ON the sixth Fructidor, year VII, two gendarmes came and left with me a way-bill and an order to start for Fontainebleau on the tenth Fructidor. I immediately made preparations for my departure. My master and mistress wished to procure me a substitute. I thanked them with tears in my eyes. “I promise you that I will bring back a silver musket, or die.” It was a sad leave-taking. I was overwhelmed with kindness by the whole household. They accompanied me to the end of the road, and bade me good-bye with many embraces. With my little bundle under my arm, I reached Rozoy, the first military halting-place, where I spent the night. I took my billeting-order, and presented it to my host, who took no notice of me whatever. Then I went out to buy something to make a stew, and the butcher gave it to me. I felt quite desolate when I saw that piece of meat in the palm of my hand. I gave it to my landlady, and asked her to have the kindness to have it cooked for me, and went to find some vegetables for her. At last I got my little stew, and by that time I had won the good graces of my hosts, who were willing to talk to me, but I took no fancy to them.
The next day I reached Fontainebleau, where some very casual officers received us and put us in barracks which were in wretched condition. Our fine battalion was formed within a fortnight; it numbered eighteen hundred men. As there was no discipline, a mutiny at once occurred, and half of them left and went home. The chief of the battalion reported them at Paris, and each man was allowed fifteen days to rejoin his battalion, or else be regarded as a deserter, and punished accordingly. General Lefebvre was immediately sent to organize us. Companies were formed, and grenadiers selected. I belonged to this latter company, which numbered a hundred and twenty-five men, and we were uniformed at once. We received an entire outfit, and immediately began to drill twice a day. The stragglers were brought back by the gendarmes, and we were brought into order again.
Sunday was the décadi for the whole battalion. We had to sing “La Victoire,” and the officers flourished their sabres about; the church resounded with them. Then we cried out, “Vive la Republique !” Every evening, around the liberty-pole in the principal street, we had to sing, “Les aristocrates a la lanterne.” It was great sport.
This sort of life had lasted nearly two months, when a report was circulated in the newspapers that General Bonaparte had landed, and was on his way to Paris, and that he was a great general. Our officers were full of excitement, because the chief of our battalion knew him, and the whole battalion was delighted by the news. We were reviewed, and our clothing examined. We were made to carry and present arms and fix bayonets. They undertook to make soldiers of us in two months. We had callouses on our hands from slapping them on the butt-ends of our guns. All day long we were under arms. Our officers took us by the collars and examined our clothing; they took every precaution that we should be lacking in nothing.
At last a courier brought the information that Bonaparte would pass by Fontainebleau, and that he would spend the night there. We were kept under arms all day long, but he did not come. We were scarcely allowed time to eat. The bakers and innkeepers on the principal street did a good business. Vedettes were placed in the wood, and every moment there was a cry of “Aux armes,” and every one rushed out on the balconies, but all for nothing, for Bonaparte did not arrive till midnight.
In the principal street of Fontainebleau, where he dismounted, he was delighted to see such a fine battalion. He called the officers around him, and gave them an order to set out for Courbevoie. He got into his carriage again, and we, shouting “Vive Bonaparte,” returned to our barracks to make up our knapsacks, wake up our washer-women, and pay them off.
We slept at Corbeil. The inhabitants received us as if we had been natives of that country, and the next day we started for Courbevoie, where we found the barracks in the most destitute condition, not even straw to sleep on. We were obliged to get trellises from among the vines to warm ourselves and boil our pots.
We remained there only three days, as orders were sent us to go to the École Militaire, where we were put in rooms which had nothing in them but straw mattresses, and at least a hundred men in each room. Then a distribution of cartridges was made: three packages of fifteen cartridges each to each man, and three days after we were made to start for St. Cloud, where we saw cannon everywhere, and troopers wrapped in their cloaks. We were told that they were the gros talons, that they came down on the enemy, in a charge, like a thunderbolt, and that they were covered with iron. But this was not really so. They had only ugly three-cornered hats with two iron plates in the form of a cross in front. These men looked like big peasants, with horses so large they made the earth shake, and great sabres four feet long. These were our heavy cavalrymen, who afterwards became cuirassiers, and were called the “gilets de fen” At last the regiment reached St. Cloud. The grenadiers of the Directory and of the Five Hundred were in line in the front court; a half-brigade of infantry was stationed near the great gate, and four companies of grenadiers behind the guard of the Directory.
Cries of “Vive Bonaparte” were heard on all sides, and he appeared. The drums beat a salute; he passed in front of the fine corps of grenadiers, saluted every one, ordered us into line of battle, and spoke to the officers. He was on foot, and wore a small hat and a short sword. He went up the steps alone. Suddenly we heard cries, and Bonaparte came out, drew his sword, and went up again with a platoon of grenadiers of the guard. Then the noise increased. Grenadiers were on the stairway and in the entrance. We saw stout gentlemen jumping out of the windows; cloaks, fine hats, and plumes were thrown on the ground, and the grenadiers pulled the lace from the elegant cloaks.
At three o'clock orders were sent us to start for Paris, but the grenadiers did not go with us. We were famishing. On our arrival brandy was distributed to us. The Parisians crowded around us to hear the news from St. Cloud. We could scarcely make our way through the streets to the Luxembourg, where we were quartered in a chapel at the entrance of the garden (we had to go up-stairs). To the left, after we mounted the stairs, was a great vaulted chamber, which they told us was the sacristy. Here they made us put up big kettles for four hundred soldiers. In front of the main building there were handsome linden trees; but the beautiful square in front of the palace was covered with the ruins of buildings. There was nothing left in this beautiful garden but the old chestnut trees, which are still there, and an outlet in the rear at the end of our chapel. It was pitiful to see that lovely garden utterly destroyed.
Then a fine-looking grenadier rode up with the battalion commander, who ordered us under arms to receive M. Thomas (or Thomé) as lieutenant in the 86th half-brigade; this man said to us, “My comrade and I saved General Bonaparte's life. The first time he entered the hall, two men rushed upon him with daggers, and it was my comrade and I who parried the blows. Then the general went outside, and they cried, ‘Outlaw him.’ Whereupon he drew his sword, ordered us to fix bayonets, shouted, ' Clear the hall,' and called for his brother. The whole chicken-hearted lot jumped out of the windows, and we were left masters of the hall." He told us also that Josephine had given him a ring, worth full fifteen thousand francs, forbidding him to sell it, and saying she would attend to all his wants.
Our whole fine battalion was finally incorporated in the 86th half-brigade of the line, composed of old and experienced soldiers, and officers who were very strict. Our colonel was named M. Lepreux, a native of Paris, a good soldier, and kind to his officers. Our captain was named Merle, and he had all the qualities of a soldier. Strict, just, always present when rations were distributed to his grenadiers, on drill twice a day, strict in discipline; he was present at meal-times. He also taught us to shoot. We were at work every moment of our time. In three months our companies were able to go through the drill in presence of the First Consul.
I became very skilful in the use of arms. I was supple, and I had two good training masters who helped me on. They had examined me, and so had felt my belt-pockets; they therefore paid court to me. I paid for their drams.
It was necessary to deal in this way with these hard drinkers. However, I had no reason to complain of them, for at the end of two months they put me to a severe test. They made a man pick a quarrel with me, and that without pretext. “Come,” said this swaggerer to me, “draw your sabre, and I will spill a little of your blood.” —“ We'll see about that, my boy.”—“Find your second.” —“I have none.” Then my instructor, who was in the plot, said to me, “Would you like me to be your second ?” —“I would, indeed, Father Palbrois.”—“Off we go, then,” said he, “and no more ado !” All four of us started out. We went a little way into the garden of the Luxembourg where there were two old tumble-down buildings, and they took me in between two old walls. There with my coat off I stood ready. “Now, strike the first blow,” said I to him.—“Not I,” he answered.— “All right, look out.” Then I rushed upon him, and gave him no time to recover himself. My master ran in between us, sabre in hand. I pushed him aside. “Get away, let me kill him !”—“Come, come, that'll do; shake hands, and we will drink a bottle of wine.”—“But that drop of my blood, doesn't he want it any longer ?” —“It was all a joke,” said my master.
I was now recognized as a good grenadier. I saw what they were after; this was a trick to make me pay my scot which I did with a good grace, and they set it down to my credit. The grenadier, who wanted to kill me in the morning, was my best friend. He paid me all sorts of attentions and rendered me any number of small services. My two masters pushed me forward; four hours of drilling, two hours in the fencing school, making six hours daily. This life lasted three months, and I paid for many drams for these tipplers. Happily for me, M. and Madame Potier had filled my belt-pouch. I reaped the benefit of their goodness a long time.
We passed the winter in Paris. The First Consul's review took place in the month of February, at the Tuileries; the three half-brigades (24th light, 43rd and 86th of the line) formed a division of fifteen thousand men, the command of which was given to General Chambarlhac. The First Consul put us through the evolutions, rode down the ranks and seemed satisfied. He called the colonels, and desired to see the conscripts apart. The company of grenadiers of the battalion of Seine-et-Marne was brought out. He told our captain, Merle, to make us go through the evolutions before him. He was surprised. “But these must be old troops you are drilling ?”—“No,” answered the captain, “they are a company of the auxiliary battalion formed at Fontainebleau.”—“I am greatly pleased with this company; send it back to the battalion. Hold yourselves in readiness to march.”
We received orders to set out for the camp of Dijon, which really had no existence, at least we never saw it. The whole division started for Corbeil, where Chambarlhac made us camp among the vines in the good department of Seine-et-Marne, which had made so many sacrifices for our battalion. We camped thus all along the route. From Auxerre he led us to St. Nitasse. The citizens were willing to lodge us, they brought us wagon-loads of wood and straw; but all in vain, we still had to burn their trellises and cut down their poplars. We were called “Chambarlhac's brigands.” He, however, never bivouacked with his soldiers. This life continued till we reached Dijon, where we were billeted among the citizens and remained for six weeks.
General Lannes formed his advance guard, and set out for Switzerland. We were the last to leave Dijon for Auxonne, where we lodged. The next day we went to Dôle where we only passed the night, and went on to Poligny. Thence we went to Morez. The next day we slept at Rousses, and thence to Nyon, where we brought all our little force together in a beautiful plain. We were reviewed by the First Consul, assisted by his generals, among whom was Lannes. We were put through the evolutions, and made to form a square. The Consul kept us occupied the whole day; the next morning he marched us out, and started us for Lausanne, a very pretty village. The Consul passed the night there, and we were kindly received. The people were good to the soldiers; we never started out without a good bit of ham wrapped in a paper. We had guides all along our route, for we were in danger of losing our way.
Leaving Lausanne, we went around the end of the Lake of Geneva, and then went up the valley of the Rhone, and arrived at St. Maurice. Thence we started for Martigny. All these villages were as wretched as can possibly be imagined. We went into another valley, which might well have been called the valley of Hell. After that we left the valley of the Rhone, and went into the valley which leads to the St. Bernard, and came to the town of St. Pierre, situated at the foot of the St. Bernard pass. This village was composed entirely of huts covered with planks, and immense barns where we slept pell-mell. Here we dismounted our entire park in the presence of the Consul. Each of the guns was placed in a trough; at the end of the trough there was a large mortise by which to drag the gun, managed by a strong and intelligent gunner with forty grenadiers under his orders. We had to obey in absolute silence every movement made by his piece. If he commanded “Halt,” we stood like stones; if he cried “Advance,” we had to move on. He was our master.
Next morning at daybreak all was ready, and rations of biscuits were distributed to us. I put them on a string and hung them around my neck (the necklace was very inconvenient), and we had two pairs of shoes given us. That very evening our cannoneer made up his teams, which were composed of forty grenadiers to each gun; twenty to drag the piece (ten on each side, holding on to sticks put through ropes which served for traces), and twenty others who carried the others' muskets and the wheels and caissons of the piece. The Consul had taken the precaution to collect the mountaineers together for the purpose of picking up all the things which should have been left behind, promising them six francs for the journey and two rations a day. In this way everything was brought together at the place of rendezvous, and nothing was lost.
The next morning at daybreak, our master placed us by twenties at our pieces, ten on each side of a gun. I was put in the first place, to the right, in front; it was the most dangerous side, because it was next to the precipices. Then we started off with our three pieces. Two men carried each axle-tree, two carried a wheel, four carried the upper part of the caisson, eight carried the chest, eight others the muskets. Every one had his special duty and position. It was a most terrible journey. From time to time there were commands of “Halt,” or “Advance,” and not a word was spoken. All this was mere pastime, but when we reached the snow, matters became more serious. The road was covered with ice which cut our shoes, and our gunner could not manage his piece; it slipped constantly. He was obliged to mount it anew. This man needed all his courage to be able to hold out; “Halt !” “ Advance !” he cried every moment, and all moved on in silence.
We had gone over a league of this terrible road, and it was necessary to give us a moment to rest and to put on some new shoes, for those we had on were in tatters, and also to take a bite of our biscuits. As I was taking my string from around my neck so as to take one off, the string broke, and all my biscuits went rolling down the precipice. How grieved I was to find myself without bread, and how my forty comrades laughed at my misfortune ! “ Come,” said our gunner, “we must make up a feed for our leading horse, he understands the word of command.” This made my comrades laugh again. “All right,” they answered, “let each of us give a biscuit to our lead horse !” Then I recovered my spirits. I thanked them with all my heart and found myself richer than my comrades. We started off again well shod. “Come, my horses,” said our gunner, “fall in, advance I When we reach the snow fields, we shall move more easily and not have so much trouble.”
We did reach those terrible fields of perpetual snow, and found less difficulty; our gun-trough slid along more rapidly. General Chambarlhac came up with us and wanted to hasten us; he stood by the gunner and assumed the tone of command, but was ill received. “You don't command my piece,” said the gunner. “I alone am responsible for it. Go your own way ! these grenadiers do not belong to you for the present; I alone command them.” The general went up to the gunner, but the latter commanded him to halt. “ If you do not move out of my way I will knock you down with one blow of my crowbar. Move on, or I will throw you over the precipice !”
He was compelled to go away, and after the greatest exertion we reached the foot of the monastery. For four hundred feet the ascent is very rapid, and we could see that some troops had gone on ahead of us. The road had been opened and paths cut out leading to the monastery. We left our guns there, and four hundred of us grenadiers with a party of our officers entered the house of God, where men devoted to the cause of humanity are stationed to give aid and comfort to travellers. Their dogs are always on hand to guide unfortunate creatures who may have fallen in the avalanches of snow, and conduct them to this house, where every necessary comfort is provided.
While our colonel and other officers were in the halls beside bright fires, we received from these venerable men a bucket of wine for every twelve men, and a quarter of a pound of Gruyère cheese and a loaf of bread for each. We were lodged in the large corridors. The good monks did everything that they possibly could, and I believe they were well treated.
For our part, we pressed the good fathers' hands when we parted from them, and embraced their dogs, which caressed us as if they knew us. I cannot find words to express the veneration I feel for those men.
Our officers decided to take the guns down the descent, and then our terrible task would be accomplished. Our brave captain, Merle, was appointed to conduct the three companies. As we crossed the lake which is at the foot of the monastery, we saw that in one place the ice had been broken. The good monk who showed us the way told us that it was the first time for forty years that he had seen the water. He pressed our captain's hand and bade us all farewell.
We descended almost perpendicularly, and reached St. Rémy This village is down in a perfect hell of snow; the houses are very low, and covered with very broad tiles. Here we passed the night. I lay down on the floor of a stable where I found some straw, and passed a comfortable night along with twenty of my comrades; we were not cold. The next morning we had roll-call, and started to go to a place three leagues farther on. We were going to get out of hell and descend to paradise. “Be saving of your biscuits,” said our captain, “we are not yet in Piedmont. We must go through many a difficult pass before we reach Italy.” We came to the place of general rendezvous for all the regiments; it was a long gorge with a village set against the mountain. To the right, up a steep slope, there was a very high cliff. In two days all our forces were gathered together in this plain. Our brave officers were there without any boots and with no sleeves to their coats; it was pitiful to see them.
But this rendezvous seemed to be the end of the world; there was no way leading out of it. The Consul arrived and immediately ordered some heavy timbers to be brought. He superintended in person, with all the engin-eers, and they cut a hole in the rock, which was on the edge of a precipice. The cliff was so steep that it seemed as though it had been sawn. A piece of timber was placed in the hole; then he made them put another piece across it (this was more difficult to accomplish), and placed a man at the end to hold it in position. Then, by adding beams to these first two, it was no longer difficult to establish our bridge. Railings were put on the side next the precipice, and this wonderful piece of work was completed in two days. All our pieces were carried over, and nothing was lost.
On the other side the descent was easy to the valley, which led to the fort of Bard, which is surrounded by rocks. This fort is impregnable, it is impossible to batter it down; it is one great rock, with rocks all around it which tower above it, and which cannot be climbed. Here the Consul took many pinches of snuff, and had quite enough to do, with all his genius. His engineers set to work to make a road out of range of the guns. They discovered a foot-path among the rocks which was four hundred yards long, and he had it cleared out and made smooth. This foot-path led to the foot of a mountain; he had a path cut in the side of this mountain with iron sledge-hammers, wide enough for a man to ride through on horseback. But this was not his most difficult task. The artillery was close by, sheltered in a cave, but it could not follow the foot-path, but must pass near the fort. So this is the way he managed it; he first placed two guns on the road in front of the fort and fired into it. He was, however, obliged to withdraw them immediately, for a cannon-ball at once disabled one of our pieces. He sent a flag of truce and summoned the commander to surrender, but received an unfavourable reply. He was then obliged to employ strategy. He chose good sharpshooters, gave them rations and cartridges, and placed them in the clefts of the rocks or had niches made for them in the rocks which overlooked the fort. Their shot took the garrison in the rear, so that they could not move about in their courtyard. The same day he discovered a very broad flat rock to the left of the fort. He immediately made an examination of it so as to station two guns on it. Men and ropes were called into requisition, and the two guns were placed upon this flat rock which was at least a hundred feet higher than the fort. Grape shot was rained down on it, and their gunners could not move from their casemates during the day; but still, there were our pieces and our caissons which must be taken past the fort.
As soon as Bonaparte learned that the horses belonging to the artillery trains had passed by he made preparations to send his artillery under the walls of the fort; he had the wheels and every part which could make any noise, even the soldiers' shoes, padded with straw, so as not to attract attention. At midnight all was ready. The cannoneers of our half-brigade asked for grenadiers to drag the artillery, and the twenty men who had climbed Mont St. Bernard were detailed for that purpose. I was among those who were under the same gunner under whom I had made the passage of the St. Bernard; he put me at the head of the first piece, and each of the others at his former post. The signal for departure was given; not a breath was heard. We got by without being noticed.
On reaching the opposite side, we turned immediately to the left; along the way for forty feet, we were pro-tected by the rock which overlooked the road and con-cealed us from the fort. We found the horses all ready; they were hooked in at once and started off. We returned by the same road on tip-toe, holding on to each others' coat-tails; but we were heard, and grenades were thrown upon us over the ramparts. As they fell upon the opposite side of the road, no one was struck; we were only frightened and went back to get our muskets. This was a mistake; we should have been told to put them on the caissons, and go straight on. As it was, we were much exposed; but it is impossible to think of everything.
On our return from this perilous undertaking, the colonel congratulated us upon our success: “I thought you were lost, my brave fellows.” Our captain made us form a circle around him, and said, “Grenadiers, you have just accomplished a great work. It is a great credit to the company.” He shook us all by the hand, and said to me, “I am much pleased with your first services. I shall remember you.” Then he pressed my hand again, saying, “I am very well pleased.” We all answered, “Captain, we all love you.”—“Ah, you are very kind; I shall not forget it, and I thank you.”
We now went up a steep foot-path; when we reached the top of the mountain, we saw the beautiful plains of Piedmont. The descent being practicable, we soon found ourselves in that paradise, and went on by forced marches as far as Turin, where the inhabitants were surprised to see an army arrive with its artillery.
This is the best-built city in Europe. All the houses are alike, all built after the same model, with streams of pure water in the gutters; all the streets are straight and very magnificent. Next day we set out for Milan. We made no, halt, the march was forced. We made our entrance into the beautiful city of Milan, where all the people lined the streets to see us pass. They are very fine-looking. The street which leads to the Roman gateway is as handsome as can well be imagined. Passing through this gate, and turning to the left, we found a camp already established, and barracks completed. We saw that there was an army there ahead of us. We were made to stack arms, and men were detailed to go for rations, and I was among the number. No one was allowed to enter the city. I stole off, while the rations were being distributed, to go and see the cathedral. There is nothing like it, with all its columns of white marble. I went back to carry my bag of bread, and full rations were distributed to us.
We left there the next morning, and went to the right down to the river Po, which is a very deep stream. Here we found a flying bridge, which would hold five hundred men, and by means of a heavy rope, which was thrown across the river, one could cross by pulling on the rope. This consumed a great deal of time, especially in transferring the artillery. It was very late when we reached the heights, which were completely laid waste, and there we passed the night. Our division was sent on to Piacenza, a superb city. General Lannes was defeating the Austrians, and driving them back upon the Po. As for our division, we were sent from one place to another, and made to march in every direction to assist the divisions of the advance guard, and still we did not fire a shot. We only manoeuvred.
We again marched down to the Po. The Austrians seized upon the heights before reaching Montebello. Their artillery cut down our troops as they came up. We were obliged to send the 24th and 43rd half-brigades forward to take possession of the position. General Lannes finally succeeded in driving them back toward Montebello, and pursued them all night. The next morning he gave them another greeting, and our half-brigade occupied the heights which had cost so much to take, for they were twice as strong as we were. Next morning we started out to follow in the wake of that immense advance-guard, and we were stationed about half a league in rear of Montebello, in a broad walk in a beautiful plantation of mulberry-trees. There we were made to stack arms.
We were regaling ourselves upon the ripe fruit with which the trees were loaded, when suddenly at eleven o'clock we heard cannonading. We thought it was very far off. But we were mistaken, it was coming nearer to us. An aide-de-camp came up with orders for us to advance as rapidly as possible. The general was hard pressed on all sides. “To arms,” said our colonel, “fall in, my brave regiment I Our turn has come to distinguish ourselves.” And we shouted, “Hurrah for our colonel and all our brave officers !” Our captain, with his one hundred and seventy-four grenadiers, said “I will answer for my company. I will march at their head.”
We were made to march by platoons, and load our muskets as we were marching, and here I put the first cartridge in my musket. I made the sign of the cross with my cartridge, and it brought me good luck. We reached the entrance of the village of Montebello, where we saw a great many wounded soldiers, and then we heard the drums beating the charge.
I was in the first platoon in the third rank, according to my height. As we were going out of the village, a cannon gave us a volley of grape-shot, which did no one any harm. I ducked my head at the sound of the gun, but my sergeant-major slapped me on the knapsack with his sabre, and said, “No ducking !”—“No, there shan't be I” I answered.
After the first discharge, Captain Merle cried, “To right and left into the trenches,” so as to prevent our receiving another volley. As I did not hear the captain's command, I was left entirely exposed. I rushed past our drummers, towards the gun, and fell upon the gunners. They were loading again, and did not see me. I bayoneted all five of them, then leaped upon the piece, and my captain embraced me as he went by. He told me to guard my cannon, which I did, and our battalions dashed upon the enemy. It was a bloody affair of bayonets, with firing by platoons. The men of our brigade fought like lions.
I did not remain long in that position. General Berthier came galloping up, and said to me, “What are you doing there ?”—“General, you see what I've done. This gun is mine, I took it all by myself.”—“Do you want something to eat ?”—“Yes, general.” (He talked through his nose.) Then he turned to his groom, and said, “Give him some bread.” And taking out a little green memorandum-book, he asked me my name. “Jean-Roch Coignet.”—“Your half-brigade ?”—“Ninety-sixth.”— “Your battalion ?”—“The first.”—“Your company ?” —“First.”—“Your captain ?”—“Merle.”—“ Tell your captain to bring you to see the Consul at ten o'clock. Leave your gun and go and find him.”
Then he galloped off, and I, delighted, went as fast as my legs would take me to rejoin my company, which had turned into a road to the right. This road was a sunk road, bordered on each side with hedges and occupied by some Austrian grenadiers. Our grenadiers were fighting them with bayonets. They were in complete disorder. I went up to my captain, and told him that my name had been taken down. “That is good,” said he. “Now, come through this opening, so that we can get ahead of the company; they are marching too fast, they will be cut off. Follow me.” We went together through the opening. About a hundred steps off, on the other side of the road, there was a large wild pear-tree, and behind it a Hungarian grenadier, who was waiting till my captain came in front of him to fire upon him. But as he saw him, he cried to me, “Fire, grenadier.” As I was behind the Hungarian, I took aim at a distance of only ten paces, and he fell, stone dead. Then my captain embraced me. “Don't leave me to-day,” said he; “you have saved my life.” And we hastened on to get ahead of the company which had advanced too rapidly.
A sergeant came out from the road as we had. Three grenadiers surrounded him. I ran to help him. They had hold of him, and called on me to surrender. I pointed my musket at them with my left hand, and using my right as a lever, plunged my bayonet into the belly of first one and then a second of the grenadiers. The third was thrown down by the sergeant, who took him by the head, and laid him flat. The captain finished the work. The sergeant recovered his belt and his watch, and in his turn plundered the three Austrians. We left him to look after himself, and put on his clothes, and hastened forward to get in front of the company, which was filing into an open field, where the captain once more took command, and rejoined the battalion, which was advancing at a quick step.
We were encumbered with three hundred prisoners, who had surrendered on the sunk road. We turned them over to some of the hussars de la mort who had escaped, for they had been cut to pieces that morning, and only two hundred out of a thousand were left. We took more prisoners; we did not know what to do with them; no one wanted to take charge of them, and they went along unguarded. They were routed completely. They ceased firing upon us, and ran like rabbits, especially the cavalry, which caused a panic throughout the infantry. The Consul came up in time to see the battle won, and General Lannes covered with blood (he looked dreadful), for he had been constantly in the thick of the fight, and it was he who made the last charge. If we had had two regiments of cavalry, all their infantry might have been taken.
That evening, the captain took me by the arm, presented me to the colonel, and told him what I had done during the day. He answered, “Why, captain, I knew nothing about this !” Then he shook me by the hand, and said, “I must make a note of it.”—“General Berthier wishes to present him to the Consul at ten o'clock this evening,” said my captain; “I am going to take him.”—“ Ah ! I am glad of it, grenadier.”
We went to see General Berthier, and my captain said to him, “Here is my grenadier who captured the gun, and since then he has saved my life and that of my first sergeant. He killed three Hungarian grenadiers.”—“I will present him to the Consul.” Then General Berthier and my captain went to see the Consul, and after talking a while with him they called me in. The Consul came up to me, and took me by the ear. I thought he was going to scold me, but, on the contrary, he was very kind; and still holding me by the ear, he said, “How long have you been in the service ?”—“This is my first battle.”— “Ah, indeed! it is a good beginning. Berthier, put him down for a musket of honour. You are too young to be in my Guard; for that, one must have made four campaigns. Berthier, make a note of him at once, and put it on the file. You may go now,” said he to me, “ but you shall one day be one of my guards.”
Then my captain took me away, and we went off arm in arm as if I had been his equal. “Can you write ?” said he.—“No, captain.”—“Oh, that is a pity; if you did, your fortune would be made. But, never mind, you will be specially remembered.”—“Thank you, captain.”
All the officers shook hands with me, and the brave sergeant, whose life I had saved, embraced me before the whole company, who cheered me. How proud I was!
Thus ended the battle of Montebello.