“I wanted peace, he said: it is necessary for the world. I did everything humanly possible to get it and was refused ... I would never refuse an honorable peace that conforms with the interests and the size of my Empire. My policy, to me, is not mysterious. I know the sacrifices that I have made; as with this war of the sea of late, my people will be ready for all sorts of sacrifices.”
Thus Napoleon avowed that it was at England that he had been at war, this England which had ruined his dream of the continental system, this England that he had gone to fight in Prussia, Austria, Spain , Portugal and Russia; this England which was always present or hidden, with its tricks and its gold. However, before anything decisive, the Emperor assembled at the Tuileries in private counsel to assist him, the ministers, the Archchancellor Talleyrand, the Chairman of the Senate and some great dignitaries of the Empire. After laying out what he called the state of his situation, he finished by saying:
As no one hazard to answer, he heatedly asked of the archchancellor, sitting next to him:
Then speaking to Talleyrand, placed at the end of the table, he asked his opinion. But being that the careful diplomat would not make it known to everyone, or he had another motive, he made an evasive reply.
So, going to the Duke of Feltre the Emperor asked him his opinion. The Minister of War appeared to think for a moment, then answered in a firm voice:
Then he immediately resumed addressing always Clarke: So what should we do?
However, a council member ventured to pronounce the word treaty ...
After these words, we think that none of the assistants would dare
to display contrary sentiments to those which seemed the most flattering
to the master; the council withdrew. In his determination to erase
the reverses of Russia
with new victories Napoleon used what he called the mass media,
giving the public a boost and an enthusiasm unbelievably quickly.
Everything worked together. He brought under the flag 180,000 men,
created an artillery and immense material stores, formed the Guard
of Honor, and finished all the major projects that he had started,
including the Concordat, that he took most to heart. He was
Before leaving the capital, Napoleon, frightened by the memory of the attempted Mallet, and wanting to ensure that such businesses would no longer be possible, be named the Empress regent; and to facilitate in the serious work that her new title imposed, he placed beside her a man in the probity which he was more confident, his secretary intimate, M. de Menneval, to which he recommended to write to him directly and every day;and finally before the eve of his departure for the army, he definitevly organized the new militia guard under the title of Guard of Paris and put them under the immediate command of the Minister of Police.
The decisive moment was approaching; the fate of Europe could be decided in a single battle. Napoleon would be dealing with two great armies, one Russian, the other Prussian, who both thought they were sure of victory, because they each had their sovereign at their heads. The enemy, who came to meet us was stronger in number; there were many former soldiers and six hundred cavalry squadrons. Napoleon would oppose that with battalions of conscripts, all proud, indeed, to replace the old brave and determined to be killed for his cause and the homeland. Our cavalry did not have ten squadrons; but on the other hand, we had a formidable artillery.
Napoleon left Saint Cloud the 5th of April 1813, at two o'clock in the morning; on the 16th, at midnight, he was in Mainz, and the 24th to Erfurth, leaving there the 25th to go to Weimar, welcomed by the reigning duchess: it was the second time, followed by the great army, he would visit the princess: the first in 1806, coming down from the battlefield of Jena, and this time on going back. After ten minutes of interview, he leaped on his horse and made his first march at the head of the service squadron of the guard. Although at the front, he barely was able to emerge in the middle of the columns that cluttered the road. From all directions, the conscripts came into his path and looked upon him with admiration, because most of these young people had never seen him before. Napoleon had at his side the Prince of Neufchâtel, the Chief of Staff; the Duke of Frioul, Grand Marshal of the Palace; the Duke of Vicenza, Grand Equerry, and Count Daru, Director General of the army, followed by his aides de camp, all generals; twelve officers d’ordonnance, wearing the new uniform, blue, with raised embroidery of silver, that was most elegant, and then four service pages and some medical officers. The procession was closed in by a crowd of pickets and livery men that led many horses by hand. The first day was used to identify each one to his place and rank; thereby the most perfect order was established. Nobody doubted the success do the campaign: we knew victory followed our faithful eagles.
On 29 April we arrived in the evening at Eskarisberg; militarily Bonaparte stayed in a house located on the main square of this town. This house had only one room on each floor, and after having visited, he said, smiling to the Prince of Neufchâtel:
Following then the Emperor occupied the steps of the stairs, the ground floor and landings. The battalion of the guard established its bivoac and lit it fires on the square. The next day, the 30th, Napoleon advanced on the route to Weissenfeld at the head of his columns, where at two o'clock in the afternoon, the division Souham, who formed the vanguard of the army, found itself suddenly in the presence of two divisions of Russian cavalry. Souham did not have any cavalry, but without waiting on orders from the Emperor, he marched to the enemy. Immediately the Russians unmasked twelve pieces of cannon; the French unlimbered an equal number in battery; one side and the other joined in a cannonade that became very heated. The Russians wanted to be finished, trying several charges on our young soldiers; but they were strongly repelled by the file fire from their squares. Soon forced to retreat, they left two of their cannons, and this division of conscripts entered Weissenfeld shouting cries of victory and dragging behind him the two pieces it had taken from the Russians. Napoleon, who had stopped a moment to see the parade, said:
And along the entire line shakos were waved on the end of fusils, admist the cries of Vive l'Empereur ... The headquarters spent the night in Weissenfeld.
The next day, May 1st, at the break of day, the outposts warned of a strong enemy rearguard, who had settled on the heights of Pozerna. Napoleon mounted his horse and reconnoitered himself the same position: it was the defile of Rippach needed to traverse to the plains of Lutzen. These heights are occupied by Wintzingerode, with cannon and cavalry. The Emperor immediately ordered the troops to take the position: it was again the division of Souham that was the advanced guard. This bellicose youth advanced, and the attention of veterans was on its maneuvers. The action began; on each side the fighting was equally hard; but from the outset, the army had a grievous loss: Marshal Bessières was killed by a cannonball.
Only ten minutes had passed until the enemy started to fall under the grapeshot of the Guard artillery. Soon the young soldiers of Souham seized the heights. The division Girard, who came from behind, crossed the defile at a pas de charge and with cries of Vive l'Empereur! The division Marchand chased the enemy on the road from Lutzen, while Brenier and Ricard pass through the defile at the head of these recruits, which deployed and come into line on the other side. But the enemy was already in full rout, and the affair was decided. The bulk of the French army followed the route of Lutzen.
At the sound of cannon at Pozerna, Prince
Eugene was strongly focused on the right. The division that General Roguet brought
back to Napoleon consisted of troops from the Old Guard who had made
the winter campaign: it was the elite of Napoleon's army. The
junction occurred, and veterans of
At two o’clock in the night, the service aide-de-camp of Napoleon
announced that an aide-de-camp of the Viceroy had arrived at headquarters.
It was the Count Cornaro. He found him busy signing the work that each
of the ministers had sent from
Napoleon then explained the plan of the battle which was to take place a few days later, and he repeated to Count Cornaro all he had to say, showing him on a map the locations he had indicated. When he was assured that it was well understood, it was recommended that he leave at once and sent for the Prince of Moskowa.
The Marshal went. It was three o’clock. Napoleon, dressed
in his little gray frock and accompanied only by his aide-de-camp Drouot,
came out of the headquarters and headed on foot to the
And, being recognized by the sentry who had already shouted: Who goes there? He went under the trees. The calm of the night, the funeral monument which the moon illuminated the surmounting stone cross, the shadow of the sentinels that projected around him like giant ghosts, the seriousness of his position on the eve of a battle that could prove decisive, everything, in this place, gave his thoughts already so great a hue of majesty and solemnity. Napoleon did not allow himself to be easily dominated by external things, but the moral effect here was his reaction, and he later confessed that during this type of pilgrimage, he experienced strange impressions and as it was a kind of revelation of future. The day began to emerge when he joined Drouot, to which he only said:
Then they quietly returned to headquarters. Crossing the bivoac of the grenadiers of the Old Guard, one of them wanted to come to deliver a petition to the Emperor, but a corporal stopped it, saying in a tone of reproach:
At these words, the Corporal said heatedly:
Then, showing him Napoleon, he added in an attentive tone:
Arriving at his headquarters, Napoleon threw himself fully clothed
on her bed and slept three hours. At eight o'clock in the morning
he was on his feet. The troops who had spent the night at Lutzen went
on their way to
General Lauriston, who took the lead,
was at nine o'clock in the morning in the vicinity of Lindenau,
a suburb of
Hardly had he finished speaking, when a ghastly cannonade was heard on the right, towards the point where the troops of the Prince of Moskowa had spent the night, that is to say around the villages Gross-Gorschen, Kaya and Klein-Gorschen. Napoleon immediately directed to the Marshal:
And the marshal went to join his corps. From that moment, the attention of Napoleon was focused on this point. An aide-de-camp of the Prince of Moskowa arrived at full gallop.
Although Napoleon did not expect to be attacked in this position, he took it in stride, and addressed the general officers around him, saying:
The officiers d’ordonnance were
immediately dispatched to the Duke of Ragusa and General Bertrand,
to give them the order to increase their pace and head, through the
fields, on the enemy. The Viceroy left Napoleon and went to
the head of the troops of the Duke of Taranto. As for the columns
that were spaced out on the road to
And he left at full gallop to join the army corps of the Marshal, by crossing the side where the cannonade seemed greater. By his own admission, he had been caught in delicate position, by an attack on his flank, while performing a movement that would turn the enemy, it had been in a Prussian inspiration at Dresden to resume at the same Jena , the revenge of Auerstaedt; but when the confederates heard the cannon of Lauriston at Lindelau, they believed they were going to take in the rear the French army committed in Leipzig, and the rest could not escape them .
However, the great effort of artillery and infantry was on the enemy center. Of the five divisions of Ney, four were already committed: the fight became terrible especially at Kaya where the scene was a bloody melee.
The carnage lasted for three quarters of an hour; the enemy was able to take the four villages and was about to debouche at Lutzen, when suddenly, amid a cloud of dust and smoke, Napoleon appeared! .. . The guard was behind him. His presence alone could stop the momentum of the Prussians, and produced on our troops its accustomed effect.
With these words, enthusiasm reappeared in the bloody figures of these brave young men. They did not falter under the deadly blows that were disperse; they returned to the fields of Kaya, align themselves in the grass and, without ceasing to shout Vive l’Empereur! reformed their ranks, their thick columns of attack and the fight again with more fury than ever. In the midst of disorder, Napoleon himself joined a battalion of conscripts. While this small troop moved at shoulder arms, he recognized, in the ranks, a battalion head that was suspended from his job a few days earlier for a lack of discipline. He halted the battalion, ran to this officer and places him in command. Vivat and the cries of joy soon erupted in the battalion, which formed at the same time the head of a column of attack amid cheers of the old Grognard witnessing this scene. Passing them at a pas de charge, these soldiers, electrified by their presence, shouted:
And when these young people were close to them. some of the grenadiers said to their big eyes:
These then launched forward; the most horrendous noise of musketry was heard: then the cries of the combatants was followed the silence of death. It was at Kaya where the major efforts were directed; that village would soon become the scene of a gigantic struggle. However, Marshal Ney continued to face everything: his chief of staff, General Gouré, was killed near him; General Girard, already wounded by two gunshots, fell to a third ball; on wanting to bring him to the ambulance:
The generals Guillot and Cheminau had
amputations; General Gruner fell dead;
the officers d’ordonnance Pretet and Béranger were
wounded while carrying orders; but Souham, Ricard and Marchand stood in the
middle of the fire. For four hours we fought with growing animosity. Gross-Gorschen,
Klein-Gorschen Rahni and
were taken and retaken without either party wanted to lose ground. The
conscripts of France
and the young people of Prussia
, the flower of the universities in the North, children of the best
As for Napoleon, he had remained before Kaya, within half the cannon shot distance of the enemy. In this dangerous position, the Prussian batteries, set near Gorschen and Rahn, fired continuously on the Guard in battle line a short distance behind the Emperor; the balls roaring over his head, the bullets and shrapnel whistling by his ears. We are not afraid to say that in no other battle did Napoleon appear most visibly protected by his destiny: because all the time he remained near Kaya and before Lutzen, he was exposed to probably more enemy fire than in any of the many battles that he had attended so far. Only when, a ball had passed through some of the twists of gold that adorned the top of the fonts of the saddle of crimson velvet, did he make an involuntary movement; but his horse, which perhaps had better instincts of the danger than he, its ears lowered, its nostrils convulsively widen, indicated enough, by the continual trembling of its members, that he did not want to stay at that position.
Napoleon, holding the bridle short, bent on the saddle bow, and extending his hand onto the neck of the animal, gently patted to reassure it; then resuming his posture, he became impassible and continued to turn his telescope on the movements that were running before him. The escort guides stood behind the staff and a little to one side. They had noticed the effect of the balls, the gesture of the Emperor had not escaped their notice. One old soldier, who dated from the creation of guides and whose bravery was to the point of recklessnes, said in a half voice to one of his comrades newly admitted into the Guard Chasseurs:
And a movement of the head of the guide indicated the sky.
The young chasseur was, like all children of
And the old hussar fell silent issuing a contemptuous look at the young guide, who did not notice it, as he was occupied by what was happening around him.
Shells and grenades were rolling, leaping and bursting at the feet of the Emperor; shrapnel continued to pass over his head with its horrible hiss, he was not touched. Unfortunately it was not the case for his headquarters. Already some hussars of the escort had grumbled between their teeth:
The old guide, meanwhile, had the habit over the last twenty years, to talk to shells and speak nonsense to the bullets as they passed by him:
At the same time, a seven-shot came passing very near the legs of his horse plowing up the ground.
A moment later, a shell came in burying itself within walking distance:
The shell exploded, injuring a staff officer and two guides. Soon came another shell arrived at full crack and killed on the spot the medical officer Goulet and a pharmacist called Desrosiers, and two others were seriously injured at the same time.
Napoleon barely pretended not to hear these particular conversations, but it was easy to read on his face the extreme displeasure and impatience that this continual whisper made him feel. Finally, when a general officer who said, to be distinctly heard by his neighbors, that a line regiment had been destroyed in its entirety in front of Gorschen, the Emperor, pushed to the limit, replied loudly in the saddle, in humorous tone:
But Napoleon, who has not lost sight of Kaya, left his staff, rushed his horse at full gallop, and almost alone, throwing himself on the crossroad:
At these prestigious words, these brave young men rallied to the cries of Vive l'Empereur! With hearts full of enthusiasm, the soldiers return to combat.
At a sign of Napoleon, the sixteen battalions of the Young Guard, commanded by Dumoustier arrived in good order. The Duke of Treviso was responsible for driving into the fire, marching on Kaya head down and to lay hands on all that he finds. This attack was supported by six battalions of the Old Guard, old warriors inured to danger, and fearing neither fire nor ice, Napoleon said later in his bulletin. General Roguet commanded; and to make these irresistible forces:
A move of this magnitude was only a matter of a word; Drouot, seconded by Generals Dulauloy and Devaux, executed it quickly; and the Emperor himself came to the middle of the pieces, that the enemy covered with grapeshot. Meanwhile the Young Guard rushed Kaya like a torrent. The Duke of Treviso, who was at the head disappeared in the fray; his horse was killed under him; General Dumoustier also falls; both get up and stand out. This time, our young soldiers were fighting against the veterans of the Russian and Prussian army; they fought hand to hand and with l’arme blanche. They took one last time the village, and the terrible effect of the large battery completed the crushing of the enemy. Finally, this mass of fire, dust and smoke, remaining motionless so long on the same point on the plain, took its course and returned through the unfortunate village, which was no more than a heap of burning and smoldering rubble; Napoleon judged that everything was finished.
Then he asked one of his aides-de-camp:
Napoleon denied to pursue the enemy. He
knew the numerous cavalry of the Allies could have, and indeed he
had noticed that most had not. Couriers then shot from the
battlefield to go to
* On appelle Bâton de perroquet, Un bâton établi sur un plateau de bois, et garni de distance en distance d'échelons sur lesquels cet oiseau monte et descend à sa fantaisie. On appelle figurémént et familièrement du même nom, Une petite maison de plusieurs étages, dont chacun n'a qu'une chambre. Cette maison est un bâton de perroquet.
*poulet d’Inde – a young turkey.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: August 2009
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