Napoleon Series Archive 2015

Waterloo Campaign - June 13th Part 1

Napoleon reached Avesnes on the 13th, and learned of Soult's (boo boo)(backstabbing) and immediately corrective orders were issued. Responding to Soult’s orders of the 12th, the III Corps bivouacked the night of the 13th outside of Beaumont. Napoleon countermanded the corrective order when it was clear III Corps had already made too much progress. From this point forward, IV Corps would alone constitute the right column, and Vandamme’s III Corps was now the lead infantry corps of the center column.
Considering that the right and center were not expected to encounter much resistance, especially considering the surprise, this must not have been too alarming. The army was going to converge near Charleroi, and it would be easy enough to redress once across the Sambre.
The Cavalry reached their assigned positions by the evening of the 13th, though some had significant forced marches.
I Corps and II Corps moved to their appointed positions, but not without more defections.
The VI Corps bivouacked around Beaufort with the 21st division trailing below Avesnes.
The IV Corps, originally ordered for Mariembourg, had responded to Soult’s orders and veered towards Beaumont. However, as Napoleon’s intentions had not been followed, IV Corps was not consolidated around Philippeville nor ready for the start of the campaign. The 14th division was near Chimay on the evening of the 13th with the 12th division following closely behind. The 13th division reached Rimogne, south of Rocroi, which was south of Mariembourg. As a result of IV Corps’ delay, as well as that of the Cavalry reserve, Napoleon postponed the start of the campaign until June 15th.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is your "Brilliant Concentration" that precedes the commencement of hostilities.

Even though there is a final day to go, and much much more to reveal, let's first review.

I do agree that the plan was brilliant. Plans do not need to be complex to be brilliant! This plan was to move the interior Corps of the Guard and VI in relatively straight line up a major road. The Young guard had to join along the way, and a division of VI Corps was doing I think recruiting duty in the northwest and had to consolidate and then hustle to Avesnes. IV Corps had the most difficult job, a lateral move across the country... yet it was no big force-march! There was plenty of time to complete the maneuver and get to Phlippeville, though Napoleon adjusted that to Mariembourg on the 10th, which made it slightly easier.

My point is - wow, what a screw-up....

But the delay of IV Corps could have been a vague or poorly written order. Many have criticized Soult of poorly written orders. Further, it could have been Gérard that misinterpreted a wonderfully written order. Lettow-Vorbeck saw the order, mentioned one of the words it contained, but it has since vanished. I would ask the reader to keep a tally of those orders/dispatches that were seen in the early 1900s that have since vanished... this will be revisited at the end of the story.

Soult's rewriting of the order of the 10th is harder to explain - but let's try.

Explanation 1: Soult was aware of conditions which made Napoleon's order impractical/not feasible/not desired/etc. and took it upon himself as Major Général to change it. These conditions could be provisions, roads, you name it.

The challenge with this is that there is nothing to support it. Later orders will discuss road repair, but are specifically north of the French positions through the frontier.

Further, why wouldn't Soult take it upon himself and his lofty position to correct whatever deficiency would cause him to change Napoleon's orders?

Explanation 2: Napoleon spread a rumor (and I really don't know how, though many sources on both sides of the aisle talk about it) of an advance through Mons with a feint towards Charleroi. Could Soult have been fooled by this himself? Hence one would look at the dispositions Soult ordered and imagine a north western advance, with I Corps' move east (which was noticed) to draw attention and sell the advance via Charleroi. In this plan, a light cavalry corps and an infantry division (or even a Corps) could have moved on Charleroi as a demonstration, but also to block any allied counter moves.

There is nothing to support this - but would there be? Napoleon didn't address anything about the incidents of the concentration, so whatever Soult told him his lost to history. Whatever Soult has written about 1815 the Reille-Soult family still has not released (shameful!!!!) but I doubt he would have bothered to lament this type of mistake.

I find this a tortured explanation - Soult had the orders of Napoleon versus some rumor which certainly didn't come in the hand of Bertrand with detailed dispositions... but if that did exist and somehow fell into Wellington's possession (maybe via that relative in Paris that was buddying up with some of Napoleon's inner circle) it would further explain Wellington's fixation on Mons, and I don't think Wellington would have revealed it. I am curious what others think of this possibility?

Explanation 3: On June 4th, according to Lettow-Vorbeck, who got the story from Baron Stoffel, who had an uncle on Soult's staff, Soult wrote Napoleon and suggested an advance on the Sambre in two columns, where III and IV Corps would form the right column. Lettow-Vorbeck thought that this could explain Soult's order change, but felt that since the change did not match the letter, and it would be insubordination as well, he did not endorse it. Oosterman thought Soult was motivated by his own plan as well, but still concluded it was inexcusable and very harmful.

(Here I want to make a note - I am very mindful of how powerful selective quotations are in revisionist books. I am very mindful of how translations can be played with to change tone and meaning. Hence, in my book, I include over 100 pieces of correspondence - everything I could find between Napoleon/Soult and subordinates. And a few pieces between ranks that substantiate important movements. I did not include, for example, all that Grouchy included between his HQ and his subordinates for their activities of June 17/18 because that was out of scope of the work. Not only do I include these translated dispatches, I include the original French, and web links to all the sources. I then traveled to Paris and personally met with individuals who have spent a lot of time in the archives and further validated my sources. Then, when it came to narratives, such as Lettow-Vorbeck, I include many pages of his work to give the full context of each event from these works that are relevant, and again, I include the original native language, and a translation. I further include refutations of my thesis, such as Janin's long passage that denies treason had anything to do with the Waterloo defeat, again in original French and translated. I do this because I think the facts speak for themselves. However, I did not include Oosterman's text in my work as it basically references Lettow-Vorbeck. But it is in the bibliography, with links to the text. And here is a link to one of the two parts of his article, this one dealing with this subject:

Because we don't have this particular correspondence, it is difficult to judge. But imagine if Soult had said, "Sire, I'm going to do this... don't bother responding if you think it is a great idea!" Napoleon doesn't respond, and then the order of June 10th comes in written by Bertrand, and Soult assumes Bertrand is wrong. Again, it is possible, what do others think?

Explanation 4: Soult was honest. Soult was honest when he said (paraphrasing) "I hate that tyrant Napoleon." Said it on March 8th, and said it in his Justification after Waterloo. He had an angry confrontation with Napoleon on March 26th (according to General Evain) and told Napoleon, "You broke the treaties, you come to bring to France civil and foreign war."

Soult had poor character. His loyalties flapped in the wind. He kissed up to the Monarchy in a nauseating fashion during the 1st Restoration, and when he was permitted back in France in 1819. There isn't enough room in this posting to list his behaviors and acts.

Soult's ambition was insatiable. The Moniteur published in April that, "It is known that for a long time the ambition of Marshal Soult was to succeed Berthier as Major General."

In Hobhouse's April 18th diary entry he writes of a rumor that Soult desired to"... embroil the military and civiliarns as to create a distrubance and offer himself for the Crown."

His nickname of Nicolas (which wasn't his name, but was a nasty slang against people implying their dishonesty, one can find caricatures of Napoleon being called Nicolas! His birth certificate is available on the web, I don't have the link handy.) seems to have derived from his intrigues trying to get an Iberian crown.

When the King excluded Soult from the Peers during 1st restoration, the listed reason was, “…the most consummate of Napoleon’s lieutenants, suspected of a personal ambition, reaching even to the throne, and who had prolonged the struggle at Toulouse, by a battle fought, it was said, more for his own popularity than for the country." Sure this might be parroting British propaganda, but point was, Soult's ambition was well known.

In fact, it followed him. Decades later while serving in Louis-Philippe’s government, Soult continued to make a spectacle of himself with his unrestrained ambition:

It is well known that, in their familiar communications, the king and the Duke of Orleans professed, at that time, the most sovereign contempt for Marshal Soult, and often amused themselves with laughing at the gasconading efforts of that minister to get himself appointed president of the council.

And in 1815, Soult would give orders to the Prince de la Moskow, Duc d'Elchingen, and quarreled with the Prince d'Eckmühl, Duc d'Auerstaedt, all titles for MILITARY GLORY!!! (that's for you Susuan :) ) and yet he was the DUKE OF DALMATIA! THANK YOU NAPOLEON! WOO HOO! Don't sell Dalmatie short, folks, I hear they have great, eh, um, there, and as soon as I visit, eh, there, I'm gonna, yeah, eh, leave. It was a title given because it was available for a place Soult had never been.

From the biography in Dicionnaire Napoleon sous la direction de Jean Tulard by the very well respected Jacques Garner:

SOULT (Jean de Dieu, duc de Dalmatie), 1769-1851, maréchal de France. Few characters are more difficult to understand than that of Marshal Soult. The judgment of his contemporaries of him is not always gentle. Thus Marshal Marmont: “I had, for the character of Marshal Soult, the common conviction and keeping with his reputation; thus I had little confidence in his loyalty. Junot, with whom I was always very close since my early youth, and who had true and deep attachment for me, said to me, at the moment when we separated in Castille: “You will have frequent associations with Soult. Your points of contact will be multiplied. Stand up to him, act with prudence; take precautions; because, I give you assurance of it, if he can, at whatever price, bring you great misfortunes, he will not miss it! It is because I had the occasion to know him well that I advise you.” ”Général Thiébault: “Lieutenant General Count Delaborde, spirit of Porto, said to me in Burgos (1809) while speaking about Marshal Soult and in his own words: “This guy is from the race of the crows, he fears the powder.” The general of Girard’s division, killed at Waterloo, told me that in Andalusia, the Marshal having been pressed by him to go to the angle of a wall to see one of the enemy’s operations, he went there on four legs.” General Lamarque: “In passing through the first salon of M. Marshal Soult, I examined this beautiful painting of the Assumption of the Virgin, most outstanding masterpiece, they say, of all, by Raphaël, and I recall a story that someone told me and I relate in turn. It is said that a patron, admiring this painting, dared to ask the Marshal what he had paid for it. “It costs me only two cordeliers. - How is that? - Yes, two Cordeliers.” And His Excellence told the patron that two monks found compromised in a conspiracy were going to be hung, when the community offered to redeem them with this beautiful painting. The Marshal was moved, he accepted the painting and the two cordeliers were not hung.”
He was a good general, composed, with a sharp eye, but his character seems not to have been at the height of military form. He was the “adulator” of all the powers, and was even accused of removing from the archives the documents which were likely to disserve him. His morals were not safe from criticism: he was certainly one of the marshals who had taken the most plunder of the conquered countries, especially of Spain.

When Soult was Minister of War during the 1st Restoration, he persecuted veterans of the Imperial army, enforced an internal exile, and of course brought Exelmans to trial even after he had been first cleared. He was hated by the imperial veterans, and he certainly demonstrated he had no respect for them.

Here I submit that there is a strong indictment of Soult across many decades from many sources. In June of 1815, many in France did not believe the Bourbons would be restored. Fouché may have been working for an Orleans monarchy, or even a republic. Louis-Philippe (and sister) may have been involved (Munro Price uses some contemporary primary documents to show Louis-Philippe was, as his cousin suspected, angling for many decades. When Napoleon landed, he joked he did not depose Louis XVIII, but Louis-Philippe!)

Hence, had Napoleon been defeated, and his army wrecked, Soult was positioned to possibly replace Napoleon as supreme military personality in France, and maybe even run the country, or at the very least gain a very high political role.

1815 was a year of intrigue - it was a civil war - as they say, treason was a matter of dates, and also a matter of who won. Imagining Soult was one of the many that worked against Napoleon is not far fetched.

Most importantly, when we review his actions, including the several to come, it is also the most simple explanation for the man who during the July Monarchy, became Prime Minister of France and ended his life as Marshal General of France alongside Turenne, Villars, and Saxe.

And the battle he told people he was most proud of - Toulouse, where he faced and defeated Wellington. (note - it doesn't matter what we think of Toulouse, it is what Soult thought that matters in this case.)

And if Soult believed an Orelans Monarchy was possible in July of 1815 rather than July of 1830, he very well may have used his position as Major Général to undermine Napoleon.

So you say, is there any evidence of this?


And worse is still to come...

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Waterloo Campaign - June 13th Part 1
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