Napoleonic Literature
The Note-Books of Captain Coignet:
Soldier of the Empire


WE left Schoenbrunn for the second time. When we came to the Confederation of the Rhine, we were received as though it had been our own country. In the large towns of France the people came out to meet us. We were received most cordially at our lodgings. At the gates of Paris we found a vast multitude assembled, and we could scarcely pass along, the crowd pressed so closely upon us. We were immediately conducted to the Champs-Élysées to partake of a cold collation prepared for us by the city of Paris. The time was pressing. We had to eat and drink standing, and leave at once for Courbevoie. The good city of Paris gave us another collation under the galleries of the Place Royale, and a comedy at the Porte St. Martin. Triumphal arches were erected. The Parisians were wild with joy at seeing us again. Unhappily there were many missing at the roll-call. A fourth of us had been left on the battle-fields of Essling and Wagram. But no one was better pleased than I to come back to Paris with my sergeant's stripes, and entitled to carry a sword and cane, and wear silk stockings in summer. I was, however, much grieved over one thing: I had no calves to my legs. I had to resort to false calves, and this worried me extremely.

After a fortnight's rest in the fine barracks of Courbevoie, all in new clothes, we were reviewed by the Emperor at the Tuileries. Preparations were being made for the burial of Marshal Lannes. A hundred thousand men formed the funeral cortège of this celebrated warrior, which started from the Gros Caillou to go to the Pantheon. I was one of the non-commissioned officers who bore the bier. Sixteen of us carried it down eight or ten steps on the left side of the aisle of the Pantheon, and there placed it on some trestles. The whole army filed past the remains of this brave soldier. The procession went on till midnight.

I resumed my duties as non-commissioned officer. I applied myself earnestly to my writing, and one day, being on guard at St. Cloud, I made out a report of my fifty grenadiers, with all the names well written, and carried it myself to M. Belcourt, who was pleased with the neatness of my report, and said to me, "Stick to it, you will be all right." I took the greatest pains to study my drill. I surpassed my comrades in the tone of command, and was considered to have the strongest voice. I was very proud of my rank of sergeant and my forty-three sous a day. Having some visits which I was obliged to make, I proceeded to smarten myself up. I had to have silk stockings, to go with my sword. I have already said that I had no calves to my legs, so I had to get some false ones. I went to the Palais-Royal to buy them. I found a pair to suit me, for which I paid eighteen francs, and so I sported a good looking pair of legs, with some thin stockings over the false calves and the silk ones on top of them. I made my visits, and was overwhelmed with compliments upon my appearance. I returned to the barracks at nine o'clock in the evening, delighted with my day, and found a letter from my captain, Renard, inviting me to dine with him on Sunday, without fail, at five o'clock sharp, and saying that his wife and daughter wished to thank me for having put my captain to bed in a cask on the evening before the battle of Austerlitz.

I accepted this invitation. I met some distinguished military men and citizens and ladies of high degree I felt uncomfortable among my superiors in rank, with all their decorations, and the ladies, with their plumes. I felt very small indeed in that splendid hall, as I waited for dinner to be announced. My captain came to my relief, presented me to his wife, some other ladies, and some of his friends. I no longer felt alone; but I was very bashful, and would have preferred my mess-table to this grand dinner. We went into the dining-hall, where I was seated between two beautiful ladies, and they paid me much attention, and soon put me at my ease. By the time the second course was served, every face at the table was beaming with pleasure, and the arrival of the champagne put a finishing stroke to the general gaiety. My officers were called on to tell stories of their campaigns.

The ladies cried: "We want to hear about your conquests among the foreign ladies!" "Very well," answered the major, "I won't disappoint you, I'm not married."

He described the ladies of Vienna and Berlin, always, however, observing the proprieties (which constitute the charm of society); he was much applauded. The two ladies between whom I sat insisted that I should relate my history. "I beg you to excuse me; my officers know it all."—"Well," said the captain, "I will tell it for him; you will see that he is a good soldier. He was the first man to be decorated at the Invalides. He saved us from dying of hunger in Poland, by finding out all the hiding places of the Poles. In fact, ladies, I should have been dead but for him." I was greatly confused at this testimonial from my captain, and overwhelmed by so much attention from everybody. The blood mounted to my face. I had a white handkerchief, which I continually pulled out of my pocket to wipe off the perspiration. My napkin was very fine, and, by mistake, I wiped my face with it, and put it also into my pocket. At the hour when I was obliged to return to barracks, I got up to go. The captain said to me, "Are you off?"—"Yes, captain; I am on to-morrow's guard."—"But you will come back to-morrow?"—"It is impossible, I shall be on guard."—"But you are carrying off your napkin."

Putting my hand in my pocket, I found my napkin and my handkerchief. As I handed the napkin to my captain, I said, "I thought I was still in the enemy's country; you know that there, if you don't take anything, you feel you've forgotten something."—“Coignet," said he, "stay here; I will send my servant to the barracks, and you shall spend the evening with us." Then, pointing to his daughter, "There is your accuser. She said to me, ' Papa, he is carrying off his napkin; but let him do it.'" —"Ah, how happy I am that your young lady should have noticed me."

I returned to the Capucins barracks, off the Place Vendome; next morning I had a letter from Mme — asking me to wait on her at eleven o'clock. This warmed my imagination, and I trembled with joy. I found a comrade to mount guard for me, dressed myself up to the nines, and took a cabriolet to the address indicated. I am not ashamed to confess that I felt the thrill of love (my age is excuse enough). On arrival I gave my name, and the chambermaid showed me into a fine drawing-room, where I found one of the two ladies between whom I had sat at dinner at my captain's, dressed in a most captivating négligé. I could hardly contain myself. "You may go," said she to the chambermaid.

Finding myself alone with the lovely lady, I was confused and had not a word to say; she took my arm and led me into her bedroom, where I saw a table spread with tempting dishes, wine and sugar, and all kinds of restoratives; this was her way of opening the ball. The conversation turned on her intentions with regard to me; she explained that she had looked upon me favourably, but could not openly receive me in her own house. "If you are my man, I will give you an address where we can meet three times a week. I go to the Opera, and you will find a room ready prepared close by. When my carriage sets me down there, I will come to you, and we will pass the evening together."—"You can count on me."—"At all costs find a substitute to mount guard for you; I will pay." She plied me with wine and sugar; I saw by her excited condition that it was for me to repay her with my person, and, seizing one of her hands, I said: "I am at your service."

She led me to her easy-chair, and I had to prove my mettle there and then; she showed me her fine bed, which had mirrors above and all round it; never had I seen such a room. She seemed pleased with me; I spent a day of bliss with that fair lady, and only left her to answer roll-call. I was a little unsteady on my legs as a result of the stormy day I had passed, but was delighted with my conquest, and did not fail to keep my appointment on the day arranged. I found a cold dinner laid for me, and was waited on by the pretty chambermaid, who was there for the purpose of helping her mistress to dress and undress. I sat down and dined like a spoilt child. "And you, mademoiselle, are you not dining?" —"Yes, monsieur, after you, if you please. Madame is delighted with you; she is coming early to take coffee, and will spend the evening with you. Dine well and drink plenty of wine; it is claret, and here is some sugar, which will improve it."—"Thank you."—"I should explain that I am going to undress madame, she will be easier in her deshabille; and I shall come back to dress her before she goes home."—"I understand perfectly."

Madame arrived at eight, and after the usual civilities had been exchanged, sent for coffee. We were left alone, and I drew near to her. "Wait," she said, "we are going to have the whole evening together."—" know, madame." —"Stay where you are!" Coffee was served immediately; that finished, she said: "Go into the next room, I will send for you."
I went out, and sat down to await my fate; soon I was sent for, and told that madame was waiting for me. What was my surprise to find her in bed!" Now for it!" said I to myself. "Come and sit close by me in this armchair. Have you got twenty-four hours' leave?"—"Yes, madame."

She gave the chambermaid her orders, and dismissed her till next morning, when she was to bring our coffee and make her mistress's toilette. As for me, I felt mighty awkward about undressing, and particularly about how I was to hide my wretched false calves and my three pairs of stockings. What a fix I was in I If only I could put out the candle, all would be well. However, somehow I managed to hide them under the pillow; but it damped my spirits considerably. And the problem of how to get them on next morning tortured me.

Fortunately my beauty got up first to make things easy for me, and went into the next room with her maid to dress. I lost no time, and at once set about pulling my three pairs of stockings on under the bedclothes; the difficulty was to avoid twisting them awry, and I only succeeded with one leg, but madame never noticed.

It would have taken a barber to dress my hair properly; and in a very short time I was asked if I was up. "Tell madame I can present myself now, and am at her service."

Madame looked fresh and beautiful, and we drank our chocolate together. As soon as matters had been adjusted between us, she left with her maid, and I returned to barracks in no little disorder. "One of your stockings is twisted, it looks like a false calf," said one of my comrades. “So it does," I answered in confusion, "I must go and put it straight."
When I reached my quarters, I undressed and took off the infernal calves that had so tortured me for twenty four hours; nor have I ever worn false calves since.

I continued to see my beauteous and witty dame according to the programme, but the task was too much for my strength; I had found my master, and should have been forced to surrender. But she gave me the chance of beating a retreat; I received a letter from her, asking me to let her see a specimen of my style. I was to send my answer to the address indicated. I found myself in an awkward position, being a very poor hand at writing; but however, I faced the situation and did the best I could. My phrases did not answer her expectations, and she reproached me very justly with my lack of education. "Your letter disappointed me," she said: "the spelling is wretched, and you have no style."
I immediately answered: "Madame, I deserve all your reproaches, and I can't complain. If you want a perfect letter, I will write out the twenty-five letters of the alphabet and all the full stops and commas that are needed for a letter worthy of you; put them where they ought to be, and so help my feeble powers."

I refused ever to see her again; and all her powers of persuasion were exerted in vain.

Having thus rid myself of my fair conquest, I went back to my studies in writing and tactics, working unceasingly for the next six months, and only leaving barracks to go on guard (and always with my Ecole de Bataillon in my pocket, so as to learn the manoeuvres belonging to my rank). I overcame all difficulties in the drill. All my comrades congratulated me, and my superiors showed that they were very well pleased with me. But though the Emperor was pleased with us, we were not pleased with him. A report was circulated among the guard that he was about to divorve his wife and marry an Austrian princess to pay the expenses of the second war with the Emperor of Austria, and that he was anxious to have an heir to the throne. In order to do this, he would be obliged to send away his accomplished wife, and take a foreigner, who would be able to bring about a general peace. The Emperor held grand reviews to distract him from his troubles. We were told that Prince Berthier was going to Vienna to carry the portrait of our Emperor to the princess, and ask for her hand.

Great preparations were made for the reception of this new Empress. On the 15th her whole family accompanied her a long way out of Vienna. She showed signs of regret at leaving her dog and her parrot, and orders were issued at once to have them sent to St. Cloud, where, on her arrival, she was surprised to find her bird-cage and birds, her dog, who greeted his mistress, and her parrot, who called her by name.

Our first battalion was ordered to await the arrival of the Emperor at St. Cloud. The couriers arrived, and we were put under arms. We saw that splendid carriage drawn by eight horses, and the Emperor seated beside his betrothed. How happy he looked! They went slowly on to St. Cloud, and we had time to see all the fine equipages pass. The civil marriage took place at St. Cloud, and the next day they left there to make their entrance into the capital. We were ordered to be present at the grand ceremony of the religious marriage, which was celebrated on the 5th of April, in the chapel of the Louvre. It is impossible to give any idea of all the grand preparations. In the great gallery of the Louvre, leading from the old Louvre to the chapel which is at the end of the pavilion of the Tuileries on the side next the Pont-Royal (the length of it is immense), there were three rows of benches to seat ladies and gentlemen. In the fourth row were fifty decorated non-commissioned officers placed at certain distances from each other with an iron rail in front, so as not to be pushed aside by the crowd. General Dorsenne commanded us. When he had stationed us all, he told the ladies that we were to serve as their knights, and have refreshments brought to them. We had to be introduced. We each had to take charge of twenty-four on each side of us (forty-eight to each non-commissioned officer), and attend to all their wants. Large niches had been made in the thick wall to hold ninety-six canteens of all sorts of pleasant refreshments. These little movable cafés did a good business.

The dresses of the ladies were as follows: low behind, down to the middle of their backs, and low in front so that you could see half of their breasts; their shoulders and arms bare. And such necklaces and bracelets and ear-rings ! They were covered with rubies and pearls and diamonds. You could see every variety of skin: oily skins, skins like mulattoes, yellow skins, and skins like satin. The old women carried boxes containing a supply of perfumes. I must say that I had never before seen the ladies of Paris, half naked, so near. I did not like it.

The men were dressed in French fashion, all wearing the same costume: black coat, short breeches, steel buttons cut in the shape of a diamond. The trimming of their coats cost eighteen hundred francs. They could not present themselves at court without this costume. Cabs being forbidden that day, it is impossible to imagine the number of splendid equipages in front of the Tuileries. The magnificent procession started from the chateau, and moved on to the Louvre, then mounted the grand stairway of the Louvre, and entered the chapel of the Tuileries. The ceremony was very imposing. The whole assembly remained standing, and the most solemn silence prevailed. The procession moved slowly. As soon as it had passed by, General Dorsenne called us together, marched us into the chapel, and formed us into a circle. We saw the Emperor on the right, kneeling upon a cushion decorated with bees, and his wife kneeling beside him to receive the benediction. After having placed the crown on his own head and on that of his wife, he rose, and sat down with her on a settee. Then the celebration of mass was begun, chanted by the Pope.

The general made a sign to us to go out and return to our posts, and there we saw the procession return. The new Empress looked beautiful with her splendid diadem. The wives of our marshals carried the train of her robe, which dragged eight or ten feet upon the ground. She ought to have been proud to have such maids of honour in her suite. But it must be said that she was a beautiful sultana, that the Emperor looked very well pleased, and that her countenance was gracious. That was a day of roses for her, but it was to be different later at Malmaison.

All the old guard was under arms to protect the cortege, and we were all excessively hungry. We each received twenty-five sous and a litre of wine. After the festivities were over, the Emperor went away with Marie Louise. On the 1st of June they re-entered Paris. The city gave them a reception and a splendid banquet at the Hotel de Ville. I was put on duty in command of a squad of twenty men inside the building, in front of the beautiful horseshoe-shaped table, and my twenty grenadiers stood strictly at ease at this banquet of cold meats, served in dishes of solid gold. Arm-chairs were placed round the horseshoe table; the largest one in the middle was for the Emperor. The royal party was announced. The general came to station me and give me his orders.

Then the master of ceremonies announced, "The Emperor!" and he entered followed by his wife and five other crowned heads. I ordered my men to carry and present arms; then I received the order to stand at ease. 1 stood in front of my squad, facing the Emperor. He seated himself at the table, and made a sign to the others to take their places on each side of him. When the crowned heads were seated, the table was cleared; every dish was taken up, and carried off. The carvers did their work in a side room. Behind each king and queen there were three footmen about a step from one another. There were others who made a chain with the carvers, and passed the plates, without turning more than half-way round to get them. When a plate came within reach of a sovereign, the head footman presented it to him, and, if the sovereign shook his head, the plate disappeared; another plate was brought immediately. If the head did not move, the footman placed the plate in front of his master.

As the meat was all well cut up, each person took his roll of bread, broke it, and ate with it, making no use whatever of his knife, and, after each mouthful, wiped his mouth with a napkin; the napkin then disappeared, and the footman slipped in another. This went on until there was a pile of napkins behind each chair which had only been used once.

Not a word was spoken. Each person had a decanter of wine and another of water, and no one poured out wine for his neighbour. They chewed their bread, and poured out their own wine to suit themselves. They either accepted or refused by a shake of the head. No one was permitted to speak except when addressed by the sovereign master. This sort of thing may be imposing, but it is not at all gay.

The Emperor rose. I made my grenadiers carry and present arms, and then they all passed into the great hall. I remained standing near the splendid table. The general came up to me, and took me by the arm: "Sergeant, come with us, I am going to give you a taste of the Emperor's wine, and I will have some given to your twenty men. Sit there! I will go and tell your squad to have patience, and they shall be refreshed in their turn.” Those two glasses of wine did me good, and my grenadiers each had half a litre. How proud we were at having drunk the Emperor's wine !
After a few days' rest, the old guard gave a brilliant reception to the Emperor in the Champ de Mars. The whole court was present. We went through various manoeuvres for their benefit, and, in the evening, by torchlight, we shot off blank cartridges of all colours. After firing into the air by platoon and battalion, we formed a square in front of the balcony of the École Militaire, where the court was assembled to look at us. At a given signal, this immense square began to fire by file into the air. Never were such "baskets of flowers" seen before. The guard was crowned with stars. Everybody clapped their hands. I can truly say that it was magnificent.

The Emperor and all his court left for St. Cloud; what pleased him there was the great herds of game: deer, and particularly gazelles, more delicate animals of the same species. Every evening the Emperor liked to walk on the high terrace with his Empress. Once I chanced to be there; when I saw them appear, I would have withdrawn, but at a sign from the Emperor I moved a little away to one side to let them pass. A moment later the gazelles came running up to their Majesties. These animals are very fond of snuff, and the Emperor always had a little box of it ready for them. Not being prompt enough in giving a pinch to the first gazelle, the animal put its head under the imperial lady's dress, and gave me a sight of some extremely white linen. The Emperor was furious, and I retired in confusion, but this recollection still pleases me. The charming beasts were forgiven, but after that day he gave them their snuff alone.

The Emperor gave a magnificent ball; he opened it himself with Marie Louise. There never was seen a better formed man. He really was a perfect model: his hands and feet were unequalled for beauty.

Marie Louise was a first-rate billiard-player. She beat all the men; but she was not afraid to stretch herself out across the billiard-table, as the men did, when she wanted to make a stroke, with me always on the watch to see what I could. She was frequently applauded.

Duty at St. Cloud was irksome to us. We had to go back and forth from Courbevoie to St. Cloud, and the chasseurs came from Rueil relieve us. We were well fed, however, and the sergeant had a table to himself. We had soup, bouillon, good chicken-salad, and a bottle of wine. The officer ate with the officers of the household.

In the month of September, 1810 great preparations were made to go to Fontainebleau. The hunting season had come, and the first battalion, to which I belonged, was ordered to set out for duty there. M. Belcourt, the adjutant-major, followed the battalion. We were put into barracks, and the whole court came out in splendid hunting carriages. There were four open carriages with horses all alike, and a relay of horses of another colour. It was a magnificent sight. M. Belcourt was ordered to take out for the hunt twelve non-commissioned officers and corporals, who should be under the direction of a game-keeper, and stationed by fours in certain appointed places. On arriving at the rendezvous, we were stationed at our posts in a beautiful sandy clearing, into which several walks led. There was here a beautiful tent with a table ready served, and footmen standing around it. The whole court sat down to the table before beginning the hunt.

That day hoops were brought out (with a man inside each) with falcons perched all around on them. Marie Louise took one of the birds, and loosed it at the first game that came in sight. The bird swooped down upon it like lightning, and brought it to Marie Louise. This hunt, a very entertaining one, lasted a whole hour; then the open carriages started off at a gallop for a place where the peasants were waiting to beat the bushes, in a large enclosure filled with rabbits which could not get out. The Emperor had a great many guns ready loaded; he gave the signal, and the peasants beat the bushes, and crowds of them jumped out. Then the Emperor began to shoot. He fired rapid shots, one after the other. Then he said to his aides-de-camp, "Come, gentlemen, it is your turn now! Take these guns, and amuse yourselves." And soon the ground was covered with victims. He had the guards called up, and said to our adjutant-major, "Have this game picked up, and give a rabbit to each peasant, and four to each of the guard. Put the rest in the wagon, and have them distributed to my old ' grousers' (there was a wagon full of them). To-morrow you shall lead them on a wild-boar hunt; you shall have provisions to take with you, and spend the whole day in the forest." The adjutant-major gave his orders, and we all started off. This was the first day's hunt, and the whole battalion had rabbit to eat.

The next day four wagons arrived: one for the provisions, two for the great Russian hounds, and one in which to put the boars alive. With the huntsmen, the grooms for the dogs and the game-keepers, there were fifty of us who started out, besides our adjutant-major. When we came near to the place where this herd of wild boars had their lair, we dismissed the carriages, and coupled up the hounds. There was a surgeon with us, too, to attend to any dogs which might be wounded in the fierce fight in which they were about to engage. "First," said the huntsmen, "we must eat; we shall not have time for it later." And a footman was there, with his napkin on his arm, to wait upon the adjutant-major and the surgeon. We all made a hearty dinner, and, as soon as we had finished, we set out for the field of battle. And the footmen each led two of those great long dogs.

They put up some boars, and six hounds started off after each furious animal. Three boars were soon down, and unable to move. Two hounds took each boar by the ears, and locked themselves together around his body, holding him so tightly that he could not move. Then the guards came up with a gag and stuffed it into his mouth before he could defend himself. His four feet were tied together with a slip-knot, and the hounds were loosed again and went off in pursuit of the herd, followed by the grooms who had charge of them. The prisoners were taken to the wagons; the door at the back of the wagons was opened; the boars' shackles were removed, and they fell down into the deep wagons.

We captured the whole herd of fourteen that day, and the wagon was full. Two of our dogs were wounded by blows from their tusks. We were very hungry after these chasings through the depths of the forest. The Emperor was delighted with such a hunt. He had an enclosure prepared on the road to Paris, where the animals were kept alive. It was round, and the walls high and solid. The wagon was backed up to a door cut in the wall, and the furious animals were thus dropped into the enclosure. The hunting went on for a fortnight. We captured fifty boars and two wolves alive.

Inside of this enclosure, an amphitheatre had been constructed upon piles, and arm-chairs were placed all round it, sufficient in number to seat the whole court. A slight descent brought one to the middle of the enclosure, under a beautiful tent. Sentinels were stationed to prevent any one's approaching. The court arrived at two o'clock. They had to climb up in the top of the pine-trees to see the angry creatures leap upon the palisades. The Emperor fired first. He did not fire at any of the wolves; they were left for the last, and leaped up quite to the top of the palisades. The Emperor allowed the chief officers of his court to finish up the game, and all the boars were divided among his guard. We had a fine feast, and he reserved three of the largest for himself.

In 1811 we had cause for great rejoicing. On the 20th of March a courier came to our barracks to announce the safe delivery of our Empress, and said that the guns were about to fire. We were all excitement. As the first reports sounded from the Invalides, we counted in silence, but when we heard the twenty-second and twenty-third report, we leaped for joy, and all shouted at once, "Long live the Emperor!" The King of Rome was baptized on the 9th of June. We had holiday and fireworks. The precious child was always accompanied by the governor of the palace, whenever he went out to take the air, with his handsome nurse, and a lady who carried him. One day when I was at the palace of St. Cloud, Marshal Duroc, who was with me, signalled to me to approach, and the dear child held out his little hands for my plume. I stooped, and he began to pull at my plumes. The marshal said, "Let him do it." The child laughed with delight; but my plume was sacrificed. I looked a little upset. The marshal said to me, "Give it to him. I will give you another." The maid of honour and the nurse were much amused. The marshal said to the maid of honour, "Give the prince to this sergeant, and let him take him in his arms." Good Lord ! how eagerly I stretched out my arms to receive that precious burden! Every one surrounded me. "Well," said M. Duroc to me, "is he heavy?"—"Yes, general."—"Come, walk him about; you are strong enough to carry him." I walked about with him awhile on the terrace. The child pulled away at my plumes, and paid no attention to me. His robes -hung down very low, and I was afraid of stumbling; but I was proud to carry such a baby. I handed him back to the maid of honour, who thanked me, and the marshal said to me, "Come to my office an hour later." Accordingly, I appeared before the marshal, who gave me an order upon a merchant for a handsome plume. "Is this the only one you have?" said he.—"Yes, general."—“I will give you an order for two."—"Thank you, general."—"You can go, my brave fellow; now you will have one for Sundays."

Meeting some of my officers, they said to me, "Where is your plume?"—"The King of Rome took it away from me."—"You're joking."—"See, I have an order from Marshal Duroc. Instead of only one plume, I shall have two, and I have held the King of Rome in my arms for nearly a quarter of an hour; he tore up my plume." —"Happy mortal!" said they; "such incidents are never to be forgotten." I never saw the child again. It was the fault of politics, which cut him down in his youth.

All the princes of the Confederation of the Rhine were assembled at Paris, and Prince Charles was godfather to the little Napoleon. The Emperor held a review for them after his own fashion in the Place du Carrousel. The regiments of infantry came up through the Rue de Rivoli and formed their line on the square, in front of the Hôtel Cambacérès. The infantry of the guard was in two ranks in front of the Palace of the Tuileries. The Emperor came down the steps at noon, mounted his horse, reviewed his guard, and, returning, took his stand beside the sun-dial. He called our adjutant-major to him and said, "Have you a non-commissioned officer whose voice is strong enough to repeat my commands? Mouton cannot manage it."—"Yes, sire."—"Send him here, and let him repeat word for word after me." M. Belcourt sent me to him. The general, the colonel, and the officers of the battalion all said to me, "Do not make a mistake. Try not to remember that it is the Emperor who gives command, and, above all, don't lose your head."

M. Belcourt presented me. "Sire, here is the sergeant who commands best."—"Stand here on my left, and repeat my commands." The task was not a difficult one. I acquitted myself without a hitch. At each command from the Emperor, I turned round to repeat, and then turned round again, facing the Emperor, to receive another command. All the strangers on the balcony were watching me. They saw a non-commissioned officer with his musket, receiving commands, and immediately making an "about face" to repeat them, so that his body was in continual motion. All the corps commanders repeated word for word, and, after making their men pass under the Arc de Triomphe, they drew them up in line in front of the Emperor. He galloped past each regiment, and then returned to his post to put it through the manoeuvres, and make it march past. This infantry drill occupied two hours. The guard marched past last. Then the Emperor dismissed me, and my place was filled by a general of cavalry. It was high time; I was covered with perspiration. My officers congratulated me upon my strong voice. The sergeant-major took me by the arm, and led me to the café in the garden to give me something to drink. "I am delighted with you, my dear Coignet." The captain clapped his hands, saying, " I was responsible for making him a corporal; it is all my doing. How well he gives command!"—"Thank you," said I; "but one feels very small beside one's sovereign. I heard him, but I could not look at him: he would have frightened me; I only saw his horse." After drinking our bottle of wine, we went back to the company. My captain grasped my hand, and said, "I am delighted." I was overwhelmed with praises.

Some grenadiers arrived to fill up the regiments, and take the places of the veterans who could no longer go into the field. Two companies were formed of veterans of the guard, who were delighted to have such easy duty to perform. Every day splendid-looking men came in. I put them through the drill, and the adjutants-major attended to the tactics. They pushed the recruits forward so rapidly that the Emperor reviewed them at the end of two months. It was a treat to see them drill. They never made a mistake, and were all appointed sub-lieutenants of the line, and went to join their regiments. The Emperor asked me, "Do they know how to command?"—"Yes, sire, all of them do."—"Let the first one come forward, and go through the manual of arms." He was delighted. "Order the second one out," said he. "Let him order a charge in twelve time. Excellent. Now, order out No. 10 from the front rank. Let him give the command to fire by two files. Make them carry arms. That will do."

I was very glad when this examination was over. He said to the adjutants-major, "You must push forward the new-comers, and make cartridges for the coming field-day. I will send you three tons of powder."

Then he started off for St. Cloud. For a fortnight a hundred men were at work making cartridges, and the adjutants-major superintended them. They had to wear shoes without nails, so as to avoid danger of accident. Every two hours they were relieved, and their feet examined. We made a hundred thousand packages. As soon as the required number was made, we had manoeuvres in the plain of St. Denis and reviews at the Tuileries, with parks of artillery in considerable force, and wagons and ambulances. The Emperor had them opened, and got up on the wheels to be sure that everything was in place. Sometimes M. Larrey received a reprimand. The engineer officers also trembled before him. It became more apparent every day that great preparations for war were being made; but we could not tell against whom it would be declared. But towards the latter part of April, 1812 we received orders to hold ourselves ready to march, and to have our linen and shoes inspected. Each soldier was to have three pairs of shoes, three shirts, and a dress uniform in his knapsack.

The day before the final review I was called before the council, and appointed quartermaster of the two regiments of grenadiers, and to have charge of the transportation of money and equipages. These consisted of four wagons: two for the officers' trunks, and two which were to be loaded at the Treasury, in the Place Vendôme. I was to show a letter, of which I was the bearer, and my two wagons were to be loaded immediately with casks containing twenty-eight thousand francs. The guard was confined to barracks the day before we left, and I only was permitted to go out, to settle my accounts with the butcher and baker. I returned at two o'clock in the morning. The guard had started for Meaux at midnight on the 1st of May, 1812. An old sergeant, who was left at Courbevoie as keeper of the magazine, received my accounts, and handed me a "route," which authorized me to collect rations for eight men and sixteen horses. At noon I started from the Place Vendôme with my four wagons, mounted on the first one, which had a pretty hood on the front of it. I sat there, with my sabre at my side, like a man of great importance.

I reached Meaux at midnight, and went immediately to the guard-room to learn the address of the adjutant-major. I was conducted to his apartment. "Who is there?" said he.—"It is I, major."—"You, Coignet, is it possible? Are.your wagons all on the square ready loaded?"— "Yes, captain."—"You have flown, my brave fellow. I will see you to-morrow, before we set out. Here are your orders for rations of forage and bread. Take four men from the guard-room and four soldiers from the wagons; let them rouse the storekeeper. Your billets for lodgings are on my mantelpiece. Take theme and good-night."— "Good-night, captain. I will remain all night in the guard-room. It will be three o'clock by the time the horses and men are fed. The soldiers belonging to the trains shall sleep beside their horses, and I will be ready to start at seven o'clock."

M. Belcourt came to the post to see me, and assure himself that the men and horses had their rations. He was pleased with my activity. "You are supplied for the whole route; you can follow us."—"If you will give me my 'route,' I will start every day two hours before you do, and then I shall be able to go and collect all the letters lying in the post-offices in the large towns. I shall be waiting for you with your letters." He went to see the colonel, who approved of my plan. Every day I went on ahead of the corps. Neither my men nor my horses suffered from the heat. When we came to the halting-places, I had all breakages which had taken place repaired.

The Emperor had left for Dresden, accompanied by the Empress. In this city there is the handsomest royal family in Europe. The father and son are not less than five feet ten inches tall. The Emperor remained here ten days to have an interview with the kings. After having given and received holy water in the courtyard, he bade farewell to his wife. Their leave-taking was a sad one. The splendid equipages set out for Paris, and the Emperor was left alone with his thoughts at the head of his grand army.

We reached Posen on the 3rd of June, and Koenigsberg on the 12th, where he established his headquarters. There we had a brief season of repose, as he had gone to Dantzig, where he remained four days. This refreshed the old guard, who had made forced marches. We received orders to start for Insterburg, and, on the 21st of June, we reached Wilkowski. We left there on the 22nd and 23rd of June, and made our headquarters at a village a league and half from Kowno. The next day, at nine o'clock in the evening, we began the construction of three bridges over the Niemen. The work was com-pleted at twenty-five minutes before midnight, and the army began to enter Russian territory.

It was wonderful to see such bodies of men moving over those barren plains. Often they were without shelter and without bread; often in the wildest places, where we knew not where to turn to find necessary food. But Providence and courage never abandon a good soldier.

(If you surfed directly to this page, please go to the Napoleonic Literature Home Page to see the wealth of information that's available on this website.)