Research Subjects: Napoleon Himself


However a formidable insurrection had broken out in the departments of the Est and the Midi.  Lyon, Marseille and Toulon had declared themselves against the Convention.  The Federalist Party dominated Lyon and Marseille.  Both cities were defended by their citizens, with longstanding armed and organized national guards; but Toulon was given over to foreigners.  Officials of the British government, based on the support of a portion of the population for the House of Bourbon, and the royalist harboring a hope for the restoration of the throne, had admitted a squadron composed of English, Spanish and Neapolitan ships into the port.  This squadron appeared on the pretext of supporting the rights of Louis XVII.  It landed troops who occupied the city, the port and forts; and an English general took command.

On arriving in Paris, Napoleon learned that the Convention, deeply irritated by the invasion of French territory and the occupation of Toulon, had just given orders to the generals Cartaux and Lapoype to bring together forces in order to reduce the insurgent city.  Napoleon was also nominated by the Committee of Public Safety, to take command of the siege artillery; but before going to his post, he was called to Nice, headquarters of the Army of Italy by General Dugua, who charged him with a difficult mission.  It was to enter into negotiations with the leaders of the insurgency in Marseille, whose posts, established in Avignon, had cut communications of the Army of Italy with France , and blocked the passage of food and ammunition convoys.  Napoleon managed to get the Federalists to agree that they would cease to interfere with the operations of an army responsible for the defense of national territory.  It was at this negotiation, which was quickly concluded, that is found in the composition Souper de Beaucaire, lively and strong dialogue, imbued with the color of the time, when Napoleon produced, in the midst of fair and profound views on the situation the country, all the arguments he used with the heads of the insurgents.  This dialogue was printed for the first time in 1795, in Marseille.

In the early days of the revolution, the organization of the army left much to be desired.  The equipment was in disarray, and the conduct was not always governed by the composition of the staff, with the inevitable continual moments of disorder and confusion.  Upon arriving at the headquarters of Toulon, the young artillery captain appeared before the General Cartaux, an excellent but vain man, adorned in gold from head to toe, who asked him what he would do in his service.  Napoleon modestly gave him the letter within which were his orders to serve him in artillery operations.

—This isn’t needed, said the general caressing his mustache; We no longer need anything to capture Toulon.  However, citizen your coming is welcome; tomorrow you will share with us the glory of triumph without any fatigue.

At the break of the day, General Napoleon climbed with him into his cabriolet, to go admire, he said modestly, the offensive provisions he had made.  Having gone beyond the heights and discovered the bay, he came down from the carriage, jumping to the side and we went into the vineyards.  Then the new commander of artillery saw, here and there, a few cannon and a few stirrings on the ground.

—Citizen Dupas, Cartaux proudly said to his aide-de-camp, in whom he had full confidence, is it our batteries?

—Yes, citizen General.

— And our park?

— There, a few steps away.

— And our red cannon balls (heated shot)?

—All at the back, in our bastions where the two companies have been heating them since this morning.

—But, citizen Dupas, how are we going to bring up all these red balls?

Here, the two interlocutors, who are embarrassed, asked if Napoleon did not know of any way to alleviate this drawback.  The young captain would have been tempted to take everything he had seen and heard for a joke if those two officers would have acted less naturally in their dialogue.  The heated cannon balls, in fact, were at least a league from the pieces which they were intended for, and the pieces were pointing more than two miles from the points that they should breach.  Napoleon nonetheless employed all his reserve and gravity possible to persuade Cartaux, and his aide-de-camp, that they shouldn’t occupy themselves with heating cannonballs; it was chilling trying to ensure himself of their competency.  He would have great difficulty in convincing them.  Fortunately he employed the technical phrase coup d’épreuve (test shot); this touched them, and finally they thought to take his advice.  He fired the first test shot; it did not go a quarter of the necessary distance. So Cartaux lost his temper against Marseille and aristocrats, who, he said, had badly spoiled the gunpowder.

Meanwhile, the Representative of the People Gasparin arrived on horseback.  He was a man of good sense, which he used.  Napoleon thought the moment appropriate, and taking advantage of all these circumstances boldly played his part; he all at once enlarged the entire extent of his ability and, regardless of the presence of General Cartaux and his aide-de-camp, he went right to him:

—Citizen Representative, he said, I am head of the artillery battalion and, as such, this arm is under my direction.  I ask that nobody interferes with me in my job; or else, I will say no more.

—Eh!  Who are you, to assume that responsibility?  The Representative asked, astonished to hear a young man of twenty-four or twenty-five at most speak to him in such a tone.

—Who I am!  Napoleon replied in a low voice: I am a man who, knowing his job was thrown in the midst of people who totally ignore their own.

The young officer spoke with such conviction that Gasparin did not hesitate to turn over to him the absolute command of what he called his job; he proved while sparing no one the ignorance of all those around him, and then took on the senior leadership of the siege.  However, he had yet to fight against the incompetence of the generals and the ego of People's Representatives; but he was right, his determination, the wisdom of his concepts, and the force and speed of execution overcame all obstacles.  He first began to make up for what he lacked in artillery and ammunition; he organized a fleet of over 100 large caliber pieces; he made a reconnaissance of the exact approaches to the town, as well as the new and terrible fortifications that the English had raised; after which he established, in turn, his batteries.

Cartaux and Doppet, who preceded Dugommier in command of the besieging army, were generals full of bravery and good intentions, but completely devoid of talent.  They were forced to surrender, like others, to the ascent of Napoleon.  The soldiers, who did little wrong in such circumstances, followed their example.  Indeed Cartaux had such little capability, as general-in-chief, one day he wanted to force Napoleon to place a battery against a wall of a house, which, consequently, would not allow for the slightest recoil.  Here is what his plan of attack included: "The artillery commander, he wrote, will strike like lightening Toulon for three days, after which I will attack in three columns and capture." But in Paris, the Engineering Committee found that expedient measure much more amusing than scholarly, and decided upon a plan to recall its author.  Plans, moreover, were not lacking: as the recapture of Toulon was given assistance from the general public, projects abounded on all sides.  Napoleon confessed that he had received six hundred during the siege. It is the Representative Gasparin to whom he was responsible to show his own, to liberate Toulon, overcoming the objections of the committees of the Convention. Twenty-eight years later, in St. Helena, the Emperor, in his will, devoted to this representative of the people a memory, for the interest and benevolence that he had found in him.

In all the disputes that Cartaux had with the new commander of artillery, most of the time in the presence of his wife, she always took the side of Napoleon, saying naively to her husband:

But let this young man!  Can you not see that he knows more than you?  He would never ask for himself.  Since you realize it, ah well!  You do not talk of it and the glory will remain.

(But let the young man! Don’t you see that he knows more than you?)

This woman was not without some sense.  After the recall of her husband and his return to Paris, the Jacobin Society of Marseille gave the disgraced general a superb party.  During the meal; it was questioned why the artillery commander had been elevated to the heavens:

 —Do not doubt it, she said; this young man has too much spirit to remain a sans-culotte for long.

Afterwards Cartaux gravely cried and a voice heralded:

—Citizen-Cartaux!  So do you say that we are fools?

—I do not say this, my friend; but ... had you been one, I should have told you so.

Another day, at headquarters, along the road from Paris a row of magnificent carriages appeared.  It carried sixty soldiers in magnificent dress.  They asked for the general-in-chief, and walked with him with an importance of ambassadors.

—Citizen-general, said the speaker of the band, we have arrived from Paris; the patriots are outraged with your inaction and your slowness.  For a long time the soil of the Republic has been violated; she wonders why France is not yet restored, why the English fleet is not yet wiped out.  In her imagination, she made an appeal to the brave: we presented them, and we are burning with impatience to fulfill these expectations.  We are volunteer cannoneers; give us cannons, and tomorrow we march on the enemy!

Cartaux, baffled by the sudden blunder and not knowing how to answer, turned to Napoleon; then he answered to all present:

—Do not worry, citizen general; tomorrow I will rescue all those fops who come here acting like thugs.

That night they bestowed courtesies; but the next day, at dawn, Napoleon took them on the beach and brought some cannons for their disposal.  Stunned to be completely uncovered, they asked if there were not some shelter, some breastworks.  The captain told them very seriously that this method was once good, but now these precautions are no longer in fashion, and that patriotism had done away with all of this.  During the symposium an English frigate lobbed a volley; most of the newcomers did not deem it prudent to wait any longer: some disappeared to headquarters, and the others crept modestly to the equipment train.

The new commander of artillery was up to all tasks.  His character had such an influence on the army as a whole, that if the enemy tried a sortie or forced upon the besiegers some rapid unexpected movements, the heads of column and detachment had the same cry:

—Run for the commander! They said, ask him what to do; He knows better than anyone the situation.

And he ran without anyone approving it.  Besides Napoleon spared no point in one of those sorties, he had two horses killed under him, and received an English bayonet blow to his left thigh; injuries serious enough to earn him an instant threat of amputation.

Another time, finding themselves in a battery in which one of the servers had been killed before their eyes, he took the rammer and trained several shots himself.  A few days after that, he found himself covered with a very awful itch (gale), that the imperative duties of the department prevented him from treating properly.  The disease disappeared only in appearance; the venom was pushed inside and his health was seriously affected.  Perhaps it is to this cause that we must attribute his sickly thinness and this puniness he held for a long time.  It was only after his first campaign in Italy , having more leisure time that he agreed to submit to the treatment indicated by the famous Corvisart, the same who later became the first physician of the Emperor, and he then regained his initial strength.

From simple commander of the artillery Toulon, Napoleon would have been able to become the general-in-chief before the end of the siege.  On the same day as the attack on Petit-Gibraltar, General Dugommier wanted to delay it again. The representatives sent to seek the young commander; they were dissatisfied with the slow Dugommier, and wanted to dismiss him immediately, offering the command to Napoleon; but he refused, and delivered to his general that he liked, that he did know the state of things and decided to attack.  But in the evening, about eight or nine o’clock, when all the troops were already in motion, the representatives wanted in turn to postpone the attack; but Dugommier, always driven by Napoleon persisted at the start. In the event of a setback, there is no doubt that they both would have been lost.

There were notes found from the committees of the Office of Artillery in Paris, on the subject of Napoleon, who had cast their eyes on him at the siege of Toulon.  People come to see that, as soon as he appeared, despite his youth and inferiority of his grade, he commanded in an absolute way.  This is the natural result of the superiority of knowledge, activity and energy over ignorance and indecision.  It was he who actually took Toulon, and yet there was hardly a citation on his behalf among those relating to this siege.  When Dugommier spoke fully of all the facts predicted by Napoleon, when he came to summarize the services that the young captain had bestowed, there was admiration and enthusiasm for him; he was not lavish with praise, and asking the representatives for a promotion for the young officer, he added: "Advance him, because if you are so ungrateful to him by not doing so, he will advance himself on his own."  It was the sort of prediction that Napoleon was destined to carrying out.

In a council of war held in Ollioules on October 13, where the three commissioners sent by the Convention, Barras, Fréron and Gasparin, attended, as well as the General Staff of the Army headquarters, Napoleon had presented his plan, which was not to direct artillery fire on a French city, but to seize the heights overlooking the bay and the port of Toulon, which controlled the entrance.  The English, realizing the importance of this position, had built Mulgrave that the perfection and the number of its defenses won it the name Petit-Gibraltar.

Napoleon rightly believed that it would be the master of this point, from where he could threaten the communications between the fleet and the garrison under siege, who would hasten the English to evacuate the city.  Consequently, and while still engaging the enemy,  there were demonstrations on a point opposite, Napoleon worked to establish the battery needed to support the attack on Fort Mulgrave.  The work had been hidden with the greatest care; the guns were in position; we waited a more favorable night, when a rash order of the People's Representatives, unmasked and displayed all the (artillery) pieces at once, revealed to the English the threatened peril.  They resolved immediately to destroy the works of the assailants.  The following night, 6,000 men, under the command of General O'Hara, commander of Toulon, who wanted to conduct this expedition himself, came out of the city without a sound.  They had already succeeded in capturing the battery, and had spiked a few pieces.  The French, surprised at this sudden attack, had lost ground and tried to rally; but Napoleon was there - he threw without hesitation, his only battalion, into a slit trench which led him to the English rear, where he arrived without being noticed.  Arriving in their midst, he commanded to those following, fire on the right and left.  Disorder began in the ranks of General O'Hara, who, in trying to rally his troops, was taken prisoner.  The approach of General Dugommier, at the head of a few battalions, finally decided the retirement of the English division, which was reduced in disarray up tol just under the walls of the town.

One morning. Napoleon, being at a battery of sans-culottes, asked the post officer for a soldier who had a combination of courage and intelligence.

The Tempest! The officer immediately called.

A grenadier sergeant arose; the commander of the artillery laid his eyes on the one that was already known by the men.

— You will leave your coat, he said, to go to the rear and carry that order.

At the same time he indicated a point fart from the coast and explains what he wants from him; but during this time the young sergeant became red as a grenade; his eyes sparkled.

—Citizen-commander, I am not a spy, he answered coldly; look for someone other than me to execute your order.

He moved to withdraw, when Napoleon retained him with a stern tone:

—How! You refuse to obey! ... Well you know what you expose yourself to?

—I am ready to obey; but wherever you want me to go I will do so in my uniform, or ... I will not go.  It's always an honor for these ... English to see that coat there!  He added proudly, his hand striking the lace sewn on his sleeve.

Napoleon smiled and looked fixedly.

—But ... They will kill you! He replied?

—Why is that important to you?  You do not know me well enough for my loss to make you feel any pain.  As for me, it’s all the same to me. So commander citizen, I will leave as I am here, right?

—Yes, and I hope to see you back as well.

The young sergeant put his hand in his pouch, lightly touching the nail of his thumb on the shot ( pierre) for his fusil:

—Good! He remarked I have my bullets (dragées); if the red coats want to talk, I will reply: conversation should not be allowed to languish.

Then, putting his gun on the left shoulder, he went merrily singing the chorus of the Carmagnole.

— Who is that grenadier? Napoleon asked the head of the post.

—Andoche Junot, in other words the Tempest.

—I will remember him.  Replied the commander in registering these names on his tablet.  That one will make his own way, he added quietly.

The future did not deny that judgment.  Junot was born in 1771 in Bussy-le-Grand (Côte-d'Or). When in 1792 a battle cry was sounded throughout France , he entered that famous battalion of volunteers from the Côte-d'Or, from which came in what followed, both heroes and great officers of the empire.  After the surrender of Longwy, the battalion was directed to Toulon. Junot was already a sergeant grenadier; that grade was awarded while still on the battlefield even by his comrades, who already had nicknamed the Tempest, because of his boiling courage; he was still only 22 years old.  Few days after his first interview with Napoleon, the latter being at the same battery, asked anyone who had good handwriting.  Junot, appointed by his comrades, made his way through the ranks and presented himself.  The commander of the artillery recognized the first sergeant for the grenadier who had already fixed his attention.

—Eh but ... it is Andoche! He cried on seeing him smiling; I am very relieved.

Then he points a finger to the breastwork of the battery, adding:

—Go there, and write the letter that I am going to dictate to you.

Hardly had Junot completed it when a bomb launched by the British erupted ten steps away and cover him and the letter with earth.

 —Thanks! He was smiling; I did not have sand to dry the ink, there it is!

To this again, Napoleon stopped his gaze on the sergeant.  He remained calm and did not even shiver.  That fact decided Junot's fortune: he remained close to the artillery commander and never left his side again.[1]

Finally, four months after the start of the siege of Toulon, Fort Mulgrave, attacked on the night of 18 to Dec. 19, 1793, was carried by strong force.  Napoleon and Dugommier entered first through an embrasure; the old general was overwhelmed by fatigue.

Now go rest, said the young artillery commander; we have just taken Toulon: you will sleep there tomorrow.

The next day, in fact, the enemy squadron, which was being pounded by batteries that Napoleon had established during the night, hastened to withdraw the garrison and evacuate the port and the bay.  On the same day, the forts and the city were occupied by troops of the Republic.

The friendship of Napoleon for two of his war companions became no less famous than Junot, dating from the siege of Toulon.  One of them was Muiron, who was killed near him at Arcola; the other was Duroc, dead at Wurzen, another battleground where the life of Napoleon was no less exposed.  Muiron, already a captain of artillery, had served as adjutant during the siege of Toulon.  Duroc, who became under the title of Grand Marshal of the Palace and the Duke of Friuli, was still a lieutenant.  As for the young commander of the artillery, who played an important part during the siege of Toulon: the rank of brigadier general, which he was granted on February 6, 1794, was given as recompense.  In this capacity, he was responsible for the first of arming and preparation of the coastal defense of Provence and the River of Genoa; and soon after he got command of the artillery of the Army Italy, and moved to Nice in March 1794, which was the established headquarters.  The real intention of the government, entrusting to Napoleon that kind of mission, was to put him in a position to obtain all the necessary information in the event of another invasion.

Meanwhile, Paris saw the Jacobins redouble their fury.  The senior Robespierre, who wielded unlimited power, had sent his younger brother to the Army in Italy as a special commissioner.  The service relations of

Napoleon led him to deal with the younger Robespierre, who appreciated his character, and wanting to replace the commander of Paris, Henriot, whose incapacity troubled his brother made him look upon the young general. However, with the new promotion of Napoleon, his family was in a worse predicament.  To be close to her son, Madame Bonaparte came to settle with his sisters at the Chateau of Sallé, near Antibes, a few miles from headquarters.  Lucien occasionally left his home in Saint-Maximin to see his mother; Napoleon came to visit whenever his duties allowed him the leisure.

One day he announced that Lucien depended on him to leave for Paris the next day, and to establish them all there well. This confidence seems to have charmed Lucien, who aspired to come to the capital.

—Yes, Napoleon said, I have been appointed instead of Henriot; tonight I have to give a definitive answer; what do you think of that?

Lucien appeared to reflect, his brother repeated nodding his head:

—This is worth double-checking. In Paris, things are running either hot or cold; and perhaps it will not be as easy to save his head as it would anywhere else.

—Robespierre the younger is an honest man! Lucien replied; but it seems that his brother had not been kidding.  This would serve.

—What do you think?  I would support this man! ... Ever! ... The pear is not ripe. There is still a place of honor for me in the army. Be patient; later I will command Paris, I will give my answer.

So Napoleon expressed all the indignation that he felt of the reign of terror under which France suffered and he predicted its subsequent fall. Then he ended by saying:

—What do you say to me now of this mean occupation?

Robespierre the younger unsuccessfully asked.  Sometime later, the issue of 9 Thermidor came to France and justified the prediction of Napoleon. Ten days earlier, the betrayal of Paoli was consummated.  A general council, under his presidency, had offered to the King of England the title of King of Corsica that he had accepted; but Paoli should bear the pain of his lies because he had lived long enough to witness the victories and the advent of this consulate son of Charles Bonaparte which he had put a price on his head.


[1] Toulon taken, the young NCO asked Napoleon for no other reward for his fine leadership during the siege, but to be his aide-de-camp, preferring a lower rank than he would have undoubtedly received on returning to his corps.  Junot had a soul of fire and the noblest heart, and without having even having a full measure of the giant before him, he had, however, discovered to have obeyed a great man.  Soon he was attached to General Bonaparte, where he became the first aide-de-camp.  He retained this title to Napoleon, Consul and Emperor, and served with dedication, which took on the aspect of worship up to the time of his death, which came in 1815, after having been successively ambassador, Governor of Paris, Colonel General of the Hussars, and the Duke of Abrantès.



Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2007

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