Character of the Imperial Guard Aspect, in regard to morals, politics and military.
Grand bodies of State never forgot their recognition when their civil service or military contributed to the glory of the fatherland; but it is a rare and more beautiful privilege to join with popular sentiments, those who are always faithful to them, the particular regard of the sovereign and the respect of the rival bodies forced to pay homage to them.
The condition of the Imperial Guard was such under the Empire. Terrible on the battlefields because of its intrepidity, admirable by its austere discipline while at peace, the Imperial Guard raised in the midst of France as this splendid palm tree of Sinai whose immense branches protecting over time the weak shrubs, which grow under its shade against the heat of a devouring sun and the violence of the storms.
Also the terror, which this untamable phalanx inspired in the enemies of France, could only find an equal in the general affection of which it was the object in the days of momentary truces and public solemnities. It had to be seen, to return from a campaign where often, and providing us the expression of one of its worthy heads *: "it hadn’t the luxury to start it camp fires," it had to be seen, we say, to cross our cities and our countryside, accompanied everywhere by demonstrations of enthusiasm and joy; but it was in Paris especially, in the capital of the great Empire, that this return was announced by the sharpest demonstrations. The Guard did not return to its palaces of the Military School, of Babylon, of Ruel and Courbevoie (because these vast barracks where order and the warlike magnificence reigned were none other than princely residences), but after having passed under improvised triumphal arches, they had to sit down at sumptuous banquets where the first magistrate of the city ** prided himself as filling the role of Host. Thus the soldiers of Caesar, victorious over the Gauls and the Germans, returned to the Eternal City by the Praetorian Gate, and went to suspend on the vaults of the Temple of Mars the palms of the victory and the trophies of their conquests.
* Marshal Soult.
** Count Frochot, Prefect of the Department of the Seine.
At all times and throughout the period, the Parisians were noted for the attachment, which they held for the Imperial Guard, attachment, which could be called idolatry. Maybe they recognized the truth of this old proverb:
"It is not throne without guard and not temple without God," either that the presence of these proud soldiers, who mixed with such an amount of good-naturedness the popular rejoicings, became in their eyes a particular type of emblem of glory; the Parisians, we say, had tacitly granted the right of middle-class to them. The uniforms of the Guard were received everywhere; and, such was the pure reputation of these brave men, that, in a walk, a ball, a family meeting, the vicinity of a soldier of the Guard worried neither the susceptibility of the mothers, nor the innocence of the girls: this uniform was, in the judgment of all, the symbol of honor, virtue and courage. This confidence that rightly extended to the small number of regiments who then composed the Guard, inspired from the outset jealousy in the other army corps which appeared not only as sordid rumors, but also quarrels and provocations which ended in duels partly and quarrels in the corps. With his return from Egypt, in 1799, Napoleon had brought back with him, on the same ship, part of his Guides. Arriving in Paris only a few days after the events of the 18 Brumaire, these were placed in Babylon * not only as the Guides of the Bonaparte General, but also as the Guard of the First Consul. It was from this moment that this privileged body caused jealous murmurs; however in spite of these deplorable collisions, the preponderance of the Consular Guard was so well established in the eyes of its rivals as well, that, later, in the bloodiest battles of the Empire and at the height of the danger, one saw the line regiments call out to the Guard for its help, like an unquestionable support, an invincible auxiliary. "Where is the Guard?" The soldiers exclaimed with an anxiety, which only ceased at the sight of its battalions. At Wagram, it was called upon by the corps of the Macdonald General to save the day, and at Moscow the intrepid regiments, which faced the ceaseless masses of the Russians, still called out their wishes to it, but this time unnecessarily.
The final account of each soldier of the Old Guard (grenadiers and chasseurs, foot and horse) was twenty-two pennies (sous) per day. What remained of this pay stayed with each man, all the rest was taken for what is called “the ordinary”, clothing, the equipment and the mass known as “the reserve”, seven pennies per day of “pocket money”. It was beautiful, but it was well. Also the soldiers themselves with a mathematical correctness regulated the particular budget of each infantryman. Not these ashamed debts that dishonor the military dress; not these sordid stinginess that sometimes metamorphose the young officer into old misers. All was severe, but suitable to the Guard: behavior as control, the manners as the language; and, on this subject, we will point out that, in the Old Guard preferably that in the Young, the soldiers usually interacted between themselves between as mister. An officer or a warrant officer would never have addressed a word to one of his subordinates by employing this phrase, because there reigned in this corps an aristocracy which came from the idea of superiority that each one believed to have of his comrade. The soldiers did not address themselves as “tu” (familiar tense of you) either as in the other regiments of the army, unless they were not parents or close friend, or finally that they had not been formerly “mess mates”. In this last case, “tu” was required, while if “vous” (formal tense of you) had been taken, it would have indicated an offence, or, at least, for a sign of disaffection. Napoleon alone largely used the privilege of addressing as “tu” the soldiers of his Guard, those especially who had taken part in the campaigns of Italy and Egypt with him; but he seldom addressed as “tu” an officer. It was necessary, so that he gave them this mark of benevolence because he knew them for so long. Often he said while joking that his Egyptians were the little prudes among them.
Indeed, in the canteens of the Guard, these coarse remarks, these badly sounding epithets that one claims in the world were of the remarks of Corps of the Guard, were formally prohibited. A canteen of the Guard, even on the Day of Saint Napoleon (on August 15), offered an aspect as calm as the best-run cafe of the capital. One spoke with low voice, one discussed without passion, and if the most animated sang sometimes, they only uttered these frankly popular or warlike songs, which did not hide under an elegant rhyme or any political thought of obscene or fault-finding allusions. Two men, of spirit **, for whom fame had much different repercussions under the restoration, had to some extent a monopoly on the literary pastimes of the Guard.
* Splendid barracks located in the Saint-Germain suburb between the Rue de Babylone and the Rude de Plummet.
** Lemontey and Martainville: they had been especially charged by Mr. Champagny, then Minister of the Interior Department, to compose the songs which were distributed to the people, at the time of the rejoicings of the crowning of Napoleon. One and the other of these spiritual writers was equipped marvelously for this task. One still remembers this charming quatrain of Lemontey:
And this patois song of Martainville, on the air: Receive in your garret, etc.
Never more delicate praise had been distilled. Martainville, as true as Vadé, carried it of much on this Homer of the balls by the smoothness of the thought. Moreover, Martainville composed, during the crowning of Napoleon, a splendid ode on the return of the order that the critics of the time, which was unaware of the name of the author, compared with the most beautiful odes of J-B Rousseau. What it is necessary to notice here, it is that, although the ode of Martainville had appeared under the veil of the anonymity, the author did not accept for them less than 6000 francs of the Emperor, who could reward all kinds for merit.
The expenditure of the officers, even subordinates, was considerable; because Napoleon wanted, above all, that the officers of his Guard were at the same time the army’s the examples of bravery and dignity. None of them, so to speak, had a fortune; but all, by means of the gratuities and the equipments which they received, either at the beginning, or at the end of a campaign, were in a position to cut a figure, and the general officers, to hold a position in connection with the Guard which they occupied in the military hierarchy. Moreover, the extreme magnificence of the uniforms already cost enormous sums. The grand and the small staff of the Guard was alone one sparkling example of the luxurious costume that reigned in this very exceptional corps. On the days of grand parade, the general staff of the Guard appeared at the head of the regiments like a tablecloth of gold all streaming with embroideries, feathers and steel. Colonel-Generals *, with their gold velvet dress embroidered on all the seams, and their dazzling badges, went in front of this splendid staff.
There was no less luxury in the ranks of lower staffs. Thus the chief surgeons shared with the musicians sumptuousness uniforms; but especially the drum major of the foot grenadiers typified warlike splendor. The dress of this officer, whose height was superb (he was nearly six feet), did not cost less than thirty thousand francs. This costume was only embroideries from the feet to the head, which made the women of Vienna say in 1809, at the time of the triumphal entry of the Imperial Guard in the capital of Austria, "the drum major would have been a better prisoner to make than the Emperor himself." To be sure, Napoleon who was so demanding for the richness of the uniform of the generals officers of his Guard, campaigned in a complete uniform of the horse chasseurs of his Guard, threadbare, patched and which was not worth thirty francs, and a gray frock coat of which the ragman most generally would have offered still less. But this resplendent staff harmonized itself admirably with the austere costume of the battalions of the Guard; they were the soldiers of Alexander with the glare of the troops of Xerxes. Napoleon had known to also join together in his Guard the most beautiful qualities of the ancient armies: a dazzling luxury and a perfect simplicity; an inexorable discipline and an absolute devotion.
All the corps of the Guard, infantry, cavalry and artillery, excited admiration with a high degree among people; but one of these bodies especially pointed out the exploits of Napoleon even when he was only general in charge the Army of the East, and gave to the Guard a very particular aspect by appealing to the cavalier ideas of the nation, we are speaking about the squadron of Mameloucks ** which, at its origin, was limited to a company used as an advanced guard or scouts with the horse chasseurs of the Consular Guard. Nothing was more picturesque and more Eastern than this costume which recalled the warriors of Saladin and Mahomet II. The standard with a horse tail, the kettle drums, the trumpets, the weapons, the complete harnessing of the horse, all was Turkish, and this elegant clothing, these Damascus blades curved and shimmering, this plume which surmounted the Asian turban, these embroidered laces of gold and silk made one dream, in spite of oneself, of the conquests of the Moorish kings and the exploits of the Abencérages. The squadron of Mameloucks, in the midst of the Imperial Guard, was like a mysterious page of A Thousand and One Nights thrown in the milieu of a cordial harangue of Démosthènes.
* There were four of them: each one of them was a Marshal of the Empire and commanded one of the distinct corps of the Guard.
** It would be an error to believe that Mameloucks, such as we saw them from 1801 up to 1815, were all children of the East. For a long time the number of these Egyptians fell by three quarters, and, as of the formation of this body, they were not fifty. Later they were recruited in the regiments of hussars; and, in 1814, thoroughbred Mameloucks were reduced to eighteen, among which only six had become officers and warrant officers.
When they made a triumphal entry in a European capital, such as Milan, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna and Moscow, Napoleon never forgot to show the Mameloucks at the head of his procession. In Vienna, in 1809, an Egyptian who was by chance in this city wanted to engage in a conversation with one of these soldiers whom he took for a compatriot. The Mamelouck did not understand a word of what this interlocutor jabbered to him, and ended up sending him packing in excessively French terms.
This Mamelouck had not forgotten it; but had been born in the Saint-Anthony suburb, in Paris, and all he had in common with the Koran was his costume.
Napoleon was jealous of his Guard like a miser of his treasure, like a lover of his mistress. For the foreigner, the Guard appeared in all political solemnities: one still remembers the shining role it played at Milan, Erfurth, Tilsit and Bayonne. "Do my grognards have all that they need? They are content?... " asked the Emperor when he was on campaign. And the answer of the heads of corps was almost always affirmative. In Paris, the days of official receptions at the palace, of ceremony or national solemnity, the Guard occupied the first rank. In the balls, which took place in the winter at the Tuileries, the band of First Foot Grenadier Regiment had its orchestra drawn up in the Salon of Mars. Napoleon who liked to watch dancing and who even danced sometimes at small parties, would not have had, like one says vulgarly, the heart to dance if he had not recognized in the sun burnt faces of the musicians who played patriotic airs on our battle fields with the same coolness that they displayed playing, at the court, the gavotes, the contra dances and waltzes *. At these balls all the officers of the Guard were usually invited, starting with the rank of commander. Also it was not rare to see appearing in the same squares a light artillery officer opposite a senator or an adviser of state, and an officer of grenadiers opposite an ambassador or a member of the Institute.
*In Paris, the corps of musicians of each regiment of the Old Guard was increased by a small number of musicians, all selected among the artists of the Academy, the Opera and Feydeau. These musicians, qualified bandsmen, were paid from the reserve funds of the administration of the corps and never followed the Guard on campaign.
The solicitude of Napoleon for the officers of his Guard appeared in all things. Not content to provide for just their material well being as soldiers, he also sought by the most delicate manners to ensure their future as citizens. Thus in the midst of the most serious occupations, of the most terrible circumstances of war and diplomacy that a sovereign ever had, he did not refuse to deal with the marriage of his Generals. One day, Dorsenne having expressed to him some astonishment at this paternal solicitude:
He ordered made up, by the prefects, a list of the young rich people and those related to the old aristocracy, and often he thus concluded a union without even the knowledge of that who he wanted to marry. By a grand and fertile political idea, Napoleon thus wanted to instill the new nobility with the old, and of his various branches to form one and the same throne. There his precaution did not stop; if the officer were not rich enough for the woman whom he wanted to make him marry, he equipped him. All that was done in eight days with calm and discretion. Often also he held on the font of baptism the children of his officers; and in a day he named twenty-four children who belonged to the generals and to the colonels of his Guard. The Cardinal Fesch, his uncle, having said to him one day, on this occasion that he was the most pious prince of Christendom, since he did not cease thus making Christians.
Then, when these children reached the age of eight or ten years, he placed them in schools and even provided for the expenses of their trousseau. All that, we repeat, was done as in a family: Napoleon put, in these graces so abundantly spread, neither vanity, nor ostentation.
The children reared by the army, in the Guard, also took part in the solicitude of the Emperor. These teenagers, who belonged to all soldiers or to warrant officers, received, under the monitoring of a zealous officer, in the regimental schools create for them, lessons of reading, writing and arithmetic. Becoming older, Napoleon sent them to the battalion of instruction the Guard established at Fontainebleau, from where they left as warrant officers and sometimes-even officers. Some of our best colonels of today left this humble school of Fontainebleau, which one should not confuse with that which was transferred to Saint-Cyr Military School, at the beginning of 1809, and which was under the command of honorable but severe General Bellavène General *. The battalion of instruction of Fontainebleau was to some extent a seedbed of young soldiers who, growing under the flags, became of the officers of first order.
In March 1811, fortune having filled all the wishes of Napoleon in giving him an heir, after having given to his son a throne for cradle, a coronet for a crown, and the scepter of Charlemagne as a plaything, the Emperor resolved to surround him with a guard which was in harmony with his age. A great number of soldiers had sons or nephews still too young to enter the ordinary regiments; none them were rich enough to afford for them an education in a military academy, and finally there were among the latter many orphans; because glory has also its unpleasant side: such illustrates the mourning of the families into which victory throws the nation; thus wanting to some extent repair the damage that war had caused these poor children, Napoleon conceived the idea to return to them what they had lost.
Consequently, March 30, 1811, a decree appeared in the Monitor that ordered the formation of a regiment made up originally of two battalions of six companies each, which would bear the name of Pupils of the Guard, known as Guard of the King of Rome. The commanding colonel was to be the King of Rome himself, when he would have been at an age to hold a sword. This small troop was initially recruited from the regiment known as of small Dutch in garrison with the Dutch Grenadiers at Versailles. This unit, although belonging to the Young Guard, was to be kept in all respects the same as those of infantry of the line, except the pay, which was a little greater. Among all the necessary qualities required to be in the pupils, it was necessary to be son or at least a nephew of soldier killed in battle, to know to read and write correctly, to be at least five feet tall, and to prove that they had been vaccinated. Ten years old was the minimum age necessary for admission, after sixteen years of age they were no longer eligible. The warrant officers were chosen in the body by examinations and by seniority. The officers, from the rank of second lieutenant to that of colonel were named by the Emperor based upon the recommendations of the Minister for the War. Particular regulations were to govern the corps if it ever entered into a campaign, finally the decree finished as follows: there will be no grenadiers. This clause resembled an epigram almost, and the decree had been able to add with full certainty of being obeyed: The moustache will not be obligatory.
It was at Versailles that this regiment in miniature was organized. The majority of the officers were selected among the pupils of the military academy of Saint-Cyr. This beautiful small infantry was changed soon to four thousand men, and later the Emperor increased it so much, than it was composed of nine battalions creating a total of eight thousand men. The Pupils had a particular junior superintendent, a band, fifers, drummers, a drum major and sappers. A simple guidon with the national colors took the place of flag for them, because a new regiment could receive its eagle only from the hands of Napoleon, who never granted one this regiment because it had not had a battle victory**
Of all the units of the old guard, that of the sailors was perhaps the smallest; but on the other hand it was certainly the most complete assembly of intrepid and untiring men. Their uniform, which was only the costume of sailor of a flagship, was severe and of a great simplicity; but under this blue cloth jacket beat the hearts of lions. The sailors of the Guard covered themselves with glory in all the actions where they appeared, whether at the camp of Boulogne, or in Spain, or in Russia, or in the campaigns of Germany in 1809, and Saxony in 1813, where they rendered to the army eminent services; in 1814, throughout all, it proved that the French Navy was always worthy to compete with the Army, and that the brilliant deeds were conducted under the Navy Ensign as well as the National Flag.
Napoleon, it is said, possessed to a supreme degree the tact of royal suitability and heroic courtesy. When a general officer of the Guard died on the battlefield, he never forgot to write a letter of condolence either to his mother, or to his wife, or finally to one of the members of his family. This letter was usually accompanied by a favor, remuneration or a pressing invitation to announce needs or hopes to him.
* This school created by law of the 11 floréal year X (May 1, 1802), organized by decree of the 9 pluviôse year XI (January 28, 1803), was, as it is still today, under the control of the Minister for the War, and especially intended to train officers for the infantry. One could be a pupil at the expense of the government or boarder: boarder if the parents paid 1200 francs per annum; raised, so he had been ranked in a college at the expense of the State, and if one were a son of an officer. By an imperial decree of June 3, 1811, the pupils who wished to be used in foot or horse artillery were allowed into courses of theory and practice, such as those followed at the Polytechnic School or that of Metz for this weapon.
** See BOOK XI of this work for the text of the decree relating to the creation of the corps of the Pupils of the Guard.
By the opening to the campaign of 1813, in Saxony, Napoleon had wanted to give Marshal Bessières, one Colonel-General of his Guard, a bright proof of confidence that he inspired in him, by naming him Commanding General of all the cavalry of the army, as was usually Murat. There was still little cavalry, for the few squadrons of the Guard were still behind by several marches. May 1, while suddenly seeing our outposts attacked by a formidable enemy rear-guard, Bessières had not been able to limit his role to that of witness: he was far advanced on the plain, had dismounted with his aide-de-camp and the few horsemen of his escort, and, with sword in hand, had impelled the tirailleurs by encouraging them by word and example. The enemy aimed on the group: a first ball carried off the head of the sergeant of the escort of the marshal. While Bessières ordered to prepare the burial of this brave man, a second ball struck him in the middle of the chest and knocked him down dead without having time to suffer. His aide-de-camp covered at once his body with a coat and hid this death from the army. Napoleon alone learned this misfortune: he was overpowered by it as his sovereign and friend. Lowering the head sadly and passing the hand on his eyes, he said after one moment of silence:
And that evening, hardly had he been established in the sordid hovel which was to be used by him as headquarters, that he called Baron Fain, his secretary, and dictated to him the following letter for the Marshal Bessières’ wife.
Similar letters, just as a consoling balm, were good deeds to excite in the soul a perfect recognition. Also there was not an officer of the Guard who did not aspire to a similar death, since it was worth to his family a funeral oration dictated by the modern Caesar.
If Napoleon remembered those of the soldiers who died at his side, he remembered them even more when they were wounded or sick. The hospital, which he founded at Gros-Caillou, initially for the Consular Guard, then for the Imperial Guard, is an imperishable monument of his solicitude towards those who sacrificed their lives for him each day. The material, the comfort of this establishment could be compared only with that which existed at the Invalids. The thought of Louis XIV and Napoleon had been the same, and these two great men had wanted, more than one during future centuries, to give to their soldiers the brightest testimony of their gratitude. The civilian and military doctors, the most distinguished at the time were attached to the hospital of Gros-Caillou. Le wise and intrepid Larrey for a long time the first surgeon, and the knight Süe whose science and reputation were as brilliant as deserved, was the head doctor.
vNapoleon went sometimes to visit this hospital where he arrived suddenly. Larrey, Süe and their fellow-members accompanied him. He was given an account of the conduct of the house, questioned the patients and the casualties, addressed words of affectionate interest to them or of comforting hope, and did not even hesitate to attend to the bandage of the latter. One morning (it was in 1810, some time after his marriage), the Emperor went to the Guard Hospital. He came into the ward and stopped in front of the bed of a sapper of the first regiment of his foot grenadiers.
At these words the sapper brought back the cover of his bed up to his graying beard, and said with an indefinable accent of regret:
Here the old soldier joined his hands while saying in a moved tone:
The sapper made a jump in bed and discovered on his beard, two large tears which had fallen:
The sapper let his leg be cut, and once in a position to go, he was placed by Napoleon at the castle of Compiegne in the capacity of a forest supervisor. It is there that we saw him in 1814.
The Guard was in all and everywhere the example of the army. The duel, this barbarian habit of feudal times, this disastrous prejudice which survived all the other prejudices uprooted by the revolutionary ploughshare, the duel was finally rare between soldiers belonging to the Imperial Guard. When, by chance, one of these events took place, a detailed report of the causes of the meeting and the results was provided to Napoleon. Then, when his information was perfectly clear, he prevailed with a rigour, which fell preferably on the agitator, that he had been victorious or that he had been overcome. However he never revived the old laws against duels and did not institute a new one: it is a justice returned to him. Thus shortly after the famous duel between Junot, then his first aide-de-camp, and General Lannus, during the Egyptian campaign, when Desgenettes told the General in Chief the details of this combat and learned that Junot, before receiving the appalling saber blow, which endangered his days, had failed to open the cranium of his antagonist, Napoleon became furious.
These words of blame from the mouth of Napoleon were more effective than the most severe punishment.
In another circumstance, it happened that the Emperor played the role of conciliator between two warrant officers who, both fallen in love with the same beauty, went, like the former valiant knights, to dispute it in a closed field. The Guard occupied Vienna. A sergeant and a quartermaster attached to the foot chasseurs made the choice of a meadow of cut tree stumps, neighboring Schoenbrunn, where Napoleon resided then, to settle their disagreement. They had already taken saber in the hand and started with scrimmaging warmly, when the Emperor, who walked accompanied only by the service aide-de-camp, suddenly passed in front of them. He judged the fear of the witnesses and champions. The weapons fell from the hands of the latter.
Napoleon was told the subject of the quarrel was nothing other than a competition. However, by chance the two rivals were known to the aide-de-camp of the Emperor, who informed him that both were former soldiers of the Army of Italy, and even had already had been nominated, by their colonel, for the Cross. Napoleon ordered them, under penalty of seeing him withdraw their chevrons, to embrace each other at once, and then he said to them:
But a duel, which found Napoleon much less lenient, took place in Burgos in 1808, between General Franceschetti, aide-of-camp of Joseph Bonaparte, and Filangieri, colonel of one of the regiments of the guard of the new King of Spain, both ordinary squires of the elder brother of the emperor. They disputed the position of grand-squire of Joseph; each one of them claimed that the king himself had promised this dignity to him, which was sadly true.
However, November 11, not fifteen minutes after Napoleon had taken possession of the palace of Burgos, he was given the details of this business, which had occurred in the park just a few moments before his arrival.
So that the military hierarchy did not suffer from their meeting, the two adversaries had fought in the costume of squires: General Franceschetti had been killed. Napoleon’s spirit was greatly struck by such bad news when he first heard it while arriving at Burgos. With his instincts of superstition and his belief in fate, this event could exert on his imagination a certain influence. The order to bring Filangieri to him at once was given and carried out.
Here, Napoleon kept silent one moment, as if hearing the justification of the colonel; but seeing by the lowered eyes and not a word being uttered that he was utterly destroyed, he began again in a less irritated tone:
Napoleon keep silent himself and seemed to reflect, finally after this pause, he added with a gesture of impatience:
Colonel Filangieri left Borgos the very same day.
This event caused a deep sorrow in Napoleon; because that evening he repeated on several occasions:
If Napoleon were a little calmer on this occasion, it is that he liked Filangieri much. He had raised him at his expense at the French Academy (today it is the college Louis the Great), and regarded him as one of his adopted children, more so as he was godson of his sister, Mrs Murat, and then, in a single circumstance, his guaranteed rank of colonel of a regiment in the service of Naples he had refused, to become only a simple lieutenant, and that Filangieri had agreed not to return to Napoles, until a brother of the Emperor had reign over the Italians.
Now let us rest speaking about duels in the Guard, giving a little example that of the small part which one happens after the tragedy.
Some light remarks had been made by a horse grenadier captain on the account of the sister of one of his comrades, like him, a captain in this regiment. This last wanted that it adressed, in the presence of his assembled family, by an apology to his sister; the other refused, claiming that there had been on his part no offence: they resolved to fight.
They went to the Wood of Boulogne; because the custom dictated, at that time, that these kinds of affairs were conducted in this place. The witnesses who were comrades, pleaded one last time in the role of peacemakers; but the two champions wanted to hear none of it. The swords were thus flashing, when a workman that, hitherto, none of them had seen, advanced and, addressing himself to the combatants, said in a piteous tone to them:
With these words, the two adversaries were looked at motionless and undecided. A burst of laughter escaped to them at the same time; they shooked hands and embraced; then each assistant having contributed to help the poor carpenter, one went to finish the disagreement, the fork with the hand, at Gillet, restorer with the Maillot door, one of the largest peacemakers of modern times.
Napoleon did not know anything of this business; but, at a few days after this, an officer of the Empress Dragoons, although not having a great reputation for bravery, after one duel with one of his comrades was wounded gravely by a gunshot. The grand marshal informed the Emperor of the news, while saying to him.
— Lord, this pauvre*** has a ball in the belly. Him! a ball in the belly! Napoleon retorted while smiling, go on then, it is impossible! Unless maybe he swallowed it.
In the Guard, the fencing masters did not resemble these alleged professors of fencing, usually bad brains and extremely bad soldiers at once in battle; they were, on the contrary, of an exemplary softness and a tested bravery. The purpose of the lessons, which they gave to, the young vélites, were rather to deploy their force and their agility to initiate them in the mysteries of the secret thrusts.
If Napoleon showed himself more severe with regard to the officer of his Guard who committed a fault, or even an offence in discipline, in regard to an officer of the army, at least this severity was always in direct proportion to the rank and the personal consideration, which this officer enjoyed with the corps.
These words were so well known and so often commented in the regiments of the Guard, that soldiers and warrant officers only seldom put themselves in the position to receive reproaches from their superiors. Moreover Napoleon was informed of all. Each month, the majors of the regiments put under his eyes the punishments books. He read it over carefully and made remarks with pencil over the kind or the duration of the sorrow inflicted on the soldiers and the warrant officers. When by chance an officer had been punished by his head, the Emperor immediately knew it by a special report which was submitted to him in the order (i.e. from the moment when one came to take the passdown log that was turned over each evening.) The Emperor always approved the punishment, because he had a maxim: "To obey initially, to object later, if it is necessary." Thus the officer underwent the punishment; but if by chance it had been inflicted on him wrongfully, Napoleon could compensate him, either by favors, or by kind words, which were worth only full satisfaction. This austere discipline to which the Guard was subjected, without reference to ranks, constituted the strength and the esteem of this crack corps. The least faults were punished more severely than in the regiments of line. Thus, to give an idea of it, we will say missing the morning call was punished by two days in the guard house; missing the evening call, four days in the guard house and eight days of instruction. To stay out all night without permission, fifteen days in the guardhouse and a month of instruction. Lastly, intoxication and the insubordination involved the dungeon, and the repetition dismissal from fom the corps. The discipline of the Guard even followed the soldiers out of the barracks: it was prohibited for them to walk with suspect women, to frequent evil hauntes and the cabarets; the boulevard of the Palais Royal was formally prohibited to them; the soldiers could, at day, cross the garden without stopping there, if it were on their way; but never at night. However very severe this measurement was, the warrant officers and the soldiers subjected themselves to it with resignation, because they understood that each one of them was an agent of honor of the corps.
The relaxation, the past-times of these brave men when they left or when they obtained some twenty-four hour liberty was as simple as it was innocent. Young people went in the evening to dance at the ball of the Salon de Flore, which became so famous at the time of the Empire for being frequented by the soldiers of the Imperial Guard; older ones walked on the Champs-Élysées, on the outer boulevards, arm in arm like good bourgeois; others went outside the barriers to play at bowling, the tonneau or at petit palet. Always quiet, always polished, those that have come to be known, as the grognards were, in the midst of the turbulent population of the capital, the models of leniency and military dignity. The excess of this reserve even attached to the flagmen. In fourteen years time, one did not see a single senior officer or subordinate offer his resignation to the Emperor. As for the soldiers, they did not seek, even for a guaranteed promotion, to leave their corps; the vélites themselves, who, after a certain lapse of time, became officers in the regiments of line, did not leave their barracks without sorrow, where the spirit of family was strictly equal to the spirit of body. Napoleon enjoyed this general attachment to the hearth of the Guard and said to Marshal Davoust:
This kind of tenderness that Napoleon expressed at any time and in any circumstance for his Guard earned them, at the time of the first Restoration, untold numbers of vexations. These brave men could not be forgiven for their devotion to the fatherland; also they were pelted with humiliations. Initially the Guard was sent to garrison a hundred miles from Paris, which showed enough the fear that its memories inspired; then one by one the privileges, which it had acquired at the price of its blood, were sought to be removed. The events of 1815 came, and the Guard, which had still fought until the last moment around its Emperor in the fields of Waterloo, was again persecuted: its officers were tracked like criminals and were stigmatized with the name of Brigands of the Loire. However this Guard so slanderized had, until the last day of its dismissal, given evidence of the excellence of its discipline, its resignation and its love of the order. We have reproduced and show these two telegrams, which relate to the dismissal of the Guard.
Thus these brave men soldiers were avenged for the unjust persecutions, which had been directed against them and of slanders of which they had been victims by prompt and compliant obedience with the royal wills. Let us say for the honor of the Government of the Restoration that the soldiers, warrant officers and officers belonging to the ex-Imperial Guard and who agreed to enter the new Royal Guard were later the object of the attentions of the princes of the House of Bourbon and the Generals to which the King entrusted the command of the various brigades of his new Guard. It should also be said that, on another hand, many of the officers, warrant officers and soldiers of the ex-Guard, not wanting to deal with the new order of things, withdrew themselves in their hearths or passed to foreign countries. And, admirably, these men found even among people that they had overcome on battlefields, a cordial reception, help of all types, a generous hospitality, and in a word, sympathies which they had in vain sought in their own country. The Prussians, the Russians, the Austrians competed with fraternal care for these terrible soldiers that at one time they still feared so much once in battle and that they treated, consequently, like brothers: the English themselves paid for these heroic misfortunes, which we could compare with those of Bélisaire, broad and benevolent tribute.
Some of these brave men, forced into exile to escape persecutions from a suspicious government, crossed the Atlantic and went to found, at the end of the world, on a small corner of ground, a colony of soldiers following the example of Tibère and Adrien. In the midst of wild tribes, the eagle of Austerlitz was inaugurated in a temple of greenery; there, these noble weapons which made Europe tremble for a quarter of a century, grouped in trophies and appeared in the eyes of the poor exiled the symbol of the absent fatherland. The colony of Texas did not last a long time, and such are the aberrations of the spirit of the party, which one managed to make ridiculous, if not fabulous, this field of asylum, where so many wounds were healed, where so many glories died out.* Happily for France, all her noble children did not give up this centre. When in 1840 ashes of Napoleon were brought back triumphantly to the capital, one saw running around the hearse the still alive remains of his invincible Guard. Grenadiers, chasseurs, Mameloucks, dragoons, lancers, artillerists and sailors hastened to form around the bed of state a procession of honor; and these brave men, already broken under the burden of the years, could say to the ghost of the great captain, like the Roman gladiators of old: "Ceasar, those who are about to die hail you!" Because, in few years, there will still not remain perhaps anymore a single man of this immortal guard whose sword had so great a weight on the balance of victory; there will not remain a standard, not a uniform of these valorous troops who dispersed on all the beaches, on all the grounds where the streamer of the fatherland had spread itself for the glory of France.
* See with BOOK XV of our work the chapter entitled the Field of Asylum, devoted entire to the exiled of Texas.
The Imperial Guard, such as it was formerly instituted, could not exist any more today, even under another name. Our manners, our laws, our practices and until our ways would be opposed to its re-establishment. Under the moral point of view, it would be, if not impossible, at least quite difficult to now make any of these young men bow under the Spartan yoke of a discipline, but who always intrepid, don’t have any more at the bottom of their hearts a political or religious belief. Not that we mean to say that the old Imperial Guard had the piety of a capuchin; but we hear, by religious belief, the faith of the oath; and by political belief, endless devotion to the Head of the State, who is the incarnate fatherland and who, at the time of Napoleon, was France made man. Present among our soldiers is what they always were, brave and generous; but they seem to support however impatiently the obstacles of a discipline much less severe than at the time of the Empire. They reason, and, we should still say here, it is not with reason that battles are won and that one creates wonders in war; it is with soldiers whose logic, philosophy and eclecticism are summarized in the folds of a flag. Here are true heros, and it was with such men that General Napoleon, Consul and Emperor, gained the battles of Montebello, the Pyramids, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Wagram and Moscow. Then this admirable behaviour, this severe uniform, which contributed to make Imperial Guard, a corps distinct, could not anymore be taken again. Armament is no longer the same; these, so to speak, are as old as the spears of Charlemagne. As for the bearskin bonnet, the day when the Parisian national guard dress up to come to parade on the Carrousel, the legend attached to this head piece disappears without return. Foreign soldiers, whether Austrian, Spanish, Prussian or Russian, formerly trembled at the sight of these dreaded large bonnets, and fled seeing them appear, we could not repeat it again because, with war the morale effect of a corps is all. Perhaps during fifteen years the Imperial Guard did not take part fifteen times in the great battles of Napoleon, but it was there, the enemy was aware of it: that was enough.
Thus the Imperial Guard will not exist again. It was buried with its bright flags, its splendid uniforms, its shining weapons, with its traditions, its glory and its trophies, in the same sepulchre where is laid the Empire, overturned by the jealousy of the kings of Europe more than by the will of the people. The plains of Belgium saw the last shining day of the Imperial Guard, and this incomparable phalanx was overtured at the same place where twenty years before, France inaugurated, by its first Republican triumphs, the independence of nations.
But if the Imperial Guard suffered the fate of all the great human institutions, if its weapons hidden in the furrows of Europe sleep not to shine again in the rays of a sun of victory, its memory, an imperishable and glorious memory, will last to much of the world; it will live eternally in the memory of the men of the whole country and all ages. Posterity will one day raise to the Imperial Guard a monument worthy of it; it will not cease being for France and its armies, the venerated symbol of obedience, heroism and devotion! And its traditions, called upon by our soldiers, at the hour of danger, will still be enough to gain battles, as formerly only its presence was enough to decide victory.
(Guard officer of the Convention and guard soldier of the Directorate (mounted)
Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2005
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