INS: Journal Of Napoleonic Scholarship 1997

André Masséna, Prince D'Essling, in the Age of Revolution

(1789-1815) [1]

By Donald D. Horward
Florida State University

During the Revolutionary period of European history an unusual number of brilliant young officers rose to positions of command in the armies of France. Some of them were accomplished strategists, tacticians, administrators, engineers, and artillerists, while others were brilliant field commanders. Among the latter was André Masséna, who proved to be one of Napoleon's most talented and reliable army commanders. Indeed, he has often been ranked second only to Napoleon himself, but few are familiar with his feats on the battlefield or his career. His enemies are well know: Marshal Alexandre Suvorov, often regarded as the founder of the modern Russian army; Archduke Charles von Habsburg who gave Napoleon many anxious moments on the battlefield; and Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who played a major role in Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo. Each faced Masséna on the field of battle, but only Wellington could claim decisive victory against him. In Europe, friend and foe alike honored the name "Masséna" because there were few who exhibited such military talents. Today boulevards, streets, parks, and squares in France carry his name, his titles, and his victories; in fact, a magnificent bust of Masséna stands in the great hall of the Duke of Wellington's castle at Stratfield Saye. It is not there by accident.

Many of Napoleon's generals were trained at the finest French and European military academies, but Masséna was among those who achieved greatness without benefit of formal education. This, however, does not imply that he was poorly educated in the art of war or lacked administrative abilities. While those of noble rank acquired their education and promotions as a matter of privilege, Masséna rose from humble origins to such prominence that Napoleon referred to him as "the greatest name of my military Empire." [2]

Through self-education, talent, courage, sheer tenacity, sang-froid, and an extraordinary commitment, he set himself apart from the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who marched in the French armies. Promoted through the ranks from private to general, he gained unique insights into the operations of war at each command level. Through his various commands over a period of thirty-five years, he improved his understanding of warfare and his ability to command and motivate men. Despite his marginal education, his vast experience and extraordinary talents made him one of the truly great commanders in French history.

Masséna was born in the Italian county of Nice in 1758 and raised in poverty. Following his father's death in 1764, his formal education ended. When his mother remarried, he was sent to live with relatives. He first stayed at Levens with his grandmother, Madame Lecréce Blanc; upon her death, he moved to Nice to live with an uncle, Agostino, who put him to work as a soap maker. With his cousins, especially François, four years his senior, he began to develop an interest in physical activity; joining his fellow street urchins, he organized a gang in the St. Jacques region of the city and carried on a gang war with the bands in the Bourgarde district. Fighting pitched battles with sticks and stones, he roamed the obscure streets at night. Young Masséna was a "terrible child." With little guidance he became hyperactive and rebellious. When his cousins left for Toulon, he decided to escape the drudgery of his job by running away to sea. At thirteen, he shipped out as a cabin boy aboard a merchantman commanded by a relative. After plying the Mediterranean for four years and sailing on two extended voyages to French Guiana, he returned to Nice to seek his fortune. [4]


André Masséna

In 1794, upon the urging of an uncle, Marcel Masséna, an adjutant in the Royal Italian regiment, he enlisted as a private in the regiment to serve the French king. With no formal education, training, or prospects for the future, the young Masséna sought security with his uncle, who decided to educate his unruly nephew. In addition to basic instruction in the duties of a soldier, Marcel taught him to write, read, and spell in the French language. Following two years service, André was promoted to corporal; his uncle, meanwhile, was promoted to sub-lieutenant and transferred to another post. During the next twelve years Masséna continued to acquire new skills as he was promoted to sergeant and then adjutant. As an effective and respected drill instructor he soon mastered the duties of the regimental noncommissioned officer. After serving with his regiment in central and southern France, his unit was transferred to the Maritime Alps where he had an opportunity to familiarize himself with the topography of the area, unaware that it would someday be his field of operations. [4]

In 1787 Masséna's regiment was reorganized as the Royal Chasseurs of Provence and posted at Antibes where it remained until the Revolution erupted. There, Masséna improved his knowledge of the duties and responsibilities of a regimental officer; his friendship with several retired-officers, living in the warm climate of Antibes, also proved instructive. Although the Ordinance of 22 May 1781, issued by Minister of War Ségur, drastically restricted the promotion of commoners to the officers ranks, Masséna was informally promised a commission. However, when the promotion did not materialize, he retired from the army. This decision may have been reinforced by his marriage to Marie Rosalie Lamarre, daughter of a surgeon. Apparently, Masséna expected to improve his financial station in life, but he soon found himself selling groceries in a small shop beneath his in-laws's apartment. Unfortunately, eight months after his resignation from the army, the National Assembly reversed government policy and declared the distribution of promotions would be "independent of fortune and birth." [5]

As the European powers became more hostile to the course of Revolution, the town council of Antibes, following the lead of nearby towns, began to organize civic or national guards. Almost immediately Masséna was offered the post of captain-instructor. He accepted the position. Within five months, he had created a viable force, proficient in drill and the use of arms. In August 1791, the government ordered the formation of defense battalions to protect the frontier. Of the twelve battalions organized from the Department of the Var, the citizens of Antibes formed the 2nd battalion and elected Masséna as their adjutant-major--the third ranking officer in the unit. Within four months, the soldiers, aware of his experience, talents, and patriotism, elected him lieutenant colonel of the battalion; six months later he commanded the battalion.

When war broke out in April 1792 between France and the armies of Austria and Piedmont-Sardinia, Masséna's battalion occupied defensive positions along the familiar Sardinian frontier. There he learned the valuable lessons of command as he carried out various reconnaissances against enemy positions. Simultaneously, he redoubled his efforts to train and prepare his battalion for battle, hoping that it would be incorporated into the regular army. A month after the uncontested occupation of Nice in October 1792, his 2nd battalion of the Var was one of four volunteer battalions to be incorporated into the newly created Army of Italy. [6]

During the early months of 1793, the Army of Italy was guided by a series of ineffective commanders. However, on 8 August, Masséna's fortunes changed when his longtime friend, Pierre Dumerbion, was given command of the army. Eleven days later Masséna was ordered to assume command of a brigade. This appointment was followed by an announcement of the Executive Council of the Convention: "Having entire confidence in the valor, experience, vigilance, good conduct, zeal, and fidelity to the country which he has demonstrated on all occasions, citizen Masséna ... is promoted to the rank of general of brigade." [7]

Masséna was soon ordered to deploy his brigade in the snow-capped mile-high mountain camp of Fougasse. In this dangerous position, he learned to cope with the inclement weather, the rugged mountains, and a well supplied enemy army, while his own troops suffered from an acute lack of supplies and shelter. He reinforced his posts, sent out patrols, shifted his artillery, retrenched his positions, and repelled a number of serious enemy attacks during the fall months. At this isolated post, Masséna began to develop self-confidence and a talent for calmly and quickly evaluating the topography of the area and how it might influence a battle. He developed the facility to assess the strengths and weaknesses of an enemy as well as the appropriate counter measure to defeat his enemy. Later this ability would become one of his greatest strengths.

In November 1793, Masséna was given additional responsibility to command the vulnerable left wing of the Army of Italy at Utelle. There, under constant attack from the enemy, he fought and won the important combats of Castel Ginestet and Brec. In December when a heavy snowfall halted military activity in the Alps, Dumerbion ordered Masséna to join the besieging forces at Toulon. Although another general had already been sent with units from the Army of Italy to support the siege, Masséna offered to lead one of the assault columns as a volunteer rather than as the commander. He was the first to enter Fort L'Artigues where he spiked six guns before advancing to seize Fort St. Catherine. With captured artillery he began to bombard British vessels sailing out of Toulon harbor; unwittingly he was repeating the actions taken by Captain Napoleon Bonaparte on the other side of the harbor at L'Aguilette. The Representatives on Mission wrote to the Convention in Paris on 20 December to acknowledge Masséna's "bravery, zeal, intelligence, and civism," as well as his promotion "to the rank of general of division." [8] Later Masséna was named commander of the Toulon forts in recognition of his role in the capture of the city. It should be noted that although Republican reprisals were the order of the day against the Royalists, Masséna personally intervened to spare some 2,000 women and children by housing them in Fort St. Catherine. [9] Nevertheless, he was anxious to return to his command. On 5 January 1794 he was sent to Nice where his talents would be put to better use.

Ten days later, Masséna set out to join the Army of Italy; he visited his family at Antibes and only reached the army in late February. Early in April the army was on the march. Based on the plans of twenty-four-year-old Bonaparte, attacks were launched along the Mediterranean coast as well as into the mountain passes leading to Sardinia. This was the first in a long series of operations in which the two men would cooperate. Although Dumerbion was the nominal commander in chief of the army, these two officers of Italian heritage actually carried out the operation--one a divisional general of infantry and the other a brigade general of artillery. After an initial advance along the coast, Masséna seized Oneglia on 9 April. A week later, while Bonaparte swept along the Mediterranean coast with three brigades toward Savona, Masséna moved on the north flank, driving into the foothills. His troops climbed through the 3,000-foot Nava Pass before pushing down the Tanaro valley. Each enemy position was overthrown, including the formidable Feil redoubt, to threaten the Austrian line of communications. The advance continued; when General François Macquard joined his column, Masséna drove into Saorgio on 29 April; nine days later they captured the breath-taking Pass of Tende (6,200 feet) overlooking the Sardinian plain. [10] Much had been accomplished and the French held all the passes of the Maritime Alps eastward to Savona.

Operations were interrupted during the summer, but on 14 September, on the advice of Bonaparte, Masséna resumed the offensive. Advancing down the Bormida valley, Dego and Acqui were captured, but Masséna's troops were in an exposed position so he withdrew them quickly. He moved into Savona on the 21st but any further advance was halted by the deteriorating weather. The early winter was particularly severe for Masséna and his men who bivouacked without winter coats or shoes. Financial resources were unavailable for food or medicine so vast numbers became ill and epidemics spread. Masséna shared the suffering of his men until he fell seriously ill, forcing him to return home to Antibes. [11]

Masséna did not recover his health sufficiently to rejoin the army until April of 1795. When he returned, General Christophe Kellermann was in command of the army. Suffering from an acute lack of the most basic resources, Kellermann's decimated army was attacked by a powerful Austrian army in June and driven out of the positions that had been gained in 1794. On 19 September just before Kellermann was relieved by General Barthélemy Schérer, the Austrians launched a massive attack on Masséna's positions of Rocca-Curaira and "Little Gibraltar." It was a desperate struggle but his men held and the Austrians were finally repulsed. [12]

Soon after Schérer took command of the army, he launched an offensive in the cold November weather against the unsuspecting Austrians. Schérer placed two divisions and a reserve under Masséna who was to carry out the main attack while the other units of the army covered his flanks. On the night of 21 November, Masséna commenced his attack; one division overwhelmed the enemy and captured Monte Lingo while the other, initially repulsed, rallied to seize Monte Guardolia. Moving through Melogno Pass, he drove toward the sea and overran Loano. Masséna brilliantly coordinated his movements with the flanking divisions of Charles-Pierre Augereau and Jean-Mathieu Sérurier; simultaneously he utilized four battalions of infantry at San Giacomo to cut the enemy's retreat. In this operation culminating in the capture of Loano, he demonstrated, for the first time, his full range of military talents as a field commander. The Austrians suffered 1,500 casualties and lost 4,000 prisoners and 92 cannon, while Masséna's losses numbered less than 1,200. [13] Schérer wrote to the Directory government, "General Masséna, responsible for a difficult and complicated operation, has executed it with a competency and precision that gives him the right to public gratitude." [14]

Consequently, when Schérer resigned in February of 1796, Masséna was given temporary command of the army; he logically assumed that his position would become permanent. In March, however, Masséna was dismayed to learn that the Directory had named a political appointee, General Bonaparte, to command the army and open a new offensive against the enemy. [15] Masséna was bitterly disappointed, but his attitude soon changed. This appointment would become a turning point in his military career. He would see more action and received more recognition during the next year than he had in his entire career. During the campaign, he would also learn more about Bonaparte's "system of warfare" than any other man in the army. If the First Italian Campaign began the meteoric rise of Bonaparte's star, it also served to catapult Masséna into the firmament beside him.

Although lacking in the most basic resources and inferior in manpower, Bonaparte resolved to attack the Austro-Sardinian army immediately. While inferior forces engaged the Austrians at Voltri, Masséna was sent into the mountains to attack and split the Austro-Sardinian forces. On 12 April the first battle of the Napoleonic era was fought and won by Masséna at Montenotte with the capture of 2,000 prisoners and 5 guns. Two days later, on familiar ground along the Bormida, he attacked and drove the Austrians out of Dego with the capture of 6,000 prisoners and 30 cannon. The Austrians were forced northward toward Acqui while Bonaparte marched to the west in pursuit of the Sardinian army. Masséna's division was redeployed to take part in the decisive battle of Mondovì on 21 April against the Sardinians. Advancing on the Sardinian capital of Turin with all possible speed, the Sardinian king was forced to conclude a treaty at Cherasco and withdraw from the war. Masséna's efforts were noted by Bonaparte in his dispatch to Paris, and soon the general received a letter from the Directory applauding his "valor and military talents... that contributed greatly to the brilliant victory..." [16]


Alexandre Berthier

A month later, in an effort to outflank the Austrian army, Masséna's division, after deceiving the Austrian army at Valenza, crossed the Po River at Piacenza and drove the enemy out of Lodi on the Adda. However, beyond the village, the enemy cut the old wooden bridge, 170 yards long, and fortified the opposite bank with fourteen guns. Following several unsuccessful attempts to cross the bridge and reach the enemy, Masséna, along with Bonaparte, General Alexandre Berthier, and Colonel Jean Lannes, electrified their men by together leading a column across the bridge in the face of enemy artillery fire without concern for their own safety. This victory at Lodi on 10 May forced the Austrian to abandon Milan, evacuate most of Lombardy, and seek safety in the fortress of Mantua. [17] Lazare Carnot, representing the government in Paris, wrote to Masséna, "Citizen General, the Executive Directory ... is aware that you were at the head of the gallant column which stormed the bridge at Lodi, defended by formidable artillery, and that you shared in the glory by ensuring the success of this memorable battle." [18]

When a new Austrian army of 50,000 men under General Dagobert Wurmser was sent to relieve the besieged city of Mantua and reclaim Lombardy, Masséna's division contested the march of the main army, advancing down the east side of Lake Garda. In a series of rapid maneuvers and fierce fighting, his troops reversed their march, defeated a secondary army advancing down the west side of Lake Garda at Lonato, and then retraced their route to join Bonaparte's other forces to defeat Wurmser's main army near Castiglione during the first week of August. The French suffered 2,600 casualties but captured 8,300 prisoners and 31 guns.

In September, Wurmser led another Austrian army into Italy. Masséna spearheaded a drive into Venetia; his forces destroyed the Austrian rear guard at Bassano on the 8th and chased the main army 100 miles to Mantua in six days. When a third relief force invaded northern Italy from Trieste in November under General Joseph Alvintzy, Masséna conducted a spirited rearguard defense even though he was driven off the ridge at Caldiero with heavy losses. With the Austrian army in a position to unite all their forces, Bonaparte decided to outflank Alvintzy at Arcola. Masséna played the decisive role in the bitter three-day battle by enticing the Austrians into a swamp where he overwhelmed them and captured the bridge at Arcola.

In another major effort to wrest Lombardy from the French, a fourth Austrian relief army was sent to relieve Mantua in January 1797. In a three-pronged attack, the main Austrian army overran French forces near Rivoli while other enemy columns advanced on Verona and Mantua. Once Bonaparte determined the location of the main enemy force, he began juggling his forces. At 5:00 P.M. on 13 January, Masséna was ordered to march from Verona to Rivoli, fifteen miles away. Following a forced night march across the snow-covered roads, the first of his troops reached the battlefield at 6:00 A.M. Bonaparte deployed them on the left flank when the battle began. They were shifted to strengthen the sagging center and then deployed to crush an Austrian flanking maneuver. It proved to be a brilliant victory in which Masséna's troops played the decisive role! However, the next day, with very little rest, Masséna and his troops marched thirty-nine miles in 24 hours to intercept a second Austrian army advancing to relieve Mantua. At La Favorita he closed the pincer on the Austrian army, forcing their surrender. As a result, within five days, Masséna's division had played the major role in Bonaparte's operation that cost the Austrians at least 35,000 casualties or prisoners; two weeks later the 30,000 man garrison at Mantua capitulated. With his final victory complete, Napoleon showered praise on Masséna calling him "l'enfant chéri de la victoire." The president of the Directory in Paris, Jean Rewbell, responded in the same vein: "The Executive Directory congratulates you, citizen general, for the new success that you have obtained against the enemies of the Republic. The brave division that you command has covered itself with glory in the three consecutive days that forced Mantua to capitulate, and the Directory is obliged to regard you among the most capable and useful generals of the Republic." [19]

With the Austrian armies victorious in Germany, the Habsburg emperor, Francis II, was still unwilling to accept the loss of Lombardy. As a result, the most successful of the Habsburg generals, Archduke Charles, brother of the emperor, was ordered into Venetia with a reinforced army. Before Charles could stabilize his front, Bonaparte struck. Masséna, exercising almost independent command, moved forward with the advance guard of the army to contain the Austrian advance. Soon the enemy was in full retreat. Each rearguard position was overrun by the French troops whose swift movements and close pursuit gave Archduke Charles no respite. At Tarvisio Pass, "after fighting on a plateau of ice, above the clouds" Masséna inflicted significant casualties on Archduke Charles's troops during their retreat toward Austria. [20] Bonaparte advanced further south with the main army. Masséna's divisions crossed the Julian Alps fighting several serious rearguard actions before reaching Judenburg, a hundred miles from Vienna. He had marched 175 miles through rugged mountains in three weeks demonstrating "intuitive insights and skillful daring." A French officer with the advance guard wrote of Masséna's pursuit, "It may be said that such a continuous series of successes is only possible with elite troops commanded by an elite commander. Above all, mutual confidence and élan is necessary; but the troops of General Masséna truly seemed to mirror his spirit." He acknowledged, "No word can express the electrifying influence, the almost supernatural power, which Masséna exercised over his troops by the suddenness of his decisions, no less sure than instantaneous, and by the lightning rapidity with which he ordered the execution of them. There was not one of us who was not proud of belonging to Masséna's division, nor without this pride in the part it was playing..." [21]

The Austrians opened preliminary peace negotiations at Judenburg which led to the Treaty of Campo Formio, signed in October 1797, to end the War of the First Coalition. Without doubt, Bonaparte owed more to Masséna and his division than any other unit in the army since it had borne the brunt of the fighting with unprecedented success. Bonaparte had developed the operational strategy of the campaign, but Masséna had primary responsibility for the tactical success and implementation of his plan. At the same time, Masséna learned much and perfected his military education under Napoleon's tutelage. Moreover, he had demonstrated those intangible qualities that were essential for effective leadership. He may have lacked a formal education but he was "born a general." He could inflame and focus the passions of his men to achieve extraordinary results, as exemplified by the Rivoli campaign, while remaining in complete control of his own passions. Without a "general's intuition," wrote Jean- Jacques Pelet, Masséna's first aide-de-camp in Portugal, "all the knowledge, theories, and skills are of no use..., one is only a courtier with a diploma, a dispassionate tactician, or a student of strategy." [22]

In recognition of Masséna's achievements in Italy, especially at Rivoli, Bonaparte awarded him the honor of carrying the victory dispatches to Paris; eleven years later, he again acknowledged Masséna's contributions by naming him the "Duc de Rivoli," to recall one of his greatest triumphs. In May, Masséna reached Paris where he was accorded a state reception by the members of the Directory who declared, "the engraver of history... without doubt, will not forget the Republican General so justly named "l'Enfant chéri de la Victoire,' the brave Masséna." [23]

Masséna's next significant assignment occurred in August 1798 when he was named commander of the Rome garrison, serving under Berthier. Masséna was instructed "to do everything possible to destroy the papal government...." [24] He was unenthusiastic about the appointment because it called for an administrator rather than a field commander. Unfortunately, when Berthier had occupied Rome, some of his senior officers had looted the city, while the rank and file were several months in arrears and subject to the most severe deprivations. Thus, Masséna took command of an army ready to revolt. Berthier's hapless brother, César, sought to blame Masséna for the irregularities and several disgruntled regiments threatened mutiny. Masséna retired from Rome and was ultimately relieved of his command since he could not reconcile the indignant officers or soldiers in Rome. He left immediately for Antibes and a well-earned furlough; since he was not invited to join in the Egyptian Expedition, he remained there until recalled to active service in December 1798. [25]

Following a year of aggressive expansion by the Directory government, most of Europe banned together in the Second Coalition against France. Four French armies were redistributed along the eastern frontier. Masséna was named to command the 34,000-man Army of Helvetia which formed a link between the Army of Italy and the Army of Mayence. In the spring of 1799, while Masséna was engaged in operations against the Austrians in the Swiss Grisons, the other French armies were badly beaten, exposing his army to encirclement.

As Russian reinforcements marched to support the Austrian armies in Italy and Switzerland, the Directory decided to consolidate the remnants of the French armies under Masséna's command. With a force totaling approximately 90,000 men, Masséna was ordered to defend the entire frontier. He repulsed Archduke Charles's advance on Zurich in June, but retired from the city and took up positions in the surrounding mountains. [26]

By mid-August 28,000 Russians under General Alexandre Rimski-Korsakov reached Zurich. To claim additional territory along the lower Rhine, Austrian officials committed a grievous error by moving Archduke Charles to the north, leaving only 23,000 Austrian troops under General Johan Konrad Hotz to cooperate with Korsakov. At the same time, Marshal Suvorov, with 24,000 men, joined the Austrian army in Italy. In a series of swift maneuvers, he drove the French army across Italy and crushed them decisively at Novi on 15 August; the demoralized Frenchmen fled into Genoa, and Italy was again under Austrian domination. Suvorov then began making preparations to march across the Alps and join his troops at Zurich. Moving toward Bellinzona on 9 September, he began to climb up toward St. Gotthard Pass.

Aware of the Allies' movements, Masséna, meanwhile, resolved to launch simultaneous attacks against the Russian forces at Zurich and the Austrians under Hotz at Schanis on the opposite end of Lake Zurich, forty miles away. On 25 September, following a feint near the mouth of the Aare, Masséna launched his main strike seven miles from Zurich across the Limmat at Dietikon. The Russians were surprised and driven back toward Zurich; meanwhile, other divisions attacked the southern and western sectors of the town, as well as Zurichburg above the city. The Russians retreated into Zurich where they came under a merciless bombardment from French guns. Early the next morning the Russian troops poured out of the city gates in a savage counterattack. The French were temporarily repulsed, but after a long bloody day of fierce fighting, Korsakov's troops were overwhelmed and pursued back into the city. The remains of the battered Russian army slipped out of the city after nightfall and retreated toward Germany, leaving behind 2,000 dead, 5,000 prisoners, and all their baggage and artillery.

At the same time, Soult, striking suddenly across the Linth River, attacked Hotz's Austrian army between Schanis and Wessen. Advancing from the Linth, Soult's troops drove the enemy into the mountains surrounding Mt. Speer and battered them for almost two days; the remainder of Hotz's force fled into Germany, with the loss of 5,500 dead and wounded.

Masséna, aware of Suvorov's advance toward St. Gotthard, quickly shifted his troops southward. General Claude-Jacques Lecourbe's division had already performed heroics in delaying the Russians at St. Gotthard Pass, and later at the spectacular crossing over the Reuss at Devil's Bridge. When Suvorov finally forced the Reuss, he was met by units of Soult's division blocking the route at Altdorf. Unable to break through the French lines and aware of Korsakov's disastrous defeat, the Russian general turned east through the high and difficult Pragel Pass to Glarus where he was dismayed to find other French troops awaiting him on 4 October. In waist-deep snow, his troops attempted six times to break through the French lines along the Linth but each attack was beaten back. Suvorov had no alternative but to make his escape across the treacherous Panixer Pass (which is a difficult mountain trail to this day), abandoning his baggage and artillery, and losing as many as 5,000 men. [27]

The defeat of the Russians and Austrians in this complex operation was the crowning achievement of Masséna's military career. Considering the strength and effectiveness of his foes, his own hazardous position, and the consequences of failure, he meticulously prepared to deliver a series of decisive blows; when they came, he crushed his enemy in detail. This success in Switzerland clearly demonstrated his leadership capabilities as a consummate strategist and tactician; it marked the beginning of the collapse of the Second Coalition, it dissuaded Prussia from joining the coalition, and even more important, it spared France an invasion that might have resulted in the overthrow of the Revolution.

Two months after the battle of Zurich, Masséna was named to the coveted position of commander in chief of the Army of Italy. Reassured of adequate supplies, funds, and manpower by Bonaparte, now First Consul, he joined the army at Genoa on 27 December 1799. He was shocked by its miserable condition; the men were without adequate clothing, food, or pay. Regiments had mutinied, the quartermaster corps was in a shambles, and only 30,000 of his force of 130,000 men were actually fit for service. [28]

Masséna labored tirelessly to prepare his army for the anticipated siege. He repaired the city's fortifications and organized a mobile force of over 25,000 men to defend the perimeter of Genoa, but the lack of supplies plagued him incessantly. In addition, the British squadron bombarded the city indiscriminately each night. The Austrian attacks began on 5 April 1800 with 60,000 men, and, for the next two months, Masséna led sortie after sortie to repulse them and maintain communications with Nice. The continual pressure, however, slowly forced his starving troops back into the walls of the city. On 24 April, Admiral George Keith offered honorable terms for the surrender of the city, but Masséna rejected it contemptuously declaring, "Genoa will be defended until the last extreme." [29] Throughout May he launched a series of sorties, trying to break out. Meanwhile, Napoleon wrote to Masséna on 5 May promising aid by 1 June, "The Army of the Reserve is in march. I leave tonight. I expect you to hold as long as possible, but at least until 10 prairial [1 June]." Nine days later he again encouraged Masséna, "You are in a difficult position, but it is reassuring to me that it is you in Genoa; it is in such cases as these when one man is worth 20,000." [30]

Nevertheless, Bonaparte marched with the Army of the Reserve, not to the relief of Genoa, but to Milan where he spent six days. By the end of May, plague had spread throughout Genoa and the civilian population was in revolt. Negotiations were begun for the exchange of prisoners early in June, but the citizens and some of the garrison clamored for capitulation. Unknown to Masséna, the Austrian general, Peter Ott, had been ordered to raise the siege because Bonaparte had crossed Great St. Bernard Pass and was now threatening the main Austrian army. Describing the situation at Genoa, Ott requested and received permission to continue the siege. On 4 June, with one day's rations remaining, Masséna's negotiator finally agreed to evacuate the French army from Genoa. However, "if the word capitulation was mentioned or written," Masséna threatened to end all negotiations. [31] Two days later, a few of the French left the city by sea, but the bulk of Masséna's starving and exhausted troops marched out of the city with all their equipment and followed the road along the coast toward France, ending one of the most remarkable sieges in modern military history. The siege was an astonishing demonstration of tenacity, ingenuity, courage, and daring that garnered additional laurels for Masséna and placed him in the category previously reserved for Bonaparte alone.

The grueling siege of some sixty days had ended but it played an important role in Bonaparte's strategy. By forcing the Austrians to deploy vast forces against him at Genoa, Masséna made it possible for Bonaparte to cross Great St. Bernard Pass, surprise the Austrians, and ultimately defeat General Michael Melas's army at Marengo before sufficient reinforcements could be transferred from the siege site. Less than three weeks after the evacuation, Bonaparte wrote to Masséna, "I am not able to give you a greater mark of the confidence I have in you than by giving you command of the first army of the Republic [Army of Italy]." [32] The Austrians also recognized the significance of Masséna's defense; the Austrian chief of staff declared firmly, "You won the battle, not in front of Alessandria but in front of Genoa." [33] However, sixteen years later on St. Helena, Bonaparte minimized Masséna's achievement at Genoa in a lengthy analysis, "I am always impatient when I hear cited this defense [of Genoa] as a miracle of determination..." [34]

Within two months after Masséna was named to command the Army of Italy, charges of financial irregularities involving several of Masséna's subordinates surfaced; doubts about his abilities as an administrator focused on the line of demarcation separating the Austrian and French forces in Italy. Consequently, he was relieved of his command in August and forced into a lengthy furlough. He purchased a large chateau at Rueil just west of Paris where he remained with his wife and three children for the next four years. Nevertheless, he could not have been pleased with his treatment. Masséna had saved the Republic at Zurich and contributed to Bonaparte's victory at Marengo, and his reward was an enforced retirement.

In 1805 when the War of the Third Coalition erupted, the Army of Italy faced a numerically superior Austrian army commanded by Archduke Charles. Napoleon, now Emperor, immediately recalled Masséna to the army; he was instructed to contain the Austrian forces while Napoleon advanced into Germany with the newly created Grand Army. Since the most able Austrian general and the main Austrian army would be operating in Italy, Napoleon would be facing a vastly inferior force commanded by a mediocre general. Nevertheless, Napoleon was not induced to increase Masséna's forces which totaled 41,000 men against Archduke Charles's forces numbering over 90,000 men. [35]

As Napoleon was maneuvering against Archduke Ferdinand and General Karl von Mack at Ulm in Bavaria, Masséna seized Veronetta, beyond Verona, and forced Archduke Charles back to his entrenched positions on the heights above Caldiero. Unaware of the surrender of Ulm to Napoleon on 19 October, he launched a bitter three-day attack against the Austrians on 28 October but he was unable to seize the positions. Nevertheless, Archduke Charles began a withdrawal when he learned of the events at Ulm. Napoleon's chief of staff, Berthier, ordered Masséna to pursue and engage Archduke Charles: "The intention... is that you pursue the enemy without respite ... in order that he is not able to attack us at the moment we find ourselves in the presence of the entire Russian army." [36] The order had been anticipated and Masséna was already in pursuit, attacking the Austrians as they retreated across Venetia and into Slovenia. The chase ended when Masséna's forces reached Laibach and Archduke Charles occupied Marburg, eighty miles to the east. Soon both commanders learned that an armistice had been signed following Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz in December 1805, ending the War of the Third Coalition.

Following the campaign of 1805, Napoleon expressed criticism of Masséna's operations. Despite Masséna's success in containing Archduke Charles's army to prevent it from reinforcing the Russians at Austerlitz, Napoleon wrote to his brother, Joseph, "Masséna's conduct is very mediocre; he was beaten at Caldiero because of erroneous dispositions.... I am moderately discontent, not in his valor, but with the talent that he has shown." [37] Napoleon ignored the facts that Masséna was outnumbered almost two to one; that he had to maintain continual pressure on his dangerous adversary; that he had to contend with a large Austrian garrison at Venice on his flank; that he confronted one of the most capable generals in Europe; and that without his efforts, Archduke Charles and his army might have ended up on the battlefield of Austerlitz. In any case, Masséna had successfully carried out Napoleon's orders and again proved that he could cross swords with one of the most distinguished commanders in Europe.

When the war ended, Masséna was reassigned to a corps in the newly created Army of Naples, nominally under the command of Joseph Bonaparte, king of Naples. With little enthusiasm for his new assignment, he began the siege of Gaeta. Masséna invested the fortress in February, but by mid-March only 10 of the 48 siege pieces were in the trenches. By the beginning of April the artillery batteries had been completed, but on 4 May a British fleet landed a number of 32-pound naval guns and supplies to complicate Masséna's problems. The garrison conducted several successful sorties and the demoralized French sappers labored on into July when 80 cannon, 5 howitzers, and 22 mortars were deployed for the bombardment. The guns opened fire on 7 July; within ten days two breaches had been pounded in the walls so the garrison commander asked for terms. Two days later the French entered Gaeta and the siege came to an end; it had cost Masséna 2,000 men. [38]

As if the drudgery of the siege were not enough, on 1 August Joseph Bonaparte gave Masséna three divisions with instructions to suppress the Calabrian insurgents. For the first time in his military career, he experienced a brutal guerrilla war carried on by a fanatical and rebellious population. For the next four months, columns of his troops were set to hunt down and destroy the guerrillas. He soon learned that the only effective way to crush the opposition was to implement a policy employed by General Jean Reynier; this entailed the extermination of the population and the destruction of the villages in any areas harboring insurgents. It was a brutal war that he wanted to escape at any price. [39]

In December, Masséna requested Joseph's permission to relinquish his command. At the same time, he appealed to Napoleon for a command in the Grand Army, anxious to leave the Calabrian morass. He was assigned the 5th Corps of the ailing Marshal Lannes. In March he took command of his troops posted along the Narew and Omeulew rivers north of Warsaw. Masséna did not play an active role in the final battle of the war, Friedland, but he covered the eastern flank of the army, repelled several serious Russian incursions, and strategically contributed to Napoleon's final victory. [40]

Following the Treaty of Tilsit which ended the War of the Fourth Coalition, Masséna returned to Paris. Along with a number of other marshals who had participated in the Polish campaign, he was awarded a special stipend from Napoleon to purchase a mansion in Paris. The vast wealth amassed during his various campaigns permitted him to adopt a lifestyle enjoyed by only a few of the most prosperous Frenchmen. Although war erupted in Iberia during 1808, he was unaffected by the exploding crisis.

In 1809, however, when the Austrians sought to rally the German nations in a war of liberation, Napoleon assigned him to command the newly formed 4th Corps of the Army of Germany. With a quarter of a million French troops deployed in the Iberian Peninsula, several corps of German troops were incorporated into Napoleon's new army. Masséna was gratified that although the troops of his corps were often young and inexperienced, they were primarily French.

Soon after Masséna joined his corps, Archduke Charles advanced up the Danube valley into Bavaria with almost 200,000 men and outmaneuvered the ill-prepared Berthier. Napoleon, still in Paris, had sent a flurry of correspondence to army headquarters at Donnauwörth, but Berthier received his instructions out of sequence; so rather than concentrate the army, he dispersed it over a seventy-five-mile front. Both Masséna and Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout realized the error; under protest but following orders, Davout marched away from the main army toward Ratisbon, but Masséna, disobeyed his orders and continued his march toward Aichach and Pfaffenhofen, convinced that the instructions were in error. [41]

On 17 April, Napoleon reached Donnauworth. Realizing Berthier's mistake, he immediately ordered Masséna to advance from Augsburg to Aichach while Davout retired from Ratisbon. Masséna, anticipating the order, had already reached Aichach. On the 20th Davout was engaged near Ratisbon while Napoleon, with Lannes's corps and Marshal François-Joseph Lefebvre's German troops, attacked and crushed an Austrian force near Abensberg; they marched south toward Landshut, driving General Johann Hiller's Austrian corps before them. At the same time, Masséna raced for Landshut to cut Hiller's line of retreat; his exhausted troops had already marched fifty miles in two days so they only reached Landshut on 21 April some hours after the first of Lannes's men and Napoleon's personal troops had driven into the city, inflicting 10,000 casualties on Hiller's corps, and capturing a massive depot of supplies and wagons.

However, Archduke Charles's main force had not yet been brought to battle. Very early on 22 April, Napoleon learned that Davout's corps faced the bulk of the enemy army at Eckmühl. Accompanied by Masséna, Lannes, and troops drawn from their corps, Napoleon raced northward in time to complete the defeat of the Austrian at Eckmühl. The next day Ratisbon was seized and the army began its march down the Danube toward Vienna. On 3 May, Masséna was engaged in the bloody battle of Ebersberg, where one of his aides-de-camp, Pelet, was badly wounded in the arm while racing across the bridge over the Traun River. The town and castle were both captured, but at a horrendous cost, even though the position might have been turned with fewer casualties. [43]

Once Napoleon had occupied Vienna on 13 May, he began making plans to confront Archduke Charles on the north bank of the Danube. He ordered Masséna to throw up a series of bridges that would span the Danube via the island of Lobau to the village of Aspern. For the next week the men of the 4th Corps scoured Vienna and the surrounding suburbs for building materiel to complete the bridge. By 20 May the bridges, extending over two miles, had been completed. Masséna sent General Gabriel-Jean Molitor's division across the Danube into the village of Aspern and General Jean Boudet's division into Essling, about a mile away. General Antoine-Charles Lasalle's cavalry was posted on the plain between the two villages. Two more divisions were moved across the bridge to act as a reserve. That night Masséna and Pelet climbed to the top of the village church tower where they could see the glow of the Austrian campfires. Napoleon called a council of war later that evening and Masséna was the only marshal to voice grave doubts about the vulnerability of their position. [43]

Early in the afternoon of the 21st, Masséna's worst fears were realized as Archduke Charles unleashed 100,000 men against 30,000 Frenchmen in the enclave spanning Aspern and Essling. Lannes assumed control of Boudet's division at Essling, and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bessières took command of the reinforced cavalry corps. The initial assaults by three enemy corps were directed at Aspern where the meager forces of Masséna and Molitor fought savagely to retain the village which changed hands thirteen times during the day. Lannes's men at Essling beat back three fierce attacks and Bessières' cavalry made several valiant charges to take the pressure off the infantry. Before French reinforcements could be sent, the bridge over the Danube was cut by debris sent down the river by the Austrians.


Jean Lannes

The bridge was finally restored but that night Napoleon faced a major crisis, perhaps the most serious since the creation of the Grand Army; he could withdraw his army to Lobau or gamble and quickly reinforce his beleaguered troops--he gambled. Summarily, Masséna's predicament was critical, but he gave no thought of suggesting a withdrawal. As Napoleon would later recall at St. Helena, "Massena was endowed with extraordinary courage and firmness, which seemed to increase in excess of danger. When conquered, he was always as ready to fight the battle again as though he had been the conqueror." [44] Indeed, he was ready to defend Aspern the next day, whatever the consequences. He had maintained his divisions at Aspern with frightful losses on the 21st and he would remain there until withdrawn. Napoleon promised reinforcements. During the night, units of Lannes's corps and more cavalry moved toward Essling, bringing the French force to perhaps 60,000 men.

The second day of battle began before 5:00 A.M. Masséna was driven out of Aspern only to regain it hours later. The attacks on Essling were also repulsed. Napoleon detected a gap in the enemy line so he immediately ordered Lannes to attack; Masséna was to join in the advance. The Archduke's artillery inflicted enormous losses on Lannes's men before they broke the center of the Austrian line. The French attack was slowed by the personal appearance of Archduke Charles, as he rallied his troops. At this critical juncture, the bridge was again broken, halting the arrival of reinforcements. At first Lannes was ordered to halt his advance and, when a large section of the bridge was carried away by a floating mill, he was withdrawn to his original position.

The Austrians, aware of the situation, mounted massive assaults on both Aspern and Essling. The fighting was furious and the losses were staggering, but the attacks were beaten back. In the afternoon, Napoleon decided to withdraw his troops to the island of Lobau. Masséna was given the responsibility of extricating what was left of the army and the bloody battle of Aspern-Essling came to an end. This battle was undeniably a severe shock for Napoleon; it was his first indisputable defeat. He should not have been surprised; he violated most of those principles that had brought him victory in the past. Without the extraordinary efforts of his officers and men, Aspern-Essling would have been a monumental disaster. On the other hand, even in the midst of this catastrophe, it was one of Masséna's finest hours; he remained sanguine, tranquil, and above all, resolute. His heroic rank and file had covered themselves with glory, but at staggering costs. French losses totaled over 20,000 men, including Marshal Lannes, and the Austrians casualties numbered in excess of 25,000.

Stunned by this check, Napoleon began to consolidate his forces. Meticulous attention was devoted to preparing another river crossing and troops were called up from as far away as Italy and the Adriatic coast. By July, Napoleon had over 150,000 men on the island of Lobau ready for another assault. Masséna's advance guard was among the first to cross the bridges to the north bank of the river early on the night of 4-5 July. Napoleon had 100,000 men deployed near Gross Enzerdorf by late afternoon, but he failed to engage the Austrians effectively.

Masséna's corps was deployed on the left wing of the army. Although Napoleon intended to turn the Austrian left flank, Archduke Charles anticipated the attack and, by beginning his offensive first, he moved to turn Masséna's wing of the army. A secondary strike was made on Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte's Saxon corps, in the center of the French line. While Masséna was trying to sustain his own position under mounting pressure, Bernadotte's Saxons at Aderklaa broke under a heavy attack, creating a gap in the line. Napoleon turned to Masséna at once. In the face of advancing enemy columns, Masséna moved into the gap, supported by Prince Eugène de Beauharnais's Italian troops. While the French position at Aderklaa was being restored, Archduke Charles's flanking attack of 30,000 troops was about to turn Napoleon's left flank. Napoleon met Masséna in the midst of the battle, instructing him to march his corps parallel to the Austrians as quickly as possible--an extremely dangerous maneuver--and repulse their flanking attack. Masséna fulfilled his order flawlessly, giving Davout the time necessary to outflank Charles's army from the French right. Meanwhile, a grand battery of 113 guns was unleashed against the Austrians, followed by a massive counterattack on the center of the Austrian line to overrun Wagram. Soon an advance was ordered all along the French line and Archduke Charles, dismayed by his brother's failure to arrive with reinforcements, issued orders for the withdrawal. The losses on both sides were particularly heavy in this, the largest battle in European history up to 1809; with over a thousand cannon spewing forth their destruction, French casualties reached 30,000 men, while the Austrians suffered over 37,000 losses.

With the Austrians in retreat, Masséna took up the pursuit. There were several bitter rearguard action, but on 11 July after an especially sharp conflict at Znäim, Archduke Charles appealed for an armistice which became the basis of the treaty of Schonbrünn, ending the War of the Fifth Coalition. In recognition of Masséna's indispensable role in the campaign, Napoleon acted to rewarded him immediately. On the day the treaty was signed, a Letter of Patent was issued in Paris; however, instead of awarding him the title of "Prince d'Aspern" in memory of the village which he had made famous by his tenacity, Napoleon, apparently mixed up the two villages, declaring him the "Prince d'Essling" with a recompense of $100,000.

After thirty-three years of service in the army, Masséna seems to have satisfied his appetite for power, glory, and wealth. He had undoubtedly reached the summit of his profession. He was recognized throughout Europe as one of the greatest captains of the age, second only to Napoleon himself. Consequently, he looked forward to an extended if not permanent furlough at his chateau of Rueil; he hoped to recover from his fall and treat his serious lung condition. He had been spitting blood for years and the rigors of the siege of Genoa nine years earlier still haunted him. His great wealth, often acquired through questionable means, his influence with the highest officials of the government, and his penchant for the opposite sex promised a retirement of affluence and self-indulgence. His brilliant battlefield victories had earned him the gratitude of his nation and his Emperor, but it had not been achieved without cost; he was ready for a well-earned retirement.

Masséna's abilities presumably reached their peak at the battle of Zurich, but they still appeared undiminished at Aspern and Wagram. Yet the effects of decades of active campaigning and dissipation had taken their toll. Appearing much older than his 51 years and his health seriously impaired, during the 1809 campaign, he tended to rely more and more upon his staff with regard to tactics, logistics, and even strategy. His judgment in selecting chiefs of staff was usually unfailing, as exemplified by Oudinot at Zurich or Reille at Genoa. Again, during the campaigns in Germany and Portugal he was served by two very capable first aides-de-camp, Charles Sainte-Croix and Pelet, who assumed even more responsible roles in strategic and tactical decisions.

By the spring of 1810, Masséna seemed to have little interest in rejoining the army, especially in the Iberian Peninsula which had come to be dreaded by French troops. Indeed, it had become the graveyard for the reputations of many marshals and generals. Nevertheless, in April, Napoleon instructed him to take command of the newly formed Army of Portugal. When first notified of his new command, he raised numerous objections and resisted the appointment vigorously. It was only after a personal interview with Napoleon that he agreed to accept the command. He was promised unlimited resources and manpower and all the authority necessary to conquer Portugal and drive Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese army into the sea. Nevertheless, with little enthusiasm for his command and even less for his corps commanders--Ney, Junot, and Reynier--he began his last campaign with grave reservations. [45]

Leaving Rueil on 26 April with an entourage that included his current mistress, an eighteen-year-old ballet dancer from the Paris opera, Henriette Leberton, Masséna was soon joined by Pelet who would serve as his first aide-de-camp. By 10 May he had reached army headquarters at Valladolid where he met with most of his general officers.

The 6th Corps, commanded by the fiery Marshal Michel Ney, was deployed around the fortress of Ciudad Rodrigo, but the actual investment had been postponed; Ney would not commit his forces until General Jean-Andoche Junot's 8th Corps was in position to support the siege and contain Wellington's army, thirty miles away. Although Masséna considered the possibility of marching directly against Wellington's forces, this option was eliminated when Napoleon instructed him to besiege and capture not only Ciudad Rodrigo, but also the fortress of Almeida, just across the Portuguese frontier. Once this was accomplished, he was expected to march on Lisbon and expel Wellington. [46] In addition, the unlimited manpower promised by Napoleon had been decreased to 65,000 men and the endless resources had been reduced to what he could collect in the exhausted countryside. Masséna was astonished and dismayed by the changes in his orders; not only would he lack resources and manpower, but his strategy would be dictated by Napoleon--almost a thousand miles away. However, he had no option but to implement his new orders to the best of his ability.

Masséna left siege operations to Ney and his staff. As operations were carried out and the meager supplies were consumed, he decided to intervene by replacing Ney's engineer with a candidate of his own choice. Ney resented his interference. Relations between the two men deteriorated throughout the campaign until Ney was finally relieved of command before the campaign ended. The siege, meanwhile, dragged on for almost two months of investment and sixteen days of bombardment before the breach was practicable. Masséna sent his third and last summons to the governor, Andrés Herrasti, on 10 July. Just as the assault was about to be launched, the governor appeared in the breach offering to capitulate. Masséna honored the governor's action and saved the town from the horrors of an assault--to the eternal gratitude of its citizens. The garrison and residents of Ciudad Rodrigo had put up a remarkable defense but ultimately they were overcome. Masséna could claim victory, but he had failed to solve the insurmountable logistical problems. It was literally impossible for his troops to collect and transport food and supplies for 50,000 men and tens of thousands of animals in an area that had been ravaged by the march of armies for almost three years. [47]

After lengthy preparations to collect the resources for the siege of Almeida, the trenches were opened up on 15 August. Twelve days later the bombardment began. That evening a bomb from battery No. 4 landed in the courtyard of the castle housing the powder magazine. It ignited a trail of powder that led directly to 150,000 pounds of powder and a million cartridges. The explosion was horrendous, destroying most of the town and killing as many as 600 of the garrison and perhaps 500 citizens. Negotiations were begun the next day, 28 August. The governor capitulated and the garrison marched out of the ruins with the honors of war. The actual invasion into Portugal, however, did not begin until 15 September after supplies had been collected. General Jean-Louis Reynier's 2nd Corps with 20,000 men soon joined the army to further compound the logistical problems. The march through central Portugal was fraught with unexpected dangers.

While the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida delayed the French advance, Wellington mobilized the kingdom of Portugal; he activated the ancient Portuguese ordenanza, mobilizing every able-bodied male from 16 to 60 to create a sturdy and dedicated guerrilla force. He issued orders for the destruction of roads over which the French might travel, while formidable positions were fortified to delay their advance. He introduced a policy to turn the countryside into a desert by implementing the "scorched earth" policy; all the inhabitants were forced to remove all resources and evacuate threatened areas on pain of death. Boats were withdrawn from the rivers, militia was posted at every defensible position, and, in event all of these preparations failed, Wellington ordered the construction of the now-famous Lines of Torres Vedras, implementing the plans of Portuguese Major Maria-José Neves Costa. These Lines, ultimately composed of 165 redoubts with 628 guns and manned by almost 40,000 men, were constructed in the mountains just north of Lisbon. This sanctuary was destined to protect Lisbon and its population, as well as Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese army, from the invading French. In event the French did penetrate the Lines, the Royal Navy would have a battle squadron and a fleet of transports ready to evacuate Wellington's army. [48]

Despite Wellington's meticulous arrangements, Masséna's army drove over 120 miles into Portugal in ten days. Wellington retreated until 25 September when he turned to fight from atop the Serra de Bussaco. Anxious to confront the Allies, Masséna, without an adequate reconnaissance or necessary planning, rushed blindly into an attack on an impregnable position. On 27 September the corps of Ney and Reynier climbed the mountain toward the Allied positions; despite heroic efforts and almost 5,000 casualties, the French were repulsed. Fortunately for Masséna, the next day a road was discovered that outflanked the mountain of Bussaco. Wellington was forced to begin a headlong retreat that only ended on 12 October at the Lines of Torres Vedras, forty miles from Lisbon. [49]

Following several unsuccessful probes of the Lines, defended by almost 80,000 men, Masséna sent one of his generals back to Paris with a direct appeal to Napoleon; he wanted troops and siege artillery to end the campaign and drive the "English Leopard" into the sea. While waiting for a response, the army was withdrawn thirty miles to Santarém where the troops had more opportunity to forage for food and fodder. It was not until the end of December that his courier returned from Paris with Napoleon's promise that aid would be forthcoming. Yet, men were already beginning to starve. The weeks passed into months and the army suffered acute hardships; still Masséna waited for the promised support.

At the same time, men and resources poured into Lisbon and Wellington's army increased daily in size and strength. He was perplexed by Masséna's dogged determination; he wrote to Lord Liverpool, secretary for war and the colonies, in December, "It is certainly astonishing that the enemy have been able to remain in this country so long; and it is an extraordinary instance of what a French army can do. It is positively a fact that they brought no provisions with them, and they have not received even a letter since they entered Portugal." He admitted, "I could not maintain one division in the district in which they have maintained not less than 60,000 men and 20,000 animals for more than two months." In fact, the tenacious Masséna remained at Santarém for seventy-two more days before ordering the retreat. [50]

On 18 February after a meeting with his staff at Golegã, Masséna finally was induced to withdraw. The promised aid had been denied by Soult and the other marshals who refused to share their resources, so reinforcements and supplies were not forthcoming. Moreover, in Paris, Napoleon apparently altered his strategy; his last message to Masséna emphasized the need to contain Wellington rather than drive him into the sea. He was also convinced that a change in the British Cabinet would force a recall of Wellington's forces. Another possible explanation for Napoleon's decision was his recognition that if the British remained in the war, their forces would be less of a threat in Portugal than anywhere else in Europe. [51] In any case, his decisions doomed Masséna's army to ultimate failure.

With his exhausted and starving army totaling less than 41,000 men and his rations almost exhausted, Masséna finally began the withdrawal from Santarém on 5 March 1811. He wrote to Napoleon, "I have made this decision because it is impossible to remain in a country six months, where we did not think it possible to exist for fifteen days." [52]

Pursued by Wellington's reinforced and relatively well- supplied army, the French retreat, punctuated by several brilliant rearguard actions by Marshal Ney, did not end until April when Masséna's army had been driven back into Spain. He immediately dispatched his first aide-de-camp, Pelet, to Paris to explain the events surrounding his failure. Initially, Napoleon refused to speak with Pelet. When they finally met, Napoleon complained, "You have lost everything that you can lose in war; you have lost the honor of arms. It would have been better if you had lost the army. Damn it! Sixty thousand Frenchmen retreat before thirty thousand English." With tears in his eyes, he claimed, "You have compromised the honor of the finest infantry in the world." It was only after Pelet had an opportunity to explain the actual circumstances in Portugal that Napoleon, perhaps irritated, finally admitted, "Masséna needs no excuses with me. I am attached to him; he is an old friend.... He can still be useful to the state and my family, although he is now at an age when one makes war only on great occasions ... in defense of the patrie." Napoleon acknowledged, "This is his last campaign. I wish to give him the means to take revenge on the enemy and to retire with his glory intact." [53]

Pelet returned to Masséna's headquarters near the end of April and a week later Masséna launched an attack against Wellington's army in an attempt to relieve the French garrison at Almeida; he was confronted by the Anglo-Portuguese army in a furious two-day battle at Fuentes de Oñoro. Without promised reinforcements and resources from Bessières, he failed to break the Allied line. A week later Masséna was relieved of command and for all practical purposes, his active military career had come to an end; he would never again command a French army in battle.

Unfortunately, throughout this brutal Portuguese campaign there was little opportunity for Masséna to display his abilities as a battlefield commander. He had undeniably passed his prime as a commander, while his opponent, the Duke of Wellington, was reaching the peak of his abilities. Although his characteristic tenacity was reflected throughout the campaign, the strategy for the invasion had been dictated by Napoleon and implemented by his état-major and corps commanders; his army had been abandoned within sight of its goal; the goals of the campaign were reversed, and his great military reputation had been undermined through the neglect of others. Consequently, the campaign ended in failure for a variety of reasons--political, logistical, and military--and it cast shadows on Masséna's great military reputation. However, this campaign resulted in more than the defeat of a French army and the humiliation of Masséna. For Napoleon, it was the beginning of the end. In their advance from the Lines of Torres Vedras, Wellington's army would seize the offensive and never relinquish it until the last battle of the Peninsular War was fought at Toulouse, four days after Napoleon had abdicated.


André Masséna

Yet, Masséna's military career was equaled by few commanders in European history. In addition to his remarkable battlefield successes, he touched the careers of many who served under his command. Indeed, at one time or another, a majority of French marshals served under his command and saw "the great Masséna at work." He may have been cast in the shadow of Napoleon, but if it were not for Masséna and the marshals who served their apprenticeship under him, it is quite probable that there would have been no Napoleonic Empire and perhaps the French Revolution and all that it represented--Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity--would have been crushed under the repressive heel of the European monarchies.


  1. Copyright by Donald D. Horward. A much shorter version of this paper was delivered as one of the John Biggs Cincinnati Lectures in Military Leadership and Command at Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, VA. In 1986 the Cincinnati Lectures were published in limited number by Virginia Military Institute.
  2. Donald D. Horward, ed., trans, annotated, The French Campaign in Portugal, An Account by Jean Jacques Pelet, 1810-1811 (Minneapolis, MN, 1973), 501.
  3. Pierre Sabor, Masséna et sa famille (Aix-en-Provence, 1926), 224 ff; Archives de Masséna, MSS, I. These archives are in the possession of the 7th Prince d'Essling to whom the author acknowledges his indebtedness.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 250-51: Philip J. G. Buchez, Histoire de l'Assemblée Constituante (Paris, 1846), II, 451-61.
  6. Auguste Amic, Histoire de Masséna (Paris, 1864), 6; Sabor, Masséna, 301-30.
  7. Archives de Masséna, I.
  8. Barras, Fréron, Ricord, Saliceti to National Convention, 30 frimaire, an II, Jean Baptiste Koch, Mémories de Masséna rédigés d'après les documents. . . . (Paris, 1848-50) I, xvi-xix, lxxxiv-lxxv; James Marshall-Cornwall, Marshal Massena, (Oxford, 1965), 4-5.
  9. Horward, Pelet, 72.
  10. Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, I, 42-79; Amic, Masséna, 19-25.
  11. Ibid., I, 116-33.
  12. Amic, Masséna, 38.
  13. Édouard Gachot, Histoire militaire de Masséna, La Première Campagne d'Italie (1795-1798) (Paris, 1901), 32-39; Amic, Masséna, 38-44.
  14. Schérer to Directory, 23 (?) November 1795, Archives de Masséna, XI, 271.
  15. Vignolle to Masséna, 2 March 1796, Ibid., XII, 121.
  16. Executive Directory to Masséna, 23 April 1796, Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, I, lxxxvi.
  17. The most complete account of Masséna's role in the First Italian Campaign can be found in the following: Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, II; Ramsey W. Phipps, The Armies of the First French Republic and the Rise of the Marshals of Napoleon (Oxford, 1968), IV, 5-178; Gachot, La Première Campagne d'Italie, 101-286.
  18. Carnot to Masséna, 189 May 1796, Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, I, lxxxvii.
  19. Rewbell to Masséna, 14 February 1797, Koch, Mémories de Masséna I, lxxxix.
  20. Paul-Charles Thiébault, Mémoires du Général Bon Thiébault, Publiés sous les auspices de sa fille Mlle Claire Thiébault, d'après le manuscrit original par Fernand Calmettes (Paris, 1894), II, 87.
  21. Ibid., II, 94-95.
  22. Horward, Pelet, 359.
  23. Gachot, La Première Campagne d'Italie, 293.
  24. Archives de Masséna, XVIII, 309; Gachot, La Première Campagne d'Italie, 378.
  25. For full details of the Zurich campaign see: Louis Hennequin, Zurich, Masséna en Suisse, messidor an VII-brumaire an VII (juillet-octobre 1799), (Paris, 1911); Édouard Gachot, Histoire militaire de Masséna. La Campagne d'Helvétie (1799) (Paris, 1904), 171-473, Steven Ross, Quest for Victory, French military strategy 1792-1799, (New York, 1973). 261-89; Phipps, Marshals of Napoleon (Oxford, 1968), V, 130-93; Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, III, 293-405.
  26. Marshall-Cornwall, Massena, 72-74.
  27. Édouard Gachot, Histoire militaire de Masséna, La Campagne d'Helvétie (1799) (Paris, 1904), 182-473.
  28. For additional information on the siege of Genoa, see: Paul Charles Thiébault, Journal des opérations militaires et administratives du siège et blocus de Gênes (Paris, An 9); Masséna, 97-115, Gachot, Histoire militaire de Masséna. Le Siège de Gênes (1800) (Paris, 1908); Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, IV.
  29. Gachot, Le Siège de Gênes, 116.
  30. Bonaparte to Masséna, 5 and 14 May 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, publiée par ordre de l'empereur Napoléon III, (Paris, 1860), Nos. 4760, 4795, VI, 325, 354.
  31. Masséna to Ott, 2 June 1800, Gachot, Le Siège de Gênes, 241.
  32. Bonaparte to Masséna, 25 June 1800, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, No. 4951, VI, 489-90.
  33. James Marshall-Cornwall, Marshal Massena, 115.
  34. Ernest Picard, Préceptes et jugements de Napoléon, (Paris, 1913), 483; "Defense de Gênes par Masséna," Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, XXX, 413-35.
  35. Gachot, Histoire militaire de Masséna. La Troisième Campagne d'Italie (1805-1806) (Paris, 1911), 24-256; Jean Jacques Pelet, "Bataille de Caldiero," Le Spectateur militaire (Paris, 1830), IX, 1-26; Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, V, 41-251.
  36. Berthier to Masséna, 22 November 1805, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, No. 9518, XI, 525-26.
  37. Napoleon to Joseph, 15 November 1805, Napoleon I, Lettres inédites de Napoléon Ier (An VII-1815). Publiées par Léon Lecestre (Paris, 1897), I, 62-63.
  38. Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, V, 194-251.
  39. Ibid., V, 252-83; Milton Finley, "The Career of Count Jean Reynier, 1792-1814," Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, (Tallahassee, FL, 1972), 133-213.
  40. Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, V, 312-37; F. Loraine Petre, Napoleon's Campaign in Poland, 1806-1807 (London, 1901), 226 ff.
  41. Jean Jacques Pelet, Mémoires sur la guerre de 1809, en Allemagne . . . (Paris, 1824-26), I-IV; Charles Saski, Campagne de 1809 en Allemagne et en Autriche (Paris, 1900), I-III; Édouard Gachot, Histoire militaire de Masséna, 1809 Napoléon en Allemagne (Paris, 1913); Koch, Mémoires de Masséna, VI; Archives de la guerre, Service historique, Chateau de Vincennes, "Mémoires Reconnaissances," MSS Carton 2073.
  42. Donald D. Horward, "En campagne avec général Pelet, de l'Italie à Waterloo (1800-1815)," Bulletin de la Société littéraire et historique de la Brie 39 (1983): 17-31.
  43. Pelet, Mémoires sur la guerre de 1809, III, 294.
  44. Marie-Joseph Emmanuel Las Cases, Memoirs of the Life, Exile, and Conversations of the Emperor Napoleon (New York, 1855), I, 189.
  45. Donald D. Horward, Napoleon and Iberia, The Twin Sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida, 1810 (Tallahassee, 1984), 50-51.
  46. Masséna to Joseph, 17 May 1810, Archives de Masséna, LI, 121; Napoleon to Berthier, 29 May 1810, Correspondance de Napoléon Ier, Nos. 16519, 16520, XX, 447-50.
  47. Horward, Twin Sieges, 225-48.
  48. Donald D. Horward, "British Seapower and its Influence on the Peninsular War (1810-1814)," Naval War College Review 21(1978): 54-71.
  49. Donald D. Horward, "Masséna and Wellington on the Lines of Torres Vedras," Select Papers of the International Congress on the Iberian Peninsula, ed. Alice Berkeley (Lisbon, 1991), 119-29; Donald D. Horward, The Battle of Bussaco: Masséna vs. Wellington (Tallahassee, 1965), 41-131.
  50. Wellington to Liverpool, 21 December 1810, Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, The Dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington. K.G., during his various Campaigns in India, Denmark, Portugal, Spain and the Low Countries, and France from 1799 to 1818, ed. John Gurwood (London, 1835-38), VII, 56-60.
  51. Donald D. Horward, "Masséna and Napoleon: Abandonment in Portugal," Military Affairs 37 (1973): 84-88.
  52. Masséna to Berthier, 6 March 1811, Correspondance: Armée de Portugal, Archives de la guerre, Service historique, Château de Vincennes, Carton C-7 12.
  53. Jean-Jacques Pelet, "Campagne du Portugal," Archives de la guerre, Château de Vincennes, MSS, Mémoires historiques, 917-2.

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