Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics



YEAR 1815.






Now, before undertaking the account of the return to France of the Emperor and his Guard in the month of March 1815--an adventurous expedition, which became for one like the other a kind of triumph--it is necessary for us to throw a retrospective glance on the events which we told in the preceding chapter, and to announce the principal causes, which led Napoleon to risk this marvelous enterprise.

On the Island of Elba, he seemed, as we said, to have been exclusively contained in his private life.  The ardor that at one time he had brought to the conquest of Europe, then finally to the defense and the conservation and holding intact of French territory, such as he himself had fixed the limits, he now applied to the culture and the improvement of his new residence, when an emissary came to Porto-Ferrajo, in January 1815, giving birth in him the idea of a possible return.  Boredom started to overcome him in this unproductive land, and although he appeared, with respect to his close friends, as a man whose time was finished, he was not informed less than daily about the least events which occurred in Paris, all while seeming to occupy himself only in decorating his small palace and satisfying himself with the conduct of the brave men who had voluntarily followed him in his exile.  Finally, the appearance of this kind of indifference, being the same in the eyes of the foreign powers, such as General Koller, the Austrian Commissioner, was recalled by his government, which judged that the presence of this officer was not necessary any more on the Island of Elba.

But in the Emperor, the idea of this return dated by far before.  At Fontainebleau, he had lowered his head in front of the storm, while waiting for better days; and if something precipitated the execution of this intention, it is that he accepted, in February, two kinds of advice: one by the way of Paris, the other by way of Vienna.  From Paris, he was written to hasten his arrival, if he did not want to see the bursting of a movement that, in his absence, would perhaps not be carried out in a way beneficial to him; from Vienna, mandating to him that he would possibly be removed from the Island of Elba for transport to Saint-Helena. He would not hesitate any more.

On February 26, 1815, at one hour after midday, the troops, accepted the order to be held ready; without being told anything else:  officers and soldiers were unaware of the goal of their destination; if there was joy, there was also concern… But still, let Lieutenant-Colonel Laborde speak, from whom we already borrowed the Relation of the Voyage of the Guard, from Fontainebleau to the Island of Elba, in 1814; the account of this senior officer is too exact and too interesting such that no other can be as perfect as his:

“January 1, 1815 is unceasingly present in my thought, he says; I had had this day the honor of dinner at the table of the Emperor, who suddenly, leaving a newspaper in his pocket (it was, I believe, the Journal des Débats), was caught saying:

—Hold, Sirs, read! … I am insane, so this claims in Paris.

The preparations of our departure were made with as much mystery, as it was only on next February 26, the day of our boarding, around eleven o’clock in the morning, on the walk to the port with the civil superintendent of the island, the Baron Galeazini, that having received the invitation to return to General Cambronne: this one sent me immediately to take the orders of General Drouot.

—Major, this last tells me, the workers occupied with the garden of the officers will continue their work up to three o’clock; then work will be suspended; the troop will eat soup at four o’clock; it will be joined after, with weapons and baggage, and will embark at five o’clock. The officers will carry only one portmanteau…

With these words, I remained one moment as if speechless, and I allowed myself to ask General Drouot:

—Where do we go, my general? …  Then do I take along my wife with me?
—I have nothing more to say to you, he answered me.  Go and carry out the order that I give you.

At five o'clock in the evening, part of the troop embarked: three hundred men and the staff of the battalion assembled on the brig of war The Inconstant; the other part was distributed on several transport boats.  The Emperor, after having dined with Madam mother and his sister, the Princess Pauline, bade his farewell to them and assembled himself, at eight o'clock in the evening, aboard The Inconstant, with the Generals Bertrand, Drouet and Cambronne; the adjutant-commander Lebel; Pons (de l’Hérault), Administrator of the Mines of Rio; Doctor Fourreau de Beauregarde, his physician; Gatte, Pharmacist in Chief; Peyrusse, Treasurer of the Crown; Boinod, Inspector of the Reviews; Baillon and Deschamps, quartermasters of the palace.  At once sails were set, without anyone suspecting where we went, when a rather singular circumstance made us discover the truth of the enigma.

On February 28, around the eight o’clock in the morning, Lieutenant Taillade, a very-distinguished officer; who had commanded the brig The Inconstant during the time of our stay on the Island of Elba, but who had been replaced by the Commander Chautard, recently arrived from the continent, realized, knowing perfectly this trim, which the commander of the brig had put course to a point opposed to the coast of France, said loudly to the officers who were on the bridge:

—Sirs, do we go to Spain or Africa?

This matter was reported at once by Colonel Mallet to the Emperor, who called Mr. Taillade at once.

—Where are we? He asked this officer.
—Sire, this one answered, we have a course to Africa.
That is not there that I want to go, said Napoleon while smiling.  I make you commander; take the command of the brig* and lead me to the coast of France .

*Captain Chautard, from which the command of the brig had been withdrawn, was named Commander.

—Sire, answered Taillade, Your Majesty will be there tomorrow at midday.

Indeed the wind, which hardly blew the 27th, and had not even allowed us to reach the height of the Island of Capraya, suddenly blew strongly with large gusts and made it possible for our young Commander to see Antibes in a few hours, which he announced to us. On March 1st, at three o’clock, we unloaded in the Gulf of Juan, between Cannes and Antibes.

The only encounter that we made at sea was that of a French brig, The Zephyr, commanded by the Lieutenant Audrieux, who often made the voyage from Toulon to Leghorn.  The Captain of the brig The Inconstant, having recognized him, warned the Emperor, who ordered that all the men amassed on the bridge lay down prone.  Then Taillade, having taken his speaking horn, said hello to the commander Andrieux, while shouting to him:

—Where do you go, commandant?
—To Leghorn! … And you?
—To Genoa.
—How is the great man?
—Very well, answered Taillade.

And the two brigs, slipping by close enough to one another, moved away with speed.

Before arriving at the point of debarkation, Napoleon ordered Captain Lamourette, commanding the 1st Company of Chasseurs, to embark in a boat with thirty men and a drummer to seize an entrenchment built by his orders, a long time before, to defend the entry of the bay, and which he supposed kept by the garrison of Antibes.  This officer, not having found anybody on his way, and having an animated desire to make partisans for the Emperor, thought that he only had to appear to seize the place; but the advanced sentinel shouted to him:

—Who goes there?
—Imperial Guard! Responded Lamourette.

The troop took their arms and let them enter the detachment; but the officer who commanded the post, seeing that this troop wore the tricolor cockade, believed it his duty to raise the drawbridge, and the detachment was made captive; never the less, there was much sorrow in this decision to ask the brave men to put down their weapons.  This poor detachment was led in brigade to Toulon and thrown into the dungeon of Fort Lamalgue:  the officers were going to be arraigned in front of a council of war, and probably condemned to death, when the authorities of Toulon, having learned of the arrival of Napoleon in Paris, set them free.

They were only a few hours before the unloading when several officers who were in the room occupied by the Emperor, were told to copy two proclamations, the first addressed to the army, the second to the French people; I transcribe them here:

Proclamation to the army.

At the Gulf of Juan, on March 1, 1815.

“Soldiers, we were not overcome… Two men left our ranks to betray their country, their prince, their benefactor.”

“Those who we saw over twenty-five years traversing Europe making enemies of us, those who passed their lives fighting against us in the ranks of the foreign armies, by cursing our beautiful France, would claim that they hold captive our eagles, those who never could gain our respect?  Will we suffer that they inherit the fruit of our glorious work, that they seize our honors, our goods, that they calumniate our glory?  If their reign lasted longer, all would be lost, even the memory of what we did.”

“Soldiers, in my exile, I heard your voice.  I arrived traversing all obstacles and all perils.  Your general, called to the throne by the choice of the people, raised on your bulwarks, returns to you; come to join him!  Tear off the colors that the nation proscribed, and which over twenty-five years were used as a rallying among all the enemies of France , to raise this glorious tricolor cockade: you carried it in our great days.”

“We must forget that we were the nations masters; but we should not suffer that none of them took part in our affairs. Who would on our premises claim to be master?  Who would have the ability?  Take again these eagles, which you had at Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, Tudela, Eckmühl, Esseling, Wagram, Smolensk, Moskowa, Lutzen, Wurtzen, and Montmirail!  This handful of French, today so arrogant, will return to where they have come, and there, if they want it, they will reign as they claim to have reigned for nineteen years.”

“Soldiers! Come to line up under the flags of your chief; his existence is composed only of yours, his rights are those of the people and his yours.  His interest, his honor and your glory.  The victory will go to the charging march; the eagle, with the national colors, will fly from bell-tower to bell-tower to the towers of Notre-Dame; then you will be able to show with honor your scars, then you will be able to praise yourselves of what you did, you will be the liberators of the fatherland; in your old age, surrounded and considered by your fellow-citizens, they will entreat you with respect to tell your grand facts; you will be able to say with pride:  And I also, I belonged to this grand army which entered twice the walls of Vienna, through those of Rome, of Berlin, of Madrid, of Moskow; who delivered Paris from the stain that the treason and the presence of the enemy had left there.  Honor to these brave soldiers, the glory of the fatherland; and eternal shame to the criminal French, in some rank which birth gave fortune to, which fought twenty-five years with the foreigner to tear the breast of the fatherland!”


The proclamation with the French people was conceived thusly:

“The defection of the Duke of Castiglione delivered Lyon without defense to our enemies. The army, which I had entrusted him to command, was, by the number of its battalions, the bravery and the patriotism of the troops from which it was made, capable to beat the Austrian corps which was opposite him, and to arrive on the left flank of the enemy army which moved on Paris.”

“The victories of Champ-Aubert, Montmirail, Chateau-Thierry, Vauchamps, Marmans, Montereau, Craonne, of Rheims, of Arcis-sur-Aube and Saint-Dizier; the insurrection of the brave peasants of Lorraine, Champagne, of Alsace, of the Franche-Comté and Burgundy, and the position which I had taken on the rear of the enemy army, by separating it from his stores, had placed it in a desperate plight. The French were about to be never more powerful, and the elite of the enemy army was lost without resource; it had found its tomb in these vast regions which it had so pitilessly ransacked, when the treason of the Duke of Ragusa delivered the capital and disorganized the army.”

“The unexpected conduct of these two Generals, who betrayed at the same time their fatherland, their prince and their benefactor, changed the destiny of the war.  In this news and great circumstances, my heart was torn, but my heart was unshaken.  I only consulted the interest of the fatherland; I exiled myself on a rock in the middle of the sea: my life was to you and was to still be useful for you.  I did not allow the great number of citizens who wanted to accompany me to share my fate; I believed their presence useful for France , and I took along with me only a handful of brave men necessary for my guard.”

“High on the throne by your choice, all that was done without you is illegitimate.  For twenty-five years, France has had new interests, new institutions, a new glory, which can be guaranteed only by one national government and a dynasty born in these new circumstances.  A prince who would reign over you, who would have sat on my throne by the force of the same armies which devastated our territory, would in vain seek to be supported by the principle of feudal rights; he could ensure the honor and the rights only of a small number of individuals, enemies of the people which for twenty-five years have been condemned in all our national assemblies.  Your interior peace and your external consideration would be lost forever. French! In my exile I heard your complaints and your wishes: you claimed a government of your choice, which only is legitimate; you accused my long sleep, you reproached me for sacrificing to my peace the great interests of the fatherland.”

“Eh well! I crossed the seas, in the midst of dangers.  I arrive among you to take my rights again, which are yours; all that individuals made, wrote or said, since the capture of Paris, I will always be unaware of; that will not influence any of the memory which I preserve of the important services that they returned; because it is of the events of such a nature, which they are above human organization.”

“French! It is not any nation, as small that it is, which does not have the right to be withdrawn from the dishonor of obeying a sovereign imposed by a temporarily victorious enemy.  When Charles VII returned to Paris and overthrew the transitory throne of Henri VI, he admitted holding his throne by the valiancy of his brave men, and not by the Prince Regent of England.”

“It is with you alone and with the brave men of the army that I made and will always make glory owed to all.”


Finally, arrived at the entry of the Gulf, we were occupied some time to see to the efforts, of the small flotilla forming around us.  Hardly had it joined together, that the Emperor ordered to Captain Loubers, commanding the 1st Grenadier Company, to announce, with the speaking horn, the resumption of the tricolor cockade.  The enthusiasm that the troops showed in this moment was extreme; but when Napoleon, continuing to address Captain Loubers, who always held the speaking horn, said to him:  “Let it be known to all the officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers who belonged to the detachment of the various corps of troop of the Guard, at the beginning of Fontainebleau, that I name them chevaliers of the Legion of Honor, and that I grant an advance in rank in this order to those who were already so bestowed*,” the cheer and vibrations of joy were universal.  Nevertheless this promotion was not for very many, as already three quarters of the noncommissioned officers and soldiers of the infantry, the seamen, artillery and the Poles of the Guard had obtained the cross on the field of honor.

 *This promotion was executed  only after 1830.

This promotion announced, the unloading was carried out on March 1, at three o'clock in the afternoon.  I arrived ashore with the first boat, where General Drouot was.  A post of customs officers, placed very close to us in a wood hut, took up the tricolor cockade as soon as it recognized us.

At once, the bivouac of the Emperor was established in a field of olive-trees that was located between the beach called the Gulf of Juan and the main road from Toulon to Nice, a little distance from Cannes and of the town of Antibes.  The troops being unloaded, Mr. Sarry, Lieutenant, accepted the order to set sail for Corsica with the entire flotilla.  This movement was carried out as before with much speed, as one young officer, living in an apartment with an Elba family, who had fallen asleep in a corner of the brig, awoke only when the boat was already several miles at sea.

A few hours after the unloading, Surgeon-Major Émery, from the Guard, who had his family in Grenoble, accepted the order of the Emperor to leave for this city, for the purpose of finding there the young Dumoulin, who had come to visit the Emperor on the Island of Elba a few months before our departure; he was, moreover, to get his cooperation to print the two proclamations dated from the Gulf of Juan, then to spread them profusely, in the town of Grenoble as well as in the surroundings: something that took place by the zeal of these two courageous citizens.

Once the troops established themselves around the bivouac of the Emperor, General Cambronne was sent to Cannes, with a strong detachment, to get the most horses possible (by paying for them, of course), and at the same time to intercept the road and prevent any mail from passing.  To this end, he prohibited the master of post horses, where he established himself, to deliver any horse to travelers, without previously receiving his authorization.  A few hours after, a courier of the Prince of Monaco unexpectedly arrived, announcing to the postmaster the arrival of his gracious Master, who needed a good number of horses to convey them on his road; but General Cambronne did not show himself as very pleasant to the Prince, because he refused that which he requested point-blank.  It was only a long time after that Napoleon, on the urgent prayers that the Prince of Monaco made to him, allowed the latter to move on his way.

The Emperor sent the Corsican Captain Casabianca to the commander of the town of Antibes, Colonel Cunée, also Corsican, to try to hand over the detachment which he kept captive; but this last was inexorable and even seized Captain Casabianca as a prisoner like the others.  This honest officer, desperate to be able to share in the dangers of his comrades, sought freedom by climbing the ramparts.  Revealed the following day in one of the ditches, where he had remained crushed after his fall, he was transported to the hospital of Antibes, where he happily recovered.  Mr. Vauthier, Commissioner of War, was sent in his turn; he was enjoined not to approach the fortress.  Lastly, I was the last courier sent to the commander of the town of Antibes; but the sentry advanced on me having shouted as soon as he saw me: “You withdraw, mister officer; if you do not I will fire on you!” I turned back, and returned with an account to General Drouot on what had taken place.

We left the bivouac around eleven o’clock in the evening.  The Emperor got under way at the head of our small army, moving on Grasse, where we arrived on March 2, at eleven o'clock in the morning.  The column halted, and took a position on a hillock, at the exit from the city; it was there that Napoleon lunched.  While he took this light meal, he received some outstanding people of Grasse, among them a former decorated officer, led by his wife, because he had lost his sight.  The Emperor gave him the most benevolent reception.  This worthy soldier, very moved, having asked for his hand to kiss, Napoleon embraced him without any more ceremony.

The lunch finished, the troops, to which the inhabitants had hastened to provide an abundance of food and wine, took a little rest; then we got under way, after having left our pieces of artillery in Grasse, not being able, because of our lack of horses, to take them along with us through the difficult paths that we were going to have to traverse.  Indeed, we had a quite painful day while crossing the Col of Provence. Obliged to go by paths bordering on chasms, where a man alone could hardly pass, it is certain that fifty men brought together at this point could have stopped us a long time. Our column, which was only a thousand to twelve hundred men, held the space, which twenty thousand men could have occupied. We walked all the day in snow and on the ice.  The Emperor was obliged to dismount several times from his horse and going on foot; several times he slipped and fell.

At the close of night, we arrived in a rather beautiful isolated farm, close to the village of Cernon, having made approximately twelve miles in this day.  The Emperor was lodged in the house; our lot was places with bales of straw.  Napoleon did not have any better a bed, but he slept there better perhaps than if he had been at the Tuileries.  He had kept near him only about fifty men of his Guard at most, the remainder of the column being spread out so much, that they could not come together until the following day, March 3, that around midday, the hour when we went back on the way for Castellane. There, we began to find means of transport, and consequently the column went per day by stages, moving by forced march on Grenoble.

The 3rd, in the evening, the Emperor slept in Barême, the 4th, in Digne.  The 5th, General Cambronne, with an advance guard of forty men, seized the bridge and the fortress of Sisteron; the same day, Napoleon slept in Gap, and the advance guard in Mure.

No remarkable event took place while crossing this space of country; the inhabitants accommodated us very well, but without deciding either for or against us.  During this long journey, we faced only two recruits, a gendarme and an infantryman.  We left, after a few days of quite painful marching, this country of mountains, and we started to discover the beautiful country beyond Mure, which borders that of Vizille, on the road to Grenoble.

The Emperor, informed that troops had left this last city with the mission to oppose his crossing of the bridge of Mure, made provisions for a defense, and formed his small army into three columns. The first, made up of three companies of foot chasseurs, the mounted and unmounted Polish lancers, and a dozen seamen of the Guard: was the advance guard, commanded by General Cambronne, having under his orders Colonel Mallet.

The second column, commanded by Captain Loubers, of the grenadiers, was made up of three companies of grenadiers, the company of artillery, and approximately thirty officers without troops, led by the Corsican Major Pacconi; with it marched the Emperor, his staff, and what one called the treasury, carried on two mules.

The third column, formed by the Corsican battalion, under the command of Commandant Guasco, formed the rear-guard.  Myself, on the approach to Mure, received the orders of General Cambronne to take the initiative with sixty foot chasseurs commanded by the Polish Lieutenant Jeanmarie, and some lancers, to establish housing for our troops.  It appears that we were awaited, since I found at the town hall the whole town council assembled.  I was accommodated perfectly by it, and I occupied myself with these gentlemen to prepare lodgings, when an adjutant of the 5th Regiment of Line Infantry arrived, as I had, to also house a battalion of this body of a company of the 3rd Regiment of Sappers of the Engineers.  Seeing that this officer wore the white cockade, I thought it better that he did not come with the intention to join us.  I approached him, nevertheless, while saying to him:

—From the cockade that you wear, Sir, I see that you are here with another goal than mine; however, answer me with frankness, how would you characterize us: are we friends or enemies?

He answered me, by tightening my hand:

—Old comrades in arms will always be friends.
—Then, I added, let us make up lodgings in concert.

He made pretence to agree to it; but, benefiting from a moment when I was occupied, he dodged out, undoubtedly to return an account to his chief that wasn’t present, and he did not return any more.  This troop took a position within rifle range of the city of Mure, and sent a strong advance guard to the first houses on the side of Grenoble.

Informed of the disappearance of the adjutant of the 5th Line, I was not quiet in the house of the mayor; I feared being surprised there from one moment to another, and I had just sent the order to Lieutenant Jeanmarie to remain under the arms and to make a good watch for his small detachment, when General Cambronne arrived with the first column, and assembled itself at the town hall.

He having been given an account of what had happened in his absence, and seeing for himself a sentry of the troop that I had told him about, placed at the first houses of a street on the road leaving to Grenoble, he established, at pistol range, a station of our own, commanded by an officer, and sent the captain of artillery Raoul, immediately, accompanied by a sergeant of Mamelukes, to the officer commanding the post of 5th, to commit him to make a pact with us; this one did not want to agree to it.  The general went there himself: he was answered that there was a prohibition to communicate with us.

Then Cambronne ordered that the troop take a position right where he was, that is in front of the town hall, and made his provisions to avoid any surprise.  This operation finished, we entered an inn located almost opposite the town hall, where I had ordered a dinner for twelve people.  Hardly were we at our table, that a peasant, who had been sent by General Cambronne to watch the troop movements of those who were opposed to us, entered and announced that this column stirred and seemed to be planning, while passing behind Mure, to move on the bridge by which we had arrived, to seize it and cut us off from any communication with the Emperor.  Nothing more was needed than to leave at the same moment, and to establish ourselves on the bridge, which we kept militarily all the night. The 5th retired itself to Grenoble.

General Cambronne having made known to the Emperor what occurred, His Majesty arrived with two columns to the point where we had taken position, and put himself at the head the troops which moved forward.  Colonel Mallet took the command of the three companies of chasseurs forming the column head, and the Polish lancers, commanded by Colonel Germanowski, took the right, beside the road; the officers without troop, commanded by Major Pacconi, took the left, and we marched right on the battalion of the 5th Line.

The company of voltigeurs of 5th was in battle formation at the exit of the village. The Emperor ordered Colonel Mallet to place arms under the left arm, the bayonnettes affixed. This officer having remarked to him respectfully that there could be danger to make this type of movement in front of a troop whose intentions were suspect, and whose first discharge could be disastrous, Napoleon answered him with promptness:

—Mallet, do what I say to you.

Arriving at the range of their guns, Napoleon exclaimed in a strong and accentuated voice:—Soldiers! Here is your emperor; those among you who want to kill him fire!

And with saying these words, he still took some steps forward and exposed his chest.

A young officer, relative and aide-de-camp of General Marchand, the commander in Grenoble, who had come with the mission as of his general to oppose our passage, said in his turn aloud:

—Here he is… Fire! soldiers!

At once, a unanimous cry of Vive l’Empereur! was the response of the battalion.

Already the Polish lancers having arrived in the village and were mixed pell-mell with the soldiers with the battalion of the 5th and the company with of 3rd Regiment of Sappers of the Engineers, all shouted with the envy: Vive l’Empereur!

The Guard and the soldiers themselves embraced; the latter tore off at the same moment the white cockade that they had on their shakos, and took with enthusiasm the tricolor cockade; then, this troop having been formed in battle formation, Napoleon spoke to them in these terms:

—Soldiers!  I come to you with a handful of brave men, because I count on the people and you. The throne of the Bourbons is illegitimate, since it was not raised by the nation and that it is against the interests of our country. Your fathers are threatened by the return of the tithes, the privileges, the feudal rights and all the abuses that our successors have delivered on them.  Is it not true, citizens? He added while addressing the gathering, which had been formed around the troop.
—Yes, some answered.

Hardly had be just fraternized with 5th, that Mr. Dumoulin arrived at full speed, having on his hat the tricolor cockade, and, falling from his horse to meet the Emperor:

—Sire, he says to him with the greatest emotion, I come to offer a hundred and thousand francs to you and my arm, and to ensure you of the fidelity of your all the people of Grenoble.

Napoleon appeared satisfied, and answered him smiling:

—Get back on your horse, we will chat while we march. I accept your services.

The same evening of our arrival in Grenoble, this young man was named aide-de-camp of the Emperor, who personally gave to him the cross of the Legion of Honor.

Immediately after, the troops are seen moving.  The foot chasseurs were put as the advance guard, and myself, with the quartermasters and a group of Polish lancers, had taken the front to go and prepare for housing in Grenoble.  We went by Vizille without meeting any troops (it was approximately four o’clock in the evening), when a young grenadier sub lieutenant of the 7th Regiment of Infantry of Line came to me and said:

Major, do you know if the Emperor is still far?
—No, I answered him; he is within one half-league from here, at most.
—My colonel that you will meet in twenty minutes responded again the young officer, awaits him at the head of his regiment.

Indeed, I found the unfortunate Labédoyère at the head of his beautiful regiment.  He approached me and asked me whether the Emperor was going to arrive soon; I answered him that he would not be long in seeing him. The joy that this officer expressed by learning this news could not be portrayed.  I was going to continue on my road, when Napoleon, escorted by his staff and the Polish lancers, passed me; I found him later in one of the suburbs of Grenoble.  I went, without losing a moment, to the gate:  I found it closed, although it was only six o’clock in the evening.  I insisted that someone open it in order to establish the housing of the column; Captain Raoul, of artillery, made the same efforts as well as the major of the 11th Regiment of Infantry of Line, which was the only regiment out of this town, and who said to the colonel of the 5th, who had the keys in his possession:

—Open, my dear; the Emperor has been waiting a long time.  But this colonel retorted: I will keep it then; I gave my word of honor to the prefect (Fourrier) and to the general (Marchand) I would not deliver the gate of the town to the troops who are with the usurper.

All that I said myself to the colonel of 5th was useless; it was only around eight o’clock and at the time when he was informed that the inhabitants of the suburb were armed with enormous beams to ram the doors that this officer finally decided to open.  At the same moment, the troops, which occupied the ramparts, shouted: Vive l’Empereur!  All the citizens ran to the gleam of the torches, and at once Napoleon entered Grenoble at the head of his small army.  An immense crowd crowed his passage: soldiers and citizens confused their cries and their feelings in the enthusiasm, which his presence inspired.

The staff was placed, like many officers, in this same hotel, and the column in the adjacent streets. We received the order to make the honors, in the name of the Emperor, to the officers who would present themselves during the night.  It was there, around the ten o’clock in the evening, that I saw arrive an adjutant-major of the horse artillery regiment commanded by Colonel Duchant, who came to announce the impending arrival of this body to us.

The following day, March 8, Napoleon passed in review the garrison of Grenoble, which was composed of the 3rd Regiment of Sappers of the Engineers, of the 4th Regiment of Foot Artillery, two battalions of the 5th Line, the 11th Regiment of Line, the 7th Regiment of Line and the splendid 4th Regiment of Hussars.  This review was made in the middle of the population of Grenoble and the surroundings, and with cries a thousand times repeated of: Down with Bourbons! Long live the Emperor!

Several decorations were distributed, and immediately after the troops were directed by forced march on Lyon. Before leaving Grenoble, Napoleon addressed the inhabitants with the following proclamation:

“Citizens!  When I learned in my exile all the misfortunes, which weighed on the nation, that all the rights of the people were ignored, and that they reproached me of the rest in which I lived, I did not lose a moment, I embarked on a frail ship, and I crossed the seas in the middle of vessels of various nations.  I landed on the ground of the fatherland, and I have in sight to only arrive with the speed of the eagle in this good town of Grenoble, whose patriotism and attachment to my person were particularly known for me.

Those from Dauphine! You filled my waiting… I endured, not without the tearing of my heart, but without abatement, misfortunes to which I was prey one year ago.  The spectacle, which the people offered to me on my passage, moved me highly.  If some clouds had been able to deteriorate the great opinion that I had of the French people, what I saw convinced me that it was worthy of this name of the great nation of which I saluted it for more than twenty years.

Those from Dauphine! As I am about to leave your regions to return to my good town of Lyon, I felt the need to express you all the regard, which your high feelings have inspired in me.  My heart is full of the emotions that you made gave birth to there.  I will always preserve the memory of it.”

On March 9, the Emperor slept in Bourgoing, as well as the Guard.  From Grenoble to Lyon, his voyage was only a triumphal march.  Napoleon, tired, was in a barouche with General Bertrand, always on the move, surrounded of by an innumerable crowd of peasants having their mayors at the head, decorated with the tricolor scarf.  The Count d' Artois, the Duke of Orleans and Marshal Macdonald had already left Lyon.  Money had been lavished on the troops; the bridge of Guillotière and the Morand bridge were to be cut.  The Emperor laughed at these ridiculous preparations; he did not have any doubt about the provisions of his good Lyoneses.  He made a reconnaissance with the 4th Regiment of Hussars, which arrived on March 10, at four o'clock in the evening, in the suburb of Guillotière, where he was accommodated with the cries of Vive l’Empereur!  At eight o’clock in the evening, Napoleon entered Lyon, at the head of the troops, which were to defend the approach to it from him.  The city was spontaneously illuminated; the population did not cease going all night to the archbishop's palace, where Napoleon had taken his housing, and gave him the most energetic marks of its devotion.

On March 11, the Emperor passed in review of all the troops at this meeting in Lyon, amounting to fifteen or twenty thousand men: General Brayer put himself at their head and marched on the capital.

During the stay of Napoleon in Lyon, delegations of the surrounding cities ran, to ensure him of fidelity and of the national affection of the city made a present to the Guard of a tricolor flag, surmounted with a gold eagle.

On March 13, the Emperor arrived at the head of a detachment of the Guard and 7th Regiment of Line, in Villefranche, a small town of four thousand souls, which contained some in this moment more than twenty thousand.  It would be impossible for me to describe the eagerness, the delirious feeling even in this anthill of men, who, emerging from all quarters seemed to leave the ground as if by enchantment.  Napoleon stopped one moment with the town hall; a great number of wounded were presented to him, and several accepted decorations.  He entered the same day, but extremely late, in Màcon, always escorted by the people of the nearby cantons.  As for us, we were in Tournus on the morning of the 14th.  There, the Emperor gave praises to the inhabitants for their beautiful conduct in 1814: he made much the same regards to the inhabitants of Châlon, the city where he laid down the same evening.

The 15th, the Emperor was in Autun, with his Guard, and the 16th, in Avallon; he lunched the 17th in Vermanton and laid down the same day in Auxerre.  It is there that I saw arrive, at eleven o'clock in the evening, Colonel Morin, of artillery of the Guard, which had come to top speed from Fère to join him; it is there too that the troops of the Prince of Moskowa joined us.

While arriving on March 20 at Fontainebleau, Napoleon was agreeably surprised to see the Poles posted at the gate of the chateau.  Colonel Germanowski had carried out this tour de force, really worthy of such a nation.  The Emperor left the same day for Paris, where he entered around nine o’clock in the evening.

Thus finished, without spilling a drop of blood and meeting any obstacle, this fabulous company, which restored the nation its rights and its glory.”

The Guard laid down on March 20 at Villejuif, and made its entry into the capital the 24th, at eleven o'clock in the morning.  This same day, Napoleon passed in review all the troops, which were in Paris, and after they had formed the square, he said to them:

—Soldiers! I came to France with a handful of men, because I counted on the love of the people and the memory of my old soldiers.  I was not misled in my expectations.  Soldiers! I thank you: the glory of what we have just done is all because of the people and you; my humble refuge is known to you and appreciated.

These words were accompanied by the acclamations of the people and the army.

But Napoleon saved for the many assistants another military scene.  Hardly had he completed speaking, that General Cambronne was seen advancing on the Place of the Carrousel, at the head of the sacred battalion which had accompanied the Emperor to the Island by Elba, and which had returned with him; it carried the old eagles of the Guard, the standards were in tatters.  A drum roll was heard, and Napoleon, making a gesture of the hand, indicated that he wanted to still speak.  Silence having succeeded the general hubbub, the Emperor said in a moved voice, but however very-distinct:

—Here are officers of the battalion, which accompanied me in my misfortune; they are all my friends, they were dear to my heart!  Each time I saw them, they represented to me the various regiments of the army; because, in these six hundred brave men, there are men of all the regiments.  All reminded me of these great days which memories are so dear; because all are covered with honorable scars received at these memorable battles.  By loving them, it is all of you, soldiers of the French Army, which I loved.  They bring back these eagles to you: that they serve to rally you!  By giving them to the Guard, I give them to all the army.  The treason and the unhappy circumstances had covered them with a funeral veil; but, thanks to the people and you, they reappear resplendent of their last glory.  Then swear to me that they are always found everywhere where the interest of the fatherland will call them, those who would like to invade our territory will not be able look them in the eyes!
—We swear! We swear! Was the cry which resounded and which all the voices repeated.

This day, these worthy and noble phalanxes would have followed the Emperor to the end of the world. 

As for Napoleon, he was in rapture.  No time in his life had he been seen so radiant.  His speeches reflected the stirring of his heart; the same words returned unceasingly on his lips: they were expressions of recognition for all.  Yes, certainly, March 21, 1815 was a beautiful day for him and his soldiers, a day of happiness and hope where each one formed noble projects, where the future was colored by a radiant azure. But why therefore in the evening when this enthusiastic crowd had left, when the palace of Tuileries found finally a little calm, why, we say; did Napoleon, after the emotions of the day, press sadly on the baluster of a window of the palace, have so pensive an air, as if dreaming? … It is because beside the extreme joy, God placed vague presentiments; to remind the man that any happiness here below is transitory; it is that perhaps God wanted, by a remote intuition, to make whom he still came to fill with fortune foresee, that the purple of the Tuileries was close to the shroud of Saint-Helena!

Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2007


Organization Index | More on St. Hilaire's "History of the Imperial Guard ]

© Copyright 1995-2007, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.

Top | Home ]