We left Paris about the 10th of May. Both my servant and I were armed, and if one of us left the coach the other remained on guard. We knew enough German to keep the postilions up to the mark, and as I was in uniform, they obeyed me with more alacrity than they would a civilian official. So that instead of taking the usual nine and a half or ten days over the journey, we made it in eight and a half.
The Emperor was delighted to have his despatches twenty-four hours earlier than expected, and after praising the keenness which had led me to ask to return to duty in spite of my recent wounds, he added that as I had been so efficient a courier, I could leave for Paris that same night to take back some other portfolios; a task which would not prevent me from taking part in the campaign, which could not restart before the beginning of June.
Although I had spent nothing like the five thousand francs which M. Dennie had given me, the marshal of the palace gave me the same sum to return to Paris, which I did as quickly as possible. I stayed no more than twenty-four hours in the capital, and left once more for Poland; the minister again gave me five thousand francs for this third journey; it was far more than was necessary, but that was how Napoleon wanted it. It is true that these trips were very tiring and very boring, even though the weather was fine. I was on the road day and night for nearly a month in the sole company of my servant.
I reported to the Emperor at Finkenstein, and was afraid that I might have to continue as postman until fighting broke out, when fortunately some replacements were found and the Emperor authorised me to go to Marshal Lannes, to whom I reported at Marienberg on the 25th May. He had with him Colonel Sicard, Augereau's aide-de-camp, who had been kind enough to take charge of my horses. It was with much pleasure that I saw once more my mare Lisette, who was fit enough for more service.
The fortress of Danzig, besieged by the French during the winter, had fallen into their hands. The return of the good weather soon saw campaigning recommence. The Russians attacked our cantonments on the 5th of June, and were sharply repulsed at every point. On the 10th there was a fierce encounter at Heilsberg which some historians describe as a battle. The enemy were once more defeated. I shall not go into any detail about this affair, since Marshal Lannes' corps took very little part in it, not having arrived until nightfall. We did, however, come under some heavy fire and Colonel Sicard was mortally wounded. He had already been wounded at Eylau, and although scarcely recovered from his injuries, had returned to take part in the renewed fighting. Before he died, the good colonel requested me to say his farewell to Marshal Augereau, and gave me a letter for his wife. I was very much upset by this painful scene.
The army now being in pursuit of the Russians, we passed through Eylau. The fields which we had left three months previously covered with snow and dead bodies, were now overspread by a delightful carpet of green, bedecked with flowers. What a contrast! How many soldiers lay beneath those verdant meadows? I went and sat at the place where I had fallen and been despoiled, and where I also would have died, had not a truly providential combination of circumstances come to my aid. Marshal Lannes wanted to see the hillock which the 14th had so valiantly defended. I took him there. Since the time of the battle, the enemy had been in occupation of the place; however, we found, still intact, the monument which all the corps of the French army had erected to the memory of their dead comrades of the 14th, thirty-six of whose officers had been buried in the same grave. This respect for the dead reflected honour on the Russians. I remained for a few moments on the spot where I had been hit by the bullet and wounded by the bayonet, and thought of the brave men who lay in the dust, and whose fate I had so nearly shared.
The Russians, having been defeated on the 10th of June at Heilsberg, retreated hastily and got a day ahead of the French who, by the evening of the 13th, were concentrated beyond Eylau, on the left bank of the Alle. The Russians occupied Bartenstein on the right bank of this river, which the two armies now descended on opposite sides.
Benningsen, whose stores of food and ammunition were in Konigsberg, where the Prussian corps was stationed, wanted to reach this town before the arrival of the French, but to do so he had to cross over onto the left bank of the Alle, where there were the French troops. The Russian commander hoped to reach Friedland sufficiently far ahead of the French to be able to cross the river before they could oppose him. The same reasons which made Benningsen wish to hold on to Konigsberg, made Napoleon wish to capture it. He had for several days constantly manoeuvred to out-flank the Russian left, and keep them away from the place, in the direction of which he had sent Murat, Soult and Davout to oppose the Russians if they arrived before us.
The Emperor, however, did not stick to this scheme, and foreseeing that the Russians would attempt to cross the Alle at Friedland, he aimed to occupy the town before they did, and on the night of the 13th-14th June, he despatched towards it the corps of Marshal Lannes and Mortier, and three divisions of cavalry. The rest of the army was to follow.
Marshal Lannes, who was in the van, with the Oudinot Grenadiers and a brigade of cavalry, having arrived at Posthenen, a league from Friedland, sent the 9th Hussars to reconnoitre the latter town. They were repulsed with losses, and daybreak revealed a large part of the Russian army massed on the opposite bank of the Alle on the high ground between Allenau and Friedland. They had begun to cross the old town bridge, beside which they had constructed two new ones.
The aim of the two armies was very easily understood. The Russians wanted to cross the Alle to get to Konigsberg, and the French wanted to stop them and drive them back across the river, which had very steep banks. The only crossing point was at Friedland. The Russians had difficulty in deploying from Friedland onto the open ground of the left bank, owing to the fact that the way out of the town was much restricted by a large lake, and by a stream called the Mill Stream, which ran in a very steep-sided ravine. To protect their crossing, the Russians had placed two strong batteries of guns on the right bank, which could cover the town and part of the land between Posthenen and Heinrichsdorf.
The Emperor was still at Eylau: the various corps marching towards Friedland were still several leagues away, when Marshal Lannes, having marched all night, arrived before the town. The marshal would have liked to attack the enemy immediately; but already they had thirty thousand men drawn up on the level ground before Friedland, and their lines, the right of which was opposite Heinrichsdorf, the centre at the mill stream, and the left at the village of Sortlack, were being endlessly reinforced; while Marshal Lannes had no more than ten thousand men; however, he deployed them skillfully in the village of Posthenen and the woods of Sortlack, from where he threatened the Russian's left flank, while with two divisions of cavalry he tried to stop their advance toward Heinrichsdorf, which lay on the route from Friedland to Konigsberg. There was a brisk exchange of fire before Mortier's corps arrived. Mortier, to dispute with the Russians the road to Konigsberg, while waiting for fresh reinforcements, occupied Heinrichsdorf and the area between this village and Posthenen. However, it was not possible that Lannes and Mortier with twenty-five thousand men could resist the seventy thousand Russians who would soon face them. The situation was becoming highly critical. Marshal Lannes sent a succession of officers to warn the Emperor to hasten the arrival of the army corps which he knew were coming up behind him. Mounted on my swift Lisette, I was the first to go. I met the Emperor as he was leaving Eylau; he was beaming with pleasure! He called me to his side, and as we galloped along, I had to explain to him what had happened before I left the battle. When I had finished my recital, the Emperor said to me, smiling, "Have you a good memory?" "Passable, Sir," I replied. "Well what anniversary is this, the 14th of June?" "Marengo" I said "Yes! Yes! The anniversary of Marengo," said the Emperor, "and I shall beat the Russians as I beat the Austrians!"
Napoleon was so convinced about this, that as he went along the columns, where the men greeted him with many cheers, he said to them repeatedly "Today is a lucky day, it is the anniversary of Marengo!"
It was after eleven o'clock when Napoleon arrived on the battlefield, where several corps had already come to join Lannes and Mortier. The remainder, including the Guard, were arriving one by one. Napoleon readjusted the line: Ney was on the right, positioned in the wood at Sortlack; Lannes and Mortier formed the centre, between Posthenen and Heinrichsdorf; the left stretched out beyond this last village. The heat was overpowering. The Emperor gave the troops an hour's rest, after which, at the signal of a volley by twenty-five guns, a general attack would begin. Marshal Ney's corps had the most difficult task, for they were to come out of their hiding place in the woods of Sortlack, fight their way into Friedland, which was filled with the main forces and reserves of the enemy, seize the bridges and thus cut off the Russian's way of retreat.
It is difficult to understand why Benningsen had placed his forces in front of the narrow exit from Friedland, and with their backs to the Alle with its steep banks, in the presence of the French who commanded the open country. The explanation given later by the Russian general was that having been a day ahead of Napoleon, he did not believe that the French troops could cover in twelve hours a distance which had taken his men twenty-four hours, and he had thought that Lannes' corps was an isolated advance-guard of the French army, which he could easily crush. When this illusion had been dissipated, it was too late to bring his army back to the other bank because the narrow defile at Friedland would have caused certain disaster, so he preferred to stand and fight.
At about one in the afternoon, the twenty-five guns at Posthenen, given the order by the Emperor, fired a volley, and battle was joined all along the line. At first our left and our centre moved very slowly to give the right, commanded by Ney, time to capture the town. The marshal, emerging from Sortlack wood, took the village of that name and advanced rapidly towards Friedland, sweeping aside everything in his path; but as they moved forward from the wood and the village of Sortlack to the first houses of Friedland, Ney's troops were exposed to the fire of the Russian batteries which, positioned behind the town on the heights of the opposite bank, caused them severe losses. This fire was made more dangerous by the fact that the gunners, separated from us by the river, could aim their guns in safety, knowing that our infantry could not attack them. This serious problem could have led to the failure of the attack on Friedland, but Napoleon overcame it by sending General Senarmont with fifty guns, which he placed on the left bank of the Alle, and subjected the Russian batteries to such heavy fire that they were soon silenced. As soon as the enemy fire had ceased, Marshal Ney resumed his advance, driving the Russians back into Friedland, and mingled in confusion with them, entered the streets of the unfortunate town, where the mortar bombs had started a huge fire.
A savage bayonet fight ensued in which the Russians, crammed together and scarcely able to move, suffered enormous losses! ... At last, in spite of their courage, they were compelled to retreat in disorder and seek refuge by crossing the bridges to the other bank; but General Senarmont had moved his guns into a position from which he could fire on the bridges, which he soon broke, after killing many of the Russians who were attempting to escape across them. All those who remained in Friedland were either killed, captured or drowned while trying to cross the river.
Up until this point, Napoleon had, so to speak, made his left and his centre mark time; he now moved them rapidly forward. General Gortschakoff, who commanded the centre and right wing of the enemy, attempted, bravely, to recapture the town, (which would have been of no use, because the bridges were down, although he did not know that). He charged at the head of his men into the burning Friedland; but driven out by Ney, who was occupying the town, and forced back into the open, he found himself confronting our centre, who drove him back to the Alle at Kloschenen. The Russians defended themselves heroically and refused to surrender although completely surrounded. Many of them were killed by our bayonets, the remainder rolled down the steep banks into the river, where a large number were drowned.
The extreme right of the enemy was composed mostly of cavalry who tried during the battle to capture or outflank the village of Heinrichsdorf; but driven off by our troops, they went back to the banks of the Alle, under the command of General Lambert, who, seeing that Friedland was in the hands of the French and that the Russian left and centre were defeated, gathered all he could of the regiments of the right wing and made off from the battlefield down the side of the Alle. Nightfall prevented the French from following, so his was the only body of Russian troops to escape the disaster.
Our victory was one of the most complete; we captured all the Russian guns; we did not take a many prisoners during the action, but a great many of the enemy were killed or wounded, amounting to more than twenty-six thousand; our losses were no more than three thousand dead and four or five thousand wounded. Of all the battles fought by the Emperor, this was the only one in which the number of his troops exceeded that of the enemy. The French strength was eighty thousand and the Russian's only seventy-five thousand. The remnants of the Russian army marched in disorder all night, and retired behind the River Pregal, having destroyed the bridges.
Marshals Soult, Davout and Murat had not been involved in the battle of Friedland, but their presence induced the Russians to abandon Konigsberg, which town our troops entered. We found there an immense store of all kinds of material.
I did not suffer any injury during the battle, though I ran into a number of dangers. You saw how I left Posthenen in the morning, on Marshal Lannes' orders, to go as quickly as possible to warm the Emperor that the Russians were crossing the Alle, and that a battle appeared imminent. Napoleon was at Eylau; I had therefore to make a journy of about six leagues to reach him, which would have presented no difficulty to my excellent mare if the road had been clear, but as it was congested by the troops of various units hurrying to the aid of Marshal Lannes at Friedland, there was no way in which I could gallop along it. I therefore went across country, which meant that Lisette, having had to jump hedges, fences and ditches, was already very tired when I met the Emperor, who was just leaving Eylau. However, I had, without a moment of rest, to return with him to Friedland, and although this time the troops moved to one side to let us pass, my poor mare, having galloped over twelve leagues altogether, six of them being across country, and in very hot weather, was utterly exhausted by the time I had rejoined Marshal Lannes on the battlefield. I realised that Lisette could not continue to carry me during the action, so, taking advantage of the rest which Napoleon allowed the troops, I set out to look for my servant, in order to change horses; but in the middle of such a large collection of troops there was not much hope of finding him. It was, in fact, impossible, and I went back to the staff still mounted on the weary Lisette.
Marshal Lannes and my comrades, who saw my problem, had advised me to dismount and allow my mare a few hour's rest, when I caught sight of a Hussar leading a horse which he had captured from the enemy. I took it over, and gave Lisette to one of the troopers of the marshal's escort, so that he could take her back behind the lines, let her have some food and hand her over to my servant, when he could find him. I then got astride my new mount, took my place among the aides-de-camp, and when it came to my turn, I went off.
I was, at first, very pleased with my fresh horse, until the time came when, Marshal Ney having gone into Friedland, Marshal Lannes sent me to warn him of an enemy movement. I had barely entered the town when this devil of a horse, which had behaved so well in the open country, finding itself in a little square, where all the houses were on fire and the street covered with burning planks and furniture, in the midst of which a number of bodies were being roasted, was so frightened by the sight of the flames and the smell of burning flesh that it would go neither forward nor back, and, digging in its heels, it remained motionless, snorting loudly, and no amount of spurring would persuade it to move. Now the Russians, having gained a momentary advantage, pushed our men back to the point where I was, and from the height of a church and some neighbouring houses, they were raining down bullets, while two guns which they carried with them fired grape-shot at the soldiers among whom I was.
Many men were killed around me, which recalled to my mind the position in which I had found myself at Eylau in the middle of the 14th. As I was not anxious to be wounded again and in any case, in staying where I was I was not carrying out my mission, I simply dismounted, and abandoning my infernal mount, I slipped through the houses to contact Marshal Ney at another spot, which was pointed out by some officers.
I was with him for some fifteen minutes; there were some bullets flying around, but nothing like so many as there had been at the place where I had left my mount. The Russians were eventually driven back at bayonet point and forced to retreat toward the bridges, whereupon Marshal Ney sent me to take the good news to Marshal Lannes. To get out of the town, I took the same route as I had taken to get in, and went through the little square where I had left my horse. It had been the scene of a fierce encounter which had left many dead and dying, among whom I saw my stubborn horse, its back broken by a cannon-ball, and its body riddled by bullets!.... From there I made for the outskirts in something of a hurry because the burning houses were collapsing on all sides and I was afraid of being buried beneath the debris. At last I got out of the town and reached the edge of the lake.
The heat of the day, added to that of the fire which was raging in the streets through which I had passed, had bathed me in sweat, and I was dropping with fatigue and hunger, for I had spent a night on horseback to come from Eylau to Friedland, I had galloped back to Eylau and returned to Friedland once more, and had not eaten since the previous evening. I was not looking forward, therefore, to crossing, under a blazing sun, the large area covered with high standing corn which separated me from Marshal Lannes. But once again I had a stroke of luck. General Grouchy's division of dragoons had been engaged not far away in a sharp encounter in which, although victorious, they had lost a number of men, and the colonels had, as was usual, collected the horses of the men who had been killed and put them in the hands of a detachment which would lead them away. I saw this body of men, of which every trooper was leading four or five horses and was taking them to the lake to drink.
I spoke to the officer in charge who, encumbered by all these led horses, was only too glad to let me have one, which I promised to return to his regiment in the evening. He picked out for me an excellent beast, which had been the mount of a sous-officier killed during the charge; astride of this horse, I returned rapidly to Posthenen.
I had hardly left the edge of the lake when it became the theatre of the most savage encounter, which was due to the desperate attempt made by Gortschakoff to reopen a way of retreat by capturing the road to Friedland which was held by Marshal Ney. Caught between the marshal's troops and those of our centre, who were now advancing, Gortschakoff's Russians defended themselves bravely amongst the houses bordering the lake; so that if I had stayed there, where I had thought of resting for a while, I would have landed in the middle of this fierce outbreak of fighting. I rejoined Marshal Lannes at the moment when he was moving towards the lake to attack the rear of the Russian troops whom Ney was driving away from the front of the town, and I was able to give him some useful information about the terrain on which we were fighting.
If the French army did not take many prisoners during the battle of Friedland, it was a different matter the next day and the days following; for the Russians, pursued with a bayonet at their backs, thrown into complete disorder and utterly exhausted, were abandoning their ranks and lying down in the fields, where we captured a great number. We also collected a large quantity of artillery. All those members of Benningsen's army who escaped hurried back across the Nieman, behind which was the Russian emperor who, perhaps recalling the danger to which he had been exposed at Austerlitz, had judged it unwise to assist in person at the battle of Friedland; and two days after our victory he hastened to ask Napoleon for an armistice, to which Napoleon agreed.
Three days after the battle the French army reached the town of Tilsit and the river Nieman, which at this point is only a few leagues from the frontiers of the Russian empire.
The rear of a victorious army presents a most dismal spectacle. The path of their advance is strewn with the dead, dying, and wounded, while the survivors, soon forgetting those comrades who have fallen in the fighting, rejoice in their success and go forward cheerfully to new adventures. Our men were delighted to see the Nieman, whose opposite bank was occupied by the remains of that Russian army which they had defeated in so many engagements; and where, in contrast to their own lighthearted songs, there reigned a mournful silence. Napoleon established himself at Tilsit, and his troops encamped around the town. The Nieman separated the two armies; the French occupied the left bank and the Russians the right.
The Emperor Alexander having requested a meeting with Napoleon, this took place on the 25th of June, in a pavilion on a raft anchored in the middle of the river, in sight of the two armies which lined the banks. It was a most imposing spectacle. The two emperors arrived, each from his own side, accompanied by only five of the principal officers of their armies. Marshal Lannes, who flattered himself that he should accompany the Emperor, saw himself displaced by Marshal Bessires, an intimate friend of Prince Murat; and he never forgave the marshals for depriving him of what he considered his right.
So Marshal Lannes stayed with us on the quay at Tilsit, from where we saw the two emperors embrace on meeting, which occasioned much cheering from both camps. The next day, the 26th, in the course of a second interview which took place once more in the pavilion on the Nieman, the Russian emperor presented to Napoleon his unfortunate friend, the King of Prussia. This prince whom the fortunes of war had stripped of a vast kingdom, leaving him only the small town of Memel and some miserable villages, maintained a bearing worthy of a descendant of Frederick the Great: Napoleon greeted him politely but coolly, for he considered that he had reason to complain of his conduct, and he planned to confiscate the greater part of his states.
To facilitate the meetings of the two Emperors, the town of Tilsit was declared neutral, and Napoleon handed over half of it to the Russian emperor, who set himself up there with his Guard. The two sovereigns spent some twenty days together, during which time they decided the fate of Europe. During these proceedings, the King of Prussia was relegated to the right bank, and had no quarters in Tilsit, which he visited but rarely. One day Napoleon went to call on the Queen of Prussia, who was said to be greatly distressed. He invited her to dine with him on the following day. She accepted the invitation, no doubt with little pleasure, but realising that at a time when peace was being sought it was necessary to take every measure to soften the heart of the victor.
Napoleon and the Queen of Prussia thoroughly detested one another: she had grossly insulted him in several proclamations, and he had returned the complement in his bulletins. Their meeting, however, did not display their mutual hatred; Napoleon was respectful and attentive, the queen gracious in her attempts to captivate her former enemy; attempts made all the more determinedly as she was not unaware that the peace treaty created—under the name of the kingdom of Westphalia—a new state, whose territory was to be provided by the electorate of Hesse, and by Prussia itself.
The Queen was resigned to the loss of several provinces, but she could not accept the loss of the fortified city of Magdeberg, possession of which was needed for the security of Prussia. For his part, Napoleon, who planned to nominate his brother Jrme as King of Westphalia, intended to add Magdeberg to this new state. It appears that, during the meal, the Queen deployed her not inconsiderable charms, and when Napoleon, to change the conversation, praised a superb rose which the Queen was wearing, she said to him, "Would your majesty not accept this rose in return for Magdeberg?" A more chivalrous person might have accepted, but Napoleon was too much of a realist to be won over by a pretty proposition. One may be sure that he restricted himself to admiring the beauty of the rose and also of the hand which proffered it, but he did not take the flower, which brought tears to the Queen's eyes. The conqueror, however, did not seem to notice. He kept Magdeberg and politely conducted the Queen to the boat which was to carry her to the opposite bank.
During our stay at Tilsit, Napoleon held a review of his Guard and the army in the presence of Alexander, who was impressed by the martial air and bearing of these troops. The Russian Emperor, in his turn, put on display some fine battalions of his Guard, but he did not dare to parade his line regiments, whose numbers had been so greatly reduced at Heilsberg and Friedland. As for the King of Prussia, of whose regiments there remained only the broken dbris, he did not exhibit them at all.
Napoleon drew up, with Russia and Prussia, a peace treaty in which the principal articles related to the creation of the kingdom of Westphalia for the benefit of Jrme Bonaparte. The elector of Saxony, now an ally and friend of France, was elevated to the dignity of king, and was awarded, in addition, the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, composed of a vast province of the former Poland, which was recovered from the Russians. I shall not go into the less important articles of the treaty, which resulted in the re-establishment of peace between the great powers of continental Europe.
In elevating his brother to the throne of Westphalia, Napoleon added to the mistakes he had already made in awarding the kingdom of Naples to Joseph and that of Holland, Louis. The people of these countries felt humiliated at being ruled by foreigners who had not themselves done anything of importance and who were, in fact, nonentities, who had no merit except that of being Napoleon's brothers. The dislike and distrust which these new kings attracted contributed largely to the Emperor's downfall. The conduct of the King of Westphalia in particular made very many enemies for Napoleon.
Having concluded the treaty, the two Emperors parted with mutual assurances of friendship, which at the time seemed sincere.
The French army was spread out into the various provinces of Germany and Poland under the command of five marshals, in whose number Lannes had asked not to be included, since his ill-health required his return to France. If I had been his permanent aide-de-camp, I would have had to return with him, but I had an even better reason for going, and that was to rejoin Marshal Augereau, to whose staff I had not ceased to belong, my attachment to Marshal Lannes being only temporary. I made ready to return to Paris: I sold, as well as possible, my two horses, and I sent Lisette to the registrar-general, M. de Launey, who, having taken a liking to her, had asked me to let him have her when I had no further use for her. Her injuries and hard work had calmed her down, and I lent her to him for an indefinite period; he mounted his wife on her, and kept her for seven or eight years until she died a natural death.
During the twenty days which the Emperor had spent at Tilsit, he had despatched a great many officers, some to Paris, some to other parts of the empire, so that there were hardly any left available for duty. Napoleon did not want to take officers from their regiments, so he ordered a list to be made of all those who had joined the campaign voluntarily and those who did not belong to any army corps nor to the staff of any of the five marshals who were in command. I was included in this list, and felt sure that the Emperor, for whom I had already carried despatches, would choose me in preference to officers whom he did not know; and indeed, the Emperor sent for me on the 9th of July, and having given me some voluminous portfolios and some despatches for the King of Saxony, ordered me to go to Dresden and await him there. The Emperor intended to leave Tilsit that same day, but was going on a long detour to visit Konigsberg, Marienwerder, and Silesia, so that I would be several days ahead of him.
I crossed Prussia once more, and saw again several of our battlefields; I went through Berlin and arrived at Dresden two days before the Emperor. The court of Saxony was aware that a peace had been agreed, and that it raised the elector to the rank of king, and awarded him the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, but they did not yet know that the Emperor was to pass through Dresden on his way to Paris; it was I who gave this information to the new king.
You may imagine the result of this! ...Immediately the court, the town, and the army were thrown into a turmoil to organise a grand reception for the great Emperor who, after having so generously restored to liberty the Saxon troops captured at Jena, had loaded their sovereign with honours! I was received with enthusiasm; I was lodged in the chteau in a fine apartment, where I was magnificently cared for, and the king's aides-de-camp showed me round all the interesting sights of the palace and the town. Eventually the Emperor arrived, and in accordance with the protocol, which I already knew, I hurried to hand over the portfolios to M. Meneval, and to ask for the Emperor's further orders. These I found agreeable, for I was instructed to carry some fresh portfolios to Paris, and the Emperor gave me a letter which I was to deliver personally to the Empress Josephine. The marshal of the palace, M. Duroc, gave me eight thousand francs to cover the expense of the journey from Tilsit to Dresden and from Dresden to Paris. I took to the road in high spirits: I had just taken part in three fine campaigns, during which I had been promoted to captain, and had been noticed by the Emperor; we were about to enjoy the delights of peace, which would allow me to spend a long time with my mother; I was fully recovered; I had never had so much money; everything conspired to make me happy, and I was very happy.
I arrived at Frankfurt-on-main, where a lieutenant colonel of the Imperial Guard named M. de L... was in command. The Emperor had given me a letter for this officer, from whom he wanted, I think, some confidential information, for M. de L... was in touch with M. Savary, who ran the secret police. This colonel invited me to dine with him, after which he conducted me back to my coach; but as I got in I noticed a fair sized package which was not part of my despatches. I was about to call for my batman to get an explanation for this, when Colonel de L... stopped me, and told me, in an undertone, that the package contained some dresses in Berlin knitwear and other materials banned in France, and was destined for the Empress Josephine, who would be much obliged to me for bringing them to her! I recalled only too well the cruel anxieties I had suffered as a result of the false report which I had been persuaded to give the Emperor regarding the numerical strength of the "Chasseurs a Cheval" at Austerlitz, to consent to be engaged once more in some underhand business: so I flatly refused. To be sure I would have liked to please the Empress, but I was aware of the inflexible severity with which Napoleon treated those found guilty of smuggling, and after facing so many dangers, and shedding so much of my blood in battle, I had no wish to sacrifice whatever merit I had gained in the eyes of the Emperor by transgressing his laws in order to draw a smile of thanks from the Empress. To overcome my objections Colonel de L... pointed out that the package had several wrappings, of which the outermost, addressed to the minister for war, bore the seal of the 7th Light Infantry and the designation "Record of accounts." He was sure that the customs would not dare open such a package, the outer covering of which I could remove when I reached Paris and deliver the stuff to the Empress without being compromised; but in spite of all this fine reasoning, I absolutely refused to take part in this transaction and ordered the postilion to set off. When we arrived at the post-house, half way between Frankfurt and Mainz, I took my batman to task for having taken into the coach this extra package; he replied that during dinner time, M. de L... himself had put these packages into the coach: he had supposed that they contained more despatches, and had not thought that he could refuse to accept them from the hands of the commanding officer in person. "Did you say packages?" I cried. "Were there then several? He took away only one." And now, rummaging amongst the Emperor's portfolios, I found a second package of contraband which the colonel had put into my trunk without my knowledge. I was taken aback by this trickery and was tempted to throw the dresses onto the highway. However I did not dare, and I continued my journey, determined that if the contraband was seized I would explain how it had been put into my coach, and by whom the stamp of the 7th Light Infantry had been put on the wrapping; for I had no wish to face the anger of Napoleon; but as this defence would have compromised the Empress,I decided that I would use it only as a last resort, and that I would make every effort to avoid my coach being examined. A stroke of luck and a little subterfuge got me out of this dilemma.
I arrived, very worried, at the bridge over the Rhine at Mainz, which separates Germany from France, and my anxiety was increased by the sight of the great collection of customs officers and soldiers in unifor, who were waiting round this frontier. When my carriage was stopped, in the usual manner, two men arrived simultaneously at the door; one was a customs officer, to carry out a search, and the other was an aide-de-camp to Marshal Kellerman, who was in command of the station, and who wanted to know if the Emperor was on his way. This is my chance! I thought to myself, and pretending not to notice the customs officer, I replied to the aide-de-camp, "The Emperor is coming behind me." This was no lie, he was indeed following me, but at an interval of two days...which I did not think it necessary to add.
My words were heard by all around me and threw them into a state of frenzied activity. The aide-de-camp went off across the bridge at the gallop, at risk of tumbling into the Rhine in his haste to warn Marshal Kellerman. The guard took up their arms. The customs men and their superiors tried to arrange themselves in the most military manner possible in order to look good in front of the Emperor and, as my carriage got in their way, they told the postilion to clear off....So there I was! Freed from their clutches!
I went on to the posting-house and quickly changed horses; but while this was being done, a violent storm broke over Mainz and the rain began to fall in torrents. It was five o'clock in the afternoon, dinner time; but on the news of the approaching arrival of the Emperor, the general alarm was beaten throughout the town; on which signal the marshal, generals, prefect, mayor, civil and military authorities, all threw down their napkins, and hastily donning their best clothes, they went in the pouring rain through the streams of water running in the streets to take up their posts; while I, who was the cause of all this commotion, was laughing my head off as I made off at full speed drawn by three good post-horses.
In view of the fact that the Empress was willing to disobey her august spouse by wearing clothes made of prohibited material, and that a colonel was willing to slip contraband into my coach without my knowledge, the trick which I had played seemed to me to be excusable. In any case, since it was June, the soakingaking which I had caused these Mainz officials to undergo would do no harm except to their clothes. When I was far from Mainz, I could still hear the sound of drums, and I learned afterwards that they had stayed up all night. The Emperor arrived two days later, but as he had had an accident to his coach, the good citizens of Mainz blamed that for the delay of which their fine clothes were the victims. I was heading swiftly and happily towards Paris, when a most disagreeable accident interrupted my progress, and turned my happiness to annoyance. You will understand that when a sovereign travels, it would be impossible to supply a change of horses for the numerous carriages which precede and follow him, if the staging posts were not reinforced by horses, known as "de tourne", brought from posts established on other routes. Now, as I was leaving Dombasle, a little town this side of Verdun, a confounded postilion "de tourne" who had arrived the night before, not having noticed a steep hill which one encounters after leaving the staging post, lost control of his horses during the descent and overturned my carriage, breaking the springs and the bodywork. To make matters worse, it was a Sunday and all the population had gone to a fete in a neighbouring village, so that I could not find a workman. Those that I found the next day were so unskillful that I had to spend two mortal days in this miserable place.
I was about to set out again when an outrider having announced the arrival of the Emperor, I took the liberty of stopping his coach to tell him of the accident which I had suffered. He laughed, took back the letter for the Empress which he had given me, and went on his way. I followed him to St. Cloud, from where, after giving the portfolios to the cabinet secretary, I went to my mother's home in Paris.
I took up once more my position as aide-de-camp to Marshal Augereau, a very easy task, as it consisted of going every month to spend one or two weeks at La Houssaye, where daily life was always so amusing. Thus rolled by the end of the summer and the autumn; during which time the Emperor's policies were leading towards fresh events and storms whose terrible commotions would nearly swallow me up; me, a very small personage, who, in his carefree youth, thought of nothing but enjoying life, after having seen death at such close quarters.
It has been rightly said that the Emperor was never so great and powerful as in 1807, when, after defeating the Austrians, the Russians and the Prussians, he had concluded a peace so favourable to France and to himself. But scarcely had Napoleon ended his war against the northern powers, when his evil genius drove him to undertake one even more terrible, in the south of Europe, in the Iberian peninsula.
End of Volume 1, The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot. Translated by Oliver.C.Colt
The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot. Translated by Oliver.C.Colt
Contents of Volume 2.
Chap. 1. My marriage. Farewell to Massna.
Chap. 2. Biography of Massna.
Chap. 3. 1812. Appointed to 23rd Chasseurs. The intrigues of Count Czernicheff.
Chap. 4. War becomes inevitable. Warnings given to Napoleon. The Imperial court at Dresden. Faulty composition of army.
Chap. 5. Review by the Emperor. The army at the Nieman. Notes on historians of the 1812 campaign. Bernadotte's attitude. The Poles.
Chap. 6. Crossing of Nieman. Entry into Wilna. I meet the enemy. The 23rd at Wilkomir. Problems in Lithuania. The advance.
Chap. 7. The Russian army split. Bagration escapes from Jrme. Fruitless attack on Dvinaberg. I defeat two of Wittgenstein's units. We leave the Grande Arme. Composition of 2nd Corps.
Chap. 8. Jakobovo and Kliastitsoui. I am wounded.
Chap. 9. The marsh at Sebej. Retreat. The ford at Sivotschina. Death of Koulnieff. A last farewell.
Chap. 10. Fresh withdrawal by Oudinot. Marches and countermarches. Retreat to Polotsk. General St. Cyr. Oudinot is wounded. St. Cyr takes over.
Chap. 11. Surprise attack on the enemy. Various incidents. We settle in Polotsk.
Chap. 12. The advance of the Grande Arme. Capture of Smolensk. The battle for Moscow.
Chap. 13. Bad news from Spain. Rostopschine. The fire of Moscow. Revival of the Russian army. Koutousoff's treachery.
Chap. 14. Decision to retreat. Napoleon forced to change route. I become a Colonel. Bravery of Ney as rearguard.
Chap. 15. Situation of 2nd Corps. Bavarian demoralisation. Mission to Count Lubenski.
Chap. 16. The Austrians defect. The defence of Polotsk. Wittgenstein captured but escapes. The Bavarians leave us. We join Marshal Victor.
Chap. 17. Oudinet returns and separates from Victor. Grave situation of the army. Loss and recapture of Borisoff. The bridge over the Beresina burnt. We collect much booty from Borisoff.
Chap. 18. Corbineau rejoins 2nd Corps. The enemy are deceived.
Chap. 19. Loss of Partouneaux's division. The catastrophe at the Beresina. 2nd Corps forms the rearguard. I am wounded again.
Chap. 20.Intense cold. Thieving in the army. Arrival at Wilna. Using sledges. Arrival at Kovno. Crossing the Vistula.
Chap. 21. Causes of our disaster.
Chap. 22. Worrying general situation. Incompetent administration. Question the retention of fortresses. The state of France. I go to the depot at Mons.
Chap. 23. New hostilities on the Elbe. Battles of Lutzen and Bautzen. An armistice. I rejoin the regiment. The state of the army. Napoleon should negotiate.
Chap. 24. The armistice broken. Treachery of Jomeni. A painful check.
Chap. 25. The battle of Dresden. Vandamme at Kulm.
Chap. 26. Oudinot and Macdonald both suffer defeat. The plateau of Jaur. We recross the Katzbach.
Chap. 27. Forces concentrate at Dresden. The Baskirs.
Chap. 28. The battle of Leipzig.
Chap. 29. Vain attempt at armistice. Battle of 18th October. Bernadotte fights against us. Indecisive result of fighting.
Chap. 30. A critical situation. Lack of preparation for a retreat. The allies enter Leipzig. Premature destruction of the bridge over the Elster.
Chap. 31. I gather the remnants of our army at the Elster. The retreat to the Saale. Erfurt. The army reached Hanau.
Chap. 32. The battle of Hanau. The retreat continues.
Chap. 33. The last events of 1813. Dresden surrendered. Disasters in Spain. The situation in Italy and the Tyrol.
Chap. 34. I am nominated commandant of the department of Jemmapes. A difficult position. Our troops are recalled to Paris.
Chap. 35. Napoleon's last stand. Resistance becomes impossible. Inadequate measures taken to defend Paris. Belated return of the Emperor to the capital. Paris should have been held. Underhand plotting against Napoleon.
My brother and the rest of Massna's aides-de-camp made haste to leave Spain and come to join us in Paris, where I remained all summer and the following autumn. I went each month to spend some days at the Chteau de Bonneuil, the home of M. and Mme. Desbrires. During my absence the Desbrires had been most friendly towards my mother, and on my return the affection I had felt for a long time for their daughter was increased, and I was shortly permitted to ask for her hand in marriage. The marriage was agreed, and I even had, for a time, the hope of being promoted to colonel before this important ceremony took place.
It was the accepted thing for the Emperor to sign the marriage contract of any of the colonels in the army, but he only very rarely accorded this favour to officers of lower rank, and they were required to inform the minister for war of the reasons which led them to ask for this distinction. I based my request on what the Emperor had said to me when I saw him on the eve of the battle of Marengo. He had said to me, speaking of my father who had died during the siege of Genoa, "If you behave yourself and follow in his footsteps, I, myself, will be your father." I added that since that day I had been wounded eight times, and was conscious that I had always done my duty.
The minister, Clarke, a very stern character, who almost always rejected requests of this sort, agreed that mine merited consideration, and promised me that he would submit it to his majesty. He kept his word, for a few days later I was ordered to report to the Emperor at the chteau of Compigne, and to bring with me the notary who held the contract of marriage; this was the good M. Mailand, with whom I set off in a post carriage.
When we arrived, the Emperor had gone hunting: not that he much enjoyed the sport, but he thought that he should copy the former kings of France. The signing was therefore put off until the next day, which greatly upset M. Mailand who was awaited in Paris. But what could one do?
On the following day we were presented to the Emperor, whom we found in the apartment where, twenty years later, I have so often served as aide-de-camp to princes of the House of Orlans. My contract was signed in the salon where later was signed that of the King of Belgium with Princess Louise, the daughter of King Louis-Phillipe of France.
During these short interviews, Napoleon was always very affable. He addressed some questions to the notary, asked me if my fiance was pretty, what was her dowry, etc. etc. On dismissing me he said that he would like to see me in a good position, and that he would soon reward me for my good services. For a moment I saw myself as a colonel, and this hope was reinforced when, on leaving the Imperial presence, I was accosted by General Mouton, Comte de Lobau, who assured me confidentially that the Emperor had put my name on a list of officers to whom he wished to give the command of a regiment. My pleasure on hearing this was increased by my knowledge that the Comte de Lobau, an aide-de-camp to Napoleon, was responsible under the minister for war, for military promotions. I returned to Paris full of joy and hope! I was married on the 14th November following.
I was happy in the bosom of my family, and expected every day my brevet as colonel, when I was told by the minister for war that I was to be posted as Major to the 1st regiment of Mounted Chasseurs, then in garrison in the depths of Germany. I was much downcast at this news, for it seemed to me most hurtful that I should be sent once more to serve as a simple squadron commander, a rank in which I had been wounded three times and had campaigned from Wagram to Portugal. I could not understand why I was being treated like this, after what the Emperor and the Comte de Lobau had said to me. It was the latter who gave me the key to this puzzle.
Massna, on his entry into Portugal, had fourteen aides-de-camp, of whom six were senior officers. Two of these, MM. Pelet and Casabianca, were made colonels during the campaign; they were senior to me and had amply fulfilled their duties. Their promotion seemed to make mine the more certain since I now became the most senior squadron commander on the staff. The man in the fifth place was M. Barain, who was a captain when I joined the staff. M. Barain had lost a hand at Wagram, and was promoted to major, which was fair; however, the Emperor in advancing him to this rank had designated him for work in the arsenals, work which can easily be done with an arm missing. Massna had expected that M. Barain would remove himself, but the latter insisted on going with him to Portugal, although he could not carry out any mission in such difficult country. No one thought therefore that he would get any further promotion.
It so happened, however, that M. Barain was a nephew of M. Francois de Nantes, the director of legal codification, who had found numerous positions for members of Massna's family. M. Francois de Nantes demanded in return that his nephew, Barain, should be recommended for the rank of colonel. The marshal, forced to choose between me and Barain, chose Barain. I learned from the Comte de Lobau that the Emperor was reluctant to sign, but that he eventually yielded to the insistence of the worthy director who had come to add weight personally to the only request he had yet made on the behalf of his family. So Barain was promoted to colonel.
I have perhaps dwelt a little overmuch on this regrettable affair, but to assess my disappointment it is necessary to think back to the period in question and recall the important position occupied by battalion commanders in the imperial army, which resulted in several instances of colonels who refused promotion to general and asked only to be left in command of their regiments.
Massna sent me the following letter, the only reward for three campaigns fought and three wounds recieved under his command.
Paris. 24th November. 1811
My dear Marbot, I send you the service order which I have received on your behalf. I asked for promotion for you, as you are aware, and I am doubly disappointed that you did not obtain this and that I am also to lose you. I have been very satisfied with your services; a satisfaction which you are entitled to feel, regardless of any rewards which this may bring. Your record will always do you credit in the eyes of those under whose orders you may find yourself. Please believe, my dear Marbot, in my appreciation, my regrets and my sincere good wishes for you.
I had not expected to meet Massna again, but his wife wrote to me saying that she wished to meet my wife, and inviting us both to dinner. I had always had the highest regard for the conduct of Madame Massna, particularly at Antibes, her home territory, where I met her for the first time, on my return from Genoa. So I accepted the invitation. Massna came up to me and once more expressed his regrets, and suggested that he might ask for my nomination as an officer of the Legion of Honour. I replied that as he had been unable to do anything for me when I was on his staff, and wounded before his eyes, I would not like to expose him to any further embarrassment, and that I would now seek advancement by my own efforts; then I lost myself in the crowd of guests.
This was my last contact with Massna, though I continued to visit his wife and his son, both of them my firm friends.
I shall now give you some details of Massna's career. Andr Massna was born on the 6th of May 1758 at La Turbie, a village in the little state of Monaco. His paternal grandfather was a respected tanner who had three sons: Jules, the father of the marshal, Augustin and Marcel. The first two of these went to Nice, where they set up a soap-works. Marcel went to France where he enlisted in the Royal-Italian regiment. When Jules died, leaving very little money and five children, three of them, amongst whom was the young Andr, were taken in charge by their uncle Augustin, who having taught them no more than to read and write, employed them in soap-making.
Andr, who was active and adventurous, could not adjust to the monotonous and laborious work of the factory, and at the age of thirteen he abandoned his uncle's home and embarked, secretly, as a cabin-boy, in a merchant ship; accompanied by one of his cousins named Bavastro, who became, during the wars of the empire, the most celebrated corsaire of the Mediterranean. As for Andr, having spent two years at sea and even made a voyage to America, he rebelled against the hard life and harsh treatment which were the lot of the seaman, and enlisted as a private soldier in the Royal-Italian regiment, under the auspices of his uncle Marcel, who had reached the rank of sergeant-major, and was soon to be commissioned. This Marcel Massna, whom I met in 1800, when he was commandant of the fortress at Antibes, was a serious and capable man, highly thought of by his Colonel, M. Chauvet d'Arlon. To help his nephew, he had him taught to speak and write reasonable French, and, in spite of some escapades, had him promoted to the rank of warrant-officer. He even held out some hope of a commission in the mounted constabulary, but Andr, tired of waiting, left at the end of his engagement.
Having gone back to civilian life, without any money, Andr joined forces once more once more with his cousin Bavastro, and taking advantage of the close proximity of the frontiers of France, Piedmont, the State of Genoa, and the sea, they embarked on smuggling on a grand scale, not only along the coast but across the mountains, the various passes through which he got to know extremely well; knowledge which he later found most useful when he was in command of troops in this part of the country. Hardened by the rough trade of smuggling, and compelled always to keep one jump ahead of the customs officers, Massna acquired, without being aware of it, an understanding of the principles of warfare, as well as the vigilance and activity without which one cannot become a good officer. Having by this means got together some capital, he married a French woman, Mlle. Lamarre, the daughter of an Antibes surgeon, and settled in this town, where he had built up a small business in olive oil and dried Provencal fruit, when the Revolution of 1789 broke out.
Influenced by his taste for arms, Massna left his wife and his shop and enrolled in the 1st battalion of volunteers from Var. His practical and theoretical knowledge of military matters earned him the rank of captain, and shortly after, that of major. Fighting soon broke out, and the courage and skill displayed by Massna elevated him rapidly to the ranks of colonel and brigadier-general. He was put in command of a camp called "the camp of a thousand pitchforks," in part of which was the 4th artillery company, commanded by Captain Napoleon Bonaparte, under whose orders he would serve later in Italy. Entrusted with the command of a column at the siege of Toulon, he distinguished himself by the capture of the forts Lartigues and Sainte-Catherine, which led to his promotion to divisional general. After the town had fallen, he joined his troops to the army of Italy where he was prominent in all the engagements which took place in the area between the shores of the Mediterranean and Piedmont; country which he knew so well. Intelligent, ceaselessly active, and of boundless courage, Massna, after some years of success, had already a high reputation, when a grave mistake nearly brought his career to an end.
At the beginning of the campaign of 1796, General Bonaparte had just become commander-in-chief of the army, which placed Massna, once his senior in rank, under his command. Massna, who always led the advance-guard, having defeated near Cairo (Cairo in Piedmont, not Cairo in Egypt. Ed.) an Austrian unit, learned that the enemy officers had planned a celebratory dinner in the inn of a nearby village which they had been forced to abandon. He conceived the notion, together with some brother officers, of taking advantage of this windfall, and left his division camped on the top of a fairly high mountain.
However the Austrians recovered their nerve, and charging back, they fell on the French camp at daybreak. Our soldiers, although taken by surprise, defended themselves bravely, but with no general in control, they were driven back to the edge of the plateau where they had spent the night, and, attacked by greatly superior forces, looked certain to suffer a major defeat when Massna, having with his sabre cut his way through the Austrian scouts, ran up a path which he knew of old and appeared in front of his troops who, in their indignation, received him with well-deserved cat-calls. The general, without taking too much notice, resumed command and proceeded to march his division to rejoin the main body of the army. It was then seen that a battalion placed the night before on an isolated hillock could not come down by any practicable route without coming under enfilading fire from the enemy. Massna scrambled quickly up the hillside on his hands and knees and went alone to the battalion where he addressed the men and assured them that he would get then out of this fix if they would follow his example. Ordering them to sheathe their bayonets, he sat on the snow at the edge of slope, and pushing himself by his hands, he slid to the bottom of the valley....All our soldiers, in fits of laughter, did the same, and in no time the whole battalion was gathered together, out of the range of the baffled Austrians. This method of descent, used by the peasants and mountain guides of Switzerland, had surely never before been used by a battalion of troops of the line. I have been assured by generals who were in Massna's division at the time that this incident actually occurred, and, nine years later, I was at the chteau of La Houssaye, when Marshal Augereau entertained the Emperor and all the marshals and I heard them joking with Massna about the new method of retreat which he had used on this occasion.
It seems that on the day that Massna was making use of this odd expedient, which he had often used in the days when he was a smuggler, Bonaparte, realising that he was very young to be appointed commander-in-chief, and feeling on that account that he should come down hard on any officer who failed in his duty, ordered Massna to be brought before a court-martial and accused of abandoning his post, which could result in a sentence of death or at the least cashiering!... But at the moment when the general was about to be arrested there began the famous battle of Montenotte, in which Massna's and Augereau's divisions took two thousand prisoners, four flags and five artillery pieces, and completely routed the Austrian army. After this triumph, to which Massna had largely contributed, there could not be any question of putting him on trial. His misdeeds were forgotten, and he was able to continue his splendid career.
Massna distinguished himself at Lodi, Milan, Verona, and Arcoli, in fact everywhere that he was in action, and in particular at the battle of Rivoli. When the preliminaries of a peace had been signed at Leoben, Massna who had contributed so much to our victories, was entrusted with the task of taking the draft treaty to the government. Paris welcomed him with the most lively expressions of admiration, wherever he went people crowded round him to gaze on the features of this famous warrior. But this triumph was soon eclipsed by his exaggerated love of money, which was always his principal weakness.
General Duphot, the French ambassador in Rome, had been assassinated in that city. A part of the army of Italy, under the command of Berthier was ordered to go and exact vengeance; but Berthier was recalled by Bonaparte who wanted to take him to Egypt, and his place as commander of the army in Rome was taken by Massna. Soon after the arrival of this general, who was already accused of procuring a great deal of money during the Italian campaigns of the previous year, the army complained that it was in a state of destitution, without clothing and almost without bread, while the administration, drawing millions from the Papal states, lived in luxury and abundance. The army turned against him and sent a deputation of one hundred officers to demand from Massna an account for the expenditure of this money. Whether he was unable to account for it or whether he refused to do so as a matter of discipline Massna would not give any explanation, and as the troops persisted in their demand, he was forced to leave Rome and give up his command.
As soon as he had returned to France, he put out a memorandum justifying his conduct, which was badly received by the public and by his colleagues to whom he had addressed it. What upset him most was that General Bonaparte left for Egypt without replying to a letter which he had written to him concerning the matter.
However, a new coalition of Russia, Austria, and England having declared war on France, hostilities recommenced. In such circumstances, Massna, although he had not cleared himself from the accusations brought against him, could not remain in obscurity; so the Directory, in order to make use of his military talents, hurriedly gave him command of the French army whose duty it was to defend Switzerland. Massna at first did very well; but having rashly attacked the dangerous defile of Feldkirch, in the Vorarlberg, he was driven off with losses by the Austrians.
This was a time when our army of the Rhine, commanded by Jourdan, had just been defeated at Stockach by Prince Charles of Austria, and the forces which we had in Italy, defeated at Novi by the Russians under Souvarow, had lost their commander-in-chief, Joubert, killed on the field of battle. The Austrians, ready to cross the Rhine, threatened Alsace and Lorraine; Italy was in the hands of the Russians, whom Souvarow was leading into Switzerland through the Saint-Gothard pass. France, on the point of being invaded over both its frontiers, at the Rhine and at the Alps, pinned all its hopes on Massna, and was not disappointed in her expectations.
As you already know, the Directory, impatient for action, threatened Massna with dismissal unless he engaged the enemy; but he was determined not to do so until circumstances gave him a superiority, however brief, over his opponent. At last this moment arrived. The maladroit General Korsakoff, a former favourite of Catherine II, had unwisely pushed on towards Zurich at the head of 50,000 Russians and Bavarians to await his commander-in-chief, Souvarow, who was on his way from Italy with 55,000 men. Before the arrival of Souvarow, Massna pounced like a lion on Korsakoff, surprising him in his camp at Zurich and driving him back to the Rhine after inflicting tremendous losses! Then, turning on Souvarow, whom the heroic resistance of General Molitor had held up for three days in the Saint-Gothard, he defeated him as he had defeated his lieutenant, Korsakoff.
As a result of these various engagements 30,000 of the enemy were killed or taken prisoner, fifteen flags and sixty guns were captured, the independence of Switzerland was secured, and France was delivered from an imminent invasion. This was Massna's finest (and cleanest) hour.
I have already told how Massna took charge of the disorganised army of Italy, which, after the death of General Championnet, had been briefly commanded by my father, and described his conduct of the defence of Genoa, which gave Napoleon the time to collect a force together, cross the Alps, and fight the battle of Marengo.
After this victory the First Consul, on his return to France, thought he could not commit the command of the army of Italy to a more illustrious officer than Massna; but in a few months there were complaints similar to those made by the army in Rome. The dissatisfaction was widespread, new taxes were levied and frequent requisitions made on a variety of pretexts, and yet the troops were unpaid! The First Consul, when he learned of this state of affairs, immediately and without explanation withdrew the command of the army from Massna, who returned to private life, where he showed his annoyance by refusing to vote in favour of Napoleon's life-consulship. He also did not present himself at the new court.
When Bonaparte mounted the imperial throne and rewarded the generals who had done most for the country, he included Massna in the first list of marshals, awarded him the grand cordon of the Legion of Honour, and created him head of the fourteenth cohort of the order, which he had just established. These dignities and the enormous emoluments which were attached to them overcame the resistance put up by Massna since he was deprived of the command of the army of Italy. He voted for the empire, went to the Tuileries and assisted at the coronation ceremony.
When a third coalition menaced France, in 1805, the Emperor gave Messna the task of defending, with forty thousand men, the northern part of Ital, against the attacks of the Archduke Charles of Austria, who had eighty thousand. This was a difficult operation; but not only did Massna hold Lombardy, but he pushed the enemy back beyond the Tagliamento, and by forcing Prince Charles to turn and face him at frequent intervals, he so delayed the Austrian general's progress that he was unable to arrive in time to save Vienna, nor to join the Russian army which Napoleon defeated at Austerlitz. Napoleon, however, did not seem to appreciate the services rendered by Massna on this campaign; he reproached him for not having acted with his usual vigour, which did not prevent him, after the treaty of Presberg, from instructing him to go and conquer the kingdom of Naples, on whose throne he wished to place his brother, Prince Joseph.
Within a month the French occupied the whole of the country except the fortified town of Gaete, which Massna took after a siege. But while he was directing the attack against this town, he suffered a loss which rendered him inconsolable. An enormous sum, which Massna claimed belonged to him, was confiscated by the Emperor!
Napoleon, who believed that the best way of forcing the English to ask for peace was to ruin their trade, to prevent their goods from entering the continent, ordered them to be seized and burned in all the countries under his control, that is to say more than half of Europe. But the desire for money is very powerful and business men are very crafty. A fool-proof system of smuggling had been devised. English merchants who were in the scheme, sent off a ship or ships full of merchandise which allowed themselves to be captured by one of our corsairs, who would then take it to one of the ports occupied by our troops, from Swedish Pomerania to the end of the kingdom of Naples. This first act having been carried out, it remained to get the goods ashore without confiscation, this had already been arranged. The immensely long coastline presented by the conquered countries could not be watched in its entirety by customs officers, so this function was carried out by soldiers under the command of the generals who were in charge of the kingdom or province occupied by our troops. So it required only an authorisation from one of them to permit the goods to be landed, after which the traders negotiated with the "protector." This was called a "licence."
The origin of this new form of commerce goes back to the days when Bernadotte was occupying Hamburg and a part of Denmark. He made a considerable amount of money in this way, and when he wanted to reward someone, he would give the person a licence, which could then be sold to a merchant. This practice spread, little by little, to all the coasts of Germany, Spain and mainly to Italy. It even got as far as the Emperor's court, where ladies and chamberlains were given licences by ministers. Napoleon was not told of this, but he knew, or suspected, that it went on. Nevertheless, in order not to interfere too drastically with the usages of the conquered countries, he tolerated this abuse outside France as long as it was carried on clandestinely, but if he discovered that someone had made immoderate profits from the illicit trade, he made them cough up. For example, when the Emperor heard that M. Michaux, the administrative head of Bernadotte's army, had lost, in one evening, 300,000 francs, in a Paris gaming house, he directed an aide-de-camp to write to him saying that the Invalides was in need of money, and that he was ordered to pay 300,000 francs into their account; which Michaux, who had made so much money from licences, hastened to do.
As you may imagine, Massna was not the last to engage in the business of selling licences. Together with General Solignac, his chief of staff, he flooded all the ports of Naples with them. When the Emperor was informed that Massna had deposited the sum of three million with a banker at Leghorn, who had taken at the same time 600,000 from General Solignac, he had a request sent to Massna for a loan of one million, and one for 200,000 francs from his chief of staff. Just one third of their illegal gains, which was not fleecing them too greatly. However, at the sight of this demand, Massna, bellowing as if he were being disembowelled, replied to Napoleon that as the poorest of the marshals, with a numerous family and crippling debts, he profoundly regretted that he could not send him anything! And general replied in similar terms.
They were congratulating themselves on having evaded these requests when, during the siege of Gaeta, the son of the Leghorn banker arrived to say that a French treasury inspector, escorted by a commissioner of police and a number of gendarmes, had arrived at his father's establishment and had demanded to see the accounts in which were recorded the deposits made by the marshal and general Solignac, stating that these sums belonged to the army, and had been entrusted to the two officers concerned, and that the Emperor demanded their immediate return, either in cash or negotiable bonds, and the cancellation of the receipts given to Massna and Solignac. A legal endorsement was given to this seizure which the banker, having nothing to lose, did not oppose.
It is impossible to describe Massna's fury on finding that he had been deprived of his fortune. It made him quite ill, but he did not dare to make any complaint when the Emperor, who was then in Poland, sent for him.
After the peace of Tilsit, the title of Duke of Rivoli and an award of 300,000 francs of income were a recompense for his services, but did not console him for what had been taken from him at Leghorn, for, in spite of his usual caution, he was heard to say on a number of occasions "I think it cruel that, while I was fighting in his interest, he had the gall to take the small savings I had banked at Leghorn!"
The invasion of Spain having sparked off a new war with Austria, the Emperor, threatened by these considerable forces, hurried back from the peninsula to go to Germany, to where he had already sent Massna. I have already described the part played by the marshal in the campaign of 1809. As a reward for his conduct at Essling and Wagram, the Emperor created him Prince of Essling and gave him an additional income of 500,000 francs, which was added to his previous award of 300,000 francs and his salary of 200,000 as marshal and army commander. The new prince had no more than that.
The campaigns of 1810 and 1811 in Spain and Portugal were Massna's last. They were not very happy; his morale had gone down and the two campaigns, instead of adding to his fame, lowered his reputation. The "Enfant chri de la victoire," as he had been named, suffered reverses where he could and should have been successful.
Massna was thin and bony, and of less than average height. His Italian features were full of expression. The bad sides to his character were hypocrisy, spite, harshness, and avarice. He had plenty of natural intelligence but his adventurous youth and the lowly position of his family had not encouraged him to study; he was totally lacking in what one calls education. In the heyday of his career he had a keen eye and a decisive mind and was not dismayed by a reverse. As he aged his caution began to verge on timidity, so anxious was he not to besmirch the reputation he had acquired. He hated reading, so he had no idea of what had been written on the principles of warfare, he acted intuitively, and Napoleon summed him up accurately when he said the Massna arrived on the battlefield without knowing what he was going to do, his actions were determined by circumstances.
It has been wrongly said that Massna was a stranger to flattery, and spoke his mind fearlessly even to the Emperor. Beneath his rough exterior Massna was a shrewd courtier. When in the course of a pheasant shoot, Napoleon had the misfortune to pepper Massna, injuring one of his eyes, Massna laid the blame on Berthier, although only Napoleon had fired a shot. Everyone understood perfectly the discretion of the courtier, and Massna was overwhelmed by attentions from the Emperor.
Although very miserly, the victor of Zurich would have given half his fortune to have been born in the France of the "Ancien Rgime" rather than on the left bank of the Var. Nothing displeased him more than the Italian termination to his name, of which he transformed the "a" to "e" in his signature. However the public did not adopt this change, and Massna he remained in spite of his efforts. The campaign in Portugal had so much weakened Massna physically and mentally, that he was obliged to seek rest and recuperation in the gentle climate of Nice, where he stayed for the whole of 1812; but Napoleon, returning from the disastrous invasion of Russia, and scouring Europe for further resources, thought that the name of Massna could still be of service, particularly in Provence. So he appointed him governor of the 8th military division.
When, in 1814, enemy forces invaded France, Massna, who, in any case, had few troops at his disposal, did nothing to arrest their progress, and on the 15th April he surrendered to the Duc d'Angoulme, who created him a Commander of Saint Louis, but would not elevate him to the peerage, on the pretext that he had been born abroad, and had never become a naturalised French citizen! ... As if the victories of Rivoli, Zurich, the defence of Genoa, and a series of other successful actions on the behalf of France were not worth as much as naturalisation papers, given often to scheming foreigners for cash. The treatment given to Massna in these circumstances had a very adverse effect on sentiment in the public and the army, and was an additional source of the disenchantment of the nation with the government of Louis XVIII, which led to the return of the Emperor.
Napoleon disembarked near to Cannes on 1st March 1815 and set off immediately for Paris at the head of about a thousand Grenadiers of his Guard. The unexpectedness and swiftness of this invasion threw Massna into confusion. Nevertheless, he tried to stem the torrent by calling together some line regiments and activating the national guard of Marseilles and district; but having learned that the Duc d'Angoulme had surrendered and left the country, he sent his son to inform Louis XVIII that he could no longer rely on his support, and rallying to the imperial government, he hoisted the tricolour throughout the area and locked up the prefect of Var, who still wanted to resist. By this conduct Massna alienated both the Royalists and the Bonapartists; so when the Emperor hurriedly summoned him to Paris, he greeted him very coolly.
When, soon afterwards, Napoleon made the great mistake of abdicating for the second time, following the battle of Waterloo, the Chamber of Representatives seized power and formed a provisional government whose first act was to invest Massna with the command of the national guard of Paris. It was hoped that, although his infirmities prevented him playing any active role, his name would inspire the populace to support the army in the defence of the capital, but when a council of war was assembled, Massna gave it as his opinion that Paris could not be defended! As a consequence an armistice was agreed with the enemy generals and the French army withdrew across the Loire, where it was disbanded.
Once the allies were masters of France, Louis XVIII, to punish Massna for having abandoned his cause after March 20th, included him among the judges who were to try Marshal Ney, hoping that out of enmity he would condemn his former colleague and so besmirch his good name; but Massna recused himself on the grounds that there had been disagreements between him and Marshal Ney in Portugal, and when this measure failed he joined with those judges who wanted Ney brought before the House of Peers. They had hoped to save him, but it would have been better if they had had the political courage to try him and acquit him....They did not dare! Ney was condemned and shot, but his blood did not pacify the Royalists, they became more implacable and soon pursued Massna himself.
The citizens of Marseilles, on whose behalf Massna had used his influence to obtain the freedom of their port, now denounced him to the Chamber of Deputies on the grounds of peculation. There was no evidence to support this charge, as Massna had never exacted any money in Provence, and the chamber, although known for its hatred of the leading figures of the empire, rejected the petition out of hand.
Massna, having escaped from the wave of reaction which was now sweeping the country, abandoned the stage on which he had played so brilliant a part, and retired to his chteau of Rueil, which had once belonged to Cardinal Richelieu, to end his splendid career in solitude and disgrace. He died on the 4th April 1817, at the age of fifty-nine.
At his death, the government had not sent the baton which is by custom placed on the bier of a marshal, so his son-in-law, General Reille, claimed this insignia from the minister for war, a fervent Royalist. When he received no reply to this reasonable request, in an act of courage, rare at the time, he let it be known to the court that if a baton did not arrive in time for his father-in-law's funeral, he would place ostentatiously on his coffin, the baton awarded to him by the Emperor. The government then decided that they would supply a baton after all.
I have touched on some of the blemishes which mar his career, but Massna more than compensated for them by the remarkable and heroic services he rendered to France. He will be remembered as one of the great captains of an era which produced so many.
At the beginning of 1812, I was in Paris, with my young wife and our families. But the happiness which I enjoyed was lessened by the thought of my imminent departure. I was due to join the 1st Chasseurs Cheval as a squadron commander with the rank of Major. The chagrin which I felt at not having been promoted to Colonel, which I thought I deserved, was somewhat relieved when, having gone to the Tuileries to pay my new year respects, the Emperor sent an aide-de-camp to command my presence in his private quarters, where I found General Mouton, Comte de Lobau, who had always been on my side.
Napoleon appeared and told me in the most friendly manner that he had intended to give me a regiment, but that there were certain reasons which had led him to nominate Major Barain. He said that having promoted three of Massna's aides to Colonel he could not accord any more promotions to one general staff, but that he had not forgotten me and although he could not give me the nominal command, he would put me in the position of being, in effect, a regimental commander. "The commanding officer of the 23rd Mounted Chasseurs, M. de La Nougarde, has become so afflicted by gout that he can hardly mount a horse", the Emperor said, "but he is an excellent officer who has fought several campaigns with me, and I have a high regard for him. He has begged me to let him try to go once more on campaign and I do not wish to remove him from his regiment. However, I hear that this fine unit is going down hill in his hands so I am sending you as "Coadjutor" to M. de La Nougarde. You will be working for yourself, for if the Colonel recovers his health I shall promote him to general, and if not I shall transfer him to the gendarmes. In either case he will leave his regiment and you will become their colonel; so I repeat you will be working for your own benefit." This promise gave me renewed hope, and I was making ready to leave when the minister for war extended my leave until the end of March, which I found very acceptable.
The 23rd Chasseurs were stationed in Swedish Pomerania, so I had an enormous distance to travel, and as I wished to arrive before the expiration of my leave, I left Paris on the 15th of March, parting with much regret from my dear wife. I had bought a good barouche, in which, at the request of Marshal Mortier, I gave a seat to his nephew, Lieutenant Durbach, who belonged to the regiment which I was about to join. As my former servant, Woirland, had asked if he might stay in Spain, where he hoped to make his fortune running a canteen, I had replaced him, on my leaving Salamanca, by a Pole named Lorentz Schilkowski. This man, at one time an Austrian Uhlan, was not lacking intelligence, but, like all Poles he was a drunkard, and unlike the soldiers of that nation, he was as timid as a hare. Lorentz, however, as well as his native language, spoke passable French and fluent German and Russian, and for this reason he was most valuable to me in my travelling and campaigning in the north. I was nearing the Rhenish provinces, when on leaving Kaiserslauten at night, the postilion tipped my barouche into a pothole, where it was damaged. No one was hurt, but both M. Durbach and I agreed that this was a bad omen for soldiers who were about to face the enemy. However, after spending a day waiting for repairs to be made, we were able to get under way once more. Unfortunately the accident had so weakened the springs and the wheels that they broke six times during our journey, which delayed us considerably, and on occasions forced us to walk for several leagues in the snow. We arrived at last at the shores of the Baltic sea, where the 23rd Chasseurs were in garrison at Stralsund and Greifswald.
I found Colonel de La Nougarde to be an excellent officer, well-informed and capable, but so prematurely aged by gout that he was hardly able to sit on a horse, and went everywhere in a carriage, a most unsuitable method of transport for the commander of a regiment of light cavalry! He gave me an enthusiastic welcome, and after explaining the reasons which, in the interest of his career, made him stay with the regiment, he showed me a letter in which the Comte de Lobau informed him of the motives which had led the Emperor to attach me to him. M. de La Nougarde, far from being offended, saw this as another kindness on the part of the Emperor, and looked forward to being promoted to general or heading the gendarmerie. He counted, with my help, on completing at least part of the campaign, and on the realisation of his hopes at the first imperial revue. To make it clear that I shared the command, which was not in keeping with my rank as Major, he called together all the officers, in front of whom he provisionally delegated all his powers to me, until such time as he recovered his health, and instructed them to obey my orders without referring to him, since his illness often made it impossible for him to follow the regiment sufficiently closely to command it in person. An order of the day was issued along these lines, and from that day forward, except for the rank,I was virtually the commander of the regiment, and the regiment soon got into the habit of looking on me as their real leader.
Since that time, I have commanded several cavalry regiments, either as colonel or general. And I was for a long time inspector of this branch of the service; I can say with certainty that if I have seen units as good as the 23rd Chasseurs, I have never seen one better. It was not that the unit contained any outstanding personalities, such as I have seen sometimes in other regiments, but if there was not in the 23rd any one of remarkable talents, there was no one who did not maintain a high standard in carrying out his duties. There were no peaks, but there were no troughs; everyone kept in step. The officers were intelligent, well trained and well behaved. They lived together as true brothers-in-arms. The same applied to the N.C.O.s. And the troopers followed this good example. They were almost all old soldiers, veterans of Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Wagram, a fine body of men who came mostly from Normandy, Alsace, Lorraine and Franche-comte, provinces known for their martial spirit and their love of horses. The build and strength of these men was noticed by General Bourcier, who was in charge of remounts, and he supplied the regiment with horses which were bigger and more lively than the usual issue. A period of several years spent in the fertile land of Germany, had left both men and horses in splendid condition, and the regiment, when I took over, consisted of a thousand officers and men, well disciplined, calm and quiet in the face of the enemy.
I did not yet have a horse, so I went to Stralsund in the isle of Rugen, where they have excellent horses, and I bought several; I got some others from Rostock and ended with a stable of seven good beasts, which was not too many, as war with Russia appeared imminent. I had already forecast this during the summer of 1811, when I saw the great number of old soldiers whom the Emperor was taking from the regiments in the peninsula to reinforce his Old Guard. I had been confirmed in this opinion during my stay in Paris. There were, at first, some distant rumours of a rupture, which vanished quickly amid the entertainments and festivities of winter, but soon returned with increased insistence; and became almost certainties as a result of a serious event, the echoes of which reverberated throughout Europe.
The Emperor Alexander had had, since boyhood, a companion who was a young Russian nobleman, named Czernicheff, of whom he was very fond, and whom, when he came to the throne, he took as aide-de-camp.
In 1809, when Alexander, who was then an ally of Napoleon, was pretending, without actually doing so, to make war against Austria, whose country Napoleon had invaded, there arrived in Vienna Colonel the Comte de Czernicheff, on the ostensible mission to cement good relations between Napoleon and Alexander, but in reality to inform his sovereign of our success or failure, so that he could continue or break off his alliance with France according to circumstances.
Alexander's favourite received the friendliest of welcomes from Napoleon, whose side he never left during the parades and manoeuvres which preceded the battle of Essling, but when this bloody affair appeared to be in the balance, and a hail of bullets descended on the imperial general staff, M. de Czernicheff turned tail rapidly, and crossing the bridges over the Danube, he sought the safety of the palace of Schoenbrunn; and the day after the battle he took to the road for Petersburg, to announce, no doubt, the failure of our enterprise. Napoleon thought this behaviour most unbecoming, and made some jeering comments on the "bravery" of the Russian colonel. Nevertheless, after peace had been made with Austria, M. de Czernicheff came very often to Paris, where he spent part of the years 1810 and 1811. Handsome, courteous, likeable, highly deceitful and exquisitely polite, his title of aide-de-camp to the Russian emperor gave him entry not only to the court but also to the salons of high society, where he never discussed politics, and appeared to be interested only in the pursuit of women, where he was said to have considerable success. But toward the end of 1811, when new rumours of war began to circulate, the Paris police were informed that while appearing to be solely interested in pleasure, the Russian colonel was mixed up in some dubious political schemes, and he was put under close surveillance, when it was discovered that he had frequent meetings with M. X..., an employee of the ministry for war who had special responsibility for the situation reports concerning all the personel and material of the army, which were given to Napoleon every ten days. Not only had M. de Czernicheff been seen walking after midnight in the most secluded part of the Champs-Elysees with this man, but he had been observed, plainly dressed, slipping into the place where M. X... lived and spending several hours there.
The intimacy of someone so highly placed with a poor devil of clerk in the ministry for war being clear evidence that the former had seduced the latter to betray state secrets, the Emperor, highly indignant, ordered the arrest of M.Czernicheff, but Czernicheff, warned, it is said, by a woman, fled from Paris, and reached a nearby "relais" from where, taking unfrequented roads, he managed to reach the frontier, avoiding Maintz and Cologne to where the telegraph had transmitted the order for his seizure. As for the wretched clerk, he was apprehended at the moment when he was counting out the 300,000 francs which he had received for his act of treason. Compelled by the evidence to admit to his crime, he stated that another employee had also given information to the Russian, this man too was arrested, and the two of them were tried, convicted and shot. They died cursing Czernicheff, who they claimed had come to their attics to tempt them with a heap of gold which he increased whenever they hesitated. The Emperor had published in all the French newspapers a virulent denunciation of M. de Czernicheff, with some wounding observations which, although indirect, pointed to the emperor of Russia himself, for they recalled that the assassins of his father, Paul I, had not been punished by Alexander.
After these events, it was no longer possible to doubt that war was imminent, and although it had not been declared, both sides were openly preparing for it. The conduct of M. de Czernicheff was, in general, loudly denounced, but it had its secret supporters among the diplomatic community, who recalled that although Napoleon justly punished French citizens who sold their country's secrets to its enemies, he was not above corrupting foreign nationals who could give him useful information, particularly of a military nature.
Marshal Lannes told me,that in Vienna,in 1809, when hostilities were about to break out between France and Austria, whose armies were to be commanded by the Arch-Duke Charles, this prince was warned anonymously that a Major-general for whom he had a high regard and whom he was about to take on to his staff, had been bought by the French ambassador, General Andreossi, with whom he had frequent night-time meetings in a lonely house in the vast suburb of Leopoldstadt, the number of which was disclosed. Prince Charles thought so highly of this officer that he dismissed as an infamous calumny the anonymous accusation, and took no measures to determine the truth. The French ambassador had already asked for his passport and was due to leave Vienna in forty-eight hours time, when a second anonymous note informed the archduke that his assistant chief-of-staff, after working alone in his office, which contained the order of battle for the army, was going to have, on the following night, a last meeting with General Andreossi. The archduke, who wished to clear his mind of any suspicions which he might have,, in spite of himself, about an officer of whom he was fond, decided that he would prove, beyond doubt, that he was innocent. So, dressed very simply, and accompanied by only one aide-de-camp, he waited, after midnight, in the darkest part of the lane where the house in question was situated. After a short time the prince and his aide saw, with sadness, a man who in spite of his disguise was easily recognised as the assistant chief-of-staff, for whom, after an agreed signal, the door was opened. Soon he was followed by General Andreossi who was admitted in the same way. The meeting lasted for some hours, during which the archduke, no longer able to doubt the treachery of his assistant chief-of-staff, waited patiently outside the house, and when the door opened for General Andreossi and the Austrian general, who, came out together, they found themselves face to face with Prince Charles, who said aloud, "Good evening, Mr.Ambassador" and refraining from speaking to the assistant chief-of-staff, he shone the light from a lantern in his face.