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The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot

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divisional general roughly the position he should occupy, Exelman
found himself placed on undulating ground intersected, as a
result, by small ridges and hollows. The Corps formed a line of
considerable length. The enemy cavalry, being a long way from
us, could not take us by surprise. I took advantage of the
hollows in the ground where our brigade was positioned to conceal
my regiment which, though formed up and ready for action, saw the
greater part of the day pass without losing a single man, for the
cannon-balls went over their heads while neighbouring corps
suffered considerable casualties.

I was congratulating myself on having done this when General
Exelmans, on the pretext that everyone should be equally exposed
to danger, ordered me, in spite of the representations of my
brigade commander, to take the regiment a hundred paces forward.
I obeyed, but in a short time I had a captain, M. Bertin, killed
and some twenty men put out of action. I then had recourse to a
different tactic: this was to send some troopers, well spaced
out, to subject the enemy gunners to carbine fire. The enemy then
advanced some infantrymen to counter this, and the two groups
being involved in a fire-fight between the lines, the artillery
could not use their guns for fear of hitting their own men. It is
true that our gunners were in the same boat, but the cessation of
gunfire in a minor corner of the battlefield was to our benefit,
since the enemy had many more guns than we did. In addition to
this, our infantry and that of the enemy being in action at the
village of Liebert-Wolkwitz, the cavalry of both sides had to
await the outcome of this savage fighting; it served no useful
purpose for them to demolish one another by cannon fire, rather
than leave the fighting to the infantrymen, who were for the most
part only frightening the birds. My example was followed by all
the regimental commanders of the other brigades, and the cannons
opposite them too ceased fire, sparing the lives of many men. A
greater number would have been spared if General Exelmans had not
come and ordered the withdrawal of the men on foot, which was the
signal for a hail of cannon-balls hurled at our squadrons.
Fortunately the day was almost over.

It was now the evening of the 16th. All the colonels of cavalry
belonging to 2nd Corps had found this method of sparing their men
so effective that by common accord we all used it in the battle
of the 18th. When the enemy started firing their cannons, we sent
out our foot-soldiers, and as they would have captured the guns
if they were not defended, the enemy had to send infantrymen to
defend them, and so the guns were silenced on both sides. The
commanders of the enemy cavalry which faced us, having probably
realised what we were up to, started doing the same, so that on
the third day the guns attached to the cavalry of both parties
were much less used. This did not prevent vigourous cavalry
engagements, but at least they were directed to the taking or
holding of positions, in which we did not spare ourselves, but
the cannonades aimed at stationary targets, which too often
replace cavalry to cavalry actions, do nothing but kill good men
for no useful purpose. This was something which Exelmans did not
grasp, but as he was on the move all the time from one wing to
the other, as soon as he had left a regiment the colonel sent out
his foot-soldiers and the guns were silent.

All the cavalry generals, including Sebastiani, were so much
persuaded of the advantages of this method, that eventually
Exelmans was ordered not to irritate the enemy gunners by firing
our guns at them, when the cavalry was only standing-to, and had
neither an attack nor a defence to undertake. Two years later I
used the same tactics at Waterloo against the English guns, and I
lost far fewer men than I would have done otherwise: but now let
us return to Markranstadt.

Chap. 31.

It was while the Emperor and the divisions which had come out of
Leipzig were halted at this spot, that we heard the dreadful news
of the destruction of the bridge at Lindenau, which deprived the
army of almost all its artillery and half of its men, who were
taken prisoner; and which delivered some thousands of our wounded
comrades to the assaults and knives of the brutish enemy, full of
liquor and encouraged to massacre by their unscrupulous officers!
There was widespread grief! Each regretted the loss of a
relative, a friend, some comrade in arms! The Emperor seemed
appalled!... However, he ordered Sebastiani's cavalry to retrace
their steps to the bridge, in order to gather and protect any
stragglers who had been able to cross the river at some point,
after the explosion.

In order to speed this help, my regiment and the 24th, who were
the best mounted in the corps, were told to go ahead of the
column and leave at a rapid trot. As General Wathiez was
indisposed, and I was the next in seniority, I had to take
command of the brigade.

When we had reached half way to Leipzig, we heard much gunfire,
and as we approached the avenues we could hear the despairing
cries of the unfortunate French, who having no means of retreat
and no cartridges for their firearms, were unable to defend
themselves and were hunted from street to street, and house to
house, and, overwhelmed by numbers, were disgracefully butchered
by the enemy, mainly the Prussians, the Badeners, and the Saxon

It would be impossible for me to express the fury felt then by
the two regiments which I commanded. All longed for vengeance and
regretted that this was denied them, since the Elster, with its
broken bridge, separated us from the assassins and their victims.
Our anger was increased when we came across about 2000 Frenchmen,
most of them without clothes and nearly all wounded, who had
escaped death only by jumping into the river and swimming across
in the face of the shots being fired at them from the opposite
bank. Marshal Macdonald was among them; he owed his life to his
physical strength and his ability as a swimmer. The Marshal was
completely naked and his horse had been drowned, so I quickly
found some clothes for him and lent him the spare horse which
always came with me, which allowed him to go immediately to
rejoin the Emperor at Markranstadt, and to give him an account of
the disaster of which he had been a witness, and in which one of
the principal episodes had been the death of Prince Poniatowski,
who had perished in the waters of the Elster.

The remainder of the French who had managed to cross the river
had been obliged to discard their arms in order to swim, and had
no means of defence. They ran across the fields to avoid falling
into the hands of four or five hundred Prussians, Saxons, and
Badeners, who, not satisfied with the blood-bath of the massacres
in the town, had made a footbridge of beams and planks across the
remaining arches of the bridge, and had come to kill any of our
unfortunate soldiers whom they could find on the road to

As soon as I caught sight of this group of assassins, I
instructed Colonel Schneit of the 24th to combine with my
regiment to form a vast semi-circle round them, and then sounded
the charge!... The result was horrifying! The bandits, taken by
surprise, put up very little resistance and there ensued a
massacre, for no quarter was given!...

I was so enraged at these wretches, that before the charge
started I had promised myself that I would run my sabre through
any of them I could catch; however, when I found myself in their
midst and saw that they were drunk and leaderless except for two
Saxon officers who were fear-stricken at our vengeful approach, I
realised that this was not a fight but an execution, and that it
would not be a good thing for me to take part in it. I feared
that I might find pleasure in killing some of these scoundrels,
so I put my sabre back in its scabbard and left to our soldiers
the business of exterminating these assassins, two-thirds of whom
were laid dead.

The remainder, including two officers and several Saxon guards,
fled towards the debris of the bridge, hoping to recross the
footbridge; but as they could cross only one by one and our
Chasseurs were hard on their heels, they entered a large nearby
inn and began to shoot at my men, helped by some Prussians and
Badeners on the opposite bank.

As it seemed likely that the noise of firing would attract larger
forces to the bank from where, without crossing the river, they
could destroy my regiment by small-arms and cannon fire, I
decided to bring matters to a conclusion, and ordered the
majority of the Chasseurs to dismount and taking their carbines
and plenty of ammunition to attack the rear of the inn and set on
fire the stables and the hay loft. The assassins, shut in the
inn, seeing that they were about to be caught in the flames,
tried to make a sortie; but as soon as they appeared in the
doorway our Chasseurs shot them with their carbines.

It was in vain that they sent one of the Saxon officers to me to
intercede; I was pitiless, and refused to treat as soldiers
surrendering after an honourable defence, these monsters who had
murdered our comrades who were prisoners of war. So the four to
five hundred Prussians, Badeners, and Saxons who had crossed the
footbridge were all killed! I sent this information to General
Sebastiani, who halted, midway, the other brigades of the Light

The fire which we had lit in the forage store of the inn soon
spread to the neighbouring houses. A major part of the village of
Lindenau, which lines both sides of the road, was burned, which
would delay the repair of the bridge and the passage of enemy
troops, bent on pursuing and harrying the retreating French army.

The mission being completed, I led the brigade back to
Markranstadt, together with the 2000 Frenc, who had escaped from
the calamity at the bridge. Among them were several officers of
all ranks; The Emperor questioned them on what they knew about
the blowing up of the bridge, and about the massacre of the
French prisoners of war. It seems likely that this sorry tale
made the Emperor regret that he had not taken the advice given
him in the morning, to bar the enemy advance by setting fire to
the suburbs, and even, if need be, the town of Leipzig itself,
most of whose inhabitants had fled during the three day's battle.

In the course of this return to the bridge of Lindenau, the
brigade which I was commanding suffered only three casualties,
one of which was a member of my regiment; but it was one of my
finest sous-officiers. He had been awarded the Legion of Honour
and was named Foucher. A bullet wound, received at the inn, had
gone through both thighs, leaving four holes; but in spite of
this serious injury the brave Foucher made the retreat on
horseback, refused to enter the hospital at Erfurt, which we
passed a few days later and remained with the regiment until we
reached France. It is true that his friends and all the men in
his platoon took great care of him, but he thoroughly deserved

As I left Leipzig, I was concerned about the fate of the wounded
from my regiment, whom I had left behind, including Major Pozac;
but luckily the distant suburb in which I had put them was not
visited by the Prussians.

You have seen that during the last day of the great battle, an
Austrian Corps tried to cut off our retreat by capturing
Lindenau, through which passes the main road leading to
Weissenfels and Erfurt, and how, on the Emperor's orders, they
had been driven off by General Bertrand, who, after re-opening
this route, had made his way to Weissenfels, where we rejoined

After the losses occasioned by the destruction of the bridge at
Lindenau, it was impossible to think of stopping what remained of
the army at the Saale, so Napoleon crossed the river.

A fortnight before the battle, this water-course had offered him
an impregnable position, which he had spurned to risk a general
engagement in open country, putting behind him three rivers and a
large town, which presented obstructions at every step!... The
great captain had relied too much on his "star" and on the
incapacity of the enemy generals.

In the event, they made such serious mistakes that in spite of an
immense superiority in numbers, they were not only unable, during
a battle lasting three days, to take from us a single one of the
villages we were defending, but I have heard the King of Belgium,
who was then serving with the Russian army, say to the Duc
d'Orleans that on two occasions the allies were in such confusion
that the order for a retreat was given: but then the situation
changed and it our army which had to submit to the fortune of

After crossing the Saale, Napoleon thanked and dismissed those
officers and soldiers of the Confederation of the Rhine, who
either from some sense of honour or from lack of opportunity were
still in our ranks. He even carried magnanimity so far as to
allow them to retain their arms, although he was entitled to
treat them as prisoners of war, since their sovereigns had joined
the forces of our enemies. The French army continued its retreat
to Erfurt, without anything happening but an encounter at Kosen,
where a single French division defeated an Austrian army corps,
and took prisoner its commanding general the Comte de Giulay.

Led on always by the hope of a fighting return to Germany, and by
the help which he would receive in such a case from the
fortresses which he was now forced to leave behind him, Napoleon
put a numerous garrison into Erfurt. He had left in Dresden
25,000 men, under the command of Saint-Cyr; at Hamburg 30,000
under Davout, and many strongholds on the Oder and the Elbe,
manned in accordance with their importance; these garrisons made
up a loss in manpower to add to that due to the forts of Danzig
and the Vistula.

I shall not repeat what I have already said about the
disadvantages of deploying too many of one's troops to man forts
which one is forced to leave behind. I shall merely point out
that Napoleon left in the forts of Germany 80,000 men, not one of
whom returned to France until after the fall of the empire, which
they might perhaps have prevented, had they been defending our

The arsenal at Erfurt was able to make good the loss of our
artillery. The Emperor, who up till now had borne his reverses
with stoical resignation, was however upset by the departure of
his brother-in-law, the King Murat, who, with the excuse that he
was going to defend his kingdom of Naples, abandoned Napoleon, to
whom he owed everything!... Murat, at one time so brilliant in
war, had done nothing much during this campaign of 1813. It is
certain that, although he was in our ranks, he was carrying on a
correspondence with M. de Metternich, the prime minister of
Austria, who, dangling before his eyes the example of Bernadotte,
guaranteed, in the name of the allied sovereigns, the protection
of his kingdom if he would join Napoleon's enemies. Murat left
the French army at Erfurt and had scarcely arrived in Naples when
he began preparations for war against us.

It was also at Erfurt that the Emperor learned of the audacious
scheme of the Bavarians, his former allies, who, after deserting
his cause, and joining with an Austrian Corps and several groups
of Cossacks had set off under the command of General the Comte de
Wrede, whose ambition it was not only to stop the French army,
but to make it captive, along with its Emperor.

General de Wrede marching parallel to us but at two days distance
had already reached Wartzbourg with 60,000 men. He detached
10,000 to Frankfort and with the remaining 50,000 he went to the
little fort of Hanau in order to bar the passage of the French.
General de Wrede, who had fought on our side in Russia, thought
that he would find the French army in the deplorable state to
which cold and hunger had reduced those retreating from Moscow by
the time they reached the Beresina, but we soon showed him that
in spite of our misfortunes, we still had soldiers in good heart,
and quite capable of defeating Austro-Bavarians.

General de Wrede, who did not know that the troops which we had
fought at Leipzig, though following, were a long way behind us,
had become very bold and believed he could trap us between two
fires. It was not possible for him to do so; though, as several
enemy corps were trying to mount an attack on our right by going
through the mountains of Franconia, while the Bavarians stood in
front of us, the situation could have become serious.

Napoleon rose to the challenge and marched briskly towards Hanau,
whose approaches are protected by thick forests and notably by
the well-known pass of Gelnhausen, through which runs the river
Kinzig. This river, whose banks are very steep, runs between two
mountains which are separated by a narrow gap which allows the
passage of the river, beside which has been made a fine main
road, cut into the rock, and running from Fulde to
Frankfort-on-main via Hanau.

Sebastiani's cavalry corps which had been the advance-guard from
Weissenfels to Fulde, where one enters the mountains, should have
been replaced by infantry at this point. I have never understood
for what reason this well known principle of warfare was not
followed in these grave circumstances; but to our astonishment,
Exelmans' cavalry division continued to march in front of the
army, led by my regiment and the 24th Chasseurs. I was in command
of the brigade. We learned from the peasants that the
Austro-Bavarian army already occupied Hanau, and that a strong
division was facing the French, to dispute the passage of the

My position, as commander of the advance-guard, was now very
difficult; for how could I, without a single infantryman and with
cavalry packed between two high mountains and an uncrossable
torrent, fight troops on foot whose scouts, climbing up the
rocks, would shoot us at close range? I sent at once to warn the
divisional general, but Exelmans could not be found. However I
had been ordered to advance and I could not stop the divisions
which were following me, so I continued my march until at a bend
in the valley my scouts told me that they were in sight of a
detachment of enemy Hussars.

The Austro-Bavarians had made the same mistake as our leaders;
for if the latter had sent cavalry to attack a long and narrow
pass where no more the ten or twelve horsemen could ride abreast,
our enemies had sent cavalry to defend a position where a hundred
sharpshooters could hold up ten regiments of cavalry! I was
highly delighted to see that the enemy had no infantry, and as I
knew from experience that when two opposing columns meet at a
narrow spot, victory always goes to the one which, hurling itself
at the head of the enemy, drives it back into the troops behind
it, I launched at the gallop my elite company, of which only the
leading platoon could engage the enemy; but they did so with such
elan that the head of the Austrian column was overwhelmed and the
rest thrown into such complete confusion that my troopers had
only to take aim. We continued the pursuit for more than an hour.
The enemy regiment in front of us was that of General Ott. I had
never seen such well turned out Hussars. they had come from
Vienna, where they had been fitted with completely new uniforms,
Their outfit, although a little theatrical, looked very handsome:
the pelisse and dolman in white and the trousers and the shako in
lilac; all clean bright and shining. One might have thought they
were going to a ball, or to play in a comedy! This brilliant
appearance contrasted somewhat with the more modest toilette of
our Chasseurs, many of whom were still dressed in the worn
clothing in which they had bivouacked for eighteen months, in
Russia, Poland, and Germany, and whose distinguishing colours had
been dimmed by the smoke of cannon and the dust of battlefields.
However, under those threadbare garments were brave hearts and
sturdy limbs. So the white pelisses of Ott's Hussars became
horribly bloodstained, and this pretty regiment lost in killed
and wounded more than 200 men, without one of our Chasseurs
having the smallest sabre cut, the enemy having always fled
without ever turning to fight. Our Chasseurs took a large number
of excellent horses and gold-braided pelisses.

Up until then everything had gone well, but as I galloped after
the victors who pursued the vanquished, I was a bit worried about
the end of this strange encounter, for the diminishing height of
the mountains which bordered the Kinzig indicated that we were
nearing the end of the valley, and it was likely that we would
find ourselves in a small plain, full of infantry whose volleys
and cannon fire would make us pay dearly for our success: but
happily there was no such thing, and as we emerged from the pass
we saw not a single infantryman, but only some cavalry, part of
which comprised the main body of that section of Ott's regiment
of Hussars, which we had so roughly manhandled and who in their
panic continued their headlong flight, taking with them some
fifteen squadrons, who retired to Hanau.

General Sebastiani then deployed his three divisions of cavalry
which were soon supported by the infantry of Marshals Macdonald
and Victor, and several batteries. Then the Emperor with part of
his guard, appeared and the rest of the French army followed.

It was now the evening of the 29th of October; we established our
bivouacs in a nearby wood; we were only a league from Hanau and
the Austro-Bavarian army.

Chap. 32.

Here now are the reasons why Exelmans dropped behind when we were
going through the pass. Before we entered the valley, the scouts
had brought to him two Austrian soldiers who, absent from their
unit, were scrounging and drinking in an isolated village.
Exelmans was having them questioned in German by one of his
aides, when he was surprised to hear them reply in fluent French.
One of these men, half-drunk, and thinking it would do him good,
announced that they were Parisians. As soon as he uttered these
words, the general, furious that Frenchmen should take up arms
against their fellow countrymen, ordered them to be immediately
shot. The poor lad who had boasted of being French was about to
be put to death, when his companion, sobered by this fearful
spectacle, protested that neither of them had ever set foot in
France, but having been born in Vienna to parents who, although
they came from Paris, were naturalised Austrians, they were
regarded as Austrian subjects and had been forced to join the
regiment assigned to them. To prove this he showed his army
record which confirmed the fact. Exelmans, yielding to the advice
of his aides-de-camp, agreed to spare the innocent man.

At this stage, hearing the sound of firing, the General wished to
reach the head of the column which I was commanding; but on his
arrival at the mouth of the pass, he found it impossible to get
through and take a place in the ranks because of the speed with
which the two regiments were galloping after the enemy. After
trying many times he was so jostled that he fell with his horse
into the Kinzig and nearly drowned.

The Emperor, who was preparing for battle, took advantage of the
night to reduce the amount of wheeled transport by sending all
the baggage off to the right, in the direction of Coblentz,
escorted by some battalions of infantry and the cavalry of
Lefebvre-Denouettes and Milhau. This was a great relief to the

On the morning of the 30th, the Emperor had at his disposal only
the infantry Corps of Macdonald and Victor, amounting to 5000
men, supported by Sebastiani's cavalry division.

In the direction from which we were coming, a large forest,
through which the road runs, covers the approach to Hanau. The
tall trees of this forest allow movement without much difficulty.
The town of Hanau is built on the other side of the river Kinzig.

General de Wrede, although not lacking in military skill, had,
however, made the serious mistake of placing his army where it
had the river at its back, which deprived it of the support which
it could have received from the fortifications of Hanau, with
which the Bavarian general could not communicate except by the
bridge of Lamboy, which was his only road of retreat. It is true
that the position he occupied barred the way to Frankfort and to
France, and he felt certain that he could prevent us from forcing
a passage.

On the 30th of October at dawn, the battle began, like a great
hunting party. Some grape-shot and some small-arms fire from our
infantry, together with a charge in open order by Sebastiani's
cavalry, scattered the first line of the enemy, somewhat
unskillfully placed at the extreme edge of the wood; but as one
penetrated a little further, our squadrons could not operate
except in the few clearings which they came across, only the
Light Infantry followed in the steps of the Bavarians, whom they
pursued from tree to tree to the end of the forest. At that point
they had to stop, faced by an enemy line of forty thousand men,
whose front was covered by eighty guns!

If the Emperor had had with him all the troops which he brought
from Leipzig, a vigorous attack would have made him master of the
Lamboy bridge, and General de Wrede would have paid dearly for
his temerity, but Marshals Mortier and Marmont, and General
Bertrand, as well as the artillery, were held up by various
passes, mainly that of Gelnhausen, and had not yet arrived.
Napoleon had no more than ten thousand troops. The enemy should
have taken advantage of this to attack us in force, but they did
not dare, and this hesitation gave time for the artillery of the
Imperial Guard to arrive.

As soon as General Drouet, their commander, had fifteen pieces in
the field, he began firing, and his line grew in size until he
had fifty cannons, which he advanced, firing continuously,
although he still had very few troops behind him to give support;
however it was not possible for the enemy to see through the
thick smoke from the guns, that the gunners had little to back
them up. Eventually the infantry Chasseurs of the Imperial Old
Guard appeared, just as a gust of wind blew away the smoke.

At the sight of their busbies, the Bavarian infantry recoiled in
fear. General de Wrede, wishing to stop this disorder at all
costs, ordered all his cavalry, Austrian, Bavarian, and Russian,
to charge our artillery, and in an instant our battery was
surrounded by a swarm of horsemen!... But at the voice of their
commander, General Drouet, who, sword in hand, set them an
example in resistance, the French gunners, taking their muskets,
remained calmly behind their guns, from where they fired
point-blank at the enemy. Nevertheless, the great number of the
latter would have eventually triumphed, had not, on the Emperor's
order, all Sebastiani's cavalry, along with all that of the
Imperial Guard, mounted Grenadiers, Dragoons, Chasseurs,
Mamelukes, Lancers, and Guards of Honour, hurled themselves
furiously on the enemy cavalry, killing a great number and
dispersing the rest.

Then, falling on the Bavarian infantry squares, they broke them
and inflicted tremendous losses, at which stage the Bavarian
army, put to rout, fled to the bridge over the Kinzig and to the
town of Hanau.

General de Wrede was a brave man, so, before admitting himself
beaten by forces half as numerous as his, he resolved to make
another effort, and gathering all the troops remaining to him, he
made a surprise attack on us. Suddenly a fusillade broke out and
the forest rang once more to the sound of artillery; cannon-balls
whistled through the trees, from which great branches fell with a
crash... The eye sought in vain to pierce the depths of the wood;
one could hardly see the flash of the guns, which lit, at
intervals, the shade cast by the foliage of the huge beeches,
beneath whose canopy we fought.

Hearing the noise made by this attack, the Emperor sent, from his
position, the infantry Grenadiers of his Old Guard, led by
General Friant who soon overcame this last effort of the enemy,
who now hastily left the field of battle to re-group under the
protection of the fort of Hanau, which they abandoned during the
night, leaving behind a great number of wounded. The French
occupied the fort.

We were no more than two short leagues from Frankfort, a
considerable town, with a stone bridge across the Main. The
French army would need to go along the bank of this river to
reach Mainz and the frontier of France, which was a day's march
from Frankfort; so Napoleon detached Sebastiani's corps and a
division of infantry to go and occupy Frankfort, and to take over
and destroy the bridge. The Emperor and the bulk of the army
bivouacked in the forest.

The main road from Hanau to Frankfort runs along the right bank
of the river Maine. General Albert, a friend of mine, who
commanded the infantry which accompanied us, had been married,
some years previously, at Offenbach, a charming little town built
on the left bank exactly opposite the spot where, after emerging
from the woods of Hanau, we rested our horses, on the immense and
beautiful plain of Frankfort.

Finding himself so close to his wife and their children, General
Albert was unable to resist the temptation to have news of them,
and to reassure them of his well-being after the dangers he had
encountered at the battles of Leipzig and Hanau. To do this he
exposed himself to more risk, perhaps, than he had run during
either of these sanguinary affairs, for, advancing on horseback
and in uniform, to the edge of the river, he hailed, in spite of
our warnings, a boatman who knew him; but while he was chatting
with this man, a Bavarian officer ran up with a picket of
infantry, who aiming their weapons, prepared to shoot at the
French general. However, a large body of citizens and boatmen
crowded in front of the soldiers and prevented them from firing,
for General Albert was very well liked in Offenbach.

As I looked at this town, to where I had come while fighting for
my country, I did not dream that one day it would be my refuge
from the proscription of a French government, and that I would
spend three years there in exile!...

After leaving the forest of Hanau to go on his way to Frankfort,
the Emperor had hardly gone two leagues when he learned that
fighting had broken out once more behind him. This was because
the Bavarian general, who, following his defeat the day before,
had expected to be chased, with the Emperor at his heels, had
taken reassurance from seeing the French army more concerned to
reach the Rhine than to pursue him, and had launched a brisk
attack on our rear-guard. However Macdonald, Marmont, and
Bertrand, who with their troops had occupied Hanau during the
night, having allowed the Bavarians to attack them on that side
of the Kinzig, received them with their bayonets, overwhelmed and
massacred them! General de Wrede was seriously injured, and his
son-in-law, Prince d'Oettingen was killed.

The command of the enemy army then devolved onto the Austrian
General Fresnel, who ordered a retreat, and the French army
continued on its way peacefully towards the Rhine. We recrossed
the river on the 2nd and 3rd of November 1813, after a campaign
which included brilliant victories and disasterous defeats, the
main cause of which, as I have said, was the mistake made by
Napoleon when, instead of making peace in June, following the
victories of Lutzen and Bautzen, he quarreled with Austria, which
involved the Confederation of the Rhine, that is to say all of
Germany, so that he soon had the whole of Europe ranged against

After we had returned to France, the Emperor spent only six days
at Mainz, and then went to Paris, preceded by twenty-six flags
taken from our enemies. The army disapproved of this rapid
departure on the part of Napoleon. It was accepted that there
were important political reasons which called him to Paris, but
it was thought that he should have divided his time between his
capital and the need to re-organise his army, and that he should
have gone from one to the other to encourage the activity of
each, for he should have learned by experience that in his
absence little or nothing was done.

The last cannon shots which I heard in 1813 were fired at the
battle of Hanau, where I nearly spent the last day of my life. My
regiment carried out five charges, two on infantry squares, one
on artillery, and two on Bavarian cavalry; but the greatest
danger I ran was when an ammunition wagon, loaded with mortar
bombs, caught fire and exploded close to me. I have told how, on
the Emperor's order, all the cavalry were in action at a
particularly difficult moment. Now, in these circumstances, it
is not good enough for a unit commander to send his troops
blindly forward, a thing I have seen done on several occasions,
but he must pay the closest attention to the ground over which
his squadrons are about to pass, in case he sends them into bogs
and marshes.

I was therefore, a few paces ahead, followed by my regimental
staff and with my trumpeter at my side, who, at a given command,
would signal to the various squadrons the obstacles which they
would find in their way. Although the trees were widely spaced,
the passage through the forest was difficult for the cavalry
because the ground was littered with dead and wounded men and
horses, arms, cannons and ammunition wagons, abandoned by the
Bavarians; and you can understand that in these conditions when
one is galloping through shot and shell to reach the enemy one
cannot always take much care of oneself, and I relied greatly on
the intelligence and suppleness of my excellent and brave Turkish
horse, Azolan! The little group which followed me had been much
reduced by a blast of grape-shot which had wounded several of my
orderlies and I had beside me only the trumpeter, a charming and
good young man, when I heard from all along the line, cries of
"Look out, Colonel!" And I saw ten paces away a Bavarian
ammunition wagon which one of our shells had set on fire.

A huge tree which had been knocked down by cannon-balls barred my
way forward, and to go round it would have taken too long. I
shouted to the trumpeter to duck, and crouching on my horse's
neck, I urged him to jump the tree. Azolan leapt a long way, but
not far enough to clear all the leafy branches in which his legs
became entangled. The wagon was now in flames and the powder
about to catch! I thought I was done for... when my horse, as if
he realised our common danger, started bounding four or five feet
into the air, getting always further from the wagon, and as soon
as he was clear of the branches he galloped off with such speed
that he really seemed to be "Ventre terre".

I was shaken when the explosion occurred, but it seemed I was out
of range of the bursting shells for neither I nor my horse were

Sadly it was not so for my poor young trumpeter, for when we
resumed our march after the explosion we saw his body, mutilated
by the shell fragments, and his horse also cut to pieces.

My brave Azolan had already saved my life at the Katzbach. I now
owed him my life for the second time. I made much of him, and as
if to show his pleasure he whinnied at the top of his voice. It
is at times like these that one has to believe that some animals
are more intelligent than is generally thought.

I greatly regretted the death of my trumpeter, who by his courage
and his behaviour had made himself liked by all the regiment. He
was the son of a teacher at the college in Toulouse, and had had
a good education. He delighted in producing Latin quotations, and
an hour before his death, the poor lad, having noticed that
almost all the trees in the forest of Hanau were beeches, whose
branches stretched out to make a sort of roof, had thought it a
suitable occasion to declaim one of Virgil's eclogues, beginning:

"Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi..."

which greatly amused Marshal Macdonald who happened to be passing
and who exclaimed, "There's a jolly lad whose memory isn't upset
by his surroundings; I'll bet it's the first time anyone has
recited Virgil to the sound of enemy cannon fire!"

"Those who live by the sword, perish by the sword" says the
scripture, and if this is not applicable to every soldier, it was
to a great many under the Empire. For example, M. Guindet, who
killed Prince Louis of Prussia in the fighting at Saalefeld, was
himself killed at the battle of Hanau. It was no doubt the fear
of meeting a similar fate which led the Russian General
Czernicheff to run away from danger.

You may remember that in the first months of 1812, this officer,
then a colonel, an aide-de-camp and favourite of the Emperor
Alexander, came to Paris where he abused his position to corrupt
two poor employees in the Ministry of War, who were executed for
having sold to him situation reports on the French army, and that
the Russian Colonel only escaped the penalty of the law by
secretly fleeing the country. On his return to Russia, M. de
Czernicheff, although he was a courtier rather than a soldier,
was given the rank of general officer and the command of a
division of 3000 Cossacks, the only Russian troops who appeared
at Hanau, where their leader played a role which made him a
laughing stock among the Austrians and Bavarians who were present
at this engagement.

Czernicheff, as he marched towards us, spoke loudly of victory,
believing that he had to face only soldiers who were sick and
disorganised; but he changed his tune when he saw himself in the
presence of the hardy and vigorous troops returning from Leipzig.

General de Wrede had great difficulty in persuading him to enter
the line, and as soon as he heard the fearsome cannonade of our
artillery, he and his 3000 Cossacks trotted bravely off the
field, to the cat-calls of the Austro-Bavarian troops, who
witnessed this shameful conduct. When General de Wrede went
personally to make some scathing observations, M. de Czernicheff
replied that his regiment's horses needed feeding and that he was
taking them for this purpose to nearby villages. This excuse was
regarded as so ridiculous that for some time afterwards the walls
of German villages were decorated by caricatures of M. de
Czernicheff feeding his horses with bunches of laurels gathered
in the forest of Hanau.

Once across the Rhine, the soldiers who made up the remains of
the French army expected to see an end to their hardships as soon
as they set foot on the soil of their motherland; but they were
much mistaken, for the government, and the Emperor himself, had
so much counted on success, and had so little foreseen that we
might leave Germany, that nothing had been made ready at the
frontier to receive and re-organise the troops. So, from the very
day of our arrival at Mainz, the men and the horses would have
gone short of food if we had not spread them out and lodged them
with the inhabitants of nearby villages and hamlets. But they,
since the first wars of the revolution, had lost the habit of
feeding soldiers, and complained vociferously, and it is true
that the expense was too great for the communes.

As it was necessary to guard, or at least to watch over the
immensely long frontier formed by the Rhine from Basle to
Holland, we settled, as best we could, the numerous sick and
wounded in the hospitals of Mainz. All fit men rejoined the core
of their regiments, and the various units of the army, which for
the most part consisted only of a small cadre, were spread along
the river. My regiment, together with what was left of
Sebastiani's cavalry corps, went down the Rhine by short marches;
but although the weather was perfect and the countryside
charming, we were all deeply unhappy, for one could foresee that
France was going to lose possession of this fine land, and that
her misfortunes would not stop there.

My regiment spent some time in Cleves, next a fortnight in the
little town of Urdingen, and then went on to Nimeguen. During
this sad journey we were painfully affected by the sight of the
inhabitants on the opposite bank, the Germans and the Dutch,
tearing down the French flag from their steeples and replacing it
with the flags of their former sovereigns. In spite of these
gloomy reflections, all the colonels tried to re-organise the few
troops which remained to them, but what could one do without
clothing, equipment or replacement of arms?...

The need to provide food for the army compelled the Emperor to
keep it dispersed, whereas to re-organise it would require the
creation of large centres of concentration. We were therefore in
a vicious circle. However, the allies, who should have crossed
the Rhine a few days after us, to prevent our re-organisation,
felt themselves still so weakened as a result of the hard blows
we had delivered during the last campaign, that they needed time
to recover.

They left us in peace for the months of November and December,
the greater part of which I spent on the bank of the Rhine, in
the ghost of the army corps commanded by Marshal Macdonald.

I was eventually ordered, as were the other cavalry colonels, to
take all my dismounted men to my regimental depot for the task of
building up new squadrons. The depot of the 23rd was still at
Mons, in Belgium, and that is where I went. It was there that I
saw the end of the year 1813, so filled with great events and in
which I had had encountered many dangers and undergone so many

Before I end my chronicle of the year, I ought to summarise
briefly the final events of the campaign of 1813.

Chap. 33.

The German fortresses in which the retreating French had left
garrisons were soon surrounded and in some cases besieged. Almost
all surrendered. Four only were still holding out at the end of

The first of these was Hamburg, commanded by the intrepid Marshal
Davout, who held on to this important fort until after the
abdication of the Emperor, when the French government recalled
the garrison to France; the second was Magdeburg, where General
Le Marois, an aide-de-camp to the Emperor, also held out until
the end of the war; the third was Wittemburg, defended by the
elderly General Lapoype, and which was taken by assault on the
12th of the following January; and finally Erfurt, which had to
capitulate for lack of food.

All the other fortresses beyond the Rhine, which the Emperor had
wanted to keep, the most important of which were Dresden, Danzig,
Stettin, Zamosk, Torgau and Modlin, were already in the hands of
the enemy.

The circumstances surrounding the taking over of the first two of
these fortresses do not reflect much honour on the allies. After
the battle of Leipzig, Napoleon withdrew with the remains of his
army, leaving at Dresden a corps of 25000 men commanded by
Marshal Saint-Cyr, who tried by force of arms to cut a passage
through the enemies who blocked his way. He drove them back
several times, but eventually overcome by stronger forces and
short of food, he was compelled to accept the honourable
capitulation which was offered to him. This stipulated that the
garrison would keep its arms, would not be made prisoners of war
and would march back to France in day-long stages.

The Marshal wanted his troops to move as a corps and to bivouac
all together at the same place, which would allow them to defend
themselves in case of treachery; but the enemy generals pointed
out that owing to the exhaustion of the countryside, it would be
impossible to provide at any one place twenty-five thousand
rations, and the French marshal had to accept this. He then
agreed that his force should be divided into several small
columns of 2 or 3000 men who would travel one or even two days

For the first few days all went well, but as soon as the last
French column had left Dresden, having handed over the fort and
the munitions of war, the foreign generals announced that they
did not have the authority to sign the capitulation without the
agreement of their generalissimo, Prince Schwartzenberg, and as
he did not approve, the agreement was null and void. They offered
to allow our troops to return to Dresden in exactly the same
state as they had been previously, that is to say with only
enough food for a few days, a shortage which they had concealed
from the enemy for as long as they occupied the place, and which,
as it was now known to them, made the offer worthless.

Our troops were indignant at this odious lack of good faith, but
what action could be taken by isolated detachments of 2 or 3000
men, whom the enemy had taken the precaution of surrounding by
battalions of their own, before they could hear of the breakdown
of the capitulation? Any resistance was impossible and our men
were forced to lay down their arms.

To the treachery practised on the field of battle, was now added
that of the breaking of agreements of capitulation. This did not
prevent the Germans from celebrating a victory, for they regarded
any measures, however despicable, as justified in order to defeat
Napoleon. This new morality was put into operation at Danzig.

General Rapp had defended this place for a long time, but having
run out of food, he was compelled to surrender on condition that
the garrison would be allowed to return to France. However, in
spite of a treaty signed by the Prince of Wurtemberg, the
commander of the army which conducted the siege, the conditions
were violated and the garrison of 16000 men were sent as
prisoners to Russia where most of them died.

One of the most remarkable stories of this siege concerns a
Captain de Chambure, who asked for and obtained permission to
form an independent company, chosen from hand-picked volunteers.
They engaged on the most daring ventures, going out at night and
surprising enemy posts, getting into their entrenchments, into
their camps, destroying their siege-works under the nose of their
batteries, spiking their guns and going far into the country to
capture or pillage their convoys. Chambure, having gone out one
night with his men, surprised a Russian cantonment, set fire to
an ammunition dump, destroyed several stores and killed or
wounded one hundred and fifty men, for the loss of three of his
own; and returned to the fort in triumph.

Now, however, let us return to examine the position of the French
armies in December 1813.

Spain, the principal cause of all the catastrophes which marked
the end of Napoleon's reign, had been stripped, in the course of
the year, of all its best troops, which the Emperor had sent to
reinforce the army in Germany. However, the effective strength of
those who remained in the Iberian peninsula amounted to more than
100,000 men. A number which, although inadequate, would have
contained the enemy if Napoleon had left the command to Marshal
Soult. But as he most earnestly wished to make of his brother
Joseph a general who could defend the kingdom which he had given
him, it was to this prince, an estimable man, but no soldier,
that the Emperor entrusted the command of the armies of Spain. He
gave him, it is true, as chief of staff and military advisor,
Marshal Jourdan; but the Marshal was prematurely aged and had not
been involved in active warfare since the first campaigns of the
revolution; he was so worn out, both mentally and physically,
that he inspired no confidence in the troops. So, in spite of the
talents displayed by the generals who served under the orders of
King Joseph, the Anglo-Portuguese army commanded by Lord
Wellington and helped by Spanish guerrillas, caused us
irreparable losses.

The French, under pressure at every point, had already been
compelled to abandon Madrid, the two Castiles, and to recross the
Ebro, to concentrate their main forces round the town of
Vittoria. Attacked in this position by three times their number,
they lost a battle; a loss which was made all the more disastrous
by the fact that King Joseph and Marshal Jourdan had made no
arrangements for the carrying out of a retreat, so that it became
chaotic. The King's suite, the artillery parks, the many coaches
of a crowd of Spaniards, who having taken sides with Joseph,
sought to escape the vengence of their compatriots, the wagons of
the treasury, of the military administration, etc., etc., all
found themselves piled up in confusion, so that the roads were
obstructed and the regiments had great difficulty in moving.
However they did not lose their formation, and in spite of
vigorous attacks by the enemy, the greater part of the army
managed to reach Salvatierra and the road to Pamplona, by which
the retreat was made.

The battle of Vittoria demonstrated the talent and courage of
General Clausel, who rallied the army and gave it some direction.
It was, however, an unhappy day. The French lost 6000 men killed,
wounded or taken prisoner, and left in the hands of the enemy a
large part of their artillery and almost all their baggage.

Despite this set-back, the troops, whose morale was excellent,
could have remained in Navarre, with the aid of the fortress of
Pamplona and the Pyrenees mountains, but King Joseph ordered the
continuation of the retreat and the crossing of the Bidassoa,
where our rear-guard, commanded by General Foy, was ordered to
blow up the bridge. So, from the end of June, we abandoned that
part of the Spanish frontier; nevertheless, Marshal Suchet still
held out in Aragon (The region of Zaragossa. Ed.), and Catalonia,
and in the kingdom of Valencia; but the results of the battle of
Vittoria had so much weakened us that when Wellington sent
reinforcements to central Spain, Suchet found it necessary to
leave the town and the kingdom.

These events were taking place at a time when Napoleon was still
triumphant in Germany. As soon as he was told of the state of
affairs across the Pyrenees, he hastily revoked the powers which
he had given to King Joseph and Marshal Jourden, and appointed
Marshal Soult commander of all the armies in Spain.

Soult, after re-organising the divisions, made a great effort to
help the French garrison left in Pamplona, but in vain; they were
forced to capitulate and Marshal Soult had to take his troops
back across the Bidassoa. The fortress of San-Sebastian, governed
by General Rey, held out for a long time; but was eventually
taken by assault by the Anglo-Portuguese, who, ignoring the laws
of humanity, robbed, raped and massacred the unfortunate
inhabitants of this Spanish town, although they were their
allies! The English officers made no attempt to stop these
atrocities, which went on for three days, to the shame of
Wellington, his generals, and the English.

Marshal Soult defended the Pyrenees foot by foot, and beat
Wellington on several occasions; but the greater numbers at the
latter's disposal allowed him unceasingly to take the offensive,
so that he was able eventually to cross our frontier and set up
his headquarters in Saint-Jean de Luz, the first town in France,
which had never previously been lost, even during the defeats
suffered by Francis I, or the disastrous wars of the end of the
reign of Louis XIV.

It was evident that after the defection of the German troops at
Leipzig, Marshal Soult could not hope to keep in the army of the
Pyrenees several thousand soldiers from across the Rhine. They
all went over to the enemy in a single night, thus augmenting
Wellington's strength.

However, Marshal Soult, after concentrating several divisions
below the ramparts of Bayonne, once more attacked the
Anglo-Portuguese. On the 9th of December, at Saint-Pierre de
Rube, there was a battle which lasted for five days, and was one
of the bloodiest of the war, for it cost the enemy 16,000 lives
and the French 10,000, but we were able to remain in position
around Bayonne.

Before these events in the Pyrenees, Marshal Suchet, having
learned of the reverses suffered by Napoleon in Germany, realised
that it would be impossible for him to remain in the middle of
Spain, and prepared to return to France. To do this he withdrew
to Tarragon, where after taking the garrison into his army he
blew up the ramparts. The retreat, although harried by the
Spanish, was carried out in good order, and by the end of
December 1813, Suchet and the troops under his command were
established in Gerona.

To complete this examination of the position of the French armies
at the end of 1813, one needs to recall that in the spring of
that year, the Emperor, who distrusted Austria, had built up in
the Tyrol and in his kingdom of Italy, a large army, the command
of which he had given to his step-son Eugene de Beauharnais, the
viceroy of the country. This prince was a good man, very gentle
and greatly devoted to the Emperor, but although much more of a
soldier than King Joseph of Spain, he lacked many of the
qualities required to lead an army. The Emperor's affection for
Eugene led him astray in this matter.

It was on the 24th of August, the day when the armistice between
Napoleon and the allies was due to expire, that the Austrians
abandoned their neutrality and declared themselves our enemies.
The Italian troops continued to serve with us, but the Dalmatians
(Croats) left us to join the Austrians. Prince Eugene had under
his command a number of excellent lieutenants, but the fighting
was never very strenuous because the commanders on both sides
realised that the events in Germany would determine the outcome
of the campaign. There were however, a number of actions, with
various results. In the end the larger forces of the Austrians,
who were shortly joined by an English contingent which
disembarked in Tuscany forced the viceroy to lead the
Franco-Italian army beyond the Adige.

In November came news of the defection of Murat, the King of
Naples. The Emperor, to whom he owed everything, could not at
first believe it. It was, however, only too true. Murat had
joined forces with the Austrians, against whom he had fought for
so long, and his troops already occupied Bologna. Such is the
volatility of the Italians that everywhere they welcomed with
acclamation the Austro-Neapolitans, whom they had previously
detested, and whom they would soon hate even more. By December,
the vice-roi's army of only 43,000 men, occupied Verona and its

The Emperor, seeing the whole of Europe combined against him,
could not fail to realise that the first condition which a peace
would demand of him would be the re-installment of the Bourbons
on the throne of Spain. He decided therefore to do of his own
volition what he would be forced to do later: he set free King
Ferdinand, who had been detained at Valancay, and ordered
Suchet's army to retire behind the Pyrenees.

Thus, at the end of 1813, we had lost all of Germany, all of
Spain, the greater part of Italy, and Wellington's army, which
had crossed the Bidassoa and the western Pyrenees, was encamped
on French soil and threatening Bayonne, Navarre, and Bordeaux.

Chap. 34.

I began the year 1814 at Mons. Where I did not undergo such
physical dangers as I had done in previous years, but where I
suffered much more mentally.

As I had left, at Nimeguen, all the troopers of my regiment who
still had horses, I had none at Mons, where the depot was
situated, except dismounted men, for whom I was trying to get
horses from the Ardennes, when events prevented this.

On the 1st of January, the enemies, after hesitating for three
months before invading France, crossed the Rhine at several
points, the two most important of these being firstly at Kaub, a
market town situated between Bingen and Coblentz, where a rocky
gorge greatly reduces the width of the river, and then at Basle
where the Swiss handed over the stone bridge, in violation of
their neutrality, a neutrality which they maintain or abandon
according to their interests.

It is estimated that some five to six hundred thousand allied
soldiers entered a France exhausted by twenty-five years of war,
half of whose troops were prisoners in foreign lands, and many of
whose provinces were ready to defect on the first suitable
occasion, amongst which was that containing the department of
Jemmapes, of which Mons was the principal town.

This huge area of rich country which had been annexed to France,
firstly "de facto" by the war of 1792, and then by right after
the treaty of Amiens, had been so accustomed to this union that
after the disasters of the Russian campaign, it had shown great
enthusiasm and made considerable sacrifices to help the Emperor
to put his troops back on a sound footing. Men, horses,
equipment, clothing... it had complied with all demands without a
murmur! But the losses we had suffered in Germany had discouraged
the Belgians, and I found the attitude of the populace had
completely changed. They loudly regretted the paternal government
of the house of Austria, under which they had lived for so long,
and were most anxious to separate themselves from France, whose
continual wars were ruining their trade and industry. In a word,
Belgium awaited only a favourable moment to revolt, an event
which would be the more serious for us because, by its
geographical situation, the province was in the rear of the
weakened army corps which we still had on the Rhine. The Emperor
sent some troops to Brussels, whom he placed under the command of
General Maisons, a capable and very determined man. Maisons,
having, visited several departments, recognised that Jemmapes,
and particularly the town of Mons, was the most disaffected.
There was there, open discussion of the possibility of taking up
arms against the weak French garrison, something which its
commander general "O"... could not have prevented, for the old
general, stricken by gout, and lacking in energy, who had been
born in Belgium, seemed afraid to earn the dislike of his
compatriots. General Maisons suspended him from duty and gave me
the command of the department of Jemmapes.

My job was made more difficult because, after the inhabitants of
Liege, those who live in Borinage are the boldest and most
turbulent in all Belgium, and to control them I had only a small
unit of 400 conscripts, a few gendarmes and 200 unmounted
cavalrymen from my regiment, among whom there were some fifty men
who were born in the area and who, in case of trouble, would join
the insurgents. I could rely entirely only on the other 150
Chasseurs, who born in France, and having been in action with me,
would have followed me anywhere.

There were some good officers; those in the infantry, and in
particular the battalion commander, were very willing to back me

I could not, however, disguise the fact that if it came to blows,
the two sides were not equally matched. From the hotel where I
stayed I saw every day 3 or 4,000 peasants and workmen from the
town, armed with big sticks who gathered in the main square to
listen to speeches from former Austrian officers, all of them
wealthy nobles, who had quitted the service on the union of
Belgium with France, and now spoke out against the Empire which
had loaded them with taxes, taken their children to send them to
the wars, etc.,etc. These speeches were listened to with all the
more attention, in that they were delivered by great landed
proprietors, and addressed to their tenants and employees, over
whom they wielded much influence.

Add to this that each day brought news of the advance of our
enemies, who were approaching Brussels, driving before them the
debris of Marshal Macdonald's Corps. All the French employees
left the department to take refuge in Valenciennes and Cambrai.
Finally the mayor of Mons, M. Duval of Beaulieu, an honourable
man, thought it his duty to warn me that neither my feeble
garrison nor myself were safe in the midst of an excited and
numerous population, and that I would be wise to leave the town,
a move which would not be opposed since my regiment and I had
always lived at peace with the inhabitants.

I was aware that this proposition came from a committee composed
of former Austrian officers, which had instructed the mayor to
put it to me, in the hope that I would be intimidated. I resolved
then to show my teeth, I said to M. Duval that I would be most
grateful if he would summon the town council and the leading
citizens, and that I would then give my reply to the proposals
which he had brought me.

Half an hour later, all the garrison were armed, and when the
municipal council accompanied by the wealthiest citizens had
assembled in the square, I mounted on horseback, in order to be
heard by all, and after I had told the mayor that before talking
with him and his council, I had an important order to give to my
troops, I told my men about the suggestion which had been made
that we should abandon, without a struggle, the town which had
been put in our care.

They were most indignant, and said so loudly! I added that I
could not conceal the fact that the ramparts were broken down at
several points, and a lack of artillery would make defence
difficult against regular troops, though if need be we would do
our best; but that if it was the inhabitants of the town and the
countryside who rose against us, we would not confine ourselves
to defence, we would attack with all the means at our disposal,
for we would be dealing with revolutionaries. As a consequence I
was ordering my men to take over the church tower, from where,
after a delay of half an hour and three rolls on the drums they
would fire on the occupants of the square, while patrols would
clear the streets by shooting, mainly at those who had left their
work in the country to come and do us harm. I added that if it
came to fighting, I would order, as the best means of defence,
the setting on fire of the town, in order to keep the inhabitants
busy, and I would shoot at them continually to prevent its

This speech may seem a little drastic, but consider the critical
position in which I found myself; with no more than 700 men, few
of whom had seen action, no expectation of reinforcements, and
surrounded by a multitude which increased in size by the moment,
for the officer in charge of the detachment sent to the church
tower told me that the roads leading to the town were full of
miners from the pits of Jemmapes, heading for the town of Mons.
My little troupe and I were at risk of being wiped out if I had
not taken decisive action. My address had produced a marked
effect among the rich noblemen, the promoters of this
disturbance, and also among the townspeople, who began to
disperse, but as the peasants did not budge, I brought up two
ammunition wagons to issue a hundred cartridges to each soldier,
and when they had loaded their weapons, I ordered the three rolls
on the drums, the prelude to the fusillade.

At this frightening sound, the huge crowd which filled the square
began to run in tumult to the neighbouring streets, where each
one rushed to find shelter, and a few moments later the leaders
of the Austrian party, with the mayor at their head, came to
clutch at my hand and beg me to spare the town. I agreed on the
condition that they would send immediately to tell the miners and
workmen to go back to their homes. They hastened to comply, and
the elegant young men who were the best mounted, jumped on their
fine horses and went out through all the city gates to meet the
mob which they sent back to their villages without any

This passive obedience confirmed me in my opinion that the
disturbance had powerful backers, and that my garrison and I
would have been held prisoner, had I not frightened the leaders
by threatening to use all means, even fire, rather than hand over
to rioters the town confided to my charge.

The Belgians are very fond of music, and it so happened that
there was a concert to be given that evening, to which I and my
officers had been invited, as was M. de Laussat, the prefect of
the department.

We agreed that we should go there as usual, which was the right
decision, for we were received with cordiality, at least on the
surface. While talking to the nobles, who had been behind the
disturbance, we put it to them that it was not for the populace
to decide by rebellion the fate of Belgium, but rather for the
contending armies; and it would be folly on their part to incite
the workmen and peasants to shed their blood, in order to hasten
by a few days a solution which would presently become evident.

An elderly Austrian general, who had retired to Mons, his
birthplace, then said to his compatriots that they had been wrong
to plot the seizure of the garrison, for that would have resulted
in much damage to the town, as no soldiers would lay down their
arms without a fight. They all agreed that this assessment was
correct, and from that day forward the garrison and the townsfolk
lived peacefully together as in the past. The people of Mons even
gave us a few days later a striking demonstration of their

As the allied armies advanced, a crowd of partisans, mainly
Prussians, disguised themselves as Cossacks, and driven by the
desire for plunder they grabbed anything which had belonged to
the French administration, and had no hesitation in seizing the
goods of even non-military French citizens.

A large band of these imitation Cossacks, having crossed the
Rhine and spread out on the left bank, had reached as far as the
gates of Brussels, and had pillaged the imperial chateau of
Tervueren, from where they took all the horses of the stud farm
which the Emperor had installed there; then, splitting into
smaller groups, these marauders infested Belgium. Some of them
came to the department of Jemmapes, where they tried to stir up
the populace, but when they did not succeed in doing so, they put
this down to the fact that Mons, the principal town of the
region, had not supported them because of the terror inspired by
the colonel in command of the garrison. Whereupon they decided to
capture or kill me, but in order not to awaken my suspicions by
employing too great a number of men for this exploit, they
limited the number to three hundred. It appeared that the leader
of these partisans had been well briefed, for, knowing that I had
too few men to guard the old gates and ancient, partly
demolished, ramparts, he took his men, during a dark night, to
the rampart, where the major part of them dismounted and made
their way silently through the streets to the main square and the
Hotel de la Poste, where I had at first stayed. However, since I
had heard of the crossing of the Rhine by the enemy, I had gone
every evening to the barracks, where I spent the night surrounded
by my troops. It was as well that I had done so, for the German
Cossacks surrounded the hotel and rifled through all the rooms.
Then, furious at not finding any French officers, they set on the
inn-keeper, whom they robbed and maltreated, and whose wine they
drank until both officers and soldiers were drunk.

A Belgian, a former corporal in my regiment, named Courtois, for
whom I had obtained a decoration as one of my bravest soldiers,
arrived at this moment at the hotel. This man, born at
Saint-Ghislain near Mons, had lost a leg in Russia the previous
year, and happily I had been able to save him by securing means
for him to return to France. He was so grateful for this that
during my stay in Mons in the winter of 1814, he came often to
visit me, and on those occasions he dressed in the uniform of the
23rd Chasseurs which he had once so honourably worn. Now, it so
happened that on the night in question, Curtois, while returning
to the house of one of his relatives where he had been staying,
saw the enemy detachment heading in the direction of the hotel,
and although the gallant corporal knew that I did not sleep
there, he wanted to be sure that his colonel was in no danger, so
he went to the hotel, taking with him his relative.

At the sight of the French uniform and the Legion of Honour, the
Prussians shamefully grabbed the crippled man and tried to snatch
the cross of the Legion from him. When he resisted, the Prussian
Cossacks killed him and dragged his body into the street before
continuing their drinking.

Mons was so large in comparison to my small garrison, that I had
taken refuge in the barracks, and having arranged my defences for
the night at this spot, I had forbidden my men to go near the
main square, although I had been told that the enemy were there,
because I did not know their strength and feared that the local
populace would combine with them. But when the townspeople heard
of the murder of Courtois, their fellow countryman and one
regarded with affection by all, they resolved to be revenged, and
forgetting their complaints against the French, they sent a
deputation, comprising the brother of the dead man and some of
the leading citizens, to ask me to put myself at their head in
order to drive away these "Cossacks."

I was well aware that the pillage and excess at the Hotel de La
Poste inspired in every bourgeois fear for his family and his
house, which motivated them to expel the Cossacks as much as the
death of Curtois, and that they would have acted very differently
if, instead of robbers and assassins, it had been regular troops
who had entered the town; nonetheless I thought it my duty to
take advantage of the good-will of those inhabitants who were
prepared to take up arms to help us. I then took part of my troop
and set off for the square, while the remainder, in charge of the
battalion commander, who knew the town well, I sent to lie in
wait at the breach in the wall through which the Prussian
Cossacks had entered.

At the first shots fired by our people at these rogues, there was
a great tumult in the hotel and the square! Those who were not
killed took to their heels, but many got lost in the streets and
were finished off one by one. As for those who reached the place
where they had left their horses tied up to trees in the
promenade, they ran into the battalion commander, who greeted
them with a withering fusillade! At daylight we counted in the
town and in the old breach more than 200 dead, while we had not
lost a single man because our adversaries, fuddled by wine and
strong liquor, had offered no defence. Those of them who escaped
into the country were caught and killed by the peasantry, who
were enraged at the death of the unfortunate Curtois, who was
something of a local celebrity, and who, given the name of "Jambe
de bois", had become as dear to them as General Daumesnil,
another "Jambe de bois," was to the working class of Paris.

I do not cite this fighting in Mons as something to be
particularly proud of, for with the national guard, I had twelve
or thirteen hundred men compared to the three hundred of the
Prussians. But I thought it worth recording this bizarre
encounter to demonstrate the volatility of the masses, which is
shown by the fact that all the peasants and coal miners of
Borinage, who a month previously had come in a mass to
exterminate or at least disarm the few Frenchmen remaining in
Mons, had come to join us to oppose the Prussians because they
had killed one of their compatriots. I greatly regretted the
death of the brave Courtois, who had fallen victim to his regard
for me.

The most important trophy from our victory was the three hundred
horses which the enemy abandoned. They nearly all came from the
region of Berg and were of very good quality, so I took them into
my regiment, for which this unexpected provision of remounts was
extremely welcome.

I passed a further month at Mons, whose inhabitants treated us
perfectly well despite the approach of the enemy armies. However
their continued advance meant that the French were forced not
only to abandon Brussels but the whole of Belgium, and recross
the frontiers into their motherland. I was ordered to take my
regimental depot to Cambrai where, with the horses which I had
taken from the Prussian Cossacks, I was able to remount 300 good
troopers who had returned from Leipzig, and make two fine
squadrons, which commanded by Major Sigaldi, were sent to the
army which the Emperor was assembling in Champagne. There they
upheld the honour of the 23rd chasseuers, particularly at the
battle of Champaubert, where the gallant Captain Duplessis, an
outstanding officer, was killed.

I have always favoured the lance, a lethal weapon in the hands of
a good cavalryman. I asked for and obtained permission to
distribute to my squadrons some lances which artillery officers
had been unable to carry away when they left the forts on the
Rhine. They were so much appreciated that several other cavalry
units followed my example, and were glad to have done so.

The regimental depots were obliged to cross to the left bank of
the Seine to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy; mine went
to Nogent-le-Roi, an arrondissment of Dreux. We had a fair number
of troopers but almost no horses. The government was making great
efforts to collect some at Versailles, where it had created a
central cavalry depot commanded by General Preval.

The General, like his predecessor General Bourcier, knew much
more about remounts and organisation than he did about war, in
which he had rarely been involved. He did his utmost to fulfil
the difficult task which the Emperor had given him; but as he
could not, however, improvise horses or equipment, and as he
would not send out detachments until they were fully organised,
departures were not very frequent. I grumbled, but no colonel
could return to his unit without the permission of the Emperor,
who, to conserve his resources, had forbidden the employment of
more officers in any unit than was justified by the number of men
they had to command. It was therefore useless for me to beg
General Preval to let me go to Champagne. He fixed my departure
for the end of March, at which time I would lead to the army a
draft composed of mounted men from my own depot and several

Until this time I was authorised to live in Paris with my family,
for M. Caseneuve, my second-in-command, could take care of the
200 men who were still at Nogent-le-Roi, which I could reach, if
necessary, in a few hours. So I went to Paris, where I spent the
greater part of March, which, although I was with those I loved
most, was one of the most miserable months of my life. The
imperial government, to which I was attached, and which I had for
so long defended at the cost of my blood, was everywhere
crumbling. The armies of the enemy, spreading from Lyon, occupied
a large part of France, and it was easy to see that they would
soon arrive at the capital.

Chap. 35.

The Emperor's greatest antagonists are forced to admit that he
excelled himself in the winter campaign which he conducted in the
first three months of 1814. No previous general had ever shown
such talent, or achieved so much with such feeble resources. With
a few thousand men, most of whom were inexperienced conscripts,
one saw him face the armies of Europe, turning up everywhere with
these troops, which he led from one point to another with
marvellous rapidity.

Taking advantage of all the resources of the country in order to
defend it, he hurried from the Austrians to the Russians, and
from the Russians to the Prussians, going from Blucher to
Schwarzenberg and from him to Sacken, sometimes beaten by them,
but much more often the victor. He hoped, for a time, that he
might drive the foreigners, disheartened by frequent defeats,
from French soil and back across the Rhine. All that was required
was a new effort by the nation; but there was general
war-weariness, and there was in all parts, and particularly in
Paris, plotting against the Empire.

There are those who have expressed surprise that France did not
rise in mass, as in 1792, to repel the invader, or did not follow
the Spanish in forming, in each province, a centre of national

The reason is that the enthusiasm which had improvised the armies
of 1792 had been exhausted by twenty-five years of war, and the
Emperor's over-use of conscription, so that in most of the
departments there remained only old men and children. As for the
example of Spain, it is not applicable to France, where too much
influence has been allowed to Paris, so that nothing can be done
unless Paris leads the way, whereas in Spain each Province was a
little government and was able to create its own army, even when
Madrid was occupied by the French. It was centralisation which
led to the loss of France.

It is no part of the task which I have set myself, to relate the
great feats performed by the French army during the campaign of
1814, to do so I would have to write volumes, and I do not feel
inclined to dwell on the misfortunes of my country. I shall
content myself by saying that after disputing, foot by foot, the
territory between the Marne, the Aube, the Saone, and the Seine,
the Emperor conceived a daring plan which, if it had succeeded,
would have saved France. This was to go, with his troops, by way
of Saint-Dizier and Vitry towards Alsace and Lorraine, which, by
threatening the rear of the enemies, would make them fear being
cut off from their depots and finding themselves without any
route of retreat. This would decide them to withdraw to the
frontier while they still had the opportunity.

However, to ensure the success of this splendid strategic
movement, it required the fulfilment of two conditions which
failed him; these were: the loyalty of the high officers of
state, and some means of preventing the enemy from seizing Paris,
if they ignored the movement of the Emperor towards their rear
and launched an attack on the city.

Sadly, loyalty to the Emperor was so much diminished in the
Senate and the legislative body, that there were leading members
of these assemblies, such as Tallyrand, the Duc de Dalberg,
Laisne and others, who through secret emissaries informed the
allied sovereigns of the dissatisfaction among the upper-class
Parisians with Napoleon, and invited them to come and attack the

As for defences, it must be admitted that Napoleon had not given
this sufficient thought, and they were limited to the erection of
a spiked palisade at the gates on the right bank, without the
provision of any positions for guns. As the garrison, formed by a
very small number of troops of the line, of invalids, veterans,
and students from the polytechnic, was insufficient to even
attempt resistance, the Emperor, when he left the capital in
January to go and head the troops assembled in Champagne,
confided to the National Guard the defence of Paris, where he
left the Empress and his son. He had called together at the
Tuileries the officers of this bourgeois militia, who had
responded with numerous vows and bellicose undertakings to the
rousing speech which he addressed to them. The Emperor named the
Empress as Regent and appointed as overall commander his brother
Joseph, the ex-King of Spain, the pleasantest but most
unsoldierlike of men.

Napoleon, under the illusion that he had thus provided for the
safety of the capital, thought that he could leave it for some
days to its own devices, while he went with those troops which
still remained to him to carry out the project of getting behind
the enemy. He left for Lorraine about the end of March, but he
had been on his way for only a few days, when he learned that the
allies, instead of following him as he had hoped, had headed for
Paris, driving before then the weak debris of Mortier's and
Marmont's corps who, positioned on the heights of Montmartre,
attempted to defend the city without any help from the National
Guard except an occasional infantryman.

This alarming news opened Napoleon's eyes; he turned his troops
to march towards Paris, for where he set out immediately.

On the 30th of March, the Emperor, riding post and with no
escort, had just passed Moret when a brisk cannonade was heard;
he held on to the hope of arriving before the allies entered the
capital, where his presence would certainly have had a remarkable
effect on the population, who were demanding arms. (There were
one hundred thousand muskets and several million cartridges in
the barracks of the Champ de Mars, but General Clarke, the
Minister for War, would not allow their distribution.)

On his arrival at Fromenteau, only five leagues from Paris, the
Emperor could no longer hear gunfire and he realised that the
city was in the hands of the allies, which was confirmed at
Villejuif. Marmont had, in fact, signed a capitulation which
delivered the capital to the enemy.

As danger approached, the Empress and her son, the King of Rome,
had gone to Blois, where they were shortly joined by King Joseph,
who abandoned the command which the Emperor had given him. The
troops of the line left by the Fontainebleau gate, a route by
which the Emperor was expected to arrive.

It is not possible to describe the agitation which seized the
city whose inhabitants, divided by so many different interests,
had been surprised by an invasion which few of them had
foreseen... As for me, who had expected it, and who had seen at
close quarters the horrors of war, I was most anxiously thinking
of a way to ensure the safety of my wife and our young child,
when the elderly Marshal Serurier offered a shelter for all my
family at Les Invalides, of which he was the governor. I was
comforted by the thought that as everywhere the homes for old
soldiers had always been respected by the French, the enemy would
act in the same way towards ours. I therefore took my family to
the Invalides and left Paris, before the entry of the allies, to
report to General Preval at Versailles. I was given command of a
small column made up of available cavalrymen from my own regiment
and from the 9th and 12th Chasseurs.

Even if the allies had not marched on Paris, this column was due
to be assembled at Rambouillet, and it is to there that I went. I
found there my horses and my equipment, and I took command of the
squadrons which had been allotted to me. The road was full of the
carriages of those who were flying from the capital. I was not
surprised by that; but I was unable to understand where the great
number of troops of all arms came from, which one saw arriving
from all directions in detachments, which if they had been
combined would have formed a corps of sufficient size to hold up
the enemy at Montmartre, and allow time for the army which was
hurrying from Champagne and Brie to arrive and save Paris. The
Emperor, misled by his Minister for War, had given no
instructions regarding the matter, and was probably unaware that
he still had so great a capacity for defence at his disposal, a
description of which follows, taken from Ministry of War

There were at Vincennes, the military school of the Champ de
Mars, and the central artillery depot, some four hundred cannons
with ammunition and 50,000 muskets. As for men, there were the
troops brought by Marshals Marmont and Mortier, which together
with troops gathered from other sources including 20,000 workmen,
nearly all of them old soldiers, who had volunteered to help
defend the city, amounted to some 80,000.

It would have been possible for Joseph and Clarke to assemble
this force in a few hours and to defend the city until the
arrival of the Emperor and the army which was following him.

Joseph and Clarke had forty-eight hours warning of the enemy
approach, but did nothing, and as a final act of incompetence, at
the moment when the enemy troops were attacking Romainville, they
sent 4000 men of the Imperial Guard to Blois, to reinforce the
escort of the Empress, which was already quite big enough.

When the Emperor learned that Paris had capitulated and that the
two small corps of Marmont and Mortier had left, and were
retiring towards him, he sent them orders to take up positions at
Essonnes, seven leagues from Paris and mid-way between that city
and Fontainebleau. He went himself to this last town, where were
arriving the heads of the columns coming from Saint-Dizier, an
indication that he intended to march on Paris as soon as his army
was gathered together.

The enemy generals have later stated that if they had been
attacked by the Emperor, they would not have risked a battle,
with the Seine behind them and also the great city of Paris, with
its million inhabitants, which might rise in revolt at any moment
during the fighting and barricade the streets and the bridges,
thus cutting off their line of retreat. So they had decided to
draw back and camp on the heights of Belleville, Charonne,
Montmartre, and the slopes of Chaumont, which dominate the right
bank of the Seine and the route to Germany, when new events in
Paris kept them in the city.

M. de Tallyrand, a former bishop now married, who had always
appeared to be devoted to the Emperor, by whom he had been loaded
with riches and made prince of Benevento, Grand Chamberlain,
etc., etc., felt his pride injured when he was no longer
Napoleon's confidant, and the minister directing his policy. So,
after the disasters of the Russian campaign, he had put himself
at the head of an underground conspiracy, which included all the
malcontents from every party, but mainly the Faubourg
Saint-Germain, that is to say the high aristocracy, who, after
appearing at first submissive and even serving Napoleon in the
time of his prosperity, had become his enemy, and without openly
compromising themselves, attacked, by all means, the head of

These people, guided by Tallyrand, the most cunning and scheming
of them all, had been waiting for an occasion to overthrow
Napoleon. They realised that they would never have a more
favourable opportunity than that offered by the occupation of the
country by a million and a half enemies, and the presence in
Paris of all the crowned heads of Europe, most of whom had been
grossly humiliated by Napoleon at one time or another. Napoleon,
however, though greatly weakened, was not yet entirely beaten,
for, apart from the army which he had with him, and with which he
had performed prodigies, there was Suchet's army, between the
Pyrenees and the Haute-Garonne, there were troops commanded by
Marshal Soult, there were two fine divisions at Lyon, and
finally, the army in Italy was still formidable, so that in spite
of the occupation of Bordeaux by the English, Napoleon might
still assemble considerable forces and prolong the war
indefinitely, by raising a population, exasperated by the
exactions of the enemy.

Tallyrand, for his part, realised that if they gave the Emperor
time to bring to Paris the troops who were with him, he might
beat the allies in the streets of the capital, or withdraw to
some loyal provinces, where he might continue the war, until the
allies were exhausted and ready to make peace. In the view of
Tallyrand and his friends, it was therefore necessary to change
the government. Here there arose a great difficulty, for they
wanted to restore the Bourbons to the throne, in the person of
Louis XVIII, while other parts of the country wanted to retain
Napoleon, or at most to install his son.

The same difference of opinion existed amongst the allied
sovereigns. The kings of England and Prussia were on the side of
the Bourbons, while the emperor of Russia, who had never liked
them, and who feared that the antipathy felt by the French nation
towards these princes and the emigres would lead to a fresh
revolution, was inclined to favour Napoleon's son.

To cut short these discussions, and decide the question by making
the first move, the astute Tallyrand, in an attempt to force the
hand of the foreign sovereigns, arranged for a group of about
twenty young men from the Faubourg Saint-Germain to appear on
horseback in Louis XV square, decked with white cockades, and led
by Vicomte Talon, my former comrade in arms, from whom I have
these details. They went towards the mansion in the rue
Saint-Florentin occupied by the Emperor Alexander, shouting at
the top of their voices "Long live King Louis XVIII! Long live
the Bourbons! Down with the tyrant!"

The effect produced on the curious gathering of onlookers by
these cries, was at first one of astonishment, which was quickly
succeeded by threats and menaces from the crowd, which shook even
the boldest of the cavalcade. This first royalist demonstration
having been unsuccessful, they repeated the performance at
various points on the boulevards. At some places they were booed,
at others applauded. As the entry procession of the allied
sovereigns approached, and as the Parisians need a slogan to
animate them, the one produced by Vicomte Talon and his friends
rang in the ears of the Emperor Alexander throughout the whole
day, which permitted Tallyrand to say to that monarch in the
evening, "Your Majesty can judge for himself with what unanimity
the nation desires the restoration of the Bourbons!"

From that moment, although his supporters greatly outnumbered
those of Louis XVIII, as the events of the following year would
show, Napoleon's cause was lost.

End of Volume 2, The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot.
Translated by Oliver C. Colt

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