From 11 nivose year XIII, to 10 nivose year XIV; (from 1st January to 31 December 1805).
ADMISSION OF MILITARY TO THE GUARD.
To the Imperial Home of the Invalides.
To provide for suitable subsistence, housing and the maintenance of a great number of officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers who by their courage and services provided a case for entry into the Invalides, and who’s little fortune reduced them to need for this help, was the thought of Louis XIV. Napoleon continued the sublime work of the great king, and it is known that, under his reign, the Imperial Home of the Invalides recovered all its splendor, all the comfort that it had in the XVIIth century, and from which the preceding revolutionary governments; had stripped from it.
During the time of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI, the privileged French Army corps provided few residents to the Invalides. The soldiers of the French Guards and the Swiss Guards, only, could aspire to the privilege of entering this establishment, because the corps of the Kings household military were made up only of officers, such as the gardes du corps, gardes de la porte, gendarmes and musketeers, who almost all retired with pensions that were enough, in this time, for their needs. The Swiss, after their departure, were allowed employment as subordinates in the King’s civilian household in the capacity of guards of the gardens or Swiss of the Castle; and the French Guards, whose soldiers almost all setup lucrative industries, established in Paris with the small amount of money which they obtained from the liberality of the King. The soldiers of these privileged corps were thus in small but strong numbers in the home, and proportionally there were more officers of the blue house * (gardes du corps, gardes de la porte and gendarmes), than French Guards and Swiss Guards.
* The officers of the blue house (because their uniform was blue) were noble as well as those of the red house, but less well to do; some were even very poor. The gardes du corps and the gardes de la porte were often seen forced, when the age of the retirement came for them, to enter to the Invalides; but there, at least, they were treated nobly to their last days. They preferred this existence to the life that they would have had in their provinces on a weak pension.
The military traditions live and perpetuate in spite of the revolutions. Soldiers of the Imperial Guard understood instinctively that they had high enough pay, or a strong enough pension, when they retired from service (and this income was almost doubled when they added to it the allotment from their cross of honor), to create, in their old age, an independent existence. Moreover those who could read and write could request from the Emperor employment, either in the contributions indirectes, or in the Imperial fields, or finally in the administration of the forests ** They were almost always sure to succeed in their requests, because Napoleon liked above all namely happy and satisfied old companions of his campaigns, the builders of his glory, as he said it himself in this poetic language that he could employ so in this way.
** It is of administrative notoriety that after the campaign of Austerlitz, Napoleon distributed to congédiés of his Guard more than one hundred civil employments. He was to act in the manner of Caesar who, also, placed his soldiers in the provinces acquired in the Roman conquests.
The soldiers of the Guard had a natural transition to cross; when, by their age, their wounds or their infirmities, they were striped from participating in the active battalions, they had the convenience to enter the company of the veterans of the Guard; it was also an active, but extremely soft and extremely benign service, which was restricted to assemble for six hours of guard duty once every eight days in their garrison. These veterans of the Guard were so well treated, so cherished, so free from concern, that the other soldiers called them the canons of the army. The Emperor having made them come one day to a grand parade in the court from Tuileries, stopped in front of them and disclaimed:
—Who is it among you who counts the least service as being youngest?
—Sire, it is I! A voice in the ranks answered.
—And how many years of service do you count? Napoleon continued.
—Thirty-six years, Sire, answered the same voice.
—Devil! But then how much service time has the oldest among you?
—Fifty-three years, my Emperor, by counting my campaigns, set out again another soldier whose fresh and open figure was enhanced by an enormous white moustache.
—All that is very well, Napoleon gave to the soldier who had only thirty-six years of service; but you, you are only a conscript compared to your comrade. However young a person you are still, I make you a sergeant like your ancient, and I hope in that case you both still know how to burn some cartridges.
Then having turned towards General Bertrand, the same one who later was a grand marshal of the palace, but which was yet only one of his aides-de-camp:
—See there, Bertrand, all these strapping men, he says to him, as they were so healthy: they have faces of Bernardins *.
* It was one of the expressions of Napoleon to describe a man who had a large figure that much delighted. It is known that Bernadins were extremely rich monks who had a table splendidly serviced and whose plumpness had become proverbial.
It however sometimes happened that soldiers of the Guard requested their admission to the Home of the Invalides. When the titles of the candidates were legally established, the Minister of War hastened to grant their complaints, and they entered, de plano, to the Home with the rank of non-commissioned officers, i.e. of sergeant for the infantry, and maréchal-des-logis for the cavalry and artillery. This admission was almost always accompanied by a gratuity, which the Emperor had ordered, once and for all, to take on the black mass of the corps. This gratuity went from 40 to 120 francs, according to the merit of the individual, and one will all understand that this small sum was pleasing for a soldier, especially when he had himself some payments.
Even at the Invalides, the soldiers of the Guard were the objects of respect of their comrades. In this asylum devoted to the valor broken by age, the small jealousies, the competitions of corps did not exist any more; and the honest soldier, whatever it was, paid sincere homage to the brave soldier like him.
Today still, one counts at the Home of the Invalides several former soldiers of the Old Guard. It is beautiful to see our mutilated army of Africa group around these Nestor of the old army, of these Masters in fact of military virtues, and to listen to them tell the of the great and terrible days of the Empire. The laurels of the Pyramids and Marengo seem to be linked with the palms of the Atlas and Isly; one also is to trust to see these two generations of equal warriors in intrepidity, devotion and patriotism.
An imperial decree, dated from the palace of the Tuileries, the 9 pluviose year XIII (January 29, 1805), thus prescribed the following provisions for the admission of the soldiers of the Guard to the Imperial Home of the Invalides.
“ART. 1st. When the age, the wounds or the infirmities do not allow the Imperial Guard soldiers to continue their service any more, they will be allowed to the Invalides or with the pay of retirement, based on the request which the Colonel-Généraux makes to the minister.”
“ART. 2. The retirement pay will be fixed on the same bases as those decreed for the army, but they will be increased by half.”
“ART. 3. Those who obtain their entry to the Imperial Home of the Invalides, will enjoy there the prerogatives and treatments of ranks higher than those which they occupied in the Guard.
The simple guard will be treated as corporal or sergeant.
The corporal or sergeant, as sergeant or maréchal-des-logis.
The sergeant or maréchal-des-logis, as second lieutenant.
The officer will enjoy all the advantages granted to the rank higher than that which he occupied in the Guard.”
“ART. 4. If the soldier of the Guard, after his admission to the Imperial Home of the Invalides, prefers a pension representative of the Home, this pension will be granted to him after being fixed according to the principles of art. 2. above, and for the rank which he occupied in the Guard.”
CREATION OF HORSE VÉLITES, IN THE GUARD.
A second decree, dated from the palace of Saint-Cloud, the 30 fructidor year XIII (September 17, 1805), was thus conceived:
“ART. 1st. A corps of horse vélites will be formed with eight hundred men.”
“ART. 2. This corps will be composed of conscripts from the three last years, at a rate of six per Department, taken among those who come forward voluntarily, or, failing this, indicated by the prefect.”
“ART. 3. Among the six vélites provided by each department, three must be 5 feet 4 inches tall, and three 5 feet 5 inches tall and above.”
“ART. 4. The vélites will have to be well to do and to have, by themselves or their parents, an assured income 300 francs per annum.”
“ART. 5. If, in the reserve of years XI, XII, XIII (1803, 1804 and 1805), there are not a sufficient number men joining, together with the necessary qualities to be allowed into this new corps, those who have attained eighteen years of age, combined with the necessary qualities and will present goodwill will be able to join.”
“ART. 6. The corps of the vélites with horse will be divided into eight companies.
Each one of these companies will be made up as follows, namely:
There will be moreover and thereafter, two sergeants (maréchaux-des-logis) and four corporals (brigadiers) named among the vélites who will have more than one year of service in the corps.”
“ART. 7. There will be attached to this corps:
“The squadron heads, the captains, the first lieutenants, the second lieutenants, the adjutant-majors, the adjutant and the noncommissioned officers will be distributed, half to the grenadiers regiment, and half to the chasseur regiment of the horse Guard.”
“ART. 8. The accountancy of the four companies of vélites commanded by the horse grenadier officers, will be managed by the Administrative Council of this regiment. The accountancy of the four companies of vélites commanded by the horse chasseur officers, will be managed by the Administrative Council of directors of this regiment.”
“ART. 9. The pay, the allowances and the first disbursement of the four companies of vélites attached to the grenadier regiment, will be the same as those of horse grenadiers of the Guard. The pay, the masses and the first disbursement of the four companies attached to the regiment of chasseurs, will be the same as those of the horse chasseurs of the Guard.”
“ART. 10. The conscripts who are allowed in the corps of the horse vélites, or their parents, will deposit, in the corps payroll chest, every three months and in advance, a quarter of the sum of 300 francs prescribed by art. 4.”
“ART. 11. Each vélite will have, at the time of his admission, to provide himself, at his expense, buckskin breeches, a pair of boots and a pair of uniform gloves.”
“ART. 12. Those of the vélites who are distinguished by their control, their aptitude and their behavior, could be allowed in the Imperial Guard before having reached the age and the number of years of service required to belong to the aforementioned Guard.”
“ART. 13. The vélites will be able to receive their leave when they finish the number of years of service required by the laws relating to the conscription.”
Attached to each corps of vélites at the expense of the government, were Masters of reading, writing, arithmetic and gymnastics necessary to their instruction; there were also Masters of mathematics and drawing, whose salary was paid partly by the State, and partly by those of the vélites who took particular lessons.
STAFF OF THE HORSE VÉLITES.
THE GUARD, DURING THE AUSTRIAN CAMPAIGN, IN 1805.
THE BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ.
England had viewed with deep concern the menacing provisions taken by Napoleon, at the Camp of Boulogne, to descend upon its coasts, which would certainly bring its ruin. England, we say, there had recourse to its usual practice, i.e. to intrigues and its gold, which, so often, had broken the harmony that reigned between France and the other powers of the continent.
Russia was the first to yield to its influence, and concluded a treaty that ratified Austria joining it. The Emperor of Austria, in consequence of this arrangement, gathered two hundred thousand men who were to await the arrival of the Russians; but the circumstances forcing Austria to begin the hostilities, its troops invaded Bavaria, and forced the Elector to seek a refuge outside of his States.
Napoleon was informed at once of the movement of the Austrians, he suspended his maritime expedition so well organized, raised the Camp of Boulogne, made the Guard leave some of its posts for Germany, crossed the Rhine at Kelb, and put himself at the head of his army, which was in the presence of the enemy amazed at the speed with which it had crossed a so great space.
The first engagements, which took place between the Austrians and us, were constantly for our advantage. October 10, 1805, Marshal Bessières, at the head of horse grenadiers and chasseurs of the Guard, made his entry into Augsburg; it set out again about the 11th, to go on to Burgau, where he was to await for Napoleon who arrived there soon. The 21st, intrepid Colonel Morland, at the head of the horse chasseurs of the Guard, was particularly distinguished at the combat of Nuremberg, where his chasseurs, after having cut in pieces the cuirassiers of the General Mack, seized an artillery park. The same day, a battalion of foot grenadiers of the Guard entered into Augsburg. The 28th, Napoleon, placed on the heights of Ulm, and surrounded by his Guard, saw pass before for two hours until six hours in the evening, twenty-five thousand Austrians who formed the garrison of this place as prisoners of war: the infantry threw her fusils on the opposite side of the ditch; the cavalry dismounted, disarmed and delivered its horses to our riders. These soldiers, while stripping them of their weapons, shouted vive Emperor Napoleon!
The corps of the Imperial Guard, at the beginning of this campaign, were seldom committed, to their great regret, because one did not need anything less than the authority of the heads to calm the ardor which they expressed, while demanding with great cries to take part in the actions which occurred, so to speak, under their eyes.
In consequence of the military operations which followed the taking of Ulm, the Russians, after being beaten at Crems and Hollabrume, arrived, November 18, to effect their junction with a new army corps coming from Russia; what brought the Russian army to seventy-two thousand men under the command of General Kutusov. The French Army, which was only forty-two thousand men strong, awaited them in the position at Brünn. Six thousand Russian cavalrymen wanted to dispute the approaches of Olmutz with him; but General Walther, assisted by four squadrons of the Guard, commanded by Marshal Bessières, made at charge at the Russians so brilliant, that they forced those, not without experiencing a lively resistance, to beat a retreat. Nothing contrasted as the silence, which reigned in our ranks and the howls that the Russians possessed in theirs.
Indeed, it was this quiet army camped between Brünn and Olmutz; but it was beautiful, devoted and full with enthusiasm. History will never record of a group of more educated men, more functional, and commanded by a more eminent staff. When Napoleon crossed the plain of Austerlitz while marching on Vitchau, he had said to his Generals these short words:
— Dear Sirs, study this ground well, you will soon make use of it.
December 1st in the morning, the Russian and Austrian masses began their movement ahead with order and precision. As for Napoleon, he addressed to his Guard and the army the following proclamation, going back to his bivouac at Austerlitz:
“Soldiers! He said, the Russian army presents himself in front of you to avenge the Austrian army for Ulm. They are these same battalions that you overcame at Ebersberg, Amstetten, Krems, at Hollabrunn, and that since you constantly continued up to now.
“Soldiers! I will direct your battalions myself, I will be kept far from fire if, with your accustomed bravery, you carry death and fear in the enemy ranks; but if victory becomes for one moment dubious, you would see your Emperor exposing himself to the first blows; because the victory could not be slow on this day especially when it comes from the honor of the French infantry who is fill so much with the honor of the whole nation.”
“That, under the threat of bringing casualties, one does not fall apart in the ranks, and that each one is well imbued by this thought, that it is necessary to overcome these hirelings of England who are so animated by a great hatred against us.”
“This victory will finish our campaign; we will be able to retake our winter quarters, and the peace which I will make will be worthy of my people for you and me!”
In this beautiful proclamation, there was neither fanfare, nor lying promises. Napoleon excited the soldier without diminishing the perils; he did not separate from the fate of the army, which he announced that he wanted to share the dangers. Also, that evening, each captain of the Guard, surrounded by his company, read, by the gleam of the torches, like an order of the camp, this proclamation of Austerlitz, marked with formality (l’antique) as all that Napoleon dictated. Then a festival of the night was impromptu. The following day was the anniversary of the crowning of their Emperor, the soldiers of the Guard raised the lamps to celebrate it in advance; cries of joy and impatience were heard all along the lines. Then Napoleon walked alone from bivouac to bivouac in the midst of his Guard gathered around his hut; he went from grenadier to grenadier, and spoke to them as he had made a habit on special occasions. In their turn, those related to him sublimes words; the ones said: “You will not need to expose yourself tomorrow, we will bring the guns and the flags of this army to you;” others: “We promise you the victory to celebrate the anniversary of your crowning!” Thus the old Praetorians spoke to Caesar. The common danger, the size of the service which one was going to render, the equality of the tomb for all, authorized this familiarity of the soldier with his loved emperor.
While returning to his hut, Napoleon appeared assured the success for the following day. While the heads of corps awaited his orders, he, eyes fixed on an immense chart lit by the flame of some faggots, and sitting on a straw-bottomed chair, the legs lit, the arms and the head pressed on the back of this chair, fell deeply asleep. What dreams had passed through his colossal imagination? Nobody knows; but this day before Austerlitz left deep memories in all those who attended this sublime scene.
The sun of December 2 dissipated little by little the fogs of the morning and appeared on the horizon like a bloody sphere. In the night, Napoleon had made all his dispositions, the left of his army had been entrusted to Marshal Lannes; the right, to Marshal Soult; the center, to Bernadotte; all the cavalry had been given to Murat. The Emperor had placed himself in the center of the reserve, at his sides Bessières and Rapp, faithful executors of his will; then Junot, arrived the day before from Lisbon with all haste. Junot was with the head of ten battalions of the Guard; ten other grenadier battalions obeyed the orders of Oudinot and Duroc. Nothing was comparable with this reserve of men, with the tanned skin, with the thick moustache; it alone was worth an army, because it counted in its ranks the soldiers of Italy, Egypt and Marengo. There was massed, under the command of Bessières and Rapp, as we have just said, all the cavalry of the Guard, the horse chasseurs whose uniform Napoleon wore, grenadiers and the mamelucks. Forty pieces of cannon served by the light artillery of the Guard stood ready to go anywhere a danger called for the presence of prompt and fast help. To give his orders, Napoleon waited until the shining star had risen completely; then he traversed in front of the banner, by throwing out then and there to the soldiers the ardent words: “It is necessary to finish this campaign with a thunder clap,” he said to them. At the same moment a shot of cannon was heard; a long cry of Vive l’Empereur! Answered this signal. “The battle has started!” Such was the word, which circulated in all the ranks. At once the French Army shook.
The infantry of the Guard, which, from the opening of the campaign, had almost not given, to crying rage so to speak and absolutely demanded to go against the enemy. Napoleon said to them: “You will have, on the contrary, you will delight in nothing to do, you will only serve as a reserve; so much the better if I do not need you.” It was not the same for the cavalry, everywhere it was obliged to give and rendered significant services.
A battalion of 4th line, charged by the Russian Imperial Horse Guard, collapsed. Napoleon, who saw this movement, ordered at once to Bessières to go ahead to help of this battalion, and to protect the right from the army, which could have been compromised. The honest marshal left at a gallop with his invincibles, and soon the two Imperial Guards were at grips; but soon also all resistance on behalf of the Russians became useless.
The Austrian cavalry, wanting to cover the retirement of the Russian infantry overtaken by her cavalry between the villages of Tellenitz and Menitz, was crushed by the grapeshot of light artillery of the Guard. Two squadrons of the Guard chasseurs and a division of dragons, commanded by General Gardanne, supported the light artillery with the infantry of the Guard and the corps of Marshal Soult.
The fire of this artillery was so sharp and had been so well maintained, that the Russians and Austrians had wiped clean an immense loss of men, horses and even caissons, the majority of which exploded. From ninety-two battalions, only eight thousand men only escape by the road from Stalschau; and, of one hundred fifty pieces of cannon, which they had with them, they could not save a single one of them. Such was the thunderclap, which finished this prestigious campaign.
In the milieu of this gigantic combat, when all was so beautiful, there were courageous individuals who history hastened of recall: General Saint-Hilaire, seriously wounded, maintained himself on his horse all the day. General Walhubert, the thigh carried away by a ball, recalled to the soldiers, who wanted to remove him from the battlefield, the proclamation of the Emperor who forbade them to leave their ranks. General Friant had four horses killed under him. The Generals Thiébault, Sébastiani and Compans were also wounded. General Rapp, at the head of horse grenadiers of the Guard, made captive Prince Repnin commander of the Russian Imperial Guard. Colonel Morland of the horse chasseurs of the Guard was killed charging the artillery of the Russian Imperial Guard.
The generosity of the Emperor towards the troops who had fought at Austerlitz was great like the victory. Pensions were granted to the widows of the Generals, of the officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers who died on the battlefield. Napoleon adopted their children, undertook their education as well as dowry of their daughters. All those who were wounded accepted a three months gratuity payment; those who had been distinguished were decorated, or at least promoted to the next higher rank.
The evening of this grand day, Napoleon could shade his bivouac with the flags taken from the enemy, among which were some standards of the Russian Imperial Guard. This battle will remain in the memory of the soldier as the most beautiful feat of arms of modern times, in what was the result of erudite strategic operations all calculated in advance and marvelously carried out. In a word this victory will be as one of these imposing triumphal arches, which remains upright whereas stone monuments become dust.
IN REGARDS TO THE VÉLITES OF THE GUARD.
A HALT OF THE EMPEROR.
With the formation of the corps of the vélites of the Horse Guard as we said at the beginning of this book V *, they were admitted in the regiments of grenadiers and chasseurs, and the following year into the dragoons of the Empress; consequently these young soldiers formed an integral part of the corps of the Guard to which they belonged. On their arrival in Paris, the horse vélites were presented to Colonel Fusil, commander of arms at the Military School; and, according to their size, this senior officer indicated the regiments in which they were to be incorporated, either grenadiers, or chasseurs. They trained a squadron (5th) composed of two companies (nos. 9 and 10), each of approximately hundred to a hundred and ten men strong, officers and noncommissioned officers included.** Much later, these companies were regarded as belonging to the Old Guard, because they received the pay of it; they made the served in it, however without that the simple vélites could obtain an advance there the first year. All the vélites soldiers crossed over, at the end of three or five years, to become second lieutenants of the regiments of the line cavalry. On campaign, they were distributed in the companies of the anciens, and served near the person of the Emperor. It was only from the year 1811 that no more vélites were admitted into the cavalry of the Old Guard. As of 1807 the foot vélites had been removed in the infantry and had been incorporated into the regiments of the Young Guard in the capacity as noncommissioned officers. As for the horse vélites, they all crossed over, or with little close exception, to the light horsemen lancers (chevau-légers lanciers) in the capacity of noncommissioned officers, and officers in the regiments of the line cavalry. As for the remainder, the historical episode that you will read *** will give a complete idea of the mode of recruitment, discipline, nature of the service and advancement to which the vélites were subjected to in the Imperial Guard Horse.
*See the text of the decree relative to 30 fructidor year XIII (September 17, 1805).
** It was only later than the corps of the horse vélites was composed of two squadrons of four companies each.
*** This article was communicated to us by an old vélite of the Horse Chasseurs of the Guard, now directing of one of our most considerable stud farms.
“The young Guyot Desherbiers belonged to one of the richest and most well thought of families in his province. He was eighteen years old, and was an only son. Hardly had he finished his studies at the college of Turns that all at once his young imagination was ignited by the reading of the bulletins of the Austerlitz campaign: he wanted to be made a soldier. Neither supplications of a mother who idolized him, nor wise observations of his father, who, did not want either to be separated from him, had resolved to pay a man to replace him, although already the substitutes were rare, no consideration could make him change his mind. In despair, Mr. Desherbiers’ father went to find his friend, General Delarue who commanded the Department of the Indre-and-Loire, and asked him, for a letter of introduction for his son, so he could enter the vélites. This favor having been granted him without sorrow, the young Desherbiers left immediately for the capital, and, as of shortly after his arrival, he was incorporated into the horse chasseurs of the Guard in the capacity of a vélite.
Hardly was he equipped, when the young man hastened to go to return visit a pretty cousin whom he had in Paris. This one finds him charming in the uniform, and a thousand successes are foretold to him. The female praises so agreeably flattered the heart of the cherubim in skintight deer trousers and colback that he forgot the hour of the recall. On return to that district of the Military academy, the barrack room corporal, an old trooper with a long russet-red moustache, orders to him to get out of his parade dress uniform, to put on his stable jacket and toilé trousers, and to go to sleep in the guard shack (brig).
The following day, captain Fournier called on Mr. Desherbiers and said to him:
—Vélite, why did you miss the call yesterday in the evening?
—My captain, answers the young Desherbiers in a subjected tone, have kindness to excuse me, I had gone to see one of my cousins, and...
—Young man, stopped the captain, for Paris it is necessary to be wary of parents in general, and cousins in particular: they are to be feared more than dragoons of the Russian Guard, because it is right in the heart that they strike. To enable you to be capable to avoid their blows, tomorrow morning, after the grooming, you will leave for Versailles, where the instructors of the regiment will deal with your military education.
After four months of training, the vélite was considered educated enough to appear at a grandl review of the Emperor. All the Imperial Horse Guard was joined together in the Carrousel. Napoleon arrived accompanied, with his brilliant staff, passed in front of the lines at a gallop, then after carried out the procession. It was easy to see that a great thought worried Napoleon during this review. Indeed, for on the following day, the infantry of the Guard moved to posts in Prussia, the cavalry and the artillery followed it with forced marches.
October 14, Napoleon met the Prussian army at Jena, and battle delivered to him, as we will speak of later. On this day, the children of France nobly avenged their grandfathers for disaster of Rosbach. However the cavalry of the Guard did not have the honor to attend this battle: it was still two days march behind. At this glorious time, the victory went so quickly, that it was not easy to follow it. Napoleon made his entry in Berlin.
The young Desherbiers had withstood the fatigue of the marches well, he even started to give himself airs while making resound the serrated rollers of his spurs on the paving stone, while wearing his forage cap posed cocked on the right ear, and the Berliners, who had noticed his fair pretty head, had soon learned to waltz. The old noncommissioned officers of his squadron had grown fond the young vélite, because this one listened with respect to their long war stories, and also because he was the secretary of the majority of these Messrs of whom he had never revealed their family secrets or feelings.
Soon it was learned that the Russians assisted King William. The Emperor, wanting to meet them half way, left Berlin and transported his Headquarters to Warsaw. He left this city on December 23, and, the following day 24, a sharp combat took place with the passage of Bug. It was on this day that, for the first time, Desherbiers intended to seriously thunder the cannon; the battlefield affected him with deep emotion; but when he saw a light artillery battery crossing the plain at a grand gallop, crushing the corpses under the wheels of its caissons, then the hair raised on his head, and the war appeared a horrible thing to him. He was delivered from these painful impressions, when Murat appeared in front of the face of the squadron, and, addressing a small the group officers who held the right, shouted to them almost merrily:
— Dear Sirs, I need you!
The vélites shook at once, and a few minutes after they were under the fire of a Russian battery; the balls followed one another quickly in succession: a comrade was killed beside Desherbiers. The corporal placed at his left, who realized the effect that this spectacle produced on the beginner hero, said to him lowly, while passing his flask (gourd) to him:
—Take, small one, a swig, it is the pure remedy for the disease.
The potion had been just taken when the clear voice of Murat spoke these words:
—Trumpets! Sound the charge!
At once the entire regiment launched off with the speed of a flash on the enemy battery; two regiments of Russian cavalry ran to support it: a general fray took place. But who could have resisted the Chasseurs of the Guard led by Murat? The Russians were sabered, crushed, and four pieces of cannon remained with the possession of the winners.
However this winter campaign, so painful, so fatal, was filled with diverse circumstances. The Emperor rode a horse every morning before the day, he went to the outposts, followed by the service squadron, and the infantry of the Guard continued their march. Before midday, Napoleon dismounted from his horse, the chasseurs lit a large fire on a mound and made him a shelter with straw and tree branches. It was there that he received the report of his lieutenants and that it gave them new orders. The mameluck Roustan prepared lunch and boiling mocha coffee with the fire of the bivouac, in a small silver coffee pot. The Emperor, during his halts, constantly had around him a dozen chasseurs or vélites armed with their carbines, bayonets mounted at the end of the gun. These riders formed the circle to prevent anyone coming up to him. One day during the usual halt he lunched, as he had made practice of, and his glances fell on a vélite posted opposite him. His pretty appearance struck Napoleon who made him approach and asked him a little abruptly:
—Who put to you in my Guard?
—It was Your Majesty himself, answered Desherbiers.
—Explained this; I do not understand.
—Sire, according to the decree of Your Majesty, which makes it possible for young people of family to be used in your Guard; having met the imposed conditions, I am at my station.
—You are quite small, said Napoleon shaking his head.
—Sire, I serve just the same as the largest of the regiment.
—Have you already been under fire?
—Yes, Sire, I was in the crossing of Bug.
—It was hot!... and that caused you some fear?... Ah! Ah! You reddened and you do not answer; could what I have said be true?
—Yes, Sire, I acknowledge it, I was afraid; but that lasted only one moment.
((STOP OF NAPOLEON ON CAMPAIGN, Young Vélite of the Guard))
—Comfort yourself, go! There are many others than you who were afraid and for whom it lasted much longer. Then after a silence: Let us go, he began again, you are good young man; as everyone you paid the price. You will lunch with me; will that please to you?
—Certainly, Sire! Exclaimed the vélite with exalted joy caused by such an honor.
And after having deposited his rifle close to him, he sat down opposite the Emperor.
Then Roustan, with all the respect, which he would have had for a general officer, was served to the young vélite, on a small silver plate, a ham section. Desherbiers ate it with the appetite of his age, still urged on by a few days of abstinence; and, when the mameluck poured for him the chambertin (wine) in a drinking cup of vermeil (silver guilt), Napoleon said to him while smiling:
—Ah, ah! Boy, you are well at ease using a goblet, because one does not only see you drink: I bet that you are filled up?
—To the brim, Sire, for better drinking to the health of Your Majesty.
During the little of time, which this impromptu meal lasted, Napoleon constantly teased his young guest who always answered with spirit and suitability. After the coffee, the Emperor asked him for his name.
—Guyot Desherbiers, Sire, he answered him.
—Guyot Desherbiers! Napoleon repeated by fixing his eyes at the sky like searching his memory. I knew formerly in Paris, he added, an honorable legal consult of this name, and who, by the way, remained in an unpleasant district, Noyers Street, I believe. Would you be one of his parents? On the negative answer of the young vélite, Napoleon retorted: Eh well! Mr. Guyot Desherbiers, here is an acquaintance shared by us. Lead well, I will take care of your advancement of course... when the time comes; let us go, goodbye.
The vélite made a military salute, took up his carbine again and caught up with his faction. This campaign ended in the battle of Friedland, which brought the glorious treaty of Tilsit. The Guard returned to Paris. Napoleon having gone to drive out around Trianon, wanted to see the vélites which since had been separated from the chasseurs of the old Guard, and held in garrison at Versailles. When he approached the squadron, he said to the commander Martin:
—Call from the ranks the vélite Guyot Desherbiers with whom I lunched in Poland.
—Sire, answered this senior officer, Your Majesty passed him to a regiment of hussars which is currently in Spain.
—Why was he presented? He was yet only a child.
—Lord, because of his beautiful conduct at Friedland. He had killed with his own hands two Russian grenadiers, in sight of the whole squadron.
—That is different: you did well and he too.
The brave young man was to never meet the Emperor again. He had the misfortune to fall into the hands of guerrillas alive, which made him die through horrible tortures. He withstood them all with heroic courage, and before leaving his last sigh, he pronounced only two names: that of the Emperor and that of his cousin of Paris.
COMPOSITION AND NUMERICAL FORCE OF THE GUARD, IN 1805.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2005
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