Now the situation of the Russians had changed greatly to their advantage, so they repelled the French most vigorously. The town of Hollabrunn, taken and re-taken several times, set on fire by the mortars, filled with the dead and dying, remained finally in French possession. The Russians retired in the direction of Brno; our troops followed them and took possession of this town without a fight, although it was fortified and dominated by the well-known citadel of Spielberg.
The Russian armies and the remains of the Austrian troops were united in Moravia; the Emperor Napoleon, in order to deliver the final blow, arrived in Brno, the capital of the province.
My comrade Massy and I followed after him, but we moved slowly and with much difficulty, firstly because the post-horses were on their last legs, and then because of the great quantity of troops, guns, ammunition wagons, baggage, etc. with which the roads were obstructed. We were obliged to stop for twenty-four hours at Hollabrunn, while we waited for a passage to be cleared through the streets, destroyed by fire and littered with planks and beams and the debris of furniture, still alight. This unfortunate town had been so completely burned that we were unable to find a single house to provide shelter!
During our enforced stay, we were confronted and distressed by the most horrible and shocking spectacle. The wounded, mainly Russians, had taken refuge during the fighting in the houses which were soon set ablaze. All who could walk fled at the approach of this new danger, but the crippled and gravely injured were burned alive in the ruins! Many had attempted to escape the fire by crawling along the ground, but the flames had followed them into the streets,where one could see a multitude of these wretched victims half consumed by fire, some of them still breathing! The bodies of the men and horses killed in the battle had also been roasted, so that for several leagues around the town there was a sickening stench of burning flesh! ... There are countrysides and towns which because of their situation are destined to serve as battlefields, and Hollabrun is one of them, because it offers an excellent military position; thus it was that the damage done by the fire of 1805 had scarcely been repaired, when I saw the place again, four years later, once more on fire and littered with the half-roasted bodies of the dead and dying; as you will see from my description of the campaign of 1809.
Major Massy and I left this pestilential spot as soon as we could, and went on to Znaim, where, four years later I was to be wounded; and at last we reached the Emperor at Brunn (Brno), on November 22nd, ten days before the Battle of Austerlitz.
The day after our arrival, we completed our mission and handed over the flags with the ceremony laid down by the Emperor for solemn occasions of this kind; for he missed no opportunity of displaying to the troops anything which could raise their morale and enthusiasm.
The procedure was as follows:—Half an hour before the daily parade,—which took place at eleven o'clock outside whatever residence was serving as the Emperor's palace,—General Duroc, the Grand Marshal, sent to our billet a company of Grenadiers of the Guard, with bandsmen and drummers. The town of Brunn was full of French troops, and the soldiers, as we passed, celebrated with much cheering the victory of their comrades of 7th Corps. All the guard-posts accorded us military honours, and on our entry to the courtyard of the Emperor's quarters, the units formed up for the parade beat a salute, presented arms, and cried repeatedly "Vive L'Empereur!"
The aide-de-camp on duty came to receive us and to present us to Napoleon, to whom we were introduced, accompanied always by the N.C.O.s carrying the Austrian flags. The Emperor examined these various trophies, and after dismissing the N.C.O.s. he questioned us closely about the various actions which had been fought by Marshal Augereau and on all we had seen or learned on our long journey through a countryside which had been the theatre of war. Then he told us to await his instructions, and to join the imperial suite. The Grand Marshal Duroc took charge of the flags, for which he gave us a receipt in the regular manner, informed us that horses would be placed at our disposal and invited us, for the duration of our stay, to the table over which he presided.
The French army was now massed around and before Brunn. The Russian advance-guard occupied Austerlitz, while the bulk of their army was positioned round the town of Olmutz, where were also the Emperor Alexander of Russia and the Emperor of Austria. A battle seemed inevitable, but both sides being well aware that the outcome would have an immense bearing on the destiny of Europe, each hesitated to make a decisive move. Napoleon, usually so swift to act, waited for eleven days at Brunn before launching a major attack. It is, however, true that every day of waiting increased his forces by the arrival of great numbers of soldiers who had lagged behind because of illness or fatigue, and who having now recovered, hastened to rejoin their units. I recall that, in these circumstances, I told a white lie which could have ruined my military career.
Napoleon usually treated his officers with kindness, but there was one point on which he was perhaps too strict, for he held colonels responsible for keeping their units up to full strength, something it is very difficult to do during a campaign. It was in this matter that the Emperor was most often deceived, for the corps commanders were so afraid of displeasing him that they risked being committed to facing an enemy force disproportionate to their own numbers, rather than admit that sickness, fatigue and the need to forage for food had caused many soldiers to drop out. So Napoleon, in spite of his authority, never knew the exact number of combatants available to him on the day of battle.
Now it so happened that the Emperor, in the course of one of the endless trips he made to visit the various corps of the army, saw the mounted Chasseurs of his guard, who were moving to a different position. He was particularly fond of this regiment, of which his "guides" from Italy and Egypt formed the nucleus. The Emperor, whose experienced eye could estimate very exactly the strength of a column, noticing that their numbers were much reduced, took out of his pocket a little notebook, and, calling for General Morland, the commander of the mounted Chasseurs, he said to him in a stern voice, "Your regiment is down in my notes as having 1200 men, and although you have not been in action, you have no more than 800; what has happened to the others?" General Morland was a fine, brave fighting soldier, but he did not have a ready tongue, and being quite nonplussed, he said in his Franco-Alsatian dialect that he was short of only a small number of men. The Emperor maintained that he was about four hundred short, and to get to the truth of the matter he wanted to have an immediate count; but knowing that General Morland was very much liked by the officers of the imperial staff, he feared a cover-up, and thought he would be more likely to discover the truth by choosing an officer who did not belong to his entourage nor to the Chasseurs; so, seeing me, he ordered me to count the Chasseurs and to deliver to him personally a record of their numbers; having said which, he made off at the gallop. I began my task, which was made more easy because the troopers were riding past four abreast at walking pace.
Poor General Morland, who knew how close Napoleon's estimate was to the reality, was in a state of great agitation, for he foresaw that my report would call down on his head a severe reprimand. He hardly knew me, and did not dare to suggest that I might compromise myself to get him out of trouble. He was then sitting silently on his horse beside me, when, fortunately for him, his adjutant came to join him. This officer, named Fournier, had started his military career as an assistant surgeon, then, having become a surgeon-major, he felt that he had more of a vocation for the sabre than for the lancet, and had asked for and obtained permission to join the ranks of the combatant officers, and Morland, with whom he had served previously, arranged for him to join the Guard.
I had known Captain Fournier very well when he was still surgeon-major, and I was very much obliged to him, for not only had he dressed my father's wound when it was inflicted, but he had gone, like him, to Genoa, where, as long as my father lived, he had come several times a day to care for him: if the doctors charged with the duty of fighting the typhus epidemic had been as assiduous and zealous as Fournier, my father, perhaps, would not have died. I had often thought this, so I gave the warmest of welcomes to Fournier, whom I did not at first recognise in the pelisse of a captain of Chasseurs.
General Morland, seeing the pleasure we had in meeting one another, thought he might profit from our mutual friendship to persuade me not to reveal to the Emperor by how many men he was short. He took his adjutant aside and conferred with him for a time; then Fournier came, and in the name of our former friendship, he begged me to extricate General Morland from a most unpleasant situation by concealing from the Emperor the extent to which the regiment was under strength. I refused firmly and continued to count. The Emperor's estimate was very close, for there were only a few over eight hundred Chasseurs present, four hundred were missing.
I was about to leave to make my report, when General Morland and Captain Fournier renewed their pleas pointing out that the greater part of the men who had dropped behind for various reasons would rejoin them very shortly, and that it was not likely that Napoleon would engage in battle before the arrival of the divisions of Friant and Gudin, who were still at the gates of Vienna, thirty-six leagues from us and would take several days to reach us. In the interval more laggards would rejoin the unit. They added that the Emperor would be too busy to check my report. I could not pretend to myself that I was not being asked to deceive the Emperor, which was very wrong, but I felt also that I was under a great obligation to Captain Fournier for the truly tender care he had given to my dying father, I allowed myself therefore to be swayed and promised to conceal a large part of the truth.
I was scarcely alone when I realised the enormity of my error, but it was too late; the essential object now was to get out of the situation with the least harm possible. With this aim in view, I kept out of the way of the Emperor as long as he was on horseback, in case he went back to the bivouac of the Chasseurs, where their shortage of numbers striking him anew would give the lie to my report. I craftily did not return to the imperial quarters until night was approaching and Napoleon, having dismounted had gone to his apartment. Brought before him in order to make my report, I found him lying at full length on an immense map which was spread on the floor. As soon as he saw me, he called out "Well now! Marbot, how many Chasseurs are there in my guard? Are there twelve hundred as Morland claims?" "No sire" I replied."I counted only eleven hundred and twenty, that is a shortfall of eighty." "I was sure that there was a lot missing." said the Emperor, in a tone of voice which made it plain that he had expected a much larger deficit; and to be sure if there were no more than eighty men missing from a regiment of twelve hundred which had just come five hundred leagues in winter, sleeping almost every night in bivouac, that was a very small loss. So when, on going to dinner, the Emperor passed through the room where the senior officers of the guard were gathered, all he said to Morland was, "Now you see...you are short of eighty troopers; that is almost a squadron. With eighty of these men one could stop a Russian regiment! You must take care to see that men do not drop behind." Then, passing to the commander of the foot guards, whose numbers were also much reduced, Napoleon gave him a sharp reprimand. Morland, who thought himself lucky to have got away with no more than a few observations, came over to me, as soon as the Emperor was seated at table, and thanked me warmly. He told me that some thirty troopers had just arrived, and that a courier from Vienna had met more than a hundred between Znaim and Brunn, and many more this side of Hollabrunn, which meant that within forty-eight hours the regiment would have made up most of its deficiency. I wished for this as fervently as he did, for I was well aware of the difficult spot I had landed myself in out of my consideration for Fournier. I could not sleep that night for fear of the justifiable wrath of the Emperor, if he found out that I had lied to him.
I was even more dismayed the next day when Napoleon, in the course of his usual visit to his troops, started off in the direction of the Chasseur's bivouac, for a simple question put to an officer could expose everything; but just when I thought that I was done for, I heard the sound of the band of the Russian force, camped on the high ground of the Pratzen half a league from our position. I urged my horse forward towards the head of the numerous staff by whom the Emperor was accompanied, and getting as close to him as possible, I said in a loud voice, "I am sure there is something going on in the Russian camp, their band is playing a march".... The Emperor, who heard my remark, suddenly left the path which led to the Chasseur's bivouac, and headed towards Pratzen to see what was happening in the enemy advance-guard. He stayed a long time watching, and as night was approaching, he went back to Brunn without visiting the Chasseurs. For several days I was in a mortal panic, although I learned of the arrival of successive detachments of men, but at last the coming battle and the many preoccupations of the Emperor drove from his mind the idea of making the check which I so much feared. But I had learned my lesson; so when I became a colonel and was asked by the Emperor how many men were present in the squadrons of my regiment, I always gave the exact number.
If Napoleon was often deceived, he also used deception himself to further his projects, as can be shown by the tale of this diplomatic-military comedy, in which I played a part.
In order to understand this affair, which will give you the key to the intrigues which, the following year, gave rise to the war between Napoleon and the King of Prussia, we have to go back two months to the time when the French troops, having left the coast, were proceeding by rapid marches to the Danube. The shortest route which the first corps, commanded by Bernadotte, could take to reach Hanover, on the upper Danube, lay through Anspach. This little country belonged to Prussia, but as it was quite a long way from there, from which it was separated by a number of minor principalities, it had always been regarded in previous wars as being neutral territory, through which either party could pass, provided that they paid for any goods they required and refrained from any hostile action.
Things having been established on this footing, Austrian and French armies had often passed through the Margravate of Anspach, since the time of the Directory, without informing Prussia and without the latter raising any objection. Napoleon then, taking advantage of this convention, ordered Bernadotte to go through Anspach, which he did. However, the Queen of Prussia and her court, who detested Napoleon, on hearing of this, raised an outcry, claiming that Prussian territory had been violated, and took advantage of this event to rouse the nation and call loudly for war. The King of Prussia and his minister, Count Haugwitz, alone resisted the general clamour for action. This was in October 1805, when hostilities were about to break out between France and Austria, and the Russian armies were on their way to reinforce the latter. The queen and the young Prince Louis, the king's nephew, in an attempt to persuade the king to make common cause with the Austrians and Russians, arranged for the Emperor Alexander to come to Berlin, in the hope that his presence would influence Frederick-William.
Alexander arrived in the capital of Prussia on the 25th October. He was greeted with enthusiasm by the queen, Prince Louis and the supporters of war against France. The king, besieged on all sides, allowed himself to be persuaded, but only on the condition—advised by the old Prince of Brunswick, and Count Haugwitz—that his army should not be committed to a campaign until the outcome of the conflict between the French and the Austrians on the Danube had been determined. This partial adherence to their cause pleased neither Alexander nor the queen, but for the time being they could obtain nothing more explicit. A melodramatic scene was played out at Potsdam, where the Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia, having descended, by the light of torches, into the sepulchral vaults of the palace, swore, in the presence of the court, eternal friendship, on the tomb of Frederick the Great; (an oath which did not prevent Alexander from incorporating into the Russian Empire, eighteen months later, one of the Prussian provinces, which Napoleon awarded him under the treaty of Tilsit, and this in the presence of his friend Frederick-William.) The Russian Emperor now went back to Moravia, to place himself at the head of his army, for Napoleon was advancing rapidly towards Vienna, which he shortly occupied.
When he heard of the King of Prussia's reluctance and the compact made at Potsdam, Napoleon, in order to deal with the Russians before the Prussians had made up their minds, installed himself for the encounter with the former in Brunn, where we now were.
It is said, quite rightly, that ambassadors are privileged spies. The King of Prussia, who heard daily of fresh victories won by Napoleon, was anxious to find out what the true position was between the warring parties; so he decided to send Count Haugwitz, his minister, to the French headquarters, with instructions to assess the situation. Now it was necessary to find an excuse for doing this, so he entrusted Count Haugwitz with a reply to a letter which Napoleon had sent to him, complaining about the agreement concluded between the Prussians and the Russians at Potsdam. Count Haugwitz arrived at Brunn some days before the Battle of Austerlitz, and would dearly have liked to stay there until he knew the result of the major engagement which was in prospect, in order to advise his sovereign to do nothing if we were victorious, or to attack us if we should be defeated. You do not have to be a soldier to see from a map what damage a Prussian army, coming from Breslau in Silesia, could do by going through Bohemia to fall on our rear around Regansberg.
As Napoleon knew that Count Haugwitz sent a courier every evening to Berlin, he decided that it would be by this means that he would inform the Prussians of the defeat of Field-marshal Jellachich's army corps, news of which had not yet reached them. This is how it was done.
Marshal of the Palace Duroc, after telling us what we were to do, had all the Austrian flags which we had brought from Bregenz secretly replaced in the lodgings which Massy and I occupied; then, some hours later, when the Emperor was in conversation with Count Haugwitz in his study, we re-enacted the ceremony of the handover of the flags in exactly the same way as it had been done on the first occasion. The Emperor hearing the band playing in the courtyard, feigned astonishment, and went to the windows followed by the ambassador. Seeing the flags carried by the N.C.O.s. he called for the duty aide-de-camp and asked him what was going on. The aide-de-camp having told him that we were two of Marshal Augereau's aides who had come to hand over to him the flags of Jellachich's Austrian corps captured at Bregenz, we were led inside; there Napoleon, without blinking an eyelid, and as if he had never seen us before, took the letter from Augereau,which had been re-sealed, and read it, although he had been aware of its contents for four days. Then he questioned us,making us go into the smallest details. Duroc had warned us to speak out loudly, as the ambassador was a little hard of hearing, this advice was of no use to Major Massy, who was the leader of the mission, since he was suffering from a cold and had almost completely lost his voice, so it was I who replied to the Emperor, and taking a lead from him, I painted in the most vivid colours the defeat of the Austrians, their despondency, and the enthusiasm of the French. Then, presenting the trophies one after the other, I named the Austrian regiments to which they had once belonged. I laid particular stress on two of them, because I knew that their capture would have a powerful effect on the ambassador, "Here," I said "is the flag of the infantry regiment of his Majesty the Emperor of Austria, and there is the standard of the Uhlans, commanded by the Archduke Charles, his brother." Napoleon's eyes twinkled, and he seemed to say, "Well done young man!" At last he dismissed us, and as we left we heard him say to the ambassador, "You see, monsieur le Comte, my armies are everywhere triumphant.... The Austrian army is no more, and soon the same fate will befall the Russians." Count Haugwitz seemed deeply impressed, and Duroc said to us, after we had left the room, "The count will write tonight to Berlin, to tell his government of the destruction of Jellachich's force, which will put a damper on the war party, and give the king new reasons for holding off. Which is what the Emperor very much wants."
This comedy having been played out, The Emperor, to be rid of a dangerous onlooker who could give an account of the disposition of his forces, suggested to Count Haugwitz that it was not very safe for him to remain between two armies which were about to come to blows, and persuaded him to go to Vienna to M. Tallyrand, his minister for foreign affairs, which he did that same evening.
The following day the Emperor said nothing to us about the scene which had been enacted the previous evening, but wishing, no doubt, to give some sign of his satisfaction with the manner in which we had played our parts, he asked Major Massy, kindly, about the progress of his cold, and he pinched my ear, which with him was a sort of caress.
Now the dnouement of the great drama was approaching and both sides were preparing for the coming struggle. Nearly all military authors so overload their narrative with details that they confuse the mind of the reader, to the extent that, in most of the published works on the wars of the Empire which I have read, I have been unable to understand the description of several of the battles in which I myself have taken part, and the various phases of which I know. I think that to preserve clarity in the description of an action, one needs to limit oneself to indicating the respective positions of the two armies, prior to the engagement, and to recounting only the principal and decisive events in the combat. This is what I shall attempt to do.
The coming battle is known as the Battle of Austerlitz, although it took place some distance from the village of that name: the reason for this is that, on the eve of the battle, the Emperors of Austria and Russia had slept in the Chteau of Austerlitz, out of which Napoleon drove them.
You will see on the map that a stream, the Goldbach, which rises on the far side of the road to Olmutz, flows into a pool called Menitz. This stream, which runs in a little valley with quite steep banks, separated the two armies. The right of the Austro-Russian forces lay on a wooded escarpment, situated behind the post-house of Posoritz, on the far side of the Olmutz road; their centre occupied Pratzen and the vast plateau of that name, and their left was near the meres of Satschan and the neighbouring marshes. The Emperor placed his left flank on a little hill, very difficult of access, which our men who had been in Egypt called the Santon (a holy man's grave) because it was surmounted by a small chapel, the roof of which had the appearance of a minaret. The French centre was near the pool of Kobolnitz, and the right was at Telnitz. The Emperor had put very few troops there in order to tempt the Russians into the marshy ground, where he had prepared their defeat by concealing in Gross-Raigern, on the road to Vienna, the corps of Marshal Davout.
On the 1st December, the eve of the battle, Napoleon left Brunn in the morning and spent all day examining the positions; in the evening he set up his headquarters behind the French centre, at a spot from where could be seen the camps of both armies and the area which would form their battlefield the next day. There was no building in the vicinity but a dilapidated barn, and it was there that were placed the Emperor's tables and maps, while he himself took up a position by a huge fire, surrounded by his numerous staff and his guards. Happily there was no snow, although it was very cold. I bedded down on the ground and fell into a deep sleep; but soon we had to remount our horses to accompany the Emperor, who was about to visit his troops. There was no moon, and the obscurity of the night was increased by a thick mist which made progress difficult. The troopers of the Emperor's escort had the idea of lighting torches made of pinewood and straw which were most useful. The soldiers, seeing the approach of a group of mounted men thus illuminated, could easily distinguish the imperial staff, and in an instant, as if by magic, one saw all our camp lit up by torches carried by the men who greeted the Emperor with cheer, made all the louder because the next day would be the anniversary of his coronation, a coincidence which seemed to them to be a good augury. The enemy must have been greatly astonished when, from the height of the neighbouring slope, they saw in the middle of the night, the light of sixty thousand torches and heard the repeated cheers of "Vive l'Empereur!" mingled with the sound of the regimental bands. All was gaiety, light and movement in our camp, while, on the Austro-Russian side, all was dark and silent.
The next day, the 2nd December, the cannons were heard at daybreak. We have seen that the Emperor had deployed few troops on his right wing; a bait which he dangled before the enemy, who would see the apparent possibility of taking Telnitz easily, and then crossing the Goldbach and going on to Gross-Raigern in order to control the road from Brunn to Vienna and so cut off our line of retreat. The Austro-Russians fell headlong into the trap, and, thinning out the rest of their line, they clumsily piled up a considerable force in the lower part of Telnitz, and in the narrow, marshy defiles around the meres of Satschan and Menitz. They thought, for some unknown reason, that Napoleon was considering withdrawing, without facing a battle, so to hasten this move they decided to attack us at the Santon on our left and at our centre before Puntowitz, so that, being defeated at these two points, and forced to retreat, we would find the road to Vienna cut by the Russian troops. But on our left Marshal Lannes not only repelled all the enemy attacks on the Santon, but drove them back across the Olmutz road as far as Blasiowitz, where the more level ground allowed Murat's cavalry to make several very effective charges, which compelled the Russians to retire hurriedly to the village of Austerlitz.
While our left was achieving this brilliant success, the centre, consisting of the troops of Marshals Soult and Bernadotte, who had been placed by the Emperor in the valley of the Goldbach where they were hidden by a thick mist, advanced towards the slope on which stood the village of Pratzen. It was at this moment that the bright "Sunshine of Austerlitz" appeared, the memory of which Napoleon was pleased so frequently to recall. Marshal Soult took not only the village of Pratzen but also the great plateau of that name, which is the high point of the surrounding country, and, in consequence, the key to the battlefield. Here took place, before the eyes of the Emperor, a very sharp engagement in which the Russians were defeated; but a battalion of the 4th Line regiment, commanded by Prince Joseph, Napoleon's brother, went too far in pursuit of the enemy and was charged and over-run by the horse-guards and Cuirassiers of the Grand-duke Constantin, the brother of Alexander, who captured their Eagle. A force of Russian cavalry advanced rapidly to support the momentary success of the horse-guards; but Napoleon sent against them the Mamelukes, the light cavalry and the mounted Grenadiers of his guard, led by Marshal Bessires and General Rapp, and a most sanguinary mele ensued. The Russian squadrons were overcome and driven back beyond the village of Austerlitz with great losses. Our cavalry captured many standards and prisoners, among whom was Prince Repnin, the commander of the horse-guards. This regiment, made up of the most glittering youth of the Russian nobility, suffered many casualties. The boastful threats which they had made concerning the French were known to our men, who in reply said that they would give the ladies of St. Petersburg something to cry about.
The painter Grard, in his picture of the Battle of Austerlitz, has taken as his subject the moment when General Rapp, leaving the battle, wounded and covered in his own and the enemies' blood, is presenting to the Emperor the flags which have been captured as well as Prince Repnin, his prisoner. I was present at this memorable scene, which the painter has reproduced with remarkable exactness. All the heads are portraits, even that of the brave trooper, who without complaining, though shot through the body, fell dead at the feet of the Emperor as he presented the standard which he had just captured. Napoleon, to honour the memory of this brave Chasseur, ordered the painter to include him in his composition. One can see also in this picture a Mameluke, who carries in one hand an enemy flag, and with the other holds the bridle of his wounded horse. This man, named Mustapha, known in the guards for his courage and ferocity, had set off, during the charge, in pursuit of the Grand-duke Constantin, who was only able to get rid of him by firing a pistol shot which mortally wounded his horse. Mustapha, grieved at having only a standard to offer the Emperor, said in his broken French, when he presented it, "Ah! If me catch Prince Constantin, me cut off head and bring to Emperor!" Napoleon replied indignantly, "You be quiet! You wicked savage!"
Let us now finish the story of the battle. While Marshals Lannes, Soult and Murat attacked the centre and right of the Austro-Russians and drove them back beyond the village of Austerlitz, the enemy left, having fallen into the trap which the Emperor had prepared for them, attacked the village of Telnitz and took possession of it, then, crossing the Goldbach, they prepared to occupy the road to Vienna; but they had greatly underestimated the skill of Napoleon in thinking that he would neglect to defend his route of retreat in case of misfortune. Marshal Davout's divisions were concealed in Gross-Regairn and from that point he fell on the Russians as soon as he saw that their massed troops were held up in the defiles between the meres of Telnitz, Menitz and the rivulet.
The Emperor, whom we left on the plateau of Pratzen, free of the right and centre of the enemy, who were retreating in disorder beyond Austerlitz, came down from the heights of Pratzen and hurried with Marshal Soult's corps and all his guard, infantry, cavalry and artillery, towards Telnitz; where he attacked in the rear the enemy columns which Marshal Davout was attacking in front. From this moment, the cumbersome masses of the Austro-Russians, crammed together on the narrow pathways which ran alongside the Goldbach, finding themselves between two fires, fell into indescribable confusion. The ranks broke down and each man sought his own safety in flight. Some rushed into the marshes around the meres, but our infantry followed them; others tried to escape down the road which runs between the two meres, but our cavalry charged them with fearful slaughter; the largest body of men, principally Russians, tried to get across the frozen meres, and already a great number were on the ice of Lake Satschan when Napoleon ordered his gunners to fire on them. The ice broke in many places with a loud cracking sound and we saw a host of Russians with their horses wagons and guns slide slowly into the depths. The surface of the lake was covered with men and horses struggling amid the ice and water. A few were saved, helped by poles and ropes which our men held out to them from the bank, but many were drowned.
The number of combatants at the Emperor's disposal in this battle was sixty-eight thousand men. The Austro-Russians had ninety-two thousand. Our losses in killed and wounded were about eight thousand, the enemy stated that their losses in killed wounded and drowned amounted to fourteen thousand. We took eighteen thousand prisoners and captured one hundred and fifty cannons, as well as a great number of flags, standards, etc.
After giving orders to pursue the enemy in all directions, the Emperor went to his new headquarters in the post-house at Posoritz, on the Olmutz road. He was highly delighted as you may imagine, although he several times expressed regret that the only Eagle we had lost was that of the fourth line regiment, of which his brother, Prince Joseph, was colonel. The fact that this had been captured by the regiment of the Grand-duke Constantin, the Emperor of Russia's brother, made the loss even more annoying.
Napoleon soon had a great consolation; Prince Jean of Lichtenstein came, on behalf of the Emperor of Austria, to request a meeting, and Napoleon, realising that this would lead to peace and remove the fear of having the Prussians attack the French rear before he had rid himself of his present enemies, readily agreed to the proposal.
Of all the units of the Imperial Guard, the regiment of Mounted Chasseurs was the one which suffered the most casualties in the great charge made on the Pratzen plateau against the Russian Guard. My poor friend Fournier was killed, as was General Morland. It is said that Napoleon intended to have the body of General Morland interred in a mausoleum which he meant to have built in the centre of the Esplanade des Invalides, and that it was preserved in a cask of rum for that reason. But the mausoleum was never built, and it is alleged that the general's body was still in a room in the school of medicine when Napoleon lost his Empire in 1814.
I was not wounded at Austerlitz, although I was often exposed to danger, notably during the mele with the Russian cavalry on the Pratzen plateau. The Emperor had sent me to take some orders to General Rapp, whom I found it very difficult to reach amid the appalling confusion of the embattled soldiery. My horse was crushed up against that of a Russian horse-guard and our sabres were about to clash when we were separated by other combatants; I came away with a large bruise. However, the next day I ran into a more serious danger, one that one does not expect to meet on the field of battle.
On the morning of the 3rd of December, the day after the battle, the Emperor mounted his horse and went round all the places where action had taken place on the previous day. Having arrived at the mere of Satschan, Napoleon dismounted and was chatting round a fire with a number of marshals, when we saw, some hundred paces from the bank, a large slab of ice on which lay a poor Russian sergeant, who was unable to help himself because of a bullet wound in his thigh. Seeing the large group on the bank, the soldier raised his voice and pleaded for help, saying that when the fighting was over we were all brother soldiers. When his interpreter translated this, Napoleon was touched and ordered General Bertrand to do what he could to rescue the wretched Russian.
Several men of the escort, and even two staff officers, attempted to reach the Russian using two tree trunks which they pushed into the water, but they ended up by falling in with all their clothes on, and having difficulty in getting out. It then occurred to me to say that they should have entered the water naked, so that their movements would not be hampered, and they would not have to wear wet clothing. This observation was repeated to the Emperor, who said that I was right, and that the others had shown zeal without forethought. I have no wish to make myself out to be better than I am; I can assure you that, having just taken part in a battle where I had seen thousands of dead and dying, my emotions were blunted, I did not feel sufficiently philanthropic to risk pneumonia by struggling amongst the ice floes to save the life of an enemy soldier, however much I deplored his unhappy lot; but the Emperor's remark stung me into action, it seemed to me ridiculous that I should offer advice which I was not prepared to put into action. I jumped off my horse, stripped off my clothes and leapt into the lake.
I had been very active during the day, and was warm; the water felt bitterly cold, but I was young and vigourous, a very good swimmer, and encouraged by the presence of the Emperor, I was making towards the Russian, when my example and probably the praise I received from the Emperor, persuaded a lieutenant of artillery named Roumestain to come after me.
While he was undressing, I pushed on, but I had more difficulty than I had foreseen in forcing my way through the thin layer of new ice which was forming on the water, the sharp edges of which inflicted many scrapes and scratches. The officer who followed me was able to make use of the sort of path which I had made, and when he reached me, he volunteered to take the lead, to give me some relief. We eventually reached the large block of ice on which the Russian lay, but it was only with the greatest difficulty that we managed to push it near enough to the shore for the man to be rescued. We were both so cold and exhausted that we had to be lifted out of the water, and we were hardly able to stand. My good comrade Massy, who had watched me with much anxiety during this swim, had had the forethought to warm his horse's blanket before the fire, which he wrapped round me as soon as I was out of the water. After I had dried myself and dressed, I wanted to lie beside the fire, but Doctor Larrey was against this and told me to walk around, something I was unable to do without the aid of two troopers. The Emperor came to congratulate the two of us on the courage with which we had undertaken the rescue of the wounded Russian, and calling for his Mameluke, Roustan, whose horse was always loaded with provisions, he poured out for us a tot of rum each, and asked us, laughing, how we had enjoyed the bath.
As for the Russian sergeant, after his wound had been dressed by Doctor Larrey, Napoleon gave him several gold coins. He was wrapped in warm coverings and put in one of the houses of Telnitz which was acting as a dressing station; the next day he was taken to the hospital at Brunn. The poor lad blessed the Emperor as well as Roumestain and me, and wanted to kiss our hands. He was a Lithuanian, that is to say, born in a former province of Poland, which is now part of Russia. As soon as he had recovered, he announced that he wished now to serve no one but Napoleon. He was sent back to France with our own wounded and subsequently joined the Polish legion. In the end he became a sergeant in the lancers of the guard, and each time I met him, he gave me a warm greeting.
The ice-cold bath which I had taken and the almost superhuman efforts I had made to rescue the Russian could have cost me dear had I been less young and strongly built; for Lieutenant Roumestain, who did not possess the latter of these two advantages to the same extent, was taken that same evening with a severe chest infection. He had to be taken to the hospital at Brunn, where he spent several months between life and death. He never recovered completely, and his poor health forced him to resign from the service some years later.
As for me, although I felt very weak, I mounted my horse when the Emperor left to go to the chteau of Austerlitz, where his headquarters had been set up. Napoleon never went anywhere except at the gallop; in my bruised state this pace was hardly suitable, however I followed on, since night was approaching, and I feared to be left behind, and anyway, if I had ridden at a walk, I would have been overcome by the cold.
When I arrived at the courtyard of the chteau of Austerlitz, I had to be helped off my horse. A violent shivering took me, my teeth chattered and I felt very ill. Colonel Dahlmann, a major in the Mounted Chasseurs, who had just been promoted to replace Colonel Morland, remembering, no doubt, the service I had rendered to the latter, took, me into one of the chteau's barns, where he had established himself with his officers. There, after giving me some hot tea, his medical officer massaged me with warm oil, I was wrapped in several blankets and put into an enormous pile of hay with only my face exposed. A gentle warmth crept slowly back into my benumbed limbs; I slept very soundly and thanks to these ministrations and my twenty-three years, I awoke the next day fully recovered and able to mount my horse and to observe a spectacle of great interest.
The defeat suffered by the Russians had thrown their army into such confusion that all those who had escaped from the disaster of Austerlitz, hastened to Galicia to get out of reach of the victor. The rout was complete: the French took a great number of prisoners, and found the roads covered with cannons and abandoned baggage. The Emperor of Russia, who had believed he was marching to certain victory, withdrew, stricken with grief, and authorised his ally, Francis II to treat with Napoleon. In the evening following the battle, the Austrian Emperor, in order to save his country from total ruin, had sent a request for an interview to the French Emperor, and when Napoleon had agreed to this, he went to the village of Nasiedlowitz. The meeting took place on the 4th of December, near the Poleny mill, between the lines of the French and the Austrian outposts. I was at this memorable conference.
Napoleon left the chteau of Austerlitz early in the morning, accompanied by his large staff. He arrived first at the rendezvous, dismounted and strolled around until he saw the Emperor of Austria arrive. He went over to him and embraced him warmly.... A spectacle which might well inspire some philosophical reflection! A German Emperor coming to humble himself and solicit peace from a little Corsican gentleman, recently a second lieutenant of artillery, whose talents, good fortune and the courage of the French armies had raised to the pinnacle of power and made arbiter of the destiny of Europe.
Napoleon did not abuse the position in which the Austrian Emperor found himself; he was attentive and extremely polite, as far as could be judged from the distance which was respectfully maintained by the two general staffs. An armistice was arranged between the two sovereigns which stipulated that both parties should send plenipotentiaries to Brunn in order to negotiate a peace treaty between France and Austria. The two Emperors embraced once more on parting; the Germans returned to Nasiedlowitz, and Napoleon returned to spend the night at Austerlitz. He spent two days there, during which time he gave Major Massy and me our final audience, and charged us to tell Marshal Augereau all that we had seen; he gave us at the same time some despatches for the court of Bavaria, which had returned to Munich, and informed us that Marshal Augereau had left Bregenz and that we would find him at Ulm. We went back to Vienna and continued our journey, travelling day and night in spite of the heavy falls of snow.
I shall not go into any details of the political changes which resulted from the Battle of Austerlitz and the Peace of Presburg. The Emperor went to Vienna and from there to Munich, where he had to assist at the marriage of his step-son, Eugne de Beauharnais to the daughter of the King of Bavaria. It seems that the despatches which we carried to this court were concerning this marriage; for we could not have had a better reception. However, we stayed only a few hours in Munich and went on to Ulm, where we found Marshal Augereau and 7th Corps, and where we stayed for a fortnight.
In order to move 7th Corps gradually nearer to the electorate of Hesse, a close ally of Prussia, Napoleon ordered it to move to Heidelburg, where we arrived about the end of December and saw the beginning of the year 1806. After a short stay in this town, 7th Corps went to Darmstadt, the capital of the landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, a prince much attached to the King of Prussia by family ties as well as politics. Although this prince had, on accepting Hanover, concluded a treaty of alliance with Napoleon, he had done so with reluctance, and was suspicious of the approach of the French army.
Marshal Augereau, before taking his troops into the country of Darmstadt, considered it his duty to inform the landgrave, by letter, of his intentions, and he chose me to effect its delivery. The journey was one of only fifteen leagues; I made it in a night; but on my arrival at Darmstadt I found that the landgrave, to whom it had been suggested that the French intended to make him a prisoner, had left his residence and retired to another part of his state from where he could easily take refuge in Prussia. This created a difficulty for me, however, having heard that his wife was still in the palace, I asked to be presented to her.
The princess, whose person greatly resembled the portraits of the Empress Catherine of Russia, had, like her, a masculine character, great capability, and all the qualities necessary to control a vast empire. She also governed her husband as she did her states; she was a masterful woman, and when she saw the letter in my hands, addressed to the landgrave, she took it without further ado, as if it had been addressed her. She then told me quite frankly, that it had been on her advice that her husband had left on the approach of the French, but that she would arrange for him to come back if the marshal would give her an assurance that he did not have any orders to make an attempt on the liberty of the prince. I understood that the arrest and death of the Duc d'Enghien had frightened all those princes who thought that Napoleon might have some reason to complain about their alliances. I protested, as much as I could, the innocence of the French government's intentions, and offered to go back to Heidelburg and ask Marshal Augereau for the assurances which she required, an offer which she accepted.
I left, and returned the next day with a letter from the marshal, couched in such conciliatory terms that the landgravine, after saying that she relied on the honour of a French marshal, went immediately to Giessen, where the landgrave was, and brought him back to Darmstadt, where they both received Marshal Augereau most graciously, when he came to set up his headquarters in the town. The marshal was so grateful for the confidence which they had placed in him that several months later, when the Emperor gathered up all the little European states and reduced their number to thirty-two, out of which he formed the confederation of the Rhine, he not only contrived to preserve the landgravate but gained for the landgrave the title of Grand-Duke and an enlargement of his state which increased the population from scarcely five hundred thousand to over one million. Some months later, the new Grand-Duke allied his army to ours to combat the Russians, and requested that they should serve in Marshal Augereau's corps. The prince owed not only his preservation but his elevation to his wife's courage.
Although I was still very young, I thought that Napoleon had made a mistake in reducing the number of the little German principalities.
The fact is that in previous wars against France, the eight hundred princes of the Germanic region had been unable to act in unison; there were some who provided no more than a company, others only a platoon, and some just one soldier; so that a combination of all these different contingents made up an army wholly lacking cohesion, which broke up at the first reverse. But when Napoleon had reduced the number of the principalities to thirty-two, centralisation began to appear in the German forces. Those rulers who remained, with states increased in size, formed a small well-organised army. This result was what the Emperor had intended, in the expectation of using for his own ends all the military resources of the country; something which he was in fact able to do as long as we were successful. But on the first setback, the thirty-two sovereigns, by agreement among themselves, united in opposition to France, and their coalition with the Russians overthrew the Emperor Napoleon, who was thus punished for not following the ancient policies of the kings of France.
We spent part of the winter at Darmstadt, where there were ftes, balls and galas. The grand-duke's troops were commanded by a competent general named De Stoch. He had a son of my age, a charming young man with whom I struck up a close friendship, and to whom I shall refer again.
We were only some ten leagues from Frankfurt-on-main. This town, still free, and immensely rich as a result of its commerce, had been for a long time a hot-bed of all the plots contrived against France, and the place of origin of all the false stories about us which circulated in Germany. So that, the day after Austerlitz, and while the news was spreading that there had been an engagement, the result of which was not yet known, the inhabitants of Frankfurt were sure that the Russians had won, and several papers indulged their hatred to the point of saying that the disaster which had overtaken our army was so great that not a single Frenchman had survived!... The Emperor, to whom all this was reported, appeared to take no notice until, seeing the likelihood of a break with Prussia, he gradually moved his armies to the frontiers of that kingdom. Then, to punish the impertinence of the Frankfurters, he ordered Marshal Augereau to leave Darmstadt without warning, and to establish himself with his army corps in Frankfurt and its surroundings.
The Emperor decreed that the city, on the entry of our troops, should give, as a welcome, a louis d'or to each soldier, two to the corporals, three to the sergeants, ten to second lieutenants and so on! The inhabitants were also to lodge and feed the soldiers and pay messing expenses of six hundred francs daily for the marshal, four hundred for a divisional general, three hundred for a brigadier-general and two hundred for the colonels. The senate was instructed to pay every month, one million francs into the treasury in Paris. The authorities of Frankfurt, appalled by these exorbitant demands, hurried to the French envoy; but he replied "You claimed that not a single Frenchman escaped from the arms of the Russians; the Emperor Napoleon wishes to put you in a position to count the number making up a single corps of his army. There are six more of the same size, and the guard to follow." This reply plunged the inhabitants into consternation, for however great their wealth, they would be ruined if this state of affairs continued for any length of time. But Marshal Augereau made an appeal for clemency on behalf of the citizens, and he was told he could act as he thought best; so he took it on himself to station in the town only his general staff and one battalion. The remaining troops were spread around other neighbouring principalities. The Frankfurters were greatly relieved by this, and to show their gratitude to Marshal Augereau they treated him to a great number of ftes. I was billeted with a rich merchant named M. Chamot. I spent nearly eight months there, during which time he and his family looked after me very well.
While we were in Frankfurt, a very distressing event affecting an officer of 7th Corps, landed me with a double mission, the first part of which was very unpleasant and the second most agreeable, indeed brilliantly so.
As a result of a brain fever, Lieutenant N... of the 7th Chasseurs became completely childish. Marshal Augereau detailed me to take him to Paris, first to Marshal Murat, who had an interest in the matter, and then, if I was asked to do so, to the Quercy. As I had not seen my mother since leaving for the campaign of Austerlitz, and I knew that she was not far from St. Cr, in the Chteau de Bras, which my father had bought shortly before his death, I welcomed with pleasure a mission which would allow me not only to be of service to Marshal Murat but also to go and spend several days with my mother. Marshal Augereau lent me a fine carriage and I set off on the road to Paris. But the heat and insomnia so excited my poor companion that he went from a state of idiocy to one of mania and nearly killed me with a blow from a coach spanner. I have never made a more disagreeable journey. I arrived at last in Paris, and I took Lieutenant N... to Murat, who was staying for the summer at the Chateau de Neuilly. The marshal asked me to take the lieutenant to Quercy. I agreed to do so, in the hope of being able to see my mother again, but I pointed out that I could not leave for twenty-four hours, because Marshal Augereau had given me some despatches for the Emperor, whom I was going to meet at Rambouillet, to where I reported officially the same day.
I do not know what was in the despatches which I was carrying, but they made the Emperor very thoughtful. He sent for M. de Tallyrand and left with him for Paris to where he ordered me to follow him and present myself to Marshal Duroc that evening.
I waited for a long time in one of the salons of the Tuileries, until Marshal Duroc, coming out of the Emperor's study, the door of which was left half open, called for an orderly officer to get ready set off on a long mission. But Napoleon called out, "Duroc, that will not be necessary; we have Marbot here, who is going to rejoin Augereau; he can push on to Berlin. Frankfurt is half way there." So Marshal Duroc told me to prepare to go to Berlin with the Emperor's despatches. This was disappointing as it meant that I had to give up all hope of seeing my mother; but I had to resign myself. I hurried to Neuilly to tell Murat what had happened and as I believed that my new mission was very urgent, I returned to the Tuileries; but Marshal Duroc dismissed me until the next day. I was there at dawn: I was dismissed until evening; then the evening of the next day, and so on for more than a week. However, I remained patient, because each time I presented myself, Marshal Duroc kept me for only a minute, which allowed me time to get around Paris. I had been given quite a large sum of money for the purpose of buying myself new uniform, so as to appear well turned out before the king of Prussia, into whose hands I was personally to deliver a letter from the Emperor. You will understand that Napoleon neglected no detail when it came to enhancing the standing of the French army in the eyes of foreigners.
I left at last, after taking the despatches from the Emperor, who advised me that I should make sure that I carefully examined the Prussian troops, their bearing, their arms, their horses, etc. M. de Tallyrand gave me a packet for M. Laforest, the French ambassador in Berlin, to whose embassy I was to go. On my arrival at Maintz, which at that time was still part of French territory, I was told that Marshal Augereau was at Wiesbaden. I reported to him there and greatly surprised him by telling him that I was going to Berlin on the Emperor's orders. He congratulated me and told me to continue my journey. I travelled night and day, in superb July weather, and arrived in Berlin somewhat weary. At this period the Prussian roads were not yet metalled, one went almost always at walking pace over loose soil into which the coaches sank deeply, raising clouds of unbearable dust.
I was given a warm welcome by M. Laforest, at whose embassy I stayed. I was presented to the king and queen, and also to the princes and princesses. When the king received the letter from Napoleon, he seemed much affected. He was a fine figure of a man, with a benevolent expression, but lacking that animation which suggests a decisive character. The queen was really very pretty; she had only one blemish, she always wore a large scarf, in order, it was said, to conceal an ulcerated swelling on her neck. For the rest, she was graceful and her expression, calm and spiritual, was evidence of a firm personality.
I was very well received, and since the reply which I was to take back to the Emperor seemed so difficult to draft that it took more than a month, the queen was pleased to invite me to the balls and ftes which she gave during my stay.
Of all the members of the royal family, the one who treated me in the most friendly manner, or so it seemed, was Prince Louis, the king's nephew.
I had been warned that he hated the French, and in particular, their Emperor, but as he was passionately interested in military matters, he questioned me endlessly about the siege of Genoa, the battles of Marengo and Austerlitz and also about the organisation of our army. Prince Louis was a most handsome man, and in respect of spirit, ability and character, the only one of the royal family who bore any resemblance to Frederick the Great. I made the acquaintance of several members of the court, mainly with the officers whom I followed daily to parades and manoeuvres. I spent my time in Berlin very pleasantly. The ambassador showed me much attention; but in the end I discovered that he wanted me to play, in a delicate affair, a role for which I was unsuited, so I became very reserved.
Now, let us examine the position of Prussia vis—vis France. The despatches which I had brought concerned this matter, as I later found out.
In accepting from Napoleon the gift of the electorate of Hanover, the patrimony of the English royal family, the cabinet in Berlin had alienated not only the anti-French party but almost all of the Prussian nation. Germanic pride was wounded by the victories won by the French over the Austrians, and Prussia feared that its commerce would be ruined by the war which had just been declared against it by the cabinet in London. The queen and Prince Louis made use of these turbulent emotions to persuade the king to make war on France by allying himself with Russia who, though abandoned by Austria, still hoped to take revenge for its defeat at Austerlitz. The Emperor of Russia was further encouraged in his plans by a Pole, his favourite aide-de-camp, Prince Czartoryski.
The anti-French party, which was growing daily, was not yet able to persuade the king to break with Napoleon; but aware that it was supported by Russia, this party redoubled its efforts, and profited adroitly from the mistakes made by Napoleon in placing his brother Louis on the throne of Holland, and nominating himself as protector of the confederacy of the Rhine: acts which were represented to the Prussian king as being steps on the path to the re-establishment of the empire of Charlemagne. Napoleon, it was said, wanted finally to reduce all the sovereigns of Germany to the status of vassals.
These assertions, though greatly exaggerated, had had a considerable influence on the king's thinking. His conduct toward France became from this time, more and more equivocal, and it was this that decided Napoleon to write to him personally, without going through the usual diplomatic channels, to ask "Are you for me or against me?" This was the tenor of the letter which I had given the king. His councillors who wished to gain time for the completion of their re-armament, delayed the reply, which was the reason for my long stay in Berlin.
At last, in August, there was a general explosion of ill-feeling towards France, and one saw the queen, Prince Louis, the nobility, the army and the general populace, noisily demanding war. The king allowed himself to become involved but, although determined to end the peace he still hoped to avoid hostilities, and it seems that in his reply to the Emperor he undertook to disarm if the latter would take back to France all the troops he had in Germany, which Napoleon was unwilling to do until Prussia had disarmed. So we were in a vicious circle which could be broken only by a war.
Before I left Berlin, I witnessed the frenzy to which hatred of Napoleon raised this normally placid people. The officers whom I knew no longer dared to speak to me or even to greet me. Several French people were insulted by the populace, and finally soldiers of the Royal Guard came boastfully to sharpen their sabres on the stone steps of the French embassy. I left hurriedly for Paris, taking with me much information on what was going on in Prussia. Passing through Frankfurt, I found Marshal Augereau very sad at having heard of the death of his wife, a good, excellent woman whose loss he felt deeply, and who was mourned by all the general staff, for she had been very kind to us.
On my arrival in Paris, I delivered to the Emperor the hand-written reply from the King of Prussia. After reading it, he questioned me on what I had seen in Berlin. When I told him that the soldiers of the guard had come to sharpen their sabres on the steps of the French embassy, he clapped his hand firmly on the hilt of his sword, exclaiming indignantly, "The insolent braggarts will soon learn that our arms are in good order!"
My mission now being over, I returned to Marshal Augereau, and spent all of September in Frankfurt where, while preparing ourselves for war, we entertained ourselves as best we could, for we thought that as nothing could be more uncertain than the life of a soldier, one should enjoy it as much as is possible.
While the different corps of the French army were approaching the banks of the Main, the Emperor arrived at Wurtzburg and crossed the Rhine with his Guard. The Prussians, for their part, were on the march, and going through Saxony, they compelled the elector to join forces with them. This enforced, and therefore unstable, alliance was the only one which the King of Prussia had in Germany. He was, it is true, expecting the arrival of the Russians, but their army was still in Poland behind the Niemen, more than one hundred and fifty leagues from the country where the destiny of Prussia was to be decided.
It is hard to believe the incompetence displayed, for seven years, by our enemies' governments. We saw, in 1805, the Austrians attack us on the Danube, and be defeated in isolation at Ulm, instead of waiting for Russia to join them and for Prussia to declare war on Napoleon. Now, in 1806, those same Prussians who, a year before, could have prevented the defeat of the Austro-Russians by joining them, not only declared war on us when we were at peace with Vienna, but repeated the mistake of attacking us without waiting for the Russians! Finally, in 1809, the Austrians renewed the war against Napoleon on their own, at a time when we were at peace with both Prussia and Russia! This lack of co-operation ensured a French victory. Sadly it was not so in 1813, when we were crushed by a coalition of our enemies.
In 1806 the King of Prussia was even more mistaken in taking to the field against Napoleon in the absence of the Russians, in that his troops, although well trained, were in no condition to be pitted against ours, because their composition and organisation were so bad.
In effect, at this time, Prussian captains were the owners of their company or squadron: men, horses, arms and clothing all belonged to them and the whole unit was hired out to the government for a fixed fee. Obviously, since all losses fell to their account, the captains had a great interest in sparing their companies, not only on the march but on the field of battle. As the number of men they were obliged to have was fixed and there was no conscription, they enrolled for money, first any Prussians who came forward, and then all the vagabonds of Europe, whom their recruiters enlisted in neighbouring states. But this was not enough, and the Prussian recruiters pressed many men into service, who having become soldiers against their will, were compelled to serve until they were too old to bear arms; then they were given a permit to beg, for Prussia could not afford to provide a home for old soldiers or a retirement pension. For the duration of their service these men had to be mixed with true Prussians, who had to constitute at least half of each company to prevent mutiny.
To maintain an army composed of such heterogeneous parts required an iron discipline; so the least fault was punished by beating. A large number of N.C.O.s, all of them Prussian, carried canes which they made use of frequently, and according to the current expression there was a cane for every seven men. The penalty for desertion by a foreign soldier was inevitably death. You can imagine the frightful position of these foreigners, who having enlisted in a moment of drunkenness, or been taken by force, found themselves far from their native land, under a glacial sky, condemned to be Prussian soldiers, that is slaves, for the rest of their lives! And what a life it was! Given scarcely enough to eat. Sleeping on straw. Thinly clad. Without greatcoats, even in the coldest winter, and paid a sum insufficient for their needs; they did not wait to beg until they had been given a permit on their discharge, for when they were not under the eyes of their superiors, they held out their hands, and there were several occasions both at Potsdam and Berlin when Grenadiers, even those at the palace gate, begged me for alms!
The Prussian-born officers were, in general, educated men, who performed their duties very well; but half of the officers, born outside the kingdom, were poor gentlemen from almost every country in Europe who had joined the army only to have a living, and lacking patriotism, were in no way devoted to Prussia, which the majority abandoned when there was any adversity. Finally, as promotion was only by length of service, the great majority of senior Prussian officers were old and infirm, and in no state to support the fatigues of war. It was an army thus composed and commanded which was to confront the victors of Italy, Egypt, Germany and Austerlitz. This was folly. But the cabinet in Berlin, recalling the victories which Frederick the Great had won with mercenary troops, hoped things would be the same. They forgot that times had changed.
On the 6th of October Marshal Augereau and 7th Corps left Frankfurt to head, with the rest of the Grande Arme, for the frontiers of Saxony, already occupied by the Prussians. The autumn was superb; it froze a little during the night, but by day there was brilliant sunshine. My little troupe was well organised; I had a good batman, Francois Woirland, a former soldier in the black legion, a real rascal and a great scrounger, but these are the best servants on a campaign, for with one of them one lacks for nothing. I had three excellent horses, good weapons, a little money and good health; so I stepped out gaily to face whatever the future might bring.
We went first to Aschaffenburg and from there to Wurtzburg, where we caught up with the Emperor, who ordered a march-past by the troops of 7th Corps, who were in good heart. Napoleon who kept a dossier about all the regiments, and who skillfully used to employ extracts from it to flatter the self-esteem of each unit, said when he saw the 44th line regiment, "Of all the units of the army you are the one with the most long service chevrons, so your three battalions I count as six!"...an announcement which was greeted by cheers. To the 7th, composed mostly of men from the lower Languedoc and the Pyrenees, the Emperor said, "There are the best marchers in the army, one never sees anyone fall behind, particularly when there is a battle to be fought." Then he added, laughingly, "But, to do you justice, I must say that you are the most brawling, thieving unit in the army!" "It's true! It's true!" replied the soldiers, each of whom had a duck, a chicken or a goose in his knapsack, an abuse which had to be tolerated, because, as I have told you, Napoleon's armies, once in the field, rarely received any rations, and had to live off the country as well as they could. This system had without doubt many defects, but it had one huge benefit, that of allowing us to move forward without being held up by convoys and supply lines, which gave us a great advantage over an enemy whose movements were subordinated to the cook-house, or the arrival of bread, and to the progress of herds of cattle, etc...etc.
From Wurtzburg, 7th Corps went to Coburg, where the marshal was lodged in the prince's palace. All his family had fled on our approach, except the celebrated Austrian Field-marshal, the Prince of Coburg. This old warrior, although he had fought for many years against the French, had enough confidence in the French character to await their coming, a confidence which was not misplaced, for Marshal Augereau sent him a guard of honour, returned promptly a visit he had received, and ordered that he was to be treated with the utmost respect.
We were not very far from the Prussians, whose king was at Erfurt. The queen was with him and rode up and down the ranks of the army on horseback, endeavouring to excite their ardour by her presence. Napoleon did not think that this was behaviour befitting a princess, and his bulletins made some wounding comments on the subject. The French and Prussian advance-guards met eventually, at Schleitz: where there took place, in view of the Emperor, a minor action in which the enemy were defeated; it was for them an ill-omened beginning.
That same day, Prince Louis, with a body of ten thousand men, found himself stationed in Saalfeld. This town is on the bank of the River Saale, in the middle of a plain which we could reach only by crossing some steep mountains. While Marshals Lannes' and Augereau's corps were moving toward Saalfeld through these mountains, Prince Louis, who had decided to await the French, should have occupied positions in this difficult country, full of narrow passes, where a few men could hold up a much greater number, but he failed to do this, probably because he was convinced that the Prussian soldiers were infinitely better than the French. He carried this scorn for all precautions so far as to place part of his force in front of a marshy stream, which would make their retreat very difficult in the event of a reverse. Old General Muller, a Swiss in the service of Prussia, whom the king had attached to his nephew as a steadying influence, made some observations which the prince took very badly, adding that there was no need to take precautions to beat the French, all that was needed was to fall on them the moment they appeared.
They appeared in the morning on the 10th; Marshal Lannes' corps leading and Marshal Augereau's behind him. This last did not arrive in time to take part in the action where, as it happened, their presence was not needed, for Marshal Lannes' troops were more than sufficient.
While waiting for his corps to emerge onto the plain, Marshal Augereau, accompanied by his staff, went up onto a little hill which overlooked the open country, from where we could follow all stages of the action.
Prince Louis could still have retreated to join the Prussian corps which occupied Jena; but having been the leading instigator of the war he perhaps felt he should not do so without a fight. He was most cruelly punished for his temerity. Marshal Lannes, making use of the heights, at the foot of which Prince Louis had imprudently deployed his troops, first raked them with grape-shot from his artillery, and when this had demoralised them, he advanced several masses of infantry, which descending rapidly from the high ground, swept like a torrent onto the Prussian battalions and instantly overwhelmed them! Prince Louis, aghast, and probably aware of his mistake, hoped to repair it by putting himself at the head of his cavalry and impetuously attacking the 9th and 10th Hussars. He had at first some success, but our Hussars having made a new and furious charge, drove the Prussians back into the marshes, while their infantry fled in disorder.
In the middle of the mele, Prince Louis found himself engaged with a sous-officier of the 10th Hussars named Guindet, who summoned him to surrender; the prince replied with a slash of his sword which cut the sous-officier's face, who thereupon ran the prince through and killed him.
After the fight and the complete rout of the enemy, the prince's body having been recognised, Marshal Lannes had it carried with honour to the chteau of Saalfeld, where it was handed to the princely family of that name, who were allied to the royal house of Prussia, and in whose residence the prince had spent the previous day and evening, looking forward to the coming of the French, and even, it is said, giving a ball for the local ladies. Now he was returned to them, vanquished and dead!... The next morning I saw the prince's body, laid out on a marble table, all traces of blood had been cleaned away, he was naked to the waist, still wearing his leather britches and his boots. He seemed to be asleep. He was a truly fine looking man, and I could not help indulging in some sad reflections on the uncertainty of human affairs, when I saw the remains of this young man, born on the steps of a throne, and, but lately, so loved, so courted and so powerful!
The news of the prince's death spread consternation in the enemy army, and also throughout Prussia, where he was highly popular.
7th Corps spent the day of the 11th at Saalfeld. On the 12th we went to Neustadt, and on the 13th to Kehla, where we encountered some remains of the Prussian troops defeated at Saalfeld. When Marshal Augereau attacked them, they put up little resistance and laid down their arms. Amongst those captured was the regiment of Prince Henry in which Augereau had once served as a soldier, and since, unless one was of high birth, it was very difficult to become a senior officer in the Prussian army, and as sergeants never became second lieutenants, his former company still had the same captain and the same sergeant-major. Placed by a quirk of fate in the presence of his one-time soldier, now a marshal, the Prussian captain, who remembered Augereau perfectly well, acted as a man of discretion and spoke always to the marshal as if he had never seen him before. Augereau invited him to dinner and seated him next to himself, then, learning that the officer's baggage had been seized, he lent him all the money he needed and gave him letters of introduction to take to France. What must have passed through the captain's mind! But nothing can describe the astonishment of the old Prussian sergeant-major at seeing his former soldier covered with decorations, surrounded by a numerous staff and in command of an army corps! All of which seemed like a dream! The marshal was more expansive toward this man than he had been toward the captain. Addressing the sergeant by name, he shook him by the hand, and arranged for him to be given twenty-five louis for himself and two for every soldier who had been in the ranks with him and was still there. We thought this behaviour was in the best of taste.
The marshal had expected to sleep at Kehla, which is only three leagues from Jena; but just as night was falling 7th Corps was ordered to go immediately to this last town which the Emperor had just entered, at the head of his guard and the troops of Marshal Lannes, without striking a blow.
The Prussians had abandoned Jena in silence, but some candles, forgotten in the stables, had probably started the fire, the spreading flames of which were consuming part of the unfortunate town when Marshal Augereau's corps entered it at about midnight. It was a sorry spectacle to see the inhabitants, women and old people, half naked, carrying their children and seeking to escape by flight from the scene of destruction, while our soldiers, kept in their ranks by discipline and the nearness of the enemy, remained unmoved, their arms at the ready, regarding the fire as a small matter in comparison to the dangers they would soon have to face.
The part of the town through which our troops arrived was not affected by the fire and so they could move around freely, and while they were gathering in the squares and main streets, the marshal set up his headquarters in a nice looking mansion. I was about to enter, on returning from delivering an order, when I heard loud shrieks coming from a nearby house, the door of which was open. I hurried there and guided by the cries I found my way to a well-appointed apartment where I saw two charming girls, of about eighteen to twenty years of age, dressed only in their chemises, struggling against the advances of four or five soldiers from Hesse-Darmstadt, belonging to the regiments which the landgrave had attached to the French troops of 7th Corps. Although these men, who were drunk, understood not a word of French, and I spoke little German, my appearance and my threats took them aback, and being used to beatings from their own officers, they made no retaliation to the kicks and cuffs which in my indignation I distributed freely in driving them downstairs. In this I was perhaps a little imprudent, for in the middle of the night, in a town in utter confusion there was a risk that they might turn on me and even kill me; but they ran away, and I put a platoon of the marshal's escort in one of the lower rooms.
I went up to the apartment where the two young girls had hurriedly dressed themselves, and was rewarded by their warmest expressions of gratitude. They were the daughters of a university professor, who had gone with his wife and the domestic staff to the aid of one of their sisters, who had recently given birth in that part of the town where the fire was raging, and they had been alone when the Hessian soldiers arrived. One of these young ladies said to me with great emotion, "You are going into battle at a time when you have just saved our honour. God will reward you, you may be sure that no harm will come to you." The father and the mother, who came back at this moment with the new mother and her child were at first much surprised to find me there; but when they learned the reason for my presence they too showered me with blessings. I tore myself away from the thanks of this grateful family to rejoin Marshal Augereau, who was reposing in the nearby mansion, awaiting the Emperor's orders.
The town of Jena is dominated by a height called the Landgrafenberg, at the foot of which runs the Saale River. The approaches to Jena are very precipitous, and at that time there was only one road, which ran to Wiemar via Muhlthal, a long and difficult pass, the outlet of which was covered by a small wood and guarded by Saxon troops, allies of the Prussians; a part of whose army was drawn up in line behind them at the distance of a cannon shot.
The Emperor, having only this one route by which he could reach his enemies, expected to suffer heavy losses in a frontal attack, for there seemed to be no way in which they could be outflanked. But Napoleon's lucky star once more came to his aid, in an unexpected way, which I do not believe has been related by any historian, although I can vouch for the truth of it happening.
We have seen that the King of Prussia compelled the elector of Saxony to join forces with him. The people of Saxony saw themselves, with regret, drawn into a war which could procure them no advantage in the future, and which for the present brought desolation to the countryside, which was the theatre for the hostilities. The Prussians were therefore detested in Saxony; and Jena, a Saxon town, shared in this detestation.
A priest who belonged to the town, angered at the fire which was consuming it, and regarding the Prussians as enemies of his king and fatherland, believed he could give Napoleon the means of clearing them out of the country, by showing him a little pathway by which a body of infantrymen might climb the steep slopes of the Landgrafenberg. He led there a platoon of light infantry and some officers of the general staff. The Prussians, who thought this pathway impracticable, had not bothered to guard it, but Napoleon thought differently. As a result of the report given him by his officers, he went up himself, guided by the Saxon cur, and accompanied by Marshal Lannes; he saw that, between the heights of the path and the plain occupied by the enemy, there was a small stony plateau, and he decided to concentrate there a body of troops who would sally from it, as if from a citadel, to attack the Prussians.
The undertaking would have been of unsurmountable difficulty for anyone but a Napoleon in command of French soldiers; but he ordered the tools used by the pioneers to be taken from the wagons of the engineers and the artillery and distributed to the infantry battalions, who worked in rotation for one hour each at widening and levelling the pathway, and when they had finished their task, each battalion formed up in silence on the Landgrafenberg, while another took its place. The work was carried on by the light of torches, whose flames were confused in the eyes of the enemy with the fires in Jena.
The nights are very long at this time of year, so that we were able to make the path accessible not only for foot-soldiers but also for the wagons of the artillery, with the result that, before daybreak, the corps of Marshals Lannes and Soult, the first division of Augereau's, as well as the foot guards, were massed on the Landgrafenberg. Never has the term massed been used with more exactitude, for the chest of each man was almost touching the back of the man in front of him; but the troops were so well disciplined that, in spite of the darkness and the crowding together of more than forty thousand men, there was not the least disorder; and although the enemy were occupying villages less than half a cannon shot away, they heard nothing.
On the morning of October 14th, a thick mist covered the countryside, which favoured our movements; Augereau's second division, making a diversionary attack, advanced from Jena via Muhlthal on the road to Weimar. As the enemy believed that this was the only way by which we could come from Jena, they had placed a considerable force there; but while they prepared to conduct a vigourous defence of this pass, Napoleon, bringing down from the Landgrafenberg the troops which he had accumulated there during the night, drew them up in battle order on the plain. A light breeze having dispersed the mist, which was followed by brilliant sunshine, the Prussians were stupefied to see the lines of the French army deployed opposite them and advancing to engage them in battle. They could not understand how we had got there when they thought we were down in the valley of Jena, with no other means of reaching them but the road to Wiemar, which they were guarding so thoroughly.
The battle began immediately and the first lines of the Prussians and Saxons, commanded by Prince Hohenlohe, were forced to retreat. They advanced their reserves, but we received a powerful reinforcement. Marshal Ney's corps and Murat's cavalry which had been held up in the pass, burst out into the plain and took part in the action. However a Prussian army corps commanded by General Ruchel stopped our columns for a time; but charged by French cavalry it was almost entirely wiped out and General Ruchel was killed.
Marshal Augereau's 1st division, coming down from the Landgrafenberg, joined with the 2nd, arriving from Muhlthal, and with the troops of Marshals Lannes and Soult, they proceeded down the road to Wiemar, capturing enemy positions as they went.
The Prussian infantry, whose poor composition I have already described, fought very badly, and the cavalry not much better. One saw them on several occasions advance, with loud shouts, towards our battalions; but, intimidated by their calm bearing, they never dared charge home; at a distance of fifty paces from our line they shamefully turned about, amid a hail of bullets and the jeers of our men.
The Saxons fought with courage; they resisted Marshal Augereau's corps for a long time, and it was not until after the retreat of the Prussian troops that, having formed themselves into two large squares, they began to withdraw while continuing to fire. Marshal Augereau admired the courage of the Saxons, and to prevent further loss of life, he had just sent an envoy to persuade them to surrender, since they had no longer any hope of relief, when Prince Murat arrived with his cavalry and mounted an attack with his Cuirassiers and dragoons, who charging impetuously the Saxon squares, overwhelmed them and forced them to lay down their arms. The next day, however, the Emperor set them at liberty and restored them to their sovereign, with whom he hastened to make peace.
All the Prussian troops who had fought before Jena, retreated in a complete rout along the road to Weimar, at whose gates the fugitives, their baggage and artillery had piled up, when suddenly the squadrons of the French cavalry appeared! At the sight of them, panic spread through the crowd of Prussians, who fled in utter disorder, leaving us with a great number of prisoners, flags, guns and baggage.
The town of Weimar, called by some the new Athens, was inhabited at this period by a great number of scholars, artists and distinguished authors, who had gathered there under the patronage of the ruling duke, an enlightened protector of the arts and sciences. The noise of guns, the passage of the fugitives and the entry of the victors caused a great stir in this peaceful and studious population; but Marshals Lannes and Soult maintained a firm discipline, and apart from having to provide food for the soldiers, the town suffered no outrage. The Prince of Weimar served in the Prussian army, nevertheless his palace, where the princess, his wife, was living, was respected and none of the marshals took up residence there.
Marshal Augereau's headquarters were established at the town gates, in the house of the prince's head gardener. All the inhabitants of the house having taken flight, the general staff found nothing to eat, and had to sup on some pineapples and plums from the hot-houses. This was a very light diet for people who, without food for twenty-four hours, had spent the preceding night on foot and all day fighting! But we were the victors, and that magical word enabled us to support all our privations.
The Emperor went back to sleep at Jena, where he learned of a success no less great than that which he had just achieved himself. The battle of Jena was a double battle, if one may use the expression, for neither the French nor the Prussian armies were united at Jena, they were each divided into two parts and fought two different battles: so that while the Emperor, at the head of the corps of Augereau, Lannes, Soult and Ney, his guard and the cavalry of Murat, was defeating the corps of Prince Hohenlohe and General Ruchel. The King of Prussia, at the head of his main army, commanded by the celebrated Prince of Brunswick, Marshals Mollendorf and Kalkreuth had left Weimar, and on their way to Naumburg had settled for the night at the village of Auerstadt, not far from the French corps of Davout and Bernadotte, who were in the villages around Naumburg. In order to rejoin the Emperor, who was at Apolda, in the plain beyond Jena, Davout and Bernadotte had to cross the Saale before Naumburg and traverse the narrow hilly pass of Kosen. Although Davout thought that the King of Prussia with the main body of his army was facing the Emperor, and not so close to him at Auerstadt, this vigilant warrior secured, during the night, the Kosen pass and its steep slopes which the King of Prussia and his marshals had neglected to occupy, thus making the same mistake as Prince Hohenlohe made at Jena in failing to guard the Landgrafenberg. The combined forces of Bernadotte and Davout did not amount to more than forty-four thousand men, while the King of Prussia had eighty thousand at Auerstadt.
From daybreak on the 14th, the two French marshals realised that they had to face much superior numbers; it was their duty then to act in unison. Davout, aware of this necessity, volunteered to put himself under the command of Bernadotte, but the latter jibbed at the idea of a shared victory, and unwilling to subordinate his personal interests to the welfare of his country, he decided to act on his own; and on the pretext that the Emperor had ordered him to be at Dornburg on the 13th, he decided to make his way there on the 14th, although Napoleon had written to him during the night to say that, if he was still in Naumburg, he should stay there and support Davout. Not finding the situation to his liking, Bernadotte left Davout to defend himself as best he could and, going down the Saale, he settled himself at Dornburg where, although he came across no enemies, he could see from the elevated position which he occupied, the desperate battle being fought by the gallant Davout some two leagues away. Meanwhile he ordered his men to set up their bivouacs and to start preparing a meal. His generals complained to him in vain at this culpable inaction; Bernadotte would not budge, so that Marshal Davout, with no more than twenty-five thousand men, comprising the divisions of Friant, Morland and Gudin, faced almost eighty thousand Prussians animated by the presence of their king.