Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

 

FOURTEENTH BOOK.

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YEAR 1814.

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CHAPTER III.

NAPOLEON AND THE GUARD AT FONTAINEBLEAU

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One imagines and thinks of the strong man in misfortune as something powerful and inspiring as in seeing a ship caught by the storm and rocks beaten by the waves.  The capital of the empire was in the possession of the Allies, the Senate proclaimed the forfeiture of Napoleon; all groups around the new owners went to greet them, because one runs to fortune, and a government which falls has few friends. What did Napoleon do to oppose these blows dealt by fate?  He still dealt with his old companions in arms of his Guard, and ordered various changes in the general staff of this handful of heroes.  General Krazinski was named commander in chief of the Poles, of which he wanted to form a division; General Ornano took the chief in command of all the cavalry of the Guard, and General Guyot commanded the squadrons which served near the person of the Emperor, to replace General Colbert, wounded in the last affair.

On April 3, Napoleon passed in review all the Guard, infantry and cavalry, in the court of the Cheval-Blanc.  The infantry was arranged along the two sides, fifteen men deep.  After having traversed the ranks, the Emperor brought together most of his former officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers of each company, made them form in a circle around him, then spoke to them in these terms:

 “Soldiers! The enemy hid from us three marches and moved to be Master of Paris; it is necessary to drive them out! Unworthy French, émigrés to which we had granted forgiveness raised the white cockade and joined our enemies. Cowards!  They will pay the price of this new attack.  Swear to overcome or die, and to respect this tricolor cockade which, for twenty years, has always found us on the path of glory and the honor!”

All, with passion, pronounced this oath while exclaiming:

—Yes, yes! We swear it! Vive l’Empereur!

After this short harangue, the infantry of the Guard defiled at quicken step and were replaced immediately by the cavalry, which also defiled in front of Napoleon.

Then the Guard was immediately put moving on Essonnes; its march was greatly prolonged into the night, by having been forced to cross by the road, which traversed the forest of Fontainebleau.

The headquarters was established in Montlignon; the infantry of the Guard took positions in the neighborhoods, and up to Auvernaux; the cavalry in Ferté-Aleps.

But while Napoleon was on the point of marching against the allies, Marshal Marmont started a negotiation with Prince Schwarzenberg, a negotiation which resulted in the signature of a military convention stipulating that the troops of this marshal would leave his important position of Essonnes, to withdraw itself to Versailles, in order to abandon Napoleon.

On April 5, at four o'clock in the morning, General Souham, at the head of the troops of the army corps of the Duke of Ragusa, raised the bivouacs and gave the order to put them on the move.  General Bordesoulle was at the head of the column with the cavalry, the artillery following; then the infantry came, going on each side: General Chastel with his cavalry formed the rear-guard.  The greatest silence reigned in the ranks, because the soldiers had the feeling that they went to the meet the enemy; but they were undeceived soon by seeing the Bavarians moving in parallel with them, a movement that was carried out according to the convention of Marmont.  At this point in time the Poles, who belonged to this corps, returned all of a sudden to Fontainebleau, while shouting that they had been misled and betrayed, and that they did not want to give up their brothers in arms.

As soon as the Emperor learned of this defection, he complained quite bitterly to General Belliard:

—Who could have believed such infidelity of Marmont! He said to him; a man with which I shared my bread… that I drew from obscurity… for which I gave fortune and reputation… the lot of sovereigns is to deal with ingratitude!  Ah!  Surely the troops of Marmont do not know where he leads them; and yet he had given me, just the day before yesterday, strong signs of attachment.

The whole Guard in its entirety was soon informed that its Emperor had abdicated.  Napoleon, in consequence of the reflections, which the situation had given birth in him, did not foresee anything favorable on behalf of the allies; also, at the end of his dinner, he said to the officers of the Guard, which surrounded him:

—It was wanted for me to abdicate in favor of the King of Rome, I did it: however it is not in the interest of France.  My son is a child; my wife is excellent, one cannot find a better one, but she does not understand anything about affairs… You would thus have an Austrian regency lasting twelve or fifteen years, and you would see Mr. Schwarzenberg vice emperor of the French! … That cannot be appropriate. Moreover it is necessary to reason: if that entered the mind of Austria, how could it be believed that the other powers would ever grant that my son should reign while I still lived?  Certainly not!  Because they would be too afraid that I would wrest the power of state from the hands of my wife.  Also I do not await anything good from the dealings of my marshals, which I charged to deal with the Czar.

Indeed, the presentiments of Napoleon were carried out.  When the following day those returned from the Emperor of Russia, and they found it in provisions very different from those of the day before. Not being able to guess the reason for this sudden change, Macdonald spoke to defend the interests of the army and Napoleon: in the middle of his speech, an aide-de-camp came to give a letter to the Czar. This one, after reading some of it, said to the marshals:

—Sirs, you put forward the interests of the army; but do you really understand its interests? Do you know what takes place in the camp?  Do you know that the corps of the Duke of Ragusa entirely aligned itself on side of the allies?

The marshals answered without hesitating that that was impossible and that His Majesty has been misled.

—In that case, Alexander set out again, presenting the opened dispatch, taking and reading it all to them.

And he gave to them the news from Prince Schwarzenberg, announcing the defection of the corps of Marmont, pursuant to his military convention with this prince.  The marshals had not recovered from their surprise, when Alexander fixed their attention by these words:

—Sirs, this circumstance entirely changes the progress achieved and leaves to Napoleon only the choice of an absolute abdication; however, he can count on, for retirement, an independent principality, where he will be free to take along with him part of his Guard as well as the servants of his house which he has chosen.

The difficulty was to announce this news to Napoleon:  Marshal Macdonald undertook this delicate mission.  To this end, he went to Fontainebleau, where he arrived at eleven o'clock in the evening. He entered the suite in the cabinet of the Emperor, with whom he had a long conference.

It was on April 11 that the treaty, which dictated the future condition of Napoleon and the Imperial family, was signed; then Marshal Macdonald presented it to Napoleon to be ratified.  This last, after having heard its reading with the greatest coolness, dictated to the Duke of Bassano his second abdication conceived in these terms:

 “The allied powers having proclaimed that the Emperor Napoleon was the only obstacle which opposed the re-establishment of peace in Europe, the Emperor Napoleon, faithful to his oath, declares that he gives up for himself and his heirs the thrones of France and Italy, because there is not any personal sacrifice, even that of his life, that he is not ready to make for the interest of France.”

 After having signed this act, he discussed with the general officers the Guard who surrounded him.

—Now that all is finished, he said to them, since I am then not to remain, what is most appropriate for you, is the family of the Bourbons: it will rejoin all the parties.  The King, he said, has the spirit and means; he is old and suffering: he will not want, I think, to attach his name to a bad reign.  If he acts well, he will be put in my bed, at the Tuileries, with only changing the linen.  If his family is wise, you will be happy; but what is needed is that he treats the army well and that he does not reconsider the past, otherwise his reign will hardly last.  He must especially keep in touch with the national good; it is the screen on which the fabric rests: cut a thread, good-bye the work.  The King will have to do much with the suburb of Saint-Germain; if he wants to reign a long time, it is necessary that he holds it in a state of blockade: it is true that then he will not be liked any more than me by it; because it is an English colony in the middle of France, which wants its revenue for itself and worries little about the repose and happiness of the fatherland, provided that it enjoys the privileges, the honors and the fortune for which, so that it claims, it has alone has created and given the world.

At Fontainebleau on April 16 met: the Russian General Schouwalow, the Austrian General Koller, the English Colonel Campbell and the Prussian General Valdebourg-Truchsess, commissioners of the allied powers, to accompany Napoleon to the port of Frejus and to preside over his embarkation.

On April 20 in the morning, the Emperor called General Koller, to which he said:

—I thought of what remained to be done with me: I have decided not to leave.  The allies are not faithful to the commitments, which they undertook with me; I then thus also revoke an abdication, which was only conditional.  More than a thousand addresses reached me this night: entreating me to retake the reins of government.  I had given up all my rights and the crown only to save France the horrors of a civil war; but knowing the dissatisfaction today that the measurements taken by the new government inspire, as explained to me now, and I see how I will tear out the hearts of my soldiers!

The Austrian general requested Napoleon to explain to him in what way the allies appeared to have failed in fulfilling the treaty.

—That the Empress is prevented from accompanying me up to Saint-Tropez, as was agreed.

—I ensure you, Sire, Koller replied, that Her Majesty is not restrained, and that it was of her own will that she decided not to accompany you.

—Eh well, I want to remain truly faithful to my promise; but if I have new reasons to complain, I will see myself released of all that I promised.

The 20th of April, the day fixed for the departure, Napoleon crossed the court of the Cheval-Blanc about midday, in the midst of twelve hundred grenadiers of the Guard arranged in two ranks.  Before arriving at the gate, he stopped, formed a circle with the Guard, pronounced, in a strong voice, though moved, these remarkable words:

 “Officers and soldiers of my Guard, I bid my farewell to you!  During twenty years I led you on the path of the victory; during twenty years you served me with honor and fidelity: receive my undying thanks.”

“My goal was always the happiness and the glory of France; today the circumstances have changed… When the whole of Europe is armed against me; when all the princes, all the powers are leagued; when a great portion of my Empire is surrendered, invaded; when part of France…” — After these words Napoleon stopped a moment, but he soon began again in a faltering voice: “When another order of things is established, I had to yield.”

“With you and the brave men who remained devoted to me, I would have still been able to resist all the efforts of my enemies; but I would have ignited a civil war in our beautiful France, within our dear fatherland…”

“Do not give up your unhappy country; submit to your chiefs, and continue to follow the path of honor where I always met you.”

“Do not be anxious of my fate; great memories remain for me: I will still be able to occupy my time nobly: I will write my history and yours.”

“Officers and soldiers!  I am content with you!  I cannot kiss you all, but I will kiss your general. Good-bye, my children; good-bye, my friends; keep me in your memory!  I will be happy when I know that you are keeping me in yours”—And addressing himself to General Petit: “Come, General, join me.”

Then General Petit approached, and Napoleon embraced him with emotion.

“Bring the eagle to me and so I can embrace it also*!” the Emperor said again.

*This flag, preserved religiously by General Petit, today resides in the Home of the Invalids, and became its property; and, since 1830, remained there displayed in its salon.

The height of this trophy is approximately one meter, and its form represents a perfect square. The angles are decorated with the symbol of the Emperor; in the middle is the eagle, which is surrounded by the following inscription:

IMPERIAL GUARD.

The EMPEROR NAPOLEON

TO THE 1st REGIMENT OF

FOOT GRENADIERS.

On the other side of the flag are inscribed, in the following order, the memorable battles in which this regiment took part; they are those of: Marengo, — Austerlitz, — Eylau, — Eckmuhl, — Wagram, — Moskowa, — Berlin, — Ulm, — Jena, — Friedland, — Essling, — Smolensk, — Vienna, — Madrid, — Moskow.

The fabric of this flag is out of red silk.  It is strewn with bees embroidered out of gold, and is torn through by several balls.

The flag bearer advanced in his turn and inclined his eagle.  Napoleon embraced three times the colors with emotion, saying:

“Ah! Dear eagle! How the kisses that I give you resound in posterity! ”—And after a pause: “Good-bye, my children, repeated the emotional Emperor; good-bye, my brave men! … Surround me once again!”

These words produced on all these brave men the effect that Napoleon had some right to expect. The eyelids of these old warriors moistened with tears; a dull silence attested that their hearts were sad. Also the foreign officers, present at this scene of good-byes of Napoleon to his soldiers, could not help feeling themselves the same emotion, which they did not seek to hide.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2006

 

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