Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


It was dark when, May 2, the Viceroy sent to the Emperor an aide-de-camp, Count Cornaro, to tell him verbally, before the report that was to be sent later, the circumstantial details of what had arisen on his side, and finally to receive his orders. In the presence of Napoleon, surrounded by his staff, the aide performed his mission. When he had finished speaking, Napoleon asked him with an air of satisfaction:

—Well! Did you hear my cannonade of Kaya?

—Sire, as well as Your Majesty heard ours of Gross Gorschen, replied Cornaro. The village of Gross-Gorschen was taken and retaken three times and always with the bayonet, but on the fourth we took it for good.

Then Napoleon, addressing the general officers who surrounded him, said with excitement:

—Gentlemen! In the last twenty years that I have had the honor to command French armies, I have not seen such bravery and dedication.

Then, turning to the aide, he added:

—Commander, you will rest; you tell Eugene to do the same; in terms of valor, no one can now compare with him.

Napoleon decreed that the army should remain in close columns, as he feared that the allied cavalry would in the dark, renew its attacks.  What he had foreseen happened: about nine o'clock in the evening when he returned to Lutzen, through the battlefield, skirting a low hedge with his escort, he was suddenly hailed by musket fire. At the same moment the alarm became general.

—Ah! ah! said the Emperor in an almost gay tone, there are people who are never happy; they, it seems, have not had enough yet.

The enemy wanted to first disorder a camp at night, trying to throw his cavalry in the middle of our bivouacs; but the first on which they fell was the Young Guard, commanded by Dumoustier.  It was received with a fusillade at close range, and so that, the attackers were tumbling over each other; and most died suffocated under their horses. A few hours later, nothing was more beautiful and horrible at the same time as the illumination of the battlefield covered with dead and dying. The wounded were heard complaining and groaning; and might have been seen crawling on all sides by the sinister glow of the fires of the various villages where the fighting had taken place, and where the artillery had played such terrible havoc: it was where forty thousand rounds of cannon were fired by the French army.

Napoleon arrived at Lutzen at ten o'clock. He worked all night, dictated the battle bulletin and the following orders of the day, so remarkable for its brevity, which should be read in the morning before each corps of the Grand Army:

“Soldiers! I am pleased with you! you have met my expectations. You have applied all your dedication and your valor. You have, on the celebrated yesterday, defeated and routed the Russian and Prussian armies commanded in person by the Emperor Alexander and the King of Prussia. You have added a new luster to the glory of my eagles. You have proved you are capable everything. The Battle of Lutzen will be above the battle of Austerlitz, Jena and Borodino. Soldiers! You have earned the respect of civilized Europe: Germany holds thanksgiving by you, France is proud to have children like you; your Emperor admires you!”

Our young soldiers welcomed the proclamation by stamping their feet with joy and frantic cries of Vive l'Empereur! The next day, May 5, at daybreak, the troops had already taken up arms; Napoleon mounted his horse and began inspecting the battlefield that extended over an area of two square miles. More than three quarters of the loss of the day had been bourn by the Prussian army.  Never had such rage been seen in war so far; never had so great a struggle been waged by such great people.  Russia, Prussia and France had been there more as nations than like armies and never were national hatreds so overwhelmed with rage. Crushed and fallen in masses, the Prussians were dead in their lines, without giving up their position; and when, at the end of the day, the fire of the terrible battery commanded by Drouot had put their battalions in tatters, and they could die without any more result, they retreated and the Russians, let out a immense houra, the last expiring sigh of colossus.

Approaching Kaya, Napoleon remarked that many of our recruits dead still had their bayonets fixed in the body of an enemy.  He turned his head, saying:

 —I understand now why we got so few prisoners.

He could pass none of his wounded soldiers without being greeted with the cry of Vive l'Empereur! Even those who had lost limbs or who would die a few moments later made him this last tribute. He responded to their cheers by uncovering his head to them. Perceiving an officer of the Russian Imperial Guard who was still breathing:

—Ivan, he said to his chief surgeon, dismount and see if you can save this man: they are also victims none the less.

Later he saw the corpse of a young Prussian of the volunteers division of Berlin, which still seemed to have something pressed against his breast. He approached: it was a piece of his nation’s flag. This young man, dying, would not abandon it. At this sight, Napoleon made no attempt to conceal his feelings. One heard him mutter:

—Brave boy! You were worthy of being born French. Then, turning to his officers, he said in a voice full of emotion:

—You see, to a soldier his flag holds a feeling of idolatry: it is the object of his worship as a gift received from the hands of a mistress. One of you, gentlemen, render the last honors to the brave young man right away; I regret not knowing his name, I would write to his family. Do not separate him from his flag, this piece of silk will be his most glorious shroud.

Scarcely had he said that when a shot was heard from twenty yards behind then. They rushed to the spot indicated by a small cloud of smoke that dissipates into the air ... It was a conscript who had just been amputated and who wanted to blow his brains out. The unfortunate man had not been killed instantly, but he was horribly disfigured. Napoleon approached him and said softly:

—Why commit this act of desperation? We would have carried you from here, to help you; why did you want to kill yourself?

—My Emperor, replied the young soldier in a dying voice, you've spent about an hour nearby without looking at me; you've been talking, there, to the Prussians who could not understand you. I could not see you yesterday, because we have not even had time to go back and today I did not want to die without you to taking notice of me. I succeeded, I'm happy. Pardon me, your Majesty, for having bothered you.

And the conscripts fell back.

Napoleon threw himself from his horse, rushed to his unfortunate body dripping with blood, and attempted to revive him: but this time he was altogether dead. Then he opened his clothes, looking in his pockets hoping to find booklet, a paper that would let him know his name; he found nothing, only from the number on the buttons of his coat he learned that he belonged to the 18th Light Infantry. It was a regiment composed almost entirely of children from suburbs of Saint-Antoine and Saint-Marceau, which was covered with glory yesterday.

Napoleon mounted his horse, wiping her eyes, and gave orders to complete the removal of the wounded.

While advancing, the sadness that had overcome him on this visit caused by the battlefield vanished little by little, and when he saw the Viceroy, who came to meet him it disappeared completely.  He dismounted, kissed him effusively, and passing his arm through his, they both walked before the fires that could still be seen dotted here and there.  In the meantime, General Carpenter presented himself; Napoleon greeted him courteously, praised the division under his command, and complimented him in expressive terms of its good conduct that day.

—Sire, the brave general replied modestly, I did my duty.

—Yes, yes, I know, General, Napoleon said taking steps backward and touching his hat as if to salute; you've always done well.

Charpentier, seeing the good disposition of the Emperor towards him, took the opportunity to ask him the for rank of brigadier general for the commanding adjutant Bourmont, his chief of staff, who had particularly distinguished himself at the last attack of Gorschen.

—Sire, said Eugene M. de Bourmont was part of my staff throughout the Russian campaign, I dare say he has always behaved well, and ... he has not received anything from Your Majesty. At these words Napoleon's brow darkened, and there was a moment of silence, after which he said:

—Bourmont! Bourmont! ... Your Bourmont! I do not know ... I have reports against him; but we'll see.  Then he reflected and quickly said after:  —In fact, if he performed well, he should be rewarded. General Carpenter, tell Bourmont to come talk to me.

We went for Mr. Bourmont, who wasn’t present. When Napoleon saw him, he stepped in front of him:

—M. de Bourmont, he said, I am making you brigadier general, now do not you not want to be my friend?

—Sir, since I have the honor to serve Your Majesty, I hope I have done nothing to reproach myself: he can count on my absolute devotion.

—Now, General, I will not doubt it: take it.

 And Napoleon gave him his hand. M. de Bourmont rushed over and pressed it his lips. Then the Emperor turned toward Labédoyère first aide to Eugene, which had appeared during that interview:

—Charles, he said smiling, I naming you Colonel of the 113rd Line, are you happy? and as Labédoyère showed his joy:

 —Very good, very good! He said with a friendly gesture, it will be later you'll thank me.

To prove his gratitude to the Emperor, Labédoyère was wounded three days after taking Kolditz at the head of his new regiment, and sealed with his blood, two years after, the faith he had promised to Napoleon. As for M. de Bourmont ... But we must speak of events after Lutzen, and not the eve of Waterloo.

Such a victory at the beginning of a campaign would have a tremendous moral effect.  It stopped for a time the defection of our allies and praised the courage of our youthful battalions, who won with the firmness and aplomb of the oldest troops. The same night, Napoleon established his headquarters at Pegau. On the 4th, he marched forward with the corps of Macdonald, Marmont and his Guard. The Viceroy formed the vanguard.

Meanwhile, the Russian Emperor and King of Prussia were in Dresden; but by a march and disposition as quick as they were astute, Eugene, beat three days in a row General Milorasowitch at Leffersdorff, at Ertzerdorf and at Limbach, opening the gates of Dresden to Napoleon, who was marching behind him, and on May 8 in the morning, at the approach of our troops, the allied sovereigns resolved to abandon the capital of Saxony. At noon, General Grundler, Chief of Staff of l1th Corps, took possession of the city on behalf of the Emperor.

At this news, Napoleon descended into the Elbe valley. The rich hills of Dresden met his eye; the spring had already developed all its magnificence; but in the vast amphitheater that lay before him, the Russian bayonets shone again on all sides. Black columns of smoke reported on the right and left, the burning of the bridges on the Elbe, and in the distance we could still hear the cannon roaring, while in the city all the bells of the churches were celebrating the arrival of new victor. In front of the gates, Napoleon found a deputation of prominent citizens; he would neither see nor hear, and passed by.

He had heard that four days earlier, residents were gathered in crowds to meet the allied sovereigns; that girls, forming a double line, carrying baskets filled with flowers, that were sown on the path of foreign monarchs; finally that evening, the city was illuminated, and that many, with this motto: Deliver us from them! had been drawn into allegorical characters. Moreover, the departure of the King of Saxony to Bohemia in his eyes had a peculiar gravity; he was convinced that secret arrangements must have existed between him and the allied sovereigns. Accustomed as he was for some time to find treachery everywhere, Napoleon thought too easily to avenge personal wrongs, to punish and prevent objections to new dangers.  So when arrived near the bridge over the Elbe River, which separates the old city from the new town; he had seen the members of the Dresden city council with the usual speech on their lips, and, in their hands, the silver dish on which were the golden keys of the city, his eyes lit up, he pushed his horse straight toward them, and spared these magistrates the shame of expressing the wishes that they had before the day of Lutzen, offered his enemies, saying in a loud voice:

—I do not know you any longer! ... This is no longer a town! ... Your king has sold you to my enemies ... I say without my protection, he has ceased to reign.

And eagerly seizing the keys that had been presented to his knees, he threw them forcefully into the Elbe, crying in excess of his exasperation:

—You no longer have a master! and this master, it's me ...

It was too much for the heart of a people accustomed to adversity, but not contempt. A murmur broke from the crowd pressed around him. Without worrying about this courageous protest, Napoleon took a louder voice:

—You deserve that I should treat you as conquered country. I know what you've done while kings allied against France occupied your city. I know what insults you have heaped. Your houses still bear the remnants of your strings. I still see on the pavement, the remains of flowers have been cast at the footsteps of my enemy...

Here Napoleon was silent, as if to gauge the effect of these terrible words. Seeing they had plunged to whom they were addressed in a stupor, he calmed down and walking with a softer look on the attentive and silent crowd, he replied in a more reassuring tone:

—I should punish you, and yet I want to forgive everything. Bless your king, for he will be your savior. Despite his faults towards France and towards me, I cannot forget the old friendship which binds me to him. I want to believe he has been misled, that they played on his religion and that he justifies it this way. As well, you've been punished enough, since you have to be administered by a Prussian obedience to a Russian. I observe myself that the war should cause the least pain possible, and to give you a token of my clemency, it is General Durosnel, my aide, who will be your governor. Your king himself would choose for you...

Hardly had the Emperor finished speaking, than the multitude gave vent to its joy by acclamations and blessings, and if anything could still exalt the recognition of these people, it was the confidence that its king was about to be returned. We know that this venerable prince was adored by his subjects; so when Napoleon had been completely disillusioned about him, he employed there any means to prove to his loyal ally through the esteem and friendship he held for him.

The return of the King of Saxony in Dresden was a triumph. Napoleon sent his aide de camp, M. de Flahaut to meet him, and went himself to meet him. All the Imperial Guard, presented arms, along the borders from Pirna up to his palace. In approaching the Emperor threw himself into his arms and kissed him almost in tears, saying with emotion:

—Sire, my brother, today I collect the laurels of Lutzen.

All the time he spent in Dresden, Napoleon worked to show the king the most delicate attentions.  Now we know, that when he wished he had the most attractive ways, combined with the skill and intelligence that he knew that he had to, watch what he said in the use of his phrases. But back to his first day in Dresden.

Crossing the city, thousands of heads appeared everywhere from the holes of cellars to the attics of the taller houses, and thousands of mouths made the air resound with the endless cry of Vive Napoleon!  As for him, overwhelmed with glory and fatigue, he arrived at the shelter that had been prepared in the royal palace. There, while walking with great strides, his eyes fell mechanically on a double frame hung above a table, which contained the portraits of the Emperor of Russia and King of Prussia, set looking at one another.  No doubt these paintings had been forgotten in this place due to the haste with which the apartment had changed masters. Nevertheless, Napoleon looked at it with eyes on fire, then resuming his walk; he folded his arms across his chest, saying with a strange tone of voice:

—Just give me the proposed treaties! This isn’t over with the pen that I now ratify it with; but with the sword!

From the glorious campaign of 1813 soon followed the fabulous 1814 campaign in which Napoleon was to be a winner wherever he found himself, and defeated wherever it was not.

According to learned tacticians, in this brief campaign in France, so full of wonders, the Emperor often staked his fortunes on a coup cleverly conceived, boldly executed.  Not believing ourselves capable of deciding such a delicate issue, we will not; we will say, according to men skilled in such matters, that in no time, if the genius of Napoleon deployed more resources, more fertility more presence of mind and more heroism, as nothing was more admirable than the zeal of a handful of brave men who having become insensitive to the suffering, preserved, amidst all the hardships, an inexhaustible cheerfulness and boundless devotion; they seemed reborn and multiplied before these always growing masses of the enemy.

In five days, Napoleon successively over came the five corps of troops which composed the Army of Silesia, commanded by Prince Schwartzenberg, who was advancing on Paris.  It seemed that in such a crisis, he had rediscovered the sublime inspirations which presided over the wonderful feats of his early Italian campaigns. But, despite such bright advantages, and although his brave soldiers had never shrunk from toil, Napoleon felt the need to give them a few days of rest, the better being entered into negotiations with Schwartzenberg, he hoped to conclude an armistice. Soissons, however, was defended by a strong garrison and could stop the enemy, while his marshals attacked Blücher in the rear and side and take him as in a snare. Unfortunately, once again, the Prussians escaped, we do not know how, given the plans of Napoleon, just when he thought it was caught. Scarcely had Blücher appeared before Soissons, than the gates had been opened. A general named Moreau, who commanded the place, hastened to discuss with Bulow, and assured the allies and the free passage of the Aisne. On hearing this bad news, Napoleon exclaimed:

—The name of Moreau will always be fatal to me!

He would not go away; he stopped in a large town, where he bivouacked. The next day, before setting off, he gave money to the mayor of the town to repair the church that the Prussians had devastated. On the same day it was said that Blücher, although wounded at Méry a few days earlier, was descending on both banks of the Marne with a Prussian corps composed of 80,000 fresh troops, presumably to capture of Meaux. Schwartzenberg, also informed of the movement's of the Prussian commanding general, had cut short the negotiations to immediately resume the offensive at Bar-sur-Seine.  Napoleon, whose genius embraced at a quick glance all the operations of the enemy, but could not be everywhere at once, resolved to fight Blücher in person, while suggesting his presence before Schwartzenberg . To this end, an army corps was sent to meet the Austrians, and when our troops were within reach of the enemy, they made the air resound with cries of joy that always heralded the presence of the Emperor among them. Meanwhile, followed by his staff, he marched hastily to meet Blücher; but a flooding, somehow irreparable in the circumstances we found ourselves, had slowed down this march.

The day before, March 26, the Allies had captured a convoy consisting of an enormous quantity of powder, shells, bullets and ammunition of all kinds, immediately was printed in a bulletin making them all aware of this capture. A copy of that agenda fell into the hands of Marshal Macdonald, who thought that this piece should be immediately communicated to the Emperor, who did not suffer that any delay should bring him bad news, so Napoleon said to him at first:

—They lie!

The Marshal insisted; the Emperor persisted in not believing.

—No! A thousand times no! monsieur Marshal, it is written; he cried, you were wrong ... And besides, it's impossible!

Macdonald then gave him the bulletin, which was printed in German and French. The Emperor looked at very carefully:

—Look! He cried again pointing, examine it yourself: it's now the 27th, is not it? ... Well! This bulletin is dated the 29th: This piece is therefore false.  Macdonald, who had paid more attention to the news itself than the date, remained as if stunned and stammered:

—Well ... Sire ... Your Majesty is right...

—Zounds! Napoleon poorly disguising his joy of such a discovery, I knew it; but now, do I ever succeed with you, gentlemen? ... You no longer believe the words of your Emperor! ...

 And turning quickly to Drouet, who was silent, absorbed as he was by examining the bulletin:


—Alas! Sire, said Drouet, who had some knowledge of the art of typography, I say that the news is all too real; there is a misprint: the 9 is a 6 he replied.

—Really! Said Napoleon: and, after careful consideration, he said in a low voice: —it’s possible you were right, monsieur Marshal; you can join your troops.

As Macdonald saluted without another word, the Emperor took a few steps, and taking his hand warmly, shook it with an indescribable feeling, saying:

—Sorry, Macdonald, I was wrong, but it's inevitable!

The evening of that day, after fourteen leagues on horseback, they halted at the little village of d’Herbisse, where Napoleon prepared to spend the night. The rectory had been designated in advance by Berthier to be the headquarters. On seeing the arrival of the Emperor with his staff, his marshals, his officiers d’ordonnance, and the so-called service d’honneur, the pastor of d’Herbisse nearly lost his head with joy and surprise especially when Napoleon, after having dismounted in the courtyard of the rectory, said to him with a tone of kindness which was well known to be captivating:

—Bonjour, monsieur le curé, we have to ask for hospitality for one night only, but do not be afraid of our visit: we’re all so small; we hope not to inconvenience you too much.

He then settled in a single room on the ground floor, which served at the same time as their guest lounge, bedroom, kitchen and dining room. The Prince of Wagram who pointed out that the Emperor would be very bad off in a room too small and too wet, was answered by him in laughing and pointing the finger at two of his officers:

—I will always be more at ease than these gentlemen.

In this moment, in fact, two staff officers had sunk to the waist in a pool they had guessed was shallower but was hidden by bushes had entered. They got to work and it was a little part of a quarter hour before a large wood fire was lit on purpose for them.

In a moment, Napoleon found himself surrounded by candles, the maps and his papers, and he began to work as calmly as he could have done in his cabinet of the Tuileries; as for the others, it took them much longer to settle.  It was not easy for so many people to find a place in this kind of ruin that the presbytery d’Herbisse consisted, even including its outer buildings. Fortunately these gentlemen, although there was more than one prince among them, showed themselves very accommodating and very willing to rise to the occasion.

The officiers d’ordonnance, real dandies of the army, formed a circle around the priest's niece, who greatly welcomed their singing of hymns on the air: O Fontenay! while the others there joined in chorus.  Meanwhile, the good curé gave an extraordinary movement to honor the dignity of his house. A moment later came the canteen mule, so eagerly awaited. The parish priest only had a table that was given to the Emperor, we improvised with a shutter placed on a barrel, and instead of chairs we used logs sawn into three, which we conferred with the name of stools. The generals sat down, the others remained standing. The priest who sat at the table between Marshal Lefèvre and his chief of staff, everybody did honor to the meal, which consisted only of cold beef, russet potatoes and a real pyramid of an omelet; he was missing one thing, it was butter, but the excellent wine that the priest had profusely covered the table with made them forget the poverty and paucity of the menu. After supper, we took care of the beds. They found in a nearby barn shelter and a few bundles of straw: the duty officers remained outside, sitting or lying on the threshold of the room occupied by the Emperor, and the Mameluck Roustan, to whom Napoleon had given orders to wake him, no matter what time of night, when a messenger appeared at headquarters.

The next day at four o'clock in the morning Napoleon, who had not undressed, left his room stepping over those of its officers who were still asleep here and there: he woke them pinching the tip of the ear:

—Come, lazy gentlemen, he told them cheerfully, get up then; do you sleep so well when you have the Cossacks at your heels? ... To horse! ...

In a moment everybody was standing, and Napoleon, anxious to end Blücher, left the parsonage before the day break after recommending that the march took place in silence and in perfect order ... The good priest was still asleep. When he awoke, he had found in his pocket a purse containing a thousand francs in gold, the quartermaster of the palace had placed there by order of the Emperor.

Despite the victories of Saint-Dizier, Brienne and Rothière, the allies continued to march on Paris. It was the end of January 1814.  On February 3, Napoleon, preceded by the Old Guard, arrived at Troyes, which he left after three days to go and cut the road from Paris to the enemy, that he managed through forced marches; but hardly had the French army had taken Nogent, that the municipal authorities of Troyes who had not kept their gates closed as the times required, gave the Russians a guarantee of capitulation, and the next day, February 7, Emperor Alexander entered at the head of a corps of troops.

This news added to the horror that gripped their minds and dispelled the last hopes of the soldier. We know that Napoleon did not want to give new powers to the Duke of Vicenza. The Congress of Châtillon was broken: this was what the allies wanted. The Minister of Police and his agents were not mistaken about their fears that they had already expressed.  As the Allies had deployed in France, the Bourbon party, weak as it was, was trying by all possible means to awaken the memory of this ancient dynasty.  But the wonderful victories of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, Champ-Aubert, Montmirail, Vauchamps, Montereau, soon brought Napoleon and his army before Troyes. The residents had spent seventeen days under the yoke of the Prussians and Russians. The people, exasperated by the violence and humiliations of all sorts that the enemy had inflicted, had viewed with anger the attempts of the royalists. The indignation of the multitude that had been waiting to explode happened with the departure of foreigners.  Forced to stop at virtually every step, Napoleon learned, from his horse back, and the mouth of honorable people, the subject of discontent. He promised swift and severe justice on the perpetrators.

However, through the events and the time marching, 30 March arrived.

For eight days the capital had no official news of the Emperor: we knew he was in the vicinity of Saint-Dizier, but his absence and the removal of the army had led many Parisians to lose hope of being rescued in time. The departure of the Empress and the King of Rome had put the finishing touch to the discouragement; and finally the flight of ministers and key government leaders had caused throughout disagreement and confusion. As soon as the rich had confidence that the allies were marching on the capital, they only thought of surrender; but the poor wanted to fight because they had to keep the glory gained through the blood of their children, and workers in suburbs had asked for arms, they took good care of themselves.

Meanwhile, Napoleon again fought a battle. This latest triumph was to hasten his downfall. Believing he had contained enough allies to make them immobile for some time, he formed the project with his lieutenants to leave the task of covering Paris and to go himself to maneuver on the rear of the army of Schwarzenberg. A dispatch intercepted by the enemy generals revealed this bold attempt, and they hasten to march on the capital, where they called on all the agents they had maintained.  Before Napoleon had only taken few steps, he learned at Doulevent, March 29, the danger which threatened Paris.  He immediately ordered General Dejean, his aide-de-camp to go at full speed and announce his arrival to Joseph Bonaparte. This officer also carried a letter for his brother, and the bulletin of recent events.  In giving his instructions, Napoleon said:

—And especially recommend my brother to do everything to well prevent my wife and son from being taken by the Cossacks!

Then he chose among his stable of horses the best runner and went to Troyes, where he arrived on the 30th, at five o'clock in the morning, having made fifteen miles without stopping. That day, at the same time, the battle was waged under the walls of Paris. The young soldiers of the Duke of Treviso and Marshal Marmont, before abandoning the capital to foreigners, who have surrounded her, had made a last effort. Some thousands of men composing the core depots remained in Paris, students of the Polytechnic trained in artillery companies, the fire brigade, and five or six thousand brave Parisians making up the National Guard, came out of the gates in the morning before daybreak, to take part in combat.  They were not in all twenty thousand, but they were not desperate to face the enemy. The attack began on the wood of Romainville, with the vanguard of the army corps of Prince Schwartzenberg. The village of Pantin, taken and retaken several times, remained in control of the French and the allies were forced to move in their reserves.  The stubborn resistance of our troops was multiplied at points by obstacles, it was doubtful that the enemy might take on this day the heights overlooking Paris.  Then events became problematic because of the approach of Napoleon and his sudden presence among his troops, they were all weak, but in a moment he could change the face of affairs; but at noon the attack plan of the coalition fully developed.  Blücher arrived on the right, advancing with his Prussians crossed the plain of Saint-Denis and marched on Montmartre; on the left, the columns of the Prince of Württemberg fell on Charonne and Vincennes. From that moment, our brave, surrounded on all sides and those further strengthened by the hour, lost all hope and fought on only to die.  It was then that the only battalion of the Old Guard who defended Pantin was forced, after incredible feats of bravery, to abandon this position to the Russians, who established themselves there solidly for last time. This handful of men retreated fighting, when one of these soldiers, already suffering from two fatal wounds, fell on the road and said to his captain, who tried to raise his courage, these sublime words:

—Ah! This time, they are too many!

Immediately the Duke of Ragusa made known this situation to Joseph, whom Napoleon had entrusted the command of the Parisian army.  He immediately dispatched the following note:

“If the Marshal Duke of Ragusa and the Marshal Duke of Treviso can no longer hold, they are allowed to enter into negotiations with Prince Schwartzenberg and the Emperor of Russia, who are before them. They will retreat on the Loire, with their troops.


Montmartre, March 30, 1814, at half past twelve.”

The Emperor’s brother, having seen the waves of enemy advancing to the foot of Montmartre, had acknowledged that they could do no more than capitulate.  At half passed noon or so, that is to say immediately after having sent Marmont this authorization, he had managed to make it into the Bois de Boulogne along the avenue called the Way of the Rebellion, to gain the road to Versailles and join the Empress at Rambouillet.  Hardly had the Prince reached the edge of the Bois de Boulogne than General Dejean arrived in Paris. He went to Montmartre, which Joseph had abandoned, inquired, ran after him, soon joined him and gave him the letter from the Emperor at the same time to inform him of his mission. This letter was as follows:

“To King Joseph,

In accordance with verbal instructions that I gave you before my departure, and the spirit of all my letters, in which I told you that, whatever happens, you should not allow the Empress and the King Rome to fall into the hands of the allies, I warn you that I maneuvered so that tomorrow I will be in Paris with my Guard. In the meantime, stand firm.  Put away the treasure and ammunition.  Do not leave my son. Remember that I would rather be seen in the Seine, than cede it to the enemies of France: the fate of Astyanax, prisoner of the Greeks, has always seemed the most unfortunate history.

Your affectionate brother,


The former king of Spain and Naples read this letter without betraying the slightest emotion, and then said coolly to General Dejean continuing his march:

—It is too late: I have given orders to Marmont to negotiate with the enemy.

But General Dejean was one of those soldiers for whom honor is more than life. He could not understand the retreat of Joseph; his generous soul made him indignant with his weakness.

—Yes, Sire, he answered with respectful dignity, I will faithfully report to the Emperor your words, Your Majesty, but he will not want to believe what I say.

And saluting the Prince, spurred on the double, crossing Paris, coming to the Duke of Treviso at half past three, and tells the marshal what had happened. Then he wrote the following to M. de Schwartzenberg:

“Prince, negotiations are being initiated. Spare the effusion of blood. I think I have enough authority to propose a truce of twenty-four hours, during which we can finally negotiate to spare the city of Paris, where we are determined to defend ourselves until the last extremity, the horrors of a siege.”

Captain Lacourt, aide to Marshal was responsible for bringing this dispatch to the Austrian headquarters. Meanwhile, Marmont had been in communication with the enemy.  Its members, initially greeted with gunfire on the road to Belleville, had been better received on the side of Villette.  Finally admitted in the presence of leaders of the allied army, they announced that the two marshals commanding the French forces were authorized to negotiate and they had requested a suspension of fighting, and it had been granted.  But also during the time that had elapsed in the talks, the enemy seized the heights of Père-La-chaise; in the center, it had entered Belleville and Ménilmontant, it had settled on the then buttes of Saint-Chaumont, which dominates Paris; Blücher was master of the barricades of Saint-Denis, finally, Montmartre had been occupied.

While the blood flowed beneath the walls of Paris, the Boulevard des Italians had not ceased to be covered with a crowd of pedestrians who seemed unaware of what was going on so near them, when suddenly, at four o’clock, a general cry of save us we’re afraid! was heard from the Porte Saint-Martin to rue de la Paix. They fled; they threw themselves upon each other, as during our most recent population riots; terrified waves of fugitives extend far beyond the Royal Palace.

The cause of this panic has long been sought, with no one ever discovering it.  To some, two Cossacks, who had rushed into Paris by the Saint-Martin barricade, who had galloped up the boulevard, where they had been killed, had caused this disorder; according to others it was due to a Polish lancers, who, having drunk so completely justifying their reputation, had descended into the Montmartre suburb at full gallop, shouting loudly: "Long live the Emperor! Here are the Cossacks!

At night, the Dukes of Ragusa and Treviso met at the gate of La Villette. They went into a low tavern kept by a man named Touron, where they had been preceded by MM. de Nesselrode and Count Orloff. The major articles of the capitulation of Paris were written there that were signed by representatives of the two emperors of Austria and Russia, and the Colonels Fabvier and Saint-Denis, the first belonging to the body of the General Staff, the second, the first aide to Marmont and, a few days later, everyone could see on the front of the tavern where the fate of France had been decided, the inscription written in large white letters on a red background:


Here, March 30 1814 of August memorialized,

By the help of our friends, the allies,

Divine Providence gave France a father.


It was cleared a year later on the return of Napoleon at March 20, 1815, but the house still exists, only it has changed hands and use is now a hospital for sick animals.

But while these serious events were taking place in the capital where was Napoleon?

Arriving at Troyes, as we have said, he only took one hour's rest and started again.  As usual, he had kept any of those who traveled so quickly with him in dark as to where he was going. At Sens, he stopped only for the time needed to drink some broth.  At every stage, he asked eagerly for news of the Empress and the King of Rome, and learned successively, in changing horses, that his wife and son had left Paris, that the enemy was at the gates of the capital and we fought. Then he pressed himself the postilions and distributed gold: the wheels burned the pavement.  Napoleon had never more eagerly calculated distances.  Finally, around midnight, he was only a few leagues from Paris. On relaying at Fromenteau, near the fountain of Juvisy, he felt the anxiety in its last stages.

—Within an hour, he said, slapping the knee of Berthier, who has stopped biting his nails on the road, we head to defend the capital.

Just then a messenger arrived, who demanded loudly if one knew where the Emperor was. On a sign, the man approached his carriage.

—Who are you and sends you to me? Napoleon asked eagerly.

—Sire, I am one of the special couriers of the Count de Lavalette, who asked me to deliver this letter to Your Majesty, any place and time where I would meet you.

—Come on, give it! the Emperor motioned.

The courier looked in his pockets and did not find his letter; he felt, hesitated, stammered a few words. Napoleon continued to hold his hand out towards him.

—You've lost it, I bet! Napoleon exclaimed.

Finally, this man found his letter in one of his boots; it had slipped from his belt where he had placed it accordingly. Napoleon snatched rather than took it to his hands and opened it with haste ... M. de Lavalette informed him that the capitulation of Paris was signed the same day at eleven o'clock at night, that the allies, with the sovereigns, must make their entry into the capital the next day at noon and ends by saying that everything was consummated.

—Short by an hour! exclaimed the Emperor with an indefinable accent.

He entered, followed by his officers, the post-house, where he took the map which he used to mark the various positions of his troops and those occupied by the enemy using small pins whose heads are coated with wax of different colors; but soon he was forced to abandon the cold occupation of strategy, devoured as he was by anxiety to know what is happening now in Paris.  He left the post-house to take the air, as he repeats every moment that his head is burning, and he walks slowly on the low side of the very grand road to Paris, and seems most abandoned in dark reflections. His officers followed him silently. They walked barely there ten minutes before; General Belliard appeared at the head of a column of artillery, which just left the capital. Napoleon recognized and called him by name.  On seeing him, Belliard jumps off his horse, and soon the most animated conversation ensued between them. The general tells the Emperor the details of the battle.  When Bertrand, Caulaincourt and Berthier saw Napoleon interview this general, they were kept away; the Emperor soon recalled them.

—Well! gentlemen, he said, from what I hear, we must go to Paris immediately: go!

And taking the arm of Belliard, he quickens his pace to reach the carriage that remained coupled, a few steps in front of the post-house.

—Sire, said Belliard on the way, I can certify to your Majesty that by now there should be no more troops in the capital.

—It’s not important! I will find the National Guard; my Guard will join me tomorrow, and with them will I soon restore the situation. You'll follow me with your artillery.

—But, Sire, there are over a hundred and thirty thousand men around Paris.

—Monsieur General, said Napoleon with a sublime gesture and superb look, even so my guard will cut through these people.

—Your Majesty is liable to get caught..

At these words Napoleon stopped and seized the arms of Belliard pressing it vigorously:

—Me! ... prisoner of a Russian or a Prussian! ... Me! repeating in a tone of disdain, never! I know the way out of such infamy.

After further insisting of Napoleon to march forward and new arguments of Belliard, who was joined by Caulaincourt and Berthier, to dissuade him, the Emperor said in a tone of resolution and defiance all at once:

—Well, I see that everyone has lost his head.  Joseph is an... imbecile and Clarke a traitor, I begin to notice it.

At that moment, the vanguard of the column of infantry of Marshal Mortier appeared on the road; Napoleon asked imperiously of the Duke of Vicenza to move his carriage, and continued to walk up and down, dropping from time to time, a few exclamations on what he called his brother's stupidity and treachery of his minister of war.  The Prince of Neufchâtel, seeing that the Emperor took no action and the time elapsed since the day began to dawn, urged him to send Caulaincourt to Paris, to negotiate with the allies.

—Sire, he said, there is no need to despair.  There is still a signed agreement, and the Duke of Vicenza, as might...

—The Duke, said Napoleon, turning to the Duke of Vicenza, Berthier is right. Go at once and see Emperor Alexander I, perhaps it is still possible to intervene. I give you carte blanche, but remember this time that the honor and dignity of France are in your hands.

Napoleon got into his carriage, and all those who had joined took the road to Fontainebleau. At six o'clock in the morning, he entered the White Horse Court. He did not like that the honorary apartments should be opened, and encamped, rather lodging in a small apartment he was particularly fond of, that was located on the first floor along the gallery called Francis 1st, the same where Queen Christina of Sweden had assassinated Monaldeschi.  Then he crossed this gallery not quickly by while saying in a brusque tone that had one never noticed him using:

—I do not need anyone. Leave me!

Then finally, after a moment of silence, pressing his fists on his forehead, he added more softly, in a concentrated voice:

—After so much bloodshed, after so many great deeds, so many triumphs, work and perseverance, that's just where human things happen! ...


Placed on the Napoleon Series: September 2009


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