profession has its code of honour; that of the guides consists principally in never abandoning the traveller committed to their care. Mine then went forward, and after some truly extraordinary exertions, we arrived at the large inn situated at the foot of the Splgen as night was falling. We would have undoubtedly died if we had been trapped on the mountain, for the path, which was barely discernable, was edged by precipices which the snow prevented us from seeing clearly. I was exhausted, but a sleep restored my strength, so I left at daybreak to reach Rapperschwill, where there were carriages and passable roads.
The worst of the journey was over; so, in spite of the snow and bitter cold, I reached Basle and then Heningue, where the 7th Corps was stationed, on the 19th October. The next day we began to cross the Rhine over a bridge of boats built for that purpose; for although there was, less than half a league away in the town of Basle, a stone bridge, the Emperor had ordered Marshal Augereau to respect the neutrality of Switzerland, a neutrality which they themselves broke, nine years later, by handing the bridge to the enemies of France in 1814.
Here I was then, involved once more in a war. It was now 1805, a year which for me heralded a long series of battles which lasted continuously for ten years, for it did not end until ten years later at Waterloo. However numerous the wars of the Empire might be, nearly all French soldiers enjoyed one or even several years of respite, either because they were in a garrison in France, or they were stationed in Italy or Germany when we were at war with Spain; but, as you will see, this did not happen to me; I was continually sent from north to south, and south to north, everywhere where there was fighting. I did not spend a single one of these ten years without coming under fire and without shedding my blood in some foreign country.
I do not intend to give, here, a detailed account of the campaign of 1805. I shall limit myself to recalling the principal events.
The Russians, who were marching to the aid of Austria, were still far away, when Field-marshal Mack, at the head of eighty thousand men, advanced, unwisely, into Bavaria, where he was defeated by Napoleon, who forced him to retreat to the fortress of Ulm, where he surrendered with the greater part of his army, of which only two corps escaped the disaster.
One of these, commanded by Prince Ferdinand, managed to reach Bohemia; the other, commanded by the elderly Field-marshal Jellachich, escaped into the Vorarlberg near Lake Constance, where, flanked by neutral Switzerland, it guarded the narrow passes of the Black Forest. It was these troops which Marshal Augereau was about to attack.
After crossing the Rhine at Huningue, 7th Corps found itself in the country of Baden, whose sovereign, along with those of Bavaria and Wurtemberg, had just concluded an alliance with Napoleon; so we were received as friends by the population of Brisgau. Field-marshal Jellachich had not dared to oppose the French in such open country, but awaited us beyond Freiburg, at the entrance to the Black Forest, the passage through which he expected us to effect only at the cost of much bloodshed. Above all, he hoped to stop us at the Val d'Enfer, a very long and narrow pass, dominated on both sides by sheer cliffs, and easy to defend. But the men of 7th Corps had now heard of the successes achieved by their comrades at Ulm and in Bavaria, and anxious to emulate them, they advanced through the Black Forest with such lan that they crossed through it in three days, in spite of the natural obstacles, the enemy resistance and the difficulty in finding food in this dreadful wilderness. The army finally broke out into fertile country and made camp around Donauschingen, a very pleasant town where there is the magnificent chteau of the ancient line of the princes of Furstenburg.
The marshal and his aides-de-camp were billeted in the chteau, in the courtyard of which is the source of the Danube; this great river demonstrates its power at the moment of its birth, for at the spot where it issues from the earth it already bears a boat.
The draught-horses for the guns and the supply wagons had been greatly fatigued by the passage through the rough and mountainous passes of the Black Forest, which a coating of frost had made even more difficult. It was therefore necessary to give them several days of rest; during which period the Austrian cavalry came from time to time to probe our outposts, which were positioned two leagues from the town; but this amounted to no more than some ineffectual fire which kept us on our toes, gave us some exercise in skirmishing, and allowed us to learn to recognise the various uniforms of the enemy. I saw, for the first time, the Uhlans of Prince Charles, Rosenberg's Dragoons and Blankenstein's Hussars.
The horses having recovered their strength, the army continued its march, and for several weeks we had a series of engagements which left us masters of Engen and Stockach.
Although I was very much involved in these various actions, I had only one accident, which, however, might have been serious. The ground was covered by snow, particularly round Stockach, where the enemy defended their position fiercely. The marshal ordered me to go and reconnoitre a spot to which he wanted to direct a column; I left at the gallop; the ground looked to me to be quite level, the snow, driven by the wind having hidden all the hollows, but suddenly my horse and I fell into a deep gully, up to our necks in snow. I was trying to get out, when two enemy Hussars appeared at the edge and fired their muskets at me. Fortunately, the snow in which my horse and I were floundering about prevented them from taking an accurate aim, and I came to no harm; but they were about to fire once more when some Chasseurs, which Marshal Augereau had sent to my aid, forced them to depart hurriedly. With some help I was able to get out of the ravine, but we had a great deal of difficulty in extricating my horse. As we were both unhurt, my comrades had a laugh at the strange appearance I presented after my bath of snow.
After we had gained control of the Vorarlberg, we captured Bregen,and drove Jellachich's Austrian corps to Lake Constance and the Tyrol. The enemy now sought the protection of the fortress of Feldkirch and its celebrated gorge, behind which they could defend themselves with advantage. We expected to have to fight a murderous battle to take this position when, to our astonishment, the Austrians offered to capitulate, an offer which Marshal Augereau was quick to accept.
During the meeting between the two marshals, the Austrian officers, humiliated by the reverse which their arms had just suffered, took malicious pleasure in giving us some very bad news which had been concealed up till this day, but which the Russians and Austrians had learned of from English sources. The Franco-Spanish fleet had been defeated by Lord Nelson on October 20th not far from Cadiz, at Cape Trafalgar. Villeneuve, our infelicitous admiral, who had failed to carry out the precise orders of Napoleon at a time when the appearance of a combined fleet in the Channel could have secured a safe passage for the troops assembled at Boulogne, learning that he was about to be replaced by Admiral Rosily, passed suddenly from an excess of circumspection to an excess of audacity. He left Cadiz and engaged in a battle which, had it turned out in our favour, would have been virtually useless, since the French army, instead of being at Boulogne to take advantage of such a success to embark for England, was two hundred leagues from the coast, fighting in Germany.
After a most desperate struggle, the fleets of France and Spain had been defeated by that of England, whose admiral, the famous Nelson, had been killed; taking to his grave a reputation as the finest seaman of the epoch. On our side we lost Rear-admiral Magon, a very fine officer. One of our vessels blew up; seventeen, as many French as Spanish, were captured. A severe storm which arose toward the end of the battle, lasted all night and the days following, and was on the verge of overwhelming both victors and vanquished, so that the English, concerned for their own safety, were forced to abandon nearly all the ships which they had captured from us; which were mostly taken back to Cadiz by the remains of their brave but unfortunate crews, though some were wrecked on the rock-bound coast.
It was during this battle that my excellent friend France d'Houdetot received a wound to his thigh which has left him with a limp. D'Houdetot, scarcely out of childhood was a naval cadet, and attached to the staff of Admiral Magon, a friend of my father. After the death of the admiral, the ship "The Algesiras," in which he served, was captured after a bloody encounter, and the English placed on board a prize crew of sixty men. But the storm separated the ship from the English fleet, and the prize crew realised that it was very unlikely that they could reach England, so they agreed to allow the French seamen to take the ship into Cadiz, with the stipulation that they would not be held as prisoners of war. The French flag was hoisted to identify the ship and the badly damaged vessel managed to reach Cadiz, though not without great difficulty. The ship which bore Admiral Villeneuve was captured and the unlucky admiral was taken to England, where he remained a prisoner for three years. Having been released on exchange, he decided to go to Paris, but, detained at Rennes, he committed suicide.
When Field-marshal Jellachich felt obliged to capitulate before the 7th French army corps, this decision seemed the more surprising since, even if defeated by us, he had the option of retiring into the Tyrol which was behind him, and whose inhabitants have for many centuries been greatly attached to the house of Austria. The thick snow which covered the country no doubt made movement difficult, but the difficulties presented would have been much greater for us, enemies of Austria, than for the troops of Jellachich, withdrawing through an Austrian province. However, if the old and hide-bound Field-marshal could not bring himself to campaign in winter, in the high mountains, his attitude was not shared by the officers under his command; for many of them condemned his pusillanimity, and spoke of rebelling against his authority. The most ardent of his opponents was General the Prince de Rohan, a French officer in the service of Austria, a bold and competent soldier. Marshal Augereau, fearing that Jellachich might take the advice offered by the Prince and retreat into the Tyrol where pursuit would be almost impossible, hastened to grant him all the conditions which he requested.
The terms of the capitulation were that the Austrian troops should lay down their arms, hand over their flags, standards, cannons and horses, but should not themselves be taken to France, and could withdraw to Bohemia after swearing not to bear arms against France for one year.
When he announced the capitulation in one of his army bulletins, the Emperor seemed a little disappointed that the Austrian soldiers had not been made prisoners of war; but he changed his mind when he realised that Marshal Augereau had no means of retaining them, as escape was so easy. In fact, during the night preceding the day when the Austrians were to lay down their arms, a revolt broke out in several brigades against Field-marshal Jellachich. The Prince de Rohan, refusing to accept the capitulation, left with his infantry division, and joined by some regiments from other divisions, he fled into the mountains, which he crossed, despite the rigours of the season: then by an audacious march, he bypassed the cantonments of Marshal Ney's troops, who occupied the towns of the Tyrol, and arriving between Verona and Venice, he fell on the rear of the French army of Italy, while this force, commanded by Massna was following on the tail of Prince Charles, who was retiring towards Friuli. The arrival of the Prince de Rohan in Venetian territory, when Massna was already in the far distance, could have had the most grave consequences; but fortunately a French army, coming from Naples, under the command of General Saint-Cyr, defeated the Prince and took him prisoner. He had, at least, submitted only to force, and was right in saying that if Jellachich had been there with all his troops, the Austrians might have defeated Saint-Cyr and opened a route for themselves back into Austria.
When a force capitulates, it is customary for the victor to send to each division a staff officer to take charge, as it were, and to conduct it on the day and at the hour appointed to the place where it is to lay down its arms. Those of my comrades who were sent to the Prince de Rohan were left behind by him in the camp which he quitted, for he carried out his retreat from an area behind the fortress of Feldkirch, and in a direction away from the French camp, so that he had little fear of being stopped; but the Austrian cavalry were not in a similar situation. They were in bivouac on a small area of open ground in front of Feldkirch, and opposite and a short distance from our outposts. I had been detailed to go to the Austrian cavalry and lead them to the agreed rendezvous; this brigade did not have a general, but was commanded by a colonel of Blankenstein's Hussars, an elderly Hungarian, brave and crafty, whose name, I regret, I cannot remember, for I think highly of him although he played me a most disagreeable trick.
On my arrival at the camp, the colonel had offered me the hospitality of his hut for the night, and we had agreed to set off at daybreak, to reach the spot indicated on the shore of Lake Constance, between the town of Bregenz and Lindau, at a distance of about three leagues. I was most astonished when, at about midnight, I heard the officers mounting their horses. I hurried out of the hut and saw that the squadrons were formed up and ready to move. I asked the reason for this hasty departure, and the old colonel replied, with cool deceit, that Field-marshal Jellachich feared that some jeering directed at the Austrian soldiers by the French, whose camp one would have to pass if one took the shortest route to the beach at Lindau, might lead to fighting between the troops of the two nations. Jellachich, in consultation with Marshal Augereau, had ordered the Austrian troops to make a long detour to the right so that they would avoid our camp and the town of Breganz, and would not come into contact with our soldiers. He added that as the route was very long and the road bad, the two commanders had advanced the time of departure by some hours; he was surprised that I had not been informed of this, but suggested that the written instructions had been held up at the advance posts, owing to some misunderstanding; he carried this deception so far as to send an officer to look for this despatch, wherever it might be. The explanation given by the colonel of the Blankensteins sounded so convincing that I did not say anything, although my instinct told me that this was a little irregular; but, alone in the midst of three thousand enemy cavalry, what could I do? It was better to appear confident than to seem to doubt the good faith of the Austrian brigade. As I was unaware of the flight of the Prince de Rohan's division, it did not enter my head that the commander of the cavalry intended to evade the capitulation. I rode alongside him, at the head of the column. The Austrian had made his arrangements for the avoidance of the French camps—whose fires could be seen—so well that we did not pass near any of them. But what the old colonel had not anticipated, and was unable to avoid, was an encounter with a flying patrol, which the French cavalry usually sent out into the countryside at night, some distance from an encampment: for suddenly there was a challenge, and we found ourselves in the presence of a large column of French cavalry, which was clearly visible in the moonlight. The Hungarian colonel, without seeming the least worried, said to me "This is work for you, as an aide-de-camp; kindly come with me and explain the situation to the commander of this French unit." We went forward. I gave the pass-word, and found myself in the presence of the 7th mounted Chasseurs, who, knowing that the Austrian troops were expected for the laying down of arms, and recognising me as one of Marshal Augereau's aides, made no difficulty about the passage of the brigade which I was conducting. The French commander, whose troops had their sabres drawn, even took the trouble to have them sheathed, as witness to the good-will existing between the two columns, which went on their way for some distance, side by side. I closely questioned the officer in charge of the Chasseurs about the change in the time at which the Austrians were to move; but he knew nothing at all about it, something which did not raise any suspicion in my mind, for I knew that an order of this kind would not be distributed by the staff down to regimental level. So I continued to ride with the colonel for the rest of the night, finding, however that the detour we were making was very long, and the going very bad.
At last, at daybreak, the old colonel, seeing a patch of level ground, said to me, in a conversational tone of voice, that although he would soon be obliged to hand over the horses of the three regiments to the French, he wished to care for the poor animals up to the last, and to deliver them in good condition; In consequence he had ordered that they should be given a feed of oats. The brigade halted, formed up and dismounted; and when the horses had been tethered, the colonel, who alone remained on horseback, gathered in a circle around him the officers and men of the three regiments, and in a ringing voice which made the old warrior seem quite superb, he announced that the Prince de Rohan's division, preferring honour to a shameful safety, had refused to subscribe to the disgraceful capitulation whereby Field-marshal Jellachich had promised to hand over to the French, the flags and the arms of the Austrian troops, and had fled into the Tyrol; where he too would have led the brigade were it not for the fact that he feared that in that barren mountain country, there would not be enough fodder for so many horses. But now they had open country in front of them and having, by a ruse of which he was proud, gained a lead of six leagues over the French troops, he invited all those who had truly Austrian hearts to follow him across Germany to Moravia, where they could rejoin the army of their August sovereign, Francis II. Blankenstein's Hussars responded to this speech by their colonel with a resounding cheer of approval; but Rosenberg's Dragoons and the Uhlans of Prince Charles maintained a gloomy silence. As for me, although I did not yet know enough German to follow the colonel's words exactly, what I did understand, together with the tone of the orator and the position in which he found himself, allowed me to guess what was afoot, and I can promise you that I felt very crestfallen at having, although unwittingly, furthered the plans of this diabolical Hungarian.
A fearful tumult now arose in the immense circle by which I was surrounded, and I was able to appreciate the inconvenience stemming from the heterogeneous amalgamation of different peoples which makes up the Austrian Empire, and in consequence, the Austrian army. All the Hussars were Hungarian; the Blankensteins therefore approved the proposal made by a leader of their own nationality, but the Dragoons were German and the Uhlans were Polish; the Hungarian could make no nationalistic appeal to them, who, in this difficult situation listened only to their own officers; these officers declared that they thought themselves bound by the capitulation which Field-marshal Jellachich had signed and did not wish, by their departure, to worsen his position or that of their comrades who were already the hands of the French, who would be within their rights to send them all back to France as prisoners of war, if a part of the Austrian forces violated the agreement. To this the colonel replied that when the Commander-in-Chief of an army looses his head, fails in his duty and delivers his troops to the enemy, his juniors have no need to consult anything but their courage and their devotion to their country. Then the colonel, brandishing his sabre in one hand, while with the other he seized the regimental standard, cried out, "Go then Dragoons! Go! Go! Yield to the French your dishonoured standards, and the arms which the Emperor gave us for his defence. As for us, the bold Hussars, we are off to rejoin our sovereign, to whom we can once more show with honour our unstained colours, and the swords of fearless soldiers!" Then, drawing close to me, and casting a look of disdain on the Uhlans and Dragoons, he added, "I am sure that if this young Frenchman found himself in our position and had to choose between your conduct and mine, he would take the more courageous course; for the French love honour and reputation as much as their country." Having said this, the old Hungarian sheathed his sabre, dug in his spurs, and leading his regiment at the gallop, he careered into the distance, where he soon disappeared. There was some truth in both the arguments which I had heard, but that of the old Hungarian seemed the more valid because it was in conformity with the interests of his country; I then secretly approved of his behaviour, but I could not, of course advise the Dragoons and Uhlans to follow his example; that would have been to step out of my role and fail in my duty. I maintained a strict neutrality in this discussion, and when the Hussars had left, I asked the colonels of the other two regiments to follow me, and we took the road for Lindau.
On the beach beside the lake, we found Marshals Augereau and Jellachich, as well as the French forces and the Austrian infantry regiments which had not followed the Prince de Rohan. On learning from me that the Blankenstein Hussars, having refused to recognise the capitulation, were heading for Moravia both marshals flew into a rage: Marshal Augereau because he feared that these Hussars might cause havoc in the rear of the French army, since the route which they would follow would take them through areas where the Emperor, in the course of his march on Vienna, had left many dressing stations full of wounded; artillery parks, etc. But the Hungarian colonel did not think it was part of his duty to advertise his presence by any surprise attack, as he was only too anxious to get out of a country bristling with French arms. By avoiding all our positions, moving always on minor roads, hiding by day in the woods and marching rapidly at night, he managed to reach the frontier of Moravia without trouble, and joined an Austrian army corps which occupied the area. As for the troops who remained with Field-marshal Jellachich, having laid down their arms, surrendered their flags and standards and handed over their horses, they became prisoners on parole for one year, and made off in dismal silence for the interior of Germany, to make their way sadly to Bohemia. I remembered, when I saw them, the valiant words of the old colonel, and I think I saw on the faces of many of these Uhlans and Dragoons a regret that they had not followed the old warrior, and an unhappiness when they compared the heroic position of the Blankensteins with their own humiliation.
Among the trophies which Jellachich's corps was forced to hand over were seventeen flags and two standards, which Marshal Augereau, as was usual, hastened to send to the Emperor, in the care of two aides-de-camp. Major Massy and I were detailed for this task, and we left the same evening in a fine carriage with, in front of us, a wagon containing the flags and standards, in the charge of an N.C.O. We headed for Vienna via Kempten, Brauneau, Munich, Lenz and Saint-Poelten. Some leagues before this last town, following the banks of the Danube, we admired the superb Abbey of Mlk, one of the richest in the world. It was here, four years later that I ran the greatest danger, and earned the praise of the Emperor, for having performed before his eyes the finest feat of arms of my military career; as you will see when we come to the campaign of 1809.
In September 1805, the seven corps which made up the Grande Arme were on the march from their positions on the coast to the banks of the Danube. They were already in the countries of Baden and Wurtemberg when, on the 1st October, Napoleon, in person, crossed the Rhine at Strasburg. A part of the large force which the Russians were sending to the aid of Austria had at that moment arrived in Moravia, and the cabinet at Vienna should, with prudence, have waited until this powerful reinforcement had joined the Austrian army; but, carried away by an enthusiasm which they did not usually display, and which was inspired by Field-marshal Mack, it had despatched him, at the head of eighty thousand men, to attack Bavaria; the possession of which had been coveted by Austria for several centuries, and which French policy had always protected from invasion. The Elector of Bavaria, forced to abandon his state, took refuge with his family and his troops in Wurtzburg, from where he begged Napoleon for assistance. Napoleon entered into an alliance with him and with the rulers of Baden and Wurtzburg.
The Austrian army, under Mack, had already occupied Ulm, when Napoleon, having crossed the Danube at Donauwerth seized Augsburg and Munich. The French were now in the rear of Mack's force and had cut his communication with the Russians, who having reached Vienna, were advancing towards him by forced marches. The Field-marshal realised then, but too late, the error he had made in allowing himself to be encircled by French troops. He tried to break out, but was defeated successively in the battles of Wertingen, Gunzberg, and Elchingen, where Marshal Ney won fame. Under increasing pressure, Mack was forced to shut himself up in Ulm with all his army, less the corps of the Archduke Ferdinand and Jellachich who escaped, the former into Bohemia, and the latter to the region round Lake Constance. Ulm was then besieged by the Emperor. It was a place which, though not heavily fortified, could nevertheless have held out for a long time thanks to its position and its large garrison, and so given the Russians time to come to its relief. But Field-marshal Mack, passing from exalted over-confidence to a profound disheartenment, surrendered to Napoleon, who had now, in three weeks, scattered, captured, or destroyed eighty thousand Austrians and freed Bavaria, where he reinstalled the Elector. We shall see, in 1813, this favour repaid by the most odious treachery.
Being now the master of Bavaria, and rid of the presence of Mack's army, the Emperor increased the pace of his advance, down the right bank of the Danube towards Vienna. He captured Passau and then Linz, where he learned that 50,000 Russians, commanded by General Koutousoff, reinforced by 40,000 Austrians, whom General Kienmayer had collected, had crossed the Danube at Vienna and had taken up a position between Mlk and St. Poelten. He was told at the same time that the Austrian army commanded by Prince Charles had been defeated by Massna in the Venetian district and was retreating via the Friuli in the direction of Vienna; and lastly that the Archduke Jean was occupying the Tyrol with several divisions. Those two princes were therefore threatening the right of the French army, while it had the Russians in front of it. To protect himself against a flank attack, the Emperor, who already had Marshal Augereau's corps in the region of Bregenz, sent Maeshal Ney to attack Innsbruk and the Tyrol, and moved Marmont's corps to Loeben, in order to block Prince Charles' route from Italy. Having taken these wise precautions to protect his right flank, Napoleon, before advancing to meet the Russians, whose advance-guard had already clashed with ours at Amstetten, near to Steyer, wished to protect his left flank from any attack from those Austrians who had taken refuge in Bohemia, under the command of Archduke Ferdinand. To effect this he gave Marshal Mortier the infantry divisions of Generals Dupont and Gazan, and ordered him to cross the Danube by the bridges at Passau and Linz, and then proceed down the left bank of the river, while the bulk of the army went down the right. However, in order not to leave Marshal Mortier too isolated, Napoleon conceived the idea of gathering together on the Danube a great number of boats, which had been captured on the tributaries of the river, and forming a flotilla which, manned by men from the guard, could move down the river, keeping level with Mortier and making a link between the troops on both banks.
You may think it a little presumptuous of me to criticise one of the operations of a great captain, but I cannot refrain from commenting that the sending of Mortier to the left bank was a move which had not been sufficiently considered, and was an error which could have had very serious consequences. The Danube, Europe's largest river, is, after Passau, so wide in winter that from one bank one cannot discern a man standing on the other; it is also very deep and very fast-flowing, and it therefore provided a guarantee of perfect safety for the left flank of the French army as it marched down the right bank. Furthermore, any attack could be made only by the Archduke Ferdinand, coming from Bohemia; but he, very pleased to have escaped from the French before Ulm, had only a few troops, and they were mostly cavalry. Even if he had wished to do so, he had not the means to mount an attack which involved crossing an obstacle such as the Danube, into which he might be driven back. Whereas, by detaching two of his divisions and allowing them to be isolated across this immense river, Napoleon exposed them to the risk of being captured or exterminated. A disaster which might have been foreseen and which very nearly came about.
Field-marshal Koutousoff, had been awaiting the French with confidence, in a strong position at St. Poelten, because he believed that they were being pursued by the army of Mack; but when he heard of the surrender of this army at Ulm, he no longer felt himself strong enough to face Napoleon alone, and being unwilling to risk his troops to save the city of Vienna, he decided to put the barrier of the Danube between himself and the victor, so he crossed the river by the bridge at Krems, which he burned behind him.
He had scarcely arrived on the left bank with all his army, when he ran into the scouts of the Gazan division, which was proceeding from Dirnstein to Krems, with Marshal Mortier at its head. Koutousoff, having discovered the presence of a French corps isolated on the left bank, resolved to crush it, and to achieve this aim he attacked it head to head on the narrow road which ran along the river bank, while seizing control of the escarpments which overlook the Danube. He sent light troops to occupy Dirnstein to cut off the retreat of the Gazan division. The position of the division was made even more critical by the fact that the flotilla of boats had dropped back and there were only two little boats available, which made it impossible to bring reinforcements from the other bank.
Attacked in front and in the rear and on one of their flanks by enemies six times their number; shut in between the rocky escarpment occupied by the Russians and the depths of the Danube, the French soldiers, crowded on the narrow roadway, did not despair. The gallant Marshal Mortier set them an example, for, when it was suggested that he should take one of the boats and go over to the right bank, where he would be with the Grande Arme, and avoid giving the Russians the glory of capturing a marshal, he replied that he would die with his men, or escape over the dead bodies of the Russians!
A savage bayonet fight ensued: five thousand French were up against thirty thousand Russians: night came to add to the horrors of the combat: Gazan's division, massed in column, managed to regain Dirnstein at a moment when Dupont's division, which had remained behind opposite Mlk, alerted by the sound of gunfire, was running to their aid. Eventually the battlefield remained in French hands.
In this hand to hand fighting, where the bayonet was almost the only weapon used, our men, more adroit and agile than the giant Russians, had a great advantage; so the enemy losses amounted to some four thousand five hundred men, while ours were three thousand only. But had our divisions not been made up of seasoned soldiers, Mortier's corps would probably have been destroyed. The Emperor was well aware of this, and hastened to recall it to the right bank. What seems to me to be proof that he realised the mistake he had made in sending this corps across the river, is the fact that, although he generously rewarded the brave regiments which had fought at Dirnstein, the official bulletins scarcely mention this sanguinary affair, and it is as if one wished to conceal the results of this operation because one could find no military justification for it.
What further confirms me in the opinion which I have taken the liberty of expressing, is that in the campaign of 1809, the Emperor, when he found himself in a similar situation, did not send any troops across the river, but, keeping all his force together, he went with it to Vienna.
But let us return to the mission with which Major Massy and I were charged.
When we arrived in Vienna, Napoleon and the bulk of the army had already left the city, which they had seized without a shot being fired. The crossing of the Danube which it was necessary to effect in order to pursue the Russians and the Austrians who were retreating into Moravia, had not been disputed, thanks to a perhaps culpable deception which was carried out by Marshals Lannes and Murat. This incident, which had such a profound effect on this well-known campaign, deserves recounting.
The city of Vienna is situated on the right bank of the Danube: a small branch of that immense river passes through the city, but the main stream is half a league away; there the Danube contains a large number of islands which are connected by a long series of wooden bridges, terminated by one which, spanning the main arm of the river, reaches the left bank at a place named Spitz. The road to Moravia runs along this series of bridges. When the Austrians are opposing the crossing of a river, they have a very bad habit of leaving the bridges intact up to the very last moment, to give them a means of mounting a counter-attack against the enemy, who almost always does not allow them time to do so and takes from them the bridges which they have neglected to burn. This is what the French did during the campaign in Italy in 1796 at the memorable affairs of Lodi and Arcoli. But these examples had not served to correct the Austrians, for on leaving Vienna, which is not suited to defence, they retired to the other side of the Danube without destroying a single one of the bridges spanning this vast watercourse, and limited themselves to placing inflammable material on the platform of the main bridge, in order to set it alight when the French appeared. They had also established on the left bank, at the end of the bridge at Spitz, a powerful battery of artillery, as well as a division of six thousand men under the command of Prince D'Auersperg, a brave but not very intelligent officer. Now I must tell you that some days before the entry of the French into Vienna, the Emperor had received the Austrian general, Comte de Guilay, who came as an envoy to make peace overtures, which came to nothing. But hardly had the Emperor settled in the palace of Schoenbrunn, when General Guilay again appeared and spent more than an hour tte-a-tte with Napoleon. From this a rumour arose that an armistice had been arranged, a rumour which spread amongst the French regiments which were entering Vienna and the Austrians who were leaving to cross the Danube.
Murat and Lannes, whom the Emperor had ordered to secure the crossing of the Danube, placed Oudinot's Grenadiers behind a bushy plantation and went forward, accompanied only by some German-speaking officers. The enemy outposts withdrew, firing as they went. The French officers called out that there was an armistice, and continuing their progress, they crossed all the small bridges, without being held up. When they arrived at the main bridge, they renewed their assertion to the commander at Spitz, who did not dare to fire on two marshals, almost alone, who claimed that hostilities were suspended. However, before allowing them to go any further, he wanted to go and ask General Auersperg for orders, and while he did so, he left the post in charge of a sergeant. Lannes and Murat persuaded the sergeant that under the terms of the cease-fire, the bridge should be handed over to them, and that he should go with his men to join his officer on the left bank. The poor sergeant hesitated, he was edged back gently while the conversation continued, and by a slow but steady advance they reached, eventually, the end of the main bridge.
At this point an Austrian officer endeavored to set light to the incendiary material, but the torch was snatched from his hand, and he was told that he would be in serious trouble if he did any such thing. Next, the column of Oudinot's Grenadiers appeared and began to cross the bridge.... The Austrian gunners prepared to open fire, but the French marshals ran to the commander of the artillery and assured him that an armistice was in force, then, seating themselves on the guns, they requested the gunners to go and inform General Auersperg of their presence. General Auersperg eventually arrived and was about to order the gunners to open fire, although by now they and the Austrian troops were surrounded by the French Grenadiers, when the two marshals managed to convince him that there was a cease-fire, a principal condition of which was that the French should occupy the bridge. The unhappy general, fearing to compromise himself by the useless shedding of blood, lost his head to the point of leading away all the troops which he had been given to defend the bridges.
Without this error on the part of General Auersperg, the passage of the Danube could only have been carried out with great difficulty, and might even have been impossible; in which case Napoleon would have been unable to pursue the Russians and Austrians into Moravia, and would have failed in his campaign. That was the opinion at the time, and it was confirmed three years later when, the Austrians having burned the bridges, to secure a passage we were forced to fight the two battles of Essling and Wagram, which cost us more than thirty thousand men, whereas in 1805 Marshals Lannes and Murat took possession of the bridges without there being a single man wounded.
Was the stratagem they employed admissible? I have my doubts. I know that in war one eases one's conscience, and that any means may be employed to ensure victory and reduce loss of life, but in spite of these weighty considerations, I do not think that one can approve of the method used to seize the bridge at Spitz, and for my part I would not care to do the same in similar circumstances.
To conclude this episode, the credulity of General Auersperg was very severely punished. A court-martial condemned him to be cashiered, dragged through the streets of Vienna on a hurdle and finally put to death at the hands of the public executioner...! A similar sentence was passed on Field-marshal Mack, to punish him for his conduct at Ulm. But in both cases the death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. They served ten years and were then released, but deprived of their position, expelled from the ranks of the nobility and rejected by their families, they died, both of them, shortly after they had been set at liberty.
The stratagem employed by Marshals Lannes and Murat having secured the crossing of the Danube, the Emperor Napoleon directed his army in pursuit of the Russians and the Austrians. Thus began the second phase of the campaign.
The Russian marshal Koutousoff was heading via Hollabrunn for Brno in Moravia, in order to join the second army which was led by the Emperor Alexander in person; but on approaching Hollabrunn, he was alarmed to discover that the troops of Lannes and Murat were already occupying the town and cutting off his means of retreat. To get out of this fix, the aged marshal, making use, in his turn, of trickery, sent General Prince Bagration as an envoy to Marshal Murat, whom he assured that an aide-de-camp of the Emperor was on his way to Napoleon in order to conclude an armistice, and that, without doubt, peace would shortly follow.
Prince Bagration was a very amiable man, he knew exactly how to flatter Murat, so that he in turn was deceived into accepting an armistice, in spite of the observations of Lannes, who wished to fight but had to obey Murat, who was his superior officer.
The truce lasted for thirty-six hours; and while Murat was inhaling the incense which the crafty Russian lavished on him, Koutousoff's army made a detour and concealing its movement behind a screen of low hills, escaped from danger, and went on to take up, beyond Hollabrunn, a strong position which opened the road to Moravia and assured his retreat and his junction with the second Russian army which was encamped between Znaim and Brno. Napoleon was still in the palace of Schoenbrunn, and was furiously angry when he heard that Murat had allowed himself to be bamboozled by Prince Bagration, and had accepted an armistice without his orders, and he commanded him to attack Koutousoff immediately.