Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics



YEAR 1815.




FTER large foreign wars, it is difficult for a government, no matter how strong or well established it is, to avoid civil war:  Rome is the example.

Indeed, how do you get rid yourself of young, proud and ambitious soldiers?  Were the Generals and the officers of the Imperial Guard, accustomed to the life of the camps, to a wandering and extravagant existence, going to be able to subject themselves to the idleness and deprivations which peace was going to impose to them?  Would they be softened with the cutting off of part of their salary?  These considerations were one of the great embarrassments of the Restoration, and these embarrassments were increased each day by the arrival of the prisoners of war who returned from English prison ships, from the towns of the Elbe, of the Oder, from Spain , from Russia and Italy .  In vain the Marshals, the Generals, the staffs of the Imperial Guard, in many addresses, had protested their devotion to the Bourbons; but by unbinding the Guard of its oaths to Napoleon, its attachment to its former chief one had not been erased.  Except for the majority of the Marshals and the few Generals who had abandoned the Emperor, all the officers and soldiers of the Guard had experienced the deepest regrets on his exile to the Island of Elba.  The Bourbons were not remembered for their exploits; they retuned with only their name and their title of princes, and not a memory.  The legitimacy was a poor recommendation among warriors, who had only learned how to estimate the talent, the devotion and the courage of the battlefields; who were identified with the interests of the revolution and the new existences that Napoleon had created to them.  Far from sympathizing with the Restoration, the Imperial Guard only had loathing for it, and had proven it, in particular at Fontainebleau, in all its quarters and on the passage of the Emperor when he had gone to the Island of Elba.  It had refused to take up the white cockade, and in several cities it had forced the inhabitants to abandon it.  At the entry of Louis XVIII into Paris, the grenadiers of the Imperial Guard were bringing up the rear so to speak, and with the first review, which he held, the Guard remains dumb.  The Guards of Honor and the Dragoons alone tormented by the marshals and pushed by their commanders, cried: Vive le roi! (Long live the king) For a long time the other troops refused to utter this cry; it was the same at reviews held before the Duke de Berri at which they shouted: Vive l’Empereur!  In the barracks of the Guard, this cry was common.

The Old Guard, made indignant of his defection, decried Marshal Marmont.  It felt betrayed and was not held accountable for failure.  The presence in Paris of the Union, cherished, treated as friends by the princes whom they had brought back, filled their hearts with humiliation and hatred.  The soldiers and the officers sought quarrel with the foreign soldiers: every day there were duels.  The Austrian grenadiers having placed branches of greenery in their bonnets, the Imperial Guard took this kind of ornament for a sign of challenge; it insulted these soldiers and caused them provoke a combat.  Their general, Schwarzenberg, wrote to General Dupont, then Minister of War, and this one published in the newspapers an article which said that: “its branches, far from being a mark of triumph, were only a simple sign of rallying prescribed through countless ages by military regulations of each one of their nations, in peace as in war.”

 In such a situation it was necessary to lay off the Imperial Guard or to conquer it.  To lay it off, as was most desirable, no one would dare.  To ease the way of France and the throne, the Bourbons had flattered this Old Guard, they had cherished it, praises and promises had been lavished on it; but hadn't the Charter guaranteed its ranks, its honors, and its equipments?  In Compiegne, Louis XVIII had said to the Marshals that he wanted to always be based with the Old Guard; another time, dining with them, he had carried to this heroic phalanx a toast.  One could not go back.  To reconquer was not an easy thing, although it might not have been impossible; but such a great result could not be bought without too many cares and too many sacrifices.  Far from that, the royal government preserved the Imperial Guard, at the same time as it did everything to alienate it.

The first, the greatest fault of the Restoration, was indisputably the suppression of the national colors that Louis XVIII had solemnly raised himself in 1790.  By proscribing them, these colors, like a sign of rebellion, all that had faded during twenty-five years, had carried this illustrious cockade through so many victories, and had served under this tricolor marched in triumph through all Europe.  For the Imperial Guard, what was the white flag?  A rag.  Regiments burned their standard instead of turning them; not to be parted even a little, the invalids swallowed ashes of them.  A great number carried the tricolor cockade at the bottom of their shakos, or under the white cockade.  In several corps of the Old Guard, the eagles were secretly preserved: they had become the object of a sacred worship.

To erase the last memory of the glorious actions, which had immortalized the Imperial Guard over ten years, one replaced the ranks of their chiefs by those of Ancien Régime, which no longer had any relationship to its organization.  The brigadier generals were called maréchaux-de-camp, and the generals of division lieutenants-généraux.  Times were recalled when, before combat, one called upon God of the battles.  Chaplains were abruptly introduced into the corps with, the rank of first captain.  The catholic soldier was obliged to go to mass; finally Protestants were paid to convert.

The titles of Colonel-Generals of the different the arms were given by the king to the princes of his family, and the dispossessed holders accepted in consolation the title of first inspector-Generals under the orders of the princes.

In the beginning, the Old Imperial Guard had resumed its service at the Palace of Tuileries; it did not remain there eight days; it wasn’t to remain even in Paris*, because its attitude appeared too proud, and it was feared, with reason, that it would unceasingly seek arguments with foreigners.  One even saw, the day and the days before of its departure from the capital, the Swiss sentries refuse, in full daylight, entry into the Tuileries to grenadiers of the Old Guard, who only had intended to cross the garden.

*The grenadiers were sent to Metz, with the regiment of fusiliers incorporated in it;

  The foot chasseurs, to Nancy;
  The red lancers, to Bourges;
  The horse grenadiers, to Blois;
  The dragoons, to Tours,
  The horse chasseurs, to Saumur.

 However a great number of officers of the Guard, even those on active duty, had remained in Paris, due to the need to defend their interests and to preserve their existence, which the royalists threatened, called ultras.  The government, which so liberally accommodated the émigrés and the chouans (royalist insurgent during the French Revolution), pushed back without pity these officers.  It cancelled all the leave, and ordered with those who were in the capital to go to their corps, under penalty of not being included in the new organization of the army.  It was prescribed that the inactive officers were to withdraw themselves to their hearths to await a destination there.

The prisoners of war, recently returned, were amazed at what had come to pass in France in their absence.  They were not filled with enthusiasm for the Bourbons, and that is understandable:  the royal government, instead of using care towards men turned sour by a long detention, and who had not had time to accustom themselves with the changes which have occurred in their fatherland, launched against them a crushing kind of proclamation:  “Of the severe orders forced to prevent any act of complicity and any matter towards the royal dignity.” it said.  “Whoever, in one moment of liberty, would let escape from the abusive clamors and especially this odious cry of Vive l’Empereur! Who points out an order of things so fortunately reversed, is criminal and must be subjected at once to the severity of the military police; he will even be delivered to a council of war if these offensive clamors had a character to provoke revolt.  It is, moreover, prescribed to the general inspectors not to admit in the new formation of the regiments any officers whose principles would be in opposition with the universal opinion, and who would not give any pledge of this burning devotion that all true French soldier always professed for legitimate kings.*”

*Order of the day of the Minister of War Dupont, the same one that signed the capitulation of Baylen, in Spain , in July 1808.

During this time, hundreds of officers of the Old Guard languished in shortage and need: one stripped them of their salary, one charmed them with reward for their heroic work, one took away from them the bread gained at the price of their blood; one devoted their noble scars to misery and humiliation, to honor and pay obscure, ignored or even fictitious services.  That the king had rewarded the devotion of men who remained until the last moments faithful to his adversities, the army and the nation would have understood; but to lavish the favors with all that had been or said to be enemies of the revolution, to disinherit the Imperial Guard of its past glories, to introduce into the ranks the men whom it had fought formerly, to associate its triumphs to those that it had overcome, to remove the guard of the throne from it, to give to foreign troops a mark of confidence that one refused to French soldiers: here is what raised all the ire and left profoundly indignant all the hearts.  And how was one answered one, when one complained about this predilection for the émigrés?  “That if ranks were distributed to them, it was for honor; and that when the time for their retirement came, if pensions were granted to them, it was only to give them bread.” But soon after, one conferred full duty and commands to them.  Except the Marshals Berthier and Marmont, who appear in the military household of the king that of ancient nobles: they were childhood friends of the Bourbons, their only and real support of the throne.  At the Palace of Tuileries one started again Versailles.  There was not a single one wife of a marshal, not one of the duchesses of the Empire who was found good enough to be placed near the duchess of Angouleme.  Husbands and wives, when they went to the château*, were exposed to the sarcastic remarks and impertinences of the courtiers, who treated them as parvenus and people without birth.  Lastly, the royalist writers, acknowledged by the court, did not cease to rage against Napoleon.  According to them, he had become insane: “he was, on the Island of Elba, an object of pity and derision; all the soldiers who had followed him gave up and returned to France to line up under the spotless flag of the Bourbons.”

*The ancient qualification of château, to indicate the royal residence, had succeeded that of palace.

The Imperial Guard showed more revulsion perhaps to these cowards and untrue diatribes, than the injustices and affronts to which it was condemned.  Its glory had become national; the nation thus highly resented the insult, which was made of its former defenders.

Under the Empire, all the orders of knighthood had been removed; there was only the decoration of the Legion of Honor, maintained by the Charter of 1814.  This distinction had been the reward for the beautiful actions and more particularly to the military services; but instituted by Napoleon, this order was to the Bourbons only one work of usurpation: there is no doubt that if they did not have fears of revolt in the entire army, they would have abolished it.  Instead they restricted themselves to undermining the institution to its ruin: all the old orders are restored; one raised against it the Royal Order of Saint-Louis, for which, at the court, one professed a high preference.  To obtain this order, it was necessary to be catholic; one exhumed the military Order of Merit for the officers who had none.  One joined with the Legion of Honor the Order of the Lily, created by the Count d' Artois; one imposed it on the army and to the civil servants. The private individuals who were not offered one obtained the distinction for five francs; it soon ended by being offered free without finding purchasers, and fell from the contempt and ridicule.  One formed the project make a Legion of Honor only a civil order, to leave with the Order of Saint-Louis all the military honors.  The army fumed about it; the court moved back.  Le Moniteur published its disavowal.

To calm general dissatisfaction, the King returned the ordinance of July 19.  In the preamble, he was justly charged to have seen with indifference the institution of the Legion of Honor; and, as proof of the interest that it carried to him, it approved it and confirmed it; he made is a work of his; it was declared, for him and his successors, chief, sovereign and grand master; he maintained the honorary honors and prerogatives of them, as well as the salaries.  However, these emoluments were reduced by half; and for the effigy of Napoleon that of Henri IV was substituted! … Lastly, and like the crowning of his work of inconsideration, the King named an archbishop (the abbot of Pradt) Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor.  As of this moment, one lavished the decoration on the émigrés, Vendéens and the chouans; the civil classes were not spared either: it was given to all comers without examination; contest.  In their voyages, the princes distributed it to ordinary hands; trade was not made, it was sold, and cheaply.  After the victories of Austerlitz, of Jena, Friedland, Wagram and Moskowa, one had not seen as many promotions as some contained in le Moniteur in the course of 1814; the number of the crosses given in the last six months space of this year rose to more than six thousand.

In the Chamber of Deputies, Dumolard disclaimed with energy in favor of the Legion of Honor, which he represented as a national institution, the only one of this nature in France ; he protested against the reduction of the gratuities, and proposed to ask the King to present a law to give to the legionaries the complete payment of their salaries.  The proposition was not even taken under consideration.

The house of education of Écouen, for the daughters of the members of the Legion of Honor, was joined together with the house of Saint-Denis, in order to restore the château to the Prince of Condé.  The established branches in Barbette Street, in Pairs, and Loges, for the education of the orphans, were closed: the number of the pupils was reduced from twelve hundred to four hundred.  This ordinance excited sharp clamors, especially among the officers of the Guard become widowed, and also among the widows of all the soldiers of the Guard.  The Chamber was petitioned against these provisions, and, we must say, the court went ahead of its actions: an ordinance preserved the establishments of Barbette Street and the Loges.

 There were three military academies: Saint-Cyr, Saint-Germain and the Flèche.  An ordinance closed these two last institutions and maintained only the Royal Military School, created by the edict of January 1754; it was placed in the buildings of the Military Academy.  The reduction of the French territory and the army could justify these provisions; but it was expressed in the preamble of the ordinance: “Wishing to reward the services for the general and higher officers of our armies, and to enjoy the nobility our kingdom with the advantages which were granted to it by the edict of our grandfather, January 1751, etc.” a privilege for the old nobility!  Obligation to prove at least four degrees, according to the edict of 1751!  Here, the violation of the Charter was palpable.  Petitions arrived en masse at the Chamber of Deputies; they were taken into account, and the royal government was again forced to retreat.

More than a thousand soldier invalids, wounded or mutilated under the flag of the Imperial Guard, without pity were turned out of the Home: fifteen hundred others were, with pensions of a ridiculous cheapness, expelled from this establishment devoted by the State recognizing these martyrs of the battles.

Far from calming the spirits and gaining the hearts of the soldiers in the departments, the voyages of the princes increased the irritation.  The Duke de Berri treated them with an incredible hardness and contempt.  It resulted in scandalous scenes: Louis XVIII was obliged to recall his nephew.

The Imperial Guard, initially reduced to twenty thousand men was dropped immediately to ten thousand, far from its full complement, even on a peace footing.  Exodus of the officers from the line was considerable: at the end of 1814, a hundred and six thousand had been granted leave with the soldiers. The absent ones were recalled, but were not pressed to return: several regiments, on August 15, celebrated in their barracks Saint-Napoleon.

The Bourbons thus did not have an army.  They little worried whether the country was respected on the outside, provided that they reigned on the inside.  Far from fearing the foreigner, it was they who were looked for by their necessary support.  England had in Belgium an army Anglo-Hanoverian-Dutch of approximately fifty thousand men, under the nominal command of the Prince of Orange, but really commanded by Wellington, Ambassador in France ; he sent back his orders from his headquarters of Paris, and transmitted them by the telegraph!  France contributed to the maintenance with this army!

The Restoration had taken a bad route; it was enacted more and more.  An ordinance put at half-pay all the general officers and officers of all ranks of the ex-Guard which were not employed. Dissatisfaction was at its peak.  The soldiers on half-pay formed coalitions, especially in Paris.  They complained.  Imposed upon by their complaints and anxious of their attitude, the government wanted to move them away.  An order of the minister issued to all general officers, superior or other, having belonged to the ex-Imperial Guard and enjoying a military salary as small as it was, remained in Paris without authorization, unless he was not employed there.  One disputed with the minister his authority to make this order.  These soldiers claimed that being without employment, they had the right to choose a residence; and they did not obey.  They were not paid their half-pay any more.  They liked better to accept this deprivation than to subject themselves to an order which they saw as arbitrary, and to leave a free field to operate as counter-revolutionaries.  There were some who gave their resignation, among others General Flahaut, to which the Minister of War had enjoined to go to Périgueux to await the orders of the King there.

Another ordinance prescribed to the soldiers of all ranks, which had taken service abroad, without authorization, to return to France before January 15, 1815, under penalty of losing their French nationality, and to be punished in accordance by the Penal Code if they carried the weapons against France .  In the situation of Europe, this measurement could apply only to the Kingdom of Naples, whose King, Murat, was in collision with the Bourbons of France, and to which soldiers without employment offered their sword. General Excelmans, among others, had written to him; his letter was intercepted.  The Minister Dupont, after having spoken to the King about it, put General Excelmans on half-duty and ordered to him to go to enjoy this salary at Bar-le-Duc, his place of birth.  The General asked for time to remain near his wife, about to be confined, while remarking moreover that his place of residence was in Paris.  The Minister persisted, and declared that in the absence of obedience, he would incur the sorrow pronounced by the law; and, that on his arrival at Bar, he would find new orders.  The general did not obey.  The Minister decided that he would be stopped and led to Soissons to remain there under the monitoring of the gendarmerie until he was put to judgment.  The armed force presented to the general, he escaped, and went then to Lille in front of the council of war convened to judge him.  He was charged with correspondence with the enemies of the State and of disobedience.  The first chief, found the charges based on his letter with King of Naples, appeared ridiculous; the second presented the question of knowing if an inactive officer, but on half-pay, was obliged to obey a whim of the Minister of War.  Excelmans was discharged.  This so simple event, which in others times would had hardly been noticed, became a capital business and provided to public opinion the occasion to avenge the army for the injustices and the insults of the court.  Also, when a few months later suddenly appeared on the coasts of Provence one whose name recalled the Imperial Guard to so different destinies, all were moved with his voice.  After so much of scorn and humiliations, he foresaw a new career of glory and fortune.  There, especially, was the hope of Napoleon: this hope was not disappointed.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2007


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