RETURN OF NAPOLEON AND THE GUARD, FROM THE ISLE OF ELBA
Now, before undertaking the account of the return to France of the Emperor and his Guard in the month of March 1815--an adventurous expedition, which became for one like the other a kind of triumph--it is necessary for us to throw a retrospective glance on the events which we told in the preceding chapter, and to announce the principal causes, which led Napoleon to risk this marvelous enterprise.
But in the Emperor, the idea of this return dated
by far before. At Fontainebleau, he had lowered his head in
front of the storm, while waiting for better days; and if something
precipitated the execution of this intention, it is that he accepted,
in February, two kinds of advice: one by the way of Paris, the other
by way of Vienna. From
On February 26, 1815, at one hour after midday,
the troops, accepted the order to be held ready; without being told
anything else: officers and soldiers were unaware of the goal
of their destination; if there was joy,
there was also concern… But still, let Lieutenant-Colonel
Laborde speak, from whom we already borrowed the Relation of the Voyage
of the Guard, from
“January 1, 1815 is unceasingly present in my thought, he says; I had had this day the honor of dinner at the table of the Emperor, who suddenly, leaving a newspaper in his pocket (it was, I believe, the Journal des Débats), was caught saying:
—Hold, Sirs, read! … I am insane,
so this claims in
The preparations of our departure were made with as much mystery, as it was only on next February 26, the day of our boarding, around eleven o’clock in the morning, on the walk to the port with the civil superintendent of the island, the Baron Galeazini, that having received the invitation to return to General Cambronne: this one sent me immediately to take the orders of General Drouot.
—Major, this last tells me, the workers occupied with the garden of the officers will continue their work up to three o’clock; then work will be suspended; the troop will eat soup at four o’clock; it will be joined after, with weapons and baggage, and will embark at five o’clock. The officers will carry only one portmanteau…
With these words, I remained one moment as if speechless, and I allowed myself to ask General Drouot:
—Where do we go, my general?
… Then do I take along my wife with me?
At five o'clock in the evening, part of the troop embarked: three hundred men and the staff of the battalion assembled on the brig of war The Inconstant; the other part was distributed on several transport boats. The Emperor, after having dined with Madam mother and his sister, the Princess Pauline, bade his farewell to them and assembled himself, at eight o'clock in the evening, aboard The Inconstant, with the Generals Bertrand, Drouet and Cambronne; the adjutant-commander Lebel; Pons (de l’Hérault), Administrator of the Mines of Rio; Doctor Fourreau de Beauregarde, his physician; Gatte, Pharmacist in Chief; Peyrusse, Treasurer of the Crown; Boinod, Inspector of the Reviews; Baillon and Deschamps, quartermasters of the palace. At once sails were set, without anyone suspecting where we went, when a rather singular circumstance made us discover the truth of the enigma.
On February 28, around the eight o’clock in the morning, Lieutenant Taillade, a very-distinguished officer; who had commanded the brig The Inconstant during the time of our stay on the Island of Elba, but who had been replaced by the Commander Chautard, recently arrived from the continent, realized, knowing perfectly this trim, which the commander of the brig had put course to a point opposed to the coast of France, said loudly to the officers who were on the bridge:
—Sirs, do we go to
This matter was reported at once by Colonel Mallet to the Emperor, who called Mr. Taillade at once.
—Where are we? He asked this officer.
*Captain Chautard, from which the command of the brig had been withdrawn, was named Commander.
—Sire, answered Taillade, Your Majesty will be there tomorrow at midday.
Indeed the wind, which hardly blew the 27th,
and had not even allowed us to reach the height of the
The only encounter that we made at sea was that
of a French brig, The Zephyr, commanded by the Lieutenant
Audrieux, who often made the voyage from
—Where do you go, commandant?
And the two brigs, slipping by close enough to one another, moved away with speed.
Before arriving at the point of debarkation, Napoleon
ordered Captain Lamourette, commanding the 1st Company
of Chasseurs, to embark in a boat with thirty men and a drummer to
seize an entrenchment built by his orders, a long time before, to
defend the entry of the bay, and which he supposed kept by the garrison
—Who goes there?
The troop took their arms and let them enter the
detachment; but the officer who commanded the post, seeing that this
troop wore the tricolor cockade, believed it his duty to raise the
drawbridge, and the detachment was made captive; never the less,
there was much sorrow in this decision to ask the brave men to put
down their weapons. This poor detachment was led in brigade
They were only a few hours before the unloading when several officers who were in the room occupied by the Emperor, were told to copy two proclamations, the first addressed to the army, the second to the French people; I transcribe them here:
Proclamation to the army.
“Soldiers, we were not overcome… Two men left our ranks to betray their country, their prince, their benefactor.”
“Those who we saw over twenty-five years traversing Europe making enemies of us, those who passed their lives fighting against us in the ranks of the foreign armies, by cursing our beautiful France, would claim that they hold captive our eagles, those who never could gain our respect? Will we suffer that they inherit the fruit of our glorious work, that they seize our honors, our goods, that they calumniate our glory? If their reign lasted longer, all would be lost, even the memory of what we did.”
“Soldiers, in my exile, I heard your voice. I
arrived traversing all obstacles and all perils. Your general, called to the throne by the choice of the people,
raised on your bulwarks, returns to you; come to join him! Tear
off the colors that the nation proscribed, and which over twenty-five
years were used as a rallying among all the enemies of
“We must forget that we were the nations masters; but we should not suffer that none of them
took part in our affairs. Who would on our premises claim to be master? Who
would have the ability? Take again these eagles, which you
“Soldiers! Come to line up under the flags of your chief; his existence is composed only of yours, his rights are those of the people and his yours. His interest, his honor and your glory. The victory will go to the charging march; the eagle, with the national colors, will fly from bell-tower to bell-tower to the towers of Notre-Dame; then you will be able to show with honor your scars, then you will be able to praise yourselves of what you did, you will be the liberators of the fatherland; in your old age, surrounded and considered by your fellow-citizens, they will entreat you with respect to tell your grand facts; you will be able to say with pride: And I also, I belonged to this grand army which entered twice the walls of Vienna, through those of Rome, of Berlin, of Madrid, of Moskow; who delivered Paris from the stain that the treason and the presence of the enemy had left there. Honor to these brave soldiers, the glory of the fatherland; and eternal shame to the criminal French, in some rank which birth gave fortune to, which fought twenty-five years with the foreigner to tear the breast of the fatherland!”
The proclamation with the French people was conceived thusly:
“The defection of the Duke of Castiglione
“The victories of Champ-Aubert, Montmirail, Chateau-Thierry, Vauchamps, Marmans, Montereau, Craonne, of Rheims, of Arcis-sur-Aube and Saint-Dizier; the insurrection of the brave peasants of Lorraine, Champagne, of Alsace, of the Franche-Comté and Burgundy, and the position which I had taken on the rear of the enemy army, by separating it from his stores, had placed it in a desperate plight. The French were about to be never more powerful, and the elite of the enemy army was lost without resource; it had found its tomb in these vast regions which it had so pitilessly ransacked, when the treason of the Duke of Ragusa delivered the capital and disorganized the army.”
“The unexpected conduct of these two Generals,
who betrayed at the same time their fatherland, their prince and
their benefactor, changed the destiny of the war. In this news
and great circumstances, my heart was torn, but my heart was unshaken. I
only consulted the interest of the fatherland; I exiled myself on
a rock in the middle of the sea: my life was to you and was to still
be useful for you. I did not allow the great number of citizens
who wanted to accompany me to share my fate; I believed their presence
“High on the throne by your choice, all
that was done without you is illegitimate. For twenty-five
“Eh well! I crossed the seas, in the midst of dangers. I arrive among you to take my rights again, which are yours; all that individuals made, wrote or said, since the capture of Paris, I will always be unaware of; that will not influence any of the memory which I preserve of the important services that they returned; because it is of the events of such a nature, which they are above human organization.”
“French! It is
not any nation, as small that it is, which
does not have the right to be withdrawn from the dishonor of obeying
a sovereign imposed by a temporarily victorious enemy. When
Charles VII returned to
“It is with you alone and with the brave men of the army that I made and will always make glory owed to all.”
Finally, arrived at the entry of the Gulf, we were occupied some time to see to the efforts, of the small flotilla forming around us. Hardly had it joined together, that the Emperor ordered to Captain Loubers, commanding the 1st Grenadier Company, to announce, with the speaking horn, the resumption of the tricolor cockade. The enthusiasm that the troops showed in this moment was extreme; but when Napoleon, continuing to address Captain Loubers, who always held the speaking horn, said to him: “Let it be known to all the officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers who belonged to the detachment of the various corps of troop of the Guard, at the beginning of Fontainebleau, that I name them chevaliers of the Legion of Honor, and that I grant an advance in rank in this order to those who were already so bestowed*,” the cheer and vibrations of joy were universal. Nevertheless this promotion was not for very many, as already three quarters of the noncommissioned officers and soldiers of the infantry, the seamen, artillery and the Poles of the Guard had obtained the cross on the field of honor.
*This promotion was executed only after 1830.
This promotion announced, the unloading was carried out on March 1, at three o'clock in the afternoon. I arrived ashore with the first boat, where General Drouot was. A post of customs officers, placed very close to us in a wood hut, took up the tricolor cockade as soon as it recognized us.
At once, the bivouac of the Emperor was established
in a field of olive-trees that was located between the beach called
A few hours after the unloading, Surgeon-Major Émery, from the Guard, who had his family in Grenoble, accepted the order of the Emperor to leave for this city, for the purpose of finding there the young Dumoulin, who had come to visit the Emperor on the Island of Elba a few months before our departure; he was, moreover, to get his cooperation to print the two proclamations dated from the Gulf of Juan, then to spread them profusely, in the town of Grenoble as well as in the surroundings: something that took place by the zeal of these two courageous citizens.
Once the troops established themselves around the bivouac of the Emperor, General Cambronne was sent to Cannes, with a strong detachment, to get the most horses possible (by paying for them, of course), and at the same time to intercept the road and prevent any mail from passing. To this end, he prohibited the master of post horses, where he established himself, to deliver any horse to travelers, without previously receiving his authorization. A few hours after, a courier of the Prince of Monaco unexpectedly arrived, announcing to the postmaster the arrival of his gracious Master, who needed a good number of horses to convey them on his road; but General Cambronne did not show himself as very pleasant to the Prince, because he refused that which he requested point-blank. It was only a long time after that Napoleon, on the urgent prayers that the Prince of Monaco made to him, allowed the latter to move on his way.
The Emperor sent the Corsican Captain Casabianca
to the commander of the town of Antibes, Colonel Cunée, also
Corsican, to try to hand over the detachment which he kept captive;
but this last was inexorable and even seized Captain Casabianca as
a prisoner like the others. This honest officer, desperate
to be able to share in the dangers of his comrades, sought freedom
by climbing the ramparts. Revealed the following day in one
of the ditches, where he had remained crushed after his fall, he
was transported to the
We left the bivouac around eleven o’clock
in the evening. The Emperor got under way at the head of our
small army, moving on
The lunch finished, the troops, to which the inhabitants had hastened to provide an abundance of food and wine, took a little rest; then we got under way, after having left our pieces of artillery in Grasse, not being able, because of our lack of horses, to take them along with us through the difficult paths that we were going to have to traverse. Indeed, we had a quite painful day while crossing the Col of Provence. Obliged to go by paths bordering on chasms, where a man alone could hardly pass, it is certain that fifty men brought together at this point could have stopped us a long time. Our column, which was only a thousand to twelve hundred men, held the space, which twenty thousand men could have occupied. We walked all the day in snow and on the ice. The Emperor was obliged to dismount several times from his horse and going on foot; several times he slipped and fell.
At the close of night, we arrived in a rather
beautiful isolated farm, close to the
The 3rd, in the evening, the Emperor slept in Barême, the 4th, in Digne. The 5th, General Cambronne, with an advance guard of forty men, seized the bridge and the fortress of Sisteron; the same day, Napoleon slept in Gap, and the advance guard in Mure.
No remarkable event took place while crossing
this space of country; the inhabitants accommodated us very well,
but without deciding either for or against us. During this
long journey, we faced only two recruits, a gendarme and an infantryman. We
left, after a few days of quite painful marching, this country of
mountains, and we started to discover the beautiful country beyond
Mure, which borders that of Vizille, on the road to
The Emperor, informed
that troops had left this last city with the mission to oppose his
crossing of the
The second column, commanded by Captain Loubers, of the grenadiers, was made up of three companies of grenadiers, the company of artillery, and approximately thirty officers without troops, led by the Corsican Major Pacconi; with it marched the Emperor, his staff, and what one called the treasury, carried on two mules.
The third column, formed by the Corsican battalion, under the command of Commandant Guasco, formed the rear-guard. Myself, on the approach to Mure, received the orders of General Cambronne to take the initiative with sixty foot chasseurs commanded by the Polish Lieutenant Jeanmarie, and some lancers, to establish housing for our troops. It appears that we were awaited, since I found at the town hall the whole town council assembled. I was accommodated perfectly by it, and I occupied myself with these gentlemen to prepare lodgings, when an adjutant of the 5th Regiment of Line Infantry arrived, as I had, to also house a battalion of this body of a company of the 3rd Regiment of Sappers of the Engineers. Seeing that this officer wore the white cockade, I thought it better that he did not come with the intention to join us. I approached him, nevertheless, while saying to him:
—From the cockade that you wear, Sir, I see that you are here with another goal than mine; however, answer me with frankness, how would you characterize us: are we friends or enemies?
He answered me, by tightening my hand:
—Old comrades in arms will always be friends.
He made pretence to agree to it; but, benefiting
from a moment when I was occupied, he dodged out, undoubtedly to
return an account to his chief that wasn’t present, and he
did not return any more. This troop took a position within
rifle range of the city of
Informed of the disappearance of the adjutant of the 5th Line, I was not quiet in the house of the mayor; I feared being surprised there from one moment to another, and I had just sent the order to Lieutenant Jeanmarie to remain under the arms and to make a good watch for his small detachment, when General Cambronne arrived with the first column, and assembled itself at the town hall.
He having been given an account of what had happened in his absence, and seeing for himself a sentry of the troop that I had told him about, placed at the first houses of a street on the road leaving to Grenoble, he established, at pistol range, a station of our own, commanded by an officer, and sent the captain of artillery Raoul, immediately, accompanied by a sergeant of Mamelukes, to the officer commanding the post of 5th, to commit him to make a pact with us; this one did not want to agree to it. The general went there himself: he was answered that there was a prohibition to communicate with us.
Then Cambronne ordered that the troop take a position
right where he was, that is in front of the town hall, and made his
provisions to avoid any surprise. This operation finished,
we entered an inn located almost opposite the town hall, where I
had ordered a dinner for twelve people. Hardly were we at our
table, that a peasant, who had been sent by General Cambronne to
watch the troop movements of those who were opposed to us, entered
and announced that this column stirred and seemed to be planning,
while passing behind Mure, to move on the bridge by which we had
arrived, to seize it and cut us off from any communication with the
Emperor. Nothing more was needed than to leave at the same
moment, and to establish ourselves on the bridge, which we kept militarily
all the night. The 5th retired itself to
General Cambronne having made known to the Emperor what occurred, His Majesty arrived with two columns to the point where we had taken position, and put himself at the head the troops which moved forward. Colonel Mallet took the command of the three companies of chasseurs forming the column head, and the Polish lancers, commanded by Colonel Germanowski, took the right, beside the road; the officers without troop, commanded by Major Pacconi, took the left, and we marched right on the battalion of the 5th Line.
The company of voltigeurs of 5th was in battle formation at the exit of the village. The Emperor ordered Colonel Mallet to place arms under the left arm, the bayonnettes affixed. This officer having remarked to him respectfully that there could be danger to make this type of movement in front of a troop whose intentions were suspect, and whose first discharge could be disastrous, Napoleon answered him with promptness:
—Mallet, do what I say to you.
Arriving at the range of their guns, Napoleon exclaimed in a strong and accentuated voice:—Soldiers! Here is your emperor; those among you who want to kill him fire!
And with saying these words, he still took some steps forward and exposed his chest.
A young officer, relative and aide-de-camp of
General Marchand, the commander in
—Here he is… Fire! soldiers!
At once, a unanimous cry of Vive l’Empereur! was the response of the battalion.
Already the Polish lancers having arrived in the village and were mixed pell-mell with the soldiers with the battalion of the 5th and the company with of 3rd Regiment of Sappers of the Engineers, all shouted with the envy: Vive l’Empereur!
The Guard and the soldiers themselves embraced; the latter tore off at the same moment the white cockade that they had on their shakos, and took with enthusiasm the tricolor cockade; then, this troop having been formed in battle formation, Napoleon spoke to them in these terms:
—Soldiers! I come to you with a handful
of brave men, because I count on the people and you. The throne of
the Bourbons is illegitimate, since it was not raised by the nation and that
it is against the interests of our country. Your fathers are threatened
by the return of the tithes, the privileges, the feudal rights and
all the abuses that our successors have delivered on them. Is
it not true, citizens? He added while addressing the gathering, which
had been formed around the troop.
Hardly had be just fraternized with 5th, that Mr. Dumoulin arrived at full speed, having on his hat the tricolor cockade, and, falling from his horse to meet the Emperor:
—Sire, he says to him with the greatest
emotion, I come to offer a hundred and thousand francs to you and
my arm, and to ensure you of the fidelity of your all
the people of
Napoleon appeared satisfied, and answered him smiling:
—Get back on your horse, we will chat while we march. I accept your services.
The same evening of our arrival in
Immediately after, the troops are seen moving. The
foot chasseurs were put as the advance guard, and myself,
with the quartermasters and a group of Polish lancers, had taken
the front to go and prepare for housing in
—Major, do you
know if the Emperor is still far?
Indeed, I found the unfortunate Labédoyère
at the head of his beautiful regiment. He approached me and
asked me whether the Emperor was going to arrive soon; I answered
him that he would not be long in seeing him. The
joy that this officer expressed by learning this news could not be
portrayed. I was going to continue on my road, when
Napoleon, escorted by his staff and the Polish lancers, passed me;
I found him later in one of the suburbs of
—Open, my dear; the Emperor has been waiting a long time. But this colonel retorted: I will keep it then; I gave my word of honor to the prefect (Fourrier) and to the general (Marchand) I would not deliver the gate of the town to the troops who are with the usurper.
All that I said myself to the colonel of 5th was
useless; it was only around eight o’clock and at the time when
he was informed that the inhabitants of the suburb were armed with
enormous beams to ram the doors that this officer finally decided
to open. At the same moment, the troops, which occupied the
ramparts, shouted: Vive l’Empereur! All the citizens
ran to the gleam of the torches, and at once Napoleon entered
The staff was placed, like many officers, in this same hotel, and the column in the adjacent streets. We received the order to make the honors, in the name of the Emperor, to the officers who would present themselves during the night. It was there, around the ten o’clock in the evening, that I saw arrive an adjutant-major of the horse artillery regiment commanded by Colonel Duchant, who came to announce the impending arrival of this body to us.
The following day, March 8, Napoleon passed in
review the garrison of
Several decorations were distributed, and immediately
after the troops were directed by forced march on
I learned in my exile all the misfortunes, which weighed on the nation,
that all the rights of the people were ignored, and that they reproached
me of the rest in which I lived, I did not lose a moment, I embarked
on a frail ship, and I crossed the seas in the middle of vessels
of various nations. I landed on the ground of the fatherland,
and I have in sight to only arrive with the speed of the eagle in
this good town of
On March 9, the Emperor slept in Bourgoing, as
well as the Guard. From
On March 11, the Emperor passed in review of all
the troops at this meeting in
During the stay of Napoleon in
On March 13, the Emperor arrived at the head of a detachment of the Guard and 7th Regiment of Line, in Villefranche, a small town of four thousand souls, which contained some in this moment more than twenty thousand. It would be impossible for me to describe the eagerness, the delirious feeling even in this anthill of men, who, emerging from all quarters seemed to leave the ground as if by enchantment. Napoleon stopped one moment with the town hall; a great number of wounded were presented to him, and several accepted decorations. He entered the same day, but extremely late, in Màcon, always escorted by the people of the nearby cantons. As for us, we were in Tournus on the morning of the 14th. There, the Emperor gave praises to the inhabitants for their beautiful conduct in 1814: he made much the same regards to the inhabitants of Châlon, the city where he laid down the same evening.
The 15th, the Emperor was in Autun, with his Guard, and the 16th, in Avallon; he lunched the 17th in Vermanton and laid down the same day in Auxerre. It is there that I saw arrive, at eleven o'clock in the evening, Colonel Morin, of artillery of the Guard, which had come to top speed from Fère to join him; it is there too that the troops of the Prince of Moskowa joined us.
While arriving on March 20 at
Thus finished, without spilling a drop of blood and meeting any obstacle, this fabulous company, which restored the nation its rights and its glory.”
The Guard laid down on March 20 at
—Soldiers! I came to
These words were accompanied by the acclamations of the people and the army.
But Napoleon saved for the many assistants another military scene. Hardly had he completed speaking, that General Cambronne was seen advancing on the Place of the Carrousel, at the head of the sacred battalion which had accompanied the Emperor to the Island by Elba, and which had returned with him; it carried the old eagles of the Guard, the standards were in tatters. A drum roll was heard, and Napoleon, making a gesture of the hand, indicated that he wanted to still speak. Silence having succeeded the general hubbub, the Emperor said in a moved voice, but however very-distinct:
—Here are officers of the battalion, which
accompanied me in my misfortune; they are all my friends, they were
dear to my heart! Each time I saw them, they represented to
me the various regiments of the army; because, in these six hundred
brave men, there are men of all the regiments. All reminded
me of these great days which memories are so dear; because all are
covered with honorable scars received at these memorable battles. By
loving them, it is all of you, soldiers of the French Army, which
I loved. They bring back these eagles to you: that they serve
to rally you! By giving them to the Guard, I give them to all
the army. The treason and the unhappy circumstances had covered
them with a funeral veil; but, thanks to the people and you, they
reappear resplendent of their last glory. Then swear to me
that they are always found everywhere where the interest of the fatherland
will call them, those who would like to invade our territory will
not be able look them in the eyes!
This day, these worthy and noble phalanxes would have followed the Emperor to the end of the world.
As for Napoleon, he was in rapture. No time
in his life had he been seen so radiant. His speeches reflected
the stirring of his heart; the same words returned unceasingly on
his lips: they were expressions of recognition for all. Yes,
certainly, March 21, 1815 was a beautiful day for him and his soldiers,
a day of happiness and hope where each one formed noble projects,
where the future was colored by a radiant azure. But why therefore
in the evening when this enthusiastic crowd had left, when the
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2007
© Copyright 1995-2012, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.