Research Subjects: Eyewitness Accounts


The Memoirs of Adriaan Frans Meijer, Lieutenant-General in the Army of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 1786-1841, over the years 1808 - 1813

Translated by Bas de Groot

Explanatory note: This text forms a part of the complete memoirs of Adriaan Frans Meijer. The original, consisting of 2 large, folio-sized hardcover volumes, currently rests with the Library of the Dutch Army Museum.

Although the translator has tried to use contemporary English phrases in order to make the text more readable, the choice of words used by General Meijer has largely been left intact. This means that at some points, the reader can see that Meijer used capital letters for ranks or units (i.e. Captain Quartermaster, Regiment) and just a few lines later used normal letters for the same words (i.e. captain quartermaster, regiment). The same applies for the use of Dutch and French terms (i.e. Regiment de Ligne, Regiment of the Line). Although this may somewhat detract from the clarity of the text, the translator wished to stay as close to the original text as possible. The only exception was made in names of topographical places, for which the translator tried to use their official names as per 2012. Names of places which were unknown to the translator have been marked with an (?).

Some punctuation has been added, as the original text often makes use of very long sentences, sometimes covering as many as ten lines without any full stop. 

Synopsis of Adriaan Frans Meijer’s Career

Meijer came from a military family: almost all of his male relatives (greatgrandfather, grandfather, uncles, father and cousins) had served in the Dutch Army since the early 1700’s. Meijer himself joined the Army in 1785, age 16, initially as a sergeant in the infantry Regiment of the Count van Bylandt (a relative of the brigade commander of Waterloo fame; the van Bylandts were a military-political important family, and they served as Colonel-Inhabers of several Regiments of the Army of the United Provinces), where his father served, but very soon after as a Cadet in the artillery company of the Westerloo infantry Regiment, where his uncle served. In 1787 he switched to the Grenadier company of the Bedaulx Regiment, serving as a sergeant under captain (later General) Bonhomme. In 1789 his Regiment moved to Sluis in Zeeland, his first visit to the province. A number of men in his Regiment promptly got sick, and as Regiments were often rotated between garrisons in those days, they left Zeeland in 1790.

In 1793, Meijer’s Regiment participated in a combat near Heusden, before partaking in the blockade of Breda. Breda had been surrendered to the French by the Count van Bylandt, who was duly court-martialled for this premature surrender. The French commandant of Breda was Meijer’s former Captain Bonhomme. In March 1793, Meijer’s Grenadier company was added to the combined Grenadier battalion van Plettenberg. With this unit, Meijer fought at Orchies, Menin, Lincelles and Maubeuge.

In 1794, Robert Bruce, the later General of Walcheren infamy, joined Meijer’s Grenadier battalion as Major. In that year Meijer and his battalion formed part of the garrison of Charleroi when that city was besieged by Jourdan, and Meijer was captured after the surrender of the place. He remained a captive in France until 1795. Having returned, Meijer was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd battalion of the 2nd Halve Brigade (Demi-Brigade, the Batavian Army was reorganized after French fashion). Colonel Bruce commanded this unit, and recommended Meijer for promotion to Kapitein-Adjudant-Majoor (a Dutch rank similar to that of Brigade Major, this was a Regimental staff appointment, as a Halve Brigade contained 3 battallions). Meijer also became Bruce’s adjutant.

Meijer served in this capacity in the 1799 Helders campaign, Bruce commanding a Brigade that served at Schoorldam and Bergen. Bruce was promoted after the campaign, and Meijer stayed on as his ADC for the 1800 campaign in Germany under Augereau. After the Peace of Amiens, Bruce’s brigade was posted to Zeeland, and again, the troops suffered heavily, a large number of men per day being transported to the main hospital in Bergen op Zoom. By the end of 1803, the Brigade was disbanded, the several battalions being dispersed over several other garrisons. Meijer returned to command his Grenadier company in his battalion of the 2nd Halve Brigade, which in 1804 was again ordered to Walcheren. Meijer’s battallion was dispersed in posts across the island, Meijer himself being quartered in Veere, Oostkapelle, Vlissingen and Middelburg. His unit was again decimated by fever, so that it was broken up to reform in its depot, Meijer remaining to serve on the staff of the French General Osten until 1805. In June of that year Meijer was appointed Kapitein Adjudant of the Guard of Grand Pensionary Schimmelpenninck, but General Bruce still remained close, and in November 1805 Meijer again acted as his ADC when Bruce was sent by the Batavian government to Vienna to congratulate Napoleon on his victory at Austerlitz.

In 1806, Meijer was promoted to Major and Lieutenant-Colonel, and in February 1807 he was ordered to take command of the 1st Battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment. As such he was the commanding officer of Jan Willem van Wetering, whose memoirs are also preserved.

With the 9th Infantry Regiment Meijer participated in the 1807 campaign in Germany. Meijer mentions that his Regiment, as well as other Regiments, suffered from desertion throughout the campaign, because two-thirds of his unit was made up from Prussian and German soldiers, who were often close to home. On 27 December 1807, Meijer was replaced in command of his battalion by Lt-Col. Batenburg. January 19th 1808 Meijer was placed as Major at the depot of the 3rd Infantry Regiment in Haarlem. He arrived there on February 2nd 1808, and this is where his narrative starts.

1808

“2nd February I assumed command of the Depot in place of Major Berghuis, who did not receive me cordially, treating me as if I had been the cause of his retirement.

Was his reception of me not very much to my liking, the state in which I found the depot and its troops was worse: Administration, discipline, instruction of the troops, all were found wanting, none of the ledgers, registrations, order forms, not even the working spaces (lit: Bureaus) themselves were in order. Captain Quartermaster Gusenklo was in no way fit to serve in this capacity, so I asked Colonel Sels, who was serving with the Field battalions in Germany, to send me Sergeant Quartermaster Stubenrauch at the shortest possible notice, to assist me in repairing the damage. As soon as he had arrived, I ordered that he would be in charge of all administration fortwith, and that the captain quartermaster Gusenklo was to busy himself only with getting the old administration in order, a task which proceeded very slowly, and in which I often had to assist, and finally had to complete myself.

April 3rd the Regiment arrived at the depot in Haarlem from Germany. It was received outside the gate by the city officials, and festivities were organized in its honour.

April 6th The Regiment was reorganized. From then on, it was to have only 2 battalions.

May 15th the 1st battalion marched to Den Helder.

I requested that captain quartermaster Gusenklo be pensioned, as he was not suitable for his function, and proposed that Sergeant Stubenrauch be promoted Lieutenant Quartermaster, which soon after happened.

1809.

February 3rd my son Simeon Pierre Francois was born. He was baptized the Sunday after in the French Church by Rev. Serrurier.

August 20th [1] we received tidings that the British troops had landed in Zeeland. The Minister for War[2] ordered that all available and able-bodied men, under the orders of the necessary officers be sent immediately and with all haste to Breda, where they would receive further orders. Upon receiving this order, I sent Captain Westenberg[3] with about 200 men on trekschuiten[4] to Leiden. Two days afterwards the rest of the Regiment under the orders of Colonel Sels arrived on wagons from the direction of Den Helder. They took the same route as Captain Westenberg’s detachment.

The English advanced, after Walcheren, to the island of Zuid-Beveland, but were repulsed from an excursion up the river Schelde. This made them leave the islands after a short stay, although they were masters of both Veere and Vlissingen, leaving nothing behind them but the destruction of the Zeesluis (sea-lock, ed.) and a large number of dead who succumbed to the Zeeuwse koorts (Walcheren fever, ed.).

To my great regret Colonel Sels, with whom I had a very good working relationship, was promoted to Major-General, and Lt-Col. Hardijau of the Guard Carabiniers was appointed Colonel of the 3rd Regiment. Shortly afterwards the Regiment left for North-Holland again.

During the winter the Colonel General of the Guard Cavalry, Travers, on request of Colonel of the Guard Tindal, proposed me for a Majority in the Guard Grenadiers, but H.M. had already decided in favor of Major Coucoute.

1810.

In the month of April I received orders to march the Depot to Tiel, having arrived there, I rented the country estate called OpHemert, located nearly an hour away from Tiel, where I spent the Summer in a comfortable manner. In June of that year the French under Marshal Oudinot occupied Holland. The King left Holland and our country was incorporated into France. In October the Regiment was organized along French lines, and the 1st Battalion of the 7th Regiment was incorporated into our Regiment, this reorganization took place in Haarlem, and was presided over by Lieutenant-General Dumonceau. I was appointed Major, Colonel Hardijau remained in command of the same, and the Regiment received the number 124th of the Line.

Shortly after that, more than half of the officers were transferred across the entire French army, and were received cordially wherever they were posted. I received orders to take the Depot to Leiden, but barely three weeks after arriving there, I received another order to march the Depot to Deventer.

November 17th: My eldest son Jacques, after having spent 5 years at the Military School, received his commission as sous-lieutenant with the 60th Regiment of the Line, which served in Spain and of which the Depot was located in Geneva. Within a few days he left for the Depot, still only 17 years of age.

1811.

In August I had to take the Depot to Abbéville, and after having spent some time there I received my promotion to Colonel en Seconde, and was ordered to travel Post to Paris and receive further orders there from the Minister for War. Having arrived there, I was asked for my address and told that I would be summoned when the need arose.

Whilst awaiting my orders, I returned to Abbéville to hand over the command over the Depot and its administration to Major Speelman[5], who was appointed in my place. Having done so, I returned to Versailles where I stayed with Mr. Jonnaville, Captain of the Guard, where I met a lot of my acquaintances in the Guard Grenadiers.

In September, rather unexpectedly, I received orders to travel post with all haste to Toulon, there to organize several companies which were to arrive there to serve on the ships of war. Because I understood that the haste in this order had been overstated, I wrote to my wife that, if she was so inclined, I would like her and our daughter Françoise to accompany me on this trip. Fourteen days later they arrived with my son Pieter in Paris. A short while later we left for Toulon, leaving our son Charles and our daughter at school in Versailles.

Having arrived in Toulon, I inspected the different companies that had arrived and three or four weeks later my commission was at an end. I requested the Minister for War for another posting, but got no answer. I did receive permission to travel to Avignon, which was in the same Military Division, where I met with Prefet Hultman, with whom we had already had contact when we had traveled south. In December we arrived there.

1812.

In March I was appointed a member of the Conscription Committee in the Department of Les Basses Alpes - the Prefet of which was Mr. Duval - in absence of  the General commanding the troops in the Department. I traveled there accordingly, and left my wife and son in Avignon. I traveled around the department on horseback or mule - as no carriages were to be had except for the Diligence from Gap to Digne – for three weeks.

The surroundings and the climate had a terrible effect on our health: sometimes one would, within the space of half an hour, find two feet of snow on the mountain one was traversing, and yet have the dust rise in clouds when one rode quickly across the path leading down to the next valley. These circumstances greatly affected my fellow member of the Committee, a Major of the 4eme Regiment de Ligne, to such an extent that on the last day of our tour he started to suffer from a severe colic, and succumbed to it within 24 hours.

As my son was garrisoned in Briançon, Deprtement des Hautes-Alpes, I notified him that I would remain in Digne until a certain day, and that both my wife, his brother and myself would be happy to see him if he could obtain leave to do so.

In the mean time I received my appointment as Commanding Officer of the 2eme Régiment Étrangers, which was stationed in Naples and the surrounding area. Two days before my departure my son arrived and together we traveled from Vaucluse to Avignon on horseback, and deliberated on what to do with my wife and children.

After my son had returned to his garrison, I decided to travel to Paris and Versailles, as I had left my two other children there, and much of my property, my carriage and my horses – the last two for which I had left orders to sell -, and to ask the Minister for War to change my destination, and if such were not possible, to have my wife and three children return to Holland.

April 1st we arrived in Versailles. The next day I went to Paris and got admitted to the Minister, but my pleas fell on deaf ears, and my destination was unchanged. Whilst there I received my appointment as Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Réunion, as the Order of the Union[6] was revoked.

After long deliberations my wife decided to undertake the journey with the children, while I requested the Minister to transfer my son from the 60th Regiment to my own, which request was immediately granted. At that time he was detached to Briançon, 5 or 6 hours from Sienne near the Mont Cenis, which we would have to pass on our route. I sent him a copy of his transfer and let him know on which day we would be leaving Paris, traded my Post-chaise against a light Calèche, in which we would have to cram five persons. 

April 21st we left Paris, and arrived at the Mont Cenis on May 1st, which we found covered in eight feet of snow, and from which I sent my son an express, who arrived the next afternoon, after which we immediately continued our journey to Turin.

Having my wife and four children with me, my anxieties about their safety and circumstances, which would have been considerable had we been far apart, were now completely relieved. The journey was very agreeable, and we often remembered it with great fondness for many a year.

May 12th we arrived at the Mola di Gaeta in the Kingdom of Naples, where the Staff of the Regiment was quartered, after having spent a day in Florence and a day in Rome. On the borders of French territory, at Terra Sina, I found the 4th Battalion of my Regiment, commanded by the Lieutenant-Colonel Dubouset.

May 15th I took over command of the 2eme Regiment Etrangers of the senior Lieutenant-Colonel, Duvet. The Regiment formed part of a Brigade commanded by General Senegal together with the 14th Light Infantry Regiment, quartered at Gaeta under the overall orders of Lieutenant General Grenier, who commanded all the French troops in the Kingdom of Naples.

When this had been done, the Staff of the Brigade and of the Regiment marched for Saint Marie Capoue, where all, after the departure of the King of Naples Murat, who left for Russia with a large part of his army, and through the good-heartedness of the Queen, who was left as Regent, received full campaign rations, even though the troops did little else than maintaining law and order and a lot of drill.

In the month of July I received orders from the Minister for War to raise without delay, in accordance with a Decree by the Emperor, a compagnie d’artillerie regimentaire (company of regimental artillery, ed.). The necessary materiel, both in horses and harness, was to be acquired within three weeks, and two six-pounder pieces of cannon were to be collected from Rome. These requirements were met in time, a number of men were drilled daily in the handling and serving of the guns, and the 1st Lieutenant Town, a very able and brave officer, was to command it.

On the King’s birthday all Generals and Colonels were invited to dine at the Royal Court together with all the foreign Ambassadors. The Queen was so kind as to talk to me, and asked me in which country I was born. I replied that I was a Dutchman, and had had the Honour to serve under the Queen’s Brother, King Louis Napoleon. The Queen was a very beautiful woman, both charming and amiable.

That night a most beautiful Illumination was displayed, all the Palaces that were located on the high grounds overlooking the Bay lighting up simultaneously, giving one a most magnificent view. After dinner the Queen with the Princesses and Princes took a hidden passage to the Saint Charles Theatre, where the rest of us gathered as well. The hall had been restored to its former glory only six months before, and was now open for the first time. All the boxes at the Theatre were lit with wax candles, and the Royal Family was received enthusiastically. I seated myself with some Generals in one of the Court boxes. This Theatre is one of the most beautiful Comedy Halls in Europe. It had burnt to the ground a few years before, but had been completely restored to its former glory.

The location of the City of Naples is generally quite beautiful, like the rest of the Kingdom, but I didn’t like the Nation as a whole, finding it lazy and evil, where it required no great expense to have someone removed to the next world, and where evildoers, especially murderers, were not very actively pursued, although this pattern was broken during King Murat’s reign, but was resumed after his reign ended.

A few days later I returned to my cantonments at Saint Maria Capoue. At the end of August I took my wife and daughter on a tour of the City of Naples and its environment. We stayed at the Logement London opposite the Saint Charles Theatre, visited the Museum and other sights, then continued to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum. The first day there we spent in reading up on all the antiquities that we would find there, so that we would be able to recognize all the sights we would see at these two places. We spent two marvellous days whilst there.

When taking our leave of Naples, Mrs Dervieux gave us two antique lamps of enamelled brown stone as a parting gift. The lamps had been found at Pompeii, but to our grief they were smashed to pieces on our return trip to Holland.

Whilst stationed at Rome I was placed under the orders of General de Brigade La Salcette, who commanded the Department, and under overall command of General de Division Comte Miolis, Lieutenant of the Emperor, and named by him as Governor of the Roman States, a very brave man who was very good to those who served under him, and with whom I struck up a particular friendship, as well as with the other officers of the Corps. Circumstances for myself and my Regiment were very good at Rome. One of my battalions was stationed in the Department, the rest was distributed along the Mediterranean coast.

1813

In the month of January I was promoted to Colonel en Premier, and as I could not stand the fact that all of my comrades were being employed in the Russian and Italian campaigns, I requested that my Regiment, or at least a part of it, would be allowed to march to Italy to be included in the Corps d’Armee which was forming there to withstand the Austrians, under the orders of Vice-Roy Prince Eugene de Beauharnais, the Emperor’s stepson, who would command all the troops from the Roman States as well.

Meanwhile, my son Jacques was promoted to 1st Lieutenant with the 13th Hussar Regiment, of which the formation of 2 squadrons was entrusted to Governor General Miolis. In May these squadrons left for the Army in Germany, where my son was captured near Berlin by the Russians in October. They sent him to Mittau in Coerland as a prisoner of war.

In June I received orders to reform the Carabinier and Voltigeur companies of my Regiment to an establishment of 150 men each, and to form the companies into a Bataillon d’Elite, which was to form part of the Army of Italy under the orders of Prince Eugene. As I had previously sent in numerous requests to this effect, these orders gave me great satisfaction, although General Comte Miolis was quite loath to let me leave Rome, as he would miss me sorely. When the Battalion was formed, Lieutenant Colonel Duvet was entrusted with its command. A few days afterwards it left for Verona to join the Army there. This was one of the most beautiful and complete battalions I ever beheld. It was 1200 men strong, newly clothed and equipped, and extremely well-officered.

August 14th I received orders from the Governor General to march the two Regimental field pieces to the Army of Italy, and there take command of the three Bataillons d’Elite composed of the Caribinier and Voltigeur companies of the 1st and 2nd Regiments Etrangers.

August 15th a Te Deum was played in Saint Peter’s Church in honour of the Emperor Napoleon’s birthday. On this occasion I was given command by the Governor of all the troops that were to attend. Thus, I commanded, although I was a Protestant, nearly 200 men who were in the Church, where the Altar was guarded by six armed Sappeurs, the most beautiful and complete men of the Regiment. All Civil and Military dignitaries had assembled in grande tenue, and even 2 fauteuils for the Emperor and the Empress were placed in the front row, with an Imperial footman behind each of the two, just as if the Emperor and the Empress were present.

August 16th: In the morning I took my leave from the Governor General, who was quite unhappy to see me go, as His Excellency had always been quite satisfied with the services rendered by me and my officers. I had received several tokens of his satisfaction, for example, my son J.G. Meijer had been promoted to 1st Lieutenant with the 13th Hussars instead of 2nd Lieutenant, as I had requested, and my wife and daughter – who was then just 16 ½ years of age – had frequently been invited and entertained. And so I left a garrison that had been quite to my liking.

I left the same day with my two 6-pounder field pieces and their equipment, teams and men, and a detachment of Carabiniers and Voltigeurs as reinforcements for the field army as per orders from HRH Vice-Roi of Italy. My family, consisting of myself, my wife, my daughter Françoise and my sons Charles and Pieter travelled by Florence to Bologna.

August 31st: In the morning I left Bologna with my Adjudant Major for the Army of Italy. My wife would travel from Bologna by Paris back to Haarlem in the Netherlands, taking the children with her, but sending Charles from Paris to Metz, to attend the Lycee there under the supervision of Major Schenck, who was stationed at Metz with the Depot of the Regiment.

September 4th: This being my birthday I arrived, after having passed Padua, at Verona, hoping to spend the rest day that had been appointed at Venice. Unfortunately, I received orders to resume my route with all possible haste, and to report myself in Verona, where the Vice-Roi’s Headquarters were located.

September 5th my artillery company arrived at Verona, the material of which was repaired and partly replaced on the orders of Lieutenant-General Grenier. At the same time the Army’s Orders mentioned that I was to take command of the three Bataillons d’Elite, and was to place myself under the orders of the Italian General de Division Bonfanti.

Ditto 6th: No General de Brigade having been appointed, my command was confirmed, and I marched that day with the 3eme Bataillon d’Elite and the 2eme Bataillon of the French 1st Regiment of Line Infantry to Trente and Tyrol, leaving my artillery company behind.

September 7th: to Rivoli

Ditto 8th: to Ala

Ditto 9th: to Trente. From there, the 4th Voltigeur company of the 1st Regiment (he means 1eme Regiment Etrangers, ed.) under the orders of Captain St Colombe was sent to Mülbach on wagons, an hour north of Brixen in Bavaria.

Ditto 10th: I marched the remaining 3 Voltigeur companies of the Regiment, and the 2nd Battalion 1st Regiment of Line Infantry to Lavis, from there the 3rd Voltigeur company under the orders of Captain d’Estang was detached to Campitello, to the right of Bolzano in the mountains. The same day, I and the remaining 2 companies of Voltigeurs and the 1st Line Regiment, which all consisted mostly of youngsters, marched on to reconnoitre the area around Cavalese, and camped at Egna or Neumarkt. On

September 11th we marched to Cavalese, and arrived there after a difficult and mountainous route at 9.30 in the morning. After having provided my troops with refreshments and fresh straw to rest on at the marketplace, I returned to Neumarkt, where I only arrived at 8.00 in the evening. The direct road to Cavalese that passed through the mountains at Lavis was hardly practicable.

September 12th: At 5.30 in the morning I marched back to Lavis, but on the way received orders to return back to Neumarkt, orders which comprised the 2eme Bataillon of the 1st Regiment as well. In the meanwhile, the Bataillon d’Elite of the 2nd Regiment Etr. with 2 6-pounder pieces of cannon had received orders to march on Cavalese and then on Podossa, and turn right into the mountains at Lavis. The battalion carried out this order, but it was impossible for artillery to pass over that road, and so it arrived at Neumarkt to reach Cavalese by a detour. The road they were to take was good for about 1.5 hours, but afterwards was strewn with boulders, making it impassable, and so I ordered the artillery officers to scout the road ahead before they set out. But before we could march off, I received orders to take the Voltigeurs, the 2nd battalion of the 1st Regiment and the two pieces of artillery to Bolzano, which was under threat of attack. At 4 o’clock during the night I received counter orders which sent me with all my troops back to Trente. The Carabinier battalion at Lavis was ordered to follow me.

The night before I had had to detach the 2nd Voltigeur company on wagons to Bolzano to take post at Völs. I immediately sent couriers to Cavalese and Campitello, ordering the troops there to withdraw. Instead of following me over Neumark, Lieutenant Colonel Duret thought it more prudent to withdraw across the mountains in order to minimise the danger of a night attack by the enemy. This, however, did not match with my intentions, as we would have been able to await the enemy in force had he taken the same route as we did. I therefore awaited him in vain and was forced to retire further south again. These continuous marches and the ensuing confusion caused the battalion to loose 60 men to desertion that night. The men had remained in the road, done up with fatigue and privations. They were almost all of them Germans from Bohemia. This started a widespread desertion within the Regiment, and in the end only the Spaniards and the Germans who had served a long time with the Regiment remained.

September 13th: In the morning I resumed my march and met the Carabinier Battalion at Salorno, which I ordered to accompany me to Trente. I received tidings from the Sous-Prefet at Bolzano that the 4th Voltigeur company at Mühlbach had been attacked on the 11th by an enemy force of 200 men, but that they had at first repulsed the attack. On the 12th they had been surrounded by an enemy force of 600 men, and had been vigorously attacked. They had resisted the attacks bravely, but through sheer numbers had been forced to surrender themselves, and they were reported to have sustained numerous casualties in both dead and wounded.

In the evening I received orders to march the troops to Salma Nuova. (?)  

September 14th: Very early in the morning I received orders to post the Bataillon d’Elite of the 2nd Regiment at Lavis and to march the troops from Bolzano to Borgo di Pasilano (Borgo Valsugana?) after evacuation of the reserve ammunition, archives, cash registers and hospitals.

September 15th: By the morning I still had not received any tidings of the Bataillon d’Elite of the 2nd Regiment, nor of the 3rd Voltigeur company which had been detached to Campitello, so I decided to march my column, with 6 pieces of artillery, a battalion of the 16th and one of the 62nd Regiment of the Line, to Pomerano. There, I received the tiding that the Bataillon d’Elite of the 2nd Regiment had reached Borgo in the evening, as well as a message of the General de Division that the troops would have two days of rest at Bassano (Bassano del Grappa), and there would receive their next orders to either retrace their steps to Bolzano or Bozen, or to follow the Army to Palmanuova (?), these dispositions seemed to depend on whether or not the enemy tried to penetrate Tyrol, if this were so, the Division would have to defend the Tyrolean passage.

The Bataillon d’Elite of the 2nd Regiment and the Bataillon of the 1st Regiment Etrangers were ordered to remain half a day’s march behind the rest of the troops, as the troops were very much fatigued.

September 16th: I arrived at Bassano with my column, which I had commanded since setting out from Verona. There, I handed over command to General de Brigade Mackellie (he means Mazzuchelli, ed.), who had arrived with the Division, and according to his rank had to be employed. The troops received a double ration of brandy, and they were advised that if they had no money to buy food, they could receive tickets to claim rations of meat from the municipality.

September 17th: Day of rest at Bassano, I received orders to march the Division back to the Tyrol, and to take position on the Italian border.

18th ditto: We marched to Cisme (Cismon del Grappa) and surroundings.

19th ditto: to Borgo (Borgo Vaslugana) and surroundings.

20th ditto: through Trente to Lavis. The Battalions of Voltigeurs of the 1st and 2nd Regiments, which were a day’s march ahead, marched in front, the first to Neumarkt, the second to Salorno, where the General de Brigade established his headquarters.

The General de Division had established his headquarters at Trente, and had there the 25th Demi-Brigade, consisting of the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Regiment, a Battalion of the 16th and a Battalion of the 62nd Regiment of the Line. Around 3 o’ clock at night I received word from General Bonfanti that all the troops were to maintain their current positions, and that I was to deploy in a good position in front of Lavis, where I was to place my troops and guns in the most advantageous defensive position, as tidings had been received of an enemy column moving from Podezza (Predazzo?) to Cavalese.

21st: Day of rest.

22nd: I received orders to march the Carabinier Battalion of the 2nd Regiment to Bronzolo. I was to take the Voltigeurs of the 1st Regiment Etrangers as well, who were already on the march.

Whilst halting for a short pause at Salorno, I met General Gifflenga, who was passing through that place. He was 1st Aide de Camp to the Vice Roi of Italy, former commander of the 32nd Regiment of the Line, a Piemontese young man of much experience, who had received command of our Division. He ordered me to march at 3 o’ clock the next morning to Bolzano, where our entire Division was to assemble.

23rd: at 6.30 in the morning I arrived at Bolzano with the Carabinier Battalion and found there the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Regiment and the Voltigeur Company of the 1st Regiment, two companies of which were detached to Cavalese, and ordered to follow the next day. From this day on we received vivres de campagne (campaign rations).

That afternoon, at 1 o’ clock the 25th demi-brigade arrived here under the orders of Major en Seconde Fournier, as well as the artillery.

September 24th: I marched the Battalion d’Elite to Clauren (Klausen/Chiusa), which the enemy had evacuated the day before, and received information that a detachment of Austrians was stationed at Brixen, but that their strength was unknown.

September 25th: at 5.30 in the morning 2 companies of carabiniers were detached on the road to Brixen, an hour distance from Klausen, until the Battalions would arrive. I arrived at 3.30 in the afternoon at the position with my two Bataillons d’Elites, along with the Generals Gifflenga and Mazzuchelli.

26th ditto: Day of rest at Brixen.

27th and 28th ditto: These days I inspected my three Battalions d’Elites, which I formed into two because of the loss of the 2 voltigeur Companies of the 1st Regiment at Mühlbach. Up until this day I still had had few deserters to deal with. I placed the battalions opposite each other, and had them execute the manual exercises in the presence of the General of the Division, who told me he had never seen the exercises better performed, nor a finer body of picked men. It was unfortunate that they could not be trusted, although when under fire they did their duty as soldiers, and they were in no way afraid of the enemy..

29th ditto: The Bataillon d’Elites of the 1st Regiment marched to Prummeke (Bruneck/Brunico), the troops were being fed through requisitioning. Today my two pieces of 6 pounder regimental artillery arrived.

September 30th: Day of rest. Here at Briesen (Brixen) arrived a prisoner, a Jaeger of the 7th Austrian Battalion, and four wounded men of the 1st Regiment Etrangers.

October 1st: Day of rest. We received the tiding that eleven men of the 1st Regiment Etrangers had deserted.

2nd ditto: The illness spread rapidly, the General received word that 200 men of the 1st Regiment had deserted, which depressed myself and my Officers, as we could no longer trust our troops from that moment on. This was the more to be lamented, as I had an excellent corps of Officers, whose bravery and honour were never to be doubted, and who were constantly looking for an opportunity to distinguish themselves.

October 3rd: General de Brigade Mazzuchelli marched on Bruneck & Toblach with the three French Bataillons and the four remaining companies of the Regiment Etrangers.

In the afternoon that post was attacked by almost 3,000 troops, and the three Bataillons were forced back, which came as no surprise, as the battalions consisted mostly of young recruits with very little experience or knowledge of war, although they were brave.

Following this, Lieutenant-Colonel Thilozien of the 1st Regiment Etrangers received orders to attack the village, where a Bataillon of Croats had taken post. In a very short time the enemy was pushed out of the village, and 2 Officers and 25 men were taken prisoner.

The 1st Regiment of the Line had 3 Officers severely wounded, the 1st Regiment Etrangers had Captain d’Asbeek and two Officers slightly wounded, five men killed, thirty wounded and a few men taken prisoner. My Bataillon d’Elites and the Voltigeur company of the 62nd Regiment were kept in Reserve throughout the day, and received no orders to advance.

October 4th: in the morning at 4 o’clock I left with my Bataillon d’Elites and two 6-pounder pieces of canon for Unterwinkel, where I was to await further orders. I set up a bivouac and took all prescribed measures necessary when in the presence of the enemy, but shortly afterwards received orders to break up camp again. Lieutenant-Colonel Duret was sent to Brixen with a mobile column consisting of a part of my 2nd Battalion.

October 5th: I was sent to Mühlbach, to an old, abandoned and burnt down Abbey, where two Companies of Voltigeurs of my Brigade had already been engaged and had succumbed, to take up a position there and to defend it when attacked. One of my Carabinier Companies was ordered, by a higher authority, to take up positions on the heights on my right, across the river, for which duty I chose Captain Rookmaker. I tried to make him wade through the river with his company, but this was quite impractical, although he tried to do so in person, and so they had to pass over a bridge, which had already been demolished as it lay three quarters of an hour’s distance towards the enemy. I went to the location in person with my Adjudant Major, had the Maire brought to me, and ordered him to repair the bridge immediately in such a fashion that the carabinier Company, which consisted of a 100 men, could pass over it, and that it meant a great deal to me. I received various remonstrations from him, but as I expected the enemy to arrive before nightfall, as they were close to our position, I told the Mayor that if I was not able to cross the river in half an hour, I would burn down his town. After this threat they took every available measure to speedily repair the bridge, and within fifteen minutes the troops could pass over it, albeit with difficulty. When they had crossed, my Adjutant-Major and I crossed back to the other side of the river. On the way back we encountered a group of stragglers, which – as it was dark, and not much could be seen - mistook us for enemy cavalry. They scattered like a flock of pigeons.

Captain Kienlin of my Regiment was ordered to hold the heights on our left with his voltigeur Company, which consisted of high and steep rocks. As such, I was unable to keep open any other line of communication except through Mühlbach, which was situated half an hour to our rear. I kept the two six-pounders of my Regiment in my immediate disposition a little to the rear, and bivouacked with around 200 men at the walls of the convent. Captain Town who commanded a Company of voltigeurs was at the outposts.

October 6th: Some shots were fired at the outposts, but they were of little consequence and I maintained my bivouac in the same position for that night.

October 7th: Captain Rookmaker, who had received a small reinforcement of 30 French troops, and who occupied the heights across the river on my right, was vigorously attacked. Undoubtedly this attack was brought about by the fact that he had lost 18 men of his company to desertion that night. Other companies had also had a number of deserters, so that we could hardly trust our own men anymore. Desertion had also spread to the 1st Regiment Etrangers, so that the number of deserters came to a total of 400 men.

I had not received any word from Captain Kienlin for some time, who occupied the height on my left. As I saw our right wing under the orders of Captain Rookmaker retire, I was forced to take up a position to the rear as well, in order not to be cut off completely by the enemy. The commanding General had left orders that I was to retire behind  Mühlbach if attacked by overwhelming numbers. However, the General seemed to be dissatisfied with my conduct. In light of our many deserters, his dissatisfaction was all the more to be understood. When I became aware of his displeasure, I immediately went forward and retook my old position, but shortly afterwards we were attacked for the 3rd time, and the enemy in overwhelming numbers. I tried my utmost to establish communications with Captain Kienlin, but in vain, all communication had been cut off completely. I had decided, however, that I would no leave my post unless ordered to do so, or absolutely forced from it.

Around 12 o’ clock in the afternoon Captain Rookmaker was again attacked most vigorously, and forced to give some ground. He regained the ground, however, after being sent a reinforcement of 80 men. Shortly afterwards, I was myself heavily attacked, but I maintained my position for some time, until I received word of a single voltigeur of the Company of Captain Kienlin, on whom I still placed some hope of reinforcing me (as I had still not heard a single shot from that side), that his Company had almost entirely been taken prisoner around 9 o’ clock that same morning. Captain Kienlin himself, one other Officer and some men had retired towards Bavaria. Through this occurrence I was attacked from the heights on my left flank, and completely surrounded. The enemy was already attacking the rear walls of the convent when I was in the courtyard (translator’s note: the original word here was ‘zeem’, but I have been unable to find a contemporary translation for the word, and therefore the term used here, courtyard, is only an educated guess). I immediately sent Captain Mollenbeek with some troops to the heights left of the convent to cover this passage, but shortly afterwards he returned, saying that it was already occupied by the enemy. I now perceived that the enemy made preparations to completely surround me, but I decided to wait for the worst. When the enemy had completely surrounded me, and had advanced to a distance of 30 paces, I had sustained so many casualties in dead and wounded that I was left with no choice but to fight my way out on horseback and save myself. Although the bullets were whistling around me, I was lucky enough to break through, and I immediately ordered up my two pieces of cannon, which I had left behind earlier because there was no advantageous position to place them in, and now positioned them 200 yards to the rear. But it was too late, the enemy troops were intermixed with my own, and I dared not fire on them, so I gave the order for them to retire along the great road. I gave my horse to my ADC – Brigadier Gressel, a fine soldier – and went on foot to the heights where Captain Mollebeek was, in order to oversee the retreat. In this way I was forced to abandon my post, which I had occupied with three companies, and of which two companies had now been taken prisoner, along with Captains Le Clerq and Town and Lieutenants Miglirati and George. Captain Kienlin had been joined in his retreat by Lieutenants Lohogue and Roger.

I now slowly retired along the heights towards Mühlbach, taking up a defensive position whenever a good position offered itself, from which I was always driven back. My main goal now was to stay in alignment with Captain Rookmaker, as the bridge in Mühlbach was the only line of communication left to us, and if I should retire beyond it, he would be completely cut off, and so I maintained my positions as well and as long as I could.

Shortly afterwards I received orders to retire to a plateau that was situated left of Mühlbach. I had many difficulties arriving there, being shot at with Howitzers and being chased from the heights on our left. Seeing two Companies of voltigeurs of the 1st Regiment Etrangers in our rear retire precipitously, and fearing that the enemy would arrive at Mühlbach before us, effectively cutting us off completely, our commanding General had a duty drummer beat a general retreat (lit: appèl), to which I paid no attention, however, as I did not want to retreat now before I was sent a direct order to do so. The order arrived shortly afterwards. I now saw that our troops on the opposite riverbank were retiring and passing across the bridge in all haste, I had to react accordingly, and sustain myself in my present position until I could be sure that Captain Rookmaker and his men were in safety. An officer and some Voltigeurs were were cut off on that occasion, and made prisoners of war. I then retired in as good order as I could achieve to Mühlbach, having left behind several dead and wounded. We had been attacked that day by 5,000 to 6,000 men, and the armed peasants of the area harassed all the way during our retreat to Brixen.

The General de division Gifflenga was satisfied with my behaviour during the retreat, and expressed his satisfaction along with his congratulations on my fortunate escape.

Under these circumstances I had lost my beautiful Elite Battalion, which such a short while ago had numbered 800 men, but could now muster no more than 280. My Adjutant Major Raamakers was among the prisoners of war. We continued our retreat until we were 3,5 hours behind Brixen. There, we rested for a few hours, and at 2 o’clock in the morning we marched on.

October 8th: we continued our route until Bozen, where we arrived at 11 o’clock in the morning.

October 9th: From there to the Camp in front of the city.

Id 10th: marched to Saluvu (Salorno?).

Id 11th: to Gouereda (Gardolo di Mezzo?), half an hour from Trente.

Id 12th: to Trente, where I arrived at 4 o’clock in the afternoon with my two Battalions. The Castle had been furnished with some cannon, and had been put, as much as possible, into a state of defence. The artillery Company which belonged to my Regiment was sent on to Verona.

Id 13th: remained at Trente. Until now we had received no intelligence whether or not the enemy had followed us. The two Bataillons d’Elite, which had been reduced to 600 men between them, occupied most of the heights on the right of the City in order to cover it against any attack from that direction.

October 14th: At 4 o’clock in the morning the entire Division was put in motion, leaving around 200 Italian troops in the Castle of Trente, which was furnished with 2 cannon and provisions for eight days. The Division took post at Volano, while Headquarters were located at Rovereto.

Id 15th and 16th: at Volano.

Id 17th: The Enemy sent out reconnaissance parties to Calliano on both sides of the river. Tidings were received that a reinforcement of 2000 men was to arrive at Rovereto, as well as the General de Division Pino, to organize it, at Ala.

October 18th and 19th: Still at Volano.

Id 20th: Today orders were received that the Division was to be reinforced with another Division, which had been organized at Verona, and that the General de Brigade Renand had arrived there.

October 25th: In the morning the four companies of the 1st Regiment Etrangers were sent to Sacco (Unknown, possibly Sacco, Bergamo?), where three Carabinier Companies of the same Regiment were stationed.

Id 26th: At 3 o’clock in the morning I marched, in accordance with my orders, with the 2nd Bataillon d’Elites under my orders to the outposts at St Pietro. During the night some gunshots had been exchanged, without any effect. Having stayed at the outposts for some time, I then retired to Volano on the condition that I was to return thither at the first gunshot. For the last eight days we had had terrible weather, mostly heavy wind and rain, which made bivouacking very uncomfortable for us, the more so because we were in the presence of the enemy, and always had to be on our guard.

At 2 o’clock in the afternoon St Pietro was heavily attacked by two pieces of cannon and seven Battalions of Infantry and Jaegers. The fight lasted well into the night, but we maintained our positions. We lost almost 100 men both dead, wounded and taken prisoner, but the enemy also suffered heavily, particularly from the fire of our Battery, which consisted of 3 pieces of Cannon and a Howitzer and was served by the Italian Horse Artillery. The only troops of my Battalion which were employed during this affair were the 1st Company of voltigeurs, which suffered a loss of one man dead and six wounded.

Among the enemy prisoners of war there was a Cornet of the 3rd voltigeur Company of my Regiment, who had deserted us a few days earlier, in Austrian uniform, but still with his musical instrument belonging to my Regiment. On higher authority, he was immediately and summarily executed, without any form of trial.

October 27th: At 3 o’clock at night our entire force retired to Ala and its environment, because our right wing was pushed back at Solehevo (?).

October 28th: At 10 o’clock in the morning I received orders to head to the road to St Mario and to place myself under the orders of Colonel …. in Italian service, together with a Battalion of Dalmatians, a Battalion of Italians and the two Elite Battalions. When I received this order, I immediately went to the commanding General to complain, as I could not be placed under a Colonel in foreign service. The commanding General (Gifflenga, BdG) acknowledged my complaint as legitimate, and told me he would change the awkward situation as soon as he was able, but asked me to leave the matter for now, as this would delay our imminent attack. To this I responded that as long I was pointed in the direction of the enemy, I would never complain about the matter until the affair was decided. When I arrived back at the outposts on the heights, I received the order to follow the other two battalions as soon as the Bataillon d’Elites of the 1st Regiment, which had been posted near the summit of the mountains the previous day, would have fallen in. Having arrived at the height of St Mario, I noticed some soldiers on the left along the river, who running away unarmed, and looked like deserters to me. I immediately sent a half company to pursue them, and several moments later eight deserters of the Italian battalion were returned and brought before me. Almost simultaneously, I received word that three whole companies of that battalion had thrown down their weapons, and were about to desert en masse to the enemy. I sent the other half company towards the great road instantly, to retrieve the deserters, but not a shot had yet been fired when a party of Italian Napoleon Dragoons of around 30 to 40 men suddenly stormed through my troops, in full retreat, and crying ‘Forward’ most loudly, causing a great confusion among our troops. As the road was narrow, I had to order my troops to move to the sides of the road as well as they could to keep them together in order not to be trampled, although two of my Carabiniers had already fallen into the river because of this confusion. I made my dissatisfaction very clear to the Officer Commanding that Detachment (of which several had returned with numerous sabre-cuts) and threatened him that if such behaviour were repeated, I would have my men charge their bayonets against him, and that his behaviour was a disgrace. He had lost his Casque and had contributed greatly to the confusion. I received word that my Commander, the Italian Colonel, had been made prisoner while he was still sitting in his carriage.

I now made up my mind to make my stand on the right of the road, between large boulders and small Rocks, where I was safe from cavalry, so I formed line of battle, my left flank closed up to the great road, my right to a very high mountain, which I trusted our troops would hold, although a little to the rear.

In front on my right I noticed that the Battalion of Dalmatians, which was about 80 men strong, had become engaged with the enemy. I was now master of the village and the entire right flank, and I divided my troops into a number of detachments. Shortly afterwards, I was so vigorously attacked that I was forced to abandon the village and retire almost 150 paces. The Battalion of Dalmatians was also forced from its position and was starting to run low on ammunition, and to save it from falling into the hands of the enemy I had to send two of my Companies to their aid, in which aim those companies were completely successful. As I was now the senior Officer and commander of all the troops that were present, I had to do not only my duty, but more than that, the more so because both my Divisional and Brigade Generals were looking down on my manoeuvres and were witness to all. I distributed a little ammunition among the Dalmatian Battalion and placed it on my left flank, on the great road. I placed the rest of my troops en Echellon to the right. After we had skirmished with the enemy for nearly 1 ½  hours, the enemy approached and debouched from the village in column formation. A heavy attack also started on my left flank, this attack seemed to be supporting the attack on my right flank. I had to detach a company to the right to amuse themselves with the enemy, as they  were trying to gain the heights on our right. My intention was to outflank the enemy in the village as best and as far as I could, and to attack them from the side. I waited for a short while, then made my entire right wing, save for one company, change their front to the left, and took a large part of the village from the enemy, especially the heights and high walls, which were situated on the right side of the village. In less than ten minutes I took more than 100 prisoners, among them 6 Officers. The enemy was put in such confusion - because I had also sent Captain Rookmaker to charge the village in front, who was wounded during the charge – that they left most parts of the village in full retreat and lost more than 350 men during the retreat, the streets were covered with dead bodies. On our side we lost 3 Officers and 60 men wounded, and 30 dead. Never have I seen a unit fight better, all the men were eager to a fault, and I had some trouble in restraining them, lest they should have exposed themselves too much during the pursuit.

I found myself obliged to make special mention of the efforts of Captains Bonnotte (Adjutant Major) and Rookmaker, Sergeant Böhm and Carabinier Bisca, and of the prompt execution of all my orders by Lt.-Col. Thilovier of the 1st Regiment Etran: during the affair. I likewise had to thank all of my Officers for their gallant conduct.[7]

I now twice received an order to retire, but as I questioned the validity of the orders, and was not under any enemy pressure to do so, I hesitated. I then received a formal order, conveyed by an Officer, to retire, after which I assembled my troops in a Column and retired in a column de bataille (fighting column formation, as opposed to a marching column formation, ed.) whilst 2 Compagnies of voltigeurs under Lt.-Col. Duret covered my retreat, until I had reached the troops in reserve, a quarter of an hour’s march away from us. There, I found the General de Division Gifflenga, who threw his arms around me in front of the troops and embraced me, all the while thanking me for my actions, and assuring me that he would report my conduct to the Viceroi of Italy, which was soon afterwards confirmed in the Orders of the Day. General de Brigade Mazzuchelli also made me a compliment by saying that they had watched the whole affair from the heights behind us, and had seen all the movements, in which I had been so successful.

October 29th: at 9 o’ clock in the morning I marched from the bivouac with the two Bataillons d’Elites to Caprino, where I also received command of the Italian Regiment Provisoire, which had been formed only shortly before.

Id. 30th and 31st: at Caprino.

November 1st : Instead of the 1st Italian Regiment Provisoire, I received command of the two Centre Battalions of the 1st Regiment Etrangers, which had only arrived with the Army a few days ago, and made my way to Pessena, leaving these two battalions at Boij.

At Passina I relieved the 2nd Bataillon of the 1st French Regiment of the Line under the orders of Lt.-Col. L’Escaille and the Battalion of Dalmatians under the orders of Colonel Lange.

At the same time I was tasked with the defense of the left wing, which stretched from the River Adige to the Lake ?.

2nd to 6th November: I maintained my headquarters at Pasina and sent out daily patrols as far as two hours’ distance, but without making any contact with the enemy.

7th ditto: I received orders to pass over command of my unit to Lt.-Col. Duret and to report to the Headquarters of Prince Eugene at Verona, where I would receive a further destination. Having arrived there, His Royal Highness expressed his regret that I was to leave the Army, as I was to return to my Regiment in Rome in order to reorganize it there.

When I had left Rome previously, I had asked H.E. the Minister for War to order my Major, mister Schenk, a Dutchman, to take command of the Regiment in Rome, as I thought Lt.-Col. Guins unfit to command it.

I commenced my journey with my Adjutant and my Surgeon-Major. Passing through Bologna, I got word that Major Schenk had passed through there just the day before, whilst travelling to Rome.

The next day I travelled post to Florence and then Rome, where I resumed command of the Regiment, which still consisted of nearly 1,600 men.

During the last days of November I was ordered, as the Provincial General, Lasaliette, was indisposed, to travel to Viterbe in person, in order to receive the Neapolitan Army at the border, and to make sure they were provided with proper billets, stabling and transport. Just after my arrival those troops started crossing our borders. They were destined to reinforce the Army of Italy, but just after they had crossed our borders, the King of Naples declared himself an enemy of France. A decision, the consequences of which we were to be first-hand witnesses. After I had fulfilled my mission, I returned to Rome, from whence my Major returned to Metz.

Editor's Note: The memoirs then continue on into 1814, when he was besieged in the Fortress Angelo in Rome by Murat’s Neapolitans. Back in Holland in 1814, he was retained as Colonel on the Staff of General Tindal, and in the beginning of 1815 was promoted Major-General. During the Waterloo campaign he served as military governor of Breda, and after Waterloo he briefly commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Netherlands Reserve Army, although he did not leave Breda, as his Brigade in the Reserve Army never took the field. He continued to serve in active capacity, was promoted to Lieutenant-General in 1826, and took part in the 1830 and 1831 campaigns against Belgium. In 1838 Meijer was retired. In January 1842 he was knighted by William II. He died in 1845.  

During his life he was made a Knight in the Order of the Union (later Ordre de la Reunion under French rule), a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur, an Officer in the Military Order of William (3rd Class) and a Knight and later Commander of the Order of the Netherlands Lion.

Notes:

[1]Meijer is mistaken, he means August 2nd

[2]Krayenhoff

[3]the future battalion commander of the Dutch 5th Militia of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo fame

[4]flat-bottomed horse-drawn boats

[5]Speelman went on to command the 2nd Line Battalion in Chassé’s 3rd Division at Waterloo

[6]The knighthood bestowed on officers of the Kingdom of Holland by King Louis Napoleon

[7] For this action both Meijer and Rookmaker received a Legion d’Honneur. Rookmaker and Meijer stayed close, and during the Belgian War of Independence 1830-1831 Rookmaker commanded a Volunteer Jager unit in the Division that Meijer commanded, for which actions Rookmaker also received the Military Order of William.

Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2009; updated December 2010, January 2011, and May 2012

 

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