The death of Paul Ist had returned to the cabinet of Saint James all the influence it once exercised over those of Europe, and particularly that of St. Petersburg. English politics, so well served by the event which had bloodied the palace of the czars, lured the young Alexander into a system of hostility against Napoleon and his new empire. However, the latter, foreseeing an imminent break with Russia, wanted to inspect the army that had begun to gather on the shores of the Channel, and detail his soldiers for a new continental campaign, all while appearing to threaten his adversaries overseas.
On these sorts of occasions, he arrived in Boulogne when we least expected it, browsed the various camps, and was already back in his office at the Tuileries, while those in Boulogne still believed he was in their midst. He usually left Paris at one or two o'clock in the morning, lunched in Beauvais, dined in Abbeville, and arrived that evening or the next day, before dawn, in Boulogne. Napoleon usually made the journey in twenty-four or twenty-five hours, including rest time. Those who were escorting him were especially harassed, barely coming down from the carriage, riding horses and remaining until the night sometimes. He did not return to headquarters until he had visited every workshop, he had talked to all heads of the many services that he had organized at the same time.
One time he left Saint-Cloud on 18 July 1804, two days after the ceremony which was held at the Invalides where he had given the new flags to the army. The troops in Boulogne were still involved in preparations for the reception they wanted to provide him (because the Emperor had announced he would distribute in person the Cross of the Legion of Honor to the Army of Boulogne ), when they suddenly saw him, mounted on a small boat in the middle of the harbor. He examined the work, encouraged the workers, and urged the engineers that he talked to in a good humored tone:
His incredible activity seemed to have multiplied: we saw him everywhere. Almost all the troops who were in France had been assembled in divisions and concentrated on the coasts, from the mouth of the Scheldt to that of the Seine. The Army of Boulogne consisted of about 150,000 infantrymen and 80,000 cavalry. These soldiers had been divided into four main camps: the right camp, the left camp, the camp Vimereux and the camp Ambleteuse. The gathered troops had been busied and disciplined like the Romans; each hour had its task: the soldier left the fusil only to take up the pickaxe. Bridges and roads were an enormous part of the work. The port was widened, a pier built and vast basins opened for the construction of the fleet.
In one of these basins, Napoleon visited the day after his arrival, a young soldier of the Guard, stuck in the mud up to the knees, pulled with all his strength, a wheelbarrow mired even more than he was, without releasing it. He swore like real mired cart man, when he spotted at some distance behind him, the Emperor accompanied by Berthier. Immediately he began to sing in a sentimental tone of the rondo of a comic opera very fashionable then in Paris, which ended as follows:
Napoleon could not help but smile, he signaled the soldier to come to him. This one rushed up conscientiously passing his fingers through his hair to give himself a presentable air.
And Napoleon quietly continued his walk through the noise of cheers that grew from the approaching workers in his path.
It was during this visit of the Emperor to Boulogne that all the facilities of a large sea port were quickly finished, as if by magic. He formed the magazines, amassed ammunition. No human mind had ever conceived a project so vast and through all simultaneously worked different aspects with such activity, effectiveness and accuracy. The boats were built at the same time as the artillery was cast, that the ropes were woven, that the sails were sewn. Napoleon had rented the previous year, half a league from the sea, a small chateau called the Bridge of Bricks, which was on the road to Paris. He had many repairs done to this home. In the excavations that were executed around it, were found some medals of William the Conqueror and a little further towards the shore were discovered, the remains of an ancient camp of Caesar and a Roman axe. Napoleon, always superstitious, drew a good omen from this discovery, and ordered that a barracks be raised on this place that he should live in, designating the chateau be established as the headquarters.
This barracks built by Mr. Sordi, Chief Engineer, was of planks like the barracks of a fairground, with this difference, however, that the boards were carefully attached to the outside, and artistically painted inside. It had the added advantage of being able to be dismantled and put back together in an hour, so that Napoleon could have it loaded on a cart to be carried elsewhere at will. As to its form, it resembled a long square. A wooden lattice prevailed all around. It was lit during the day by eight side windows and by night by reflecting lamps placed ten feet away from each other. The main room was in the middle; it served as council room and faced the sea. It held a large oval table, covered with a cloth of solid green, with a small arm chair for the Emperor. On this table were a half-dozen gilded copper torches filled with candles, paper of every size, an ink stand and a powder pot of bronze, with a few feather pens carved and thrown here and there. A huge map of the Channel coast was suspended in front of the window. That was the furniture of the main room where Napoleon could only sit. His marshals, his admirals, his generals were standing in front of him, when they were called to advise, which sometimes lasted two or three hours, and without any support to rest upon but the handles of their swords. To the right of this room was the bedroom of the Emperor, closed off only by a small glass door. There was a small three foot wide iron bed, surrounded by a green Florence curtain, suspended to the ceiling by a large ring. On the bed, two mattresses and a horsehair box spring, with a very high and very hard bolster. There was no pillow; Napoleon never used one even on St. Helena, until one was ordered by his doctor Antomarchi , only a few days before his death. Two blankets with a quilted and padded coverlet garnished the bed, before which two cane chairs were placed, one at the foot, the other at the head. At the threshold and the glass door small curtains were fitted similar to that of the bed. In front of the threshold was a telescope five feet long and fourteen inches in diameter, mounted on a footing of mahogany. Beside the bed, on the right, a small table covered with a white towel, upon which a bowl and a pot in gilt sat, and some toilet utensils worked with an exquisite richness. On a stool, to left of the bed, a small case in the form of a trunk, which was the linen closet of the Emperor, complete with clothing; above and attached to a hook, a single spare hat, bent and worn, that Napoleon preferred to wear when he was running around in camps or on the road. He often lost a hat, or it would be swept away by the wind or fall into the sea, but each time it was returned untouched, as an object that no one had dared take, in fear of committing a sacrilege.
On the other side of the boardroom, and parallel to the bedroom was the living room, which served as a dining room with an office occupying the width of the room furnished with the same simplicity. Outside and behind the barracks, two huts were built, one used as the kitchen, the other housing the service people. When the Emperor had the everyone to dinner, which happened almost every day, Réchaud (stove) or Fourneau (furnace) (as were the true names, albeit very strange, of his first two stewards), did the same as everyone and did not distain to grab the pots in which case, supported by two aides, were worked outdoors, unless the temperature or the violence of the wind opposed it. One day, in fact, a gust of wind came from the sea and took all the cookware, including a young scullion called Bordier, who it was impossible to find, although the Emperor had been looking everywhere. It was not until 1814 that we discovered what had become of him in that unhappy squall: he became ... chef of cuisine to Lord Wellington, in England!
As for the wine cellar, it was in the Bridge of Bricks, and under the surveillance of Mr. Phfister, Chief Controller, the same who later in a fit of hot fever, was hanged in the grand staircase of the black corridor, of the Tuileries.
The barrack of Admiral Bruix was about a hundred steps from that of Napoleon; although much smaller, it offered the same floor plan, but it contrasted sharply with its elegance and the richness of its furnishings: it had been called the apartment of a small master. Between these two barracks were the semaphore signals, a kind of maritime telegraph by which the fleet operated. A little further on was seen the barrack of Marshal Soult, built in the shape of wild hut, lit from above and covered in stubble, and finally along the line, one last barracks, M. Decrès, Minister of the Navy, shaped like that of the Marshal, but smaller and therefore more inconvenient; by far this barrack looked like a huge wet blanket.
From his bedroom, using his telescope, the Emperor could observe all the naval maneuvers, and when the weather was clear, he clearly saw the Dover Castle and the garrison which occupied it. Foot grenadiers, concurrently with the Seamen of the Guard, served the barracks and headquarters.
Not far from the semaphore was the Tour d’Ordre, a formidable battery composed of six mortars, six howitzers and twelve twenty-four pound pieces. These six mortars, the largest size that could be molded, were sixteen inches thick; they carried a charge of forty-five pounds of powder, and carried a bomb of six hundred pounds to thirty six hundred feet in the air and a league (lieue) and a half out to sea. Every bomb shot cost on an average of 325 francs. To ignite these scary machines, that our cannoneers called the monsters and Navy gunners the little darlings, they used lances twelve feet long; the lancer thrown almost to the ground while covering his ears with his shoulders, and not a moment after the blast had gone off. It was the Emperor who wanted to baptize the battery by launching the first monster bomb. He fire it; the shot left and blood immediately flowed from his ears. For two days he was completely deaf, and, as you can imagine in an unbearable mood. Three days later, as a child who has nothing more pressing, once his pain had past, but to touch the object that injured him, Napoleon, as his first act, went to examine in detail the battery of the Tour d’Ordre. As he walked in silence around the terrible mortar, he approached a group of Navy gunners where he had just heard his name announced, and engaged the gunners who had fired the mortar more in a conversation.
The latter was a Provençal with brusque ways, a naïve speech, who kept to perfectly constructed little phrases to hide his country accent.
In saying these words, the Emperor opened his snuffbox and inspired a pinch of tobacco. Immediately the seaman took a step forward and extends an enormous hand towards the snuffbox of the Emperor, by showing his thumb and index finger:
And the seaman, who plunged his two fingers in the snuffbox of the Emperor, then took a few grains of tobacco. Napoleon gave a slight grimace, closed the snuffbox putting it in the pocket of his waistcoat, and continued what he called his tour. In the evening he brought with him to dinner, most of the heads of the corps and those of the various departments, so that before withdrawing into his bedroom, he knew the state of affairs better than if it had come from volumes of reports.
He walked slowly in the room seeming to think, when, suddenly stopping and throwing on the coast of England a sparkling look:
Constant arrived with a large package of letters. Napoleon looked at the address and stamp of each of them and threw them down one after the other; but he withheld a package shipped from the Ministry of the Interior. After looking for a long time seeing a large manuscript, he flipped through all the pages to reach the end, where he read the signature:
JOHN FULTON, Engineer.
—Ah! Ah! He exclaimed, so here it is finally the famous Memoire! Then, having counted the pages:
—It 's too long to be read tonight, he added by placing the notebook on the side of his bed; we will look at it tomorrow morning once my head is rested.
The next day at five o'clock in the morning by a beautiful summer sun, Napoleon, wearing a madras with broad wraps carelessly tied on his forehead, from which a few tufts of black and smooth hair escaped, and a dressing gown and white wool footed pantaloons, with green slippers, walked in the bedroom of his barrack, taking in his hands the notebook which he had only cast his eyes on the day before. He paged through it and paged through it again: it was the Memoire that the engineer Fulton had sent him on the power of steam, applied to flat boats to make the descent on England. It began as follows:
“Sire, the sea that separates you from your enemy, gives you a huge advantage. Having to wait upon to time and again wind and storms, that insult you with impunity, it bravely stands against you in its inaccessible island. Well! This barrier that protects it, I can make it disappear! ... I can, despite all its vessels at any time and in few hours, carry your army on to its territory, without fear of storms and without the need of a benefiting wind! ... My means, Sire, are here, and so on.”
Napoleon interrupted his reading from time to time, and each time, looking fixedly ahead of him, without setting his eyes on anything, let out words such as these:
For more than an hour that lasted reading the Memoires of Fulton (because the Emperor suspended consideration of its consequences), he seemed entirely absorbed by the novelty and the grandiose project which was submitted. Finally, he called Constant, who in slept outside on mattresses laid across from his room and said:
When the surveyor-general of the army arrived, he found Napoleon in the boardroom, standing, arms crossed on his chest, and in contemplation before the immense map hung in this room.
As we have said, there was only one seat in this room. Daru hesitated in seeing that the Emperor would necessarily have to stand in front of him.
And, from behind the nimble director, he applied both hands on his shoulders, and sat him down forcibly, saying:
Daru took the pen and stared at Napoleon, having collected a point, he dictated the following letter:
Once Daru had gone out, the aides-de-camp came to be given what was called the order of the day. Napoleon said to one of them to go to the barrack of Admiral Bruix, to prevent after lunch his visit to the coast from Boulogne to Ambleteuse, that is to say, on a length of more than two leagues, and he wanted him accompanied, as well by the heads of the different services.
In the absence of Napoleon, the ships had not been pushed with any less work than the activity of the ports. The gun-boats, flat boats and barges had all been made on the sites of small ports of Normandy and Brittany, to be led along the coasts where either in Montreuil, in Calais or in Dunkirk, they were equipped and armed by the seamen; then these boats were immediately placed under the protection of the forts defending the port Boulogne, five in number: the Fort de la Crèche, the Fort en bois, the Fort Musoir, the Tour de Croï, and the Tour d’Ordre, which we mentioned earlier. The line of broadsides that barred the entry to the port consisted of two hundred and fifty boats and gunboats over sixty ships deep; the division of Imperial gunboats belonged to this. Apart from this formidable line of defense, the whole coast was still fraught with batteries of large-caliber guns, provided by the gunners of the ground army.
At the bottom of the harbor, there was a small wooden bridge called the Bridge of Service. The powder stores, bags and cartridges were behind, and contained huge amounts of ammunition. Once retirement was beaten, one could not cross this bridge without giving the watchword to the second sentry, as the first sentry always let one go on, but never leave again. Thus, if an individual left forgot the watchword, once on the bridge, which the ground troops had given the name Devil's Bridge, he was done for: he was pushed by the second sentinel on the first, and he had been ordered to pass his bayonet through the body of anyone who would attempt this dangerous passage without being able to respond to the alert of the last sentinel. These stringent precautions had become necessary because of the vicinity of the powder keg that a spark would have detonated, destroying the city and both camps. At night we closed the entrance to the port, on the sea side, by a huge chain. On the ground, docks were filled with sentinels placed fifteen paces from one another, who were to yell from quarter hour to quarter hour: Sentinel, be on your guard! ... Soldiers and seamen perched in top sails responded to this cry by the quarter is well! ... They put a kind of pride in making this response drawling and sinister. Nothing was more boring then than the continual turnover of warnings and responses that the calm of the night made even sadder.
After visiting in great detail the general magazine, the arsenal, the rope factory and all the buildings, Napoleon would return in the very early hours to his barrack to engage in staff work. It was three o'clock in the afternoon when suddenly the roar of formidable artillery was heard: it was Nelson! The English admiral saw distinctly the Emperor, accompanied by all the staff of the Navy, on the coast: Buonaparte is in Boulogne! He said to his captains. He had etched on his heart the failure inflicted already by Bruix; he wanted to amends for it and again try a test of arms. Nelson thought this time to force our fleet tighter into the port, to the crowd them for better fire, he only had his flagship, four frigates, three brigs and some bombards with fire boats. It was in this formation that the ship to approach just released its first broadside, but our artillery replied immediately and the fight was soon engaged with equal enthusiasm on both sides.
At this noise, Napoleon came out of his barrack hastily; calling to his aides de camp:
Rapp was at the stables shortly; but by an unfortunate coincidence, Jardin, the first stud-groom, was not there for saddling. The groom who replaced the horse of Emperor had not placed its usual bridle, the animal reared, pitched up and eventually tossed his rider, who recovering and applying a strong whip blow to the head of the horse, said:
The aides-de-camp of Napoleon left their horses in the hands of the stud-groom and accompanied the Emperor, who crossed the headquarters, where everyone is moving forward to closely observe the maneuvers of the attack and the means of defense. He was soon joined by Admiral Bruix and part of his staff. At this time five hundred guns of our gunboats began to affect the enemy independently from all forts’ batteries. Each mouth fired about two rounds per minute. The flagship, the frigates and brigs responded by all letting loose broadsides: it's such a racket that one can barely hear what is said; the view is not much better, because the wind blows the smoke of the cannon at sea to the shore. We felt the earth tremble on our steps; the sky was a thick fog of red and blue.
Followed only by the Admiral and some of his officers, the Emperor jumped into a skiff that the skilled seamen of the guard maneuvered, and carried it by oar power into the middle of boats that formed the line of broadsides, facing a hail of bullets which intersected from all directions, it ran the entire line. Arriving near the Tour de Croï:
Bruix, afraid of the dangers to which the Emperor was already exposed and to the unnecessary risk he wants to run again, warned him with all respect of the recklessness of this maneuver. Napoleon, impatient, did not seem to listen, and addressed the seamen:
At the risk of incurring a complete disgrace, Bruix, gave the contrary order, making with the hand, a signal to stop.
The seamen were still undecided ... They did not know which of these two masters they must obey. Bruix noticed this hesitation, he resumed with an anger that he could no longer conceal:
At the same time, the boat spinning and turning the Tour de Croï, like the weak whitebait avoids the jaws of the pike. Obliged to go through there, Napoleon had suddenly turned his back on the Admiral, and his arms crossed on his chest, whistling between his teeth looking fixedly ahead. As soon as the boat was in ten fathoms, a boat which brought ammunition rounded the Tour de Croï was riddled by bullets and sank down; its flag floated for a moment on the sea, then disappeared, leaving in its place a large whirlpool where bubbling water rushed in.
Napoleon had experienced a movement of great frustration; he continued to whistle, without even looking at Bruix. The rest of this dangerous course took place without incident. Arriving at the small port of Wimereux, Napoleon, so as not to speak to the Admiral, who, hat pulled, showed his arm to help move the boat ashore, sprang onto the shore without the help of anyone. The battle lasted forever.
Shoreline of Boulogne, in the evening at ten o'clock, the eye withheld the largest and most terrible show that one could see. In the darkness, bombs and bullets, which crossed in all directions, formed, above the harbor and the city a giant cradle of fire. The continuous detonations of all the artillery, whose echoes the cliffs made more frightening still, produced a fracas which no one could imagine. And yet, something unique! No one in the city had fear, both peaceful people familiar with scenes like this; to a living force with the soldiers, military recklessness had created among themselves. That day we played, we danced, we laughed as we usually did, but it was to the sound of cannon. The men went about their business, women occupied with their household, the girls thought of their love. In no home was the dinner hour postponed for a moment and, after dinner, we went over on the cliffs to see the fight closer to Paris as we would the representation of a noisy melodrama at the Franconi Circus.
However, the results of Nelson’s attempt did not meet his expectations: the effect of his artillery and of his bombs was almost nil. He could not even reach our broadside line to shake it. A flat boat, a gunboat boat and the boat that we saw recklessly engage in the wind at the Tour de Croï, were sunk to the bottom. At eleven o'clock in the evening, Nelson's position, far from being an inquietude for us, became extremely dangerous for him; also he had brought there his squadron from the ports of Margate and Deal. It was the second time that his pride was crushed, but he concealed the affront to his flag by claiming that this second attempt was just a simple reconnaissance, but the English reported more than him, on the beautiful conduct of the French, and Parliament does not accept the presumptuous claims of the Admiral stating it “a deplorable act of recklessness and a disregard for human life.” The English Nation was even surprised at the modest tone with which the Government French reporting of the event.
The Emperor did not fail to recognize the services of the brave men who had been the most distinguished in this affair. Calling before him a review that he held, they were all present and instead fusils of honor, boarding grenades and axes they had received a year previously, they were awarded the decoration of the Legion of Honor. From that day, the two armies did not threaten more than without coming to a serious fight.
But an affair whose outcome could become serious, provided Napoleon an opportunity to show how far this mysterious power he exercised on the morale of its soldiers extended. We were talking just now about regiments of the line that had distinguished themselves in the last battle against Nelson, and who had been placed on review. These regiments were the 36th and 57th Line, with the 10th Light. In the presence of the whole army, Napoleon came out of the ranks with the heads of all three regiments, from corporals to colonels, having been formed in a circle, with himself placed in the center, and had strongly attested to his full satisfaction with the good conduct they had shown under fire from the English. In this circumstance, the Emperor had cajoled the non-commissioned officers more than others, saying that it was mainly their liability for the proper education of young soldiers. The captains and battalion chiefs, however, had not been forgotten on this point.
As shown, each had its share of praise. This distinction if flattering, did not excite too much the envy of other corps of the army and, in turn, on the completion of the review, the 36th and 57th Line with the 10th Light Infantry, by their special notice, returned without boating to their cantonments. Unfortunately, young people from Boulogne, among whom were a few artists and several students of Paris, while on vacation with their parents, came to spoil everything. In the afternoon, soldiers belonging to these three regiments, a little more proud than their peers, went to celebrate their triumph in a public house which was usually frequented by the grenadiers of the Old Guard. If this was not a breach of discipline, at least it was reckless; but the grognards, who were so terrible on the battlefield, were very tolerant of mood elsewhere, especially in the public house. The Grenadiers welcomed very well the line soldiers, and did their best to speak of their honors. It began by quietly drinking to the talk of campaigns; then the conversation became more animated about Italy; it was hot on Egypt, it is almost angry about the Camp of Boulogne; but each time we resumed drinking. But this time, a student in the workshop of David that was there, among the drinkers, started, in real dizzy, to sing verses improvised by a notary clerk after the review, in which the feats of bravery, and the line soldiers were celebrated, without there even being a word said to praise the grenadiers of the Old Guard. Things could not last long way. The soldiers of the line did not impose to silence the singer, the grognards, forced to their limit, strongly protested against the couplets, and one of them, named Morland, room provost, a grenadier of gigantic size with Herculean strength, rose sharply, rolled up his mustache, and breaking his glass on the table, said with a phlegmatic air:
And at these words, Morland had threw a look of extermination at the line soldiers, beating the flat of his hand on the scabbard of his half sword he wore at his side as a badge of the provost.
The quarrel soon began in a general way. It was big words, it was threats, however, without making too much fuss, for fear of attracting some officer on rounds, especially because it was late; but no one left without having given appointments for the next day, after morning call, around Marquise, a pretty little village a league and a half from Boulogne.
More than a hundred grenadiers of the Old Guard went
separately to appointments, and found, on arriving, the land already
occupied by a number roughly equal to the soldiers of the line, almost
all master of arms or provosts. Each of the opponents who chose
a champion, without explanation, without recriminations, without noise,
all dressed down and took up the sword or uncapped foil in hand, and
fought for half an hour with a fury that made the silence even more
terrible. Morland alone killed five men of the 10th Light. Nobody
knows where this slaughter would have stopped if Marshal Davoust, informed
unfortunately too late, hadn’t come in haste with a squadron
of the 6th Hussars commanded by Lasalle, and a second squadron
of cuirassiers of the Kellermann brigade, which
Davoust was soon informed of the topic and sad results of this corps, Napoleon proved even more pained by the indignity:
Davoust, imagining, on seeing such wroth from the Emperor, that he was going to lose part of his division before a military commission, still took a chance to say in an undecided tone, according to his habit:
An hour later, the drum beat in the fields, and arms were presented to the Emperor. The actors of the tragic morning were in his presence, ten steps ahead of the flag; Napoleon threw them a tough look and said:
Here a slight murmur was heard.
And the Emperor withdrew. When the eagle came to pass in front of him and the flag bowed, Napoleon turned his head to avoid the gesture of respect. This affected indifference did not escape the grognard and suddenly brought a sensitive blow to their hearts. This however was just the start of the punishment the Emperor had resolved upon, although it may have seemed much lighter punishment for those who did not know the susceptibility of the soldiers of the Old Guard.
Napoleon printed the same evening the couplets that caused all the misfortune. He then had them widely distributed in the city, and the next morning sent for Colonel Dorsenne, ordering that those of grenadiers who had fought on the day have them attached to their chest, next to the turn backs of the coat, and adorned thus over his decorations.
It was really a touching spectacle to see these brave men file out on parade with this lousy little white paper which was attached to their blue uniforms. All passed in silence before the Emperor, mournful air and down beaten, and few dared raise their eyes to him, it was only for him to look on the suppliants. One saw large tears dripping from the eyes of those grognards that had been the fiercest against those poor green horns. Morland, among others, was suffocating; it is true that he should have on his consciousness a lot to hide.
Meanwhile, Napoleon, on horseback and surrounded by a bright headquarters, retained his impassive severity, while the crowd of people from Boulogne continued to shout: Long live the Emperor! The cry of Long live the Old Guard! being heard once Napoleon , immediately stifled it by turning forcefully on his horse and making a hand gesture as if to say: Shut up! and the crowd was killed because it had understood his intentions; it knew he was not a man to keep a long grudge against his old companions in glory, on the chest which he would soon attach a brand new badge and more heroic that this small paper printed ... the star of the Legion of Honor!
But the same evening, the public house of the grenadiers of the Old Guard was congested. All of the soldiers of the line who had been injured by them came to visit; and, as one of the champions entered, Morland took him in his arms, kissed and suppressing his shakes, said in a dramatic tone:
The master of the public house without doubt took advantage of the general enthusiasm to put a little more water than usual in his wine. Be that as it may, according to the council that a funny man of the 10th Light Infantry gave him, in place of his insignificant sign, he painted a profile of a large head of an English sailor with a long disproportionate nose and written below it the following verse of the song that caused the unfortunate event of the day. These verses at the same time reminded them of the attack on the person of Napoleon four years earlier:
The Emperor had not erred in saying that the verses of the song should be detested; but by learning the outcome of this bloody tragedy, he seemed very satisfied, and Rapp said with a smile:
However, all those in the military that had obtained weapons of honor, had received a notification letter announcing to them that to pay the debt of the homeland towards them, and replace these weapons they had managed to earn different times, they were appointed knights, officers, commanders or major officers of the Legion of Honor. During the imposition of the order, three years before hand, the submission of the adoption of this creation of new nobility had been met by almost unanimous opposition from the branches of government. Napoleon had won, but the case was so hot, he said on that occasion:
Understanding therefore that he should not run into the face of still burning opinions, Napoleon had expected that this same issuing authority had proclaimed emperor acted for what he called his classification of the different crosses he want to distribute. This generosity surprised everyone, because in the original form, it was believed that the reward and the distinction would be uniform for all. It was not so, and later, Napoleon created dignities even above those of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, such as Grand Cross, Grand Ribbon, Grand Eagle and Grand Dignitary of the Empire.
However, on 16 August 1804 at eight in the morning, 80,000 men of the camps of Bruges, of Arras, of Montreuil, of Amiens, of Ostend, of Calais, of Dunkirk, of Fumes, of Wimereau, of Ambleteuse etc. were collected and assembled under the orders of Marshal Soult, to the right of the port of Boulogne.
Here at the bottom of a spacious amphitheater formed by nature, not far from the terrible Tour d’Ordre, one had outlined the placement of the army so that the front presented the concave arc of a half-circle, and each of the columns featured a spoke leading to the throne of the Emperor, located in the center of the diameter. This throne, which had hundred foot front, was a square-shaped mound, similar to those raised by Roman armies to their emperors, and on which was placed, isolated, an iron seat of Gothic form that was claimed to have belonged to the good King Dagobert, and that resided for a long time in the antiquity room of the National Library. Behind the seat was a great Trophy of Arms composed especially from the Arms of old Elector of Hanover, above which floated the flags taken at all times from the enemies of France. All this decoration was topped with a huge crown of gold laurels, which further waved the queues of pashas of Egypt and guidons of Mamelukes conquered at the Pyramids, at Aboukir and Mount Tabor. The supporting tripods, on the left, the helmets of Duguesclin and of Bayard, which were filed with decorations; on the right, it was the shield and the sword of Francis I, which were added to these glorious trophies, we do not know why; because this king, that was pleased to represent us as the archtype of honor, loyalty and the greatness of soul, was actually a man who happily capitulated his conscience and his duties of king; a madman, a profligate, a detestable monarch, in a word, that which France had cursed during his long reign. Napoleon knew so well, that when Senator Monge made this observation to him, he replied:
The half-moon formed by the bottom of the army remained empty, so the emperor could be seen and heard by all the soldiers.
The legionnaires, arranged in a semicircle in front of the throne, were distributed in platoons placed at the head of the columns to which they belonged, and they were separated by the flags of these columns together in bundles. Three hundred paces around to the right of the throne, on the land which stood as an amphitheater, seventy or eighty four tents were built with the flags of the naval army. They were intended for persons invited to the ceremony. Between the throne and these tents was a part of the Imperial Guard on horseback, by arranged in squadrons. This imposing tableau seemed framed, near the sea, by the ship battle line, including all the masts in full sail.
At ten o’clock a salvo of artillery from the Tour d’Ordre announced the arrival of the Emperor and the beginning of the ceremony. Napoleon left his barrack galloping on his horse, followed by more than eighty general and two hundred senior officers of the headquarters. All of his household, civil and military, had already preceded him. He was dressed in the uniform of a colonel of the foot grenadiers from his guard: blue coat with white lapels, white pants and jacket, soft cuffed boots. He arrived at the foot of the throne amid the noise of cheers, drums, trumpets and discharges from all the surrounding artillery. Everything deafened the ears; the dogs howled, crouching their heads low; likewise the horses even those seasoned to war, reared under their riders.
The marshals and major dignitaries went out to Napoleon, who ascended the throne in degrees with precipitous steps while waving. When he was seated, his brothers, the great officers of the Empire, admirals, ministers, senators, counselors of state, were grouped around him. The Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor, Lacépède, stood just in front of the throne, on the first steps of the middle stairs, on which had been placed on arriving, the squires, pages and the aides-de-camp of the Emperor, ready to receive and to transmit his orders.
At a second salvo of artillery, always coming from the bottom of the Tour d’Ordre, which was a bad neighborhood to judge from the rush that fled at the first discharge, the curious who had been placed at the bottom, followed in profound silence. The Grand Chancellor came down some steps and delivered a speech that did not last more than a quarter of an hour. After which, a roll of all the drums gave the signal to the legionnaires, who advanced with their flags in the middle of the arena to take the oath. Napoleon himself gave the oath. Hardly had they responded: Yes! That the Emperor said raising his voice:
Then waving in the air their caps, their helmets and hats in exclaiming: Long live the Emperor! The distribution of crosses started immediately. An aide-de-camp to Napoleon called the military decoration; coming forward, he stopped at the foot of the throne, saluted, climbing the stairs on the right and was received by the Grand Chancellor, who handed him his certificate. The page, located between the tripod and the Emperor, took the decoration from a helmet and presented it to Napoleon, who attached it himself on the chest of the brave man, at the same moment, over two hundred drummers beat a ban, and when the decorated one descended from the throne on the stairs on the left, passing the shiny headquarters remaining at the bottom, there were handshakes and hugs that would not quit, amid fanfares performed by two hundred trumpets.
The ceremony was long: commencing at ten thirty in the morning, it didn’t end until three o’clock in the afternoon because the Emperor, giving the cross, almost always accompanied this action with a few words of praise. In the evening, all the legionnaires were invited to a splendid banquet. Toasts and songs prolonged this festival, which ended; at ten o’clock with a magnificent fireworks at the end of which twenty thousand men in battle order executed fire by file with star cartridges: this was the bouquet .
It was at Camp de Boulogne, and during the months of August and September 1804, that Napoleon gave the decree that established the decennial prizes (ten thousand francs each), and the decree of the graves, whose provisions are still observed today. Twelve law schools were established in major cities of the Empire. A new organization of the Polytechnic School subjected the students to the regime and the military discipline. Vaccination, whose discovery had so excited discussion among practitioners, was imposed on children under the responsibility of parents. Horse racing courses were established. The Normal School of Paris was founded, as well as the Special Military School of Saint Cyr. The Gregorian calendar replaced the Republican calendar. The keeping of books in duplicate replaced the old method of accounting in all financial administrations of the State. Finally, Napoleon created the Chapter of Saint-Denis for not provided for former bishops.
The Emperor finally received the members of the Institute's report that he had asked for two months ago, from the Minister of the Interior, in connection to the discovery of the Engineer Fulton. It had been under consideration of scholars, and unanimously rejected by the committee. In the report, the inventor was treated as a visionary, described his discovery as a mad idea, gross error and absurdity.
Napoleon had to think again, but alas! in a very different circumstance!
It was the beginning of October and we knew that in the last days of this month, Napoleon had to leave Boulogne to deal with preparations for his coronation. Before his departure, the marshals and generals wanted to offer him a ball. He accepted and set the day himself. This was the 17th. All ladies of Boulogne were invited. General Bertrand was named grand master of ceremonies, and General Bisson, the greatest gastronome of the army, took charge of the buffet and refreshments. This part of the celebration was not the least well attended to. The room was built by carpenters of the Navy. The orchestra comprised of musicians of the 1st Grenadier Regiment of the Old Guard, led by Gebauer, the famous bassoon. To be admitted to this celebration, one had to have at least the rank of commandant. The marshals and generals, who gave it, had come from Paris with uniforms embroidered with incomparable wealth. The group that formed around the Emperor, when he entered the room was sparkling gold and silver. He remained for three quarters of an hour, dancing a round with the wife of General Bertrand, and withdrew after announcing that his marshals would leave the next day to join the Empress Josephine, to whom he would rendezvous in Mainz before returning to Paris bedecked with the double crown of France and Italy.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2008
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