The French, after emerging from the narrow pass of Kosen, formed up near the village of Hassenhausen; it was here that the real battle took place, because the Emperor was mistaken when he thought that he had before him at Jena the king and the bulk of the Prussian army. The action fought by Davout's men was one of the most terrible in our annals. His divisions, having successfully resisted all the attacks of the enemy infantry, formed into squares and repelled numerous cavalry charges, and not content with this, they advanced with such resolution that the Prussians fell back at every point leaving the ground strewn with dead and wounded. The Prince of Brunswick and General Schmettau were killed, Marshal Mollendorf was seriously wounded and taken prisoner.
The King of Prussia and his troops at first carried out their retreat towards Weimar in reasonably good order, hoping to rally there behind the forces of Prince Hohenlohe and General Ruchel, whom they supposed to have been victorious, while the latter, having been defeated by Napoleon, were for their part, on their way to seek support from the troops led by the king. Those two enormous masses of soldiers, beaten and demoralised, met on the road to Erfurt; it needed only the appearance of some French regiments to throw them into utter confusion. The rout was total, and was a just punishment for the bragging of the Prussian officers. The results of this victory were incalculable, and made us masters of almost all Prussia.
The Emperor showed his great satisfaction with Marshal Davout and with the divisions of Morand, Friant and Gudin by an order of the day, which was read out to all companies and even in the ambulances carrying the wounded. The following year Napoleon created Davout Duke of Auerstadt, although he had fought less there than in the village of Hassenhausen; but the King of Prussia had had his headquarters at Auerstadt, and the Prussians had given this name to the battle which the French called the battle of Jena.
The army expected to see Bernadotte severely punished, but he got away with a sharp reprimand; Napoleon was afraid of upsetting his brother Joseph, whose sister-in-law, Mlle. Clary, Bernadotte had just married. We shall see later how Bernadotte's behaviour during the battle of Auerstadt served, in a way, as a first step towards mounting the throne of Sweden.
I was not wounded at Jena, but I was tricked in a way that still rankles after forty years. At a time when Augereau's corps was attacking the Saxons, the marshal sent me to carry a message to General Durosnel, who commanded a brigade of Chasseurs, ordering him to charge the enemy cavalry. It was my job to guide the brigade along a route which I had already reconnoitred. I hurried away and put myself at the head of our Chasseurs, who threw themselves on the Saxon squadrons. The Saxons put up a stiff resistance and there was a general mele, but eventually our adversaries were forced to retreat with losses. Towards the end of the fighting, I found myself facing an officer of Hussars, wearing the white uniform of Prince Albert of Saxony's regiment. I held the point of my sabre against him and called on him to surrender, which he did, handing me his sword. As the fighting was over, I generously gave it back to him, as was the usual practice among officers in these circumstances, and I added that although his horse, under the conventions of war, belonged to me, I did not wish to deprive him of it. He gave me many thanks for this kind treatment and followed me as I returned to the marshal, very pleased with myself for bringing back a prisoner. But when we were about five hundred paces from the Chasseurs, this confounded Saxon officer, who was on my left, drew his sabre, wounded my horse on the shoulder and was about to strike me if I had not thrown myself on him. Although I had no sabre in my hand, our bodies were so close that he did not have room to swing his sabre at me, so he grabbed my epaulet, and pulled me off balance, my saddle slipped under my horse's belly and there I was with one leg in the air and my head hanging down, while the Saxon made off at full speed to rejoin the remains of the enemy army. I was furious, partly at the position I was in, and partly at the ingratitude with which this foreigner had repaid my courtesy. So when the Saxon army had been made prisoners, I went to look for my Hussar officer, to teach him a lesson, but he had disappeared.
I have said that the Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt, our new ally, had joined his troops to the Emperor's. This brigade had uniforms exactly like those of the Prussians, so several of their soldiers were killed or wounded mistakenly during the action. The young Lieutenant De Stoch, my friend, was on the point of meeting the same fate, and had already been seized by our Hussars, when, having seen me, he called out to me and I had him released.
The Emperor rewarded most generously the priest of Jena, and the elector of Saxony, having become king as a result of the victories of his ally Napoleon, rewarded him also; so that he lived very comfortably until 1814 when he took refuge in France to escape from the vengeance of the Prussians. They, however, had him taken up and shut away in a fortress where he spent two or three years. Eventually, the King of Saxony having interceded on his behalf with Louis XVIII, the latter reclaimed the priest on the grounds that he had been arrested without proper authority, and the Prussians having released him, he came to live in Paris. After the victory at Jena, the Emperor ordered a general pursuit of our enemies, and our columns took an enormous number of prisoners.
The King of Prussia had great difficulty in reaching Magdeburg and getting from there to Berlin, and it was said that the queen nearly fell into the hands of the scouts of our advance-guard.
It would take too long to detail all the disasters which befell the Prussian army; it is enough to say that of those troops who marched to attack the French, not a battalion escaped; they were all captured before the end of the month. The fortresses of Torgau, Erfurt and Wittemburg opened their gates to the victors who, having crossed the Elbe at several points—Augereau's corps crossing near Dessau—headed for Berlin.
Napoleon stopped at Potsdam, where he visited the tomb of Frederick the Great; then he went to Berlin where, contrary to his usual practice, he wished to make a triumphal entry. Marshal Davout's corps headed the procession; an honour to which it was entitled as it had done more fighting than the others. Then came Augereau's corps and then the guard.
On my return to Berlin which, when I had left it not long ago, had been so brilliant, I could not help having some sad reflections. The populace, then so self-confident, was now gloomy, downcast, and much afflicted, for the Prussians are very patriotic: they felt humiliated by the defeat of their army and the occupation of their country by the French; besides which almost every family had to mourn a relative or friend killed or captured in battle. I had every sympathy with their feelings; but I must confess that I experienced quite a different sentiment when I saw, entering Berlin as prisoners of war, walking sadly, dismounted and disarmed, the regiment of the so-called Noble Gendarmes; those same arrogant young officers who had so insolently come to sharpen their sabres on the steps of the French embassy!....Nothing could depict their shame and abasement at finding themselves defeated by those same Frenchmen whom they had boasted they would put to flight by their mere presence. They had asked that they might go round Berlin without entering it, to avoid the painful experience of filing as prisoners through the town where they were so well known and where the inhabitants had witnessed their bragging; but this is precisely why the Emperor ordered them to pass between two lines of French soldiers, who directed them down the road in which stood the French embassy. The inhabitants of Berlin did not disapprove of this little act of revenge, since they greatly disliked the Noble Gendarmes whom they accused of having pushed the king into the war.
Marshal Augereau was billeted outside the town, in the chteau of Bellevue, which belonged to Prince Ferdinand, the only one of Frederick the Great's brothers who was still living. This venerable old man, the father of Prince Louis who was recently killed at Saalefeld, was afflicted by grief made even more bitter by the fact that, against the opinion of all the court and also that of the son whom he mourned, he had strongly opposed the war, and had predicted the misfortunes which it would bring upon Prussia. Marshal Augereau thought it his duty to visit the prince, who had withdrawn to a dwelling in the town. He was received most politely; the unhappy father told the marshal that he had learned that his young son, Prince Auguste, the only one left to him, was at the town gate in a column of prisoners, and that he longed to embrace him before he was sent off to France. Since Prince Ferdinand's great age prevented him from going to look for his son, the marshal, sure that Napoleon would not object, told me to mount my horse right away, to go and find Prince Auguste, and to bring him back. Which I did.
The arrival of the young prince gave rise to the most moving scene. His elderly parents could not stop embracing this son, who recalled to them the loss of the other. To console them as much as lay within his power, the good marshal went to the Emperor's quarters and came back with authority for the young prince to remain, on parole, in the bosom of his family. A favour for which Prince Ferdinand was infinitely grateful.
The victory at Jena had had the most profound effect. Complete demoralisation had gripped not only the troops in the field, but the garrisons of the fortresses. Magdeburg surrendered without making any attempt at resistance; Spandau did the same; Stettin opened its gates to a division of cavalry, and the governor of Custrin sent boats across the Oder to fetch the French troops; who without this help would not have been able to take the place without several months of siege. Every day one heard of the surrender of some unit of the army or the capitulation of some fortress. The faulty organisation of the Prussian army became more evident than ever; the foreigners, in particular those who had been enlisted against their will, took the occasion to recover their liberty, and deserted in droves, or stayed behind to give themselves up to the French.
To the conquest of the Prussians, Napoleon added the confiscation of the states of the Elector of Hesse-Cassel, whose duplicity had earned him this punishment. This prince, who had been requested some time before the war to declare himself a supporter of either France or Prussia, lulled both parties with promises, with the intention of coming down on the side of the victor. An avaricious sovereign, the Elector had amassed a great fortune by selling his own people to the English, who used them to fight against the Americans in the War of Independence, in which many of them perished. Careless of his people's welfare, he had offered to join his troops to the French force on condition that the Emperor would cede to him the French American states. So no one was very sorry for the Elector, whose precipitous departure occasioned an event which is still not generally known.
Compelled to leave Hesse in a hurry, to take refuge in England, the Elector, who was regarded as one of the richest people in Europe, was unable to take with him all his wealth. So he sent for a Jew from Frankfurt by the name of Rothschild, a small-time banker and not well known, but respected for the scrupulous devotion with which he practised his religion: and it was this that decided the Elector to confide to his care some fifteen million in specie. The interest earned on this money was to belong to the banker, who was obliged to return only the capital.
When the palace of Cassel was occupied by our troops, agents of the French treasury seized a considerable quantity of valuables, mainly pictures, but did not find any money. It seemed impossible, however, that the Elector, in his hurried flight, had been able to take with him all his immense fortune. Now, as according to what are called the laws of war, the monies found in an enemy country belong to the victor, one wished to find out what had become of the treasure of Cassel. Information gathered on the subject disclosed that, before his departure, the Elector had spent a whole day with the Jew Rothschild. An imperial commission went to the latter's house, where his account books and his strong-boxes were minutely examined; but in vain, for no trace could be found of a deposit made by the Elector. Threats and intimidation produced no result, so the commission, convinced that no material interest would persuade a man so religious to perjure himself, wished to put him on oath. This he refused to accept. His arrest was considered but the Emperor was opposed to this act of violence because he thought it would be useless. Resort was then had to less honourable methods; it was proposed to the banker that he might retain half of the treasure if he would deliver the other half to the French administration; they would then give him a receipt for the full amount, accompanied by an order of seizure, proving that he had given way only to force and was thus shielded from any claim for restitution; but the upright Jew rejected this suggestion, and, tired of the struggle, they left him alone.
So the fifteen million remained in the hands of Rothschild from 1806 to the fall of the empire in 1814. Then, when the Elector had returned to his state, the Frankfurt banker handed over to him the exact sum which he had deposited. You may imagine how much interest might be earned by the sum of fifteen millions left in the hands of a Jewish Frankfurt banker for a period of eight years! It is from this time that dates the opulence of the House of the Brothers Rothschild, who owe to the probity of their founder the high financial standing which they enjoy today.
The Emperor, who was staying in the palace in Berlin, every day passed in revue the troops who arrived in succession in the town, to march from there to the Oder in pursuit of the enemy. It was while he was in Berlin that he performed a well known act of magnanimity in pardoning, for the Princess of Hatzfeld, her husband, who had used his position as burgomaster of Berlin to give the Prussian generals information about the movement of French troops; an act of espionage punishable by death. The generosity displayed by the Emperor on this occasion had a very good effect on the feelings of the Prussians.
During our stay in Berlin, I was pleasantly surprised by the arrival of my brother Adolphe, who, on learning of the fresh outbreak of hostilities on the continent of Europe had asked for and obtained from General Decaen, who commanded the French troops in India, permission to return to France, where he joined the Grande Arme. He was offered a position by General Lefebvre, but, mistakenly, in my opinion, he chose to serve as a supernumerary on the staff of Marshal Augereau, of which I was a member, a move which did neither of us any good.
I had also in Berlin another unexpected encounter. I was walking one evening with some friends along the Boulevard de Tilleuls, when I saw coming towards me a group of sous-officiers of the 1st Hussars. One of them broke away and ran to fall on my neck. It was my former tutor, the elder Pertelay who, with tears of joy cried "Te voil, mon petit!" The officers with whom I was, were at first astonished to see a sergeant-major so familiar with an officer; but their surprise vanished when I told them of my former relations with this old soldier, who, putting his arm round me, said to his companions, "It is I who made him what you now see before you!" And the good fellow was really convinced that I owed my present position to his teaching. So at dinner, which I stood him the next day, he overwhelmed me with inconsequential advice, which he believed to be very sensible and just the thing to perfect my military education. We shall meet this type of old Hussar again in Spain.
Napoleon, who was still in Berlin, was told of the surrender of the Prince Hohenlohe who, with sixteen thousand men, had laid down his arms at Prenzlow before the troops of Marshal Lannes and the cavalry of Murat. There was no other enemy corps in the field except that of General Blcher. This general, hard pressed by the divisions of Marshals Soult and Bernadotte, violated the neutrality of Lubeck, where he sought refuge; but the French pursued him, and Blcher, one of the most ardent supporters of the war against Napoleon, was forced to give himself up as a prisoner together with the sixteen thousand men under his command.
I must here tell you something remarkable, which shows how greatly chance influences the affairs of men and empires. We have seen Marshal Bernadotte failing in his duty and standing aside at Jena when Marshal Davout was fighting, not far from him, against infinitely superior forces. Well! This disgraceful conduct served to place him on the throne of Sweden. This is how it came about.
After the battle of Jena, the Emperor, although furious with Bernadotte, ordered him to pursue the enemy because the corps which he commanded, not having fired a shot, was in better shape for battle than those who had suffered losses. Bernadotte then set out on the track of the Prussians whom he defeated first at Halle and then at Lubeck, with the help of Marshal Soult. Now as chance would have it, at the very hour when the French were attacking Lubeck, some ships carrying a division of infantry which King Gustave IV of Sweden had sent to the aid of the Prussians entered the harbour. The Swedish troops had scarcely disembarked when, attacked by the French and abandoned by the Prussians, they were obliged to surrender to Bernadotte. Bernadotte, I can assure you, had, when he wished, the most engaging manner and very much wanted to appear before foreigners as a "Gentleman." To this end, he treated the Swedish officers in the most benevolent manner. After according them an honourable capitulation, he returned to them their horses and their baggage, saw to their needs and invited to his quarters the commander-in-chief, Count Moerner, as well as the generals and senior officers; he loaded them with kindnesses and courtesies to such an extent that, on their return to their country, they spread everywhere praise for the magnanimity of Marshal Bernadotte.
Some years later a revolution broke out in Sweden; King Gustave, whom a mental disorder had rendered unfit to rule, was removed from the throne and replaced by his aged uncle, the Duke of Sudermanie. As this new monarch had no children, the States Assembly, in order to designate a successor, chose the Prince of Holstein-Augustenburg, who took the title of Prince Royal. But he did not long enjoy this dignity, for he died in 1811 after a short illness, which was put down to poison. The states gathered once more to elect a new heir to the throne. They were hesitating between several German princes who put themselves forward as candidates when Count Moerner, one of the most influential members of the states, and the former commander of the Swedish division captured at Lubeck in 1806 by the French, proposed General Bernadotte, whose generous conduct he recalled. He praised also Bernadotte's military talents, and observed that the marshal was allied, through his wife, to Napoleon, whose support could be most useful to Sweden. A crowd of officers who had also been captured at Lubeck, joined their voices to that of General Moerner, and Bernadotte was elected almost unanimously as successor to the King of Sweden, and mounted the throne a few years later.
We shall see, further on, how Bernadotte, carried to the steps of a foreign throne by the fame which he had acquired at the head of French troops, displayed a lack of gratitude towards his native country. But now let us return to Prussia.
In one month the main forces of this kingdom, formerly in such a flourishing condition, had been destroyed by Napoleon, whose armies occupied the capital and the greater part of the provinces, and had already reached the Vistula, that great barrier between northern and central Europe. Marshal Augereau's corps remained for a fortnight in Berlin to reinforce the Guard during the long stay which the Emperor made in the town, and left about the middle of November, heading first for the Oder, which we crossed at Kostrzyn, and then on to the Vistula whose bank we reached at Bromburg (?Bydgoszcz). We were now in Poland, the poorest and nastiest country in Europe...! After the Oder, no more made roads: we marched on loose gravel or appalling mud. Most of the land was uncultivated and the few inhabitants we came across were dirty to a degree which defies the imagination. The weather which had been magnificent during October and the first part of November became frightful. We no longer saw the sun, it rained or snowed continually; food became short; no more wine, almost never any beer, and what there was atrociously bad; muddy water, no bread, and billets we had to share with cattle and pigs. The soldiers used to say, "How dare the Poles call this a country?"
The Emperor himself was disillusioned, for having come intending to rebuild Poland, he had hoped that the whole population of this vast country would rise as one man at the approach of the French army. But nobody budged...! In a vain attempt to rouse some Polish enthusiasm, the Emperor had invited the famous General Kosciusko, the leader of the last insurrection, to come and join him, but Kosciusko stayed peacefully in Switzerland, to where he had retired, and to the reproaches which were addressed to him, he replied that he knew the heedless and unstable character of his compatriots too well to hope that they would ever free themselves, even with French help. Unable to attract Kosciusko, the Emperor tried to make use of his renown by addressing to the Poles a proclamation in the name of this old warrior. Not one of them took up arms, although our troops occupied several provinces and even the capital. The Poles were not willing to rebel until Napoleon had declared the re-establishment of Poland, and he was not willing to do this until they had risen against their oppressors, which they did not do.
While 7th Corps was in Bromburg, Duroc, the grand marshal of the palace, arrived in the middle of the night at Marshal Augereau's headquarters. I was sent for and told to prepare myself to accompany Marshal Duroc, who was going as an envoy to the King of Prussia at Graudentz, and who needed an officer to replace his aide-de-camp, whom he had just sent to Posnan with despatches for the Emperor. I had been chosen because it was remembered that the previous August I had been on a mission to the Prussian court and that I knew almost all the officers and the court usages.
I was soon ready. The marshal of the palace took me in his carriage and we went down the left bank of the Vistula, occupied by French troops, to cross the river by ferry opposite Graudentz. We took lodgings in the town and then presented ourselves at the citadel, where all the royal family of Prussia had taken refuge after loosing four fifths of their state. The Vistula separated the two armies. The king seemed calm and resigned; the queen, whom I had seen not long ago looking so lovely, was greatly changed and seemed overcome by grief. She could not conceal from herself the fact that having urged the king to declare war, she was the principal cause of the misfortunes of her country, whose citizens raised their voices against her. The Emperor could not have sent a more acceptable envoy to the king than Marshal Duroc, who had held the post of ambassador in Berlin, and was well known to both the king and queen who appreciated his pleasant personality. I was too small a personage to be of any account; however the king and queen recognised me and greeted me with a few polite words.
I found the Prussian officers attached to the court had greatly modified the arrogant attitude they had displayed in August. Their recent defeat had changed their opinion of the French army; nevertheless I did not wish to take advantage of this and I carefully avoided mentioning Jena and our other victories. The affairs which Marshal Duroc had to discuss with the King of Prussia related to a letter which this monarch had sent to Napoleon, requesting a peace. The meeting lasted for two days which I occupied in reading, and walking on the gloomy parade ground of the fortress. I did not wish to go up onto the ramparts, although one enjoys from there an admirable view of the Vistula, for fear that I might be suspected of examining the defence works and armaments.
In the battles which had taken place from Jena to the Vistula, the Prussians had taken about a hundred of our men prisoner, whom they employed on the earthworks of the fortress in which they were confined. Marshal Duroc had charged me with the task of distributing some aid to these poor devils, who were doubly unhappy in that they could see from the height of the fortress the French troops from whom they were separated only by the Vistula. This proximity, and the comparison of their position with that of their comrades, free and happy on the left bank, led a French prisoner, one of the lite cavalrymen of the 3rd Dragoons by the name of Harpin, to attempt to escape. This was no easy matter, for one had first to get out of the fortress and then to cross the Vistula; but what cannot be achieved by a determined man? Harpin, who was employed by the master carpenter to pile timber, had made, secretly, a little raft; he had taken a long rope and, at night, had lowered the raft to the foot of the rampart, and had then descended himself by the same means. He had already put his raft in the water and was preparing to embark when he was surprised by a patrol, taken back to the fort and confined to a dungeon. The next day the Prussian commandant, in accordance with the common custom of the Prussian army, condemned Harpin to fifty strokes of the cane. It was useless for Harpin to claim that as a Frenchman he should not be subject to Prussian regulations, his status as a prisoner made this complaint void. He had already been taken to the wooden frame to which he was to be attached, and two soldiers were preparing to administer the flogging when, having gone to fetch a book from Marshal Duroc's coach, which was standing in the parade ground, I saw Harpin struggling with some Prussians who were trying to tie him up.
Indignant at the sight of a French soldier about to be subjected to a flogging, I ran towards him, my sabre in my hand, and threatened to kill the first man to strike a blow! ... Marshal Duroc's coach was guarded by one of Napoleon's couriers, known in every post house in Europe as "Moustache." This man, of herculean strength and the courage to face anything, had accompanied the Emperor on twenty fields of battle. When he saw me in the middle of the Prussians he hurried to me, and on my instructions, he fetched four loaded pistols which were in the coach. We untied Harpin; I armed him with two of the pistols and put him in the coach, where I placed "Moustache" next to him. I then told the commandant that as this coach belonged to the Emperor, whose arms it bore, it was a sacred place of safety for the French Dragoon, entry to which was forbidden to all Prussians under penalty of a bullet in the head, and I told Harpin and "Moustache" to fire on anyone who attempted to get into the coach. The commandant, seeing me so determined, abandoned his prisoner for the moment to go and get orders from his superiors. Then, leaving Harpin and "Moustache" in the coach with pistols in their hands, I went to the king's quarters and begged one of the aides-de-camp to go and tell Marshal Duroc that I needed to speak to him about a matter which could not wait. Duroc came out and I told him what had happened.
When he heard that they wanted to flog a French soldier, he shared my indignation. He returned to the king to whom he protested warmly, adding that if the sentence were to be carried out, the Emperor by way of reprisal would flog not only the soldiers but also the Prussian officers who were his prisoners. The king was a humane man; he ordered that the dragoon Harpin should be released, and to please Napoleon, from whom he was at that moment asking peace, he offered to Marshal Duroc to release to him all the prisoners if he would undertake to send back a similar number of Prussians. Duroc having accepted this offer, I went with one of the aides-de-camp to announce the news to the prisoners, who were overjoyed. We embarked them straight away and an hour later they were across the Vistula and amongst their brothers in arms.
Marshal Duroc and I left Graudentz the next night; he approved of my conduct and told me later that he had given an account of it to the Emperor, who also approved, and who warned the Prussians that if they flogged French soldiers he would have all Prussian officers who fell into his hands, shot!
I rejoined 7th Corps at Bromburg, and we went up the left bank of the Vistula towards Warsaw. Marshal Augereau's headquarters were established at Mallochiche. The Emperor arrived at Warsaw on the 19th December, and prepared to cross the Vistula. 7th Corps then went down the left bank once more to Utrata, where for the first time on this campaign we saw the Russian outposts on the opposite bank.
The River Vistula is fast-flowing and very wide; one expected, because of this that the Emperor would halt his winter operations there and, protected by the river, would put his troops into winter quarters until the spring. This however was not to be. Marshal Davout's and Marshal Lannes' corps crossed the river at Warsaw, Marshal Augereau and his men crossed at Utrate, from where we went on to the banks of the Ukra, a tributary of the Bug and the Vistula. The entire French army having crossed this last river, found itself face to face with the Russians, against whom the Emperor ordered an attack on the 24th December. A thaw and rain made movement extremely difficult on the clay soil, for there are no metalled roads in this country.
I shall not describe all the actions which were fought that day to force a passage across the Bug; I shall restrict myself to saying that Marshal Augereau, given the task of securing the crossing of the Ukra, ordered General Desjardins to attack with his division, Kolozomb, and General Heudelet to attack Sochocyzn. The marshal directed the attack on Kolozomb in person. The Russians, after burning the bridge which had existed at this spot, had raised earthworks on the opposite bank which they defended with cannons and numerous infantry; but they had neglected to destroy a store of planks and beams which was on the right bank, at which we had arrived. Our sappers made use of this material to construct a temporary bridge in spite of a lively fire which killed several men of the 14th Line regiment, which was at the head of our columns.
The planks of the bridge were not yet fastened and were wobbling under the feet of our infantrymen, when the colonel of the 14th, M. Savary, brother of the Emperor's aide-de-camp, risked crossing on horseback, in order to put himself at the head of his men; but he had scarcely reached the bank when a Cossack, arriving at the gallop, plunged a lance into his heart and disappeared into the woods! This was the fifth colonel of the 14th who had been killed by the enemy! You will see later the fatal destiny which always accompanied this unfortunate regiment. The passage of the Ukra was secured, the guns captured and the Russians put to flight. Desjardins' division occupied Sochoczyn, where the enemy had repulsed the attack by Heudelet's division, a repulse which was of no consequence, as it was necessary only to secure one crossing. General Heudelet however, out of misplaced pride, had ordered the attack to be renewed and was once more driven off with the loss of some thirty men killed or wounded, among them a highly thought of engineer officer. I have always disapproved of the contempt for men's lives which sometimes leads generals to sacrifice them to their desire to see their names in the bulletins.
On the 25th of December, the day following the crossing of the Ukra, the Emperor, pushing the Russians before him, headed for Golymin, having with him the Guard, Murat's cavalry and the corps of Davout and Augereau, the last of whom led the column. Marshal Lannes went off in the direction of Pultusk. There were on this day some minor encounters with the enemy who were retreating with all speed. We slept in bivouac amongst the trees.
On the 26th, 7th Corps set out once more in pursuit of the Russians. We were at a time of year when the days are at their shortest, and in this part of Poland at the end of December, it starts to get dark about two-thirty in the afternoon. It was made more gloomy as we approached Golymin by a fall of snow mixed with rain. We had not seen the enemy since morning when, on our arrival at the village of Kuskowo, very close to Golymin, our scouts, who had seen in the obscurity a large body of troops which a marsh prevented them from approaching, came to warn Marshal Augereau, who ordered Colonel Albert to go and reconnoitre, escorted by twenty-five mounted Chasseurs, whom he placed under my command.
The mission was difficult for we were in the middle of a huge, bare plain where one could easily become lost. The ground, already muddy, was intersected by areas of bog which the poor light prevented us from seeing clearly; so we advanced with caution, and found ourselves within twenty-five paces of a line of troops. We thought at first that this must be Davout's corps, which we knew was in the neighbourhood, but as no one answered our challenge, we had no doubt that these were enemy troops. However, to make quite sure, Colonel Albert ordered me to send one of my best-mounted troopers up to the line which we could distinguish in the murk: for this task I picked a bemedalled corporal named Schmit, a man of proven courage. He, having gone alone to within ten paces of a regiment whose headgear he recognised as Russian, fired a shot from his carbine into the middle of it and came back smartly.
To account for the silence which the Russians had maintained up till then, I must tell you that this unit had become separated from the main body of the army, which it was trying to rejoin, and had lost its way in the vast plains, which it knew to be occupied by French troops who were heading for Golymin. The Russian generals, in the hope that they might pass close to us in the obscurity without being recognised, had forbidden their men to speak, and in the event of an attack, even the wounded were to make no outcry. This was an order which only Russian troops would have obeyed so punctiliously that when Colonel Albert, to warn Marshal Augereau that we were in the presence of the enemy, ordered the twenty-five troopers to fire, not a cry nor a word was heard, and no one fired back!
We then saw, in spite of the poor light, a body of about a hundred horsemen who were advancing silently to cut off our retreat. We should have made off at the gallop to rejoin our columns, but some of our troopers having become stuck in the mud, we were forced to proceed less rapidly, although pursued by the Russians, who fortunately had the same trouble as we did. A fire which had broken out in a nearby farm lit up the ground and the Russians began to gallop, which compelled us to do likewise. A new danger arose in that we had left from General Desjardins' division and were returning to General Heudelet's, who had not seen us leave and opened fire on us; so that we were being driven from behind by the Russians, while a hail of bullets in front wounded several of our men and some horses. It was no use shouting "We are French. Don't shoot!" The firing continued, and one cannot blame the officers who took us for the advance guard of a Russian column who were using French, which is widely understood among foreigners, in order to deceive them in the darkness which had now fallen. We were having a bad time, when it occurred to me to call out by name to the generals, colonels and battalion commanders of Heudelet's division, names which they would know could not be known to the enemy. This was a success and we were at last received into the French line.
The Russian generals, seeing that they were discovered and wishing to continue their retreat, took a measure of which I heartily approve, and one which in similar circumstances the French have never attempted to imitate. The Russians pointed all their guns at us, and having led away all the horses, they opened a violent fire to keep us at a distance. During this time they marched off their columns, and when the ammunition was finished, the gunners withdrew and left the guns to us. Was not this better than losing many men in an effort to save the guns, which would have been continually bogged down and slowed the retreat?
The fierce Russian cannonade became increasingly harmful when it started several fires in the villages, the spreading light of which enabled the Russian gunners to pick out the masses of our troops; in particular the dragoons and Cuirassiers led by Prince Murat, whose white cloaks made them a target. These units suffered more losses than the others, and one of our generals of the Dragoons was cut in two by a cannon-ball. Marshal Augereau, after taking Kuskowa, entered Golymin, which Marshal Davout was attacking from the other side. This town was being traversed at the time by the Russian columns, who, knowing that Marshal Lannes was marching to cut off their retreat by taking Pultusk, three leagues from there, were trying to reach that spot before he did at no matter what cost. So although our soldiers were firing on them at close range, they did not reply. To do so they would have had to stop, and minutes were too precious.
Each division and each regiment marched through our fusillade without a word and without slowing their pace for a moment...! The streets of Golymin were full of wounded and dying men, yet one did not hear a sound. It was forbidden! We might have been shooting at shadows, and it was only when our soldiers attacked with the bayonet that they convinced themselves that they were dealing with men. We took thousands of prisoners, while the remainder marched into the distance.
The marshals deliberated as to whether they should pursue the enemy, but the weather was so horrible and the night so dark once one left the neighbourhood of the fires, the men so soaked and exhausted, that it was decided that they should rest until the next day.
Golymin being crowded with dead, wounded, and discarded baggage, Marshals Murat and Augereau, together with some generals and their staffs, looking for somewhere to shelter from the glacial rain, established themselves in a huge stable which was near the town. There, those who could, lay on the dung heap in an attempt to get warm and to sleep, for we had been on horseback in the most frightful weather for twenty four hours or more. The marshals and all the colonels and brass-hats were naturally in the depths of the stable where it was warmer; as for me, a humble lieutenant, who came in last, I had to bed down near the doorway, where I was more or less sheltered from the rain, but exposed to the freezing wind, since the doorway had no door. The position was most uncomfortable and added to this I was dying of hunger, not having eaten since the previous evening. But my lucky star came once more to my aid. While the well sheltered senior officers were sleeping in the warm part of the stable, and the cold was preventing us lieutenants near the doorway from doing the same, one of Prince Murat's servants arrived. I told him, in a low voice that his master was asleep; upon this he gave me a basket containing a roast goose, some bread and some wine, to give to the prince when he woke, and asked me to tell him that the mules with the provisions were expected to arrive in an hour's time. Having said which, he went off to await them.
Loaded with these provisions, I held council in undertones with Bro, Mainville, and Stoch, who, as badly placed as I, were shivering with cold and just as hungry. The conclusion reached in this deliberation was that as Prince Murat was asleep and as his provisions were due to arrive shortly, he would be able to have a meal when he woke; while we would be set on horseback and sent off in all directions without anyone asking if we had eaten or not; so without straining our consciences too much, we decided to demolish the contents of the basket, which we did with great rapidity. I don't know if this was pardonable, but what I do know is that I have had few meals which I enjoyed more.
While the troops who had been engaged at Golymin were resting, Napoleon, with all his Guard was wandering about on the plain, because, alerted by the sound of gunfire, the Emperor had hurriedly left the chteau where he was installed some two leagues from Golymin, with the intention of joining us by marching as the crow flies in the direction of the fires. But the ground was so soaked, the plain so intersected by bogs and the weather so awful, that it took him all night to make those two leagues, and he did not arrive on the field of battle until the fighting was long over.
On the same day as the fight at Golymin, Marshal Lannes, with no more than twenty thousand men, attacked at Pultusk some forty thousand Russians who were retreating, and inflicted immense losses on them without being able to stop them, so great was their superiority in numbers.
For the Emperor to have been able to pursue the Russians it would have required a frost to harden the ground which, on the contrary, was now so soft and sodden that one sank in at every step, and several men, notably the batman of an officer in 7th Corps, were drowned with their horses in the mud. It had now become impossible to move the artillery and to venture further into this unknown territory; besides which the troops lacked food and even boots, and they were extremely tired. These considerations decided Napoleon to place the whole army in cantonment in front of the Vistula, from the outskirts of Warsaw to the gates of Danzig. The soldiers, billeted in the villages, were at last sheltered from the weather, received some rations and were able to repair their equipment.
The Emperor returned to Warsaw to prepare for a new campaign. The divisions of Augereau's corps were spread in the villages around Plock, if one can give that name to a confused heap of lowly shacks, inhabited by unwashed Jews; but almost all the so-called towns in Poland are built like this and have similar inhabitants. The landowners, great and small, live in the country where they employ their peasants to cultivate their estates.
The marshal was lodged in Christka, a sort of chteau built of wood, as was customary in the country. He found in this manor some reasonable accommodation, while the aides-de-camp settled wherever they could in the rooms and barns. As for me, by ferreting around I found in the gardener's quarters a fairly good room with a fireplace; I settled in there with two friends, and leaving to the gardener and his family their very unsavoury beds, we made some out of planks and straw, on which we were very comfortable.
We celebrated at Christka the new year of 1807, which was very nearly the last year of my life. It, however, began very pleasantly for me, since the Emperor, who had not shown any favour to Augereau's staff during the Austerlitz campaign, fully repaired this oversight by heaping us with rewards. Colonel Albert was promoted to brigadier-general, Major Massy to lieutenant-colonel of the 44th Line regiment; several aides-de-camp were decorated; and finally the lieutenants, Bro, Mainville, and I, were made captains. This promotion gave me more than usual pleasure, since I had done nothing remarkable to earn it, and I was only twenty-four years old. Marshal Augereau, when he gave us our brevets of captain, said to Mainville, Bro, and me, "Let's see which of you three is the first to become a colonel." It was in fact I, who six years later commanded a regiment, while my comrades were still only captains: it is also true that in this period I had been wounded six times!
Once we had taken up winter quarters the enemy did the same, opposite to us but a considerable distance away. The Emperor expected that they would let us pass the winter in peace; however, our rest lasted only for a month; this sufficed but was not really enough.
The Russians, seeing the ground covered by snow and hardened by a very sharp frost, thought that this frigid weather would give the men from the north a great advantage over those from the south, unaccustomed to the severe cold. They resolved therefore to attack us, and in order to do this they moved, screened by the immense forest which lay between us, the greater part of the troops who faced us before Warsaw, down to the lower Vistula, opposite the cantonments of Bernadotte and Ney, whom they hoped to surprise and overrun by weight of numbers before the Emperor with the other army corps could come to their aid. But Bernadotte and Ney put up a stiff resistance, and the Emperor had sufficient time to mount an attack with a considerable force on the enemy rear who, seeing themselves at risk of being cut off from their operational base, retreated towards Konigsberg (Kaliningrad). We had therefore, on the 1st of February, to quit our billets where we were reasonably comfortable, and restarting the war, to go and sleep in the snow.
At the head of the central column, commanded by the Emperor in person, was Prince Murat's cavalry, then came Marshal Soult's corps, supported by that of Augereau, finally came the Imperial Guard . Marshal Davout's corps marched on the right flank of this huge column, and Marshal Ney's on the left. Such an agglomeration of troops heading for the same place soon strips the countryside of whatever food supplies are available, so we suffered much from hunger; only the Guard had wagons which carried food for distribution, the other corps lived on whatever they could find, that is to say they lacked practically everything.
I am not going to give any details of the actions which preceded the battle of Eylau, because Augereau's corps, which was in the second line, took no part in these various contacts, of which the most important occurred at Mohrungen, Bergfried, Guttstadt, and Valtersdorf. But at last, before the little town of Landsberg, the Russians, who had been chased for a week with a sword at their backs, decided to halt and make a stand. To do this, they placed eight lite battalions in an advantageous position, their right bounded by a village by the name of Hoff, their left by a thick wood, and their centre protected by a very steep-sided ravine, which could be crossed only by a narrow bridge. Eight cannons were placed in front of this line.
When the Emperor arrived opposite this position, he did not think it necessary to wait for the infantry of Marshal Soult, which was still several leagues behind, and attacked the Russians with some regiments of light cavalry who, dashing bravely over the bridge, crossed the ravine; but, assailed by gunfire and grapeshot, our squadrons were driven back in disorder into the gulch, from which they emerged with much difficulty. The Emperor, seeing the light cavalry repulsed, replaced them by a division of Dragoons, whose attack, received in the same manner as before, had a similar outcome. The Emperor then ordered the advance of General D'Hautpoul's terrible Cuirassiers, who crossed the bridge under a hail of grapeshot and fell on the Russian line with such ferocity that they literally flattened it. There then ensued the most frightful butchery; the Cuirassiers, enraged at the losses suffered by their comrades of the Hussars and Dragoons, almost entirely exterminated the eight Russian battalions, All were either killed or captured! The battlefield was a scene of horror. Never has a cavalry charge had such a devastating result. The Emperor demonstrated his satisfaction with the Cuirassiers by embracing their general before the whole division. General D'Hautpoul exclaimed, "To show myself worthy of this honour, I shall dedicate my life to your majesty." He kept his word, for the next day he was killed on the battlefield of Eylau. What an epoch! And what men!
The enemy army which, from a plateau beyond Landsberg, had witnessed the destruction of its rearguard, retired promptly towards Eylau, and we took possession of Landsberg. On the 7th February the Russian commander-in-chief, Benningsen, having decided to give battle, concentrated his army around Eylau, mainly in positions between us and the town. Murat's cavalry and Soult's infantry took these positions after fierce fighting, for the Russians held tenaciously to Ziegelhof, which dominates Eylau, as they wanted to make it the centre point of their line for the battle on the following day; but they were forced to retreat from the town. Night seemed to have put an end to this fighting, the prelude to the coming general action, when a fusillade of shots rang out in the streets of Eylau.
I know that military authors who have written about this campaign, claim that Napoleon ordered an attack because he did not want the town to remain in Russian hands; but I am sure that they are mistaken, and for the following reason:-
When the head of Marshal Augereau's column, coming down the road from Landsberg, drew near to Ziegelhof, the marshal climbed onto the plateau where the Emperor was already stationed, and I actually heard Napoleon say to Augereau, "It has been suggested to me that we should take Eylau this evening; but, apart from the fact that I don't like fighting at night, I do not wish to push my centre too far forward before the arrival of Davout on my right flank and Ney on my left. So I am going to wait for them until tomorrow on this plateau which, furbished with artillery, will provide a fine position for our infantry; then, when Davout and Ney are in the line, we shall march, together, against the enemy." Having said this, the Emperor ordered his bivouac to be set up at the foot of the Ziegelhof, and his guard to encamp around it.
But while Napoleon was explaining his plans to Marshal Augereau, who greatly approved of his prudence, the staff of the imperial palace, coming from Landsberg with their baggage and servants, arrived at our outposts, which were at the gates of Eylau, without anyone telling them to stop at Ziegelhof. These employees, used to seeing the imperial quarters very well guarded, and not having been warned that they were almost on top of the Russians, were interested only in selecting a good lodging for their master, and they set themselves up in the post-house, where they unpacked their equipment, stabled their horses, and began to cook. In the midst of these preparations they were attacked by a Russian patrol and would have been captured had it not been for the intervention of the guard which always accompanied the Emperor's baggage. At the sound of this outbreak of firing, the troops who were in position at the gates of the town ran to the rescue of Napoleon's equipment, which was already being pillaged by the Russian soldiers. The Russian generals, thinking that the French were attempting to seize Eylau, sent reinforcements to their side, and so a sanguinary battle was fought in the streets of the town, which ended up in our hands.
Although this attack had not been ordered by the Emperor, he saw no reason not to profit by it, and he set himself up in the Eylau post-house. The Guard and Soult's troops occupied the town which was surrounded by Murat's cavalry. Augereau's troops were positioned in Zehsen, a little hamlet in which we hoped to find some provisions, but the Russians had taken everything with them as they withdrew, so that our unhappy regiment, which had received no rations for eight days, had to make do with some potatoes and water. The equipment of the staff having been left at Landsberg, our supper was not as good as that of the soldiers, for we had no potatoes. Eventually, on the morning of the 8th, when we were about to mount our horses, one of the marshal's servants brought him some bread, and he, always generous, shared it out amongst his aides-de-camp. After this frugal meal, which for several of us was to be our last, the corps moved to the post to which it had been assigned by the Emperor.
In accordance with the plan which I explained when I started these memoirs, I shall not weary you with too detailed a description of the various phases of this terrible battle of Eylau, but will limit myself to the principal events.
On the morning of the 8th, the position of the two armies was as follows. The Russians had their left at Serpalten, their centre in front of Auklapen and their right at Schmoditten. They were awaiting the arrival of eight thousand Prussians, who were expected to go to Althoff where they would form the extreme right wing. The enemy's front line was protected by five hundred artillery pieces, of which a third at least were of large calibre. The French situation was much less favourable, since their two wings had not yet arrived. The Emperor had, at the start of the action, only a part of the force with which he had expected to do battle. Marshal Soult's corps was placed on the right and left of Eylau, the Guard in the town itself, and Augereau's corps between Eylau and Rothenen, opposite Serpalten. The enemy formed almost a semicircle about us, and the two armies occupied a terrain in which there were numerous ponds covered by snow, which neither side could see.
Neither Marshal Davout, who should have been on our right, towards Molwitten, nor Marshal Ney, who should have been on our left around Althoff, had yet appeared, when at daybreak, about eight in the morning, the Russians began the attack by a violent cannonade to which our gunners, though fewer in numbers, replied. Though fewer, they had the advantage, however of being much better trained than the Russians, and also of directing their fire at masses of men who had no cover, while the Russian cannon-balls mainly hit the walls of Eylau and Rothenen. Soon a strong enemy column advanced with the intention of capturing the town; it was vigourously repelled by the Guard and Marshal Soult's troops. At this moment, the Emperor heard, with much pleasure, that from the top of the church tower could be seen Davout's men arriving via Molwitten and marching towards Serpalten, from where they expelled the Russians and drove them back to Klein-Sausgarten.
The Russian commander, Benningsen, seeing his left beaten and his rear menaced by the audacious Davout, resolved to crush him, and directed the greater part of his force against him. It was then that Napoleon, with the object of preventing this movement by creating a diversion against the enemy centre, ordered Augereau to attack, although he foresaw the difficulties of this operation.
There are on the field of battle, circumstances when one must sacrifice some troops in order to preserve the great majority and ensure victory. General Corbineau, the Emperor's aide-de-camp, was killed by a cannon shot near to us while bringing to Marshal Augereau the order to advance. The marshal passed between Eylau and Rothenen and led his two divisions boldly against the enemy centre, and already the 14th Line regiment who made up our advance guard had seized the position which the Emperor had ordered to be taken and held at all costs, when the guns which formed a semi-circle about Augereau hurled out a storm of ball and grape-shot of hitherto unprecedented ferocity. In an instant, our two divisions were pulverised under this rain of iron! General Desjardins was killed and General Heudelet gravely wounded; however, they stood firm until the corps having been almost entirely destroyed, the remnants were compelled to retire to the cemetery of Eylau, with the exception of the 14th, who almost entirely surrounded by the enemy, remained on the little hill which they had occupied. The situation was made even worse by a gale of wind which blew a heavy snowfall into our faces, and reduced visibility to about fifteen paces, so that several French batteries opened fire on us, as well as the Russians. Marshal Augereau was wounded by a bullet.
The devotion of 7th Corps, however, produced a good result, for, relieved by our attack, Marshal Davout was able not only to maintain his position, but to take Klein-Sausgarten and even push his advance-guard as far as Kuschitten, in the enemy's rear. Then, in an attempt to deliver a knock-out blow, Napoleon despatched, between Eylau and Rothenen, the squadrons commanded by Murat. This terrifying mass fell on the Russian centre, overwhelming them, cutting them down with their sabres and throwing them into the greatest confusion. The valiant General D'Hautpoul was killed at the head of his Cuirassiers, as was General Dahlmann, who had succeeded General Morland in the command of the Chasseurs of the Guard. The success of our cavalry allowed us to carry the day. Eight thousand Prussians, escaped from pursuit by Marshal Ney, and arriving at Althoff, tried to mount a new attack by advancing, one does not quite know why, on Kuschitten instead of Eylau, but Davout drove them off, and the arrival of Ney's corps at Schmoditten towards the end of the day, made Benningsen fear that his line of communication would be cut, and so he ordered a retreat in the direction of Konigsberg, leaving the French masters of the horrible battlefield covered with dead and dying. Since the invention of gunpowder one has not seen such a terrible effect, for in relation to the numbers engaged at Eylau, in comparison to all the battles, ancient or modern, the proportion of losses was highest. The Russians had twenty-five thousand casualties, and although the figure for French losses has been given as ten thousand, it is my belief that it was at least twenty thousand. A total of forty-five thousand men, of whom more than half died!
Augereau's corps was almost entirely destroyed. Out of fifteen thousand combatants under arms at the beginning of the action, there remained by evening only three thousand, under the command of Lieutenant colonel Massy: the marshal, all the generals and all the colonels had been either killed or wounded.
It is difficult to understand why Benningsen, knowing that Davout and Ney had not yet arrived, did not take advantage of their absence to attack Eylau at daybreak with the numerous troops of the centre of his army, instead of using precious time in bombarding us; for his superior strength would certainly have made him master of the town before the arrival of Davout, and the Emperor would then have regretted having moved so far forward instead of consolidating his position on the plateau of Ziegelhof and awaiting the arrival of his flank forces, as he had intended the evening before.
The day after the battle the Emperor followed the Russians to the gates of Konigsberg; but that town was fortified and it was thought unwise to attack it with troops weakened by a sanguinary battle, and what is more, almost all the Russian army was in Konigsberg and the surrounding country.
Napoleon spent several days at Eylau, partly to collect the wounded and partly to reorganise his forces. The survivors of Augereau's corps were spread amongst other units and the marshal was given leave to return to France for the treatment of his wound. The Emperor, seeing that the bulk of the Russian army was now at a distance, put his troops into billets in the towns and villages in front of the lower Vistula. There was no interesting event during the rest of the winter, except the taking of Danzig by our troops. Hostilities in the open country would not begin again until the month of june, as we shall see later.
I did not want to interrupt the story of the battle of Eylau to tell you what happened to me in this terrible conflict; a sad tale, to understand which we must go back to the autumn of 1805 when the officers of the Grande Arme were equipping themselves in preparation for the Battle of Austerlitz. I had two good horses and was looking for a third of a better quality, a charger. This was something difficult to find, for although horses were infinitely cheaper than they are today, they were still expensive, and I did not have much money; but I had a piece of very good luck.
I ran into a German scholar, named M. d'Aister, whom I had known when he was teaching at Sorze; he was now tutor to the children of a rich Swiss banker, M. Scherer, who lived in Paris and was an associate of M. Finguerlin, who was a very wealthy man who kept up great state, and had a stable of many horses, amongst which was a charming mare called Lisette, an excellent animal from Mecklemberg, good-looking, swift as a stag, and so well schooled that a child could ride her. But this mare had a dreadful and fortunately rare vice: she bit like a bulldog, and attacked furiously anyone who displeased her, which decided M. Finguerlin to sell her. She was bought by Mme. de Lauriston, whose husband, an aide-de-camp to the Emperor, had written to her to ask her to buy him a charger.
M. Finguerlin, when he sold the mare, had omitted to mention her behaviour, and on the evening of her purchase, a groom, whom she had torn open, was found lying at her feet. Mme. de Lauriston was justly alarmed and demanded cancellation of the sale. Not only was this done, but the police, in order to prevent another such accident, required that a notice be fixed to Lisette's loose-box informing any potential buyer of her ferocity, and that any sale would be null and void unless the buyer declared in writing that he was aware of this notice.
As you may imagine, with such a recommendation, the mare was very difficult to sell; M. d'Aister told me that her owner was prepared to let her go for whatever was offered. I offered a thousand francs and M. Finguerlin handed Lisette over to me, although she had cost five thousand. For several months she gave me a great deal of trouble; it took four or five men to saddle her, and she could not be bridled without being blindfolded and having all four legs tied; but once on her back one found her a matchless ride.
However, since during the time I had owned her she had bitten several people, including me, I was thinking of getting rid of her, when, having taken into my service a man called Francis Woirland, who was scared of nothing, he, before approaching Lisette, about whose bad character I had warned him, armed himself with a very hot leg of roast mutton, and when she attempted to bite him, he offered this to her, which she seized in her teeth; but having burned her mouth and her tongue, the mare gave a cry and dropped the gigot, and from that moment she submitted herself to Woirland, whom she no longer dared to bite. I tried the same trick and achieved the same result. Lisette, as docile as a dog, allowed herself to be handled by myself and my servant; she even became a little more tractable with the grooms whom she saw every day, but woe betide any stranger passing too close to her. I could give many examples of her ferocity, but I shall limit myself to one.
While Marshal Augereau was staying at the chteau of Bellevue, near Berlin, the servants, having noticed that while they were at diner, someone was coming to steal the sacks of oats from the stable, asked Woirland to leave Lisette loose near the door. The thief arrived, slipped into the stable and was already carrying off one of the sacks when the mare grabbed him by the neck, dragged him into the yard and broke two of his ribs by trampling on him. People came running to the cries of the terrified thief, whom Lisette was unwilling to abandon until my servant and I persuaded her, for in her rage she would have savaged anyone else. The wickedness of this animal had got worse since the officer of the Saxon Hussars had treacherously stabbed her in the shoulder on the battlefield of Jena.
It was this mare that I was riding at the time when the remains of Marshal Augereau's corps, shattered by a hail of cannon and grape shot, were attempting to re-form in the area of the cemetery. You will recall that the 14th Line regiment had stayed alone on the little hill, which it might leave only if ordered to do so by the Emperor. The snow having stopped for a moment, one could see this gallant regiment almost completely surrounded by the enemy, waving its Eagle aloft to show that it still stood fast and needed help. The Emperor, touched by the devotion to duty of these brave men, decided to attempt their rescue; he told Marshal Augereau to send an officer with orders to them to quit the hillock, form a small square and withdraw towards us; while a brigade of cavalry would go to meet them and second their efforts.
This was before the great charge made by Murat and his cavalry, and it was almost impossible to carry out the Emperor's command because a swarm of Cossacks separated us from the 14th. It was clear that any officer sent towards the unfortunate regiment would be killed or captured before he got there. Nevertheless, an order is an order; and the marshal had to obey.
It was the custom, in the imperial army, for the aides to line up a few paces from their general, and the one in front went off first; when he had completed his mission, he joined the back of the queue, so that as each took his turn to carry orders, the dangers were shared equally. A brave captain of engineers, named Froissart, who, although not an aide-de-camp, was attached to the marshal's staff, was nearest to him and was sent off to carry the order to the 14th. He left at the gallop; we lost sight of him in the midst of the Cossacks and never saw him again, nor did we know what became of him.
The marshal, seeing that the 14th did not budge, sent another officer, named David. He suffered the same fate as Froissart, and we heard no more of him. It is likely that they were both killed, and having been stripped of their clothing their bodies were not recognisable among the many dead who covered the ground. For the third time the marshal called out "An officer to take orders "!...It was my turn.
When he saw before him the son of his old friend, and, I think I may dare to say, his favourite aide-de-camp, the good marshal's face fell and his eyes filled with tears, for he could not disguise from himself that he was sending me to an almost certain death; but the Emperor's order had to be obeyed; I was a soldier; no one else could take my place, I would not have allowed something so dishonourable. So I took off! Now, while prepared to sacrifice my life, I thought it my duty to take every precaution which might save it. I had noticed that the two officers who had gone before me had left with drawn sabres, which made me think that they intended to defend themselves against the Cossacks who would attack them during the ride. This intention was in my opinion ill-advised, for they would have been forced to stop and fight a multitude of enemies who, in the end, had overwhelmed them. I adopted a different approach, and leaving my sabre in its scabbard, I thought of myself as a rider who, to win the prize in a race, goes as fast as possible by the shortest route towards the winning post without taking any notice of what is to right or left of him during his passage. Now, my winning post being the hillock occupied by the 14th, I resolved to get there without paying any attention to the Cossacks, whom I blotted out of my thoughts.
This system worked perfectly. Lisette, light as a swallow, and flying rather than galloping, rushed through space, leaping over the piled up bodies of men and horses, over ditches and the broken mountings of guns, as well as the half-extinguished bivouac fires. Thousands of Cossacks were scattered about the plain. The first ones to see me behaved like hunters who, having raised a hare, mark its presence by shouts of "Yours! Yours!" But none of them tried to stop me, firstly because I was going so fast, and also perhaps because each one thought I would be caught by his comrades who were further on. In this way I escaped from them all and arrived at the 14th without either I or my excellent mare having suffered a scratch.
I found the 14th formed in a square on top of the hillock; but the slope of the ground was so gentle that the enemy cavalry had been able to carry out a number of charges, which had been vigourously repelled, so that they were surrounded by heap of the dead bodies of horses and Russian Dragoons, which formed a sort of rampart, and now made the position almost inaccessible to cavalry; for even with the aid of our infantrymen, I had great difficulty in getting over this bloody and frightful defence work, but at last I was inside the square.
Since the death of Colonel Savary, killed during the crossing of the Ukra, the 14th had been commanded by a battalion commander; when I gave this officer the order which I carried, for him to leave his position and try to rejoin the army corps, he replied that the enemy artillery which had been firing at them for an hour had occasioned such heavy losses that the handful of soldiers which he had left would inevitably be exterminated if they went down onto the level ground; and anyway there was no time to prepare for the execution of this movement, since a Russian column, coming to attack, was now close to us. "I can see no way of saving the regiment," said the battalion commander. "Go back to the Emperor and say good-bye to him from the 14th; and take back the Eagle which we can no longer defend."
The Eagles of the infantry were very heavy, and their weight was increased by the long thick pole of oak on which they were mounted. I was bending forward and attempting to detach the Eagle from its pole, when one of the many bullets which the Russians were firing at us went through the back part of my hat, very close to my head. The shock was made worse by the fact that the hat was held on by a strong leather strap which went under my chin, and so offered more resistance to the blow. I was partially stunned by this, and found myself unable to move.
However the column of Russian infantry was now climbing the hillock; they were Grenadiers, whose headgear, garnished with metal, looked like mitres. These men, full of liquor, flung themselves on the feeble remnants of the 14th, who defended themselves bravely with their bayonets, and even when the square was broken, formed themselves into little groups and continued for a long time the unequal struggle. In my confused state, I was unable to react in any way; I was attacked by a drunken Russian soldier, who thrust his bayonet into my left arm, and then, aiming another blow at me, lost his balance and missing his mark, he slashed Lisette's haunch.
The pain of this injury aroused her ferocious instincts, she grabbed the soldier with her teeth and tore away the greater part of his face,then, kicking and biting, she forced her way through the mele and taking the path by which we had come, she went off at the gallop in the direction of the Eylau cemetery while, thanks to the Hussar's saddle in which I was seated, I remained on her back.
As we approached Eylau a new danger arose. The snow had started to fall again and in the poor visibility a battalion of the Guard took me for a Russian and opened fire on me, but although my cloak and my saddle were hit, both I and my mare were untouched. Lisette, continuing to gallop, went through the three lines of infantry like a grass-snake through a hedge, but this last burst of speed drained her resources, she was losing a lot of blood because one of the big veins in her haunch had been cut, she collapsed suddenly and fell, throwing me to the ground, where I was rendered unconscious.
I must have remained in this state for about four hours, and I was not aroused by the great charge of Murat's ninety squadrons of cavalry, which went past me and perhaps over me. When I came to, this is the dreadful position in which I found myself. I was completely naked except for my hat and my right boot. A soldier of the transport section, believing me to be dead, had despoiled me, as was customary, and in an attempt to remove my boot, was dragging at my leg, with one foot on my stomach. I was able to raise the upper part of my body and to spit out some clots of blood, my face, shoulders and chest were badly bruised, and blood from my wounded arm reddened the rest of my body. I gazed around with haggard eyes, and must have been a horrible spectacle. The transport driver made off with my possessions before I could summon my wits and address a word to him. I was too dazed and weak to move, and unable to call for help. The cold was increasing and I had little hope of surviving without some form of miracle, and something like a miracle took place.
Marshal Augereau had a valet de chambre, named Pierre Dannel, a very intelligent boy, loyal, but inclined to be cheeky; and it so happened that while we were at Houssaye, Dannel, having spoken back to his master, had been given his notice. Desolated, Dannel begged me to intercede for him, which I did with so much zeal that he was reinstated in the marshal's good graces; since when the valet had been devoted to me. Dannel had taken it on himself to come from Landsberg, on the day of the battle, to bring some victuals to his master, which he had put in a very light wagon, able to go anywhere, and containing all the things that the marshal used most frequently. This little wagon was driven by a soldier who had served in the same transport unit as the man who had stripped me. This fellow, carrying my effects, was passing the wagon which was standing at the Eylau cemetery when, recognising his old friend, he went up to him to show him the lovely booty he had taken from a dead man.
Now, while we were in cantonments by the Vistula, the marshal having told Dannel to go to Warsaw to get some provisions, I asked him to take my pelisse and have the black astrakhan with which it was trimmed, removed and replaced by grey; a style newly adopted by the aides-de-camp of Prince Berthier, who set the fashion in the army. I was still the only one of Marshal Augereau's officers who had grey astrakhan.
Dannel, who was present when the transport driver displayed his booty, easily recognised my pelisse, which made him look more closely at the other belongings of the alleged dead man, amongst which he saw my watch, marked with my father's initials, for it had been his. The valet de chambre had no doubt that I had been killed, but mourning my death, he wished to see me for the last time, and having been led there by the transport driver, he found me alive!
This good fellow, to whom I owe my life, was overjoyed. He hurried to fetch my own servant and some orderlies, who carried me into a barn where they rubbed me down with rum, while they sent for Dr. Raymond. When he at last arrived, he dressed the wound in my arm and declared that the blood which I had lost would save me.
Soon I was surrounded by my comrades including my brother. A reward was given to the transport rider who had taken my clothes, which he handed over with good grace; but as they were soaked with blood and water, Marshal Augereau had me wrapped up in clothes of his own.
The Emperor had given permission for Augereau to return to Landsberg, but his wound made it impossible for him to ride a horse; so his aides-de-camp got hold of a sledge on which they mounted the body of a carriage. The marshal, who had decided not to abandon me, had me strapped in beside him, for I was too weak to sit upright.
Before I was picked up from the battlefield, I had seen my poor Lisette near to me. Her wound had stopped bleeding and she was back on her feet, eating some straw which had been used by soldiers in their bivouacs the previous night. My servant, who was very fond of Lisette, returned to look for her; he cut strips of clothing from a dead soldier and dressed the wound on her haunch, and got her fit enough to walk to Landsberg.
The commandant of the little garrison of the town, had had the good sense to prepare quarters for the wounded. The officers of the staff were put into a large and comfortable inn, so that instead of spending the night lying naked in the snow, I was tucked into a good bed and being looked after by my brother, my companions and the worthy Dr. Raymond. The doctor had to cut the boot which the soldier had tried to pull off, and even so, he had difficulty in getting it off because my foot had swollen so much. You will see, later that this could have cost me my leg, and perhaps even my life.
We stayed in Landsberg for thirty-six hours. The rest and the care given me restored my ability to move, and when, on the second day after the battle, Marshal Augereau set off for Warsaw, I was able, though still very weak, to travel on the sledge. The journey took eight days, because we moved only in short stages; I was recovering my strength little by little, but I was aware of an icy cold in my right foot.
On our arrival at Warsaw, I was put in a large house which had been reserved for the marshal, which suited me very well, as I was unable to get out of bed. The wound of my arm was healing, the bruising of my upper body was dispersing, and my skin was resuming its normal colour, however the doctor did not know why I could not get up, and hearing me complain about my leg, he decided to have a look at it, and what do you suppose he found? My foot had become gangrenous! An accident which had occurred many years ago was the cause of this. While I was at Sorze, my right foot had been pierced by the foil of a fencing opponent, which had lost its button. It seems that this injury had made my foot more sensitive to cold, and while I was lying on the snow it had become frostbitten, and not having been treated in time, gangrene had set in at the site of the old fencing injury, the area was covered by a scar the size of a five franc piece. The doctor looked with alarm at my foot, then, taking a bistoury, and having me held down by four servants, he picked off the scab and dug into my foot to remove the dead flesh, just as one would cut out the rotten part of an apple.
I suffered greatly, at first without complaining, though it was a different matter when the bistoury, having reached live tissue, exposed the muscles and bones, which one could see. The doctor then stood on a chair and having soaked a sponge in warm sweetened wine, he allowed it to fall, drop by drop into the hole he had made in my foot. The pain was intolerable! Nevertheless I had to endure for a week this fearful torture, but my leg was saved.
Today, when one is so prodigal with decorations and promotions, an officer who ran the risks which I had run in reaching the 14th regiment, would certainly be rewarded; but under the Empire this sort of devotion to duty was regarded as so normal that I was given no medal and never thought of asking for one.
A long rest having been judged necessary for the cure of Marshal Augereau's wound, the Emperor instructed him to go to France for treatment, and brought Marshal Massna from Italy; to whom my brother, Bro and several of my friends were appointed. Marshal Augereau took me with him, along with his secretary and Dr.Raymond. I had to be lifted in and out of the carriage, but otherwise I felt my health improve the further we got away from those frozen wastes to a more friendly climate. My mare spent the winter in the stables of M. de Launay, the administrator of army forage supplies.
The marshal went by way of Rawa to Silesia. As long as we were in dreadful Poland, where there are no metalled roads, it took twelve and sometimes sixteen horses to drag the coach out of the bogs and swamps through which we travelled. We went always at walking pace and it was not until we reached Germany that we found ourselves in a civilised country with proper roads. We stopped at Dresden, and spent ten or twelve days at Frankfurt-on-Main, from where we had marched the previous October to attack Prussia.
We finally reached Paris about the 15th of March. I could walk with much difficulty, and had my arm in a sling, and I still felt the effects of what I had been through, but the pleasure of seeing my mother once more, and the care she devoted to me, combined with the gentle influence of the returning spring, effected my cure.
I spent the end of March, all of April, and the first week of May in Paris. It was during this time that I got to know the Desbrires, a family of which my marriage was soon to make me a member. I had recovered my health, and I realised that I could not stay any longer in Paris. Marshal Augereau sent me to Marshal Lannes who took me willingly onto his staff.
The Emperor, in order to keep an eye on any moves which the enemy might be tempted to make during the winter, had settled himself in the middle of the cantonments of his troops, first at Osterode and then at the chteau of Finkenstein, from where, while planning a new campaign, he governed France and directed his ministers, who, every week, sent him their reports. The portfolios holding the various documents furnished by each ministry were collected every Wednesday by M. Dennie the elder, under-secretary of state for war, who sent them off on Thursdays in the charge of a junior official whose duty it was to deliver them into the hands of the Emperor. But this system worked very badly because most of these officials had never been out of France. They did not know a word of German, nor did they understand the currency or the regulations regarding posting in foreign countries, so they did not know how to manage matters once they had crossed the Rhine. In addition, these gentlemen, being unused to fatigue, soon found themselves overcome by that of a journey of more than three hundred leagues, which lasted continuously for ten days and ten nights. One of them was so incompetent as to allow his despatches to be stolen. Napoleon was so angry at this mishap that he sent a courier to Paris to tell M. Dennie not to give the portfolios in future to officials except those who knew Germany, and who, being able to support fatigue and privation, could carry out their duties more efficiently.
M. Dennie was having great difficulty in finding anyone to fill the post, when I turned up with a letter ordering me to report to Marshal Lannes. Delighted to have found someone to take the next lot of despatches, he warned me to be ready to leave on the coming Thursday, and gave me five thousand francs for expenses and the purchase of a carriage, which suited me very well, as I did not have much money to get me back to the army in the depths of Poland.