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The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot

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the enemy by their fire, the remainder could slip behind this
protective screen and pass the horses from hand to hand over the

While this manoeuvre, covered by the fire from a cordon of 180
dismounted Chasseurs, was proceeding in an orderly fashion, the
Prussian lancers, furious that their prey was about to escape,
tried to disorganise our retreat by a vigourous attack, but their
horses, caught up in the willow branches, amid the numerous holes
and pools of water, could scarcely move at a walk over the muddy
ground, and could never reach our foot-soldiers, whose well-aimed
fire, directed at close range, inflicted on them heavy losses.

The Prussian major who led this charge, forcing his way boldly
into the centre of our line, killed with a pistol shot to the
head, Lieutenant Bachelet, one of my good regimental officers. I
greatly regretted his loss, which was, however, promptly revenged
by the Chasseurs of his section, for the Prussian major, hit by
several bullets, fell dead beside him.

The death of their leader, the numerous casualties they had
suffered, and above all the impossibility of getting at us
determined the enemy to give up the enterprise and they withdrew.
I was able to pick up the wounded and make my retreat without
being followed. My regiment lost in this deplorable affair an
officer and nine troopers killed, and thirteen who were made
prisoner, among whom was Lieutenant Marechal. The loss of these
twenty-three members of the regiment I found all the more
distressing because it served no useful purpose, and fell wholly
on the finest soldiers in the unit, most of whom had been
earmarked for decoration or promotion. I have never forgotten
this undeserved setback! It resulted in our taking a poor view of
General Exelmans, who got away with a reprimand from General
Sebastiani and from the Emperor, who was influenced by his
friendship with Murat. Old General Saint-Germain, a former
commander, and almost the creator, of the 23rd Chasseurs, for
whom he had retained much affection, having stated loudly that
Exelmans deserved exemplary punishment, the two generals fell out
and would have come to blows if the Emperor had not personally
intervened. Major Lacour, whose incapacity had been largely
responsible for this catastrophe, I no longer regarded with any

Chap. 25.

After the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of August, days on which we had
defeated Field-marshal Blucher's corps, and forced him to retire
behind the Katzbach, the Emperor gave orders for the follow-up on
the next day. However, on hearing that the combined army of the
allies, some 200,000 strong, commanded by Prince Schwartzenberg,
had just emerged, on the 22nd, from the mountains of Bohemia and
was heading for Saxony, Napoleon, taking his Guard, as well as
the cavalry of Latour-Maubourg and several divisions of infantry,
hastened by forced marches to Dresden, where Marshal Saint-Cyr
had shut himself in with the troops he had hurriedly withdrawn
from the camp at Pirna On leaving Silesia, the Emperor told
Marshal Ney to follow him, and left Marshal Macdonald in charge
of the large force which he left on the Bobr, that is to say the
3rd, 5th and 11th Infantry Corps and the 2nd Cavalry, with a
powerful element of artillery, making a total of 75,000 men. The
control of such a great body of combatants was too much for
Marshal Macdonald, as subsequent events will show.

You must have noticed that the larger the number of troops
involved, the less detail I give of their movements: firstly
because this could require an enormous work, which I might not be
able to complete, and secondly because it could make the reading
of these memoirs too wearisome. I shall therefore be even more
concise in my description of events in the War of 1813, in which
600,000 to 700,000 men took part, than I have been in describing
previous campaigns.

On the 25th of August, the allies having surrounded the town of
Dresden, whose fortifications were not proof against a major
attack, the position of Saint-Cyr became critical for he had no
more than 17,000 French troops to resist the immense numbers of
the enemy. The latter, badly served by their spies, were unaware
of the approaching arrival of Napoleon, and full of confidence in
their superior numbers, they delayed the attack until the
following day. This confidence was increased when they were
strengthened by two Westphalian regiments who had deserted from
King Jerome to join the Austrians.

The worried Marshal Saint-Cyr expected to be attacked on the
morning of the 26th; but he was reassured as to the outcome of
the struggle by the presence of the Emperor, who had arrived that
very day at an early hour, at the head of the Guard and a
numerous body of all arms. Soon after his arrival, the enemy, who
still thought that they faced only Saint-Cyr's Corps, assaulted
the town in force and captured several redoubts. The Russians and
the Prussians, who now controlled the suburbs of Pirna, were
attempting to break down the Freyberg gate when, on the Emperor's
orders, it swung open to allow the emergence of a column of
infantry of the Imperial Guard, the leading brigade of which was
commanded by General Cambronne!... It was as if the head of
Medusa had appeared!... The enemy recoiled horrified, their guns
were captured at the double and the gunners killed on their
mountings! Simultaneous sorties were made from all the gates of
Dresden with the same results, and the allies, abandoning the
redoubts they had taken, fled into the surrounding country where
they were pursued by the cavalry to the foot of the hills. On
this first day the enemy had 5000 men put out of action, and we
took 3000 prisoners. The French had 2500 killed or wounded,
amongst the latter there being five generals.

The next day it was the French army which took the initiative,
although they had 87,000 fewer men than their adversaries. The
action was at first fierce and sanguinary; but the rain which
fell in torrents on the heavy soil soon covered the battle-field
with pools of muddy water through which our troops moved with
much difficulty on their advance towards the enemy. Nevertheless,
advance they did, and the Young Guard had already driven back the
enemy left, when Napoleon, having observed that Prince
Schwartzenberg, the allies' commander-in-chief, had not given
sufficient support to his left wing, overwhelmed it with an
attack by Marshal Victor's infantry and Latour-Maubourg's

King Murat, who was in command of this part of the line, was
highly successful. He forced his way through the pass of Cotta
and outflanking Klenau's corps, he separated it from the Austrian
army and attacked it, sabre in hand, at the head of his
carabiniers and Cuirassiers. Klenau was unable to withstand this
fearsome charge, almost all his battalions were compelled to
surrender, and two other divisions of infantry suffered the same

While Murat was defeating the enemy left, their right wing was
routed by the Young Guard, so that after some three hours,
victory was assured and the allies beat a retreat towards

As a result of this second day of heavy fighting, the enemy left
on the field of battle 18 flags, 26 cannons and 40,000 men, of
whom 20,000 were prisoners. The main losses were suffered by the
Austrian infantry, who had two generals killed, three wounded and
two taken prisoner.

It may be remarked that at this epoch percussion caps were
virtually unknown, and the infantry of all nations still used
flint-lock muskets, which it was almost impossible to fire once
the priming powder became wet. Now, as it had rained without
ceasing for the whole day, this contributed largely to the defeat
of the enemy infantry by our cavalry, and gave rise to an
extraordinary incident.

A division of Cuirassiers, commanded by General Bordesoulle,
found itself facing a strong Austrian infantry division formed
into a square. Bordesoulle called on the enemy general to
surrender, which he refused to do. Bordesoulle then pointed out
to the Austrian that not one of his men's guns was capable of
being fired, to which he replied that his men could defend
themselves successfully with their bayonets, as the cavalry,
whose horses were in mud up to their hocks, would be unable to
charge them down. "Then I will blast your square with my
artillery!" "But you don't have any guns, they are stuck in the
mud." "If I show you my cannons, which are behind my first
regiment, will you then surrender?" "I would have no alternative,
for I would have no means of defence."

The French general then advanced, to within thirty paces of the
enemy, a battery of six guns, the gunners with their slow-matches
in their hands, prepared to fire on the square. At this sight the
Austrian general and his division laid down their arms.

The rain having prevented the infantry of both armies from using
their muskets and greatly slowed the movements of the cavalry, it
was the artillery which, in spite of the difficulty of
manoeuvering on the rain sodden ground, played a decisive role:
in particular the French artillery, whose teams of horses
Napoleon had doubled up, using animals from the headquarters
wagons, which remained safely in Dresden; so that our guns did
great damage, and it was one of their cannon-balls which struck

It had been rumoured for some time that the former illustrious
French general had returned to Europe and had joined the ranks of
his country's enemies. Few people believed this, but it was
confirmed in the evening following the battle of Dresden in a
bizarre manner. Our advance-guard was in pursuit of the routed
enemy when one of our Hussars saw, on entering the village of
Notnitz, a magnificent Great Dane, which seemed to be searching
in distress for its owner.

He took hold of the dog, and read on its collar the words "I
belong to General Moreau." He was then told by the cure of the
village that that General Moreau had undergone a double
amputation in his house. A French cannon-ball had landed in the
middle of the Russian general staff, it had struck one of the
General's legs, and going through his horse had then struck the
other. This had happened at the moment when the Austrian army had
been defeated, and to prevent Moreau falling into French hands,
the Emperor Alexander had arranged for him to be carried by some
Grenadiers until, the pursuit having slackened, it was possible
to dress his wounds and amputate both legs. The Saxon cure who
had witnessed this cruel operation, said that Moreau, who was
well aware that his life was in danger, had repeatedly cursed the
fate that had left him mortally wounded by a French missile,
amongst the enemies of his country. He died on the 1st of
September, and the Russians took away his body.

No one in the French army regretted the death of Moreau, when it
was known that he had taken arms against his country. A Russian
envoy came to claim the dog on behalf of Colonel Rapatel,
Moreau's aide-de-camp, who had stayed with him; it was returned
but without the collar, which was given to the King of Saxony and
is now on display in Dresden.

As Prince Schwartzenberg, the commander of the enemy troops
defeated at Dresden, had given Teplice as the rallying point for
the remains of his defeated armies, the Austrians retreated
through the valley of Dippoldiswalde, the Russians and the
Prussians on the Telnitz road, and the remnants of Klenau's corps
via Freiberg. Napoleon accompanied the French columns which were
pursuing the vanquished as far as Pirna, but just before he
arrived in that town, he was taken by a sudden indisposition, due
perhaps to the fact that he had spent five days constantly on
horseback, exposed to incessant rain.

It is one of the misfortunes of princes that there are always to
be found in their entourage people who, to demonstrate their
attachment, claim to be alarmed at the slightest indisposition
and exaggerate the precautions which should be taken, which is
what happened on this occasion. The master-of-horse,
Caulaincourt, advised the Emperor to return to Dresden, and the
other great officers dared not give the much more sensible advice
to continue to Pirna, which was no more than a league distant.
The young Guard was already there and the Emperor would have been
able to have the rest which he required while remaining in a
position to guide the movements of the troops in pursuit of the
enemy, which he could not do from Dresden which was much further
from the center of operations.

Napoleon then left to Marshals Mortier and Saint-Cyr the task of
supporting General Vandamme, commander of 1st Corps, who,
detached from the Grande Armee for three days, had defeated a
Russian corps and now threatened the enemy rear, had cut the road
from Dresden to Prague and occupied Peterswalde, from where he
dominated the Kulm basin and the town of Teplice, a most
important point through which the allies had to make their
retreat. However the return of the Emperor to Dresden nullified
these successes and led to a disastrous reverse which contributed
greatly to the fall of the Empire.

General Vandamme was fine and courageous officer who, already
well-known from the earliest wars of the revolution, had been
almost continually in command of various Corps during those of
the empire; so that it was surprising that he had not yet been
awarded the baton of a marshal; withheld, perhaps, because of his
brusque and abrupt manner. His detractors said after his defeat
that his desire to obtain this coveted honour had driven him,
with no more than 20,000 men, to stand rashly in the path of
200,000 of the enemy, with the aim of barring their passage; but
the truth is that having been informed by the Emperor's chief of
staff that he would be supported by the armies of Marshals
Saint-Cyr and Mortier, and been given a direct order to capture
Teplice and so seal off the enemy's line of retreat, General
Vandamme had perforce to obey.

Under the impression that he would be supported he descended
boldly, on the 29th of August, towards Kulm from where, pushing
enemy troops before him, he sought to reach Teplice; it is a
certainty that if Mortier and Saint-Cyr had carried out the
orders which they had been given, the Russian, Austrian, and
Prussian forces stuck on the appalling roads, cut off from
Bohemia and finding themselves attacked in front and in the rear,
would have laid down their arms. Vandamme would have then been
eulogised by the same people who have since blamed him.

However that may be, Vandamme arrived at Teplice on the morning
of the 30th of August to be confronted by the division of
Ostermann, one of the best of the Russian generals. Vandamme went
confidently into the attack, as he saw, coming down from the
heights of Peterwalde, and taking the route which he had taken
the day previously, a body of troops which he took to be the
armies of Mortier and Saint-Cyr, whose help the Emperor had
promised him. But instead of friends, these newcomers were two
large Prussian divisions commanded by General Kleist, and which,
on the advice of Jomini, had passed between the corps of Mortier
and Saint-Cyr without these two marshals taking any notice, such
was the reluctance of Saint-Cyr to got to the aid of one of his
colleagues. A reluctance which, on this occasion, spread to
General Mortier. Neither of them budged and this at a time when
their co-operation joined to the gallant efforts of Vandamme
would have led to the total defeat of the enemy, whose columns of
infantry, cavalry, artillery, and baggage were piled up in
disorder in the narrow passes of the high mountains which lie
between Silesia and Bohemia.

In place of the help he was expecting, General Vandamme saw
appear the two divisions of General Kleist, which instantly
attacked him. Vandamme, continuing to fight the Russians of
Ostermann in front of Teplice, turned round his rear-guard to
face Kleist, whom he attacked furiously, but although the enemy
was weakening, the huge reinforcements which they recieved,
bringing their strength to around 100,000 men as opposed to
Vandamme's remaining 15,000, made him think, in spite of his
courage and tenacity, that he should retire towards the corps of
Mortier and Saint-Cyr, whom he believed to be close at hand in
accordance with what Prince Berthier had written to him on the
Emperor's instructions.

On their arrival at the pass of Telnitz, the French found it
occupied by General Kleist's divisions, who completely blocked
their passage; but nevertheless, our battalions, preceded by the
cavalry of General Corbineau who, in spite of the rough,
mountainous terrain, had insisted on remaining the advance-guard,
fell on the Prussians with such ferocity that they overcame them
and broke through the pass after taking all the enemy guns, from
which they took away only the horses because of the bad state of
the roads.

Any soldier will be aware that such a success could be won only
at the cost of many casualties, and after this savage engagement
the strength of 1st Corps was greatly reduced. However, Vandamme,
completely surrounded by forces ten times more numerous than his
own, refused to surrender and placing himself at the head of two
battalions of the 85th, the only ones left to him, he hurled
himself into the midst of the enemy in a fight to the death. But
his horse having been killed, a group of Russians seized him and
made him prisoner. It is said that he was brought before the
Emperor Alexander and his brother, the Grand Duke Constantin,
and was rash enough to exchange insults with them. He was then
taken to Wintka, on the frontier of Siberia, and did not see his
country again until after the peace of 1814.

The battle of Kulm cost 1st Corps 2000 men killed and 8000 made
prisoner, amongst whom was their commanding general. The 10,000
who were left managed to fight their way through the enemy lines
to join Saint-Cyr and Mortier. Those two generals had gravely
failed in their duty by not pursuing the beaten enemy and instead
stopping, Saint-Cyr at Reinhards-Grimme and Mortier at Pirna,
from where they could hear the noise of the battle being fought
by Vandamme.

It is surprising that, from nearby Dresden, Napoleon did not send
one of his aides-de-camp to make certain that Saint-Cyr and
Mortier had gone to the aid of Vandamme, as he had ordered. The
two marshals, having failed to carry out their orders, should
have been court-martialled, but the French army, overwhelmed by
the enormous number of enemies which Napoleon had raised against
it, had reached such a point of exhaustion that had Napoleon
wished to punish all those who failed in their duty, he would
have had to dispense with the services of almost all his
marshals. He therefore did no more than reprimand Saint-Cyr and

He had an increasing need to conceal his disasters, for it was
not only at Kulm that his troops had suffered a reverse, but at
all points of the immense line which they occupied.

(Subsequent historical research has made it quite clear that as
Napoleon was in control of the operations the two marshals were
entirely correct in waiting to receive his instructions, as they
did not know to where he intended them to go. As for the order to
support Vandamme with two divisions, it did not arrive until the
30th, that is to say at a time when the catastrophe had already
occurred, and no blame can be attributed to the marshals.)

Chap. 26.

It has been rightly said that in the last campaigns of the
Empire, battles were rarely fought with any skill unless Napoleon
himself was in command. It is regrettable that this great captain
was not fully aware of this, and placed too much confidence in
his lieutenants, of whom several were not up to the tasks which
they presumed to undertake, as will be seen from some examples.
Instead of ordering his corps commanders, when they were acting
on their own initiative, to remain as much as possible on the
defensive until he could come with a powerful reserve to crush
the force facing them, the Emperor allowed them too much
latitude, and, as each one was jealous of his own reputation and
wanted to have his personal Battle of Austerlitz, they often
went, ill-advisedly, on the offensive and were defeated as a

This is what happened to Marshal Oudinot, to whom Napoleon had
given a considerable army made up of the Corps of Bertrand and
Reynier, in order to keep a watch on the numerous Prussian and
Swedish troops stationed near Berlin under the command of
Bernadotte, who had now become the Prince of Sweden. Marshal
Oudinot was not as strong as his opponent and should have
temporised, but the habit of advancing, the sight of the steeples
of Berlin, and the fear of not living up to the confidence
Napoleon reposed in him, led him to push forward Bertrand's
corps, which was repulsed, a setback which did not prevent
Oudinot from persisting in his aim of taking Berlin. However, he
lost a major battle at Gross-Beeren and was forced to retire via
Wittemberg, having suffered heavy losses.

A few days later, Marshal Macdonald, whom Napoleon had left on
the Katzbach at the head of several army corps, thought that he
also would take advantage of the liberty given him by the absence
of the Emperor to attempt to win a battle, which would compensate
for the bloody defeat which he had endured on the Trebia during
the Italian campaign of 1799; but once more he was defeated!

Macdonald, although personally very brave, was constantly
unfortunate in battle, not that he lacked ability but because,
like the generals of the Austrian army, and in particular the
famous Marshal Mack, he was too rigid and blinkered in his
strategic movements. Before the battle he drew up a plan of
action which was almost always sound, but which he should have
modified according to circumstances; this, however, his stolid
temperament did not permit. He was like a chess player who, when
he plays against himself, can make all the right moves, but does
not know what to do when a real opponent makes moves which he had
not foreseen. So, on the 26th of August, the day on which the
Emperor was winning a resounding victory at Dresden, Macdonald
lost the battle of Katzbach.

The French army, 75,000 strong, of which my regiment was a part,
was drawn up between Liegnitz and Goldberg, on the left bank of
the little river named the Katzbach,(Kaczawa) which separated
them from several Prussian Corps commanded by Field-marshal
Blucher. The area which we occupied was dotted with small wooded
hills, which, although practicable for cavalry, made movement
difficult, but, by the same token, offered much advantage to the
infantry. Now, as the main body of Macdonald's troops consisted
of this arm, and he had only 6000 cavalry of Sebastiani's Corps,
and as the enemy had 15 to 20,000 horse on the immense plateau of
Jaur,(Jawor) where the ground is almost everywhere level, it was
plainly Macdonald's duty to await the Prussians in the position
which he occupied. In addition to this, the Katzbach does not
have a steep approach on the left bank, where we were, but on the
other side it does, so that to reach the plateau of Jaur one has
to climb a high hill covered with rocks and affording only a
steep and stony road.

The Katzbach, which runs at the foot of this hill has no bridges
except at the few villages and only some narrow fords, which
become unpassable on the least rise in the water-level. This
river covered the French army front, which was greatly in our
favour; but Marshal Macdonald wanted to attack the Prussians, and
he abandoned this highly advantageous position and put the
Katzbach at his back by ordering his troops to cross it at
several points. Sebastiani's cavalry, of which Exelmans'
division, which included my regiment, formed a part, were
instructed to cross the river by the ford at Chemochowitz.

The weather, which was already threatening in the morning, should
have warned the Marshal to put off the attack to another day, or
at least to act rapidly. He did neither, and wasted precious time
in giving detailed orders so that it was not until two in the
afternoon that his columns began to move, and no sooner had they
done so than they were overtaken by a tremendous storm which
swelled the Katzbach and made the ford so difficult that General
Saint-Germain's Cuirassiers were unable to cross.

Having arrived on the other bank, we climbed, by a narrow gully,
a very steep slope which the rain had made so slippery that the
horses were falling at every step. We had to dismount and did not
get back into the saddle until we had reached the great plateau
which dominates the valley of the Katzbach. There we found
several divisions of our infantry, which the generals had wisely
placed near the clumps of trees which are scattered over this
plain; for, as I have said, the enemy were far stronger than us
in cavalry, and had a further advantage in that the rain had made
it impossible for the infantrymen to fire their weapons.

When we had arrived on this vast open space, we were astonished
to see no signs of the enemy! The complete silence that reigned
there seemed to me to conceal some kind of a trap, for we were
certain that on the previous night Marshal Blucher was in this
position with more than 100,000 men. It was, in my view,
necessary to reconnoitre the countryside thoroughly before going
any further. General Sebastiani thought differently; so, as soon
as Rousel d'Urbal's division was formed up, he despatched them
into the distance, with not only their own guns but those
belonging to Exelmans' division, which we had dragged onto the
plateau with so much difficulty.

As soon as Exelmans, who had been separated from his troops,
rejoined us, as we emerged from the gully, and saw that
Sebastiani had made off with his guns, he hurried after him to
reclaim them, leaving his division without orders. The two
brigades of which it was composed were some five hundred paces
from one another, facing the same way and formed into columns by
regiment. My regiment was at the head of Wathiez's brigade and
had behind it the 24th Chasseurs. The 11th Hussars were in the

The plateau of Jaur is so huge that although the Roussel d'Urbal
division, which had gone ahead, was made up of seven regiments of
cavalry, we could scarcely see them on the horizon. A thousand
paces to the right of the column of which I was a part, was one
of the clumps of trees which dot the plain. If my regiment had
been on its own I would certainly have had this wood searched by
a platoon; but as Exelmans, who was very jealous of his
authority, had established it as a rule that no one was to leave
the ranks without his order, I had not dared to take the usual
precautions, and for the same reason the general commanding the
brigade had felt obliged to do the same. This passive obedience
was nearly fatal.

I was at the head of my regiment which, as I have said, was
leading the column, when I suddenly heard a great outcry behind
me; this arose from an unforeseen attack by a numerous body of
Prussian lancers who, emerging unexpectedly from the wood,
charged the 24th Chasseurs and the 11th Hussars, whom they took
on the flank and threw into the greatest disorder. The enemy
charge being on the oblique, had first struck the tail of the
column, then the centre, and was now threatening the head. My
regiment was about to be hit on the right flank. The situation
was critical, for the enemy was advancing rapidly; however,
confident in the courage and skill of all ranks of my cavalrymen,
I ordered them to form line facing right at the full gallop.

This movement, so dangerous in the presence of the enemy, was
carried out with such speed and accuracy that in the blink of an
eye the regiment was in line facing the Prussians who, as they
approached us obliquely, exposed a flank, which our squadrons
took advantage of to get among their ranks where they effected
great carnage.

When they saw the success obtained by my regiment, the 24th
recovered from the surprise attack which had at first
disorganised them, and rallying smartly, they repelled the part
of the enemy line which faced them. As for the 11th Hussars,
composed entirely of Hollanders whom the Emperor had believed he
could turn into Frenchmen by a simple decree, their commander
found it impossible to lead them into a charge. But we were able
to do without the assistance of these useless soldiers, for the
23rd and the 24th were enough to rout the three Prussian
regiments which had attacked us.

While our Chasseurs were pursuing them, an elderly enemy colonel
who had been unhorsed, recognising my rank by my epaulets, and
fearing that he might be killed by one of my men, came to take
refuge beside me where, in spite of the excitement of the action,
no one would dare to strike him while he was under my protection.
Although he was on foot, in the clinging mud, he followed for a
quarter of an hour the hurried movements of my horse, supporting
himself by a hand on my knee and repeating all the time "You are
my guardian angel!" I was truly sorry for the old fellow, for
although he was dropping with fatigue he was unwilling to leave
me, so when I saw one of my men leading a captured horse, I had
him lend it to the Prussian colonel, whom I sent to the rear in
the charge of a trusted Sous-officier. You will see that this
enemy officer was not slow in showing his gratitude.

The plateau of Jaur now became the theatre for a desperate
struggle. From each of the woods there emerged a horde of
Prussians, so that the plain was soon covered by them. My
regiment, whose pursuit of their opponents I had been unable to
slow down, found itself before long facing a brigade of enemy
infantry, whose muskets put out of action by the rain, could not
fire a shot at us. I tried to break the Prussian square, but our
horses, bogged down in the mud to their hocks, could move only at
a slow walk, and without the weight of a charge it is almost
impossible for cavalry to penetrate the close-packed ranks of
infantry who, calm and well-led, present a hedge of bayonets. We
could go close enough to the enemy to speak with them and strike
their muskets with the blades of our sabres, but we could never
break through their lines, something which we could have done
easily if General Sebastiani had not sent our brigade artillery

Our situation and that of the enemy infantry was really rather
ridiculous for we were eye to eye without being able to inflict
the least harm, our sabres being too short to reach the enemy,
whose muskets could not be fired. We remained in this state for a
considerable time, until General Maurin, the commander of a
neighbouring brigade, sent the 6th Regiment of Lancers to help
us. Their long weapons, outreaching the bayonets of the
Prussians killed many of them and allowed not only the Lancers
but also the Chasseurs of the 23rd and 24th to get into the enemy
square, where they did great carnage. During the fighting, one
could hear the sonorous voice of Colonel Perquit shouting in a
very pronounced Alsatian accent "Bointez, Lanciers! Bointez!"

The victory which we had won on this part of the vast battlefield
was snatched from us by the unexpected arrival of more than
20,000 of Prussian cavalry who, after overwhelming the Roussel
d'Urbal division, which had been so unwisely sent alone more than
a league ahead of us, now came to attack us with infinitely
greater numbers.

The approach of this enormous body of enemy troops was signalled
by the arrival of General Exelmans who, as I have said, had
briefly left his division to go almost unaccompanied to claim
back from General Sebastiani his battery of artillery, which that
General had so inappropriately despatched to join that of Roussel
d'Urbal. Having been unable to find General Sebastiani, he
arrived close to the leading division only to witness the capture
of Roussel d'Urbal's guns and also his own, and to find himself
involved in the utter rout of his colleague's squadrons. We had a
warning of some disaster in the sight of our General, his
appearance altered by the fact that he had lost his hat and even
his belt! We hastened to recall our soldiers, who were busy
sabring the enemy infantry which we had just broken into, but
while we were engaged in forming them up in good order we were
completely overrun by the many Prussian squadrons who were
pursuing the debris of d'Urbal's division.

Instantly, Sebastiani's cavalry division, consisting at the most
of 5 to 6000 men was confronted by 20,000 enemy horsemen who, as
well as outnumbering us, had the advantage of being almost all of
them Uhlans, that is to say armed with lances, while we had only
a few such squadrons! So in spite of the stiff resistance which
we put up, the groups which we formed were broken up by the
Prussians, who drove us steadily back to the edge of the plain
and to the verge of the steep descent into the gorge, at the
bottom of which ran the river Katzbach.

We were met here by two divisions of French infantry, together
with which we hoped to make a stand; but the muskets of our men
were so wet that they would not fire, and they had no other means
of defence but a battery of six guns and their bayonets, with
which they momentarily arrested the Prussian cavalry; but the
Prussian generals having brought up some twenty cannons, the
French guns were instantly disabled and their battalions crushed!
Then, cheering loudly, the twenty thousand enemy cavalry advanced
on our troops and drove them in confusion towards the Katzbach.

This river, which we had crossed in the morning with so much
difficulty although it was not very deep, had been transformed
into a raging torrent by the pouring rain which had continued
ceaslessly throughout the whole day. The water, surging between
the two banks, covered almost entirely the parapet of the bridge
at Chemochowitz and made it impossible to discover if the ford at
that point was still passable. However it was by those two points
we had crossed in the morning, and it was to them that we went.
The ford proved impassable for the infantry and a number were
drowned there, but the great majority were saved by the bridge.

I gathered together my regiment, as much as was possible, and
having been formed into tight-packed half-platoons which could
give each other mutual support, they entered the water in
reasonably good order and gained the other bank with the loss of
only two men. All the other cavalry units took the same route,
for in spite of the confusion inseparable from such a retreat,
the troopers realised that the bridge had to be left for the
infantry. I must confess that the descent of the slope was one of
the most critical moments in my life... The very steep hillside
was slippery under our horses' feet, and they stumbled at every
pace over numerous outcrops of rock; in addition the constant
hail of grape-shot which was hurled from the enemy guns made our
position highly precarious. I came out of this without any
personal accident, thanks to the courage, determination, and
skill of my excellent Turkish horse, which by walking along the
edge of precipices like a cat on a roof, saved my life, not only
on this occasion but on several others. I shall mention this
admirable creature later.

The French infantry and cavalry who had been driven down from the
Jaur plateau thought themselves safe from their enemies once
they had crossed the river, but the Prussians had sent a strong
column to a bridge upstream of that at Chemochowitz, where they
had crossed the Katzbach, so that having arrived on the bank
which we had quitted in the morning, we were astonished to be
attacked by squadrons of Uhlans. However, in spite of the
surprise, several regiments, among which Marshal Macdonald in his
report mentioned mine, unhesitatingly attacked the enemy...
Nonetheless, I do not know what would have happened without the
arrival of the division of General Saint-Germain. He had remained
on the left bank of the river in the morning, and having in
consequence taken no part in the fighting, found himself in full
readiness to come to our aid. This division composed of two
regiments of carabiniers, a brigade of Cuirassiers, and with six
twelve pounders, fell furiously on the enemy and drove back into
the river all those who had crossed with the aim of cutting off
our retreat, and as there is nothing so terrible as troops who,
having suffered a setback, resume the offensive, the troopers of
Exelmanns' and d'Urbal's divisions slaughtered all whom they
could reach.

This counter-attack did us much good, for it halted the enemy
who, for that day, did not dare to follow us across the Katzbach.

However, the French army suffered an immense disaster, for
Marshal Macdonald having crossed the river by all the bridges and
fords which there were between Liegnitz and Goldberg, that is to
say on a line of more than five leagues, and now finding nearly
all these crossing points cut off by flooding, the French army
was extended in a long cordon with the Prussians at their back
and facing an almost uncrossable river, and so the frightful
scenes which I had witnessed on the Jaur plateau were reproduced
at all points of the field of battle. Everywhere the rain
prevented our infantry from firing and aided the attacks of the
Prussian cavalry, four times more numerous than ours; everywhere
retreat was made highly perilous by the difficulty of crossing
the flooded Katzbach. Most of the men who tried to swim across
were drowned, Brigadier-general Sibuet being among their number;
we were able to save only a few pieces of artillery.

Chap. 27.

After the unhappy affair at the Katzbach, Marshal Macdonald, in
an attempt to re-unite his troops, indicated as rallying points
the towns of Bunzlau, Lauban, and Gorlitz. A pitch-dark night,
rutted roads, and continuous torrential rain made movement slow
and very difficult; and many soldiers, particularly those of our
allies, went astray or lagged behind.

Napoleon's army lost at the battle of the Katzbach 13,000 men
killed or drowned, 20,000 prisoners, and 50 cannons. A veritable
calamity! Marshal Macdonald, whose faulty tactics had led to this
irreparable catastrophe, although he forfeited the confidence of
the army, was able to retain his personal esteem by the frankness
and loyalty with which he admitted to his mistakes; for the day
following the disaster he called together all the generals and
colonels, and after engaging us to do all we could to maintain
order, he said that every officer and man had done his duty, and
there was only one person who was responsible for the loss of the
battle, and that was himself; because, in view of the rain, he
should not have left a well-broken terrain to go and attack, in a
vast open space, an enemy who squadrons greatly outnumbered our
own, nor, during a rain-storm, have put a river at his back. This
contrite admission disarmed the critics, and everyone buckled to
in order to help save the army, which retreated towards the Elbe
via Bautzen.

Fate now seemed to be against us; for a few days after Marshal
Oudinot had lost the battle of Gross-Beeren, Macdonald that of
the Katzbach, and Vandamme that of Kulm, the French forces
suffered another major reverse. Marshal Ney, who had succeeded
Oudinot in command of the troops who were destined to march on
Berlin, not having a sufficiently powerful force to accomplish
this difficult task, was defeated at Jutterbach (Juterbog) by the
turncoat Bernadotte, and compelled to quit the right bank of the

The Emperor came back to Dresden with his Guard. The various
units under the command of Macdonald took up positions not far
from that town, while Marshal Ney, having pushed back the Swedes
to the right bank, concentrated his troops on the left bank at
Dassau and Wittemberg. For almost a fortnight, between the end of
September and the beginning of October, the French army remained
almost motionless around Dresden. My regiment was in bivouac
close to Veissig on the heights of Pilnitz, which were occupied
by a division of infantry supported by the cavalry of Sebastiani
and Exelmans.

Although there was no official armistice, the weariness of both
sides led to a de facto suspension of hostilities, from which
both parties profited to prepare for new and more terrible

While we were in camp at Pilnitz, I received a letter from the
colonel of Prussian cavalry to whom I had lent a horse after he
had been captured and injured by the men of my regiment at the
start of the battle of the Katzbach. This senior officer, named
M. de Blankensee, who had been freed by his own troops when
things turned against us, was nonetheless grateful for what I had
done, and to prove it he sent me ten Chasseurs and a lieutenant
belonging to my regiment who had been left wounded on the
battlefield and taken prisoner. M. de Blankensee had seen that
their wounds were dressed, and after caring for them for a
fortnight he had obtained permission to have them led to the
French outposts, with a thousand thanks to me, for having, as he
assured me, saved his life. I believe he was right, but I was
still touched by this expression of thanks from one of the
leaders of our opponents.

During the time we were in this camp there took place a strange
event which was witnessed by all the regiments. A corporal of the
4th Chasseurs, while drunk, had shown disrespect to an officer,
and a Lancer of the 6th whose horse had bitten him and would not
let go had struck it in the belly with some scissors which led to
its death. Certainly the two men deserved to be punished, but
only by proper disciplinary procedures. General Exelmans
condemned them both to death on his own authority, and having
ordered that the division should mount their horses, he drew them
up in a huge square, one side of which was left open, where two
graves were dug, to the side of which the two convicted men were

I had been away all night and returned to the camp in time to see
these lugubrious preparations. I had no doubt that the prisoners
had been tried and condemned, but I soon learned that this was
not the case, and drawing near to a group formed by General
Exelmans, the two brigadiers and all the regimental commanders, I
heard M. Devence, Colonel of the 4th Chasseurs, and Colonel
Perquit of the 6th Lancers beg General Exelmans to pardon the two
culprits. General Exelmans refused to do so.

I have never been able to see an act which I consider unjust
without expressing my indignation. It was perhaps wrong of me,
but I addressed Colonels Devence and Perquit saying that it was
an affront to their dignity that men of their regiments should be
paraded through the camp as criminals when they had not had a
proper trial, and I added, "The Emperor has given no one the
power of life or death, and has reserved for himself the right to
grant pardon."

General Exelmans was sufficiently influenced by the effect
produced by my outburst to announce that he would pardon the
Chasseur of the 4th, but that the Lancer would be shot; that is
to say he would pardon the soldier who had been disrespectful to
his officer, but condemn to execution the one who had killed a

In order to carry out this execution each regiment was asked to
provide two N.C.O.s., but as they did not carry muskets, they
would have to use those belonging to other soldiers. When this
order reached me, I did not reply to my regimental
sergeant-major, who took my meaning; so that no one from the 23rd
presented himself to take part in the execution. General Exelmans
noticed this but said nothing! Eventually a shot rang out, and
all those present muttered with indignation! Exelmans ordered
that, as was usual, the troops would be marched past the corpse.
The march began. My regiment was second in the column and I was
in some doubt whether I should make it march past the unlucky
victim of Exelmans' severity when a great burst of laughter was
heard from the 24th Chasseurs, who were in front of me and had
already arrived at the scene of the execution. I sent a warrant
officer to find out the cause of this unseemly mirth in the
presence of the dead, and I soon discovered that the dead man was
in remarkably good health!

The truth was that all that had happened was a theatrical
performance staged to scare any soldiers who were tempted to
indiscipline; a performance which included shooting a man with
blanks; and to keep the operation secret from the rank and file,
our chief had formed the firing squad of sous-officiers, to whom
he had issued the blank cartridges. However, to complete the
illusion it was necessary for the troops to view the body, and
Exelmans had told the Lancer who was to play the part to throw
himself on his face at the sound of the shots and pretend to be
dead, then to leave the army the next night, dressed as a peasant
and with a sum of money which he had been given for the purpose;
but the soldier who was a sharp-witted Gascon, had understood
perfectly well that General Exelmans was exceeding his authority,
and had no more right to have him shot without trial than he had
to dismiss him from the army without a proper discharge, and so
he remained standing when the shots were fired and refused to
leave the camp without a pass which would guarantee him from
arrest by the gendarmerie.

When I learned that it was this discussion between the General
and the dead man which had produced the shouts of laughter from
the 24th Chasseurs at the head of the column, I thought it better
that my regiment did not take part in this comedy which seemed to
me to be as much contrary to discipline as the misdemeanors it
was supposed to punish or prevent. I therefore turned my
squadrons about, and setting off at the trot I left this
unhelpful scene and, returning to the camp, I ordered them to
dismount. My example having been followed by all the brigadiers
and regimental commanders of the division, Exelmans was left
alone with the "dead man", who set off calmly down the road to
the bivouac where he tucked into a meal with his comrades, amid
much more laughter.

During our stay on the plateau of Pilnitz, the enemy, and above
all the Russians, received many reinforcements, the main one, led
by General Benningsen was of not less than 60,000 men, and was
composed of the corps of Doctoroff and Tolsto and the reserve of
Prince Labanoff. This reserve came from beyond Moscow and
included in its ranks a large number of Tartars and Baskirs,
armed only with bows and arrows.

I have never understood with what aim the Russian government
brought from so far and at such great expense these masses of
irregular cavalry, who having neither sabres nor lances nor any
kind of firearm, were unable to stand up against trained
soldiers, and served only to strip the countryside and starve the
regular forces, which alone were capable of resisting a European
enemy. Our soldiers were not in the least alarmed at the sight of
these semi-barbarous Asiatics, whom they nicknamed cupids,
because of their bows and arrows.

Nevertheless, these newcomers, who did not yet know the French,
had been so indoctrinated by their leaders, almost as ignorant as
themselves, that they expected to see us take flight at their
approach; and so they could not wait to attack us. From the very
day of their arrival in sight of our troops they launched
themselves in swarms against them, but having been everywhere
repulsed by gunfire, the Baskirs left a great number of dead on
the ground.

These losses, far from calming their frenzy, seemed to excite
them still more, for without any order and in all directions,
they buzzed around us like a swarm of wasps, flying all over the
place and being very hard to catch, but when our cavalry did
catch them they effected a fearful massacre, our lances and
sabres being immensely superior to their bows and arrows. All the
same, as the attacks by these barbarians were incessant and the
Russians supported them with detachments of Hussars to profit
from the confusion which the Baskirs could create at various
points on the line, the Emperor ordered the generals to be doubly
watchful, and to make frequent visits to our advance posts.

Now both sides were preparing to renew hostilities which, as I
have already said, had not been suspended by any agreement, but
simply de facto. All was completely peaceful in my camp, and I
had as usual taken off my coat and was preparing to shave in the
open air before a little mirror nailed to a tree, when I was
given a slap on the shoulder. As I was in the middle of my
regiment, I turned round sharply to see who had used this
familiarity with his commanding officer... I found myself facing
the Emperor, who, wishing to examine some neighbouring positions
without arousing the enemy, had arrived with only one
aide-de-camp. As he was not accompanied by a detachment of his
Guard, he was followed by squadrons chosen in equal numbers from
all the regiments in the division, and having, on his orders,
taken command of this escort, I spent the entire day at his side,
and have nothing but praise for his kindliness.

When we were preparing to return to Pilnitz, we saw a horde of
Baskirs hurrying towards us, with all the speed of their little
Tarter horses. The Emperor, who had never before seen troops of
this sort, stopped on a hillock and asked for the capture of some
prisoners. To this end, I ordered two squadrons of my regiment to
hide behind a clump of trees, while the remainder continued their
march. This well-known ruse would not have deceived Cossacks, but
it succeeded perfectly with the Baskirs, who have not the
slightest notion of tactics. They passed close to the wood
without sending anyone to inspect it, and were continuing to
follow the column when they were unexpectedly attacked by our
squadrons who, falling on them suddenly, killed a great number
and took some thirty prisoners.

I had these brought to the Emperor, who, after examining them
expressed his surprise at the spectacle of these wretched
horsemen who were sent, with no other arms than bows and arrows,
to fight European soldiers armed with sabres, lances, guns, and
pistols!... These Tarter Baskirs had Chinese features and wore
extravagant costumes. When we got back to the camp, my Chasseurs
amused themselves by giving wine to the Baskirs who, delighted
with this novel reception, got drunk and expressed their joy by
such extraordinary grimaces and capers that all the watchers,
including Napoleon, were in fits of laughter.

On the 28th of September, after reviewing our army corps, the
Emperor treated me with quite exceptional benevolence, for
although he very rarely gave more than one reward at a time, he
created me an officer of the Legion of Honour, a Baron, and
awarded me a grant of money!... He loaded favours on the
regiment, saying that it was the only one of Sebastiani's corps
which had maintained good order at the Katzbach, had captured
some enemy guns and had driven off the Prussians whenever they
met them.

The 23rd Chasseurs owed this distinction to the high praise of
its conduct received by the Emperor from Marshal Macdonald, who,
after the debacle at the Katzbach, had sought refuge in the ranks
of my regiment and had taken part in the fierce charges it made
to drive the enemies back across the river.

After the review, when the troops were on the road to their camp,
General Exelmans came to the front of the regiment and loudly
complemented them for the recognition given by the Emperor to
their courage. Then, turning to me, he embarked on a veritable,
and exaggerated, eulogy of their colonel.

The French army now was concentrated in the area of Leipzig. All
the enemy forces also proceeded to the town, around which their
great number allowed them to form a huge circle, which contracted
every day, and whose aim was obviously to hem in the French
troops and cut off all means of retreat.

On the 14th of October there was a sharp encounter between the
Austro-Russian advance-guard and our own; but after an indecisive
result, both sides returned to their previous positions, and the
action ended with one of the most ridiculous features of war, a
cannonade which went on until nightfall, with no result but the
loss of many men's lives.

The Emperor, after leaving at Dresden a garrison of 25,000 men
commanded by Marshal Saint-Cyr, came to Leipzig, where he arrived
on the morning of the 15th.

Chap. 28.

The exact details of the battle of Leipzig will never be known,
partly because of the extent and complexity of the area over
which fighting continued for several days, and partly because of
the immense number of troops of different nations which took part
in this memorable encounter. It is principally the documents
relating to the French army which are missing, because several
commanders of army corps and divisions, and some members of the
general staff, having been killed or left in enemy hands, most of
their reports have never been finished, and those which have
been, reflect the inevitable haste and disorder surrounding their
compilation. At Leipzig I was the colonel of a regiment, a part
of a division whose movements I was bound to follow, so it was
not possible for me to know what was happening elsewhere, in the
manner which it had been in previous campaigns, when as an
aide-de-camp to various marshals, I was able to acquire a general
view of operations as I carried orders to different parts of the
battlefield. I must therefore, more than ever, limit my
description to what is absolutely necessary for an understanding
of the main events of the battle of Leipzig, the outcome of which
had such a profound influence on the destinies of the Emperor, of
France and of Europe.

The iron circle within which the allies were preparing to enclose
the French army, had not yet completely surrounded Leipzig, when
the King of Wurtemburg, a man of violence but honourable, thought
it his duty to warn Napoleon that the whole of Germany, incited
by the English, was about to rise against him, and that he had
barely sufficient time to retire with the French troops behind
the Main, before all of the German Confederation abandoned him to
join his enemies. He added that he himself, King of Wurtemburg,
could not avoid doing likewise, as he was forced to accede to the
demands of his subjects, who clamoured for him to go with the
torrent of German public opinion and, breaking with Napoleon,
range himself with the enemies of France.

The Emperor, shaken by this advice from the most able and most
faithful of his allies, is said to have considered retiring
towards the mountains of Thuringia and Hesse, to get behind the
river Saale and there wait for the allies to attack him, where
they would be at a disadvantage on the difficult terrain, heavily
wooded and full of narrow passes.

This plan could have saved Napoleon; but it had to be executed
quickly, before the enemy armies were completely united and near
enough to attack us during the retreat. However, when it came to
deciding to abandon a part of his conquests, the Emperor could
not make up his mind; he was most unwilling to have it thought
that he considered himself defeated because he sought refuge
behind these inaccessible mountains. The over-boldness of this
great captain was our undoing; he did not stop to consider that
his army, weakened by numerous losses, contained in its ranks
many foreigners who were waiting only for a favourable
opportunity to betray him, and that it was liable to be
overwhelmed by superior forces in the great open plains of
Leipzig. He would have been wiser to lead it to the mountains of
Thuringia and Hesse, which offered good defensive positions, and
so nullify some of the numerical advantage of the royal
coalition. In addition, the approach of winter and the need to
feed their many troops would have soon compelled the enemies to
separate, while the French army, its front and its flanks
protected by the extreme difficulty of mounting an attack in a
country bristling with natural obstacles, would have had behind
it the fertile valleys of the Main, the Rhine, and the Necker.

Such a position would at least have given us some time and
perhaps tired the allies to the point of desiring a peace; but
the confidence which Napoleon had in himself and in the valour of
his troops overcame these considerations, and he elected to await
his enemies on the plains of Leipzig.

This fatal decision had hardly been taken, when a second letter
from the King of Wurtemburg informed the Emperor that the King of
Bavaria, having suddenly changed sides, had made a pact with the
allies, and that the two armies, the Austrian and the Bavarian,
in cantonment on the banks of the Inn, had joined into a single
unit under the command of General de Wrede and were marching to
the Rhine; and finally that, to his regret, he was compelled by
force to join his army to theirs. In consequence, the Emperor
could expect that soon 100,000 men would surround Mainz, and
threaten the frontier of France.

At this unexpected news, Napoleon thought he should return to the
project of retiring behind the Saale and the mountains of
Thuringia; but it was too late, for already the main forces of
the allies were in contact with the French army, and too close
for it to be possible to carry out a retreat without being
attacked in the course of this difficult operation. So the
Emperor decided to stand and fight!... It was a disastrous
decision, for the effective strength of the French troops and
their allies amounted to no more than 157,000 men, of whom only
29,000 were cavalry, while Prince Schwartzenberg, the enemy
generalissimo, disposed of a force of 350,000, of whom 54,000
were cavalry!...

This huge army consisted of Russians, Austrians, Prussians, and
Swedes, whom the former French Marshal Bernadotte was leading
against his fellow countrymen and one-time brothers in arms. The
total number of those engaged amounted to 507,000 without
counting the troops left in fortresses.

The town of Leipzig is one of the most commercial and richest in
Germany. It stands in the middle of a great plain which extends
from the Elbe to the Harz mountains, to Thuringia, and to
Bohemia. Its situation has made it almost always the principal
theatre for the wars which have bloodied Germany. A little river
named the Elster, which is so small and shallow that one could
call it a stream, runs from south to north through water-meadows
in a slight valley as far as Leipzig. This water-course divides
into a great number of branches which are a real obstacle to the
usual operations of war, and require a multiplicity of bridges
for communication between the villages which edge the valley.

The Pleisse, another river of the same sort but even smaller than
the Elster, runs about a league and a half from the latter, which
it joins under the walls of Leipzig.

To the north of the town is a small stream called the Partha
which winds through a narrow valley and has at every pace fords
or little bridges across it.

Leipzig, being at the confluence of these three streams and
almost surrounded to the north and west by their multiple
branches, is the key to the terrain through which they run. The
town, which is not very large, was at this period surrounded by
an old wall in which were four large gates and three small ones.
The road to Lutzen via Lindenau and Markranstadt was the only one
by which the French army could communicate freely with its rear.

It is in the area of ground between the Pleisse and the Partha
that the heaviest fighting took place. There, a noticeable
feature is a small isolated hillock called the Kelmberg, known
also as the Swedish redoubt, because in the thirty years war,
Gustavus Adolphus built some fortifications at this spot, which
dominates the surrounding countryside.

The battle of Leipzig began on the 16th of October 1813 and
lasted three days; but the fighting on the 17th was infinitely
more savage than that on the 16th and 18th.

Without wishing to go into the details of this memorable
encounter, I think I should indicate the principal positions
occupied by the French army, which will give a general idea of
those of the enemy, since each of our army corps had facing it
one and sometimes two of the enemy.

King Murat was in control of our right wing, the extremity of
which was bounded by the Pleisse near the villages of Connewitz,
Dlitz, and Mark-Kleeberg which were occupied by Prince
Poniatowski and his Poles. Next to him and behind the market-town
of Wachau was the corps of Marshal Victor. Marshal Augereau
occupied Dsen.

These various corps of infantry were flanked and supported by
several masses of Marshals Kellermann's and Michaud's cavalry.

The centre, under the direct command of the Emperor, was at
Liebert-Wolkwitz. It was made up of the infantry corps of General
Lauriston and Marshal Macdonald, having with them the cavalry of
Latour-Maubourg and Sebastiani. My regiment, which was part of
this last general's corps, was positioned facing the hillock of
Kelmberg, or the Swedish redoubt.

The left wing, commanded by Marshal Ney, comprised the infantry
Corps of Marshal Marmont, and of Generals Souham and Reynier,
supported by the cavalry of the Duc de Padoue. They occupied

A body of 15,000 men under the command of General Bertrand was
sent from Leipzig to guard the crossings of the Elster and the
road to Lutzen.

At Probstheyda, behind our centre, was the reserve commanded by
Marshal Oudinot and consisting of the young and the Old Guard,
and Nansouty's cavalry.

The venerable King of Saxony, who had been unwilling to desert
his friend the Emperor of France, remained in the town of Leipzig
with his guard and several French regiments who were there to
maintain order.

During the night of 15th-16th, Marshal Macdonald's troops were
moved to concentrate in Liebert-Wolkwitz, leaving the area of the
Kelmberg: but as there was no wish to abandon this position to
the enemy before dawn, I was told to keep it under surveillance
until first light. This was an operation of some delicacy, since
I had to advance with my regiment to the foot of the hillock,
while the French army retired for half a league in the opposite
direction. I ran the risk of being surrounded and perhaps
captured with all my men by the enemy advance-guard, whose scouts
would not fail to climb to the top of the hillock as soon as the
dawn light allowed them to see what was going on in the vast
plains below them, which were occupied by the French army.

The weather was superb and, although it was night, one could see
reasonably well by the light of the stars; but as in these
circumstances it is much easier to see what is overhead than to
see what is below one's feet, I brought my squadrons as close as
possible to the hillock so that its shadow would conceal the
riders, and after ordering silence and immobility, I awaited

The event which fortune had in store was one which could have
changed the future of France and the Emperor and made my name for
ever celebrated!

Half an hour before first light, three riders, coming from the
direction of the enemy, climbed, at walking pace, the hillock of
Kelmberg, from where they could not see us, although we could see
clearly their silhouettes and hear their conversation. They were
speaking in French, the one being Russian and the other two
Prussians. The first, who seemed to have some authority over his
companions, ordered one of them to go and inform their majesties
that there were no Frenchmen at this spot, and they could climb
up, for in a few minutes it would be possible to see the whole of
the plain; but they should do this right away, in case the French
sent sharp-shooters to the area.

The officer to whom these words were addressed observed that the
escort was still a long way off. "What does it matter?" was the
reply, "There is no one here but us." At these words my troops
and I redoubled our attention, and soon we saw on the top of the
hillock some twenty enemy officers, of whom one dismounted.

Although on setting up an ambush, I had no expectation of making
any great capture, I had, however warned my officers that if we
saw anyone on the Swedish redoubt, at a signal from me two
squadrons would go round it, one to left and one to right, in
order to encircle any enemy who had risked coming so close to our
army. I had high hopes, when the over-keenness of one of my
troopers ruined my plan. This man having accidently dropped his
sabre, immediately took his carbine, and fearing that he would be
late when I gave the order to attack, he fired into the middle of
the group, killing a Prussian major.

You may imagine how, in an instant, all the enemy officers, who
had no other guard but a few orderlies, seeing themselves on the
point of being surrounded, made off at the gallop. We dared not
follow them too far for fear of falling ourselves into the hands
of the approaching escorts. We did manage to capture two
officers, from whom we could get no information; but I learned
later from my friend, Baron de Stoch, who was a colonel in the
guard of the Grand Duke of Darmstadt, that the Emperor Alexander
of Russia and the King of Prussia had been among the group of
officers who almost fell into French hands, an event which would
have changed the destiny of Europe. However, fate having decided
otherwise, there was nothing left for me to do but to withdraw
smartly with my regiment to the French lines.

On the 16th of October at eight o'clock in the morning, the
allied batteries gave the signal for the attack. A lively
cannonade was directed at our lines and the allied army marched
towards us from every point. The fighting commenced on our right,
where the Poles, driven back by the Prussians, abandoned the
village of Mark-Kleeberg.

At our centre the Russians and the Austrians attacked Wachau and
Liebert-Wolkwitz six times and were repeatedly repulsed with
great losses. The Emperor regretting, no doubt, that he had
abandoned that morning the Swedish redoubt which the enemy had
occupied and from where their gunners rained down grape-shot,
ordered its recapture, which was promptly carried out by the 22nd
Light Infantry aided by my regiment.

Having obtained this first success, the Emperor, not being able
to outflank the enemy wings because their superior numbers
allowed them to present too long a front, decided to keep them
occupied while he attempted to break through their centre. To
this end, he sent Marshal Mortier to Wachau with two divisions of
infantry, and Marshal Oudinot with the Young Guard. General
Drout, with sixty cannons aided the attack, which was successful.

For his part, Marshal Victor overcame and routed the Russian
Corps commanded by Prince Eugene of Wurtemberg; but after
suffering considerable losses, the Prince was able to rally his
Corps at Gossa.

At this moment General Lauriston and Marshal Macdonald debouched
from Liebert-Wolkwitz and the enemy was overthrown. The French
then took possession of the wood of Grosspossnau. General Maison
was wounded in the taking of this important point.

It was in vain that the numerous Austrian cavalry commanded by
General Klenau and aided by a host of Cossacks tried to restore
the situation, they were defeated by General Sebastian's cavalry
corps. This was a very fierce encounter; my regiment took part;
I lost several men and my senior Major was wounded in the chest
by a lance, having failed to protect himself by carrying his
rolled cape.

Prince Schwartzenberg, seeing his line badly shaken, advanced his
reserves to support it, which decided the Emperor to order a
massive cavalry charge which involved the two corps of Kellermann
and Latour-Maubourg as well as the Dragoons of the Guard.
Kellermann overcame a division of Russian Cuirassiers, but taken
on the flank by another division he had to fall back to the
heights of Wachau after taking several enemy flags.

King Murat then advanced the French infantry and the fighting was
renewed. The Russian Corps of the Prince of Wurtemberg was once
more overwhelmed and lost twenty-six guns. This treatment
resulted in the enemy centre yielding and it was about to give
way when the Emperor of Russia, who had witnessed the disaster,
rapidly advanced the numerous cavalry of his guard which,
encountering the squadrons of Latour-Maubourg in the state of
confusion which always follows an all-out charge, repelled them
in their turn and took back twenty-four of the guns which they
had just captured. It was during this charge that General
Latour-Maubourg had his leg carried away by a cannon-ball.

So far neither side had secured a marked advantage and Napoleon,
to achieve a victory, had just launched against the enemy centre
the reserve consisting of the infantry and cavalry of the Old
Guard and a corps of fresh troops newly arrived from Leipzig,
when a regiment of enemy cavalry which had either deliberately or
accidently got behind French lines created some alarm amongst the
moving troops, who halted and formed a square so as not to be
taken by surprise, and before it was possible to find out the
cause of this alert, night had everywhere suspended military

There had been other events on our extreme right. For the whole
day General Merfeld had tried fruitlessly to secure a passage
across the Pleisse, defended by Poniatowski's Corps and his
Poles; however, towards the end of the day, he managed to take
the village of Dlitz, which compromised our right wing; but the
infantry Chasseurs of the Old Guard, having come from the reserve
at the Pas de Charge chased the Austrians back across the river
and took some hundreds of prisoners, among whom was General
Merfeld, who found himself for the third time, in French hands.

Although the Poles had allowed the capture of Dlitz, the
Emperor, to boost their morale, thought he should give the baton
of a marshal of France to their leader, Prince Poniatowski, who
did not enjoy the honour of bearing it for very long.

On the other side of the river Elster, the Austrian General
Giulay had taken the village of Lindenau after seven hours of
fierce fighting. When the Emperor was told of this serious event,
which compromised the way of retreat for the major part of his
troops, he ordered an attack by General Bertrand, who re-took the
position by a vigourous bayonet charge.

On our left, the impatience of Ney nearly led to a major
catastrophe. The Marshal, who commanded the left wing which had
been placed in position by the Emperor, seeing that by ten
o'clock in the morning no enemy troops had appeared, sent, on his
own authority, one of his army corps, commanded by General
Souham, to Wachau, where there seemed to be an active engagement;
but while this ill-considered movement was being carried out, the
Prussian Marshal Blucher, who had been delayed, arrived with the
Silesian army and captured the village of Mckern. Then Ney,
deprived of a part of his force, and having at his disposal only
Marmont's division, was compelled to withdraw to the walls of
Leipzig and do no more than defend the suburb of Halle.

The French lost many men in this engagement, which also had a
very disturbing effect on those of our soldiers who were in
positions in front of or to one side of Leipzig, for they heard
the sound of cannon and small-arms fire coming from behind them.
However, at about eight in the evening, the fighting ceased in
all parts and the night was peaceful.

Chap. 29.

This first day led to no decisive victory; but the French had the
advantage, since with very much smaller numbers, they had not
only held their own against the coalition, but had driven them
off some of the ground they had occupied the day before.

The troops on both sides were preparing to renew the fighting on
the following morning; but contrary to their expectations, the
17th passed without any hostile movement on the part of either
side. The coalition was awaiting the arrival of the Russian
Polish army, and the troops which were being brought by the
Prince Royal of Sweden, Bernadotte, which would greatly increase
their strength.

For his part, Napoleon, now regretting his rejection of the peace
offers which had been made to him two months previously during
the armistice, hoped to have some result from a peace mission
which he had sent the previous evening to the allied sovereigns
through the Austrian General Comte de Merfeld, who had recently
been taken prisoner.

Here could be seen a strange sequence of events. It was the Comte
de Merfeld who sixteen years previously had come to ask General
Bonaparte, then the commander of the army in Italy, for the
armistice of Leoben. It was he who had brought back to Vienna the
peace treaty concluded between the Austrian government and the
directory, represented by General Bonaparte. It was he who had
carried to the French emperor, on the night following the Battle
of Austerlitz, the proposal for an armistice made by the Austrian
Emperor; now, as a remarkable turn of fate had brought General
Merfeld once more into the Emperor's presence at a moment when he
in his turn was in need of an armistice and peace, he had high
hopes that this intermediary would return with the result he
desired. However things had gone too far for the allied
sovereigns to treat with Napoleon, from whom such a plea denoted
the weakness of his position. So, although unable to conquer us
on the 16th, they hoped to overcome us by a renewed effort with
their superior numbers, and relied heavily on the defection of
the German units which were still with us, and whose leaders, all
members of the secret society, the Tugenbund, took advantage of
the lull in hostilities of the 17th to agree on the manner in
which they would execute their treacherous designs. The Comte de
Merfeld's mission did not even receive a reply.

On the morning of the 18th, the coalition began its attack. The
2nd Cavalry Corps, of which my regiment was a part, was placed as
it had been on the 16th, between Liebert-Wolkwitz and the
Kelmberg. The fighting, which broke out everywhere was fiercest
towards our centre at the village of Probstheyda which was
attacked simultaneously by a Russian and a Prussian Corps, who
were driven off with tremendous losses. The Russians vigourously
attacked Holzhausen, which Macdonald defended successfully.

About eleven o'clock, a cannonade was heard from behind Leipzig,
in the direction of Lindenau, and we learned that at this point
our troops had broken through the ring within which the enemy
believed they could contain the French army, and that General
Bertrand's corps was marching towards Weissenfeld in the
direction of the Rhine, without the enemy being able to stop him.
The Emperor then ordered to evacuation of the equipment to

Meanwhile, the Leipzig plateau around Connewitz and Lssnig was
the scene of a massive engagement; the earth shook with the noise
of a thousand cannon, and the enemy tried to force a passage
across the Pleisse. They were driven back, although the Poles
managed to ruin some of the bayonet charges made by our infantry.
Then the 1st French Cavalry Corps, seeing the Austrian and
Prussian squadrons going to the aid of their allies, emerged from
behind the village of Probstheyda and hurled themselves at the
enemy, whom they overwhelmed and drove back to their reserves
which were led by Prince Constantine of Russia. Defeated again at
this spot the allies built up an immense force in order to
capture Probstheyda, but this formidable mass had such a hot
reception from some divisions of our infantry and the infantry
Chasseurs of the Old Guard that they promptly withdrew. We lost
there Generals Vial and Rochambeau. The latter had just been made
a Marshal of France by the Emperor.

Bernadotte had not yet attacked the French and seemed, it was
said, to waver; but at last urged on or even threatened by the
Prussian Marshal Blucher, he decided to cross the Partha above
the village of Mockau, at the head of his troops and a Russian
corps which had been placed under his command. When a brigade of
Saxon Hussars and Lancers which was positioned at this point saw
approaching the Cossacks who preceded Bernadotte, they marched
towards them as if to give battle; but then, turning round
suddenly and forgetting about their aged King, our ally who was
in the midst of Napoleon's troops, the infamous Saxons aimed
their muskets and cannons at the French!

This force led by Bernadotte, following the left bank of the
Partha, headed for Sellerhausen which was defended by Reynier.
Reynier, whose corps was almost entirely made up of German
contingents, having seen the desertion of the Saxon cavalry,
distrusted their infantry, which he had placed next to the
cavalry of Durette in order to restrain them; but Marshal Ney,
with misplaced confidence, ordered him to deploy the Saxons and
send them to assist a French regiment which was defending the
village of Paunsdorf. The Saxons had gone only a little distance
from the French, when seeing the Prussian ensigns in the fields
of Paunsdorf they ran towards them at top speed, led by the
shameless General Russel, their commander. Some French officers
could not believe such treachery, and thought that the Saxons
were going to attack the Prussians; so that General Gressot,
Reynier's chief-of-staff rushed towards them to moderate what he
thought was an excess of zeal, only to find himself confronted by
enemies! This defection of an entire army corps produced a
frightening gap in the French centre, and had the additional
effect of raising the allied morale. The Wurtemberg cavalry
promptly followed the example of the Saxons.

Not only did Bernadotte welcome the perfidious Saxons into his
ranks, but he used their artillery to bolster up his own, which
the former Marshal of France now aimed at Frenchmen.

The Saxons had scarcely entered the enemy ranks when they
celebrated their treachery by firing at us a hail of projectiles,
many of which were directed to my regiment, for I lost some
thirty men, among whom was Captain Bertain, an excellent officer
who had his head taken off by a cannon-ball.

So now it was Bernadotte, a man for whom French blood had
procured a throne, who was attempting to deliver to us the coup
de grace.

Amid this general disloyalty, the King of Wurtemberg presented an
honourable exception, for as I have said, he had informed
Napoleon that circumstances forced him to renounce his
friendship; but even after he had taken this final step, he
ordered his troops not to attack the French without giving them
ten days warning, and although he was now an enemy of France, he
dismissed from his army the general and several officers who had
handed over their troops to the Russians at the battle of
Leipzig, and withdrew all their decorations from the turncoat

Probstheyda, however, continued to be the theatre of a most
murderous struggle. The Old Guard, deployed behind the village,
held itself in readiness to hasten to the aid of its defenders.
Bulow's Prussian corps having attempted to push forward, was
heavily defeated; but we lost in the action General Delmas, a
distinguished soldier and a man of high principles who, having
been involved with Napoleon since the creation of the Empire, had
spent ten years in retirement, but asked to be returned to active
service when he saw his country in danger.

Facing a terrible cannonade, and continual attacks, the French
line remained steadfastly in position. Towards our left, Marshal
Macdonald and General Sebastiani were holding the ground between
Probstheyda and Sttteritz, in spite of numerous attacks by
Klenau's Austrians and the Russians of Doctoroff, when they were
assailed by a charge of more than 20,000 Cossacks and Baskirs,
the efforts of the latter being directed mainly at Sebastiani's

With much shouting, these barbarians rapidly surrounded our
squadrons, against which they launched thousands of arrows, which
did very little damage because the Baskirs, being entirely
irregulars, do not know how to form up in ranks and they go about
in a mob like a flock of sheep, with the result that the riders
cannot shoot horizontally without wounding or killing their
comrades who are in front of them, but shoot their arrows into
the air to describe an arc which will allow them to descend on
the enemy. But as this system does not permit any accurate aim,
nine-tenths of the arrows miss their target, and those that do
arrive have used up in their ascent the impulse given to them by
the bow, and fall only under their own weight, which is very
small, so that they do not as a rule inflict any serious
injuries. In fact, the Baskirs, having no other arms, are
undoubtedly the world's least dangerous troops.

However, since they attacked us in swarms, and the more one
killed of these wasps, the more seemed to arrive, the huge number
of arrows which they discharged into the air of necessity caused
a few dangerous wounds. Thus, one of my finest N.C.O.s. by the
name of Meslin had his body pierced by an arrow which entered his
chest and emerged at his back. The brave fellow, taking two
hands, broke the arrow and pulled out the remaining part, but
this did not save him, for he died a few moments later. This is
the only example which I can remember of death being caused by a
Baskir arrow, but I had several men and horses hit, and was
myself wounded by this ridiculous weapon.

I had my sabre in my hand, and I was giving orders to an officer,
when, on raising my arm to indicate the point to which he was to
go, I felt my sabre encounter a strange resistance and was aware
of a slight pain in my right thigh, in which was embedded for
about an inch, a four-foot arrow which in the heat of battle I
had not felt. I had it extracted by Dr. Parot and put in one of
the boxes in the regimental ambulance, intending to keep it as a
memento; but unfortunately it got lost.

You will understand that for such a minor injury I was not going
to leave the regiment, particularly at such a critical time...
The reinforcements brought by Bernadotte and Blucher were
determinedly attacking the village of Schnfeld, not far from
where the Partha enters Leipzig. Generals Lagrange and
Friederichs, who were defending this important point, repelled
seven assaults and seven times drove the allies out of houses
they had captured. General Friederichs was killed during this
action; he was a fine officer who among his other qualities, was
the most handsome man in the French army.

Nevertheless, it looked as if the allies might take Schnfeld
until Marshal Ney went to the aid of the village, which remained
in French hands. Marshal Ney received a blow on his shoulder
which forced him to leave the field of battle.

By nightfall the troops of both sides were, in most parts of the
line, in the same positions which they had occupied at the
beginning of the battle. In the evening my troopers and those of
all the divisions of Sebastiani's cavalry tethered their horses
to the same pickets which they had used for the three preceding
days, and almost all the battalions occupied the same bivouacs.
So this battle which our enemies have celebrated as a great
success, was in fact indecisive, since being greatly inferior in
numbers, having almost all the nations of Europe against us and
harbouring a crowd of traitors in our ranks, we had not yielded
an inch of ground. The English general, Sir Robert Wilson, who
was in Leipzig in the role of British representative and whose
testimony cannot be suspected of partiality, said of this battle:

"In spite of the defection of the Saxon army in the middle of the
battle, in spite of the courage and perseverance of the allied
troops, it proved impossible to take from the French any of the
villages which they regarded as essential to their position.
Night ended the fighting, leaving the French, and in particular
the defenders of Probstheyda, in the well-earned position of
having inspired in their enemies a generous measure of

After sunset, when it was beginning to grow dark, I was ordered
to put a stop, at the front of my regiment, to the useless
exchange of fire which usually goes on after a serious
engagement. There is some difficulty in separating men on both
sides who have been fighting each other, the more so because, to
prevent the enemy from knowing what is going on, and making use
of it to fall unexpectedly on our advance-posts, one cannot use
drums or trumpets to instruct the infantrymen to cease fire and
to form up to rejoin their regiments; but a warning is given to
platoon commanders, in quiet tones, and they then send
sous-officiers to look silently for the small, scattered groups.
As the enemy were doing the same, the firing gradually grew less
and soon stopped entirely.

To make sure that no sentinel was forgotten and that this little
withdrawal to bivouac was carried out in good order, it was my
custom to have it supervised by an officer. The one who was on
duty on this evening was a Captain Joly, a brave and well-trained
officer but inclined to be obstinate. He had given evidence of
this trait some months before the battle when, given the job of
distributing some officer's remounts which had been presented on
the Emperor's instructions to those who had taken part in the
Russian campaign, M. Joly, ignoring my advice and that of his
friends, had selected for himself a magnificent light grey, which
neither I nor my friends would have because of its striking
colour, and which I had at first reserved for the trumpeters. So
on the evening of the battle of Leipzig, while M. Joly, in
carrying out his duty, was riding at a walk behind the lines of
infantry, his horse stood out so clearly in spite of the failing
light, that it was picked on by the enemy and both horse and
rider were seriously wounded. The captain had a musket ball
through his body and died during the night in a house in the
suburb of Halle, to where, on the previous evening, I had sent
Major Pozac.

Although the latter's wound was not dangerous, he was grieved to
think that the French army would probably leave and he would
become a prisoner of the enemy, who would deprive him of the
sabre of honour which he had been awarded by the First Consul
after the battle of Marengo when he was still only a
sous-officier; but I calmed his anxieties by taking charge of the
precious sabre which, given into the care of one of the
regimental surgeons, was handed back to Pozac when he returned to

Chap. 30.

The calm of the night having replaced in the fields of Leipzig
the terrible battles which they had just witnessed, the leaders
of both sides could examine their positions.

That of the Emperor Napoleon was the least favourable: if one
could blame this great man for not retreating behind the Saale
eight days before the battle, when he could have still avoided
risking the safety of his army, which was threatened by
infinitely more numerous forces, there is now even more reason to
disapprove of his judgement when, at Leipzig, one sees him
completely surrounded on the field of battle by his enemies. I
use the word "completely" because, on the 18th, at eleven in the
morning, Lichtenstein's Austrian corps seized the village of
Kleinzschocher, on the left bank of the Elster, and for a time
the route from Leipzig to Weissenfels, the only way of escape for
the French, was cut and Napoleon's army entirely encircled.

It is true that this situation did not last for more than half an
hour, but would Napoleon not have been wiser to avoid all the
consequences which might have arisen from such an event by taking
shelter behind the mountains of Thuringia and the river Saale
before all the enemy forces could combine to surround him?

We now come to a very critical situation!... The French had held
on to their positions for the three days of the battle, but this
success had been achieved only at the expense of much blood, for
in killed and wounded we had 40,000 casualties! It is true that
the enemy had suffered 60,000, a figure greatly to their
disadvantage, which was attributable to the persistence with
which they attacked our entrenched positions. As, however, they
had many more men than we did, having lost 40,000 we were
proportionately much more weakened than they were.

In addition to this, the French artillery had fired during the
three days 220,000 rounds, of which 95,000 were fired on the
18th, and there were no more than 16,000 rounds left in the
reserves, that is to say enough to continue in action for only
two hours. This shortage of ammunition, which should have been
foreseen before we engaged a powerful enemy so far from our
frontiers, prevented Napoleon from renewing the battle, which he
might possibly have won, and forced him to order a retreat.

This was a movement which it was very difficult to carry out,
because of the nature of the terrain which we occupied, which was
full of water-meadows and streams and traversed by three rivers
which created many narrow defiles which would have to be
negotiated under the eyes and within close range of the enemy,
who might easily throw our ranks into disorder during this
perilous march.

There was only one means of assuring our retreat, and that was
the construction of a large number of pathways and footbridges
across the meadows, ditches, and small streams, together with
larger bridges across the Partha, the Pleisse, and principally,
over the Elster, which was joined by these various tributaries at
the gates and even within the town of Leipzig. Now, nothing could
have been easier than the creation of these indispensable means
of passage, for the town and suburbs of Leipzig, barely a
musket-shot away, offered a ready source of planks and beams,
girders, nails, and rope etc. The whole army believed that
numerous crossing places had been made since their arrival before
Leipzig, and that these had been increased on the 16th and above
all on the 17th, when the whole day had passed without any
fighting. Well!... for a number of deplorable reasons and by
unbelievable negligence, nothing whatsoever had been done!... and
among those official documents which we possess relating to this
famous battle, one can find nothing, absolutely nothing, which
would show that any measures had been taken to facilitate, in
case of a retreat, the movement of the many columns which were in
action beyond the obstructions formed by the rivers and the
streets of Leipzig and its suburbs. None of the officers who
escaped from the disaster, nor any of the authors who have
written about it, have been able to show that any of the senior
staff of the army took steps to establish new crossing points or
to ensure free use of those which existed. Only General Pelet,
who is a great admirer of Napoleon and who, for this reason, is
sometimes given to exaggeration, writing fifteen years after the
battle, states that M. Odier, the deputy quartermaster of the
Imperial Guard, told him several times that he was present when
one morning (he does say on what day) the Emperor ordered a
general on his staff to look into the construction of bridges and
made him specially responsible for the task. General Pelet does
not disclose the name of the general to whom the Emperor gave
this order, although it would be most important to know it.

M. Fain, Napoleon's secretary, says in his memoirs "The Emperor
ordered the construction in the neighbouring marshes of new
pathways which would ease the passage of this long defile."

I do not know how much credit history will give to the accuracy
of these assertions; but even supposing them to be true, there
are those who think that the head of the French army should have
done more than give an order to a general staff officer, who
perhaps did not have at his disposal sappers or the necessary
material, and that he should have given the responsibility for
creating new crossing points to several officers, at least one
from every regiment in each army corps, for it is plain that no
one was doing anything. Here now is the truth of the matter,
which is known to very few people.

The Emperor had for head of his general staff, Marshal Prince
Berthier, who had never left him since the Italian campaign of
1796. He was capable, precise, and loyal but having often
suffered the effects of the imperial temper, he had developed
such a fear of Napoleon's outbursts that he had decided never to
take the initiative on any matter, never to ask any questions,
and simply to carry out those orders he received in writing. This
system, which maintained good relations between the Major-general
and his chief, was harmful to the interests of the army; for no
matter how great the Emperor's energy and ability, it was
impossible for him to see everything and undertake everything;
and so if he overlooked something of importance nothing was done.

It seems that this is what happened at Leipzig, where, when
almost all the marshals and generals had on several occasions,
and particularly on the last two days, pointed out to Berthier
how necessary it was to provide adequate ways out, in the event
of a retreat, his invariable reply had been "The Emperor has not
ordered it." No materials were supplied, and so not a plank nor
beam had been placed across a rivulet when, during the night of
18th-19th the Emperor ordered a retreat to Weissenfels and the
river Saale.

The allies had suffered such heavy losses that they felt it
impossible to renew the struggle. They did not dare to attack us
afresh, and were on the point of retiring themselves when they
noticed the heavy equipment of the army heading for Weissenfels
via Lindenau, and realised that Napoleon was preparing to
retreat. Whereupon they took steps to place themselves in a
position to profit from any opportunities which this movement
might present to them.

The most unhappy moment of a retreat, particularly for a unit
commander, is that when he has to leave behind those wounded whom
he is compelled to abandon to the mercy of the enemy, who
frequently does not have any, and robs and murders those who are
too badly injured to follow their comrades. However, since the
worst of all things is to be left lying on the ground, I took
advantage of the night to have my men pick up all the wounded
from my regiment, whom I put in two adjoining houses, firstly to
shield them from the drunken fury of the enemy, who would occupy
the suburb, and secondly to allow them to help one another and
keep up their spirits. An assistant surgeon, M. Bordenave,
offered to remain with them. I accepted his offer, and after the
peace I recommended this estimable doctor, whose care saved the
lives of many men, for the award of the Legion of Honour.

The troops now began their march away from the battlefield where
they had shown so much courage and shed so much blood! The
Emperor left his bivouac at eight in the evening and went to the
town, where he stayed at an inn named the "Prussian Arms" in the
horse market, and after giving some orders he went to visit the
aged King of Saxony, whom he found preparing to follow him.

This King, a devoted friend, expected that to punish his
unshakable adherence to the French Emperor, the allied sovereigns
would seize his kingdom, but what grieved him more was the
thought that his army had been dishonoured by deserting to the
enemy. Napoleon was unable to comfort the good old man, and it
was with difficulty that he persuaded him to remain in Leipzig,
in the heart of his state, and send an envoy to the confederates
to ask for terms.

When this emissary had left, the Emperor said adieu to the old
King, the Queen and the Princess their daughter, a model of
virtue who had followed her father even to face the guns of the
enemy. The separation was made more unhappy when it was learned
that the allies would make no promises about the fate reserved
for the Saxon monarch, who would thus be at their mercy. He ruled
over some fine provinces, an invitation to his enemies to be

About eight in the evening the retreat began, with the corps of
Marshals Victor and Augereau, the ambulances, a part of the
artillery, the cavalry, and the Imperial Guard. While these
troops filed through the suburb of Lindenau, Marshals Ney,
Marmont and General Reynier guarded the suburbs of Halle and
Rosenthal. The Corps of Lauriston, Macdonald and Poniatowski
entered the town in succession and took up positions at the
barriers which pierced the walls, all was thus arranged for a
stubborn resistance by the rear-guard to allow the army to
retreat in good order. Nevertheless, Napoleon wished to spare
Leipzig the horrors which always result from fighting in the
streets, and so he permitted the magistrates to address a request
to the allied sovereigns asking them to allow, by an armistice of
a few hours, the peaceful evacuation of the town. This proposal
was rejected and the allies, hoping that the rear-guard might be
thrown into a confusion by which they could profit, did not
hesitate to expose to the risk of total destruction one of the
finest towns in Germany.

Several French generals then suggested, indignantly, to Napoleon
that he could assure the retreat of his army by massing it in the
centre of the town and then setting fire to all the suburbs
except that of Lindenau, by which our troops could leave while
the fire held up the enemy.

In my opinion, the allies' refusal to consent to an arrangement
which would allow the retreat to be carried on without fighting,
gave us the right to employ all possible means of defence, and
fire being the most effective in such a situation, we should have
used it; but Napoleon could not bring himself to do so, and this
excessive magnanimity cost him his throne, for the fighting which
I am about to describe resulted in the loss of almost as many men
as the three days of battle in which we had just been involved,
and worse even than that, it disorganised the army which would
otherwise have arrived in France still a potent force. The stiff
resistance which for three months the weak remnants put up
against the allies is evidence enough of what we might have done
if all the French fighting men who had survived the great battle
had crossed the Rhine in good order with their weapons. France
would probably have repelled the invaders.

That, however is not what happened, for while Napoleon, with what
I regard as misplaced generosity, refused to burn an enemy town
in order to ensure the unopposed retreat of part of his army, the
infamous Bernadotte, dissatisfied with the ardour displayed by
the allies in destroying his fellow Frenchmen, launched all the
troops under his command against the suburb of Taucha, captured
it and from there reached the avenues of the town.

Encouraged by this example, Marshal Blucher and his Prussians,
the Austrians, and the Russians did the same and attacked from
all sides the tail end of the French, who were retreating towards
the bridge at Lindenau. Finally, for good measure, a lively
fusillade broke out near this bridge, the only way for our troops
to cross the Elster. This fusillade came from the battalions of
the Saxon guard who had been left in the town with their King,
and who, regretting not to have deserted with the other regiments
of their army, wanted to show their German patriotism by
attacking from behind the French who were passing the chateau
where their monarch was in residence!... It was in vain that the
venerable prince appeared on the balcony, amidst the firing,
crying out "Kill me, you cowards! Kill your King, so that I may
not witness your dishonour!" The wretches continued to slaughter
the French, while the King, going back to his apartments, took
the flag of his Guard and threw it in the fire.

A parting stab in the back was given to our troops by a battalion
of men from Baden who, being notorious cowards, had been left in
the town during the battle to split logs for the fires of the
bakery. These worthless Badeners, sheltered by the walls of the
big bakery, fired from its windows on our soldiers, of whom they
killed a great many.

The French fought back bravely from house to house and although
the whole of the allied force was massed in the town filling the
avenues and main streets, our troops disputed every foot of
ground as they retired towards the big bridge across the Elster
at Lindenau.

The Emperor had difficulty in getting out of the town and
reaching the outskirts through which the army was marching. He
stopped and dismounted at the last of the smaller bridges, known
as the mill bridge and it was then that he ordered the big bridge
to be mined. He sent orders to Marshals Ney, Macdonald, and
Poniatowski to hold the town for a further twenty-four hours, or
at least until nightfall, to allow the artillery park, the
equipment, and the rear-guard time to go through the suburb and
across the bridges. But the Emperor had scarcely remounted his
horse and gone a thousand paces down the road towards Lutzen when
suddenly there was a massive explosion!...

The big bridge across the Elster had been blown up! Macdonald,
Lauriston, Reynier, and Poniatowski, with their troops as well as
200 artillery pieces, were still on the streets of Leipzig and
all means of retreat were now cut off. It was a total

To explain this catastrophe, it was said later that some Prussian
and Swedish infantrymen, for whom the Badeners had opened the
Halle gate, had gradually worked their way to the region of the
bridge where, having joined some of the Saxon guard, they had
occupied some houses from which they started to fire on the
French columns. The sapper charged with the responsibility of
detonating the mine was deceived by this fire into thinking that
the enemy had arrived, and that the time had come for him to
carry out his mission, and so he put a light to the fuse. Others
blamed a colonel of the engineers named Montfort, who at the
sight of some enemy infantrymen had taken it on himself to order
the detonation of the explosives. This last version was adopted
by the Emperor, and M. de Monfort was put on a charge and made a
scapegoat for the fatal event, but it later became clear that he
had nothing to do with it. However this may be, the army laid the
blame once more on the Major-general, Prince Berthier, and it was
justly claimed that he should have put the protection of the
bridge in the hands of an entire brigade, whose general should
have been made personally responsible for giving the order to
blow it up, when he thought the moment had come to do so. Prince
Berthier defended himself with his usual response "The Emperor
had not ordered it!..."

After the destruction of the bridge, some of the French whose
retreat was thus cut off, jumped into the Elster in the hope of
swimming across. Several of them succeeded in doing so, Marshal
Macdonald being among them; but the greater number, including
among others Prince Poniatowski, were drowned, because after
crossing the river they were unable to climb the muddy bank,
which was lined by enemy soldiers.

Those of our soldiers who were trapped in the town and its
suburbs aimed only to sell their lives as dearly as possible.
They barricaded themselves behind the houses and fought all day
and part of the night, but when their ammunition was exhausted
they were forced to retire into their improvised defences where
they were nearly all slaughtered! The carnage did not end until
two o'clock in the morning!...

The number of those massacred in the houses is given as 13,000,
while 25,000 were taken prisoner. The enemy collected 250

After describing in general the events which followed the battle
of Leipzig, I shall now describe some of those which related
particularly to my regiment and Sebastiani's cavalry corps to
which it belonged. Seeing that we had for three consecutive days
repelled the enemy attacks and maintained our positions on the
field of battle, the men were greatly surprised and disgusted
when, in the evening of the 18th, we learned that because of
shortage of ammunition we were about to retreat. We hoped that at
least(and that appeared to be the Emperor's intention) we would
go no further than across the river Saale to the proximity of the
fortress of Erfurt, where we could renew our stocks of ammunition
and recommence hostilities. So we mounted our horses at eight in
the evening on the 18th of October, and abandoned the battlefield
on which we had fought for three days and where we left the
bodies of so many of our gallant comrades.

We had hardly left our bivouac when we ran into some of the
difficulties arising from the failure of the general staff to
make any arrangements for the withdrawal of such a large body of
troops. At every minute the columns, particularly the artillery
and cavalry, were held up by the need to cross wide ditches,
bogs, and streams over which it would have been easy to put small
bridges! Wheels and horses sank into the mud and, the night being
very dark, there was congestion everywhere; our progress was
therefore extremely slow, even when we were in the open country,
and often completely arrested in the streets of the suburbs and
the town. My regiment which was at the front of the column formed
by Excelmans' division, which led this wearisome march, did not
reach the bridge at Lindenau until four in the morning on the
19th. When we had crossed over, we were far from foreseeing the
appalling catastrophe which would occur in a few hours.

Day broke; the fine, wide road was covered by troops of all arms,
which showed that the army would still be of considerable
strength on arriving at the Saale. The Emperor passed... but as
he galloped along the side of the marching column, he did not
hear the cheers which usually greeted his presence!... The army
was displeased with the little effort which had been made to
secure its retreat since leaving the battlefield. What would the
troops have said if they had known of the inadequate arrangements
made at the Elster, which they had just crossed, but where so
many of their comrades would lose their lives?

It was during a halt at Markranstadt, a little town some three
leagues from Leipzig, that we heard the explosion of the mine
which destroyed the bridge; but instead of being alarmed, we
rejoiced, for we all believed that the fuse would not have been
lit until after the passage of all our columns, and in order,
then, to prevent that of the enemy.

During the few hours of rest which we had at Markranstadt,
without being aware of the catastrophe which had occurred at the
river, I was able to review our squadrons in detail and find out
what losses we had suffered during the three days of conflict. I
was dismayed! For they came to 149 men, of whom 60 were killed,
among whom were two captains, three lieutenant and eleven
N.C.O.s. A very large fraction of the 700 men with which the
regiment had arrived on the battlefield on the morning of October
the 16th. Nearly all the wounded had been hit by cannon-balls or
grape-shot which, sadly, gave them little hope of recovery. My
losses might have been doubled if I had not, during the battle,
taken precautions to shield my regiment from cannon fire, as much
as possible. This requires some explanation.

There are circumstances where the most humane of generals finds
himself in the painful position of having to expose his troops
openly to enemy fire; but it often happens that certain
commanders deploy their men uselessly in front of enemy
batteries, and take no steps to avoid casualties, although
sometimes this is very easy, particularly for cavalry, who
because of the rapidity of their movements can go swiftly to the
point where they are required and take up the desired formation.
It is when large masses of cavalry are involved on extensive
battlefields that these measures of preservation are most
required, and where, however, they are least employed.

At Leipzig, on the 16th of October, Sebastiani, commanding the
2nd Cavalry Corps, having placed his three divisions between the
villages of Wachau and Liebert-Wolkwitz, and indicated to each

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