SUMMARY OF THE CAMPAIGN OF THE CONSULAR GUARD IN ITALY.
BATTLE OF MARENGO
Fought 25 prairial year VIII (14 June 1800).
Order, in France, had succeeded anarchy. Trade, industry and agriculture reappeared; but peace, this peace so desired by all, could be obtained only by victories. The First Consul had thus decided to place for the moment the reins of government in the hands of his colleagues, Cambacérès and Lebrun, to again take up his general’s sword.
When Bonaparte took command of the Army of Italy in 1796 he found it had fallen into a state of want. France did not have any more possessions in Italy. To be able to make this region the theatre of a new war, it would be necessary to sustain an army on the Rhine, and all the forces of the Republic did not exceed 150,000 men. However, on the word of the Consul, all of France is moved and Italy also, because it understood that it was going to be delivered once again from the yoke of the Austrians. A decree of the consuls had ordered the formation of an army known as the reserve, who General Alexander Berthier was named as commander in chief; but Bonaparte was only proposed to direct their operations; and, after having declared publicly at the Senate and the Legislative Body that the formation and organization of this new army would be in Dijon, after having sent to this old capital of Burgundy many staff, and having announced that he would review the troops there, he restricted himself to direct to this town five to six thousand conscripts and retired soldiers. The majority of the latter being disabled, or, by their age, out of shape to be eligible for active service, it was not long before this reserve army became an object of mocking in Vienna, Berlin, London and even Italy; one would consider that it did not in fact exist, and one believed that the noise that arose was only a trick to act as diversion to the operations of the Austrian army which blockaded Genoa, and that was precisely what the first Consul wished.
Admittedly this army did not exist in Dijon; but the true army was moving on Switzerland, where it was to concentrate its corps, which had been formed on the way. Divisions had been organized separately and without noise in various places of appointment. The troops that the pacification of the Vendée left available, the garrison of Paris, and best of all, the new Consular Guard, had formed the core. This army seemed to arise as if by enchantment and, even if this army were not French any more, never was a head also so popular any more.
Towards the beginning of May 1800, the reserve army was joined together at the foot of the Alps. It was divided into three columns. The first, thirty five thousand men strong, including the Consular Guard, with which Bonaparte went, was to cross great Saint-Bernard; the second, of four thousand men, commanded by General Chabran, had to pass small Saint-Bernard; the third, of only two thousand men, under the command of General Bethencourt, had the mission of moving on Domo d' Ossola, while passing by the Simplon. Moreover, and to better hide the movements of our troops from the Austrians, the first Consul had given the order to General Turreau (Thureau) to gather four to five thousand men drawn from the towns of Dauphiné, and to come out at Suza, by the Mount Cénis and the Mount Genèvre.
May 13, the First Consul passed in review his troops, and entered into conference with the officers close to him whom he had called to give an account of what they had done, and to receive their last orders from him. General Marescot, in charge of the reconnaissance of the Alps, was whom Bonaparte was most impatient to hear. Comparing all the passes, this engineer officer had decided upon Saint-Bernard, while noting that the operation would be very-difficult.
—Difficult, you say, objected the Consul; but is it possible?
—I believe so, answered Marescot, but only with extraordinary efforts.
—Eh well! We will pass there! Was the only response of Bonaparte.
The French Advanced Guard commanded by General Lannes, began its movement May 17: from the burg of Saint Pierre, it went through the great Saint-Bernard. The carts of luggage and the artillery boxes had been dismounted; the mountings and the wheels were carried on mule back; the guns, placed on a type of sledges, made with dug out tree trunks, were pulled by hand. The grandeur of the company, the presence of Bonaparte, animated the troops. It was an army of young people: Consul, generals, soldiers all, still had the fire, enthusiasm and the cheerfulness of youth. To such men nothing was impossible. This painful climb was a merry march; with the patriotic songs of the soldiers mixing in accord with the warlike music of the regiments; in the difficult places, the drums, by beating the charge, gave renewed strength to those who had weakened with tiredness. Surrounded by the service squadrons of the Consular Guard, Bonaparte climbed Saint-Bernard on a beautiful mule, which belonged to rich proprietor of the valley; it was led by a vigorous peasant, of whom he liked to confide in.
—What would be necessary for you to be happy? He asked him at the time they reached the top of the mountain.
—Oh! Stated the modest villager; my fortune would be made, if the mule that you came up on were mine.
The Consul was caught laughing and did not answer; but after the campaign, he ordered that the most beautiful mule which one could find was bought, joining it with a cottage with some acres of ground, and putting his guide in possession of this small fortune. The young peasant, who had already forgotten his adventure, knew only then, whom he had guided in the perilous processions of Saint-Bernard.
Bonaparte had taken the most meticulous precautions to maintain order among the corps, and to prevent the men from leaving their columns during the painful march, which they would have to make through the Alps. Independently of what the soldier carried with him, he had acted to amass considerable provisions at the monastery located at the top of great Saint-Bernard. Each soldier received while passing, from the hand of the monks, bread, cheese and a measure of wine (an amount of one half-bottle). The bread and the cheese were cut, the wine was used only at the moment when the corps defiled; never was a distribution made with more order. Each one appreciating the caution that was required of him, nobody left his rank, no straggler was seen. Later the Consul provided his recognition to the monks, in giving 100,000 francs to the monastery, in remembrance of the services, which they had rendered.
The 28 floréal year VIII (May 18, 1800), Bonaparte wrote to the Minister of the Interior Department the following letter dated from the headquarters at Martigny, where he had arrived the day before:
“Citizen minister, I arrived at the foot of the great Alps, in the midst of Valais. Great Saint-Bernard offered many obstacles which were all surmounted with this heroic courage which distinguishes the troops of the Republic in all circumstances. One third of the artillery is already in Italy; the army goes down in force; Berthier is in Piedmont; in three days the whole army will be joined together.”
By one of these rare chances of fate, General Desaix, who was to determine the victory at Marengo, arrived at Toulon, returning from Egypt, the very same day that Bonaparte left Paris to go to Dijon. While debarking, this General had written Bourrienne, the intimate Secretary of the First Consul, intending to start out for Paris. Bourrienne having received this letter only at Martigny, had shown it to Bonaparte who said to his secretary:
—Ah! Well, yes in Paris! Write to Desaix to go at once to my Headquarters; I will have need of him.
Consequently, Desaix arrived at Stradella on June 11, where Bonaparte received him with the greatest friendship; but it was only in Martigny that an agenda was made known with the army in the presence of Desaix, to whom the First Consul gave the command of a division.
The passage of Great Saint-Bernard took four days (from 17 to 20 May). The cold was still acute. The descent was more difficult for the horses than had been the ascent; nevertheless, except for some beasts of burden, which rolled with their load into the chasms, there were few accidents to regret. However an unforeseen obstacle almost stopped the army at the beginning of its march. It descended the valley while following the fast and sinuous course of the Doria, arriving in front of the fort of Bard, located in an inexpugnable position; the passage was suddenly barred to them. The garrison, four thousand men strong, resisted all summons to surrender; an assault tried by General Lannes did not have any more success. However the march of the army always continuing, the valleys were encumbered: it was necessary to pass by it. Bonaparte, on his arrival, recognized to the left of the mountain a small path by which the infantry could flank the fort by defiling single file; this true goat path, soon widened by the sappers of the engineers, was used in the passing of the cavalry; but there remained the guns and the caissons: the intelligence of the artillery officers and the audacity of the gunners surmounted all the obstacles. We were masters of the town, which the road threaded in a single street, covered by the fort guns. This way was covered in grass and manure, the wheels of the carts were surrounded by straw, the guns covered with sheets and branches; and, during the night, the soldiers harnessing themselves with breast harnesses in greatest silence, thus passed in rifle range of enemy batteries: this perilous passage lasted two nights. The fort was taken a few days afterwards.
The Chief Austrian General had not understood the operations of the reserve army. By seeing it move on Geneva, he had thought that Bonaparte had only wanted to make a strong diversion to the north of Piedmont to relieve pressure on Genoa. He thus believed it sufficient to initially detach a corps of seven thousand men to cover Turin, where he then held his headquarters with the a second division, but always leaving his largest forces in front of Genoa. During this time, Bonaparte had established its headquarters at Ivrea (Yvrée); General Turreau had forced the pass of Suza and had established in Bossolino. General Bethencourt, after having triumphed over obstacles larger than those which the army had had to surmount in Great Saint-Bernard, had taken the fort of Arena; General Moncey, with fifteen thousand men of the Army of Germany, descended the Saint-Gothard and penetrated into the Italian gaps. The plan of the Consul, so learnedly combined, developed little by little and majestically, while the General Mélas always remained in the ignorance of these great movements.
Bonaparte let it be known he wanted to cross the Pô to move on the capital of Piedmont; but his true goal was to maneuver on Milan. The seizure of this capital was a brilliant deed, which was to influence the opinion of the people of Italy, to revive the audacity of the partisans of the French Republic, and to spread amazement in the enemy army. In consequence, while Mélas made his provisions to defend the passage of the Pô, Bonaparte gave the order to General Lannes commanding the advanced guard, to become the rear-guard, to mask his conduct to move, through Vercelli (Verceil) and Novara (Novare), by the Tésin; and on May 31, the true advance-guard, commanded by Murat, forced the passage of this river at Turbigo, and crushed the Austrians at all points, who, after having left in the castle of Milan a garrison of two thousand men, fell back themselves upon the edges of the Mincio.
One can only paint with difficulty the astonishment and enthusiasm of the Milanese when seeing the French arriving. The rumor had been widespread in Milan that Bonaparte had died in Egypt, and that the army was commanded by one of his brothers. The Consul, preceded by part of the Consular Guard, marched with the advance guard of Murat; so that he was the first offered to look upon by the curious Milanese attracted by the advance of our troops. The intoxication caused by his presence appeared at once with this promptness, which the Italians put in the expression of their feelings.
Bonaparte entered Milan on June 2. During the short stay, which he made in this city, he was only occupied by receiving the delegations and at public appearances. Shortly after his arrival, a spy, who he had been very well used during the first campaigns as Italy, was announced, Bonaparte remembering him, placed him in his cabinet.
—There you are, said he while smiling, you haven’t been shot yet?
—General, he answered, when the war started again, I took a resolution to serve the Austrians, because you were far from Europe; I stick preferably to those who are happiest, and I have always done well; however I start to weary of my trade, I want to finish and complete my already started small fortune and to live quietly from it. Sent to your lines by General Mélas, I then will render a great service to you by giving you the exact state of his forces, of the position of his corps as well as the names of all the heads that command them. You know me, I rely on you, and you will rely on me, because I will not mislead you; but for that it is necessary for me to bring something back to my General. You are strong enough to pass some true information to me, which I will share with him.
—That's no problem, the Consul answered him, it little matters to me what Mr. Mélas knows of my forces and my position, provided that I know his as well and that he is unaware of my project. You will be content, but do not mislead me. You ask of me a thousand Louis, you will have them, and I then give my word, if you are useful to me.
The secretary of the first consul then wrote under the dictation of this spy the names of the Austrian corps and their generals, their forces, their locations; and Bonaparte marked with pins on a chart all the information, which was given to him on the localities; then Berthier, who had resigned his functions as commander in chief to take those of chief of staff of the army, who continued to fill this position in all the wars of the Empire, Berthier, we say, was authorized to give to the spy of Mélas, an almost exact note of our position. The information given by this man was so exact and served Bonaparte so well, that with his return from Marengo to Paris, he had him paid the price in gold that had been agreed upon by them.
Before leaving Milan on 17 prairial (June 6), the First Consul addressed the Consular Guard and the army a proclamation in these terms:
“Soldiers! One of our departments was in the hands of the enemy; consternation reigned in all the south of France; most of the territory of the Ligurian people, the most faithful friend of the Republic, was invaded. The Cisalpine Republic, destroyed as in the campaign passed, had become the toy of feudalism. You marched, and already the joy and the hope take the place, in our fatherland and in Italy, of consternation and fear.”
“Soldiers! You will restore freedom and independence to the people of Genoa, which will always be delivered from its eternal enemies.”
“You are in the capital of Cisalpine! The terrified enemy does not aspire to regain his borders any more but; you removed its stores and its reserve parks from him: The first act of the campaign is finished!”
“Soldiers! From a million men, you hear every day, words addressing your recognition. Will the French territory thus have been violated with impunity? Will you let the army, which struck fear in your families return to their homes? You ran to the arms!... Eh well! Now, to the chasing of our enemies, oppose them from flying in retreat; tear off the laurels, which you’ve taken from them... You will thus teach the world that the curse of God is on the foolish ones who dare to insult the territory of a great people.”
“Soldiers! The result of our efforts will be glory without a cloud and a solid peace!”
However the Austrian army gathered in the surroundings of Alessandria (Alexandre); the Consul started himself to go to this meeting. At the same time, Masséna, after having supported with a heroic constancy sixty days of rigorous blockade, and a horrible famine, had been forced to capitulate; Suchet, who had again taken the offensive on the Var, and beaten the enemy at the mouth of the Tenda (Tende); was too late to prevent this capitulation. As for Mélas, being finally informed of the force of the French Army in Lombardy, he had given the command to General Ott to go down again into Piedmont, by the valley of Tanart, to defend the passage of Pô; but he arrived too late: this river had been crossed, June 6, at two different points, in Noceto (Nocetta), by Murat, and in Belgiojoso (Belgiososo), by Lannes, who had with him only eight thousand men, but Victor’s division was only three miles away. Ott, trusting in his numerical superiority (this Austrian corps was thirty battalions strong, from with eighteen thousand men, among whom were the elite grenadiers of the Austrian army), decided to begin the attack. The action was bloody; Lannes covered himself with glory there and his troops created wonders; the borough of Casteggio, the head of the position, was taken and retaken again several times. The Austrians fought in desperation; the obstinacy of the attack equal to that of the defense; but finally the enemy was successively crushed in five different positions; and, about midday, the arrival of Victor’s division decided the victory. Such was this famous combat of Montebello, which later was to give to Lannes and his family the glorious title which distinguishes it among the French families from the time of the Empire: a glorious title that sons must be proud to carry.
After the combat, Ott had thrown two thousand men in the citadel of Tortona (Tortone), and had been forced back upon Alessandria. But the result of the beautiful feat of arms of Montebello was of the highest importance at the beginning of the campaign, in that it weakened the enemy and heightened the French Army morale, though the outcome of conquest was already decided.
Mélas, by the occupation of Lombardy and the passage of the French army onto the right bank of Pô, was consequently blocked. He did not have any recourse to avoid a capitulation except to open a passage with the arms at hand; the number of the Austrian troops at this gathering at Alessandria rose to forty-five thousand men, while the French army placed in line only twenty-eight thousand combatants. Field Marshal Mélas was an officer of merit and full of bravery; he was at the battles of Trebia and Novi; he had taken Coni, and beaten Championnet with Genola; and, if he had not had Bonaparte for an adversary, he would undoubtedly have been preserved in posterity with the reputation of great general which he had acquired. In a council of war held in Alessandria, it had been decided, after a long discussion, that the Austrian army would give battle to the Republican army, and would try, by a victory, to reopen its communications with Austria. Consequently, June 14, at the break of the day, Mélas crossed the Bormida on three bridges, which he had laid out, and the Austrian army attacked in force the French troops. Gardanne’s division, placed opposite the bridge heads, was obliged to beat a retreat and to take over the Chambarlhac division, which was on a line between Marengo and Bormida, supporting the left on the river. The line and the reserve of the enemy, commanded by Haddick and Elsnitz, were spread on two lines, opposite the position of Victor. The center, under the orders of Kaim, was posed obliquely on the right; Ott, with the left, was thrown towards Castel-Cériolo.
Lannes had been given the position on the right of Marengo, in order to contain the center of the enemy. The Consul, after having sent the order to General Desaix, who was half a march behind, to return with his corps to San Guiliano, came himself onto the battlefield. He arrived there at ten o'clock in the morning. The action was begun disadvantageously for the French Army. Lannes supported the effort at the center of the Austrians; but, on the left, after an obstinate defense, the village of Marengo had been carried, and Victor’s division, which had defended it, was in full retreat; these soldiers throwing the battalions, which had preserved their ranks into disorder. Ott threatened to overwhelm us. It was here that Bonaparte gave the order for the Foot Grenadiers of the Consular Guard to oppose this movement. These eight hundred brave men were formed on the plain, between Villa-Nova and Castel-Cériolo, in a square which, similar one fears to be inexpugnable, or rather similar to a granite column, for us to use the beautiful expression of the Consul in drafting the bulletin on Marengo, supported and broke the repeated efforts of the Austrian squadrons. Benefiting from the glorious resistance of this elite troop, Bonaparte directed on Castel-Cériolo the reserve brigade of Carra Saint-Cyr, while he with the remainder of Monnier’s division went to the aid of Lannes.
However, through smoke and dust, the army recognized Bonaparte, surrounded by his Staff and the horse chasseurs of the Consular Guard; this sight alone was enough to return the hope victory to the troops; confidence reappeared. The fugitives reformed at San-Juliano, behind the left of Lannes, while he, attacked by the major part of the enemy army, conducted his retirement in the midst of this vast plain, with an admirable order and coolness. His corps, exposed to a fire of grapeshot maintained by eighty pieces of canon, took four hours to make, while retrogressing, three quarters of miles.
It was three hours after noon, all the Generals looked on the battle as lost; Mélas believed the victory so unquestionable that, overpowered of tiredness and suffering from a horse fall, he had again crossed the bridges and had returned to Alessandria, leaving General Zach, his chief of staff, the responsibility to chase us. —Bonaparte alone did not despair; he counted on the arrival of Desaix, who had six thousand fresh troops. This honest division arrived finally: the situation was most critical.
—You see the state of the things, said Bonaparte to Desaix.
This General drew his watch and, after having raising his eyes up, answered coldly:
—The battle is lost; but it is only three o’clock, we still have time to fight a second battle and, this one, we
At once Desaix deployed his troops on the roadway, in front of San-Guiliano. Victor had rejoined his battalions; all the French army was reformed in line, the right at Castel-Cériolo, and the left at San-Guiliano. Bonaparte passed through the ranks, he is sure of victory; he addresses to the soldiers:
—French! He exclaimed, we have taken too many steps back; the moment has arrived to take a decisive
step ahead; remember that my habit is to rest on the battle field!
Persuaded that the defeat of the French army was assured, Zach maneuvered to strike the retreat by the roadway of Tortone. He had formed a column of six thousand grenadiers, which he launched forward to turn our left; the remainder of the army followed in column, by intervals, extremely far from each other. The leading Austrian column arrived at the height of San-Guiliano... It is the moment that the Consul had waited for,
At once he gives the order to go ahead; the artillery is uncovered; it creates during ten minutes a terrible fire; the astonished enemy stops; the charge is beaten at the same time all along the line; and this spirit which is spread like the flame in the hearts of the brave men, adds more to the ardor than the presence of a Head who so many times inspired them to victory. The Desaix division, which had not fought yet, approaches the first enemy: it seems proud to follow a General whose position was always one of danger and glory. A light rise in the ground, and a glaze of vines, concealed from this General part of the ground. Impatient, he springs to cover it; the intrepid 9th Light follows him at a racing pace; the fray becomes terrible, dreadful carnage; Desaix is cut down by one of the first blows... Atop his horse behind the 9th Regiment, a ball passes through his heart; he perishes at the time when he decided the victory.
—Hide my death; he says exhaling his last sigh to General Boudet, because that could shake the troops....
These words were the only ones that Desaix pronounced while dying; but this precaution of the hero was useless; the soldiers seeing him falling, like those of Turenne, called out great cries to avenge their chief: The 9th Light acquired this day the title of the incomparable which it carried until the end of the wars of the Empire.
Desaix’s division passing under the command of General Boudet, charged impetuously at the enemy, who, in spite of its sharp resistance, were not able to hold against our bayonets, falling back upon themselves into the grenadier column which followed it, and which had already arrived at Gallina-Grassa, where it attacked our scouts. The Austrians, surprised, halted themselves shaken. At this point was demonstrated for all time the skill of the provisions previously made by Bonaparte.
The enemy who had outflanked our left at the farm of Ventolina, and which was believed at the time to be cutting our line of retreat, was outflanked itself on his left; divisions which extend from Castel-Cériolo to San-Guiliano took its lines on the flank; its battalions hearing the shooting on all sides at the same time, started to retreat; at the same moment, the First Consul ordered the cavalry, which he had held behind Desaix’s division, to pass at a gallop through the intervals and to impetuously charge the formidable column of grenadiers. This bold maneuver was carried out at once with as much resolution as skill. General Kellermann coming out of the vineyards, deployed at the gallop on the left side of the enemy column, and, by a quarter wheel to the left, dashed on with half of his brigade, while leaving the other half to contend with in battle the body of enemy cavalry, that he had opposite them, and to mask his bold blow. During this time, the grenadiers and the chasseurs of the Consular Guard threw back on their line all that was in front of them. On his side, General Watrin attacked with a new audacity, and General Carra Saint-Cyr, sent to Castel-Cériolo riflemen along the brook and the marshes, up to at Marengo. In this manner, the French army crosses in three quarters of an hour the great space that it had defended for four hours.
The enemy cavalry, pressed by General Rivaud, hastened to the help its infantry; the enemy unites, and arrives at Marengo with the intention to hold this village; but Boudet’s division, which wants to have the glory of retaking Marengo again, makes a last attack with the strength which had marked the first. Forced to give up to defeat, the enemy wants at least to prove that it was worthy, and shows, in this last combat, all the energy, which honor can give; but already victory had been determined in our ranks. The Austrians, tired and weakened, had to yield, and our troops entered pell-mell among them in Marengo, so that they soon evacuated across the Bormida.
At this time a corps of the Austrian cavalry held in the reserve was prepared to charge the line of Boudet’s division, when General Bessières, commander in chief of the horse grenadiers and chasseurs of the Consular Guard, seized this occasion for glory, and, jealously wanting to give to the elite troop which he commands the honor of the last charge, this cavalry prevents, springs, crushes, and throws it in disorder on the brook, and thus insures a general retreat while carrying disorder and fear in the enemy ranks.*
The evening of the battle, returning to his Headquarters, the First Consul, in the presence of the heads of corps which had accompanied him, highly testified to the deep regrets that he felt at the loss of Desaix**, then addressing Kellerman, he said to him:
—General, you did well by the way: France owes you much.
And then addressing himself to Bessières:
—Bessières, he began again in an animated tone, the Consular Guard who you commanded is covered in glory.
The following day, by dawn, our grenadiers had already attacked the outposts, which the enemy had left at the bridgeheads of Bormida, when an Austrian officer presented himself, and announced that General Mélas asked to send a parley member to the First Consul. After the preliminary conferences, Berthier accepted from Bonaparte the treaty instructions, and this last wrote to his colleagues in Paris, the following letter:
“At the Headquarters of Torre-de Garofolo, 27 prairial year VIII (June 16, 1800).”
“Shortly after the Battle of Marengo, citizen consuls, General Mélas has asked the outposts that he be allowed to convey to me General Sekal. I have decreed, in the course of the day, the convention of which you will find copy herewith.. *** General Berthier and General Mélas signed it in the night. I hope that the French people are content with their army!”
Here were the principal provisions of this armistice: the Austrian army was to be withdrawn behind Mincio; it kept the towns of Peschiera, of Mantoue and Borgoforte, Toscanne and Ancone. The French remained masters of the countries ranging between Chiesa, Oglio and Pô. Tortone, Alexandria, Milan, Turin, Pizzighitone, Arona, Pleasure, Ceva Coni, Savone, Genoa, and the fort of Urbin, were to be given to us.
Ten days after this battle, General Suchet returned to Genoa; and the towns of the Piedmont and Lombardy were successively given to the French army. The Austrian army, in accordance with the convention of Alessandria, was directed by division on Mantoue.
The Consul had returned to Milan, June 17, during the night; he had found the city illuminated and given up to joy. The joy of the Italians was inexpressible; they were seen returning to freedom without having had to support the horrors of a long war that the first victories of the French deferred beyond their borders.
In France and in Paris especially, the news of the victory of Marengo appeared incredible. The first dispatches, which were brought to the capital the news of the battle, had left the army about midday, at the moment when the outcome of the action was in sharp doubt. The joy was only more complete when one learned in an unquestionable way the new triumph of Bonaparte, and all that his advantageous contributions that they had for the Republic.
*At the head of the horse chasseurs of the Consular Guard, the young Eugene de Beauharnais himself was noted for his coolness and courage. Mrs. Bonaparte had on this occasion the pleasure, if small for a mother, to hear it said by the First Consul himself: “Madam, your son quickly goes in posterity; he is covered in glory for all the actions in which we dealt in Italy: he will develop into one of the greatest captains of Europe.”
**“Lost up to three o’clock in the afternoon, the Battle of Marengo was completely won by six o'clock in the evening. The dispersed Austrian column, I had left to the cavalry of General Kellerman, and I came to join General Desaix, when the colonel of the 9th Light informed me that he no longer existed. I was not within a hundred steps of the place where I had left him; I ran to it... I found him on the ground, in the midst of the dead and already stripped; I recognized it with his bulky hair, which even the ribbon that bound it had not been saved. I was attached to him too much to leave him there, where it would have been buried, without distinction, with the corpses that lay around us. I took from a dead horse’s furnishings beside him, a blanket that was still attached to the saddle; I wrapped the body of my General inside; a stray hussar, on the battlefield, helped me in this sad duty. This hussar agreed to carry him on his horse, and to lead by the reins up to Gorofollo, while I would relate this misfortune to the First Consul, who said for me to follow him to Gorofollo, where he ordered to me to transport the body of Desaix to Milan, so that it could be embalmed there." (The Duke of Rovigo, Mêmoires, tom. 1., chap. XVII, p. 277.)
* It was the famous capitulation known as that of Alessandria.
In a decree of the consuls of 23 brumaire year X (November 14, 1801), it was called for:
“ART. 1st. The Consular Guard will be commanded by four general officers.”
“ART. 2. These Generals will always take orders directly from the First Consul.”
“ART. 3. Nothing is changed, for present, concerning the artillery of the Consular Guard.”
“ART. 4. There will be a governor of the palace to the government, who will take orders directly from the first consul.” * This governor will have under his command six senior adjutants ** and six adjutant captains.”
“ART. 5. One of the six senior adjutants will be named commander of arms at Saint-Cloud, another, commander of arms at the Military School in Paris.”
“ART. 6. One of the four general officers, commanding the Consular Guard, will be constantly at service near the consuls for one decade. He will attend to the parades, will make inspections of the troops, and will command the procession.”
“ART. 7. The distribution of the stations, the instructions and the reports relating to the service and the police force of the palace of the government, will be the responsibility of the governor of the palace.”
Consequently, the commanders in chief of the Consular Guard were named:
General Davoust, for the foot grenadiers.
General Soult, for the foot chasseurs.
General Bessières, for the cavalry.
General Mortier, for artillery and the sailors. * * *
According to these nominations, General Lannes lost command as head of the Consular Guard, which Bonaparte had given him on his return from the Marengo campaign, in reward for the valuable wonders that he had achieved, in particular with the combat of Montebello.
Thibaudeau **** claims that Lannes lost his command because of a miscalculation in the payrolls. “The General, adds the historian, bitterly criticized the steps of the government of the First Consul, and spoke sometimes too freely to Bonaparte.”
In fact it was because Lannes had managed the payroll of the Consular Guard with the utmost care of his instincts, that the First Consul, for us to use a vulgar expression, had given him carte blanche on this article. A richly paid for hotel was used by the staff; Lannes held an open table for all its comrades; and there, in dinners with little army rabble, sometimes repudiated himself in sarcastic remarks and criticisms against the steps of the new government. Napoleon did not have to fear that the devotion of his soldiers, idlers since the return from Marengo, had faded in his relationship. With the first sure signal it would be discovered, and by Lannes, more than any other. However it was dangerous to allow these young heads to go on further with this ill-considered language: he mandated thus to Lannes at the Tuileries. This one, accustomed to a great familiarity with his former General in Chief, let go in an angry outburst soon suppressed by the quiet superiority of the First Consul; but as it always is, in a case of an honest mistake, he wanted to pay for expenditures which had cost the payroll of the Guard. But then, this General, who had made war in Italy so much, did not have anything. Augereau, also finding fault, lent him the sum necessary, saying to him:
—Yours! Take this money, find the ungrateful one for whom we poured out our blood, return to him what is due the cashbox and we are no longer be obliging any more.
The Consul, who did not want to allow his former comrades in arms to lose their affections towards him and one another, believed it his duty to move them away from each other. Lannes was sent to an embassy, and Augereau received orders to return to his army.
The following fact which is guaranteed to us by a man whose honorable character and the veracity could not be questioned *****, would come in support of this assertion.
* To fill this significant station, Bonaparte made the choice of General Duroc, one of his aides-de-camp. During the creation of the Empire, the title of Grand Marshal of the Palace was substituted for that of Governor.
** Fuzy, Tortel, Dupas, Laplanche Mortières, Dériot and Macon, were selected among the officers of the Consular Guard. Bonaparte named them, at the same time, as all the six brigade heads.
*** This body was formed only later.
**** In his History of France and of Napoleon Bonaparte: Consulate, tom. 2, year X, chap. xxviii, pag. 61.
***** Mr. the Baron de Méneval, secretary of the particular cabinet of the Emperor.
In the time of which we speak, the very military practices, the Republican manners all, inspired by the spirit of equality, had allowed freedoms which from now on became incompatible with the dignity of the First Consul and the respect due to his authority; also he had to give up the type of friendship which existed between him and his first lieutenants because it degenerated sometimes into a license; thus when General Lannes proposed to Napoleon in the court of Malmaison that they play billiards for a prize named by the winner, the Consul accepted. He wanted and was to lose: indeed his adversary played the part.
—I beat you, said Lannes to Napoleon, because he had kept the practice of addressing him as tu, therefore I have the right of chose my prize. And without awaiting for an authorization which he did not ask for, the General ran to examine the horses, made a choice of the most beautiful, saddled it, put on its bridle, mounted it and left at a gallop, while saying:
—Good-bye, Bonaparte, I will not dine here today, because if I remained, you would be able to retake your horse.
Napoleon did not have time to respond to him, because he was already far off. To prevent the recurrence of similar scenes, he felt the need to move temporarily away from General Lannes, but by entrusting to him to a station of a high distinction: he appointed him Ambassador in Lisbon, without his regard and his friendship for this general officer being decreased by it.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2005
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