Born on the island of Corsica on August 15, 1769, Napoleone Buonaparte became, in great part by his own efforts, Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, conqueror of Europe, and probably history’s greatest soldier. The name of Napoleon Bonaparte survives today as that of an historic and rather mythic personage. He remains even today, along with Adolph Hitler, one of history’s most discussed and written about figures. Such survival is in no small part a product of his own endeavors. At least some of this effort is reflected in the Bulletins of the Grande Armée, which were written under Napoleon’s supervision if not by his own hand and dispatched from his military headquarters whenever on campaign.
Author David Markham has translated these Bulletins into English and published them in Imperial Glory: The Bulletins of Napoleon’s Grande Armée, 1805-1814, a complete collection of the bulletins as well as proclamations, decrees, letters, etc., that issued from Napoleon’s Grande Armée headquarters from 1805 through 1814. These numbered 37 Bulletins in 1805, 87 for the 1806-1807 campaign, 30 for the 1809 campaign, and finally 29 for the 1812 campaign in Russia. In addition to these, Markham included the official reports that replaced the formal bulletin during 1813 and 1814 and were sent first to the Empress and then on to Moniteur. There are no bulletins from the years before Napoleon’s 1804 coronation and the 1805 creation of the Grande Armée. Markham also noted that he did not find any bulletins from the French armies in Spain, either from the period of Napoleon’s personal involvement during 1808-1809 nor later, in either the published 1822 complete set of bulletins in the original French or in the 32-volume collection of Napoleon’s papers published, again in French, between 1858 and 1869. [Markham, 4]
Markham, I think correctly, places Napoleon’s bulletins within a frame that includes the works of other historic military and political figures who wrote about themselves and their military campaigns in some attempt at self-promotion, such as Julius Caesar’s Commentaries. However, as Markham points out, Caesar wrote in hopes of enhancing his prospects for achieving political leadership while Napoleon’s bulletins were all written after his ascension to the throne. Markham emphasizes, therefore, that Napoleon’s bulletins were intended to “maintain his position and lend support for the reform programmes he hoped to achieve.” However, I believe we can expand this to add that Napoleon sought through the bulletins to support his full domestic political agenda – not all of which would be characterized as reformist, especially after the establishment of the Empire – as well as the full range of Napoleon’s diplomatic, military, and international policies. Markham noted that the best work on the subject of Napoleon’s broader efforts to influence public opinion remains Napoleonic Propaganda by Robert Holtman (London, Greenwood Press, 1969).
Markham describes Napoleon as “a master at spin.” While they would not have recognized that modern phrase, even the soldiers of the Grande Armée understood the concept, as “to lie like a bulletin” was a proverbial phrase within the ranks of Napoleon’s soldiers. [Herold, 125]
Clearly the acknowledged purpose of the Bulletins is not to denigrate or criticize Napoleon so one must expect to see generally positive references. The modern reader of the bulletins will notice that they in fact had several audiences – the Grande Armée and especially its soldiers, the general public within the Empire as well as the general population across Europe, and finally the kings, princes, and governments of Europe. The bulletins were printed in the official newspaper “Moniteur Universel” (commonly called simply Moniteur). Copies were also provided to local officials and would be posted on the walls of churches, on town squares, and in town halls. Foreign agents, consuls, and diplomats would report their contents to their governments. Newspapers around the world would reprint all or part of bulletins either directly or from the pages of Moniteur or other newspapers—a standard journalistic practice of the period with or without crediting the source. Napoleon recognized that these were all audiences for his bulletins and realized that posterity was also his audience. This last aspect is supported by Napoleon’s comment during an 1816 conversation at St. Helena, reported in Mémorial de Sainte Hélène by Napoleon’s comrade in exile, Emmanuel Augustin Las Cases:
“The Emperor had just read through a great many old numbers of the Moniteur. ‘These Moniteurs,’ he said, ‘which are so devastating to so many reputations, are invariably useful and favorable to me alone. Really talented and careful historians will write history with official documents. Now, these documents are full of me; it is their testimony that I solicit and invoke.’ He added that he had made the Moniteur into the soul and chief strength of his government, his intermediary and his line of communications with public opinion at home and abroad. All governments had more or less imitated him since.” [Herold, 133-134]
If Napoleone Buonaparte can be called a child of Corsica by reason of his birth there, Napoleon Bonaparte can be called a “child of the Revolution” for a life and career that would have been impossible without the French Revolution. Napoleon’s experiences during the Revolution taught him the importance of popular opinion.
Historians are in general agreement that without the Revolution and the opportunities it created, the young Corsican artillery officer would probably have at best retired a Colonel of artillery in the army of the Bourbons, perhaps having attained the position of instructor at the artillery school.
Although the violence of the Revolution opened up new opportunities for the young artillery officer, its heated political environment also created dangers. Napoleon was imprisoned in July 1794, in the wake of the moderate coup d’etat of 9 Thermidor An II (of the Revolutionary calendar) that overthrew Robespierre and the radicals, because of the young officer’s friendship with the younger brother of the feared Robespierre. Yet in the following October, after his release, Napoleon was willing to protect that same new moderate government against a mob of royalist sympathizers by the use of cannon and a “whiff of grapeshot” in the streets of Paris. Napoleon was not a great fan of the mob or street violence and as Emperor, in 1810, he would write in a letter, “The people is never in the right as soon as it begins to revolt.” [Herold, 72]
Napoleon’s own ideas on “the people” and their opinions evolved as a result of his experiences. In 1788, the young officer wrote to his younger brother Lucien about a proclamation the latter had published,
“I have read your proclamation. It is utterly worthless. There are too many words and not enough ideas. You indulge in rhetoric. This is not the proper way to speak to the people: the people has more judgment than you give it credit for.” [Herold, 119-120]
In 1801, First Consul Napoleon declared to the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), “what do I care for the opinion of drawing room gossips? I don’t listen to them. For me, only one opinion counts – that of the rich peasants. All the rest is nothing.” Again, in 1804, a transcript of a meeting of the Council recorded Napoleon as saying, “We are here to guide public opinion, not to discuss it.” He would later write to Joseph Fouché, his Minister of Police, “Barére still believes that the masses must be stirred. On the contrary, they must be guided without their noticing it.” In conversation in 1815, the Emperor Napoleon said, “Public opinion is an invisible power, mysterious and irresistible. Nothing is more mobile, nothing vaguer, nothing stronger. No matter how capricious, it nonetheless is truthful, reasonable, and just, far more often than one would think.” Finally in 1817, exiled on St. Helena, Napoleon reportedly declared, “I always went along with the opinion of the masses and with events. I always paid little attention to individual opinions and a great deal to public opinion.” [Herold, 120]
Napoleon also was rarely in doubt about what he wanted that popular, public opinion to be. In a letter to Fouché, dated April 22, 1805, the new Emperor wrote:
“I want you to write to the editors of the Journal des Débats, the Publiciste, and the Gazette de France—these, I think, are the newspapers that are most widely read—in order to declare to them that. . . the revolutionary times are over and that there is but one single party in France; that I shall never tolerate the newspapers to say or do anything against my interests that they may publish a few little articles with just a little poison in them, but that one fine morning somebody will shut their mouths.”
In a subsequent letter in 1806 to Talleyrand, his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Napoleon instructed: “Monsieur Talleyrand, it is my intention that the political articles in the Moniteur be written at the ministry of foreign affairs. Then, when I have observed for a month how well they are done, I shall forbid the other papers to talk politics except by copying the articles in the Moniteur.” In 1809, Napoleon wrote to his minister of war, “All the news must be made known in the Moniteur, but at the same time care should be taken to leave out everything that is useless to know.” [Herold, 132]
Long before his coronation as Emperor of the French, Napoleon had already decided what Moniteur’s proper role was to be in his regime. A former schoolmate and private secretary, Louis Antoine Fauvelet Bourrienne, reported that one of his functions was to keep Napoleon abreast of the news. “While he was being shaved, I used to read the newspapers to him, always beginning with the Moniteur. ‘Skip it, skip it,’ he used to say when I read the French newspapers, ‘I know what’s in them. They say only what I tell them to.’” [Herold, 134]
A reader of the Bulletins will find that the greatest part of them refer to the various military activities and plans of the Grande Armée and its foes – current or potential. There are regular laudatory comments regarding soldiers, officers, and commanders for this or that action and some occasionally criticism as well. As the focus of this study is how Napoleon used the bulletins to project a popular particular image or impression of himself, I looked specifically for references to Napoleon personally, his words and his actions. These are by no means the most frequent items included in the bulletins, nor do the bulletins represent the sum total of contemporary news and commentary about Napoleon personally coming from his court or headquarters. Nevertheless, without claiming a definitive status, the manner and substance of the Bulletins’ references to Napoleon can be taken as indicative of how he wanted to be perceived by his contemporaries – and by posterity—as he was directly involved in their preparation and publication.
The Bulletins and other texts issuing forth from Napoleon’s headquarters were, as noted, dominated by news of the army and its operations and were increasingly so during 1812-1814, often reported in an anonymous third person. The most frequent references to Napoleon himself tended to relate to his movements. These often reported not only his whereabouts and comings and goings, but also whether he traveled by horseback and whether he was alone or with the army. Such reports did convey the impression of Napoleon as a vigorous man of action who did not spare himself and would share the life of his soldiers when the army was campaigning.
The second most frequent personal reference to Napoleon related to his interactions with his army, its units, and especially its soldiers. He is frequently described reviewing elements of his army, both French and allied units, ranging from regiments to entire army corps, increasingly so during 1809-1813. Such episodes were also frequently linked to his personal announcement or presentation of awards and decorations including the Legion of Honor, pensions, etc. It is interesting to note the great number of these reports associated with the recognition of non-French individuals and units, presumably as Napoleon sought to win and retain the support and loyalty of these elements of his Empire.
Several examples regarding the Emperor’s movements will suffice. In the Third Bulletin of the 1805 Campaign (Zusmershausen, 10 October 1805 – 18 Vendémiaire year 14) it was reported that,
“It rains heavily, but this does not slow down the forced marches of the Grande Armée. The Emperor sets the example on horseback day and night; he is continually in the midst of the troops and everywhere his presence is necessary. Yesterday he rode 14 leagues. He slept in a small village, without servants, and without any kind of baggage.” [Markham, 13]
In the Sixth Bulletin of the 1805 Campaign, (Elchingen, 18 October 1805 – 27 Vendémiaire year 14), it recounted the following incident:
“The Emperor came upon a mass of enemy prisoners. Among them was an Austrian colonel who was astonished to see the Emperor of the French soaking wet, covered with mud and more fatigues that the least drummer boy of the army. One of the colonel’s aides-de-camp told him what the Austrian prisoner had said, and the Emperor replied, ‘Your master has wanted me to remember that I was a soldier; I hope that he will realize that the throne and imperial crimson has not made me forget my first profession.’” [Markham, 19]
The reference to the Austrian Emperor suggests that this may also have been a bit of personal diplomacy on Napoleon’s part as he transmitted a message via the device of the Bulletins.
Finally, in the Seventh Bulletin of the 1805 Campaign (Elchingen, 19 October 1805 – 26 Vendémiaire an 14) it was reported that: “The Emperor did not leave Elchingen today. He has endured fatigue and eight days of continuous rain and is need of a little rest. But rest is not compatible with the direction of this immense army. At all hours of the day and night officers arrive with reports, and the Emperor must give orders. He seems to be very satisfied with the activity and zeal of Marshall Berthier.” [Markham, 20-21]
As previously noted, another frequent theme was the Emperor’s reviews of elements of his army. The Third Bulletin of the 1805 Campaign (Zusmershausen, 10 October 1805 – 18 Vendémiaire year 14) offered a fairly typical account that also portrayed the Emperor rewarding individual courage while providing an anecdote that promoted the soldierly virtue of discipline:
“The Emperor reviewed the dragoons at the village of Zusmershausen; he ordered a dragoon of the 4th Regiment named Marente to be presented to him, one of the bravest soldiers who in the crossing of the Lech had saved his captain, who but a few days before had cashiered him form his rank as an NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] but his Majesty bestowed upon him the Eagle of the Legion of Honour. The brave soldier replied, ‘I have only done my duty; my captain degraded me on account of some violations of discipline, but he knows that I have always been a good soldier.’
“The Emperor expressed his satisfaction to the dragoons of the conduct they displayed at the bank of Wertingen. He ordered each regiment to present a dragoon, on whom he also bestowed the Eagle of the Legion of Honour.….
“Squadron Chief Exelmans, aide-de-camp of Prince Murat, had two horses killed. It was he who carried the flags to the Emperor, who said to him, ‘I know no man can be braver that you; I make you an Officer of the Legion of Honour.’” [Markham, 12-13]
The Twenty-second Bulletin of the 1806 Campaign (Berlin, 29 October 1806) reported another such review containing an element of unintended irony. While there was no stinting in the praise offered Marshal Davout and his soldiers in the aftermath of the French victory at Jena (14 October 1806), there was to be no official acknowledgement that while Napoleon personally led some 90,000 French troops to victory at Jena against about half that number of Prussians, Marshal Davout’s 27,000 men had defeated almost twice their number of Prussians near the town of Auerstadt. It was recorded in the annals of the Grande Armée as a single victory at Jena under the command of Napoleon and thus it was reported in the bulletin:
“On the 28th, the Emperor reviewed the corps of Marshal Davout, under the walls of Berlin. He has filled all the vacancies and rewarded the brave. He then assembled the officers and petty officers in a circle, and addressed them: ‘Officers and petty officers of the 3rd Corps of the army, you covered yourselves with glory at the battle of Jena: I shall preserve the eternal memory of it. The brave men who were killed died with glory. We ought to wish to die under such glorious circumstances.’ In reviewing the 12th, 61st and 85th Regiments of the Line, who felt the greatest loss in this battle, as it fell on them to make the greatest efforts, the Emperor was affected at seeing killed, or grievously wounded, many of his old soldiers whose devotion and bravery he was acquainted with for 14 years past. The 12th Regiment, above all, has shown intrepedity worthy of the highest praise.” [Markham, 102-103]
Also frequently reported were occasions when Napoleon recognized units and individuals and distributed awards in the immediate aftermath of a battle without a formal review. The Twenty-fifth Bulletin of the 1805 Campaign (Schönbrunn, 16 November 1805) recounted such a moment as Napoleon responded with an unusual form of special recognition, he commissioned a painting:
“In the last war, the 76th Regiment of Line lost two flags in the Grisons. This loss was, for a long time, the subject of deep affliction to all the corps. These brave fellows knew that Europe had not forgotten their disgrace, although their courage was uncensurable. The flags, subjects of so noble a regret, were found in the arsenal at Innsbruck; an officer recognized them. All the soldiers soon crowded around. When Marshal Ney had the colours restored to the 76th with great ceremony, tears fell from the eyes of all the old soldiers. The young conscripts felt themselves elated in the assistance they had given in the recovery of the honours snatched from their elders by the vicissitudes of war. The Emperor has ordered that the remembrance of this touching scene should be consecrated by a painting.” [Markham, 42-43]
The ordered painting was done by Charles Meynier (1768-1832) and is in the collection of the National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and the Trianon.
The Sixth Bulletin of the 1809 Campaign (Saint Pölten, 9 May 1809) described another such incident:
“General of Brigade Colbert caused the 20th Regiment of Chasseurs a Cheval to charge a regiment of Uhlans, of whom 500 were taken. The young Lauriston, 18 years of age, and who but six months ago was a page, after a single combat vanquished the commander of the Uhlans and took him prisoner. His Majesty has granted him the decoration of the Legion of Honour.” [Markham, 196]
Similarly, as reported in the Fifteenth Bulletin of the 1812 Campaign (Slavkowo, 27 August 1912), “On the day after the battle of Valutino, His Majesty gave the 12th and 21st Regiments of Infantry of Line and the 7th Regiment of Light Infantry, a number of decorations of the Legion of Honour, to be bestowed on the captains, lieutenants, NCOs, and soldiers. The selections were made immediately, in a circle before the Emperor, and were confirmed with acclamations by the troops.” [Markham, 284]
Imperial recognition was not limited to individual decorations and awards. The Fourteenth Bulletin of the 1812 Campaign (Smolensk, 23 August 1812) reported how: “On the following day, at three in the morning, the Emperor distributed rewards on the field of battle, to all the regiments which had distinguished themselves; and as the 127th, which is a new regiment, had behaved itself well, His Majesty granted this regiment the right of carrying an Eagle, a privilege it had not before enjoyed, never having until this time been present in any battle.” [Markham, 281] The 127th Regiment of the Line had been raised in 1811 in Hamburg from the former Légion Hanovrienne and conscripts. Unfortunately, its Eagle was soon lost at the Battle of Krasnoi to the Don Cossacks and would be displayed as a trophy in St Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral. [Smith, 172]
The Fifty-eighth Bulletin (Prussian-Eylau, 9 February 1807) reported another episode that also involved the issue of a battalion Eagle during the Battle of Eylau. A French battalion was reported to have lost its Eagle, which had probably been taken by the enemy. The report concluded with the statement that the Emperor “will give that battalion another standard after it has taken one from the enemy.” [Markham, 143-144]
In a related category are several anecdotes from the Bulletins of Napoleon’s interactions often with mortally wounded officers and soldiers and ‘death-bed’ messages or statements of loyalty to the Emperor. One such incident was reported in the Fifteenth Bulletin of the 1805 Campaign (Branau, 31 October 1805 – 9 Brumaire year 14): “The 8th Regiment of Dragoons maintains its old reputation. A quartermaster of this regiment having had his wrist shot off said, in the presence of the Prince [Murat] as he was passing, ‘I regret the loss of my hand, because it can no long serve our brave Emperor.’ The Emperor, on learning of this event, said, ‘There I recognize the spirit of the Eighth. Let an advantageous place, according to his rank, be given to this quartermaster in the Palace of Versailles.’” [Markham, 29]
The Sixty-third Bulletin of the 1806-1807 Campaign (Osterode, 28 February 1807) described a sadder episode:
“Captain Auzouy, Captain of the Horse Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, mortally wounded in the battle of Eylau, was lying on the battlefield. His comrades came to take him up and carry him to the hospital. He recovered his senses only to say to them, ‘Let me alone, my friends; I die contented, since we have victory, and that I can die upon the field of honour, surrounded by the cannons taken from the enemy, and the wrecks of its defeat. Tell the Emperor that I have but one regret, which is that in a few moments I shall be no longer able to do any thing for his service, and the glory of fine France…to her my last breath.’ The effort he made to utter these words exhausted the little strength he had remaining.” [Markham, 147]
Marshals, generals, and even close acquaintances of Napoleon were not immune to the risks of battle and the Emperor was reportedly capable of special gestures in recognition. The Sixty-third Bulletin of the 1806-1807 Campaign (Osterode, 28 February 1807) reported the death of General Hautpoul, killed in action as commander of the second division of cuirassiers at the battle of Ostrolenka. The Emperor ordered that the cannon captured in that battle be used to make a statue to the late General. [Markham, 147] However, the project was not completed and today only the drawings survive.
Another moment of unintended irony should also be noted as just days later in the Sixty-fifth Bulletin (Osterode, 10 March 1807) it was pointed out in connection with these captured cannon that “the Emperor never lost any cannon in the armies that he has commanded, either in the first campaigns of Italy, and Egypt, in that of the Army of the Reserve, in that of Austria and Moravia, or in that of Prussia and Poland.” Such a boast would no longer be possible at the end of Napoleon’s career. [Markham, 149]
The Tenth Bulletin of the 1809 Campaign (Ebersdorf, 23 May 1809) described Napoleon’s visit to the bedside of the mortally wounded Marshal Lannes, the Duke of Montobello:
“The Duke of Montebello was wounded by a cannonball in the thigh, at six o’clock in the evening of the 22nd, but an amputation has taken place and his life is out of danger. At first it was thought that he was killed, and being carried on a handbarrow to where the Emperor was, his adieu was most affecting. In the midst of all the anxieties of the day the Emperor gave himself up to the expression of that tender friendship which during so many years has cherished for this brave companion in arms. Some tears rolled from his eyes, and turning to those who surrounded him, he said, ‘It had to be, that this day my heart should be hit by such a pang as this, that I could abandon myself with any other care than that of my army.’ The Duke of Montebello was unconscious, but recovered himself in the presence of the Emperor: he embraced him and said, ‘Within an hour you will have lost him who dies with the glory and the conviction of having been and of being your best friend.’” [Markham, 205]
The Emperor’s reaction to another loss during the 1813 campaign was reported in Moniteur, on 30 May 1813 in a report from the army transmitted via the Empress:
“At seven o’clock in the evening of the day of the 22nd, Grand Marshal of the Palace the Duke of Friuli, being on a small eminence, along with the Duke of Treviso and General Kirgener, all three with their feet on the ground, and at a sufficient distance from the fire, one of the last balls fired by the enemy struck down close to the Duke of Treviso, tore the lower part of the Grand Marshal, and killed General Kirgener on the spot. The Duke of Friuli immediately felt that he was mortally wounded, and expired twelve hours after.
As soon as the posts were placed, and the army had taken its bivouacs, the Emperor went to see the Duke of Friuli. He found him perfectly master of himself and showing the greatest composure. The Duke offered his hand to the Emperor, who pressed it to his lips. ‘My whole life,’ he said to him ‘has been consecrated to you service, nor do I regret its loss, but for the use it still might have been to you!’ ‘Duroc,’ said the Emperor, ‘there is another life! It is there that you will wait for me, and where we will meet again one day!’ ‘Yes, Sire! But that will be in 30 years, when you will have triumphed over your enemies and realized all the hopes of our country. I have lived an honest man. I have nothing to reproach myself with. I leave a daughter behind me; Your Majesty will fulfill the place of a father to her.’
The Emperor, grasping the right hand of the Grand Marshal, remained for a quarter of an hour, with his head reclined on his right hand, in deep silence. The Grand Marshal was the first who broke his silence ‘Ah, Sire,’ cried he, ‘go away this sight gives you pain!’ The Emperor, supporting himself on the Duke of Dalmatia and the Master of the Horse, left the Duke of Friuli without being able to say more than these words: ‘Farewell, then, my friend!’ His Majesty returned to his tent and would not receive any person all of that night.” [Markham, 344-345]
Born Geraud Christope Michel Duroc, the Duke of Friuli was a longtime personal friend who had served as an aide to General Bonaparte in Italy, again in Egypt, and later as Chief Aide to First Consul Bonaparte.
Also reported in the Bulletins were gestures by Napoleon on behalf of soldiers and their families. While still on the field at Austerlitz, Napoleon issued a proclamation granting a lifetime pension to the widows of his generals killed in that battle. He also decreed one-time payments to the widows of colonels and majors [24,000 francs], lieutenants and non-commissioned officers [800 francs], and of the soldiers [200 francs] also killed at the battle. In another decree, the Emperor ‘adopted’ the children of those deceased and provided for their education and rearing at Imperial expense in the palaces of Rambouillet (for the boys) and St. Germain (for the girls). Finally, all of these children were given the right to add the name Napoleon to their baptismal and family names. [Markham, 61-62]
A similar story appeared in the Seventeenth Bulletin of the 1806 Campaign (Potsdam, 25 October 1806):
“….the Emperor, having gone from Wittemberg to Potsdam on horseback, has been surprised by a storm and stopped at the house of the Grand Veneur of Saxony. His Majesty was very surprised to hear himself called by his name by a lovely woman; she was an Egyptian, the widow of a French officer of the army of Egypt, and who has been in Saxony for three months; she has been living at the home of the Grand Veneur of Saxony who had welcomed her and treated her honourably. The Emperor has given her a pension of 1,200 Francs and has taken it upon himself to find a position for her child. ‘It’s the first time,’ said the Emperor, ‘that I stopped for a storm; I had a premonition that a good action awaited me here.’” [Markham, 95]
A final theme found in the Bulletins reflected Napoleon’s changing attitudes, interests, and needs in the diplomatic arena. The Tenth Bulletin of the 1805 campaign (Augsburg, 22 October 1805 – 30 Vendemiaire year 14) reported that the Emperor had set aside 20,000 captured Austrian rifles to be given to Bavaria for its army and its National Guard. The subject of assistance to Bavaria arose again several weeks later. In the Twenty-third Bulletin (Palace of Schönbrunn, 14 November 1805 – 23 Brumaire year 14) it was reported that the Emperor presented the Elector of Bavaria with 15,000 captured Austrian muskets from the Vienna arsenal and that all cannon previously taken from Bavaria by the Austrians would be returned to the Bavarians. [Markham, 39]
The Thirtieth Bulletin of the 1805 Campaign (Austerlitz, 3 December 1805 – 12 Frimaire year 14) recounted an actual moment of diplomatic dialogue between Napoleon and a Russian officer/envoy. The intended audience presumably included the Grande Armée, the French public, and the ‘Crowned Heads of Europe.”
“Contrary to the Emperor’s custom, who never receives with so much circumspection the parlementaires at his headquarters, he went himself to the advanced posts. After the initial compliments, the Russian officer [Prince Dolgoruki, aide-de-camp to the Tsar] wanted to discuss political questions. The Russian discussed everything with impertinence difficult to imagine. He was in the most absolute ignorance of the interests of Europe and the situation of the Continent. In a word, he was a young trumpeter for England. He spoke to the Emperor as he speaks to Russian officers, whom he has long disgusted by his haughtiness and improper conduct. The Emperor contained his indignation and the young man, who has a real influence over the Emperor Alexander, returned with a conviction that the French army was on the eve of its ruin. One may be convinced, above all, of what the Emperor must have suffered when it was known that towards the close of the conversation he proposed to him to cede Belgium and place the Iron Crown [of Italy] upon the head of the most implacable of the enemies of France.” [Markham, 51]
The Bulletin commented on this reported conversation: “If France can arrive at peace only by the conditions the aide-de-camp Dolgorucki proposed to the Emperor and which Mr Novosiltzof was ordered to bring, Russia should not obtain them were her army encamped upon the heights of Montmarte.” [Markham, 55] The Bulletin’s observation foreshadowed exactly what would happen in 1814 – the Russian army was “encamped upon the heights of Montmarte” and Napoleon was forced to abdicate and then sent into exile
A somewhat different diplomatic message was contained in the Thirty-first Bulletin (Austerlitz, 5 December 1805 – 14 Frimaire year 14) description of an encounter between the Emperor and another Russian officer: “We must not conceal an incident that does honour to the enemy. The commander of the artillery of the Russian Imperial Guard had just lost his cannon. He met the Emperor: ‘Sire,’ said he, ‘have me shot, I have just lost my cannon.’ ‘Young man,’ replied the Emperor to him, ‘I appreciate your tears, but one may be beaten by my army and still be entitled to glory.’ [Markham, 57-58] This was again a story that had multiple audiences as it allowed Napoleon to praise his own soldiers and to leave open a small window to the Russians by acknowledging their valor.
The Second Bulletin of the 1806 Campaign (Auma, 12 October 1806) allowed Napoleon to send a slightly different set of messages regarding another political and military foe, Prince Louis of Prussia.
“Upon seeing his people retreating, Prince Louis of Prussia, as a brave and loyal soldier, fought hand to hand with a sergeant of the 10th Regiment of Hussars. ‘Surrender, Colonel,’ said the hussar, ‘or you are dead!’ The Prince answered with a blow of his sabre. The sergeant responded by running him through the body, and the Prince fell dead. If the last instant of his life was that of a bad citizen, his death was glorious, and worthy of regret. He died as any good soldier desires to die. Two of his aides-de-camps were killed at his side. We found on him letters from Berlin, which showed that the project of the enemy was to attack immediately, and that the war faction, at the head of which were the Queen and the young Prince, had always feared the pacific intentions of the King, whose love for his subjects, they thought, would induce him to temporize, thereby foiling their cruel wishes. It may now be said the first blows of the war have killed one of its authors!’” [Markham, 79]
The Sixteenth Bulletin (Wittemberg, 23 October 1806) offered a variation on diplomacy as the Emperor rewarded his soldiers at the cost of his English foe. Napoleon ordered that a large store of English cloth seized in Leipzig be used to make “a complete set of clothes for each officer and a greatcoat and a morning coat to each soldier.” [Markham, 94]
Several Bulletins reported punitive steps taken in 1806 by Napoleon as part of his diplomatic campaign with regard to various German principalities affected by his creation of the German Confederation of the Rhine. The Twenty-seventh Bulletin of the Campaign (Berlin, 6 November 1806) reported “The Emperor has ordered the fortresses of Hanau and Mauburg to be destroyed, all the magazines and arsenals to be removed to Mentz, all the troops disarmed, and the sovereign arms of Hesse-Cassel everywhere to be taken down.” [Markham, 109] The Thirty-second Bulletin (Berlin, 16 November 1806) reported that the King of Holland [Louis Bonaparte] had “caused the corps of Marshal Mortier” to move into Hanover where the Prussian Eagles and the Electoral arms were removed from display. [Markham, 117] The Emperor offered incentives as well as punishment. In the Forty-second Bulletin (Posen, 15 December 1806) it was reported that Napoleon had ordered the restitution of contributions levied upon and already collected in Saxe-Gotha and Saxe-Meiningen because “those princes…have not been at war with France,…have not furnished contingents to Prussia.” [Markham, 124]
The Emperor had a different audience in mind in an incident reported in the Thirty-seventh Bulletin (Posen, 2 December 1806) describing the fall of Fort Czentoskoaw with its 660-man garrison and 30 cannon. Reportedly found in the fort was a “treasure” consisting of valuables dedicated by the Poles to the Holy Virgin, the patron of Poland. The Emperor ordered this sequestered for return to the Poles.
Napoleon had yet a different diplomatic ploy in mind with two other reports in his Bulletins aimed at the Turks as well as the Russians. The Fiftieth Bulletin (Warsaw, 13 January 1807) stated, “Letters received from Bucharest give some details concerning the preparations for war making by Bayracter and the Pacha of Widdin. On 20 December, the advanced guard of the Turkish army, consisting of 15,000 men, was on the frontiers of Wallachia and Moldavia….In passing Bucharest, the Turkish officers appeared to be very much animated; they said to a French officer who was in that town, ‘the French shall see what we are capable of; we will form the right hand of the army of Poland; we shall show ourselves worthy to be praised by the Emperor Napoleon.’” [Markham, 134-135]
As indicated by this sampling from the Bulletins, Napoleon used them in many ways. He sought to strengthen his bonds with his French soldiers and to build ties with his soldiers from allied countries by emphasizing their shared experiences as soldiers. The reports of his charitable gestures likewise assured soldiers that their families would be taken care of whatever might befall them on the battlefield. He supported his diplomatic dialogue with the selected anecdotes and homilies he inserted into the Bulletins, emphasizing his desire for peace or his determination to defend his realm and his allies, whichever he deemed appropriate.
Chandler, David. Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1979.
Chandler, David. Napoleon’s Marshals. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1987.
Herold, J. Christopher. The Mind of Napoleon, A Selection from His Written and Spoken Words. New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
Markham, J. David. Imperial Glory: The Bulletins of Napoleon’s Grand Armée, 1805-1814. London: Greenhill, 2003.
Smith, Digby. Napoleon’s Regiments: Battle Histories of the Regiments of the French Army, 1792-1815. London: Greenhill, 2000.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: January 2006