Napoleon Series Archive 2015

Re: Particulars Regarding Grouchy's Army

I think you mix a bit different topics:

Nothing really unusual, since that was the standard Napoleonic response from the beginning; in 1796 Italy his orders are filled with demands to "make examples." Terrorizing the local populace into submission was a basic Napoleonic operating principle.

It was standard procedure of all armies of the period (at least): see Scotland 1746, Ireland 1796, Praga suburb 1794, Naples 1798, and the popular revolt of 1830 and 1848.

2) As far as I can see, it was standard procedure for the Napoleon's Armies to live off the land and to plunder anything and everything along the way. This was not an accident but was instead part of N's basic strategy which enabled his forces to move quickly and not be as burdened with the requirement of having to feed and provide for his soldiers. The basic soldier in N's army was a master as foraging for himself; after all, he had to be or would have starved along the way. While this strategy was a tremendous advantage for Napoleon it was also, IMO, a basic flaw that eventually resulted in the entire population of his conquered countries rising up against him.

Standard procedure of Napoleon's Armies was to take contribution from the country, be it allied or foe. This improved mobility against 18th armies which accumulated supplies in fortresses before moving, and had to wait convoys to move on.
Contribution is not pillage, it is required from local authorities beforehand and acknowledged by documents - though at the end, it is the defeated foe who is supposed to reimburse. Contribution required also a lot of organisation and planification, Napoleon's letters are full of logistic problems, he organised the first fully militarised transport units. Fastness of movements or poor country could make the supply system to collapse, and the soldiers would go to pillage. But it has more to do with military and political situation than carelessness: campaign in polish winter did not see large scale pillaging and revolts, while it was common in much richer, but defiant, Spain.

I see an even more basic flaw in the French military attitude of that time which is highlighted by the word "pekin" that Sir Walter Scott mentions. Pekin was the word that the French soldiers used for anyone who was not military. In effect, anyone (regardless of country.. even French) was not equal in any way to a military person. It was a direct response to the eventual results of this attitude that animated and filled the Prussian, Brunswick, Russian, etc, armies with rage and a thirst for vengeance.

Contempt for civilians by militaries were not specific to french. Prussians for example had a lasting reputation on this point.

The peasants were, of course, non political but they certainly knew who was directly responsible for the death of loved ones and the destruction of their villages and farms. The general lack of respect for religion also played a role. While the French may have seen the local church as a handy building for their horses, this one habit alone burned in the minds of the local peasants who came to see N. as the embodiment of the anti-christ..

Lack of respect of religion, killings, villages destruction could fuel hatred in region were french armies repressed popular uprising : southern Italy, Spain, Tyrol.
In Germany, it was rather arbitrary change of frontiers, french civilians leading administration, heavy custom, rents paid to french statesmen, conducting to depressed economy and censorship of any protest, which fueled patriotic movement. Nothing to do with campaigning armies.

I think that France was actually very fortunate that Napoleon lost at Waterloo. If he had won; the Prussian, Russian, Austrians would have eventually finished the job and the entire French nation would have paid a heavy price. In 1815, N's time was over. The only question was how it would end not if it would end..

Allied sovereigns actually sent their armies into France in 1814 and 1815, and never permitted them to retaliate for french occupation.
Their major fear was to provoke a new kind of 1793 "Nation in arms" which would have been of major diplomatic and political problem both in France and in their own countries.

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