Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics



YEAR 1815.






Paris is a strange city!  When the bubbling of the great disaster of Waterloo spread in the capital, there was a change in public opinion:  passing from the confidence that the assembly of the Field of May had inspired, to abatement; there was neither a belief in the destiny of Napoleon, nor in the infallibility of the Imperial Guard on the battle field:  there was abandonment, one did not think any more of the other, and one did not deal any more but with the Bourbons, which were to bring back peace with them.  But, stranger still, when the ministers endeavored to regulate the means of resisting the common enemy (foreigners), the deputies found only murmurs and charges!

However Napoleon had abdicated at the Elysée Palace; but he had abdicated only after being insulted, even maltreated by some deputies that, for the honor of our country, we will not name.  Against the force, resistance had been useless. Lucien Bonaparte had taken a pen, and had said in Italian to Napoleon:

—Eh well, brother, satisfy these gentlemen!

The minutes written by Lucien had been dictated by the Emperor, who, before signing the release, had erased with his hand the words: Act of abdication, to replace them by these: Declaration to the French people.  This declaration was thus spelled out:

“By beginning the war to support the national independence, I counted on the uniting of all the efforts, all the wills and on the cooperation of all the national authorities.  I found hope for success with them, and I braved all the proclamations of the powers against me.  Realizing the changed circumstances, I offer myself in sacrifice to the hatred of the enemies of France … Should they be sincere this time, in their declarations, and really only want to have my person!  My political life is finished, and I proclaim my son, under the title of Napoleon II, Emperor of the French.  The current ministers will temporarily form the council of government.  The interest that I carry to my son engages me to invite the Chambers to organize the Regency without delay by a law.  Unite one and all for public safety and to remain an independent nation.”

But what had become of the Guard since the fatal day of June 18?  The Generals Morand and Colbert had managed to rejoin some remains of companies at Beaumont.  From this city, these remains had been directed on Paris, where they had come to occupy various positions in the surroundings.  It had been brought there, to reward the Guard for its heroic conduct at Mount-Saint-Jean, and to some extent to compensate it for the fatigue it had experienced since, having been continuously maneuvered on the plains of Montrouge to the hillock of Montmarte, and from Montmarte in the Saint-Denis plain, under the pretext of imposing on the enemy, who had approached the capital.

Only one important affair, took place for it at the village of Vertus, and the small combat that it had there reflected the greatest honor on the Adjutant-commander Martin-Laforest.  This senior officer had received the order of Marshal Davoust to go to take command of the village of the Vertus, near Saint-Denis; a hundred men of the Young Guard, under the orders of Colonel Dorser, occupied this position.  It was necessary to place the village in a state of siege to guard it from a surprise: the Adjutant-commander Laforest thus raised barricades in the streets, and prepared all the provisions necessary for a defense, in the event of attack.  In spite of these precautions, on June 30, at three o'clock in the morning, the Prussians, three thousand in number, made a hurrah on the village, and cut off any retirement to the brave men, who had entrenched themselves there.  Men other than the soldiers of the Guard laid down their weapons; but Adjutant-commander Martin-Laforest sounded the charge, advanced at the head of this band of heroes, and, coming to within the range of the Prussian pistols, released a volley of musket fire without reply, crushed them with bayonet, and broke through up to the place of the church: there, it still found itself having to make its way through the lances of the Cossacks who had met at this point, while climbing, under the sharpest fire, the barricades which it had raised itself for its defense.  Then, he formed his small troop in square, crossed the plain between the channel and the village of the Vertus, and had the good luck, using a quite constant fire, to bring back most of his men into a redoubt raised by us in Villette.

Colonel Dorser, commander of this small troop, showed an admirable bravery: though hit by two shots, he forgot the danger and his wounds to think only of the safety of those who fought under his command.  In this short but hot retirement, seeing a young soldier wounded like himself in the arm, but who, none the less, did not continue to fire on the Prussians, he encouraged him with his example and his words, by urging him not to lose hope:

—Ah! My Colonel, answered sadly the young tirailleur, this time, they are too many!

Such was the last feature of heroism of the Guard after this disastrous campaign of Belgium . Undoubtedly this was far from providing that a time would come where, the anniversary of the great disaster of Waterloo, the noise of merry festivals would resound in Paris at the same time as in Lourdes…

 The ceding of all of France in its entirety to the foreigners and the Bourbons was to be the inevitable consequence of the abdication of Napoleon and the capitulation of Paris. The royalists triumphed, the patriots were dismayed, the Guard was indignant; because, while the enemy advanced devastating the territory, the commission of the government negotiated as if it had been only a question of avoiding a rupture: it had said that it was charged to only intervene, by way of conciliation, between France and Europe.

Consequently, in the night of July 3, 1815, provisions were made to evacuate the lines, which still protected Paris, and to deliver them to the enemy.  Officers and soldiers of the Guard shouted at the treason and burst into threats; battalions refused to obey the order which was given to them to give up their station. The old grenadiers broke their rifles and tore their uniforms; they cursed the authors of the shame printed with their weapons.  Some of their officers wanted to protest against the capitulation, and to oppose its execution, by declaring that Marshal Davoust had lost the confidence of the army.  If it were necessary to be subjected to the law of foreigners, at least, before leaving the capital, the old soldiers swore to be avenged on the traitors and to make justice of it.  Fear followed this patriotic aggravation, some Generals sought to calm it.  Docile to the voice of Drouot, the Imperial Guard in its entirety soon set the example of resignation.

But Fouché, during this time, set up the National Guard; he avoided, as much as possible, to let the Guard pass in Paris, by making it move around the barriers.  However, some regiments of line refused to leave if their salaries were not paid.  The commission was without money: the banker Laflitte liberally advanced what was necessary to satisfy the soldiers.

The Guard was thus started to move on the Loire, where its tomb had been prepared in advance.  When it had lost sight of Paris, it had a presentiment of its sad destiny; its attitude became calm and resigned.  The commission, which saw everything being done with suspicion, the resignation as a threat, still fearing that Napoleon would be put at the head of the former companions of his triumphs, dispatched a courier to Rochefort to hasten his boarding: “Allowing a delay, the dispatch said, in his stay in France compromises the safety of the State and closure to the negotiations.”

There were, in the capital, many of the Generals and officers of the Guard which events had prevented from going to their destination: the presence of these brave men displeased the allies and alarmed those who delivered France to them.  The Minister of War directed these officers, by an order-of-the-day, to follow the grand headquarters to Orleans, “under penalty of seeing yourself striped from the rolls, as if you had never been a part of the army.”  Those were resigned; but desertion, this incurable wound of the armies, took hold of the soldiers; the contagion extended from bottom in top, and little by little the officers, forgetting their old reputation of discipline and abnegation, left their flag.  There was throughout them a demoralization, a kind of distaste easy to understand: the capitulation of Paris* summarized, in some short terms, clearly expressed that which they felt especially: “Initially, suspension of fighting,” it said there. “The Imperial ex-Guard will immediately start to withdraw itself behind the Loire, where it will be disbanded. ** It will carry with it weapons and luggage, and will take along all its campaign material. The wounded will be able to remain in Paris to await new order; they will be under the protection of the English and Prussian Generals.  The employees attached to the military administration of the ex-Guard, their wives and their children, will be able to follow them.  None of the corps chiefs, generals, senior officers, officers and non-commissioned officers of the ex-Guard, who fought against the allied powers on the days of 16, 17 and 18 of last June, will be able, in the future and under no circumstance, be able to belong to the new army which will be organized; etc.”  Never, in the memory of an historian, had an army been struck with such a hard blow by a policy.

* Signed on July 3, 1815.

** See our preceding chapter.

In 1814, the Guard had always preserved this hope for itself, which had made it believe that it would be called, sooner or later, to a happier future; but after Waterloo, after the abdication of its emperor, this ordonnance which destroyed it, the reaction was so effective, that these proud men completely lost hope of ever rising from such a catastrophe.

Before they had arrived on the banks of the Loire, the proscriptions started to reach some of their chiefs. Already general officers had been arraigned before military commissions.  The proscription extended indistinctly then in the lower ranks, and whoever had belonged to the Imperial Guard was struck directly or indirectly. The dismissal operated*, all the officers of the Guard were designated by the epithet of brigands of the Loire, and could neither show themselves in Paris, nor to live except in the localities which had been assigned to them for residence by the Minister of War: they were seen there like wild beasts, and if they arrived at them manifesting the least regret of the past, or recalled only one memory of their old glory, they would pitilessly haul them before a provost court, always chaired by a former émigré.  It was therefore that the majority of the officers sought refuge among foreigners.  They went to Turkey , others to Greece , the smallest number to America .  The Field of Asylum became the symbol of the exile.  The engraving of the Soldat laboureur (Soldier Ploughman), of Horace Vernet, showed with joy the old soldier of the Imperial Guard, the face emblazoned with scars, the cross on the chest and the spade in the hand, working in the loneliness of Texas.

*As we said in the introduction placed at the head of this History.

Some of these exiled approached Spanish America, and, as modern condottieri, using their experience and their sword in the service of the provinces rebelled against the metropolis.  These old warriors thus avenged the defeats for the French Army in Castille and Andalusia, while striking at the heart of the old monarchy of Charles the Fifth, whom they had not been able to conquer.

The other fugitives had been allowed to go to the United States .  In July 1817, Philadelphia and New York saw with surprise in their walls the proudest names of the old Imperial army, such as Marshal Grouchy, the Generals Clausel, Vandamme, Lefèvre-Desnouettes, Rigaud, Colonel Galabert, and a great number of senior officers no less notable by their military services than by the nobility of their character; but a man whose intelligence equaled his courage, a general officer whose stoicism on the battlefield yielded nothing to his civil courage, General Lallemand, in a word, judged the situation of all his companions in misfortune with a rare sagacity.  He understood that if he did not rally these idle warriors, these characters turned sour by misfortune, the French name, if honored on the banks of the Ohio and the Mississippi, could well lose its splendor.  An indiscernible slope leads little by little the banished soldier at the same time as it is voluntarily, with the contemptible role of adventurer, and General Lallemand had in his heart the maintenance the emblem of his cross: Honor and fatherland!  He thought therefore of the establishment of the Field of Asylum.

The Field of Asylum had been selected in the province of Texas, at twenty miles above the mouth of the river of the Trinity, on the Gulf of Mexico.  This corner of ground was rather unfavorable to the development of a colony: also the Field of Asylum--this noble thought--and the execution of its establishment were never known in France except imperfectly; the little that was learned was misinterpreted sometimes, commented on and exaggerated in proportion to the spirit of the party and political passions.  What we can affirm, it is that the Field of Asylum had two goals to reach.  The first, official, ostensibly, was to gather those who the decrees of the provost courts of the Kingdom of France had forced to leave the ungrateful fatherland, and those, fewer in number, who, in a moment of effervescence, saw it convenient to play, in America, the role of exiled amateurs.  The second goal, a mysterious project assisted secretly by the English Commodore, stationed in these parts, was to create, within Mexico , revolutionary propaganda, able to lend “force of hand” to a party Anglo-liberals, who wanted to dismember for its profit the rich provinces of America and the heritage of Philippe V.  Thus this crafty England, which had lavished over six years its treasures and its soldiers to tear away the scepter of Napoleon from the Iberian Peninsula, claimed it would use the same warriors that it had thrown in its repugnant brig ships, to strip Spain, its faithful ally, of its more flourishing colonies.  The English policy is totally shown in this unqualified conduct.

Similar testimony of some officers, who resided at Texas, seems to suggest that the colony, right from the start, was divided in two camps, which dreamed of opposite projects.  Some could not wait for the favorable moment to rush to arms and to line up under the flags of the Mexican insurrection, fomented by the English agents.  The others, more imbued with the principles which had thrown them on this ground of exile, did not think of anything less than going to tear Napoleon away from his rock of Saint-Helena, using a fast yacht, in hopes of giving him Mexico, once they would have delivered from the Spanish yoke.  Thus these blind men did not realize that, being docile instruments of the British ambition, as long as the work which joined them was not completed they would hold some favor; but that once Mexico became republicanized and snatched from the hands of Spain, the instrument which had once been useful would be broken, and that they would not fail to be put out of state if they attempted to achieve the pious crusade relating to the delivery of the majestic prisoner of Saint-Helena.

In all events, General Lallemand, who since 1817 had communicated to the Count of Survillers (Joseph Bonaparte), then in Philadelphia, his project of colonization, convened in this city all the French officers dispersed in the territory of the Union, explained his intentions, his means of execution and his hopes to them, and obtained, by the power of his word, almost all of the subalterns; but among the general officers, General Rigaud alone adhered to the company, which had appeared insane to some, impracticable to the others, inopportune to all.

A ship was chartered; one loaded it with food for four or five hundred men.  Six pieces of cannon, six hundred fusils, four hundred sabers, twelve thousands (kegs) of powder formed the cargo, which was bought with sums of money proscribed.  Then Joseph Bonaparte gave to the needy officers of the Guard, some days before the departure, a certain sum so that these unfortunate, idolizers of a noble cause and a great name, could pay the debts, which they had incurred during their stay in Philadelphia.  The brother of the Emperor was concerned for honor of the French name, by wanting that the character of the exiled remain spotless and without any recrimination.

The expedition thus left Philadelphia on December 17, 1817, at seven o'clock in the morning, setting sail towards Galveston and approached on January 15, 1818.  The refugees debarked their living and war provisions, and were established there temporarily while waiting for the arrival of General Lallemand. This island being deprived of all, and so to speak a deserted place, the French built some huts with the reeds and remains of scattered shipwreck on the shore, and dug a broad ditch around their bivouac, in order to safe guard themselves from attacks of the savage cannibals called Karankawas, and to guard themselves against the still ignored dispositions of the corsairs (i.e. pirates) who occupied a corner of the island, where they were accustomed to dividing the goods that they captured at sea.

On March 20, 1818 (this date is remarkable), General Lallemand, accompanied by about sixty emigrants, appeared in front of Galveston, coming from New Orleans.  He found his comrades in arms, though already experiencing hard sufferings, impatient and more resolute, more persevering than ever in their enterprise.  Only one man was missing from the roll call: it was the young Lapeyre, former pupil of the Military School of Saint-Cyr, who had been killed in a duel.  In a duel, great God! … as if this disastrous prejudice had followed the emigrants to add another thorn to their crown of martyrs!

On March 24, 1818, all the exiled embarked for the Field of Asylum, on ten large launches which they bought from a corsair.  The beginnings of the installation were painful: the colony had to be strengthened against the invasion of wild animals and especially rattlesnakes, which swarm in these regions; but, as if it was not enough to have to fight these natural enemies, it was also necessary that the unhappy colony had to experience the shock of fatal circumstances.  The launches, after having unloaded the emigrants on the continent, had taken to sea again and had, by going up the river of the Trinity, transported food to the Field of Asylum: this flotilla wandered for a whole month, without thinking that, bearing with it the most invaluable resources of the colonists, it resulted by its delays disastrous and cruel privations; finally it arrived.  The savage Chactas, (Choctaws) Cachales and others, came in great number to visit the colonists… the joy, the hope, the gaiety even reappeared… confidence reappeared; they started to organize themselves.

Three cohorts, infantry, cavalry, artillery, were trained, in order to give to the establishment the military organization which was the only way they could exist and be maintained.  Fortifications were raised against the attacks of the Spaniards and the Indians.  The refugees were occupied without interruption with this work during the four months that they remained in Texas.  The camp was guarded with the precautions and severity observed on the expeditions of the empire.  The battalion and squadron heads were only officers; the captains were only lieutenants and second lieutenants; finally the master sergeants, the sergeants and the quartermaster-sergeants were only privates.

To kill the time, as they could not be employed usefully, given their special talent and knowledge, they reverted back to theory, maneuvers and exercise.  For the rest, everyone ate from mess tins and bivouacked as in Poland , with the exception of the Generals, the senior officers and the women, for whom rather commodious and vast huts had been built.  In order to keep back the wild animals, an enormous rough-hewed fire was continuously maintained, near to which the storytellers were usually found.  The emigrants called the neighborhood of this fire, the Royal Palace; and those who orated there, the hummingbirds.  The French spirit is always the same everywhere and in all circumstances.  Sometimes General Lallemand also came to the Royal Palace to tell his intimate memories and throw to all these brave men, who had entrusted themselves to his star, some scraps of his last conversations with Napoleon.  Under the influence of his word, the refugees formed plans as far as the eye can see to remove Napoleon from Saint Helena, and to bring him… where? … to the Field of Asylum!

However the Mexican government, informed that the turbulent French had confined themselves on a portion of its territory without requesting its authorization, thought of removing these inconvenient guests, and, to achieve this end, started by sending a body of troops of twelve hundred bayonets, with the intention to destroy the Field of Asylum.  This corps advanced quickly towards Texas: Indians, allied with the French, informed them of the approach of the enemy.

The colony did number among them two hundred men, and still of this number a third was laid low with the most serious diseases.  Notwithstanding the inferiority of their number, they prepared to push back the enemy, to fight and die as French, to serve us the expression of the one of the exiles. But the Spanish general, either because his instructions required that he not initiate an attack, or that he had been restricted to form a type of cordon sanitaire, camped three days from the French camp, while leaving it up to diseases and discouragement to destroy an establishment which had not done anything serious. The general Spanish had judged well and did not have to wait a long time.

The refugees, not seeing any more coming from Europe or the United States, and starting to understand that the disappointments without end to which they had up to that point been the victims, came from their ignorance and their ineptitude, finally decided to leave this cursed ground, and on August 6, they evacuated the land of Texas, without being troubled either by the Spaniards or the Indians.  The retirement was done in good order, and the small navy which the French had, transported them to the banks of the Trinity on the Island of Galveston, which they reached the 12th of the same month and which they occupied for the second time, when a horrible event suddenly put the seal of general misery.

On September 10, 1818 a dreadful storm burst on the Gulf of Mexico: this storm raised water with such a violence, that the floods submerged the island and covered it, in all its extent, with seven to eight feet of water.  The poor exiles believed themselves lost; they took refuge in two large huts firmly built and not very far away from the shore, and there, during three days and three nights, they struggled against the furious element with an amazing perseverance.  Their food, their powder, the last hope of their delivery, all was involved, absorbed by water.  Lastly, after two months of anguish, the exiled accepted from General Lallemand the sad consent that any hope of achieving the suggested goal had disappeared, and that consequently he committed them to give up the Island of Galveston and to join him in New Orleans.

On November 4, 1818, the same corsair who had sold the French a boat the first time yielded a small ship to them, which was used to transport the sickest to New-Orleans.  After fifteen days of hard travel, these patients arrived in the capital of Louisiana, where there was a great yellow fever devastation. Hardly unloaded, they almost all died, seized by the plague.

The majority crossed from the island onto the Mexican continent, and, directed in their march through the forests of Texas by the savages, they reached the first dwellings of Louisiana, where the Louisianans, who remembered their French origin, accommodated them with generosity. Some of the emigrants paid back the hospitality offered them, by taking care for the education of the children of their hosts.

Fifteen months after these deplorable events, in April 1820, the subscription collected in France for the exiles of the Field of Asylum was distributed to them in New Orleans.  But the diseases and the accidents of all kinds had considerably cleared the ranks of these brave men and credulous colonists.  Only forty-seven, out of two hundred, answered the call: the remainder had been eaten by the savages, had been drowned, or decimated by yellow fever.

Eighty thousand francs were placed at their disposal; but, always generous, these men wanted that the individuals whose misleading promises had attracted them to New-Orleans to take part in the division they were engaged in, as they had come to share their exile and their work.  And as of today, all these brave men whose only wrong was to let themselves be rocked by insane illusions, hardly any remain to testify a little, in front of their contemporaries, of the incalculable sufferings and poignant disappointments of which they were the patients victims.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2007


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