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Silent Words, Silent Histories: a Controversial Case of Reading about Marshal Ney

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy


Le brave des braves (i.e. the bravest of the brave) – that was a largely eulogistic nickname due to the stunning courage and leadership he inspired; that was Napoleon’s nickname for Michel Ney, Marshal of France, one of his oldest and most faithful friends and accomplished military companion.

In his captivating work of research Silent Words, Silent History: a case of controversial reading, the author relates little-known facts of the eventful lives of two seasoned personalities who had distinguished service under Napoleon during the twenty years of his regime, and the many ways in which those lives intersected. 

With a most delicate psychological touch, the writer explores the possibilities of their survival after the 1815 collapse of the Empire.

History has many such anomalies; however, there is a fairly strident question: how can some great person arrive in another country, with a new persona when they were supposedly thought to be executed in their home country (Bourbon France)?  In the ensuing chaos of 1815, anything was possible!

The adventurous lifetime of the two men, Polish Captain John Jacob Lehmanowsky and Marshal Michel Ney is a compelling account of military exploits, enduring fidelity, survival, and friendship found in a new world.  Again, we are given a bit of an historical puzzle: was that truly the indomitable Marshal Ney at the farmhouse of John Jacob Lehmanowsky?


Paris, December 1815.

He died a brave man, as he has always lived during his lifetime. A man of war, a man of honour.  

A stubborn veteran throughout his long enduring military career, he had distinguished service in most of the Empire’s aggressive expansionism and longer range territorial annexations.

That day, all was consumed according to the imparted dispositions, and he exhaled his last breathing in a little green garden on the avenue de l’ Observatoire.  The inanimate body was thereafter transported to the nearby Maternity Hospital; and sharing through love their religious belief, the Sisters of Mercy cared for that departed soul by the resounding harmonies of the rosary prayers.  The scene had a distinguished solemnity. Next day, the mortal remains were buried at the cimetière du Père-Lachaise (i.e. Père-Lachaise Cemetery), and nowadays rest in the Division 29.

                                                                 *            *            *

In a time of editorial conveniences, the vast number of printed editions has been enriched by a work of more than marginal importance entitled Under Two Captains – Sadtler, William Augustus, Under Two Captains: a Romance of History, Philadelphia, 1902. 

The publication is considered a biographical accomplishment related to a distinguished Polish patriot originally named Lehmanowsky whose full name was Jan Jakub Lehmanowsky.  Lehmanowsky’s father was of Polish extraction, and the member of a family branch dating its ancestors’ heritage back through the history of many generations; his mother was of French descent.

Born in 1773, educated extensively in his native land of Poland, Lehmanowsky relocated to France where he became involved in the social affairs of that nation. He was a devout supporter of the Emperor Napoleon I; and because of his devotion to duty, he rapidly became one of Napoleon’s most trusted officers.  After the stirring defeat at Waterloo (mid June 1815), and the political failure of the Empire, Lehmanowsky – a staunch Napoleonic devotee – was detained, and sentenced to death.[1]

The fortuitous circumstances of his escape almost approached the similarities of the “unexplained event”,[2] and soon gave rise to many different voices;[3] the breath of liberty – individual, and political – led him to cross the Atlantic and arrived in the USA in 1816, where he spent the rest of his life.  In 1821, he became a United States citizen.  The former soldier soon turned his talents to extensive writing; a cultivated lecturer, and then a teacher, after a spiritual conversion to Christianity he resolved to become a minister of the Reformed Church.

Reverand Lehmanowsky’s daughter – then Mrs. Nicholas Reising – left quite an amazing narrative of her father’s American experience and his close friends in the new land of liberty. The refined lady firmly asserted that a former high-ranking French officer who had brightly served the military cause of the Empire had paid a visit to her father’s house – and that a meeting between the two individuals followed in the strictest secrecy.   She was well reminded that, one evening in her early youth, a stranger had appeared at the gate of the family home located in Knightstown (Indiana). 

The visitor, looking sharply at the mansion, asked if the building was the home of John Jacob Lehmanowsky.  After having received an affirmative reply, and that that was the rightly mentioned place, the man was given permission to enter the property, and her father personally met him after having hurried from the wooden chair on the porch.

On hearing the stranger’s commanding tone, all was exceeding confusion.   Unable to stand their emotions, the two gallant fellows embraced, and swept in tears, exchanging reciprocities and talking in French; it seemed that between them there has been a long lasting period of friendship, and that they both were no more in a position of prevailing hopes to have expected another opportunity to meet in their private lives.  Long night hours were thus spent talking in a confidential mood behind the closed door of the minister’s study – till the guest left next day.  It was only after the foreigner felt the urge to go, that her father explained to his apprehensive family that the mysterious guest was a prominent man whose nominal identity he had not to disclose; and that, under the present circumstances, his physical presence should not be blurted out to anyone.  Christine A. Reising reported[4] that her grandmother well remembered having seen the distinguished gentleman; as a further mark, she remembered that her father had given his word that the illustrious guest was [N..][5]

Did this noble peroration present “preposterous?!” history claims?

The above cited episode would seemingly lead to quite a speculative supposition: that notwithstanding having been scheduled for execution in Paris (Luxemburg Gardens, on December 7, 1815), monsieur le Maréchal Ney had made a successful transcontinental escape from metropolitan France – and the vivid account of her father, a Romance of History, is still exposed in the work Under Two Captains.

Military Synopsis

Michel Ney was born at Sarrelouis (Moselle), on January 10, 1769 – and died in Paris, 7 December, 1815.  A highly reputed and talented commander, after the revolutionary wars he valiantly served in the military campaigns of the Empire which had him catapulted to towering military glories.  His soldiers, in admiration of his invigorative attitudes and trenchant determination,  variously nicknamed him Le Rougeaud (i.e. red faced, or ruddy), and le Brave des Braves (i.e. the bravest of the brave).

1787, 12 February: engaged as a volunteer in the regiment Colonel Général des hussards;

1791, 1 January: brigadier fourrier;

1792, 1 February: maréchal des logis;

1 April: maréchal des logis chef; 14 June: adjudant sous-officier;

14 October: provisional aide de camp of General Lamarche;

29 October: sous-lieutenant in the 5e hussards; 5 November: lieutenant in the 5e hussards;

1793, 3 February: aide de camp;

1793, 18 March: served at Neerwinden;

1794, 12 April: capitaine in the 4e Hussards;

28 June: serving in the armée de Sambre-et-Meuse; 9 September: confirmed in the rank of adjudant général chef d’escadrons;

2 October: served at Aldenhoven;

15 October: adjudant général chef de brigade;

29 November: at the siege of Maestricht, then with the army in front of Mayence;

1796, 4 June: at the combat of Altenkirchen;

19 June: Uckerath;

4 July: Salzberg;

9 July: Niedermerle;

15 July: took Wurzbourg and its citadel;

1 August: général de brigade;

1797, 18 April: fought at at Neuwied and Dierdorf;

19 April: Kirchberg;

20 April: Herborn;

21 April: taken prisoner at Giessen;

1799, 28 March: général de division;

26 May: served at Frauenfeld, at Altikon;

25 September: général en chef provisoire of the armée du Rhin;

1802, 17 October: ministre plénipotentiaire in Switzerland;

1803, 28 December: commandant en chef of the field of Montreuil;

1804, 19 May: maréchal d’ Empire;

1805, 2 February: grand aigle and chef of the 7th cohort of the Légion d’ Honneur;

23 August: commandant of the 6e corps, Grande Armée;

1808, 6 June: Duc d’ Elchingen;

1812, 10 January: commandant of the corps d’ observation des Côtes de l’Océan – 3e corps of the Grande Armée (1 April);

1813, 25 March: Prince de la Moskowa;

1814, 6 January: commander of the 1st division of the voltigeurs de la jeune garde;

1815, 15 June: commander of the 1er and 2e corps de l’ armée de Belgique.

Bibliography and further reading

1. English works:

Atteridge, Andrew Hilliard. The Bravest of the Brave, Michel Ney, Marshal of France, Duke of Elchingen, Prince of the Moskowa 1769-1815. New York, Brentano’s, 1912.

Kurtz, Harold. The Trial of Marshall Ney. His Last Years And Death. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1957.

Morton, J. B. Marshal Ney. London, Arthur Barker Ltd., 1958.

2. French works:

Berthevin, J.-J.-G.. Procès de Michel Ney, prévenu de haute trahison et d’ attentat contre la sûreté de l’ état. Instruction préparatoire et première procédure devant le Conseil de guerre de la première division militaire. Discours du duc de Richelieu […] 1er cahier: question de compétence. Plancher, Paris 1815.

Bonnal, H. (Général). La vie militaire du maréchal Ney. Paris, 1910-1914.

Bouchardon, P.. La fin tragique du maréchal Ney. Paris, 1925.

Heylli, Georges, d’. Le maréchal Ney. Paris, A. Le Chevalier, 1869.

Hourtoulle, F.-G.. Le Maréchal Ney. 1981.

Hoton, Edmond. Le calvaire de Michel Ney, Maréchal de France. B., Editions de l’Ane Roux, 1948.

Kurtz, Harold. Le procès du Maréchal Ney. Arthaud, 1964.

Lucas-Dubreton. Le maréchal Ney. Paris, Fayard, 1941.

Ney, Michel. Mémoires du maréchal Ney, duc d’ Elchingen, prince de la Moskowa. Publiés par sa famille. Paris, Fournier, 1833.

Nollet-Fabert. Eloge historique du maréchal Ney. Nancy, 1852.

Riotor, Léon. Amours et tragédie de Michel Ney, Maréchal de France. Paris, Editions Fasquelles, 1934.

Welschinger, Henri. Le maréchal Ney, 1815. Paris, Plon, 1893.


[1] The former Polish officer was to be executed on December 8, 1815.  A person of distinction, he had valiantly fought in the wars of the Empire, up to 1815, and had a time of battle-hardened experience under the authoritative leadership of Marshal Ney.

[2] Just a few hours before his untimely demise by firing squad, he successfully escaped.

[3] There is fairly complex evidence that he has been helped according to a previously staged plan of action. A friend succeeded sending him a file concealed in a cake.  This unexpected resource permitted the prisoner to file his way through the prison bars.

[4] On September 21, 1936. Vide letter to Time magazine from Christine A. Reising, a great grand daughter of Lehmanowsky.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: June 2008; updated October 2008


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