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The Memoirs of General the Baron de Marbot

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While the Russians, taken in by Napoleon's subterfuge, were
deserting the real point of attack, Napoleon gave his orders.
Oudinot and his army Corps were to go by night to Studianka, and
there arrange for the building of two bridges, before crossing to
the right bank and occupying the area between the town of Zembin
and the river. Marshal Victor, leaving Natscha, was to form the
rear-guard. He was to drive before him all the stragglers, and
was to try to hold Borisoff for a few hours before going to
Studianka and crossing the bridges. Those were the Emperor's
orders, the execution of which in detail was frustrated by

On the evening of the 25th, Corbineau's brigade, whose commander
knew the area well, proceeded up the left bank of the Beresina
towards Studianka, followed by Castex's brigade and several
battalions of light infantry; after which came the bulk of 2nd

We were sorry to leave Borisoff where we had spent two happy

We had perhaps a presentiment of the bad times which were to

At daybreak on the 26th of November we arrived at Studianka,
where there were no signs of any preparation for defence on the
opposite bank, so that, had the Emperor not burned the bridging
equipment a few days previously at Orscha, the army could have
crossed immediately. The river, which some have described as
huge, is more or less as wide as the Rue Royale in Paris where it
passes the Ministry of Marine. As for its depth, it is enough to
say that the three regiments of Corbineau's brigade had forded it
seventy-two hours previously without accident, and did so again
on the day of which I write. Their horses never lost their
footing and had to swim only at two or three places. At this time
the crossing presented only a few minor inconveniences to the
cavalry, the artillery and the carts, one of which was that the
riders and carters were wet up to their knees, which was not
insupportable because, regrettably the cold was not sufficiently
severe to freeze the river, which would have been better for us.
The second inconvenience which arose from the lack of frost was
that the marshy ground which bordered the opposite bank of the
river was so muddy that the saddle-horses had difficulty in
crossing it and the carts could sink in to their axles.

Esprit de corps is certainly very praiseworthy, but it should be
moderated or forgotten in difficult circumstances. This did not
happen at the Beresina, where the commanders of the artillery and
the engineers both demanded sole responsibility for building the
bridges, and as neither would give way, nothing was being done.
When the Emperor arrived on the 26th, he ended this quarrel by
ordering that two bridges should be built, one by the artillery
and one by the engineers. Immediately beams and battens were
seized from the hovels of the village and the sappers and the
gunners got to work. Those gallant men showed a devotion to duty
which has not been sufficiently recognised. They went naked into
the freezing water and worked for six or seven hours at a
stretch, although there was not a drop of "eau de vie" to offer
them, and they would be sleeping in a field covered by snow.
Almost all of them died later, when the severe frosts came.

While the bridges were being built and while my regiment and all
the troops of 2nd Corps were waiting on the left bank for the
order to cross the river, the Emperor, walking rapidly, went from
regiment to regiment, speaking to the men and officers. He was
accompanied by Murat. This brave and dashing officer who had so
distinguished himself as the victorious French were advancing on
Moscow, the proud Murat had been, so to speak, eclipsed since we
had left that city and during the retreat he had taken part in
none of the fighting. One saw him following the Emperor in
silence, as if he had nothing to do with what was going on in the
army. He seemed to shed some of his torpor at the Beresina at the
sight of the only troops who were still in good order, and who
constituted the last hope of safety.

As Murat was very fond of the cavalry, and as of the many
squadrons which had crossed the Nieman there remained none except
those in Oudinot's corps, he urged the Emperor's footsteps in
their direction.

Napoleon was delighted with the state of these units and of my
regiment in particular, for it was now stronger than several of
the brigades. I had more than 500 men on horseback, whereas the
other colonels in the corps had scarcely 200, so I received some
flattering comments from the Emperor, a great share of which was
due to my officers and men.

It was at this time that I had the good fortune to be joined by
Jean Dupont, my brother's servant, a man of exemplary loyalty,
devotion and courage. Left on his own after the capture of my
brother early in the campaign, he had followed the 16th Chasseurs
to Moscow and taken part in the retreat, while caring for my
brother Adolphe's three horses, of which he had refused to sell a
single one in spite of many offers. He reached me after five
months of hunger and hardship, still carrying all my brother's
effects, though he told me, with tears in his eyes, that having
worn out his shoes and been reduced to walking barefoot in the
snow, he had dared to take a pair of boots belonging to his
master. I kept this admirable man in my service, and he was a
great help to me when, some time later, I was wounded once more,
in the midst of the most horrible days of the great retreat.

To return to the crossing of the Beresina. Not only did our
horses cross the river without difficulty, but our "cantiniers"
or sutlers, drove their carts across. This made me think that it
might be possible, if one unharnessed some of the many carts
which followed the army, to fix them in the river in a line, one
after the other, to make a sort of causeway for the infantrymen,
something which would greatly ease the flow of the mass of
stragglers who the next day would be crowding round the entries
to the bridges. This seemed to me to be such a good idea, that
although I was wet to the waist, I recrossed the ford to offer it
to the generals of the Imperial staff.

They accepted my suggestion, but made no attempt to pass it on to
the Emperor. Eventually, General Lauristan, one of his
aides-de-camp, said to me, "I suggest that you yourself undertake
the building of this footbridge, the usefulness of which you have
so well explained." I replied to this wholly unacceptable
proposition that I had at my disposal neither sappers nor
infantrymen, nor tools, nor stakes, nor rope, and that in any
case I could not leave my regiment, which being on the right
bank, could be attacked at any time. I had offered him an idea
which I thought was a good one, I could do no more and would now
go back to my normal duties. Having said this I went back into
the water and returned to the 23rd.

When the sappers and the gunners had finally completed the
trestle bridges, they were crossed by the infantry and the
artillery of Oudinot's corps, who, having reached the right bank,
went to set up their bivouacs in a large wood, where the cavalry
were ordered to join them. We could from there watch the main
road from Minsk, down which Admiral Tchitchakoff had led his
troops to the lower Beresina, and up which he would have to come
to reach us, once he heard that we had crossed the river at

On the evening of the 27th, the Emperor crossed the bridge with
his guard and went to settle at a hamlet named Zawniski, where
the cavalry were ordered to join him. The enemy had not appeared.

There has been much discussion about the disasters which occurred
at the Beresina; but what no one has yet said is that the greater
part of them could have been avoided if the general staff had
paid more attention to their duty and had made use of the night
27th-28th to send over the bridge not only the baggage, but the
thousands of stragglers who would be obstructing the passage the
next day. It so happened that, after seeing my regiment well
settled in their bivouac, I noticed the absence of the pack
horse, which, as it carried the strong-box and the accounts of
the regiment, could not be risked in the ford. I expected that
its leader and the troopers of its escort had waited until the
bridges were ready, but they had been so for some hours and yet
these men had not arrived. Being somewhat worried about them, and
the precious burden committed to their charge, I thought I would
go in person and expedite their crossing, for I imagined that the
bridges would be crowded. I hurried to the river where, to my
great surprise, I found the bridges completely deserted. There
was no one crossing them, although, by the bright moonlight, I
could see not a hundred paces away, more than 50,000 stragglers
or men cut off from their regiments, whom we called "rotisseurs."
These men, seated calmly before huge fires, were grilling pieces
of horseflesh, little thinking that they were beside a river, the
passage of which would, the next day, cost many of them their
lives, whereas at present they could cross it unhindered, in a
few minutes, and prepare their supper on the other side.
Furthermore, not one officer of the imperial household, not an
aide-de-camp of the army general staff, or that of a marshal was
there to warn these unfortunate men and to drive them, if need
be, to the bridges.

It was in this disorganised camp that I saw for the first time
the soldiers returning from Moscow. It was a most distressing
spectacle. All ranks were mixed together, no weapons, no military
bearing! Soldiers, officers and even generals, clad only in rags
and having on their feet strips of leather or cloth roughly bound
together with string. An immense throng in which were thrown
together thousands of men of different nationalities gabbling all
the languages of the European continent without any mutual

However, if one had used one of the regiments from Oudinot's
corps or the Guard, which were still in good order, it would have
been easy to herd this mass of men across the bridges, for, as I
was returning to Zawniski, having with me only a few orderlies, I
was able by persuasion and a bit of force to make several
thousand of these wretched men cross to the right bank; but I had
other duties to perform, and had to return to the regiment.

When I was passing by the general staff, and that of Marshal
Oudinot, I reported the deserted state of the bridges and pointed
out how easy it would be to bring the unarmed men across while
there was no enemy opposition; all I got were evasive answers,
each one claiming that it was a colleague's responsibility to see
to such an operation.

On returning to the regimental bivouac, I was pleasantly
surprised to see the corporal and the eight troopers who during
the campaign had been in charge of our herd of cattle. These good
fellows were desolate that the crowd of "rotisseurs" had set on
their cattle, butchered and eaten them before their eyes without
their being able to stop them. It was some consolation to the
regiment that each trooper had taken from Borisoff enough food to
last for twenty-five days.

My adjutant, M. Verdier, thought it his duty to go across the
bridge to try to find the guardians of our accounts, but he got
swallowed up in the crowd and was unable to get back. He was
taken prisoner during the struggle on the next day , and I did
not see him again for two years.

Chap. 19.

We now come to the most terrible event in the disastrous Russian
campaign... to the crossing of the Beresina; which took place
mainly on the 28th of November.

At dawn on this ill-fated day, the position of the two
belligerents was as follows. On the left bank, Marshal Victor,
having evacuated Borisoff during the night, had arrived at
Studianka with 9th Corps, driving in front of him a mass of
stragglers. He had left, to form his rear-guard, the infantry
division of General Partouneaux, who had been told not to leave
the town until two hours after him, and who should, in
consequence, have sent out a small detachment of men, who could
follow the main body and leave guides to signpost the route. He
should also have sent an aide-de-camp to Studianka to reconnoitre
the road and return to the division: but Partouneaux neglected
all these precautions and simply marched off at the prescribed
time. He came to a fork in the road, and he did not know which
way to go. He must have been aware, since he had come from
Borisoff, that the Beresina was on his left, and he should have
concluded that to reach Studianka, at the side of this
watercourse, it was the road on the left which he should take...
but he did not do so, and following blindly some light infantry
which had been ahead of him, he took the right hand road and
landed in the middle of a large force of Wittgenstein's Russian

Soon Partouneaux's division, completely surrounded, was forced,
after a brave defence, to surrender. Meanwhile a simple battalion
commander who was in charge of the divisional rear-guard, had the
good sense to take the road to the left, by means of which he
joined Marshal Victor at Studianka. The Marshal was greatly
surprised to see the arrival of this battalion instead of the
division of which it was the rear-guard, but his astonishment
turned to dismay when he was attacked by Wittgenstein's Russians,
whom he thought had been intercepted by Partouneaux. He could not
then doubt that the General and all his regiments had been
defeated and taken prisoner.

Fresh misfortunes awaited him, for the Russian General
Koutousoff, who had been following Partouneaux from Borisoff with
a strong body of troops, once he heard of his defeat, speeded up
his march and came to join Wittgenstein in his attack on Marshal
Victor. The Marshal, whose army corps had been reduced to 10,000
men, put up a stout resistance. His troops, even the Germans who
were included among them, fought heroically though they were
attacked by two armies, had their backs to the Beresina, and had
their movements hampered by the swarm of carts driven by
undisciplined stragglers who were endeavouring, in a mob, to
reach the river. Regardless of these circumstances they held off
Koutousoff and Wittgenstein for the whole day.

While this confusion and fighting were going on at Studianka, the
enemy, who aimed to gain control of both ends of the bridges,
attacked Oudinet's Corps, which was in position before Zawniski,
on the right bank. Some thirty thousand Russians, shouting
loudly, advanced towards 2nd Corps, which was by now reduced to
no more than eight thousand combatants. However, our men had not
yet been in contact with those returning from Moscow, and had no
idea of the disorder which ruled amongst them, so that their
morale was excellent and Tchitchakoff was driven back before the
very eyes of the Emperor, who arrived at that moment with a
reserve of 3000 infantry and 1000 cavalry from the old and the
Young Guard. The Russians renewed their attack, and overran the
Poles of the Legion of the Vistula. Marshal Oudinot was seriously
wounded, and Napoleon sent Ney to replace him. General Condras,
one of our best infantry officers, was killed. The gallant
General Legrand received a dangerous wound.

The action took place in a wood of enormous pine trees. The enemy
artillery could not, therefore, see our troops clearly, so that,
although they kept up a vigourous bombardment, their cannon-balls
did not hit us, but going over our heads, they broke off
branches, some as thick as a man's body, which in their fall
killed or injured a good number of our men and horses. As the
trees were widely spaced, mounted men could move through them,
although with some difficulty, despite which, Marshal Ney, on the
approach of a strong Russian column, launched a charge against it
with what remained of our division of Cuirassiers. This charge,
carried out under such unusual conditions, was nevertheless one
of the most brilliant which I have seen. Colonel Dubois, at the
head of the 7th Cuirassiers, split the enemy column in two and
took 2000 prisoners. The Russians, thrown into disarray, were
pursued by the Light Cavalry and driven back to the village of
Stakovo with great loss.

I was re-forming the ranks of my regiment, which had taken part
in this engagement, when M. Alfred de Noailles, with whom I was
friendly, arrived. He was returning from carrying an order from
Prince Berthier, whose aide-de-camp he was; but instead of going
back to the Marshal, he said as he left me, that he was going as
far as the first houses of Stakovo to see what the enemy was
doing. This curiosity proved fatal, for as he approached the
village, he was surrounded by a group of Cossacks who, having
knocked him off his horse, dragged him away by his collar while
raining blows on him. I immediately sent a squadron to his aid,
but this effort at rescue did not succeed, because a volley of
fire from the houses prevented the troopers from getting into the
village. Since that day nothing has been heard of M. de Noailles.
It is likely that his superb furs and his uniform covered in gold
braid having roused the cupidity of the Cossacks, he was murdered
by these barbarians. M. de Noailles' family, knowing that I was
the last person to speak to him, asked me for news about his
disappearance, but I could tell them no more than what I have
described. Alfred de Noailles was an excellent officer and a good

This digression has diverted me from Tchitchakoff, who, after his
defeat by Ney, did not dare to attack us again nor to leave the
village of Stakovo for the rest of the day.

Having described briefly the position of the armies on the two
banks of the Beresina, I shall tell you, in a few words what
happened at the river itself during the fighting. The mass of
unattached men who had had two nights and two days in which to
cross the bridges, and who had, apathetically, failed to do so
because they were not compelled, when Wittgenstein's cannon-balls
began to fall among them, rushed in a body to get across. This
huge multitude of men, horses, and carts piled up at the entrance
to the bridges, trying to force their way on to them.... Many of
those who missed the entrance were pushed by the crowd into the
Beresina where most of them were drowned.

To add to the disaster, one of the bridges broke under the weight
of the guns and the heavy ammunition wagons which followed them!
Everyone then headed for the second bridge, where the crowd was
so thick that strong men were unable to withstand the pressure
and a large number were stifled to death. When they saw that it
was impossible to cross the overcrowded bridges, many of the cart
drivers urged their horses into the river, but this method of
crossing, which would have been very successful if it had been
carried out in an orderly manner on the two preceding days,
failed in the great majority of instances, because driving their
carts in a tumultuous mob, they crashed into one another and
turned over! Some, however reached the opposite side, but as no
one had prepared an exit by smoothing the slope of the river
bank, which the general staff should have seen to, few vehicles
could climb out, and many more people perished there.

During the night of 28th 29th November, the Russian cannons added
to these scenes of horror by bombarding the wretched men who were
trying to cross the river, and finally at about nine in the
evening there was a crowning disaster, when Marshal Victor began
his withdrawal, and when his divisions, in battle order, arrived
at the bridge, which they could cross only by dispersing the
crowds which blocked their way! ...We should perhaps draw a veil
over these dreadful events.

At dawn on the 29th, all the vehicles remaining on the left bank
were set on fire, and when finally General Eble saw the Russians
nearing the bridge, he set that on fire also! Several thousand
unfortunates left at Studianka fell into the hands of

So ended the most terrible episode of the Russian campaign, an
episode which would have been a great deal less terrible if we
had made proper use of the time which the Russians allowed us
after we had reached the Beresina. The army lost in this crossing
20 to 25,000 men.

Once this major obstacle had been crossed, the disorganised mass
of men who had escaped from the disaster was still huge. They
were directed to go along the road to Zembin. The Emperor and the
Guard followed. Then came the remains of several regiments, and
finally 2nd Corps, for whom Castex's brigade formed the last

I have already explained that the Zembin road, the only way left
open for us, goes through an immense marsh by means of a great
number of bridges which Tchitchakoff neglected to burn when he
occupied this position a few days previously. We did not make the
same mistake, for after the army had passed, the 24th Chasseurs
and my regiment easily set them on fire by means of the stacks of
dry reeds heaped up in the neighbourhood.

By ordering the burning of the bridges, the Emperor had hoped to
rid himself for a long time of pursuit by the Russians, but fate
was against us. The cold which at this time of year could have
frozen the waters of the Beresina to give us a pathway across,
had left the river running; but we had scarcely crossed over when
there was sharp frost which froze it to the point where it would
bear the weight of a cannon... and as it did the same to the
marsh of Zembin, the burning of the bridges was of no value to
us. The three Russian armies which we had left behind, could now
pursue us without meeting any obstacle; but fortunately the
pursuit was not very energetic, and Marshal Ney, who commanded
the rear-guard and who had gathered together all the troops still
capable of fighting, made frequent sallies against the enemy if
they dared to approach too near.

Since Marshal Oudinot and General Legrand had been wounded,
General Maison commanded 2nd Corps, which being, in spite of many
losses, now numerically the strongest in the army, was always
given the task of holding off the Russians. We kept them at a
distance during the 30th of November and the 1st of December; but
on the 2nd of December they pressed us so hard, in considerable
numbers, that a serious engagement took place in which I received
a wound, made even more dangerous because the temperature on that
day registered 25 degrees of frost. I should perhaps limit myself
to telling you that I was injured by a lance without going into
further details, for they are so unpleasant that I still do not
like to remember them. However, I said I would tell the story of
my life, and so this is what happened at Plechtchenitsoui.

It so happened that a Dutch banker named Van Berchem, with whom I
had been a close friend at the college of Soreze, had sent to me,
at the start of the campaign, his only son, who having become
French by the incorporation of his country into the Empire, had
enlisted in the 23rd, although he was barely sixteen years
old!... He was a fine and intelligent young man, and I made him
my secretary, so that he went everywhere fifteen paces behind me
with my orderlies. That is where he was on the day in question,
when 2nd Corps, for whom my regiment was acting as rear-guard
while crossing a vast open plain, saw coming towards them a mass
of Russian cavalry, who quickly surrounded them and attacked them
on all sides. General Maison deployed his troops with such skill
that our squares repelled all the charges made by the enemy
regular cavalry.

The Russians then sent in a swarm of Cossacks, who came
impudently to attack with their lances the French officers who
stood before their troops. Seeing this, Marshal Ney ordered
General Maison to chase them off, using what remained of the
division of Cuirassiers and also Corbineau's and Castex's
brigades. My regiment, which was still numerically strong, was
confronted by a tribe of Cossacks from the Black Sea, wearing
tall astrakhan hats, and much better clad and mounted than the
usual run of Cossacks. We engaged them, but as it is not their
custom to stand and fight in line, they turned round and made off
at the gallop; but not knowing the locality, they headed for an
obstacle which is very unusual in these enormous plains, and that
is a large, deep gully, which owing to the perfect flatness of
the surrounding country could not be distinguished from any
distance. This pulled them up short, and seeing that they could
not get across with their horses, they bunched together and
turned to present to us their lances.

The ground, covered by frost, was very slippery, and our
over-tired horses could not gallop without falling. There was,
therefore, no question of a charge, and my line advanced at a
trot towards the massed enemy, who remained motionless. Our
sabres could touch their lances, but as they are thirteen or
fourteen feet long, we could not reach our foes, who could not
retreat for fear of falling into the gulch, and could not advance
without encountering our swords. We were thus face to face,
regarding one another when, in less time than it takes to tell,
this is what happened.

Anxious to get to grips with the enemy, I shouted to my troops to
grab some of the lances with their left hands and pushing them to
one sided, get into the middle of this crowd of men, where our
short weapons would give us an enormous advantage over their long
spears. To encourage them to obey, I wanted to set an example,
so dodging several lances, I managed to reach the front rank of
the enemy!... My warrant officers and my orderlies followed me,
and soon the whole regiment. There then ensued a general mlee;
but at the moment when it started, an old white-bearded Cossack,
who was in the rear rank and separated from me by some of his
comrades, lent forward and thrusting his lance skillfully between
the horses he drove the sharp steel into my right knee, which it
pierced, passing through beneath the kneecap.

Enraged by the pain of this injury, I was pushing my way towards
the man to take my revenge, when I was confronted by two handsome
youths of about eighteen to twenty, wearing a brilliant costume,
covered with rich embroidery, who were the sons of the chieftain
of this clan. They were accompanied by an elderly man who was
some sort of tutor, but who was unarmed. The younger of his two
pupils did not draw his sword, but elder did and attacked me
furiously!... I found him so immature and lacking strength that I
did no more than disarm him, and taking his arm pushed him behind
me, telling Van Berchem to look after him. I had hardly done this
when a double explosion rang in my ears and the collar of my cape
was torn by a ball. I turned round quickly, to see the young
Cossack officer holding a pair of double-barrelled pistols with
which he had treacherously tried to shoot me in the back and had
blown out the brains of the unfortunate Van Berchem!

In a transport of rage I hurled myself at this rash stripling,
who was already aiming his second pistol at me. Seeing death in
my face, he seemed momentarily paralysed. He cried out some words
in French. But I killed him.

Blood calls for blood! The sight of young Van Berchem lying dead
at my feet, the act I had just carried out, the excitement of
battle and the pain of my wound, combined to induce a sort of
frenzy. I rushed at the younger of the Cossack officers and
grabbing him by the throat I had already raised my sabre when his
elderly mentor, to protect his charge, laid the length of his
body on my horses neck in a manner which prevented me from
striking a blow and called out, "Mercy! In the name of your
mother, have mercy! He has done nothing!"

On hearing this appeal, in spite of the scenes around me, I
seemed to see the white hand I knew so well, laid on the young
man's breast and to hear my mother's gentle voice saying,"Be
merciful!" I lowered my sabre and sent the youth and his guardian
to the rear.

I was so disturbed by what had happened that I would have been
unable to give any further orders to the regiment if the fighting
had continued for any length of time, but it was soon finished.
Many of the Cossacks had been killed and the remainder,
abandoning their horses, slid into the depths of the ravine,
where a number died in the huge snow-drift which the wind had

In the evening following this affair, I questioned my prisoner
and his guardian. I learned that the two youngsters were the sons
of a powerful chieftain, who, having lost a leg at Austerlitz,
hated the French so much that being unable to fight them himself,
he had sent his two sons to do so. I thought it likely that, as a
prisoner, the cold and misery would be fatal to the one survivor.
I took pity on him and set both him and his venerable mentor at
liberty. On taking his leave of me the latter said, "When she
thinks of her eldest son, the mother of my two pupils will curse
you, but when she sees the return of her youngest she will bless
you, and the mother in whose name you spared him."

The vigour with which the Russian troops had been repulsed in
this last contact having cooled their ardour, we did not see them
again for two days, which allowed us to reach Molodechno; but if
the enemy allowed us a momentary truce the cold increased its
attack. The temperature fell to 27 degrees of frost. Men and
horses were falling at every stride, frequently not to rise
again. Notwithstanding, I remained with the debris of my
regiment, in the midst of which I made my nightly bivouac in the
snow. There was nowhere I could go to be better off. My gallant
officers and men regarded their commanding officer as a living
flag. They endeavoured to preserve me and offered me all the care
which our appalling situation permitted. The wound to my knee
prevented me from sitting astride my horse, and I had to rest my
leg on my horse's neck to keep it straight, which made me get
even colder. I was in great pain but there was nothing that could
be done.

The road was lined with the dead and dying, our march was slow
and silent. What remained of the guard formed a little square, in
which travelled the Emperor's carriage, in which was also King

On the fifth of December, after dictating his twenty-ninth
bulletin, which created stupefaction throughout all of France,
the Emperor left the army at Smorgoni to return to Paris. He was
nearly captured at Ochmiana by some Cossacks. The Emperor's
departure greatly affected the morale of the troops. Some blamed
him and accused him of abandoning them. Others approved, saying
that it was the only way to preserve France from civil war, and
invasion by our so-called allies, the majority of whom were
waiting only for a favourable opportunity to turn against us, but
who would not dare to make a move if they heard that Napoleon had
returned to France, and was organising fresh military forces.

Chap. 20.

On his departure, the Emperor handed the command of the remains
of the army to Murat, who in the circumstances proved unequal to
the task, which it must be admitted was extremely difficult. The
cold paralysed the mental and physical activity of everyone; all
organisation had broken down. Marshal Victor refused to relieve
2nd Corps, who had formed the rear-guard since the Beresina, and
Marshal Ney had, unwillingly, to keep it there. Each morning a
multitude of dead were left in the bivouac where we had spent the
night. I congratulated myself on having, in September, made my
men equip themselves with sheepskin coats, a precaution which
saved the lives of many of them. The same applied to the supplies
of food which we had taken from Borisoff, for without these it
would have been necessary to dispute with the starving hordes
over the dead bodies of horses.

I may mention here that M. de Segur claims that there were
instances of cannibalism. I have to say that there were so many
dead horses lying along the route that there was no need for
anyone to resort to this. What is more, it would be a great
mistake to think that the countryside was completely bare: there
was shortage in localities close to the road, which had been
stripped by the army on its march to Moscow, but the army had
passed in a torrent, without spreading out to the sides. Since
then the harvest had been gathered and the country had recovered
somewhat, so that it was only necessary to go for one or two
leagues from the road to find plenty. It is true, however, that
only a well-organised detachment could do this without being
picked off by the parties of Cossacks which prowled around us.

I arranged, with some other colonels, the formation of foraging
parties, who came back not only with bread and a few cattle, but
with sledges loaded with salted meat, flour and oatmeal taken
from villages which had not been abandoned by the peasantry. This
proves that if the Duc de Bassano and General Hogendorp, to whom
the Emperor had confided, in June, the administration of
Lithuania, had done their job properly, during the long period
which they spent at Wilna, they could have created large storage
depots, but they were interested only in supplying the town,
without bothering about the troops.

On the 6th of December, the cold increased and the temperature
fell to nearly minus thirty; so that this day was even more
deadly than its predecessors, particularly for troops who had not
been conditioned gradually to the climate. Amongst this number
was the Gratien division, consisting of 12,000 conscripts, who
left Wilna on the 4th to come in front of us. The sudden
transition from warm barracks to a bivouac in twenty-nine and a
half degrees of frost, within forty-eight hours was fatal to
nearly all of them. The rigour of the season had an even more
terrible effect on the 200 Neapolitan cavalrymen who formed King
Murat's bodyguard. They also came to join us after a long stay in
Wilna, but they all died on the first night which they spent on
the snow.

The remnants of the Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Croats and
other foreigners whom we had led into Russia, saved their lives
by means which the French found repugnant: they deserted, went to
villages adjoining the road and awaited, in the warmth of their
houses, the arrival of the enemy. This often took some time for,
surprisingly, the Russian soldiers, used to spending the winter
in draught-free houses, warmed by continuously burning stoves,
are more susceptible to the cold than the inhabitants of other
parts of Europe, and their army suffered heavy losses; which
explains the slowness of the pursuit.

We did not understand why Koutousoff and his generals did no more
than follow us with a weak advance-guard, instead of attacking
our flanks and going to the head of our column to cut off all
means of retreat. But they were unable to carry out this
manoeuvre which would have finished us because their soldiers
suffered as much from the cold as we did, many of them dying as a
result. The cold was so intense that one could see a sort of
steam coming from one's eyes and ears, which froze on contact
with the air and fell like grains of millet onto one's chest, and
one had to stop frequently to rid the horses of huge icicles
which were formed by their breath freezing on the bits of their

There were, however, thousands of Cossacks, attracted by the hope
of plunder, who braved the seasonal bad weather and hung around
our columns, even attacking places where they saw baggage, though
a few shots would drive them off. Eventually, in order to harass
us without running any danger, for we had been forced to abandon
our artillery, they mounted light cannons on sledges, and used
them to fire on our men, until they saw an armed detachment
advancing towards them, when they took to their heels. These
sneak attacks did little real damage, but they became very
unpleasant because of their constant repetition. Many of the sick
and wounded were taken and despoiled by these raiders, some of
whom had acquired an immense amount of booty, and the greed for
enrichment attracted new enemies, who came from the ranks of our
allies: these were the Poles. Marshal de Saxe, the son of one of
their kings, said rightly that the Poles were the biggest thieves
in the world, and would rob even their own parents, so, not
surprisingly, those in our ranks showed little respect for the
property of their allies. On the march or in bivouac, they stole
anything they saw; but as no one trusted them, petty thieving
became more difficult, so they decided to operate on a grand
scale. They organised themselves into bands, and at night they
would don peasant headgear and slip out of the bivouac to meet at
an agreed spot, then they would return to the camp shouting the
Cossack war-cry of "Hourra! Hourra!" which so frightened men
whose morale had been broken, that many of them fled abandoning
their possessions and food. The false Cossacks, after stealing
all they could would return to the camp before daylight and
become once more Poles, ready to become Cossacks again on the
next night.

When this form of brigandage was disclosed, several generals and
colonels decided to put a stop to it. General Maison kept such a
close watch in the lines of 2nd Corps, that one fine night our
guards surprised a group of about fifty Poles at the moment when
they were about to play their role of Cossacks. Seeing that they
were surrounded these bandits had the impudence to claim that
they were just having a joke, but as this was not the time nor
place for laughter, General Maison had them all shot out of hand.
It was some time before we saw robbers of this kind again, but
they reappeared later.

On the 9th of December, we arrived at Wilna, where there were
some stores; but as the Duc de Bassano and General Hogendorp had
left for the Nieman, there was no one to give orders, so that
there, as at Smolensk, the officials demanded proper receipts for
the issue of food and clothing, which was virtually impossible
because of the disorganization of almost all the regiments. We
lost some precious time in this way. General Maison broke into
several stores and his men took some supplies, but the remainder
was taken the next day by the Russians. Soldiers from other corps
wandered round the town in the hope of being taken in by the
inhabitants, but the people who six months previously had
welcomed the French with open arms, closed their doors to us when
they saw us in distress. Only the Jews would accommodate those
who could pay for temporary shelter.

Admitted neither to the stores nor to private houses, the
majority of famished men headed for the hospitals where, although
there was not enough food for all of them, they were at least
sheltered from the piercing cold. This respite was enough to
decide 20,000 sick and wounded, among whom were two hundred
officers and eight generals, to go no further. They had reached
the end of their physical and mental resources.

Lieutenant Hernoux, one of the most vigourous and brave officers
in my regiment, was so overcome by what he had been through that
he lay down on the snow, refusing to move, until he died. Several
soldiers, of all ranks, blew their brains out, to escape from
their suffering.

During the night 9th-10th December, in thirty degrees of frost,
some Cossacks came and began shooting at the gates of Wilna. Many
people thought this was the entire army of Koutousoff, and in a
panic they fled from the town. I regret to say that King Murat
was among them. He left without giving any orders, but Marshal
Ney stayed and organised the retreat as best he could. We quitted
Wilna on the morning of the 10th, leaving behind not only a great
number of men, but also an artillery park and a part of the
army's funds.

We had scarcely left the town when the infamous Jews turned on
the men whom they had taken into their houses, stripped them of
their clothes and threw them out, naked into the snow. Some
officers of the Russian advance-guard, which was entering the
town, were so indignant at this behaviour that they killed a
number of them.

In the midst of this chaos, Marshal Ney had urged onto the road
to Kowno all those whom he could stir into movement, but he had
gone no more than a league when he came to the hill of Ponari.
This small slope which in other circumstances the army would have
hardly noticed, now became a most serious obstacle because the
ice with which it was covered made it so slippery that the
draught-horses were unable to drag up it the carts and wagons, so
that what remained of the army's money would have fallen into the
hands of the Cossacks had not Marshal Ney ordered that the wagons
should be opened and the soldiers allowed to empty the
strong-boxes. This sensible measure gave rise later to assertions
that the men had robbed the Imperial treasury.

Several days before our arrival at Wilna, the intense cold having
killed many of our horses and made the rest unfit to ride, my
troopers all went on foot. I would have very much liked to join
them but my injury prevented this, so I took to a sledge to which
was harnessed one of my horses. This new method of transport gave
me the idea that I might by this means save the sick men, of whom
I had a considerable number. There is no dwelling in Russia so
poor that it does not have a sledge, and it was not long before I
had a hundred or so, each one drawn by a troop horse, carrying
two sick men. This method of travel seemed to General Castex to
be so convenient that he authorised me to put all my men on
sledges. The commander of the 24th did the same and so the
remains of the brigade became a sledge-borne unit.

You may think that in doing this we deprived ourselves of any
means of defence, but you would be wrong, for we were much more
mobile with the sleds, which could go anywhere, and whose shafts
held up the horses, than we would have been in the saddle of
animals which fell down all the time.

As the road was covered with abandoned muskets, each of our
Chasseurs took two of them and an ample provision of cartridges,
so that if any Cossacks dared to approach, they were met by a
volume of fire which quickly drove them off. Our troopers could
also fight on foot if need be. In the evening we formed a big
square with our sledges, in the middle of which we lit our fires.
Marshal Ney and General Maison often came to spend the night
here, where they were secure, since the only enemies present were
the Cossacks. This was undoubtedly the first time anyone had seen
a rear-guard mounted on sledges; but it was a success in the
prevailing conditions.

We continued to cover the retreat until, on the 13th of December,
we saw the Nieman once more, and Kowno (Kaunas), the last town in
Russia. It was at this spot that, five months earlier, we had
entered the empire of the Czars. How greatly had our
circumstances changed since then!... What appalling losses had we

On entering Kowno with the rear-guard, Marshal Ney found that the
only garrison was a small battalion of Germans some 400 strong,
whom he joined to the troops which he still had in order to
defend the town for as long as possible, to give the sick and
wounded the opportunity to cross into Prussia. When he heard that
Ney had arrived, King Murat left for Gumbinnen.

On the 14th, Platov's Cossacks, followed by two battalions of
Russian infantry, mounted on sledges together with several guns,
appeared at Kovno which they attacked at a number of points. But
Marshal Ney, helped by General Gerard, held them off until
nightfall, when he took us across the frozen Nieman, and was the
last to leave Russian territory.

We were now in Prussia, an allied country!... Marshal Ney, worn
out and ill, and regarding the campaign as finished, left us and
went to Gumbinnen, where there was a gathering of all the
marshals. From that moment the army had no overall commander, and
each regiment made its own way into Prussia. The Russians, who
were at war with this country, would have been entitled to follow
us there, but satisfied with having re-conquered their territory,
and not sure whether they should present themselves to the
Prussians as friends or enemies, they decided to await
instructions from their government, and halted at the Nieman. We
took advantage of their hesitation to head for the towns of old

The Germans are usually humane; many of them had relatives or
friends in the regiments which had gone with us to Moscow. We
were received well enough, and I can promise you that having
slept for five months in the open, I was delighted to find myself
in a warm room and a comfortable bed; but this sudden transition
from a glacial bivouac to long-forgotten repose made me seriously
ill. Nearly all the army were affected in this way: a number of
them died, including Generals Eble and Lariboisiere, the
artillery commanders.

In spite of the adequate reception given to us, the Prussians
remembered their defeat at Jena, and the way in which Napoleon
had treated them in 1807 when he seized part of their kingdom.
Secretly they hated us and would have disarmed and captured us at
the first signal from their King. Already General York, who led
the numerous Prussian units which the Emperor had so unwisely
placed on the left wing of the Grande Armee, and who were
stationed between Tilsit and Riga, had made a pact with the
Russians and had sent back Marshal Macdonald, whom, from some
remnant of conscience, he did not dare to arrest.

The Prussians of all classes approved of General York's
treachery, and as the provinces through which the sick and
disarmed French soldiers were then passing were full of Prussian
troops, it is probable that the inhabitants would have sought to
take hold of them had it not been that they feared for their
King, who was in Berlin, in the midst of a French army commanded
by Marshal Augereau. This fear and the repudiation by the King
(the most honest man in his kingdom) of General York, who was
tried for treason and condemned to death, prevented a general
uprising against the French. We profited from this to reach the
Vistula and leave the country.

My regiment crossed the river near the fortress of Graudenz at
the same place at which we had crossed on our way to Russia. But
this time the crossing was much more dangerous because the thaw
had already begun some leagues upstream and the ice was covered
by about a foot of water and one could hear frightening crackings
which heralded a general break-up. Added to which, it was in the
middle of a dark night that I was given the order to cross the
river immediately, for the General had just been informed that
the King of Prussia had left Berlin and taken refuge in Silesia,
in the midst of a considerable armed force, and that the populace
was becoming restless and it was feared that they would rise
against us as soon as the thaw prevented us from crossing the
river. We had to get across at all costs, but this was a very
dangerous operation, for the Vistula is quite wide at Graudenz,
and there were many gaps in the ice which it was difficult to see
by the light of the fires lit on both banks.

As there was no possibility of crossing with our sledges, we
abandoned them. We led the horses and, preceded by some men armed
with poles to indicate the crevasses, we commenced the perilous
journey. We had icy water half-way up our legs, which was not
good for the sick and injured, but the physical discomfort was
nothing compared to the anxiety produced by the cracking of the
ice, which threatened, at any moment, to sink beneath our feet.
The servant of one of my officers fell into a crevasse and did
not reappear. We eventually reached the other side where we spent
the night warming ourselves in some fishermen's huts, and the
next day we witnessed a total thaw of the Vistula, which, had we
delayed our crossing for a few hours, would have made us

From the spot where we had crossed the Vistula, we made our way
to the little town of Sweld, where my regiment had been in
cantonment before the war, and it was there that I greeted the
year 1813. The year which had ended was certainly the hardest of
my life.

Chap. 21.

Let us now cast an eye rapidly over the reasons for the failure
of the Russian campaign.

Undoubtedly the principal one of these was Napoleon's error in
believing that he could make war in the north of Europe, before
ending that which had been going on for a long time in Spain,
where his armies were suffering serious reverses, at a time when
he was preparing to invade Russian territory. The soldiers of
French nationality, being thus spread from north to south, were
in insufficient numbers everywhere. Napoleon thought he could
supplement them by joining to their battalions those of his
allies, but this was to dilute a good wine with muddy water. The
quality of the French divisions was lowered, the allied troops
were never better than mediocre, and it was they, who, during the
retreat, sowed disorder in the Grande Armee.

A no less fatal cause of our defeat was the inadequacy, or indeed
the total lack of organisation in the occupied countries. Instead
of doing as we had done during the campaigns of Austerlitz, Jena
and Friedland, and leaving behind the advancing army small bodies
of troops which, stretching back in echelon, could keep in
regular touch with one another to ensure tranquillity in our
rear, to expedite the forwarding of munitions and individual
soldiers and the departure of convoys of wounded, we unwisely
pushed all our available forces towards Moscow, so that between
that city and the Nieman, if one excepts Wilna and Smolensk,
there was not one garrison, nor storage depot, nor hospital. Two
hundred leagues of countryside were left to roving bands of
Cossacks. The result of this was that men who had recovered from
illness were unable to rejoin their units, and as there was no
system of evacuation, we had to keep all the wounded from the
battle for Moscow in the monastery of Kolotskoi for more than two
months. They were still there at the time of the retreat and were
nearly all taken prisoner, while those who felt able to follow
the army died of exhaustion and cold on the roads. Finally, the
retreating troops had no supply of stored food in a country which
produces vast amounts of grain.

This lack of small garrisons in our rear was the reason why of
the more than 100,000 prisoners taken by the French during the
campaign, not a single one left Russia, because there was no way
in which they could be passed back from hand to hand. All these
prisoners escaped with ease and made their way back to the
Russian army, which thus recovered some of its losses, while ours
increased from day to day.

The absence of interpreters also contributed to our disasters,
more than you might think. How, for example can one obtain
information about an unknown country, if one cannot exchange a
single word with the inhabitants? When, on the bank of the
Beresina, General Partouneaux mistook the road, and instead of
taking that leading to Studianka, took the one leading to General
Wittgenstein's position, he had with him a peasant from Borisoff,
who, not knowing a word of French, tried to indicate by signs
that the encampment was Russian, but, as he was not understood,
through lack of an interpreter we lost a fine division of 7 or
8000 men.

In very similar circumstances, during October, the 3rd Lancers,
taken by surprise, in spite of the advice of their guide, whom
they did not understand, lost two hundred men. Now the Emperor
had in his army some bodies of Polish cavalry, nearly all of
whose officers and most of their N.C.O.s. spoke fluent Russian;
but they were left in their regiments whereas some should have
been taken from each unit and attached to generals and colonels,
where they would have been extremely useful. I consider the
provision of interpreters an important but often neglected
element in military operations.

I have already commented on the major mistake that was made in
forming the two wings of the army from the Prussian and Austrian
contingents. The Emperor must have greatly regretted this,
firstly on learning that the Austrians had given passage to the
Russian army of Tchitchakoff, who then cut our line of retreat on
the banks of the Beresina, and secondly when told of the
treachery of General York, the head of the Prussian Corps. His
regret must have increased further during and after the retreat,
for if he had formed the two wings from French troops and had
taken to Moscow the Austrians and Prussians, the two latter,
having suffered their share of the hardships and the casualties
would have been as much enfeebled as all the other corps, while
Napoleon would have kept intact the French troops he had left on
the two wings. I would go even further and say that to weaken
Prussia and Austria Napoleon should have required from them
contingents triple or quadruple the size of those which they
contributed. It has been said, with hindsight, that neither of
the two states would have complied with such a demand, but I
disagree; the King of Prussia who had come to Dresden to beg the
Emperor to accept his son as an aide-de-camp would not have dared
to refuse, while Austria, in the hope of recovering some of the
rich provinces which Napoleon had snatched from her, would have
done everything to satisfy him. The overconfidence which Napoleon
had, in 1812, in the fidelity of those two states was his

It is often claimed that the fire of Moscow, for which praise is
given to the courage and resolve of the Russian government and
General Rostopschine, was the principal cause of the failure of
the 1812 campaign. This assertion seems to me to be contestable.
To begin with the destruction of Moscow was not so complete that
there did not remain enough houses, palaces, churches and
barracks to accommodate the entire army, and there is evidence of
this in a report which I have seen in the hands of my friend
General Gourgaud, who was then principal aide-de-camp to the
Emperor. It was not therefore lack of shelter which forced the
French to quit Moscow. Many people think that it was the fear of
food shortage, but this is also erroneous, for reports made to
the Emperor by M. le Comte Daru, the quartermaster-general of the
army, show that even after the fire there was in the city an
immense quantity of provisions, which would have supplied the
army for six months, so it was not the prospect of starvation
which decided the Emperor to retreat. These facts would appear to
indicate that the Russian government had failed to achieve its
aim, if this was indeed the aim it was pursuing; but in reality,
its aim was quite different.

The court wished, in fact, to deliver a mortal blow to the
ancient aristocracy of the Boyars by destroying the city which
was the centre for their continual opposition. The Russian
government, although entirely despotic, has to pay much attention
to the great nobles, whose displeasure has cost several emperors
their lives. The richest and most powerful of these noblemen made
Moscow the backdrop for their intrigues, so the government, more
and more alarmed at the growth of the city, saw in the French
invasion an opportunity for its destruction. General
Rostopschine, who was one of the authors of this plan, was
entrusted with its execution, the blame for which he later laid
on the French. But the aristocracy was not taken in: it accused
the government so loudly and manifested so much discontent at the
useless burning of its palaces that the Emperor Alexander, to
avoid a personal catastrophe, was obliged not only to permit the
rebuilding of the city, but to banish Rostopschine who, in spite
of his protestations of patriotism, died in Paris, hated by the
Russian nobility.

Whatever the motives may have been for the fire of Moscow, I
think that its preservation would have been more harmful than
useful to the French, for in order to control a city inhabited by
some 300,000 citizens always ready to revolt, it would have been
necessary to take from the army, and place as a garrison in
Moscow, 50,000 men, who, when the time came to retreat, would
have been assailed by the inhabitants, whereas the fire having
driven out almost all the populace, a few patrols were enough to
ensure tranquillity.

The only influence which Moscow had on the events of 1812 was due
to the fact that Napoleon was unable to understand that Alexander
could not sue for peace without being assassinated by his
subjects, and believed that to leave the city without a treaty
would be to admit that he was not able to hold on to it. The
French Emperor insisted, therefore, on staying as long as
possible in Moscow, where he wasted more than a month waiting in
vain for a proposal of peace. This delay was fatal for it allowed
the winter to become established before the French army could go
into cantonments in Poland. Even if Moscow had been preserved
intact it would not have made any difference; the disaster arose
because the retreat was not prepared in advance and was carried
out at the wrong time. It was not difficult to forecast that it
would be very cold in Russia during the winter!... But, I repeat,
the hope of a peace misled Napoleon and was the sole cause of his
long stay in Moscow.

The losses suffered by the Grande Armee were enormous, but they
have been exaggerated. I have already said that I have seen a
situation report, covered with notes in Napoleon's hand, which
gives the figure of those who crossed the Nieman as 325,000, of
whom 155,000 were French. Reports issued in February 1813 gave
the number of French who returned across the Nieman as 60,000,
added to this figure can be that of 30,000 prisoners returned by
the Russians after the peace of 1814. Giving a total loss of
French lives of 65,000.

The loss inflicted on my regiment was, in proportion, much
smaller. At the beginning of the campaign we had 1018 men in the
ranks and we received 30 reinforcements at Polotsk, so that I
took into Russia 1048 troopers. Of this number I had 109 killed,
77 taken prisoner, 65 injured and 104 missing. This amounted to a
loss of 355 men, so that after the return of the men whom I had
sent to Warsaw, the regiment, which from the bank of the Vistula
had been sent beyond the Elbe to the principality of Dessau, had
in the saddle 693 men, all of whom had fought in the Russian

When he saw this figure, the Emperor, who from Paris was
supervising the reorganising of his army, thought it was a
mistake, and sent the report back to me with an order to produce
a corrected version. When I returned the same figure once more,
he ordered General Sebastiani to go and inspect my regiment and
give him a nominal roll of the men present. This operation having
removed all doubt, and confirmed my report, I received a few days
later a letter from the Major-general couched in the most
flattering terms and addressed to all officers and N.C.O.s and
particularly to me, in which Prince Berthier stated that he had
been directed by the Emperor to express his Majesty's
satisfaction at the care we had taken of our men's lives, and his
praise for the conduct of all our officers and N.C.O.s.

After having had this letter read out before all the squadrons, I
had intended to keep it as a precious memento for my family, but
on further consideration, I decided that it would not be right to
deprive the regiment of a document in which was expressed the
Emperor's satisfaction with all its members, so I sent it to be
included in the regimental archive. I have frequently repented of
this, for scarcely a year had passed before the government of
Louis XVIII was substituted for that of the Emperor, and the 23rd
Chasseurs was combined with the 3rd. The archives of the two
regiments were collected together, badly cared for, and after the
total disbanding of the army in 1815, they disappeared into the
yawning gulf of the war office. I tried in vain, after the
revolution of 1830, to recover this letter, which was so
flattering to my old regiment and to me, but it could not be

Chap. 22.

The year 1813 began very badly for France. The remains of our
army, returning from Russia, had scarcely crossed the Vistula and
started to reorganise,when the treachery of General York and the
troops under his command forced us to retire beyond the Elbe, and
shortly to abandon Berlin and all of Prussia, which rose against
us, helped by the units which Napoleon had imprudently left
there. The Russians speeded up their march as much as possible,
and came to join the Prussians, whose King now declared war on
the French Emperor.

Napoleon had in northern Germany no more than two divisions,
commanded, it is true, by Augereau, but consisting mainly of
conscripts. As for those French troops who had fought in Russia,
once they were well fed and no longer slept on the snow, they
recovered their strength, and could have been used oppose the
enemy; but our cavalry were almost all without horses, very few
infantrymen had kept their weapons, we had no artillery, the
majority of the soldiers had no footwear, and their uniform was
in rags. The government had employed part of the year 1812 in
making equipment of all sorts, but owing to the negligence of the
war department, then in the hands of M. Lacuee, Comte de Cessac,
no regiment received the clothing allotted to it. The conduct of
the administration in these circumstances deserves some comment.

When a regimental depot had got together, at great expense, the
numerous items required by its active battalions or squadrons,
the administration arranged with forwarding agents the transport
of the supplies as far as Mainz, which was then part of the
Empire. These goods were in no danger while crossing France to
the bank of the Rhine; however, M. de Cessac ordered a detachment
of troops to escort them as far as Mainz. There they were handed
over to foreign agents, who were supposed to forward them to
Magdeberg, Berlin, and the Vistula, without any French
supervision. This undertaking was carried out with so much bad
faith and delay that the packages containing the supplies of
clothing and footwear took six to eight months to go from Mainz
to the Vistula, a distance they should have covered in forty

This had been no more than a serious inconvenience when the
French armies were in peaceful occupation of Germany and Poland,
but it became a calamity after the Russian campaign. More than
two hundred barges laden with supplies for our regiments were
ice-bound in the Bromberg canal, near Nackel, when we passed this
point in January 1813, but as there was, in this immense convoy,
no French agent, and as the Prussian bargees already considered
us as enemies, no one told us that these vessels were loaded with
goods. The next day the Prussians took possession of this huge
quantity of clothing and footwear and used it to equip several of
the regiments they sent against us. Although the result of this
was that the increasing cold killed a large number of French
soldiers, there are those who boast of our efficient

The lack of order in the French army's line of march as it went
through Prussia was due principally to the ineptitude of Murat,
who had assumed command after the departure of the Emperor, and
later to the feebleness of Prince Eugene de Beauharnais, the
Vice-Roi of Italy.

When the time came for us to re-cross the Elbe and enter the
territory of the Confederation of the Rhine, the Emperor, before
removing his troops from Poland and Prussia, wanted to facilitate
a return to the offensive by leaving strong garrisons in the
fortresses which could assure the crossing of the Vistula, the
Oder and the Elbe, such as Thorn, Stettin, Magdeberg, Danzig,
Dresden, etc.

This major decision on the part of the Emperor may be looked at
in two ways. So it has been praised by some knowledgeable
military observers and condemned by others.

The first party say that the need to provide a place of rest and
safety for the numerous sick and wounded, which the army brought
back from Russia, compelled the Emperor to occupy these
fortresses, which, in addition, could store a massive amount of
military equipment and foodstuffs. They add that these fortresses
hindered enemy movements and by investing them, the enemy reduced
the number of troops which could be actively employed against us;
and finally that if the reinforcements which Napoleon was
bringing from France and Germany enabled him to win a battle, the
possession of the forts would help to ensure a new conquest of
Prussia, which would bring us to the banks of the Vistula and
force the Russians to return to their country.

In reply to this it is claimed that Napoleon weakened his army by
breaking it up into so many scattered units who could not give
each other mutual assistance; that it was not necessary to
compromise the security of France in order to save a some
thousands of sick and wounded, very few of whom would return to
active service, and of whom nearly all died in the hospitals. It
was also said that the regiments of Italians, Poles, and Germans
from the Confederation of the Rhine, which the Emperor mingled
with the garrisons in order to lessen the requirement of French
units, would not be much use; and in fact almost all the foreign
troops fought very badly and ended up by going over to the enemy.
Finally it was claimed that the occupation of the forts gave very
little trouble to the Russian and Prussian armies, which, after
blockading them with an observation force, could continue their
march towards France. Which is what actually happened.

I find myself in agreement with latter of these two opinions,
because it is evident that the forts could be of use to us only
if we overcame the Russian and Prussian armies, which was a
reason for concentrating our disposable manpower rather than
dispersing it.

It might be said that as the enemy would no longer have to
blockade the forts, they would thus have an increase in their
manpower to match ours. But this is not so, for the enemy would
have to leave strong garrisons in the forts which we abandoned,
while we could make use of the men which were at present
immobilised. I may add that the defence of these useless forts
deprived the army in the field of the services of a number of
experienced generals, among others, Marshal Davout, who alone was
worth several divisions. I accept that during a campaign one must
leave behind several brigades to guard places on which the safety
of a country depends, such as Metz, Lille, and Strasbourg, in the
case of France, but the forts situated on the Vistula, the Oder,
and the Elbe, two or three hundred leagues from France, were of
only conditional importance, that is to say dependent on the
success of our army in the field. When this did not come about,
over eighty thousand men whom the Emperor had left in those
garrisons in 1812 were obliged to surrender.

The position of France in the first months of 1813 was extremely
critical, for in the south our armies in Spain had suffered some
very serious reverses due to the weakening of their strength by
the continual withdrawal of regiments, while the English
ceaselessly sent reinforcements to Wellington, who had fought a
brilliant campaign during 1812, and had captured Cuidad-Rodrigo,
Badajoz, and the fort of Salamanca, had won the battle of
Arapiles, occupied Madrid and now threatened the Pyrenees.

In the north, the numerous battle-hardened soldiers whom Napoleon
had led into Russia had nearly all died in action or of cold and
starvation. The still-intact Prussian army had just joined the
Russians, and the Austrians were on the point of following their
example. Finally, the sovereigns, and more importantly, the
people of the Germanic Confederation, stirred up by the English,
were wavering in their allegiance to France. The Prussian Baron
Stein, an able and enterprising man, took this opportunity to
publish a number of pamphlets in which he appealed to all Germans
to shake off the yoke of Napoleon and regain their liberty. This
appeal was readily received, as the passage, the accommodation,
and the maintenance of the French troops who had occupied Germany
since 1806 had occasioned great expense, to which was added the
confiscation of English merchandise, as a result of Napoleon's
continental blockade. The Confederation of the Rhine would have
defected if the rulers of the various states of which it was
composed had decided to listen to the wishes of their subjects;
but none of them dared budge, so ingrained was their habit of
obedience to the French Emperor, and so great their fear of
seeing him arrive at any moment, to head the considerable forces
which he was organising with such speed and building up
constantly in Germany.

The greater part of the French nation still had the greatest
confidence in Napoleon. Those who were well-informed blamed him,
no doubt, for having the previous year led his army to Moscow,
and in particular for having awaited the winter there, but the
mass of the people, who were used to considering the Emperor as
infallible and had no notion of the events of this campaign nor
of the losses suffered by our men, saw only the glory which the
occupation of Moscow reflected on our arms, and were more than
willing to give the Emperor the means to heap victories round his
eagles. Every department and every town gave patriotic gifts of
horses, though the numerous levies of conscripts and money soon
cooled this enthusiasm. Nevertheless, the nation complied with
reasonably good grace, and battalions and squadrons seemed to
rise out of the ground, as if by some enchantment. It was
remarkable that after all the levies of conscripts which had been
made over the last twenty years, we had never recruited a finer
body of men. There were several explanations for this.

To begin with, each of the eight hundred departments which then
existed had, for several years, maintained a company of so-called
departmental infantry, a sort of praetorian guard for the
Prefects, who made a point of selecting men of a high physical
standard for this duty. These men never left the principal towns
of the department, where they were very well housed, fed, and
clad, and as they had very few duties to perform, they were able
to build up their physical strength, for most of them led this
life for six or seven years, during which time they were
exercised regularly in the handling of arms, and in marches and
manoeuvres. They lacked only the "baptism of fire" to become
complete soldiers. These companies, depending on the importance
of the department, were of 150 to 250 men. The Emperor sent them
all to the army, where they were absorbed into the line

In the second place there was called into service a great number
of conscripts from previous years, who had by protection,
cunning, or temporary illness obtained deferment, that is to say
permission to remain at home until further orders. These older
men were nearly all strong and vigourous.

These measures were legal; but what was not was the call-up of
those who had already taken part in the ballot for conscription
and whose names had not been drawn. These people, to whom this
lottery had given the legal right to remain civilians, were
nevertheless compelled to take up arms if they were less than
thirty years old. This levy produced a large number of men fit
to support the hardships of war. There was some objection raised
to this measure, mainly in the Midi and the Vendee, but the
greater part of the contingent fell into line, so great was the
habit of obedience. This meekness on the part of the populace
enticed the government into practices even more illegal and more
dangerous withal, in that they struck at the upper class; for
after forcibly enlisting men who had been exempted by lot, the
same measure was applied to those who had quite legally paid for
a replacement, and they were forced into the army, although some
families had been financially strained and even ruined in an
attempt to save their sons, for at that time replacements cost
from 12 to 20,000 francs, which had to be paid in cash. There
were even young men who had been replaced two or three times, but
who were still forced to go, and it was not unknown for one to
find himself serving in the same company as the man he had paid
to be his substitute! This injustice was the result of advice
given by Clarke, the Minister for War and Savary, the Minister of
Police, who persuaded the Emperor that to prevent any disturbance
during the war, it was necessary to remove the sons of
influential families from the country and put them in the army,
to serve, in some respects, as hostages!... To reduce somewhat
the odium felt by the upper class towards this imposition, the
Emperor created, under the name of "Guards of Honour," four
regiments of light cavalry, specially reserved for young
gentlemen of good family. These units, which were given a
brilliant Hussar's uniform, were commanded by general officers.

To these more or less legal levies, the Emperor added the men
produced by an early conscription and a number of battalions
formed from the seamen, sailors, and gunners of the navy, all
trained men, used to handling arms and bored with the monotonous
life in port, keen to join their comrades in the army. There were
more than thirty thousand of these seamen, and it did not take
long for them to become first class infantry soldiers. Finally
the Emperor, obliged to use every means to rebuild his army, of
which the greater part had perished in the frozen wastes of
Russia, further weakened his forces in Spain by taking not only
several thousands of men to make up his guard, but several
brigades and entire divisions composed of old soldiers,
accustomed to hardship and danger.

For their part, the Russians, and particularly the Prussians,
were preparing for war. The indefatigable Baron de Stein
travelled the provinces, preaching a crusade against the French,
and organising his "Tugenbond" whose members swore to take up
arms for the liberation of Germany. This society, which stirred
up so many enemies against us, operated openly in Prussia, which
was already at war with the Emperor, and insinuated itself into
the states and armies of the Confederation of the Rhine, despite
the opposition of some sovereigns and with the tacit permission
of others, to such an extent that almost the whole of Germany
was, in secret, our enemy, and the contingents which were joined
to our military forces were prepared to betray us at the first
opportunity, as events would shortly show. These events would not
have taken so long to come about if the German's natural laxity
and sloth had not prevented them from acting sooner than they
did, for the debris of the French army which crossed the Elbe in
1812 stayed peacefully in cantonment on the left bank of the
river for the first four months of 1813, without being attacked
by the Russians and Prussians who were stationed on the opposite
bank, and who did not feel themselves strong enough to do so,
although Prussia had mobilised its landwehr, made up of all fit
men, and Bernadotte, forgetting that he was born a Frenchman, had
declared war on us, and had joined his Swedish troops to those
belonging to the enemies of his native country.

During the period which we spent on the left bank of the Elbe,
although the army received continual reinforcements, there was
still very little in the way of cavalry except for some
regiments, one of which was mine, so we had been allotted as
cantonments several communes and the two little towns of Brenha
and Landsberg, in pleasant country near Magdeberg. While we were
there I had a great disappointment. The Emperor wished to speed
the organisation of the new levies and thought that for this
purpose the temporary presence of unit commanders at their
regimental depots would be useful. So he decided that all
colonels should return to France except those who had a certain
number of men in their unit, the number fixed for the cavalry was
four hundred, and I had more than six hundred mounted men!... I
was therefore forced to stay behind, when I so much longed to
embrace my wife and the child which she had given me during my

To the disappointment which I felt was added another vexation,
the good General Castex, whom I had held in such high regard
during the Russian campaign, was to leave us and join the mounted
Grenadiers of the Guard. His brigade, and that of General
Corbineau, who had been given the position of aide-de-camp to the
Emperor, were both put in charge of General Exelmans. General
Wathiez was to replace Castex, and General Maurin to replace
Corbineau. These three generals had, however, gone to France
after the Russian campaign and I was the only colonel left, so
General Sebastiani, to whose corps the new division was to be
attached, ordered me to take over the command, which added a
great deal of work to my regimental duties, for I had to make
frequent visits, in appalling weather, to the cantonments of the
other three regiments. The wound to my knee, although it had
healed, was still painful and I did not know if I would be able
to remain on duty until the end of the winter, when after a month
General Wathiez returned to take up the command of the division.

A few days later, without my having asked, I was ordered to go to
France to organise the large number of recruits and horses which
had been sent to my regimental depot. The depot was in the
department of Jemmapes, at Mons in Belgium, which was then part
of the Empire. I left immediately and travelled quickly. I
realised that as I was authorised to go to France on duty, it
would not be acceptable for me to request even the shortest
period of leave to go to Paris, so I welcomed the offer made by
Mme. Desbrieres, my mother-in-law, to bring my wife and my son to
Mons. After a year of separation, during which I had experienced
so many dangers, it was with the greatest pleasure that I once
more saw my wife, and held in my arms our little Alfred, now
eight months old. This was one of the happiest days of my life!
The joy which I felt on holding my little son was increased by
the recollection that he very nearly became an orphan on the day
of his birth.

I spent the end of April and the months of May and June at the
depot, where I was extremely busy. Many recruits had been sent to
the 23rd, men of good physique and from a warrior race, for they
mostly came from the neighbourhood of Mons, the former province
of Hainault, from where the Austrians used to draw their finest
cavalrymen, at the time when they possessed the low countries.
These are people who love and care well for horses, but as the
horses which come from this district are a little too heavy for
Chasseurs, I obtained permission to buy some in the Ardennes,
from where we obtained a fair selection.

I found at the depot some good officers and N.C.O.s, several of
whom had been in Russia and had gone to the depot to recover from
injuries or illness, and the ministry sent me some young officers
from the school of cavalry at Saint-Cyr. From this material I
made up various squadrons, which, although not perfect, could
mingle without difficulty with the old cavalrymen from Russia
whom I had left on the banks of the Elbe, and throughout whom
they would be spread on their arrival. As soon as a squadron was
ready it was sent off to join the army.

Chap. 23.

While I was busily engaged in rebuilding my regiment, as were
many other colonels, mainly from the cavalry, who were in France
for the same reason, hostilities broke out on the Elbe, which had
been crossed by the allies.

The Emperor left Paris, and on the 25th of April he was at
Naumbourg, in Saxony, at the head of 170,000 men, of whom only a
third were French, a detachment of troops which had been sent to
Germany having not yet arrived. The other two thirds of his army
was formed of units from the Confederation of the Rhine, the
majority of which were very reluctant to fight on his behalf.
General Wittgenstein, who had gained some celebrity following our
disaster at the Beresina, although the weather did us far more
harm than his manoeuvres, was in overall command of the Russian
and German troops, a combined force of 300,000 men, which faced
Napoleon's army on the 28th of April, in the region of Leipzig.

On the 1st of May there was a sharp engagement at Poserna, in an
area where Gustavus Adolphus had died, during which Marshal
Bessieres was killed by a cannon-ball. The Emperor regretted his
death more than did the army, which had not forgotten that it was
the advice given to Napoleon by the Marshal in the evening of the
battle for Moscow which had deterred him from achieving victory
by committing his guards to the action, which had he done, it
would have changed the outcome and led to the complete
destruction of the Russian force.

The day after Bessieres' death, while Napoleon was continuing his
march towards Leipzig, he was attacked unexpectedly on the flank,
by the Russo-Prussians, who had crossed the river Elster during
the night. In this battle, which was given the name of the Battle
of Lutzen, there was some fierce fighting, in which the troops
newly arrived from France showed the greatest courage, the marine
regiments being particularly notable. The enemy, soundly beaten,
withdrew towards the Elbe, but the French, having almost no
cavalry, were able to take few prisoners and their victory was
incomplete. Nevertheless it produced a great moral effect in
Europe, and above all in France, for it showed that our troops
had retained their fighting qualities, and that only the frosts
of Russia had overcome them in 1812.

The Emperor Alexander and the King of Prussia, after being
present at Lutzen and witnessing the defeat of their armies, had
gone to Dresden, from where they had to withdraw on the approach
of the victorious Napoleon, who took possession of the town on
the 8th of May, where he was shortly joined by his ally, the King
of Saxony. After a brief stay in Dresden, the French crossed the
Elbe and pursued the Prusso-Russians, whose rear-guard they
caught up with and defeated at Bischofswerda.

The Emperor Alexander, dissatisfied with Wittgenstein, assumed
personal command of the allied armies, but having been defeated
in his turn by Napoleon at Wurtchen, it seems likely that he
recognised his lack of ability in this field, for he soon
relinquished the position.

The Russo-Prussians having come to a halt and dug in at Bautzen,
the French emperor ordered Ney to outflank their position, which
resulted in a victory on the 21st of May, which lack of cavalry
once more rendered incomplete though the enemy lost 18,000 men
and fled in disorder.

On the 22nd, the French, in pursuit of the Russians, made contact
with their rear-guard at the pass of Reichenbach. What little
cavalry Napoleon had was commanded by General Latour-Maubourg, a
most distinguished soldier, who led it with such elan that the
enemy were overwhelmed and abandoned the field after heavy
losses. Those suffered by the French, though fewer, were most
painful. The cavalry general, Bruyere, a fine officer, had both
his legs carried away and died of this dreadful injury; but the
saddest event of the day was the result of a cannon-ball which,
after killing General Kirgener (brother-in-law of Marshal
Lannes), mortally wounded Marshal Duroc, the grand marshal of the
palace, a man liked by everyone, and Napoleon's oldest and best
friend. Marshal Duroc survived for a few hours following his
injury, and the Emperor who was at his side showed every sign of
the deepest grief. Those who witnessed this melancholy scene,
noted that the Emperor, who was forced to leave his friend by the
demands of duty, parted from him in tears, having given him a
rendez-vous in "A better world!"

The French army now pressed on into Silesia, whose capital,
Breslau (Wroclaw) it occupied on the 1st of June. The allies, and
in particular the Prussians, much alarmed, realised that in spite
of their boasts, they were unable, without help, to stop the
French, and wanted to gain a respite in the hope that the
Austrians would end their hesitation and join forces with them.
They sent out envoys, given the task of soliciting an armistice
which, subject to the mediation of Austria, would lead, they
said, to a peace treaty. Napoleon thought that he should agree
to this armistice, and so it was signed on the 4th of June, to
last until the 10th of August.

While Napoleon was going from success to success, Marshal Oudinot
was defeated at Luckau, and lost 1100 men. The Emperor hoped that
during the armistice the numerous reinforcements from France
which he was awaiting, particularly the cavalry which had been
sorely missed, would make their appearance, and would take part
in a new campaign if that became unavoidable. There were,
however, several generals who regretted that the Emperor had not
followed up his victory. They argued that if the armistice
permitted us to build up our reserves, it did the same for the
Russo-Prussians, who hoped that they would be joined by the
Austrians, as well as by the Swedes, who were marching to their
aid. The former were not yet ready, but they would have more than
two months to organise and put into motion their numerous troops.

When at Mons I heard of the victories of Lutzen and Bautzen, I
was sorry not to have been there, but my regrets were diminished
when I found that my regiment had not been involved; it was, in
fact, before Magdeburg on the road to Berlin. M. Lacour, a former
aide-de-camp to General Castex, had been posted as squadron
commander to the 23rd, about the end of 1812, and he took command
of the regiment in my absence. He was a brave man, who had
acquired some education by reading, which gave him pretentions
which were out of place in a military milieu; in addition to
which his lack of experience as a commanding officer, resulted in
the regiment suffering losses which should have been avoided, and
of which I shall speak later. While I was at the depot, I gained
as second squadron commander M. Pozac, a very fine officer in all
respects who had been awarded a "sabre of honour" for his conduct
at the battle of Marengo.

Towards the end of June, all the colonels who had been sent to
France to organise the new forces, having completed this task,
were ordered to return to their posts with the army, although
hostilities would be suspended for some time. I was therefore
forced to leave my family, with whom I had passed so many happy
days, but duty called and I had to obey.

I once more took the road to Germany, and went first to Dresden,
to where the Emperor had summoned all the colonels in order to
question them about the composition of the detachments they had
sent to the army. There I learned something which annoyed me
greatly! At the depot I had organised four superb squadrons of
150 men each. The two first of which (happily the smartest and
best) had joined the regiment; the third had been taken, by
Imperial decision, and sent to Hamburg to be incorporated in the
28th Chasseurs, one of the weakest regiments in the army. This
was a lawful order, and I accepted it without complaint: but it
was not the same when I was told that the 4th squadron which I
had sent from Mons, having been noticed as it passed through
Cassel, by Jerome, the King of Westphalia, this prince had found
it so desirable that he had, on his own authority, enrolled it in
his Guard! I knew that the Emperor, very irritated that his
brother had taken it upon himself to make off with some Imperial
troops, had ordered him to send them on their way immediately,
and I had hopes that I would receive them; but King Jerome got
hold of some of the Emperor's aides, who represented to his
Majesty that as the King of Westphalia's Guard was composed
entirely of Germans, who were not by any means to be relied upon,
it was right that he should have a French squadron on whose
loyalty he could count; in the second place the King had, at much
expense, equipped the squadron with the brilliant uniform of
Hussars of his Guard; and finally, that even without this
squadron, the 23rd would still be the strongest regiment in the
French cavalry. Whatever the reason, my squadron remained in the
Westphalian guard, in spite of my loud protests. I could not get
over this loss, and found it supremely unjust that I should be
deprived of the fruits of my trouble and labour.

I rejoined my regiment not far from the Oder in the region of
Zagan, where it was in cantonment in the little town of
Freistadt, as was Exelman's division, of which it was a part.

During our stay in this area, a curious incident occurred. A
trooper by the name of Tantz, the only bad character in the
regiment, having got thoroughly drunk, threatened an officer who
had ordered him to be put in the police cell. Put before a
court-martial he was found guilty, condemned to death and the
sentence confirmed. Now when the guard, commanded by
Warrant-officer Boivin, went to fetch Tantz to take him to the
place where he was to be shot, they found him in the cell
completely naked, on the pretext that it was too hot.

The warrant-officer, a brave fellow, but one whose brains did not
match his courage, instead of making him dress, told him to wrap
himself in a cloak. However, having arrived on the draw-bridge
across the large moat which surrounded the chateau, Tantz threw
the cloak in the faces of the guard, leapt into the moat which he
swam across, and having reached the other side made off to join
the enemy on the opposite bank of the Oder. We never heard
anything more of him!... I broke the warrant-officer for being
so careless, but he soon regained his rank, by an act of bravery
which I shall describe shortly.

The squadrons which I had recently added to the regiment, brought
its strength up to 993 men, of whom almost 700 had fought in the
Russian campaign. The newly arrived soldiers were a well-built
body of men who had nearly all come from the departmental legion
of Jemmapes, which made it easier to train them as cavalrymen; I
incorporated the newcomers in the older squadrons. Both sides
were preparing for the coming struggle but our opponents had made
good use of their time, and had presented us with a powerful
adversary by persuading the Austrians to take up arms against us.

The Emperor Napoleon, whom numerous victories had accustomed to
taking little account of his enemies, believed himself to be once
more invincible, when he saw himself in Germany at the head of
300,000 men, but he did not examine sufficiently closely the
composition of the forces with which he was about to oppose the
whole of Europe, united against him.

The French army had received an intake of fine quality recruits,
and had never looked better; but with the exception of some
regiments, the majority of these new soldiers had never been in
action, and the disasters of the Russian campaign had generated
an uneasy feeling in the corps, the effects of which were still
felt. Our superb army was better suited to being put on show to
obtain terms, than to being engaged, at this moment, in combat.
Nearly all the generals and colonels, who saw the regiments at
close quarters, were of the opinion that they needed some years
of peace. If one were to pass from the French army to an
examination of those of her allies, one would see nothing but
apathy, ill-will and the wish for an opportunity to betray
France! Everything should have led Napoleon to treat with his
enemies, and to do this he should have first settled with his
father-in-law, the Emperor of Austria, by giving back to him
Dalmatia, Istria, the Tyrol, and some of the other provinces
which he had seized in 1805 and 1809. Some concessions of this
sort offered to Prussia would have quietened the allies who, it
seems, were willing to return to Napoleon the colonies which had
been taken from France and to guarantee his occupation of all the
provinces this side of the Rhine and the Alps, and also upper
Italy; but in return he would have to give up Spain, Poland,
Naples, and Westphalia. These terms were acceptable; but at a
conference with the diplomats sent to discuss them, Napoleon was
rude to M. Metternich, the principal member of the delegation,
and sent them away without any concessions. It is said that as he
saw them leave the palace of Dresden, he remarked "We'll give
them a sound thrashing!" The Emperor seemed to forget that the
enemy armies were almost three times the size of his own forces.
He had, in fact, no more than 320,000 men in Germany, while the
allies could put in the line almost 800,000 fighting men.

The Emperor's birthday was on the 15th of August, but he ordered
that it should be celebrated in advance, because the armistice
ended on the 10th. The rejoicings of Saint-Napoleon's day then
took place in the cantonments. This was the last time that the
French army celebrated the birthday of its Emperor! There was not
much enthusiasm, for even the least perceptive of officers was
aware that we were on the brink of a catastrophe, and the worries
of the commanders affected the morale of their subalterns.
However each one prepared to do his duty, though with little hope
of success, in view of the great inferiority in numbers of our
army as opposed to the innumerable troops of the enemy. Already,
among our allies of the Confederation of the Rhine, the Saxon
General Thielmann had deserted with his brigade to join the
Prussians, after trying to hand over to them the fortress of
Torgau. Among our troops there was much uneasiness and lack of

It was at this time that one heard of the return to Europe of
General Moreau who, condemned to banishment after the conspiracy
of Pichegru and Cadoudal, had retired to America. The hatred
which Moreau had for Napoleon made him forget the duty he owed to
his country. He soiled his reputation by ranging himself with the
enemies of France; however, it was not long before he paid the
price of this infamous conduct.

Now an immense semi-circle was formed around the French army. A
body of 40,000 Russians was in Mecklemberg; Bernadotte, the
Prince Royal of Sweden, occupied Berlin and the surrounding
district with an army of 120,000 men, composed of Swedes,
Russians, and Prussians. Two great Russian and Prussian armies,
220,000 men strong, of whom 35,000 were cavalry, were in Silesia
between Schweidnitz and the Oder; 40,000 Austrians were stationed
at Lintz, and the main Austrian army of about 140,000 men was
concentrated in Prague; finally, a short distance behind this
front line of 560,000 combatants, an enormous body of reserves
was ready to march.

The distribution of his troops made by Napoleon was as follows:
70,000 men were concentrated around Dahmen in Prussia, to oppose
Bernadotte; Marshal Ney with 100,000 occupied part of Silesia. A
corps of 70,000 was in the region of Zittau. Marshal Saint-Cyr
with 16,000 men occupied the camp at Pirna and gave cover to
Dresden. Finally the Imperial Guard, 20 to 25,000 strong was
spread round this capital, ready to go wherever was necessary.
Including the troops left in the garrisons of the forts, the
troops at Napoleon's disposal were infinitely fewer than those of
the enemy. This enumeration did not include the forces left in
Spain and Italy.

Chap. 24.

The French Emperor had divided his army into 14 Corps, called
infantry, although they each contained at least a brigade of
light cavalry. The commanding generals were as follows:--

1 Corps. Gen. Vandamme.

2 Corps. Marshal Victor.

3 Corps. Marshal Ney.

4 Corps. Gen. Bertrand.

5 Corps. Gen. Lauriston.

6 Corps. Marshal Marmont.

7 Corps. Gen. Reynier.

8 Corps. Prince Poniatowski.

9 Corps. Marshal Augereau.

10 Corps. (confined in Danzig) Gen. Rapp.

11 Corps. Marshal Macdonald.

12 Corps. Marshal Oudinot.

13 Corps. Marshal Davout.

14 Corps. Marshal Saint-Cyr.

Finally came the Guard, under the direct orders of the Emperor.

The cavalry was divided into 5 Corps, commanded by 1. Gen.
Latour-Mauberg, 2. Gen. Sebastiani, 3. Gen. Arrighi, 4. Gen.
Kellermann. 5. Gen. Milhau. The cavalry of the Guard was
commanded by general Nansouty.

The army, as a whole, approved of some of these appointments but
disapproved of others. They disliked such important posts being
given to Oudinot, who had made more than one mistake during the
Russian campaign, to Marmont, whose rashness had lost the battle
of Arpiles, to Sebastiani, who did not seem equal to the task,
and finally it was regretted that for a campaign which was to
decide the destiny of France, the Emperor had seen fit to try out
the strategic talents of Lauriston and Bertrand. The first was a
good artillery officer, and the second an excellent engineer, but
neither had directed troops in the field, and so lacked the
experience needed to command an army Corps.

Napoleon, recalling that when he was named as commander-in-chief
of the army of Italy, he had hitherto commanded only some
battalions, which had not prevented him from successfully filling
the post, probably believed that Lauriston and Bertrand could do
the same thing. But men of such universal talent as Napoleon are
rare, and he could not hope that his new corps commanders could
follow his example. It is thus that the personal affection which
he felt for these generals led him to commit once more the error
which he had previously made in giving command of an army to the
artilleryman Marmont.

The history of past wars shows quite clearly that to be
commander-in-chief, theoretical knowledge will not suffice, and
with a very, very few exceptions, it is necessary to have served
in an infantry or cavalry unit and to have commanded one in the
rank of colonel, to be competent to direct masses of men in the
field. This is a basic training which very few men can acquire as
generals or as commanders of an army. Louis XIV never confided
the command of troops in the open country to Marshal de Vauban,
who was, however, one of the most able men of his century, and
one presumes that if he had been offered the post, Vauban would
have turned it down in order to concentrate on his own specialty,
which was the attack and defence of fortresses. Marmont and
Bertrand, lacked this modesty, and the affection which Napoleon
had for them prevented him from listening to any observations on
the subject.

King Murat, who had gone to Naples after the Russian campaign,
rejoined the Emperor at Dresden. The coalition, that is to say
the Austrians, Russians, and Prussians, opened the campaign with
an act of bad faith, unworthy of civilised nations. Although
under the terms of the previous convention, hostilities should
not have begun until the 16th of August, they attacked our
outposts on the 14th, and put the greater part of their forces in
motion after the defection of Jomini.

Until this time, only the two Saxon generals, Thielmann and
Langueneau, had, shamefully, changed sides, but no general
wearing French uniform had sullied it in such a manner. It was a
Swiss, General Jomini, who was the first to do so. Jomini was a
simple clerk, on a salary of 1200 francs, in the ministerial
offices of the Republic of Helvetia, when, in 1800, General Ney
was sent to Berne by the First Consul to discuss with the Swiss
government the defence of their state, which was then our ally.
The duties of the clerk Jomini, which involved dealing with
confidential government documents, put him in contact with
General Ney, who was thus in a position to appreciate his
outstanding ability, and, yielding to his urgent requests, he
arranged for him to admitted as lieutenant, and shortly captain,
in the Swiss regiment which was being formed to serve with the
French army. General Ney took an increasing interest in his
protege. He had him enrolled as a French officer, took him as an
aide-de-camp and gave him the means to publish works which he had
written on the art of war, works which, although over-valued, are
not without some merit.

Thanks to protection of this kind, Jomini advanced rapidly to the
rank of colonel and brigadier-general, and at the resumption of
hostilities in 1813 was chief-of-staff to Marshal Ney. Seduced,
however, by the extravagant promises made by the Russians, he
deserted, in possession of much information about Napoleon's
plans of campaign. It was fear that, on hearing of this
defection, Napoleon would change these plans that induced the
allies to commence hostilities two days before the date agreed
for the ending of the armistice. To the surprise of everyone, the
Emperor Alexander rewarded the treacherous Jomini by taking him
as an aide-de-camp, which is said to have outraged the delicate
susceptibilities of the Austrian Emperor.

The information which Jomini was able to give the allies was a
serious blow to Napoleon, for several of his corps were attacked
in the course of moving into position and had to give up a number
of important points for lack of time to prepare their defence.
However, the Emperor, whose plan it was to move into Bohemia,
finding that his opponents were forewarned and on their guard
against this, resolved to attack the Prussian army in Silesia,
and re-engage in the offensive those troops which had been
compelled to retreat before Blucher. In consequence Napoleon
arrived at Lwenberg on the 20th of August, where he attacked a
considerable force of the allies consisting of Prussians,
Austrians, and Russians. Various actions took place on the 21st,
22nd, and 23r, in the areas of Goldberg, Graditzberg, and
Bunzlau. The enemy lost 7000 men killed or taken prisoner, and
retired behind the Katzbach.

During one of the numerous engagements which took place during
these three days, Wathiez's brigade, which was pursuing the
enemy, was held up by a wide and swift-flowing stream, a
tributary of the Bobr. There was no way of crossing except by two
wooden bridges about a quarter of a mile apart, which were
covered by Russian artillery fire. The 24th Chasseurs, who had
passed into the command of the gallant Colonel Schneit, having
received the order to attack the left hand bridge, advanced to
the assault with their usual courage, but it was a different
matter when it came to the 11th (Dutch) Hussars, recently
incorporated into the brigade. Ordered to take the right hand
bridge, their Colonel M. Liegeard, the only Frenchman in the
unit, called in vain on his troops to follow him, they were so
overcome by fear that not one of them moved. As my regiment,
which was in the second line, was being subjected to as much fire
as the 11th Hussars, I hastened to the side of their colonel to
give him some help in urging his men to attack the enemy
artillery, which was the only way of stopping the cannonade, but
when I saw that I would have no success, and that the cowardice
of the Hollanders would result in many casualties in my regiment,
I led my troops to the front of them and was about to move into
the attack when I saw the bridge on the left collapse under the
first section of men from the 24th, throwing them into the river
where several men and horses were drowned. The Russians, during
their withdrawal, had prepared this trap by sawing so cunningly
through the main timbers supporting the bridge that, unless one
were warned, it was impossible to see what had been done.

The sight of this disaster made me fear that the same treatment
had been given to the bridge towards which I was leading my men,
so I called a halt in order to arrange an inspection. This was a
dangerous undertaking, for not only was the bridge within range
of the enemy guns, but it was also within range of the muskets of
an infantry battalion. I was about to call for a volunteer for
this perilous task, when warrant-officer Boivin, whom I had
recently demoted for negligently allowing the Chasseur condemned
to death to escape, got off his horse and coming to me said,
rather than risking the life of one of his comrades, would I
please permit him to carry out the mission, in order to redeem
his mistake. Pleased with this courageous declaration, I said,
"Go then, and you will recover your epaulets at the end of the

Boivin went forward and, ignoring cannon-balls and bullets, he
examined the superstructure of the bridge and its supports and
returned to assure me that it was in order and that the regiment
could cross. I thereupon re-instated him in his rank. He
remounted his horse and placing himself at the head of the
squadron which was about to cross the bridge he led the way
towards the Russians, who did not wait for us to attack, but
withdrew smartly. The month following, when the Emperor reviewed
the regiment and awarded several promotions, I had Boivin made a

Our new brigade commander, General Wathiez, was able during the
these various actions to win the affection and regard of the
troops. As for the divisional commander, General Exelmans, we
knew only his reputation in army circles which was that of a man
of outstanding bravery; but he was also regarded as being
somewhat unreliable. We had proof of this in an event which
occurred at the re-commencement of hostilities.

At a time when the division was carrying out a withdrawal, to
which my regiment was giving cover, General Exelmans, on the
pretext that he was about to lay a trap for the Prussian advance
guard, ordered me to place at his disposal my elite company and
25 of my best marksmen, whom he put under the command of Major
Lacour; then he put these 150 men in a meadow surrounded by
woodland, and after telling them not to move without his
permission, he went off and completely forgot them!... The enemy
arrived, and seeing the detachment abandoned in this manner, they
halted, fearing that it had been put there to lure them into an
ambush. To reassure themselves, they sent some individual men to
slip into the wood, on the right and left, and when they heard no
sound of gunfire, they gradually built up the number until they
had completely surrounded our troopers. It was in vain that
several officers pointed out to Major Lacour that this movement
was going to cut off his retreat; Lacour, brave but lacking
initiative, stuck rigidly to the order he had been given, without
considering that General Exelmans might have forgotten him and
that it might be as well to send someone to remind him, and at
least to reconnoitre the terrain over which he might be able to
retreat. He had been ordered to stay there, and he would stay
there even if his men were killed or taken prisoner!

While Major Lacour was carrying out his instructions in the
manner of a simple sergeant rather than that of a senior officer,
the division marched into the distance! General Walthiez and I,
when we saw that the detachment did not return, and not knowing
how to contact General Exelmans, who was galloping across
country, had serious misgivings. I then asked permission from
General Walthiez to return to Major Lacour, and on receiving it I
left at the gallop with a squadron and arrived just in time to
see a most distressing sight, particularly for a commanding
officer who cared for his soldiers.

The enemy, having infiltrated both flanks and even the rear of
our detachment, had mounted a frontal attack by a greatly
superior force, so that some 700 to 800 Prussian lancers
surrounded our 150 men, whose only way of retreat was over a
wretched footbridge of wooden planks which joined the two steep
banks of a nearby mill-stream. Our horsemen could cross here only
one by one so that there was congestion, and the elite company
lost several men. A number of riders then noticed a large
farmyard which they thought might lead to the mill-stream, and in
the hope of finding a bridge they entered it, followed by the
rest of the detachment. The stream did, in fact, run past the
farmyard, but it there formed the mill-pool, the banks of which
were lined by slippery flagstones, making access extremely
difficult for horses. This gave the enemy a great advantage, and
in an attempt to capture all the French who had entered this huge
yard, they closed the gates.

It was at this critical moment that I appeared on the other side
of the stream with the squadron which I had hurriedly brought
with me. I ordered them to dismount, and while one man held four
horses, the rest, armed with their carbines, ran to the
footbridge, which was guarded by a squadron of Prussians. The
Prussians being on horseback and having only a few pistols as
firearms, were unable to reply to the sustained fire from the
carbines of our Chasseurs, and were forced to remove themselves
to a distance of several hundred paces, leaving behind some forty
dead and wounded.

The troops who had been shut in the farmyard wanted to take
advantage of this momentary respite to force the main gate and
make a rush for it on horseback; but I called to them not to
attempt it, because to join me they would have had to cross the
footbridge, which they could do only one by one, and at this
point they would offer a target to the Prussians who would
undoubtedly charge and destroy them. The river banks were
garnished by many trees, amongst which an infantrymen can easily
withstand the attacks of cavalry, so I placed the dismounted men
along the riverside, and once they were in communication with the
mill's yard, I passed a message to the men there to dismount
also, take their carbines, and while a hundred of them held off

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