Military Subjects: Battles & Campaigns

 

1809 – Bravery at the Brenta River: Ambrogio Uboldo and Stories of Valour

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy

History and Strategic Applications: Studies for the Bicentenary, 1809-2009

This specific literary exposé and its narrative focus on one of the most exciting periods in history:  the age of Napoleon, a most dramatic era that reverberated with sparkling lights of endless military campaigns, valour, and bravery, and which helped change the politics and geo-strategic landscape over most of continental Europe.

It was an age of continued military attrition and armed invasions. The weight of an empire overcame the European States, potentates, and major ruling houses of Europe; they were forced to kneel down to one man’s temporal monocracy, unrestrained military despotism, and délire de gloire (i.e. delirium of glory). A man who made the time tremble and countries shiver to quench his thirst for conquest and devasting human ambitions – of power, and honours.

This documentary piece captures the scenery of the 1809 warfare in the Italian theatre, and the human beauty of camaraderie (i.e. comradeship) which had one of its heights (that was a most significant piece of epic) at the crossing of the Brenta River. The piece also examines unheard of episodes of rare dignity and dedication to duty and sacrifice. It sheds light on the personal experiences of the soldiers who fought during that harsh confrontation for honour and martial supremacy.

An imperative must of postmodern history essays is to remember the Italian front and battlefield locations where major confrontations in arms occurred; to properly preserve the memory of those brave men and the strenuous efforts they endured as well as the many broken destinies that perished in the 1809 campaign of the Venetiae and in other foreign lands.

A further point of remark ponders the great deeds of bravery and endurance that occurred on those far distant locations in the foreign domains of the Habsburgs, likewise on June 14, 1809, at the battle of the Raab (Győr, Hungary), and at Wagram (Deutsch-Wagram, in Lower Austria), July 5-6, 1809, to name a few. 

It is indubitable that the Italian soldiers in the Army of Italy serving under Prince Eugène de Beauharnais determinedly fought with courage; their personal abnegation marked the victories – catapulting them in many mémoires d’ épopée (i.e. memories of the time) to take their places in the annals of history and mid 19th Century cultivated historiograpghy.

Napoleonic scholars and other passionate amateur historians beyond those times are acutely aware of the importance of the 1809 crossing of the Brenta River, and seek to protect and memorialize the grounds of history.                                                               

One of the lesser known operative fronts of the Napoleonic wars is represented by the Italian theatre – most especially referring to military events of 1809, which were of great contrast and bloody contended battles.

Introduction

In the early days of May 1809, Prince Eugène de Beauharnais’[1] Army divisions, advancing in the Northern Italian territories of the Venetia, fought one of the severest and most astonishing engagements of the Italian campaign when confronted by the Imperial troops of the Habsburgs Monarchy under Erzherzog Johann von Österreich (i.e. Archduke John of Austria, Florence, January 20, 1782 - Graz, May 11, 1859).

Retreating for the first time to the north, and gaining the strategic position of the river, Archduke John’s troops had delayed military action in the course of long days at the Brenta River – which proved to be a heavily disputed confrontation.

War stories of pugnacious soldiers like Ambrogio Uboldo (born  1785) who valiantly defended the life of Napoleon’s stepson, the Viceré, by making a shield of his own body, are henceforth recounted.

One of the most famous and perhaps most important actions of the war  occurred on May 4th[2] and 5th of 1809, near the small country village at Friola.[3]

It was not much to mention except a thriving rural community of  ten souls; basically, a rural economy relying on farms (mostly rustic buildings intersected by irrigation channels, the róggie) which can still be found there.

The quiet county territory soon transformed into a dangerous conflict zone, as the Viceré troops headed in the direction of the town of Treviso and the line of the Piave River for the second time, thus colliding with locally positioned Imperial units at the Brenta River.

This aggressive and daring move, and its consequential efforts of attack, probably represented a forgotten key turning point in the war – which due to its sensible implications was to prove instrumental in impacting the make-shift defence at the Piave, thus changing forever the course of the whole campaign

In the sphere of strategic applications it mined the tactical conditions and strategic flexibility of the Austrian army regular units.

Portrait of bravery

A man; strong, generous.

Sensible, altruist, a good-natured person.

Helding out for élan (i.e. dash) – and ready to every sort of determination.

A distinguished young fellow, whose nobility of the heart was more than a peculiar trait of his personality. Bold and aggressive horseman.

È Ambrogio Uboldo, nobil uomo di Villareggio, cavaliere di più ordini militari.[4]

Transl. – He is Ambrogio Uboldo, noble man of Villareggio, knight of more military orders.

However stark the circumstances were at the crossing of the Brenta River over which much fighting occurred during that day, Prince Eugène Rose de Beauharnais had moved to inspect all the line and the front of the troops accompanied by his General Staff.

But the mounted group of daring horsemen were detected and roused suspicion, thus attracting the enemy’s attention. And having quickly become the target under intense fire they were somehow caught en impasse, in the growing crossfire.

To escape the deadly volleys and enemy shelling, de Bauharnais’ Staff was forced to move from that dangerous position -- trying to keep out of the range of firing -- and this detail tells much of the difficult nature of the surrounding terrain on which they fought. Their psychological capabilities were severely tested; they bore a heavy weight of fear and sacrifice on that day.

Performing to the best of his executive role, exhibiting leadership and effective army command, de Beauharnais was abruptly exposed to imminent danger of death and suffered one of the worst experiences as commander in the front line of honour.

Austrian field howitzers were aimed and positioned on the group; the Prince and his followers were shelled with round after round. Under the circumstances, it happened that some enemy shells fell springing all around, but one of them reached at the very feet of the Prince – presenting the possibility of lethal danger, and immediate explosion underneath his uneasy mount.

The Quintessence of Valour

Noticing monsieur le Prince so unexpectedly exposed to sudden danger of injuries was more than a shock to the many officiers-générals (i.e. general officers) of his accompanying entourage; but their instinct of physical conservation prevented them from acting.

However these circumstances could not be mitigated, the Prince stood almost unmoved, staying on the field – of fire – in a static posture, and as an inspiration to his men.

Because of his youth, a green season not yet spent (he had still to reach the 28th spring), he probably thought to challenge destiny and setting an example to his staff. When all hopes vanished only one man had the inspiration and, en dernière ressource, du courage (i.e. as a last resort, pluck) to perform his duty which he did with zeal and prompt efficency.

Facing the harsh threat and not overcome by constraints and feelings of awe which usually prevail on men’s natural instincts, the knight Uboldo (he had been assigned as escort duty with the Prince’s mounted Guards that day) soon realized that the shell would explode causing a major conflagration – which would have taken a heavy toll, and cost untold human lives and consequential damage.

This is the reason why he promptly dismounted from his charger, and after running at the Prince kicked with his foot the dangerous bomb, throwing it into the nearby waters of the river.

What an action. What a heroic deed.

An amazing example of intrepid and shining virtue of valour set a standard for dedication and vaillance remarquable (i.e. striking prowess) in the line of duty. Uboldo’s action raised the disheartened spirits of the Prince’s entourage and engendered expressions of appreciation and amazement.   

His stand and gallantry to brave adversities in conflict mesmerized the whole Staff (General Count Teodoro Lechi was among the perturbed eyewitnesses of this unconquerable display of heroism) by the sheer force of his devotion – with the dash no fear of consequences enabled.

Notwithstanding the perilous circumstances of the above-mentioned episode, Uboldo’s conduct in saving Eugène’s life was typical of the man’s generous demeanour and gentlemanliness.

The Wind and the Silence

However, Uboldo was not a newcomer to éclat actions (i.e. acts of honour) – and to silently gather the laurels of bravery. It is well recorded that at the tremendous clash at Fontanafredda, a captain named Bordoni had ordered Uboldo to take responsibility of a light cavalry section formed by dragoons, and sent him on a reconnaissance mission to scout the outposts and to keep a good watch on the enemy troops movements.

Uboldo matched his assignation, and carried out his duty – with his usual constancy and devotion , but on the Dragoons’s way back to their lines, he was confronted by a strong enemy cavalry detachment, in superior numbers to the men composing his mobile escort. 

After having discerned the oncoming danger, and quite under enemy pressure, Uboldo decided to put up a fight – instantly, he ordered his men to arms, to take immediate action and fire on the enemy. Caught by surprise with the unexpected action of an ambush, the enemy party became hotly engaged and sustained a number of losses in death and wounded, forcing the survivors to hastily use their spurs.[5]

Uboldo’s valour was well worth his name and martial abilities and it shone brightly at the assault against the fortified works of the rocky stronghold at Malborghet (i.e. Malborghetto, county of Udine), and at S. Vito - gaining further laurels of glory at the strenuous confrontation of the Raab.

On July 6, still serving on active campaign service, he participated at the fateful day and at the victorious outcome in the battlefield of Wagram.

Thus was the man, the distinguished young knight, one of many Italians who gallantry served for the glories of the Empire – well aware that only with his personal valour could he generate those moral and patriotic forces that would have catapulted his own country – Italy – amid the towering powers of Europe, in culture of peace and shared civilized values.

That past time was equally a symbiotic calling to the civilian participation of all the social classes to the politics and state institutions of the Regno Italico (i.e. Italian Kingdom); and after the viceroyalty appeals to glory and martial conquests were bygone, in the years to come the doors of the Italian Risorgimento would soon be opened to the regeneration of people and to civic liberties.

Remark – Fine History of Collecting and the beaux arts: the Preservation of Material Sources

A reputed Milanese banker, Uboldo’s monetary skills and financial transactions permitted him to acquire quite a formidable array of ancient weapons and arms; such a copious collection of artefacts of more than 1500 pieces was carefully preserved and displayed, with reverent attention, conservative methodology, and cultural compliances, in the composite spaces of his mansion, villa Uboldo at Cernusco sul Naviglio – a mild location located just in the area suburbana (i.e. outskirt) of Milano.

It was one of the most important private galleries in Europe, and because of its prestige, catalogues of arms and shields belonging to the above cited collection – Armeria (i.e. armoury) Uboldo – were issued to a large public audience at various times.

Worth mentioning among the precious relics on exhibition was one SCIABOLA, mammalucca delle più scelte, adoperata dal mussulmano Rostan[6], cacciatore e confidente di Napoleone, assai arcuata, con leggiadra impugnatura incisa e dorata e sparsa di belle turchesi [vide: Biorci Domenico, L’ Armeria del Signore C. Ambrogio Uboldo Nobile de Villareggio, Socio onorario di varie accademie e banchiere di Milano, Milano, Per Giuseppe Crespi, MDCCCXXXIX, p. 10].

Transl.: SABRE, mameluke of the most chosen, used by the muslim Rostan[7], chasseur and confidant of Napoleon, pretty bended, with charming etched and gold-plated hilt and spread of beautiful turquoise.

Distinguished curator at the Brera (in Milan), Dott. Carlo Zardetti (Milano, 1778-1849, numismatic and archaelogist) was one of the names who indefatigably lavished his competences and talented collaborator applications to Uboldo’s formidable collection of belle Arti.

Selected Bibliography and Further Reading

Primary sources

1. French works:

Beauharnais, Eugène, (de). Mémoires et Correspondence Politique et Militaire du Prince Eugène. Publiés, annotés, et mise en ordre par A. Du Casse, auteur des Mémoires du Roi Joseph. Paris: Michel Lévy Frères, Libraires-Éditeurs, 2 bis, rue Vivienne. 1859.

Pelet, (Général). Mémoires sur la guerre de 1809, en Allemagne, avec les opérations particulières des corps d’ Italie, de Pologne, de Saxe, de Naples et de Walcheren. Tome Troisième. Paris, Roret, Libraire, Rue Hautefeuille, au coin de celle du Battoir. 1825.

Vaudoncourt, Frédéric-François-Guillaume (Baron de). Histoire politique et militaire du Prince Eugène Napoléon, vice-roi d’ Italie. 2 vols.. Paris: Libraire Universelle de P. Mongie, Boulevart des Italiens, N° 10. 1828.

2. Italian works:

AA. VV.. Raccolta di descrizioni delle opere più interessanti di belle arti esistenti nella galleria del signor Ambrogio Uboldo nobile de’ Villareggio…Milano, coi tipi di Giuseppe Crespi, 1842.

Bertolini, Bartolomeo. La Campagna di Russia e il tramonto di Napoleone. Casa Editrice A. Mondatori, Milano, 1940. 

Biraghi, Luigi. Illustrazione archeologica dell’ epitafio romano scritto su di un’ olla cineraria dissotterrata a Cernusco Asinario, provincia di Milano nel 1849. Milano, dalla Tipografia Boniardi – Pogliani di Ermenegildo Besozzi, 1851.

Descrizione degli elmi posseduti da Ambrogio Uboldo nobile di Villareggio cavaliere dell’ insigne ordine di S. Gregorio Magno. Socio delle accademie di belle arti di Venezia, Firenze del Panteau e dell’ Arcadia di Roma, di Bologna, Torino, Verona, Valsesia, Valle Tiberina Toscana e consigliere straordinario del T.I.E. Accademia di belle arti in Milano. Precedono alcune notizie sull’ uso, sulla forma, ecc. degli elmi nel Medio Evo e nei tempi anteriori e posteriori ad esso. Milano, coi tipi Crespi, MDCCCXLI.

Descrizione degli elmi posseduti da Ambrogio Uboldo nobile di Villareggio cavaliere di molti ordini…precedono alcune notizie sull’ uso, sulla forma, ecc., degli scudi nel Medio Evo e nei tempi anteriori e posteriori ad esso. Milano, Pagnoni, 1843.

Descrizione degli scudi posseduti dal banchiere Ambrogio Uboldo nobile de Villareggio socio di varie accademie, precedono alcune notizie sull’ uso, sulla forma, ecc. degli scudi nel Medio Evo e nei tempi anteriori e posteriori ad esso. Coi tipi A.S. Brambilla e Comp., Milano, 1839.

Descrizione degli scudi posseduti da Ambrogio Uboldo nobile de Villareggio cavaliere di molti ordini socio delle principali accademie di scienze, lettere, ed arti e consigliere straordinario dell’ Accademia di belle arti in Milano. Milano, coi tipi Crespi e Pagnoni, 1843.

Raccolta di descrizioni delle opere più interessanti di belle arti esistenti nella galleria del signor Ambrogio Uboldo nobile de’ Villareggio e cavaliere di più ordini. Seconda edizione. Milano, Crespi e Compagnoni, 1844.

Secondary sources

1. French works:

Autin, Jean. Eugène de Beauharnais, de Joséphine à Napoléon. Perrin, 1989.

Bernardi, Françoise (de). Eugène de Beauharnais, le fils adoptif de Napoléon. Librairie Académique Perrin, 1973.

Blemus, René. Eugène de Beauharnais, l’ honneur à tout vent. Editions France-Empire, Paris, 1993.

2. Italian works:

Candeloro, Giorgio. Storia dell’ Italia moderna. Vol. 1. Le origini del Risorgimento (1700-1815). Feltrinelli, 1994.

Coppa, Simonetta. Ambrogio Uboldo collezionista e la sua villa di Cernusco sul Naviglio: precisazioni e nuovi documenti. In: Arte Lombarda, 55. 1980.

Notes:

[1] Eugène Rose de Beauharnais was born in Paris on September 3, 1781 – and died at München, in Bayern (February 21, 1824). His biological father, Alexandre François Marie vicomte de Beauharnais (Fort-Royal, Martinique, 28 May 1760), was an accomplished officer who served with the armée royale (i.e. royal army) under the monarchy establishment of the Bourbons kings of France; surprisingly enough, he met his fate in the turbulent social convulsions in Paris (July 23, 1794), by facing death under madame guillotine. His mother, a beautiful Creole from Martinique and polarized social change – who was a native of Les Trois-Ilets – named Joséphine de Tascher de la Pagèrie (June 23, 1763 - Rueil-Malmaison, May 29, 1814) – aka Joséphine de Beauharnais, the woman who, once left a widow, contracted a civil marriage with General Bonaparte in 1796.

Through the power of foreign arms, therefore on account of the imposing string of military victories and overwhelming political consensus gained by his step-father, Napoleon, Eugène was appointed Vicerè (i.e. Viceroy) of the newly formed (1805) Kingdom of Italy (a largely euphemistic and ostentatious title because his Northern Italy Lombard domain was unprofitably subjected to France’s spreading influence), and prince de Venise (i.e. Prince of Venice).  Eugène received honours and the aristocratic predicates of Archduke of Frankfurt, Duke of Leuchetenberg, and Prince of Eichstätt.

[2] A comprehension of the strategic milieu, and an in-depth survey on the area of the combat would be enhanced through reading a passage of specific extracted from a XIXth century historiographical work entitled Mémoires sur la Guerre de 1809, en Allemagne, avec les opérations particulières des corps d’ Italie, de Pologne, de Saxe, de Naples et de Walcheren. Authored by General Pelet, one quotation corroborates the following geo-strategic frame:

Le même jour, l’ armée ennemie passant la Brenta, se réunit à Fontaniva.

Frimont, disputant pas à pas le terrain, coupa les ponts de Vicence, et vint à S. Pietro-Engu.

Le vice-roi arrêta son quartier général à Monte-Bello.

L’ armée autrichienne ayant fait trois lieues pour atteindre Castel-Franco (3), y séjourna le lendemain; Frimont repassa la Brenta et détruisit le pont; Schmidt occupait Bassano […]; Hirsch, Noale.

Eugène s’ étant porté à Vicence, avait dirigé Serras sur Bassano, Grenier sur Lisiera embranchement des routes qui conduisent à cette ville et à Castel-Franco.

Durutte devait marcher d’ Este à Mestre, débloquer Venise et de là gagner rapidement Trévise.

Eugène perdant une journée à faire des dispositions devant un ennemi qui devait se retirer au plus vite, se rendit à la Friola (4), où l’ avant-garde traversa le soir un premier bras de la Brenta.

Macdonald était à S. Pietro-Engu; la cavalerie, à Camezola; Serras depuis la veille dans le faubourg de Bassano situé à la rive droite de la Brenta [cfr. Général Pélet, Mémoires sur la Guerre de 1809, en Allemagne, avec les opérations particulières des corps d’ Italie, de Pologne, de Saxe, de Naples et de Walcheren, Paris, 1825, pp. 190-191].

Transl.: The same day, the enemy army crossed the Brenta, and gathered at Fontaniva.

Frimont, disputing step by step the ground, cut the bridges of Vicence, and came to S. Pietro-Engu.

The vice-roy stopped his General Huarters at Monte-Bello.

The Austrian army had done three leagues to reach Castel-Franco (3), and stayed there the next day; Frimont re-crossed the Brenta and destroyed the bridge; Schmidt occupied Bassano […]; Hirsch, Noale.

Eugène having reached at Vicence, had directed Serras to Bassano, Grenier towards Lisiera fork of roads which led to this town and to Castel-Franco.

Durutte had to march from Este to Mestre, deblocking Venice and from there to quickly gain Trevise.

Eugène losing one day to do some dispositions in front of an enemy who had to retire as soon as possible, reached himself at Friola (4), where the vanguard crossed in the evening a first branch of the Brenta.

Macdonald was at S. Pietro-Engu; the cavalry, at Camezola; Serras after the eve in the suburb of Bassano located on the right bank of the Brenta.

Specification

The above cited toponimi (i.e. place-names) do present slight variations (basically rendered through spelling mistakes) in the orthographyc transcriptions of the text.

Among them: Vicence (= Vicenza); S. Pietro-Engu (= San Pietro in Gu); Camezola (= Camazzole).

It is pretty obvious these words evidence some linguistic discrepancies (aka distorted pronunciation, which meant clashed linguistics) from Italian into French.

Eugène suivait mollement l’ ennemi.

Le 5, il passait la Brenta, le 6 il était à St.-Artien [Ibid., p. 194].

Transl.: Eugène idly followed the enemy.

On the 5, he crossed the Brenta, on the 6 he was at St.-Artien.

Additional work is provided by Guillaume De Vaudoncourt:

Le 4 mai, le prince Eugène, jugeant que la division Durutte devait arriver ce jour-là à Mestre, et que le général Rusca déboucherait dans la Valsugana, se disposa à passer la Brenta le lendemain.

S’ étant établi, avec le quartier-général, à Friola, sur le bord de la rivière, il y appela l’ avant-garde, que commandait le colonel Renaud, du 30e. de dragons.

Le général Macdonald recut l’ ordre de prendre position, avec les deux divisions de l’ aile droite et la 1re. de dragons, à la gauche de San-Pietro-Engù; le général Grenier resta, avec la division Pacthod, dans sa position de la veille, et le général d’ Hilliers vint, avec la division Fontanelli, se placer entre les deux, à la droite de San-Pietro-Engù.

L’ armée se trouva le soir réunie en ligne de bataille, couverte par la cavalerie légère à Camasola, et par la division Pully, de dragons, qui vint à Pozzo.

Vers le soir l’ avant-garde passa le premier bras de la Brenta, et s’ établit dans une île en présence de l’ ennemi; il s’ engagea sur ce point une fusillade assez vive, qui cessa à la nuit [cfr. Général De Vaudoncourt, Histoire politique et militaire du prince Eugène Napoléon, Vice-roi d’ Italie, Paris, Librairie Universelle de P. Mongie, 1828, pp. 220-221].

Transl.: On May 4, the prince Eugène, judging that Durutte division had to arrive that same day at Mestre, and that general Rusca would debouch in the Valsugana, took himself dispositions to cross the Brenta the following day. Having established himself, with the general-staff, at Friola, on the side of the river, he called there for the vanguard, which commanded the colonel Renaud, of the 30th. of the dragoons.

The general Macdonald received the order to take position, with the two divisions of the right wing and the 1st of the dragoons, at the left of San-Pietro-Engù; the general Grenier remained, with Pacthod division, in the position of the eve, and the general d’Hilliers came, with the division Fontanelli, to place himself amid the two, at the right of San-Pietro-Engù.

The army found itself the evening gathered in battle-line, covered by the light cavalry at Camasola, and by the division Pully, of dragoons, which came to Pozzo.

Towards the evening the vanguard crossed the first branch of the Brenta, and established itself on one island in presence of the enemy; it happened on this point a shots exchange rather hot, that stopped at the nightime.

The above cited toponimi (i.e. place-names) do present slight variations (basically rendered through spelling mistakes) in the orthographyc transcriptions of the text.

Among them: Vicence (= Vicenza); S. Pietro-Engu (= San Pietro in Gu); Camezola (= Camazzole).

It is pretty obvious these words evidence some linguistic discrepancies (aka distorted pronunciation, which meant clashed linguistics) from Italian into French.

Eugène suivait mollement l’ ennemi.

Le 5, il passait la Brenta, le 6 il était à St.-Artien [Ibid., p. 194].

Transl.: Eugène idly followed the enemy.

On the 5, he crossed the Brenta, on the 6 he was at St.-Artien.

Additional work is provided by Guillaume De Vaudoncourt.

[3] The country hamlet of Friola permained under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Padua for a six centuries period, dating from the year 1218 to 1818.  In the location called with the indicative reference of Castellaro, there had been built quite an impregnable fortificatory asset – the stronghold – belonging to the noble family branch of the Da Romano – whose extensive land properties included, in the 12th Century, the fief of the villa de la  Friola.  Nowadays, the outlying village named Friola-Belvedere belongs to the rural district of Pozzoleone (province of Vicenza), Veneto region.

Le 4 mai, le prince Eugène, jugeant que la division Durutte devait arriver ce jour-là à Mestre, et que le général Rusca déboucherait dans la Valsugana, se disposa à passer la Brenta le lendemain.

S’ étant établi, avec le quartier-général, à Friola, sur le bord de la rivière, il y appela l’ avant-garde, que commandait le colonel Renaud, du 30e. de dragons.

Le général Macdonald recut l’ ordre de prendre position, avec les deux divisions de l’ aile droite et la 1re. de dragons, à la gauche de San-Pietro-Engù; le général Grenier resta, avec la division Pacthod, dans sa position de la veille, et le général d’ Hilliers vint, avec la division Fontanelli, se placer entre les deux, à la droite de San-Pietro-Engù.

L’ armée se trouva le soir réunie en ligne de bataille, couverte par la cavalerie légère à Camasola, et par la division Pully, de dragons, qui vint à Pozzo.

Vers le soir l’ avant-garde passa le premier bras de la Brenta, et s’ établit dans une île en présence de l’ ennemi; il s’ engagea sur ce point une fusillade assez vive, qui cessa à la nuit [cfr. Général De Vaudoncourt, Histoire politique et militaire du prince Eugène Napoléon, Vice-roi d’ Italie, Paris, Librairie Universelle de P. Mongie, 1828, pp. 220-221].

Transl.: On May 4, the prince Eugène, judging that Durutte division had to arrive that same day at Mestre, and that general Rusca would debouch in the Valsugana, took himself dispositions to cross the Brenta the following day. Having established himself, with the general-staff, at Friola, on the side of the river, he called there for the vanguard, which commanded the colonel Renaud, of the 30th. of the dragoons.

The general Macdonald received the order to take position, with the two divisions of the right wing and the 1st of the dragoons, at the left of San-Pietro-Engù; the general Grenier remained, with Pacthod division, in the position of the eve, and the general d’Hilliers came, with the division Fontanelli, to place himself amid the two, at the right of San-Pietro-Engù.

The army found itself the evening gathered in battle-line, covered by the light cavalry at Camasola, and by the division Pully, of dragoons, which came to Pozzo.

Towards the evening the vanguard crossed the first branch of the Brenta, and established itself on one island in presence of the enemy; it happened on this point a shots exchange rather hot, that stopped at the nightime.

In this text, some locality-names need careful comprehension as well.  Linguistic differentiations are found in the following place indications: S. Pietro-Engu (= San Pietro in Gu); Camezola (= Camazzole).  Confirmed spelling difficulties were met by writing the correct names from Italian into French transcriptions. In this case, one question would arise: did Vaudoncourt experience the same substantial differences Général Pélet faced in his research, or did this écrivain militaire (i.e. military writer) base his historical reconstruction on Pélet’s narrative?

Despite the literary accomplishments of the original sources, anything written down by both authors should be subjected to prudent analysis, and critical methodology (i.e. to critical examination of the historical source).

[4] Cfr. Bartolomeo Bertolini, La Campagna di Russia e il tramonto di Napoleone, Casa Editrice A. Mondatori, Milano, 1940, p. 243.

[5] Ibid., p. 244.

[6] This is an erroneously spelt (from French language to Italian euphony) and orthographically transcribed nominal reference.  The correct name of Napoleon’s reputed bodyguard was Roustam – full name: Raza Roustam.

[7] The sixth son of a merchant named Rustam Unan, and of the Georgian Bouchid-Vari, he was kidnapped in his early preadolescence and reduced to slavery.

Roustam was sold in the western Egyptian market; and in the town of Cairo one local eminence, the sheikh El Bekri, deemed it a captatio benevolentiae (i.e. an expression to flatter the benevolence) to proffer (August 1799) the young slave to the feared commander of the French expeditionary force: General Bonaparte.

On February 1, 1806, Roustam had a marriage tie contracted in Paris with mademoiselle Alexandrine Douville – daughter of the premier valet de chambre (i.e. first manservant) of the cabinet of H. M. the Empress Joséphine.

Roustam is buried in the cemetery of Doudan (Essonne, France).

On his sepulchre are engraved in memoriam the following dedicatory words: Ici gît Roustam Raza, ancien mamelouk de l’ empereur Napoléon, né à Tiflis, en Géorgie.

Transl.: Here lies Roustam Raza, old mameluke of the emperor Napoléon, born at Tiflis, in Georgia.

Vide: Dictionnaire Napoléon, Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1999, Roustam (Raza), p. 668; Déribéré Maurice, La jeunesse mouvementée de Roustam ou comment le Géorgien devint le Mamelouk de Napoléon, Bedi Kartlisa, Paris, 1976, Vol. XXXIV, pp. 128-142; Déribéré Maurice, Les Arméniens du corps des Mamelouks de l’ Empire, Bedi Kartlisa, Paris, 1982, Vol. XL pp. 260-262; Durand Bruno, Roustam et son empereur. De l’ Egypte à Dourdan, Société Historique de Dourdan, 2005; Fleishmann Hector, Roustam mameluck de Napoleon, D’ après des mémoires et de nombreux documents inédits tirés des Archives Nationales et des Archives du ministère de la Guerre, Paris, Albert Méricant, Editeur, 1910; Kasbarian-Bricourt Béatrice, L’ Odyssée mamelouke, A l’ ombre des armées napoléoniennes, L’Harmattan, 1988; Savant Jean, Les Mamelouks de Napoléon, Paris, 1949; Souvenirs de Roustam, Mamelouk de Napoléon, Introduction et notes de Paul Cottin, Préface de Frédéric Masson, Paris, Librairie Paul Ollendorf, 1911; Zieseniss Charles Otto, Considérations sur l’ iconographie du mamelouk Roustam, Bulletin de la Société de l’ Histoire de l’ Art français, 1988.

Pupil of the neo-classical master Jacques-Louis David (Paris, August 30, 1748-Bruxelles, December 29, 1825), Jacques-Nicolas Paillot de Montabert (1771-1849) composed a remarkable pictorial work, Le Mamelouk Raza Roustam (1780-1845).

A carefully painted vivification dated 1806, this artistic production is a huile sur toile (i.e. oil on canvas; 1,520 m. x 1,255 m.); a gift (1900) of the painter Pierre-Albert Beaufeu to the Musée de l’ Armée, in Paris.

A further piece of importance, a delightfully refined polychromatic portrait beautifully rendering his physiognomical traits had been painted by the reputed French artist Horace Vernet (1788-1857) – Portrait of Roustam Raza, Napoleon’ s Mamelouk (1810).

This huile sur toile (i.e. oil on canvas; 75 x 61.6 cm.) has been bought by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it is actually preserved in New York.

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2009

 

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