—Gentlemen, he said, those selfless people who brought me back to my capital; those sub-lieutenants and soldiers who have done everything; it is to the people, it is to the army that I owe everything.
On the 27th, it seemed as if the Bourbons had never existed, and the nation thought it had been dreaming. That revolution had been completed in one day and did not cost a drop of blood. No one took this time to criticize Napoleon for the death of a father, brother or friend. The only visible change that was made was that of the colors floating over our cities had been changed and instead of the cry of Long Live the King! There was one of Long live the Emperor! which arose, echoing from one end of France to another.
During these three months Napoleon worked sixteen hours a day. At his voice, France was covered with factories, workshops; and armories of the capital alone supplied about 2,000 fusils in 24 four hours, while tailors made, in the same period, between 12 and 1500 coats.
At the same time, cadres for the line regiments were raised from two to five battalions; and those of the cavalry were reinforced by two squadrons. Two hundred battalions of National Guards were organized. All former disbanded soldiers were recalled to the colors and finally six armies were formed under the names: Army of the North, of the Moselle, of the Rhine, of the Jura, of the Alps and of the Pyrenees, while a seventh, as the Army of the Reserve, united under the walls of Paris and Lyon, which it fortified.
However, as Napoleon saw the storm grow in the cabinets of Europe having united for his head, he increasingly felt the need to rely on people who failed in 1814. The nation had complained of a lack of freedom it had been given by the Additional Act of 1790 that his federation had taken; 1815 had its Field-of-May on 1 June, on the altar of the Champ de Mars, Napoleon took the oath of allegiance to the new constitution, and the same day he opened the two Houses, after which, depositing the Imperial Scepter, he seized the sword of general and prepared to open the campaign, the campaign known as Waterloo, this great national disaster!
Such were the words uttered by Napoleon on Saint- Helena, where, already lying on his deathbed, he came to speak of Waterloo for the last time.
On June 12, 1815, at two o'clock in the morning, accompanied only by his Grand Marshal of the Palace he had left Paris to return to his headquarters, where his new military household had preceded him. On entering the carriage, he said with a kind of appreciation and kindness to the officers of his civilian household who were waiting in the great hall of the chateau to see him again:
And he rushed into his carriage. On the 13th he was at Avesne, and the 14th he arrived in Beaumont, where he concentrated his headquarters. There he encamped his army in three directions. It consisted of only 120,000 men, having with them 350 pieces of artillery. The same evening he issued a proclamation that he had dictated in the morning to one of his secretaries. As Caesar and Frederick, Napoleon never failed to recall historic epochs, and to consecrate certain days.
These noble sentiments heated all spirits, and never was the fighting ardor without an anticipation of a more glorious triumph. The 15th, at daybreak, the three columns making up the French army began to move. In some fights at the outposts, the Prussians were completely repulsed, Charleroi was taken, and the night of 15th to 16th, the whole army crossed the Sambre and bivouacked in four square miles, surrounded by hostile armies, collected and amazed by the skill and alertness of the maneuvers of Napoleon. This initial success was even more remarkable in that in the same night General Bourmont had abandoned the army. At this news the Emperor on the spot, changed the attack plan he had prepared for the next day, that this unexpected defection rendered necessary. Strange! It is said that Napoleon seemed to have had a sort premonition as to the future conduct of M. Bourmont. He had angrily refused the command of a division he sought. The latter, desperate to remain employed, had been used primarily by Count Lobau: but, repelled by the aide-de-camp of Napoleon, he was then sent to General Gerard, after seeking the support of Marshal Ney, who had vouched for him to the Emperor.
The 16th in the night, the Marshal, who commanded the left wing of the army, Napoleon received formal orders to occupy at daybreak, with his forty-three thousand men, the position of the Quatre-Bras on the road to Brussels, while securing at the same time those of Nivelles and Namur; but when the Prince took up arms to execute this order, a cannonade which was heard on his right side made him hesitate: the believed the allies had united at this point, and afraid of being out flanked, he waited for further instructions. Having soon learned of the inaction of the Marshal, the Emperor blamed him for the loss of eight hours, and he repeated the order to move forward.
At two o'clock in the afternoon, Napoleon ordered a change to the front to Fleurus, fully announcing that we would be deal with the Prussian army. Count Gerard having approached to ask him for some instructions concerning the attack on the village of Ligny, Napoleon said:
We know that in this battle, General Gerard acquired new claims to fame, and at the end of the day, Napoleon said:
About four o'clock, when the two armies pressed on all sides, and while hundreds of cannon shook the earth, Napoleon exclaimed:
Shortly after, he ordered Dorsenne, commander of the Division of Foot Grenadiers of the Old Guard to capture with one of his battalions a brick yard behind which many of the Prussians had retrenched. This movement was executed in the blink of an eye. The dislodged Prussians were swarmed by sharpshooters of the line who began their pursuit; from that moment the battle was won. Seeing the Guard deploy before him, so calm and heroic at the time, Napoleon said, smiling at the Grand Marshal:
Towards the end of the action, Field-Marshal Blücher was thrown from his horse in a charge of cuirassiers of the Delort division and trampled under the horses' feet; our cuirassiers continued their movement without recognizing him. The commander in chief, all bruised with contusions, succeeded, not without difficulty, to get back on the horse of a Hanoverian dragoon and escape.
In the evening, Napoleon went to their bivouacs and complimented several regiments which had fought all day. A few words, a smile, a hand salute, a nod, were sufficient reward for the brave crowd who came to conquer. The number of killed and prisoners taken from the enemy had been considerable; while its hardware, seventy guns and forty flags remained in our hands.
Next the 17th, Marshal Ney having received, as we have said, the order to attack the rearguard of the British army, with Count Lobau supporting the attack, went by way of the highroad of Namur, that ended at the farm of Quatre-Bras; at the same time Napoleon arrived at a gallop, and, perceiving that this position was still occupied by the enemy, he sent an officier d’ordonnance to Ney urging him to debouche in this direction. The battle ensued with indescribable fury. Ney's troops had not appeared yet. The Emperor, impatient, sent orders to commanders to hasten their march. The fight continued. Napoleon placed himself on a small eminence where he could see everything. Hardly was he there for a few minutes, than two or three cannon balls came bouncing to his feet and covered with earth, he then changed his place, saying:
Immediately after this, a new ball passed three feet from him and killed an escort chasseur, the body rolling into the legs of his horse, and a moment later, the Count d’Erlon arrived on the scene, then General Reil, soon followed by Marshal Ney.
He called the Marshal on the spot, who was neither less brave nor less devoted this day than during the rest of his beautiful and glorious life, but a kind of hallucination appeared to have struck him.
And the Emperor galloped off to focus on another point. The result of so many delays was that the French vanguard did not begin arriving, on the 17th, at Waterloo until six o'clock at night. Napoleon did not have any time to make a general attack as he had intended, it was then he exclaimed, pointing to the sun:
Finally, the next day, June 18, at daybreak, the whole army moved in and began marching out in eleven columns. Napoleon at the head of his Old Guard moved onto the heights of Rossome before a sort of tower built of wood and visible from very far in the country side, and he remained to observe. The heat was stifling, the weather was gloomy. The soldiers, overcome with fatigue and drenched by the rain that fell overnight had nothing left but their usual vivat to greet the day, which for most of them would be the last.
Only a few words of command from time to time and the sound of thunder rumbling into space interrupted the silence of the plain. The French army numbered no more than 69,000 due to the absence of the corps of Grouchy. Wellington's army alone was 90,000 men. Napoleon believed rightly that he had superior strength though less in number. Not half of that army was English, while in ours there were only French, working towards a common cause for glory under the same flag; as it was, Napoleon was full of confidence and he even looked in a very good mood. While giving numerous orders, he chatted cheerfully with those of his general officers who were closest to him. And as when prisoners of distinction were brought to him, he questioned them eagerly and took snuff all the time. Feeling a burning thirst, he demanded something to drink. As the accommodations of his household were too far away, it was quite difficult to procure a bottle of wine. The Grand Marshal presented him with a half full cup, which hardly had approached his lips when he returned it to Bertrand.
During this time officers of the staff arrived every minute, who, after having traversed the whole line, made their report. Napoleon then decided to turn the enemy's left to provide a meeting point for the corps of Grouchy that he looked for with the greatest impatience. He knew that the general slept in Gembloux; where, after the final orders that he had been given at four o'clock in the morning that he must attack Wavre and complete the destruction of Blücher's army; but Napoleon was unaware of the junction of Bülow with that commander in chief, who has joining that night without thinking of Grouchy’s opposition. Learning suddenly from a Hanoverian prisoner, of the meeting of these two generals, he said to Marshal Soult, his Chief of Staff:
It was eleven o'clock when we were still engaged on the whole line as skirmishers. Napoleon gave orders to Ney to start to fire and take the position of La Haie-Sainte. Then a terrible cannonade was heard; there were no less than 150 cannons on our side. The house of La Haie-Sainte, located in the hollow of a valley, was captured and recaptured several times in front of Napoleon with equal ferocity on both sides; finally at three o’clock in the afternoon it remained ours: those who defended, who had no more ammunition, were all killed. The fight continued on all other points. About five o'clock we saw the British army make a movement to concentrate on the Brussels road, as if to take it in the event of a retirement. The right of the army of Wellington and the left of that of Bulow were at the same time lined by our troops; shouts of victory already rang on the ground won by our brave.
And the battle continued. At seven o'clock, the French army is finally mistress of the field after incredible feats of bravery. At this moment, weak cannonades were heard in the direction of Wavre:
Immediately, all the glasses of the staff were trained on this point; but the weather was so foggy one could not distinguish anything. Napoleon detached an officier d’ordonnance in the direction of Wavre ... The officer went quickly, and coming just up to him:
And the officer was lost in the ranks of the staff. A half an hour later, the first columns of Prussian debouched and arrived at a run on our right wing, led by a peasant from near Frischemont, who said to their leader: “By following this direction you will take them all.” It was then that Napoleon, accepting the sad certainty that Blücher would begin an attack with 150,000 Prussians, exclaimed palely:
Here began the third and final battle. Napoleon knew the full extent of the danger which threatened. The sun had disappeared below the horizon; the Guard had not yet been engaged; she would deliver his last fight and die. Napoleon commanded: a terrible cannonade began again. Blücher advanced, a division marched at the charge against the Prussian column: this division was routed under the eyes of Napoleon, whose surprise and impatience are extreme.
He immediately ordered four squadrons of the Guards to charge. Two thousand brave elites (grenadiers and dragoons) threw themselves headlong on the compact mass of enemies. The dominant noise (according to one eyewitness) became similar to that which would come from a large number of boilermakers at work: these were the swords that fell on the helmets and breastplates. But what could these four squadrons do against 12,000 fresh horses? They too were crushed! Hence the confusion only increased. At this movement, they say, there was heard the fatal cry of Save yourself or be lost! It was then that these sublime words were uttered: The Guard dies and does not surrender! Did they belong to Cambronne, seriously injured, or Dorsenne, or Michael, both killed at the same time? ... Perhaps...because he who uttered them probably did not survive them.
However, on a plateau called Mont-Saint-Jean, when Napoleon withdrew, the last reserve remained steadfast amid the tumultuous waves of the army. The Emperor was placed in the ranks of these brave; he had a sword in his hand, and like them had returned to be a soldier. These old companions, unable to tremble for their lives, were frightened of the danger threatening their Emperor, they begged him to leave:
Napoleon resisted, and after forming a square of his grenadiers, he commanded himself for them to fire. But the officers who surrounded him seized the horse's bridle and led it: then crowded around their eagle, Napoleon made a last farewell and they rushed on the enemy after sending forth a last cry of Vive l'Empereur!
With shock they recognized the impetuosity of the victors of Austerlitz, Jena and Wagram. Prussians, Russians, Saxons, English, Austrians, all suspended their cries of victory, and united against this handful of heroes to kill them at once. Those whose death was pending shot themselves so as not to outlive their brothers in arms, and not die at the hands of a Prussian, but it was only after having made their same deathbed with a body of twenty thousand foreigners. But when you consider that 8,000 men of the Guard, exhausted and in need, fought for five hours on a muddy and uneven ground against 130,000 combatants, and that among the 8,000 heroes, more than 7,000 thousand died , is it not to the defeated that we must award the palm of victory?
The retreat of the bloody debris of our glorious army took place amid new wonders. The chase broke out; general pell-mell cast confusion across the fields, among the cavalry, the infantry and the artillery. General Duhesme, one of the bravest of the army, was captured by the Prussians, who butchered him. Humanity, friendship, and the sympathy of the Belgians, stole many of our wounded from Prussian barbarism. We were obliged to use violence to extract Napoleon from this field of carnage, who persisted in wanting to die when his Guard was dead.
Finally, at nine o'clock at night, yielding to the remonstrations made to him, he fled away with Bertrand, who would not close his eyes again until they were three thousand miles from France!
The arrival of Napoleon in Paris, after this great disaster, could still excite popular enthusiasm and create new defenders for the fatherland. He alone was able to rally the troops. The House of Representatives did not understand the role it should have taken to resist the foreigners. Instead of supporting Napoleon, it showed heightened resistance against him amounting to hostility. She spoke again, as it formerly did as the National Convention; and as such a meeting, that snatched the throne and the life of Louis XVI, it forced the Emperor to give up his crown; but at least, the Convention had managed to defeat the Coalition.
Napoleon told the French people of the new sacrifice imposed upon him by the attitude of Chamber, saying:
The Chambers, surprised by having so easily won this abdication, they had caused, sent deputations to Napoleon, who replied:
In forcing Napoleon to give up his imperial character, it had not been able to take away the military talents which had been the glory of General Bonaparte. He offered to make these available to the country at risk; but the men who had lined up against him did not allow this hand which had raised the scepter of Emperor to recover his sword as general. He was forced to leave Paris and even to seek refuge outside France. His presence generated treason and frightened away inability, not to mention, imbecility. Those who have feared the ascendancy of Napoleon were left duped by Feuché. They were still the majority in both Chambers.
When Napoleon left Paris to go first to Malmaison, he was no longer free. The commission's interim government had given a supervisor who accompanied him to Rochefort. General Becker was chosen for this mission, who had been complaining about Napoleon; but in the heart of the officer, honor spoke louder than enmity, and he always retained a deep respect for his illustrious prisoner. Arriving at Rochefort, after refusing the offer of Captain Baudin, now vice-admiral, who proposed to conduct him to the United States, he wrote, July 15, to the Prince Regent of England, the following letter that General Gourgaud was instructed to bring to London:
But time was short, Paris was occupied by foreigners. One of the captains of the British naval station, Maitland, said, the 14th: “it is not yet safe to conduct the Emperor (whose safe conduct had been requested on the 10th); but that if wants to embark for England, it is allowed to take him there and be dealt with all the regard due to the rank he held.”
Based on these words, Napoleon went the 15th, with his suite on board the Bellerophon, commanded by Captain Maitland. He was received with full military honors, and, on leaving the port, he told General Becker, who was preparing to accompany him:
The captain of the Bellerophon had been notified of the letter addressed to the Prince Regent, his sovereign, and, putting his foot on his ship, Napoleon had also said:
Contrary winds detained the Bellerophon at sea for nine days; it anchored the 24th in Torbay. General Gourgaud returned; he had not been allowed to reach the Prince Regent. It was a fatal omen. Indeed, July 30, Napoleon learned that he would be a captive forever. An under-secretary of State and a British admiral (Lord Keith) gave him a ministerial declaration which stated: “They cannot conduct our duties to our country or our allies, if General Bonaparte retains the means to again disturb the peace of the continent. The Island of Saint-Helena was chosen for his future residence. Its local situation we will be much more conducive in dealing with him leniently than we could elsewhere, given the necessary precautions that would have to be made to secure his person.”
To this clear violation of human rights and humanity, Napoleon, indignantly, replied to the British government by this eloquent protest he handed to Lord Keith:
The English ministry, consummating its work of treason, would not be stopped by this strong claim. On 6 August, Napoleon was transferred to the Northumberland, which already had Admiral Cockburn, who was appointed Governor of Saint-Helena aboard, and on the 10th, the ship sailed to the island. The 17th, Napoleon, passing in sight of Cape La Hogue, saluted France for the last time.
This crossing, taking until October 15, was not marked any remarkable event. On the 16th, after lunch, Napoleon had come to lean on one of the rails in front of the ship and stared at if, in the immensity of the sea, he could see Saint Helena, because the Admiral Cockburn had announced early in the morning that from one moment to another the island could be seen. While passing the corner of his handkerchief over the glass of his telescope, he thought he noticed a sailor who tried to approach him without being seen, because they had been ordered that while at sea in Northumberland to always stay at a distance from Napoleon. It was not the first time that the Emperor saw that man prowling around him, though the huge pair of black graying whiskers framing his face had hitherto prevented him from distinguishing features. Either by a sense of curiosity or by one of those instinctive movements which we cannot explain the cause, Napoleon took a few steps toward the sailor, but he stopped short of saying, without changing position, but in a hoarse voice and with trembling emotion:
And he held out his hand to Pomayrols, who rushed over and kissed it with passion, chest swelling with sighs and eyes filled with tears.
Napoleon made a gesture of doubt.
Saying these words, Pomayrols had made the gesture of a man thrown into the sea.
And Pomayrols gave Napoleon a small scrap of rolled up paper, which would have been difficult to guess the original color. Napoleon unrolled it ... It was the copy of the song he had pinned on the breast of his grenadiers who had fought at Boulogne with the soldiers of the line. He put it in the pocket of his coat and said coldly:
Then he walked away, whistling between his teeth a Provencal song. Napoleon remained mechanically in the same place and absorbed by the memories that the sailor had recalled to his mind. He wondered: “How is it that this man is here?” It was a mystery that nobody could ever explain.
Napoleon was shaken from his reverie by something he saw far over the sea was like a black column on the rolling waters, and leaving a long trail of thick smoke escaping like a huge fireplace.
All the staff of Northumberland came on deck.
The Grand Marshal, seeing the Emperor so agitated, joined him.
At this cry, Napoleon made an involuntary movement, and, seizing the hand of Bertrand, pressed it convulsively, with repeated emphasis stated:
The next day October 17, 181 5, seventy days after his departure from England, and one hundred and ten days after having left France, Napoleon went down into the boat which was to take him to his final resting place. When Admiral Cockburn was preparing to set foot on the plank that served as a bridge from the boat to beach, the Emperor stopped him by the arm, saying politely:
Scarcely had he set foot on the shores of Saint-Helena that he turned his head eagerly, as if he heard a cry of adieu weakened by distance. At the same moment a gun fired, followed almost immediately by the sound of a heavy body falling into the water, was heard by all of those who were on the Northumberland. Running to the place ... we saw nothing but the sea slightly colored on the surface by a reddish hue, a little smoke dissipated into the air, and an old sailor's hat left near the rails. We examined the hat that nobody claimed, and under the hood of canvas we saw written in red ink: Pomayrols. - Camp de Boulogne.
We do not understand, because there was no sailor of that name among the crew, but eight years later, in 1825, French travelers, having disembarked at Saint-Helena, visited Longwood, accompanied by a elderly man wearing a red coat, who had previously been serving Hudson-Lowe. Arriving at the avenue of trees behind the house, the English guide showed to the travelers a willow almost stripped of its bark and the trunk of which Bonaparte he said sometimes amused to draw characters and figures with a penknife. They came and saw indeed a name clearly engraved, one of Pomayrols. As these passengers asked of their guide who this character could be, without answering them, the man with the red coat coolly drew a knife from his pocket and removed the bark of the tree at that position.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2009
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