THE general had bulletins issued every day with the news from Paris and from the army which was being organized. The Emperor arrived in order to effect a junction with the viceroy, but his plans miscarried: the Russians and Prussians had got ahead of him by forced marches, leaving us quiet in our camp. They passed along on our left without being perceived, overtook the Emperor, and offered him battle. When he found himself attacked, he made his arrangements for defence, and at the same time sent one of his aides-de-camp galloping as fast as possible to inform Prince Eugene that he was closely engaged. The latter attacked the enemy’s flank, and forced him to fall back upon the road to Lutzen. The army continued its march on Leipzig, the corps of Marshal Ney forming the advance guard. On the 2nd of May the memorable battle of Lutzen took place, the success of which was due to the French infantry, and chiefly to the valour of our young conscripts, entirely unsupported by cavalry. It is impossible to give any idea of the desperate valour of our troops. At Lutzen all the wounded were carried off by young girls and boys. Thirty couples at least went from the city to the field of battle, and returned with their miserable burdens, only to go back again immediately. I saw this done, and it ought not to be left unremarked; those boys deserved laurels and the girls crowns.
As for the army transport, I had it collected together according to orders, with a strong guard of picked gendarmes and all the grooms. The Emperor warned me to come back at night. I had the vehicles drawn up in a square, with the horses inside of it, and the wagons touching one another so that it would be impossible for the enemy to penetrate it.
On the 8th of May, about noon, the army entered Dresden. On the 12th the Emperor went to meet the King of Saxony, who was returning from Prague, to which he had retired, and conducted him to his palace amid the ringing of bells and firing of cannon. Before reaching Dresden, I received an order to go with my gendarmes and guard the bridge, allowing no equipages to pass but those of the staff and the canteens belonging to the corps. All the rest were unhitched at once, and the horses put aside. It was curious to see officers and sergeant-majors arrive on horseback. I made those gentlemen dismount. Consequently, I had some horses ready harnessed, not to speak of wagons drawn by oxen. I turned over two hundred horses to the artillery, who had first choice; the cavalry took the rest of them; the oxen were sent to the great pen. The Jewish gentry offered me gold for them, but I laid about their backs with the flat of my sabre, and said, “Take that to the kitchen.”
I performed my duty so well that it was spoken of in the cabinet of the minister of war, Prince Berthier and General Monthyon being present. He said, “That old grouser is making everybody go on foot.”—“True, prince; but he turned all the horses over to the artillery.” —“Very well, I appoint him captain on the general staff of the Emperor, and he will continue his duties.”
That night I returned with my gendarmes to the hotel where my general was. He began to laugh. “Well,” said he, “have you done a good day’s work?”—“Yes, general; I have sent some good horses to the artillery.”— “Let us go to dinner.” When we were seated at table, he said, “Captain, we shall mount our own horses tomorrow.”—“But, general, you said ‘captain.’ ”—“Yes, here is the minister’s letter; he has appointed you on account of what I have told him of you. Come, embrace your general. And here is your nomination awaiting your certificate of service.”—“This is good news!”—“You will be always near the Emperor. Try to get hold of some captain’s epaulets at once.”—“But, general, how can I?”—“ I have given a lace-maker permission to set up her shop on the principal street.”—“I will go and see her, if you will let me.”—“Go along now, my boy.”— “General, in my joy at being made captain, I have forgotten to tell you that I sent home two peasants from Lutzen, with their wagons and horses. They got on their knees to me, and I asked them from what country they came; they answered, ‘From Lutzen.’ Then I said to them, ‘Very well, I grant you your request as a reward for the good deeds of the young men and girls of your town, who took up all our wounded men. You can choose the best wagons in place of your own, and go along the side roads to your homes. You owe this to the good conduct of your young people.’ Did I do right, general?” —“I shall report the fact to the minister. I approve of what you have done. But about the other wagons?”— “ I did not have them burned; I left them for the use of the town. Now, general, that is what I did. I did it on my own responsibility.”—“ You have done well.”
The next day I appeared at table with my pretty epaulets, which cost me two hundred and twenty francs, and also some fine tassels on my hat. “Ah, you’ve done yourself proud!” people said. “They’re exactly like the epaulets of the guard.”
On the 19th of May the Emperor appeared before Bautzen, and prepared for a battle there. On the 20th of May the cannonading began at noon and lasted until five o’clock without interruption. Two hours after, the battle began again on a larger scale. The next day, the 21st of May, the enemy effected a retreat about six o’clock in the evening. On the 22nd of May, at four o’clock in the morning, the army began to march in pursuit of the enemy. The Russians were overwhelmed by Latour-Maubourg’s cavalry, after a bloody battle. The cavalry general, Bruyère, had his legs carried off by a cannon-ball. As we were in pursuit of the Russians along the highway, we received two shots from a cannon on our right. The Emperor stopped, and said to Marshal Duroc, “Go and see about that.” They reached an eminence, and the marshal was struck by a ricochet-ball. The general of engineers who was with him was killed on the spot. Duroc lived a few hours. The Emperor ordered the guard to halt. The tents of the imperial headquarters were set up in a field on the right side of the road. Napoleon went inside of the square of the guard, and spent the rest of the evening seated on a stool in front of his tent, his hands clasped and his head bent down. We all stood around him motionless; he preserved the most mournful silence. “Poor man,” said the old grenadiers, “he has lost his children.”
When it was quite dark the Emperor left the camp accompanied by the Prince of Neuchâtel, the Duke of Vicenza, and Dr. Ivan. He wanted to see Duroc, and embrace him for the last time. When he returned to the camp he walked up and down in front of his tent. No one dared go near him; we all stood around him with bowed heads.
Peace was concluded on the 4th of June. The Emperor set out immediately for Dresden, where he occupied himself in active preparations for a new campaign. On the 10th of August the armistice was broken. The allied armies formed an effective force of eight hundred thousand combatants. The forces which were to oppose them did not number more than three hundred and twelve thousand men. Several engagements, in which the enemy lost seven thousand men, took place in the three days of the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd of August.
At this time the Emperor received news from Dresden, which compelled him to return there in great haste. Marshal Gouvion St.-Cyr’s corps had been left alone in charge of the defence of Dresden. The allies, who were ignorant of Napoleon’s return, made an attack on the 26th of August, at four o’clock in the afternoon. The enemy was repulsed. He lost four thousand men and two thousand prisoners on the first day. The French had not more than three thousand men put out of action; but five generals of the guard were wounded. The next day, the 27th an attack was ordered. The rain fell in torrents; but the enthusiasm of our soldiers was unabated. The Emperor directed all our movements. His guard was in a street to our left, and could not go out of the city without being riddled by a redoubt defended by eight hundred men and four pieces of cannon.
There was no time to lose. Their shells were falling in the midst of the city. The Emperor called up a captain of fusiliers of the guard named Gagnard (of Avallon). This brave soldier presented himself to the Emperor with his face a little askew. “What have you in your cheek? ”—“My quid, sire.”—“Ah! you chew tobacco? ”— “Yes, sire.”—“Take your company, and go and take that redoubt which is holding me up.”—“It shall be done.”—“March along the palisades by the flank, then charge right on it. Let it be carried at once! ”
My good comrade set off at a double by the right flank. Within a hundred feet of the barrier of the redoubt his company halted; he ran to the barrier. The officer who held the bar of the two gates, seeing him alone, thought that he was going to surrender, and so did not move. My jolly soldier ran his sabre through his body, and opened the barrier. His company made two leaps into the redoubt, and forced them to surrender. The Emperor who had watched the whole affair, said, “The redoubt is taken.” The rain was falling in torrents. They surrendered at discretion, and my jolly soldier brought them to the rear, surrounded by his company.
I hastened to my comrade (for we had belonged to the same company), I embraced him, and, taking him by the arm, I led him to the Emperor, who had made a sign to Gagnard to come to him. “Well, I am well pleased with you. You shall be put with my old grousers: your first lieutenant shall be made captain; your second lieutenant, lieutenant; and your sergeant-major, second lieutenant. Go and look to your prisoners.” The rain was falling so heavily that the Emperor’s plumes drooped upon his shoulders.
As soon as the redoubt was taken, the old guard went out of the city, and formed a line of battle. All our troops were in line in the low grounds, and our right wing rested on the road to France. The Emperor sent us off in squads of three, to carry orders for the attack all along the line. I was sent to the division of cuirassiers. On my return from my mission, I went back to the Emperor. He had in his redoubt a very long field-glass on a pivot, and he looked through it every moment. His generals also looked through it, while he, with his small glass in his hand, watched the general movements. Our right wing gained some ground; our soldiers became masters of the road to France; and the Emperor took his pinch of snuff from his waistcoat pocket. Suddenly, casting his eye towards the heights, he shouted, “There is Moreau! That is he with a green coat on, at the head of a column with the emperors. Gunners, to your pieces! Marksmen, look through the large glass! Be quick! When they are half-way up the hill, they will be within range.” The redoubt was mounted with sixteen guns of the guard. Their salvo made the very earth shake, and the Emperor, looking through his small glass, said, “Moreau has fallen! ”
A charge of the cuirassiers put the column to rout, and brought back the general’s escort, and we learned that Moreau was dead. A colonel, who was made prisoner during the charge, was questioned by our Napoleon in the presence of Prince Berthier and Count Monthyon. He said that the emperors had offered to give the command to Moreau, and he had refused it in these words: “I do not wish to take up arms against my country. But you will never overcome them in mass. You must divide your forces into seven columns; they will not be able to hold out against them all; if they overthrow one, the others can then advance.” At three o’clock in the afternoon the enemy made a hasty retreat through the crossroads and narrow, almost impracticable, byways. This was a memorable victory; but our generals had had enough of it. I had my place among the staff, and I heard all sorts of things said in conversation. They cursed the Emperor: “He is a —,” they said, “who will have us all killed.” I was dumb with astonishment. I said to myself, “We are lost.” The next day after this conversation, I made bold to say to my general, “I think our place is no longer here; we ought to go on to the Rhine by forced marches.”—“I agree with you; but the Emperor is obstinate: no one can make him listen to reason.”
The Emperor pursued the enemy’s army as far as Pirna; but just as he was about to enter the town, he was seized with vomiting, caused by fatigue. He was obliged to return to Dresden, where a little rest soon re-established him. General Vandamme, upon whom the Emperor relied to keep in check the remnant of the enemy’s army, risked an engagement in the valleys of Toeplitz, and was defeated on the 30th of August. This defeat, those of Macdonald on the Katzbach and Oudinot in the plain of Grosbeeren, destroyed the fruits of the victory of Dresden. On the 14th of September we received the news of the defection of Bavaria, which caused our forces to be sent on to Leipzig. The Emperor arrived there on the morning of the 15th On the 16th of October, at nine o’clock in the morning, the army of the enemy began the attack, and cannonading immediately commenced all along the line. The first day’s fight, though marked by bloody engagements, left the victory undecided.
All through the day of the 17th of October the two armies remained, facing each other, without any hostile demonstrations. On the 17th, at noon, the Emperor sent his aide-de-camp to me with an order to start with his household establishment, consisting of seventeen equipages and all his grooms, with the treasure and the maps of the army. I went through the city, and came to the battlefield, near a large garden, which was well concealed. I had orders not to move. So there I established myself, and put our pots on the fire. The next day, 18th of October, early in the morning, the allied army again took the initiative. From where I was, I saw the French divisions fall into line on the battle-field. The whole battle-front was before me. The heavy columns of the Austrians came out from the woods, and marched in columns upon our army. Seeing a strong division of Saxon infantry marching upon the enemy with twelve pieces of cannon, I ordered all my men to eat their soup, and hold themselves ready to start. I galloped over towards the line, following the centre of this division; but they turned their backs upon the enemy, and sent a volley of shot upon us. I was so well mounted that I was able to get back to my post, which I ought not to have left. By the time I got back, I had recovered my presence of mind, and I said to the grooms, “Mount at once to return to Leipzig.” Two minutes after, an aide-de-camp galloped up, and said, “Start at once, captain. Go across the river; it is the Emperor’s order. Follow the boulevards and the great causeway.”
I started off, putting the head groom at the head of my equipages. As we came near the boulevard, I came upon a gun drawn by four horses and two soldiers. “What are you doing there? ” I cried to them. They answered me in Italian: “They are dead” (the gunners).—“Take your place there in front of my wagons. I will save you. Now go on, gallop, take the lead! ” I felt very proud to have this gun to open the way. Once on the first boulevard, I gave orders not to allow the train to become separated; but here a great danger awaited us. When we reached the second boulevard, I went to get a light from a bivouac fire on the lower side of the promenade, and had scarcely lighted my pipe when a shell burst near me. My horse reared. I did not lose my balance, but the balls went through my wagons. A terrible wind was blowing. I could not keep my hat on my head. I took it and threw it into the nearest wagon. Drawing my sabre and riding along the train, I shouted, “Grooms, keep your postilions in place; the first who dismounts, blow out his brains. Have your pistols ready, and I will split the head of the first man who moves; a man must know how to die at his post, if need be. The wagons must be saved! ” Two of my grooms were struck; the grape-shot cut two buttons off the coat of one of them, and tore the coat of the other, and I received ten cannon-balls in my wagons. But only one of my horses was wounded, and I found myself entirely out of danger when we came to the opening of the ravine which runs along the promenades and receives the waters of the marshes on the right side of the city. Here there was a small stone bridge, and we had to cross it in order to reach the great causeway which ends at the long bridge. I saw in front of me a brigade of artillery which was just going over the small bridge. I galloped up and found the colonel of artillery who was taking his brigade over. I went up to him. “Colonel, in the name of the Emperor give me your protection, and let me follow you. Here are the Emperor’s wagons, the treasure, and the maps of the army. I have orders to take them over the river.”—“Yes, my brave fellow, as soon as we have crossed, be ready, and I will leave you twenty men to help you over the bridge.”—“Here,” said I, “s a gun which had been abandoned. I hand it over to you ready harnessed.”—“Go and fetch it here,” said he to two gunners; “I will take it along with me.”
I then galloped back to my train. “We are all right now,” said I to the grooms. “We shall be able to cross. Get ready to move.” I took my stand beside the little bridge, and my wagons came up. As soon as the first wagons had gone over the bridge, I said to the gunners, “Go back now to your pieces,” and I thanked-those good men heartily.
When we came to the main road, I found no artillery there; it had all gone galloping off to fall into position. But I met the ambulances of the army, commanded by a colonel of the Emperor’s staff, who occupied the middle of the road. My head groom said to him, “Colonel, be so good as to let us have a part of the road.”—“I take no orders from you.”—“I will inform the officer in command,” replied the groom.—“Let him come to me. I will wait for him.” He came and told me; I galloped off. When I reached the colonel, I asked him to give me half of the road. “Just as you did for the artillery,” said I; “you can easily move to the right, and we will go by at the double.”—“I take no orders from you.”—“Is this your final answer, colonel? ”—“Yes.”—“Well, then, in the name of the Emperor move to the right, or I shall hustle you off.” I pushed him along with the breast of my horse, repeating, “Move to the right, I tell you.” He took hold of his sword. “If you draw your sword, I’ll knock your head in.” He called some gendarmes to his aid, but they said, “Settle it with the Emperor’s baggage-master yourself; it is no concern of ours.” The colonel still hesitated. Turning towards his ambulance, I had it moved aside. As I passed the colonel, he said to me, “I shall report your conduct to the Emperor.”— “Make your report. I shall wait for you, and go in after you; I give you my word for that.”
I crossed the long bridge; on the left of it was a mill, and between that and the bridge there was a ford where the whole army could cross without any danger. But this river is walled in and very deep; the banks are perpendicular. I mounted the plateau with my seventeen vehicles, and took up a position under cover of the battery. When night came on, the armies were in the same position as at the commencement of the battle, our troops having valiantly repulsed the attacks of four united armies. But our ammunition had become exhausted. Our guns had fired off, during the day, ninety-five thousand rounds, and we had left only about sixteen thousand. It was impossible to hold the battle-field much longer, and we had to resign ourselves to retreat.
At eight o’clock in the evening the Emperor left his bivouac to go down into the city, and established himself in the inn of the “Prussian Arms,” where he spent the night in dictating orders. I waited for him; he did not come till the next day; but Count Monthyon was despatched to give orders to the artillery and the troops. He sent for me. “Well, how about your wagons? How did you get through with that job? ”—“Very well, general; all the household establishment of the Emperor is safe, as well as the treasure and the maps of the army. Nothing was left behind; but I have had ten balls through my wagons, and two grooms slightly wounded.” And I related my adventure on the causeway with the colonel. He told me that he should report it to the Emperor. “Do not disturb yourself,” he added. “I will see the Emperor to-morrow morning. Let him show himself; he should have been on the battle-field, picking up our wounded, who were left in the hands of the enemy. He will get his deserts from the Emperor. You were at your post, and he was not.”—“But, general, I was pretty rough with him. I threatened to break his skull. If he had been my equal in rank, I should have sabred him; but I was certainly wrong to be so disrespectful to him.”— “Never mind; I will attend to it all. You shall not be punished. You were under the authority of the Emperor, and not his.” One may imagine how relieved I was.
About two o’clock in the morning we saw a fire on the battle-field; all the wagons were being burned and the caissons blown up. It was a frightful sight. On the 19th of October, Napoleon, after a touching interview with the King of Saxony and his family, withdrew from Leipzig. He went by way of the boulevards which lead to the long bridge of the faubourg of Lindenau, and ordered the engineer and artillery officers not to have the bridge blown up until the last platoon had left the city, the rearguard being obliged to remain twenty-four hours longer in Leipzig. But what with Augereau’s sharpshooters on one hand, and the Saxon and Baden troops on the other firing upon the French, the sappers thought that the enemy’s army was coming, and that the moment had come to fire the mine. The bridge was destroyed, and all means of retreat was cut off from the troops of Macdonald, Lauriston, Régnier and Poniatowski. The last mentioned, though wounded in the arm, attempted to swim across the Elster, and met his death in a whirlpool. Marshall Macdonald was more fortunate, and reached the opposite shore. Twenty-three thousand Frenchmen who escaped the slaughter that ensued in Leipzig till two o’clock in the afternoon were made prisoners. Two hundred and fifty pieces of artillery fell into the hands of the enemy.
The Emperor reached his headquarters greatly fatigued; he had passed the night without sleep, and was utterly worn out. “Well, Monthyon,” said he, “where are my wagons and the treasure? ”—“All are safe, sire. Your ‘grouser’ stood a volley on the promenades.”—“Send him here; he had a serious affair with a colonel.”—“I know it,” said the general. “Send them both here; let them explain the matter.” I went into the presence of the Emperor. The general related the affair. “Where is your hat? ”—“Sire, I threw it into one of the wagons, and could not find it again.”—“So you had some trouble on the causeway? ”—“I wanted to share the road with the ambulances, and the colonel told me he had no orders to receive from me. I said to him, ‘In the name of the Emperor, move aside to the right.’ He had done this for the artillery, and he was not willing to give me half of the road. Then I threatened him; if he had been my equal, I should have sabred him.”
The Emperor, turning to the colonel, said, “Well, and what have you to say? You have barely escaped being degraded. You shall be put under arrest for fifteen days for having started without my order, and, if you are not satisfied, my grouser will help you to see reason. As for you,” said he to me, “you did your duty. Go and look for your hat.”
After the Emperor had collected the shattered remnants of his army, he crossed the Saale on the 20th of October. The Emperor spent the night in a little pavilion on a hill planted out with vines. On the 23rd, at Erfurt, King Murat parted from Napoleon to return to Naples. During that first day’s march the remnant of the Saxons deserted in the night, and also the Bavarians; only the Poles remained faithful to us. The army left Erfurt the 25th of October, and went first to Gotha and then to Fulda. The Emperor, having been informed of a manoeuvre of the Bavarian general, Wrede, marched hastily to Hanau. On reaching the forest through which the road passes to the entrance of the city, Napoleon spent the night in making his arrangements. The next morning he walked in front of his guard with his arms folded, and said, “I count upon you to make a road for me to Frankfort. Hold yourselves in readiness; a passage must be made over their dead bodies. Do not encumber yourselves with prisoners; drive ahead, and make them repent of barring the road against us. Two battalions will be enough (one of chasseurs and one of grenadiers), two squadrons of chasseurs and two of grenadiers. You will be commanded by Friant.” And he walked around, talking to everybody; but the stragglers met with a rough reception from him. All this took place in a thick pine forest, which concealed us from the enemy; but we had to deal with a force stronger than our own. The Bavarian army, which was opposed to us at this place, numbered more than forty thousand men. The Emperor gave the signal: the chasseurs started off first, the grenadiers following. The enemy formed an imposing body. As I saw my old comrades start out, I trembled. The horse grenadiers, with all the cavalry, began to move forward. I rode up to the Emperor. “Would your Majesty permit me to follow the horse grenadiers? ”—“Go,” said he; “there will be one good man the more.”
How thankful I felt for my boldness! I had never asked anything of him before; I was too much afraid of him. Our old infantry grousers went to meet that great body of men who were resolutely awaiting them on the opposite side of a stream which crossed the highway, and which received the waters of some large marshes. For a moment we were between two fires. If the enemy had taken advantage of his opportunity, we should have been compelled to surrender. It was impossible to manoeuvre, and we were plunging about in mire up to our knees. But we managed to turn the position. The chasseurs rushed upon the frightened Bavarians, who were unable to resist them for a moment, and were cut to pieces. We rushed in like lightning when the cavalry opened its ranks, and the most fearful carnage ensued that I ever saw in my life. I found myself at the extreme left of the horse grenadiers, and I was anxious to follow the captain. “No,” said he; “you and your horse are too small; you would impede the manoeuvre.”
I was provoked, but I controlled my temper. Looking round on my left, I saw a road which ran along the city wall. Hanau is surrounded on the side next to where I was by a very high wall which conceals the houses. I galloped forward. A platoon of Bavarians came up with a fine-looking officer at their head. Seeing me alone, he rode up to me. I stopped. He came on, and made a point at me with his long sword. I parried his blow with the back of my great sabre (which I still have at my house). I went for him then, and cut his head half off. He fell down in a heap. I took his horse by the bridle, and galloped off, with his platoon firing on me. I rode like the wind up to the spot where the Emperor was, with this beautiful Arab horse, which had a tail like a plume. The Emperor seeing me near him, said, “So you have come back. Whose horse is this? ”—“Mine, sire” (I still had my sabre hanging); “I split an officer’s face to get it. And I was fortunate to do it, for he was a brave fellow. He attacked me.”—“Now you have a good horse to ride, get all my carriages ready; you will leave for Frankfort to-night, as soon as the road is open.”—“We shall never pass: the dead and wounded are piled upon one another.” —“I will have the road cleared immediately.” The aides-de-camp arrived, and said to his Majesty, “The victory is complete.” Then he took some big pinches of snuff. He enjoyed one more day of happiness.
He sent out all the stragglers to clear the high-road, so that his train could pass. I received orders to start with a sufficient escort. It was so dark that we could not see our way; and we reached Frankfort late in the night of the 1st and 2nd of November. In a large square there were some piles of dry wood, which furnished us with good fires. The army made its entrance into Mayence on the 3rd of November, a miserable remnant of that once magnificent corps. They were lodged in the convents and churches. They were attacked by the yellow fever, and the dead lay everywhere in great confusion. In their paroxysms they called for their relatives, their animals. I again had the same sad duty to perform, for I was appointed to have all the bodies of those men who died during the night cleared away. We made the prisoners put them into big wagons, where they were packed away like loads of hay. At first the prisoners refused, but they were threatened with being shot. The dead were turned out by tipping up the wagons. As at Moscow, this sad duty fell upon me. All the Emperor’s equipages had gone on. May I never see such horrors again.
The minor headquarters were moved to Metz, and we remained a long time in that large city. All the troops went into encampments, and we spent two months in inactivity.
The enemy’s columns went up the Rhine so as to reach Champagne and Lorraine. On the 27th of January, 1814 the action at St. Dizier took place. It was no ordinary action either, but one of the worst and bloodiest battles. The town was riddled by the discharges of musketry, and one could count thousands of bullets in the shutters of the doors and windows; the trees in a small square were cut to pieces; all the houses were robbed, and not one of the inhabitants could remain in the town.
The allies lost heavily, and were obliged to fall back to a position on the heights of Brienne. From this position they could pour their fire down upon us. All the efforts of our troops, made in several charges, were repulsed by their artillery. From the constant manoeuvring the earth had become softened. The day was drawing to an end, and we could not move in the clinging mire. But the Emperor, who was on horseback near a garden, was preparing to attempt another attack. Prince Berthier saw some Cossacks on our right, who were carrying off a gun. “Follow me,” said he, “gallop.” He started off like lightning; the four Cossacks fled, and the soldiers of the train brought back their piece. At this moment the Emperor said, “I am going to sleep to-night in the chateau of Brienne. I must put an end to this business. Put yourself at the head of my staff, and follow me.”
Then he rode out in front of his first line, and, halting in the centre, said, “Soldiers, I am your colonel; I shall lead you. Brienne must be taken.” All the soldiers shouted, “Long live the Emperor! ” Night was coming on; there was no time to lose; each soldier became equal to four. Our troops were so transported that the Emperor could not control them; they rushed past the staff. At the foot of the hill which faces the chateau and the main street of Brienne the slope is steep. Almost superhuman efforts were required to reach the spot; but all obstacles were surmounted. Darkness had fallen, and the combatants could no longer distinguish one another. They fell upon each other with the bayonet. The Russians, massed in the principal street, were driven out. Our troops came up so rapidly on the left that they dashed into General Blücher’s staff. He lost several officers. Among the prisoners was a nephew of M. de Hardenberg, Chancellor of Prussia. He told me that the field-marshal had been several times surrounded by our sharpshooters, and owed his escape only to his own bravery in self-defence and the fleetness of his horse.
The Emperor then ordered a “ left-wheel,” did not halt at the chateau, and pursued the enemy as far as Mézières. It was pitch dark, and a band of Cossacks who were prowling around in search of booty heard the tramping of the horses of Napoleon and his body-guard as they passed along. This made them run out. They rushed first upon one of the generals, who shouted, “Cossacks! ” and defended himself. One of the Cossacks seeing, a few steps from him, a horseman in a gray coat, fell upon him. General Corbineau first threw himself in the way, but without success. Colonel Gourgaud, who was at that moment talking with Napoleon, came to his defence, and, with a pistol-shot, at point-blank range, brought down the Cossack. At the sound of the pistol, we fell upon the marauders. It was, indeed, time to halt. We were all worn out, and ready to drop from hunger. Twenty-four hours in the saddle without anything to eat. I can truly say the soldiers had overtaxed their strength: they fought one against four.
From Brienne the Emperor went on to Troyes, keeping along the left bank of the Aube, and we halted three days for rest and refreshment. On the 1st of February we met the enemy at Champaubert. They had a warm reception, and then fell back upon the right bank of the Aube, at the village of La Rothière. The fight at La Rothière was the first drawn battle of the campaign. We kept the battle-field, but nothing more. We were not able to renew the fight the next day. However, the allies could not boast of having defeated us. On the 11th of February a battle was fought at Montmirail.
Wherever the Emperor appeared in person, the enemy was defeated. On the 12th there was a battle at Château-Thierry; on the 15th at Gennevilliers. On the 17th we reached Nangis, after making forced marches at night through by-ways, in order to get ahead of the enemy’s column. We drove some heavy columns before us as far as Montereau. Here the Emperor had stationed an army corps to receive them. But they were not there; a mistake had been made by whoever had allowed them to pass on, and the burden fell upon us alone. This battle took place on the 18th Montereau was reduced to ruins; cannonballs fell all over the town from every direction. The Emperor, furious at not hearing the cannon of his army corps, gave the command, “Gallop.” We were on the road to Nangis, to the left of the road to Paris. When we reached an eminence to the left of this road, he could see the enemy crossing over the bridge of Montereau. Furious at this disappointment, he said to Marshal Lefebvre, “Take all my staff. I will keep with me Monthyon, and such and such a one; go at a gallop; seize the bridge. The affair has miscarried. I will fly to your aid with my old guard.”
So we started off. After descending to the foot of the hill with this intrepid marshal, we reached the spot without any halting. We turned to the left, and rode at the utmost speed, by fours, upon the bridge. The whole of the rear-guard had not gone over. As we rode over the bridge, a large breach in it was no obstacle to us, on account of our pace. Our horses flew. I was mounted on the fine Arab horse captured at the battle of Hanau. An incident occurred here which deserves to be mentioned. As we were crossing the arch of the bridge which had been destroyed, I saw a man lying on his stomach alongside of the parapet, and pushing over some pieces of plank so as to assist us in crossing.
At the end of the bridge, which is long, there is a street to the left. This faubourg being blocked up with the wagons belonging to the rear-guard, we had to fight our way through with our sabres. We swept everything before us. Those who escaped our fury only did so by crouching under the wagons. Our marshal fought so hard that he foamed at the mouth.
When we came to a fine road which led to St. Dizier, in front of an immense plain, the marshal ordered us to follow up our charge; but the Emperor, seeing-us in certain peril, ordered a battalion of chasseurs to put down their knapsacks, and go to our assistance. This battalion saved us. We were driven back by a body of cavalry. The chasseurs lay down on their stomachs alongside the roadway, and the enemy’s cavalry, after having passed by them, were surprised by a file-fire. The ground was strewn with horses and men, and we were enabled to reach the faubourg. During the charge, the Emperor, with his old guard and his artillery, mounted the hill which faces Montereau. In front of the bridge, against a wall surrounding a space of circular form and filled with beautiful hornbeams, our guns were in battery, thundering upon the masses in the plain. Here it was that the Emperor did duty as an artilleryman; he himself aimed the guns. They tried to make him go to the rear. “No,” he said, “the bullet which is to kill me is not yet moulded.” Why did he not meet death gloriously there after being betrayed by the man whom he had raised to such high rank! He was furious at this miscarriage. We of the staff recrossed the bridges, and again ascended the height where the Emperor was. “The rapidity with which you made that charge,” said he, “has given me two thousand prisoners. I feared you would all be captured.”—“Your chasseurs saved us,” said the marshal.
I was so delighted with my part in the affair, that I dismounted and embraced my horse. Thanks to him, I had been able to use my sabre freely.
On the 21st there was a battle at Méry-sur-Seine; on the 28th, one at Sézanne; on the 5th of March, at Berryau-Bac, where the Poles defeated the Cossacks; on the 7th, at Craonne. This last was terrible. Some considerable heights were carried by the foot chasseurs of the old guard and twelve hundred foot gendarmes, who came from Spain, and performed prodigies of velour. On the 13th of March, at night, we arrived at the gates of Reims.
A Russian army was occupying the city, intrenched in redoubts made of manure and well-filled casks. The gates of the city were barricaded. Near the gate which faces the road to Paris, there was an elevated piece of ground surmounted by a windmill. Here the Emperor established his headquarters in the open. We made him a good fire. We could not see two steps before us, and he was so overcome by the day’s work at Craonne, that he called for his bear-skin coat, and stretched himself out by the fire, while we watched him in silence. The Russians began to advance about ten o’clock at night. They made a sortie with a fearful discharge of musketry on our left. The Emperor rose to his feet in a fury. “What is that over there? ”—“It is a hurrah, sire,” answered his aide-de-camp. “Where is so and so? ” (He referred to a captain commanding a siege battery). “Here he is, sire,” some one replied. The captain appeared before the Emperor. “Where are your guns? ”—“On the road.”—“Bring them here.”—“I cannot get through,” said he, “the artillery of the line is ahead of me.”—“Push the whole lot into the ditch. I must be in Reims by midnight. You are a . . . if you don’t break those gates in! Go you,” said he to us, “and let everything that blocks his way be pushed into the ditch.”
We all started off. When we reached the guns and caissons, instead of throwing them over, we moved them to one side, with all the gunners and the soldiers of the train. All this was done in a moment, and the siege battery passed along under the Emperor’s eyes, as he stood watching with his back to the fire. They were placed in position on the right of the road facing the gateway. We could not see a step before us. Our battery let loose its salvoes on the gates and redoubts; the shells fell in the very centre of the city. During the cannonading the Emperor gave orders to the cuirassiers to hold themselves in readiness to enter the city, indicating the streets he wished each squadron to take. Then he gave the signal; the cuirassiers dashed into line behind the guns; the order was given to cease fire, and all rushed into the city. This charge was so terrible that they carried everything before them, and the people, shut up in their houses, hearing such an uproar, put lights in their windows. Every place was lighted: one could have picked up a needle. The Emperor, at the head of his staff, was in Reims by midnight, and the Russians utterly routed; their “hurrah” had cost them dear. Our cuirassiers cut the soldiery down with their sabres as they liked. If the Emperor had been seconded in the rest of France as he was in Champagne, the allies would have been lost. But what was to be done? They were ten to one of us. We had the courage, but not the strength; we were compelled to give in.
Our misfortunes ended at Fontainebleau. We wanted to make a last effort, and march upon Paris; but it was too late. The enemy was on the edge of the forest, and Paris had surrendered without resistance. We had to return to Fontainebleau. The Emperor was let down by all the men whom he had raised to prominent positions; they forced him to abdicate. I wanted to follow him. Count Monthyon sent to him, and spoke on my behalf. “I cannot take him; he is not one of my guard. If my signature could do him any good, I would appoint him chief of battalion, but it is now too late.” Six hundred men were allotted him for his guard. He ordered a parade, and called for volunteers. Every man stepped out of the ranks, and he was obliged to make them step back. “I will choose. Let no one move.” And, passing in front of the rank, he himself designated each one, saying, “You come,” and so on, for the whole number. This occupied a long time. Then he said, “See if I have made up my number.”—“You need twenty more,” said General Drouot.—“I will pick them out.”
When he had made his selection, he chose his noncommissioned officers and officers, and then went back into the palace, saying to General Drouot “You will take my old guard to Louis XVIII. at Paris after my departure.”
When all the preparations had been made, and all the equipages were ready, he, for the last time, gave the order to parade. All his old warriors having assembled in the great courtyard, once so brilliant, he came down the stairway, accompanied by his staff, and presented himself before his old grousers. “Bring me my eagle! ” And, taking it in his arms, he gave it a farewell kiss. It was a heart-rending moment. Groans came from all up and down the ranks, and, I must confess that I shed tears when I saw my dear Emperor start for the island of Elba.
The cry was now: “We are left to the mercy of the new government.” If Paris had held out twenty-four hours, France would have been saved. But at that time the people of Paris did not know how to build barricades; they have only learned how to erect them against their own fellow-citizens. We had to wear the white cockade; but I kept my old one as a souvenir.