Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

BOOK FIFTEEN.

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YEAR 1815.

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CHAPTER VII.

L’ARC DE TRIOMPHE OF L’ÉTOILE:

Review of the Dead*.

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*We the editors of the History of the Imperial Guard are obligated to our friend Frederic Soulié and are indebted for the article, which you will read, and for which it is useless for us to speak in praise.  We will only say that we could not believe ourselves to be more fortunate than to be able to finish our book, when soliciting the author of Two Corpses, of Viscount of Béziers, of Diane de Chivry, of Exile, etc. etc,, he granted us the favor of textually inserting this episode, so filled with topics related to our work, and giving us, in this way, a good finish, as lengthy as it is dignified.

“The 29th of July, 1836 was, as one knows, the day of the inauguration of the Triumphal Arch of the Star (l’arc de triomphe de l’Étoile); and the morning of this day, the population went towards the Champs-Élysées.  Initially it appears, flowing, this long file of columns and garlands of colored glass which in the evening were to light and edge with fire the broad avenue which leads to the triumphal arch; then, arriving at the goal, it stopped and considered with amazement the stone giant stripped of his wood swath.”

 “As long as it had remained wrapped in its scaffolding, nobody had thought of the size of the monument; no one had not recognized its colossal majesty: also the effect of its appearance, among us, was marvelous.  To see the emotion which its appearance gave birth in the crowd, totally deserted by the splendid pomp that had promised for it, one felt the force which the heart of France would have beaten if one had invited it to a solemn festival of inauguration.”

“To open the triumphal arch, when one did not want to inaugurate it, was a strange fault.  One did not have to show the people the height of their door only for them to say that, it was only large enough for them to pass there without appearing small.  But one humiliated the nation in front of itself by making the Arch of the Star a vain decoration of theatre, which dwarfed the actors with its size.  This last offspring of the Empire, this posthumous child of the glory of our fathers, did not find an arm strong enough to present it at the baptismal font of the fatherland.  This son that they had bequeathed us, we nourished, but we did not adopt: it lived, but it is an orphan without name.”

“All this was said, all this was thought around the triumphal arch; and, when the night had come, one looked with pity at this double line of fire which crowned it, as if only showing, that the capital of France had grown rich by one broad monument posed to be used as a view with an avenue, and that it was done with good effect by finishing it with an illumination of colored glass.”

“Also one would think this guess correct, by extinguishing this festival of lamps which one had lit in the Champs-Élysées. And, in truth, if one forgives us for letting ourselves be overcome by this superstitious faith which ran among the people, while it sought the celebration of its glory, its heads under the rain and the feet in mud: it said that the shade of its emperor had risen upright on his monument, and had blown out all these fires which only served to light the public walk.”

“Indeed, the people remembered well that the sun obeyed the fortune of Napoleon and his armies, so that it did not doubt, if one had said on high to the storm that this day was devoted to them, the storm had would have acted as it had formerly and moved back in front of them.”

“But no voice was strong enough for that statement; and the day as one knows, does not belong to the dead.  In all the beliefs where the human faith mixed with things of the earth, only the night is left to them: the night with the bloody phantoms which are drawn up to the side of the bed of the culprits; the night with the friendly shades which come to sit down at the foot of our couch, to comfort us; the night with Napoleon and his armies, greeting their monument and to pass there in a silent review.”

“Therefore the festival, which had not taken place during the day and among the living, was celebrated in the night and among the dead.”

“When all the scattered lights in this vast enclosure had disappeared one by one, the crowd withdrew itself sad and dissatisfied.  The shuffle of its thousand feet, the murmur of its thousand voices were erased slowly; then, when the solitude was complete and the silence deep, a new rustle slipped through the air, like the flight of a bird, and a colossal shade was posed at the top of the triumphal arch. Around it silently flew the blue coat of Marengo, this shroud of Saint-Helena; it wore this low formed hat and with is large span that, in the shade, seemed like a squatted eagle, with its spread wings; the face pointing ahead, it dropped its glances on the ground, and the gloomy clearness which went down from its broad pupils seemed to wrap the monument like a shroud of fire.”

“Then a voice was heard: it traversed the silence like a gleam in the darkness, without dispersing.”

“—To me, my son! He exclaimed.”

“And the tomb of the prisoner of Schoenbrunn opened, like the captive pit of Saint-Helena.”

“It was for the shade of the father and the son two banishments were to be broken: that of death and that of the exile. This night, both shook off this double chain; and one, started from Vienna, the other from Saint-Helena, meeting, upright, on the triumphal arch.”

“Then Napoleon drew his sword, and struck the heel of his boot on the top of the monument:”

“—To me!  My brave generals and my brave soldiers! He added; come to show to my son the empire that I had made him, and that he did not know!”

“Like the word of God that nothing in the world could not hear, all these old soldiers, at the order of the Emperor, left the tomb, obeying and hastening.”

“—In battle formation, my brave men! Battle formation! Said the shadow of Napoleon.”

“And all lined up along this broad deserted avenue, in the place of these columns, these extinct garlands. Then Napoleon raised his eyes, and his glance, scanning to the end of this line, illuminated these six hundred thousand dead men, bringing all to front, not by the number of their regiment, but the name of a victory. These six hundred and thousand men presented arms to him, and the Emperor greeted them.  Then he repeated again:”

“—See, my son, here is the avenue which formerly led to my palace of the Tuileries. I passed there, living, among all these heroes when alive.  Listen and look: I will name and show them.”

“Then appealing to afar, he says:”

“—To me, my faithful Berthier!  Come to command the maneuver and to defile my beautiful regiments.”

“And Berthier, being placed at the right-hand side of Napoleon, gave the signal to defile; the drums appeared at the head, the musicians joined in harmony, the trumpets blew their copper instruments, the timpanists struck their kettles, the horses bucked while neighing, and all this warlike apparatus was put in motion without the human ear hearing either the noise of these steps of giants, nor the harmony of these triumphal steps; because it was the review of the dead which started, and those alive were excluded from it. Finally the first soldiers arrived under the immense vault:”

“—Look, look, my son, Napoleon related: here is Desaix, the just sultan, who died giving me a victory as a parting gift.  Here is Kléber, a hard soldier, who lowered his head only in front of me, the only one who I dared entrust Egypt, and who would have held it for me if the dagger had not done what the cannon had not dared to do as he so many times bravely faced them.”

Kléber and Desaix passed, and thousands of soldier after them, with their torn uniforms and the tricolor striped trousers. Napoleon continued:”

“—Do you see who takes my hand?  It is Lannes, my friend.  Hello, my valiant soldier; you carried the flags at Lodi, and you hold the saber of honor from Marengo! … Tell the Consular Guard that I am content with it!”

“Lannes passed and thousands of soldiers after him. Napoleon continued:”

“—Look, my son, as they pass!  Here is Augereau, the child of the Saint-Marceau suburb, the Duke of Castiglione; he also carries a flag; it is not like those of Lannes, a flag which he took to the enemy: it is his, which he crossed the bridge of Arcole with; it is his flag: France returned it to him shot through with grapeshot, not knowing to whom to entrust it after him.”

“Augereau passed and thousands of soldiers after him. Napoleon continued:”

“—That one which comes then, is Lefebvre; you see all these soldiers who march behind him with an untiring step: it is my Old Guard, my Guard of Austerlitz and Jena.  Greet this noble soldier, my son; he perhaps alone bequeathed to its heirs the gold which I had braided his marshal’s coat with.  Near to him, a simple captain, Chambure, who defended the city with as much audacity as Lefebvre had taken with so great an amount of courage.”

“And as Lefebvre had passed, the young Napoleon exclaimed:”

“—What is this that, my father? What is this that?”

“—They are my brave grenadiers… Oudinot is not at their head: Oudinot is buried in life more deeply than we in our tomb.”

“—And these who come together?”

“—Both Kellermann, the father and the son: only the father who earned, without me, the crown of duke that I had given him; only the son who deserved, without me, to carry the crown that I had given to his father.”

“Both Kellermann passed; and Napoleon added, by pointing out with his finger that which he spoke:”

“—There, in this carriage, wounded as he was at Wagram, is Masséna, to whom I ordered to overcome and who was always victorious.  And next to him, is Rampon, and after Rampon, the invincible 32nd demi-brigade, a citadel of men commanded by the bravest of them, the shield of my armies carried by an iron arm.”

“—Oh my father! They have passed quickly, covered in glorious wounds… You have hardly spoken of one in a hundred, of all these famous Generals.”

 “—It is that the night is short, my son, and that the hour flies.  Press your ranks, my proud soldiers, that I see you all before the day.”

“And the army defiled, coming from the shadows quickly, returning to the shadows; and with each division, with each battalion which crossed the immense doorway, a hurrah rose, saying:  Vive l’Empereur!…

“Thus passed through the chasseurs, with their trailing colback flammes, the Polish squadrons’ roughcast lances, tall grenadiers on their large war-horses and the heavy dragons following the steps of Bessières.”

“Then there were soldiers with features tanned by the sun of Spain , victors of Saragossa, Lérida, Badajoz, Tarragone, Tudéla, Corogne. At their head, Pérignon, Suchet, Junot, Moncey, in a word those who could fight without being guided by the Master of victory.  And the Emperor and his son looked at them passing unceasingly, much like the floods of a sea when one opens a vast lock, the young Napoleon called to his father:”

“—And this one, who carries so much glory on his modest face and who cries while taking you in his arms, who is he, my father?”

“—It is my first son: that one is your brother Eugene Beauharnais, that which had been given to me at the point of the blessed day when you were born, the day which took from him a crown!  Under this title of Viceroy, look at him, he has a heart of a citizen; under this uniform so bravely worn, he has a wise heart; under this devotion of a soldier, he has the heart and the tenderness of a son.  Admire him, child, since you could not imitate him.”

“But as Napoleon said that, a swirl of dust which rose there, and his son cried:”

“—See, my father, see this horse which bucks and which leaps, this saber which shines like a flash, this plume which rises above the crowd like a flag!”

“—Ah! It is Murat… here he is, my lion with the undulating mane, my lion who fought alone against clouds of enemies.  Gently, gently, my beautiful soldier! Why do you ride thus in front?  You do not have to conquer six hundred miles of country any more at the gallop; why do you speak with your riders and spur your horse?  There are no enemies behind this door.  There do not lower your head to pass under the vault: if as great as you would have been and I made you, I was still higher than you, King Murat, crowned soldier!  Do not look with a savage eye at your old enemy Davoust; do not show him the point of your saber and do not beckon to him to come to fight for the parting of ways.  Listen to Belliard, who said to you that a King does not spill his blood in a duel; and because you control death and you face it at any hour, do not make light of the blood of its ungrateful soldiers.”

“—And who is that who comes after them, pale and sad, and letting hang along his thigh the curved saber whose arm cannot support it any more?”

“—It is Poniatowski, the child without a fatherland, who had adopted the bravest fatherland while still believing in his; it is Poniatowski, the intrepid Pole.”

“—And that who trails behind him the prisoners of all the battles?”

“—It is Rapp, always wounded and always healed the day before a victory, which sprinkled battlefields with more blood than would have taken the life of any ten men.  And now, my son, bow and go on bent knee.”

“The young Napoleon obeys, and the Emperor added, while showing him at afar a shadow which dominated all the others:”

“—Here is Ney.  Before I had given him the title of duke, he was called l’Infatigable (the untiring one); before I had called him prince, he was called le Brave des braves (the bravest of the brave).”

“And addressing the Marshal, Napoleon continued in a low voice:”

“—From where do you come, my brave Ney, thus pale and cover with blood?  Is this from Moskowa, where you marched your division on the battlefield, like a giant club, overthrowing an army corps with each blow you struck?  Do you return from your long march through the deserts and hunger? My brave Ney would not be thus beaten; you know well that I went for you, and that I took my stick to go to seek you, on foot, in the snow.  What! Can nothing return you to the audacity of your days of combat? What has been done, merciful heavens!  These twelve wounds which you didn't report from your many campaigns?  Ah! I see, I see… the musket balls of the veterans of my army pierced this noble and proud chest, which twenty pitched battles and sixty combats had respected.  Look at it, my son: he died like a criminal, this great warrior who was my friend, and it is not only among those who thus pass before me that were killed.  Do you see Labédoyère, my young and honest colonel?  They killed him!  Do you see Ramel? Do you see the Faucher brothers?  The last drop of blood that they had shed was for France , it is France , which shed it!  But raise your head, my brave men: the hour came when the torment is counted for you like a victory; raise your face, and read your names here, which I devote to immortality.”

“And Napoleon having lowered his sword under the vault, a flash of glory shot out while he read aloud all the heroes whose names were engraved in the stone, and even more deeply engraved in history; and the dead thus passed on what the living had not seen.”

“Then the day came, and with the shades of the sky fled the shadows of the tomb; and the sentinel which took care of the door of the Arch told how, during all the night, the wind had groaned, with long whistles, through the foliages of the Champs-Élysées and under the vaults of the Triumphal Arch of the Star.”

 

Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2007

 

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