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

ON HALF-PAY.— THE HUNDRED DAYS.— TEN YEARS OF SUPERINTENDENCE.— MY MARRIAGE.— THE REVOLUTION OF 1830.— AM APPOINTED AN OFFICER IN THE LEGION OF HONOUR.


THE government sent us off to plant cabbages in our departments, on half-pay—seventy-three francs a month. We had to be resigned to it. I set out for Auxerre, chief town of my department, and vegetated in that town the whole of the year 1814

I took it patiently. I used to go to the Café Milon. One day I found some groups of old habitués who were talking politics; they came up to me to ask if I had heard any news. “None at all,” I said.—“You don’t want to talk; you are afraid of compromising yourself.”—“I swear to you I know nothing.”—“Well,” said a fat old gaffer, “they say that a Capuchin has come over in disguise, and also another distinguished personage whom the prefect wanted to have arrested.”—“I don’t understand you.”— “You are pretending to be ignorant.”—“This is why he kept his horse,” said one of them; “he is expecting the gray coat.” I withdrew, overwhelmed with joy, I can truly say, and I felt as if my Emperor was already back again.

It was reported on the streets of Auxerre, that the Emperor had landed at Cannes, and was marching on to Grenoble and Lyons. Every one was filled with consternation; but the report was made a certainty when, early in the morning, a smart regiment of the line, the 14th arrived with Marshal Ney at its head. It was said that he was going to arrest the Emperor. “It cannot be possible,” said I to myself, “that the man whom I saw at Kowno take a musket, and with five men keep back the enemy—the marshal whom the Emperor called his lion— can lay hands on his sovereign.” The thought of it made me tremble. I went everywhere where I could hear without being seen; I was restless. At last the marshal went to the office of the prefect. A proclamation was made and published throughout the town. The commissioner of police, accompanied by a full escort, advertised that Bonaparte had returned, and that it was the order of the government that he should be arrested. And there were cries of “Down with Bonaparte!”—“Long live the King!” My God! how I suffered! But the 14th of the line put the shakos on their bayonets, and shouted, “Long live the Emperor! “ What could the marshal do without soldiers? He was obliged to yield.

That evening the advance guard returned to the town hall, but not as they had left it: white cockades in the morning and tricoloured ones in the evening. They took possession of the town-hall, and by torchlight the same commissioner went through the town to publish another proclamation, and shout at the top of his voice, “Long live the Emperor!” I must say I split my sides with laughing.

The next day everybody assembled on the road to St. Bris to see the Emperor come by in his carriage with his escort. The snowball had grown; seven hundred of his old officers formed a battalion, and troops came in from every direction. On reaching the Place St Etienne, the 14th of the line formed a square, and the Emperor reviewed it. Afterwards he formed a circle of his officers, and, seeing me, he called me to him. “So you are here, old grouser?”—“Yes, sire.”—“What rank did you hold on my staff?”—“Baggage-master of the headquarter staff.”—“Very well; I appoint you quartermaster of my palace, and baggage-master-general of my headquarters. Are you mounted?”—“Yes, sire.”—“Then follow me, and join Monthyon at Paris.”

The next day I set out for Joigny, and the day following I embarked with ten officers in a vessel bound for Sens. The river was covered with boats filled with troops, and we found some sunk at the bridges, for they had tried to proceed at night; the shores were covered with snow. We landed, and took public coaches for Paris. I stopped at my brother’s to make my toilet, and went to see General Monthyon. I informed him that the Emperor had appointed me baggage:master-general to the headquarters. “I am delighted, my brave fellow, to have you near me! I shall see to your commission; that is my business.”

A week later, the general sent for me. “Here you are, my brave fellow! Here is your commission; you have a right to lodging with your servant and horses. You must find the mayor of your brother’s arrondissement, so that you can be near the Tuileries. You must be mounted; you must have two horses, and then you have the right, as one of the ‘sacred battalion,’ to three hundred francs, which will be paid you at No. 3 Place Vendôme. Every day you will come to me for orders, and go on to the Tuileries at noon.”

The next day I went to No. 3 Place Vendome to get my three hundred francs gratuity of the “sacred battalion.” When I went to the captain who commanded the third company of officers, for the inferior officers were only soldiers (it was necessary to be of high rank to be captain of a company of a hundred officers): “I have come, captain, to claim the three hundred francs due to me.”— “What is your name?”—“Coignet.” He looked over his book, and found my name. “I have no more money; you ought to have been here with the rest.—“But you have my money.”—“I tell you the pay has been stopped.” —“All right, captain, we’ll see about that.”

This man was an old émigré who had offered to take a position under the Emperor, and who had been granted one. I informed General Bertrand of my disappointment. “Is it possible the old chevalier would not pay you?” —“He would not, indeed, general.”—“Very well, I will give you a message (poulet) for him.”
I went back to him with the letter. “Captain, you will not need a spit to roast this chicken (poulet); it is ready plucked.” His aide-de-camp was near him; he read the letter, and, turning to me said, “Why have you been at the Tuileries? That’s not your place.”—“Pardon me, captain, I am baggage-master-general and quartermaster of the palace; I have charge of the billetting of the army. I promise to lodge you as you have received me. My three hundred francs, if you please.” I was paid immediately and took the money to my brother. I went for my coupons, so that I could draw my rations of forage from the contractor, who cashed them for me. I had a right to three rations a day; this, added to my monthly allowance of three hundred francs, made me in this short while worth eight hundred francs. Then I had to be mounted, so I set out to look for some horses. I found two near the Carrousel, at the house of a royalist who had run away. I bought them for two thousand seven hundred francs, and they were very handsome. My brother lent me two thousand five hundred francs.

I went immediately to my brother’s notary, who made out a contract by which I acknowledged that I owed my brother two thousand five hundred francs. While the contract was being drawn up, I made my will, which I placed in the hands of the notary. My brother scolded me when he saw the copy of the contract. “That’s all right,” said I, “and if I die in this campaign, you will find my will in the hands of your notary.”
I busied myself in looking up a good servant, and having harness made for my two horses. When all this was done, I went to see my general on horseback, with my servant riding behind me, like a commandant going his rounds. I entered Count Monthyon’s hotel, and said, “General, see, I am mounted.”—“Already!” said he, “that’s the way to do things; and two fine horses!”—“My charger cost me eighteen hundred francs, and my servant’s horse nine hundred.”—“You are better mounted than I am. I am delighted, my good fellow; now you are ready to start on a campaign. Are they paid for?”—“Yes; my brother lent me the money.”

The good general frequently came to my brother’s to take me out for an airing, either on horseback or in a carriage, and invited me to dine at his house. He remembered the good fires I made for him on the retreat from Moscow.

All my own preparations for the campaign being made, I set to work to arrange the order of march for the equipages according to their rank, so as to avoid confusion on the marches, as well as in the distributions. This precaution was useful to me, and I was congratulated upon it later on.

A demonstration took place on the 1st of June in the Champ de Mars in front of the facade of the École Militaire. The Emperor, in full dress, surrounded by his staff, came out to receive the deputies and the peers of France. When the reception was over the Emperor came down from his throne to go to another in the centre of the Champ de Mars. We had the greatest possible difficulty in getting through the crowd, which was so great that it had to be driven back in order to allow us to pass. And there, with his staff all standing round him, the Emperor made a speech. He had the eagles brought to him to distribute to the army and the national guard. With that stentorian voice of his, he cried to them, “Swear to defend your eagles! Do you swear it?” he repeated. But the vows were made without warmth; there was but little enthusiasm: the shouts were not like those of Austerlitz and Wagram, and the Emperor perceived it.

On my return from this grand ceremony, I made my preparations for the departure of the army. I left Paris on the 4th of June, for Soissons, and from there I went to Avesnes, where I was to await new orders. The Emperor arrived on the 13th and only remained there a short time. He slept at Laon. On the 14th of June he ordered forced marches. Marshal Ney arrived; the Emperor said to him in everyone’s hearing: “Marshal, your favourite Bourmont has gone over to the enemy with all his officers.” The Prince de la Moskwa was much distressed. He was given command of an army corps 40,000 strong, to lead against the English. “You can drive the English back on Brussels,” said the Emperor.

When we had entered the fertile country of Belgium, the columns were obliged to clear roads for themselves through the high rye. The front ranks could not advance. After being trodden down, it was only fit for straw, in which the cavalry stumbled. That was one of our misfortunes.

In order to gain a footing in the plain of Fleurus, the Emperor went on in advance, following the main road with his staff, and a squadron of horse-grenadiers. He conversed with an aide-de-camp. He looked over to his left, took his small glass, and examined attentively a steep height far off from the road, in an immense plain. He saw some cavalry dismounted, and said, “That is not my cavalry, is it? I must find out. Send me an officer of my body-guard, and let him go at once and reconnoitre that troop.” A sign was made to me to come to the Emperor. “It is you, is it?”—“Yes, sire.”—“Gallop off, and reconnoitre the troop on that hill. Do you see them from here?”—“Yes, sire.”—“Do not get caught.” I galloped off. When I reached the foot of the steep hill, I saw three of the officers mount their horses, and I thought I saw lances; but I was not sure. I continued to ascend slowly, and I saw that their soldiers were going round the hill to cut off my retreat. Half-way up the hill I saw my three jolly fellows coming down corkscrew fashion. They jostled against each other, and could only come very slowly. I stopped short. I saw they were enemies. Then I saluted them politely, and began to descend. All three of them also came on down the hill. I was not afraid of them, but I was of the others, who had gone round the road to cut me off. I looked to my left, but saw no one. I reached the foot of the hill, the officers following me.

When I had fairly reached the plain, I turned towards them, and made them a low bow, seeing that my road was open. I said to my fine war-horse, “ Gently, Coco “ (that was the name of the beautiful animal). I was ahead, when one of them undertook to follow me; the other two stood still. He gained on me, and this encouraged him. When I saw that he had gone over half the distance between the hill and the staff of the Emperor (who was watching my movements, and, seeing me so closely pressed, sent two horse-grenadiers to my assistance), I patted my horse to put him in a good humour. I looked behind, and saw that I had time enough to make a left-wheel, and attack him. He shouted to me, “Surrender.” And I to him also, “Surrender.” Wheeling to the left, I fell upon him. Seeing me make this sudden wheel-about, he turned, but it was too late; the wine was poured out, and he had to drink it. He had scarcely completed his turn, when I was at his side, and pierced him with the point of my sabre. He fell head foremost to the ground, stone dead. Leaving my sabre hanging at my wrist, I seized his horse, and rode proudly back to the Emperor. “Well, old grouser, I thought you would be captured. Who showed you how to make such a turn?”—“One of your picked gendarmes, in the Russian campaign.”—“You have done well, and you are well mounted. Did you notice that officer? He seemed to be a blond man. He was a coward, whoever he was: he ought to have put up a fight, instead of letting himself be killed like a baby. One thrust like that is no satisfaction to an old soldier. You agree, I know.”—“ es, sire; I ought to have taken his horse by the bridle, and led him to you.” He smiled at this, and the horse was brought forward. “It’s such an such an English regiment.” All praised my horse, and an officer begged me to let him have it. “Give fifteen napoleons to my servant, twenty francs to the grenadiers, and take it.”

The Emperor said to the marshal, “Make a note of this old grouser. After the campaign, we will see him.”
It was, I believe, on the 14th that we met a large body of the Prussian advance-guard beyond Gilly. The cuirassiers went through the town at such speed that the horses’ shoes flew over the houses. The Emperor watched them start. It was a steep ascent, but it is impossible to imagine the rapidity with which they went up the hill. Our bold cuirassiers fell upon the Prussians, and sabred them without taking any prisoners. They were driven back upon their front with considerable loss. The campaign had begun.

Our troops encamped at the- entrance to the plain of Charleroi, which is called Fleurus. The enemy could not see us, and did not think that the army had become united. Our Emperor also thought that they had not collected their forces, and on the 15th during the night he took command of the army in person. Early in the morning he sent in every direction to reconnoitre the enemy’s position. Only the chief of staff, Count Monthyon, and I remained with him. He was at a village on the left of the plain, at the foot of a windmill, and the Prussian armies were mostly on his right, concealed by gardens, skirts of woods, and farms. “Their position is concealed; we cannot see them,” said all the officers when they returned. The order was given for a general attack. The Emperor went up into the windmill, and, looking through a hole, watched all the movements. The chief of staff said to him, “There goes the corps of General Gerard.”—“Send Gerard up here.” He came up to the Emperor. “Gerard,” said he, “your Bourmont, for whom you said you would be answerable to me, has gone over to the enemy.” And pointing through a hole in the mill to a steeple on the right, “You must go toward that steeple, and drive the Prussians in as far as you can. I will support you. Grouchy has my orders.”

All the officers of the staff started off, and did not return. Then the Emperor sent me to General Gerard. “Go to the steeple and find Gerard. Wait his orders to return.” I galloped off. This was not an easy task; I had to make many detours. The space was covered with gardens. I did not know which way to go. However, I found the brave general at last, fighting hand to hand, covered with mud. I went up to him. “The Emperor sent me to you, general.”—“Go to the Emperor and say that if he will send me reinforcements, the Prussians will be beaten. Tell him that I have lost half my soldiers, but that, if I am supported, the victory is assured.”

This was not a battle, it was a butchery. Drums beat the charge on all sides. There was but one shout, “Forward!” I carried the report of it to the Emperor. After hearing me, he said, “Ah! if I had four men like Gerard to rely on the Prussians would be lost.” I had returned long before those whom the Emperor had sent off before he sent me. Some came back in the evening, after the battle was won; six did not appear at all. The Emperor rubbed his hands after I made my report, and made me describe all the places through which I had passed. There were only orchards, big trees, and farms. “Is that so?” said he. “We thought there were woods there.”—“No, sire; the roads are only concealed by the foliage.” All our columns were now advancing; the victory was decided. The Emperor said to us, “To horse, and gallop! there are my columns coming up the hill.” So off we started. Across the plain there was a ditch three or four feet wide. The Emperor’s horse halted for a moment, my horse leaped over, and there I was in front of his Majesty, carried on by his fleetness. I feared I should be scolded for my boldness, but I was not. When we reached the top of the hill the Emperor looked at me, and said, “If your horse were a stallion, I should take him.”

Cannon-balls were still falling at the foot of the hill, but our columns overthrew the Prussians in the low ground on the right. This was kept up till night. The victory was complete. The Emperor retired at a very late hour from the battle-field, and returned to the village near the windmill. Thence he sent out officers in every direction. Count Monthyon dictated the despatches by order of the major-general, and the officers on duty started out at once. We were all on duty that night; no one had any rest.

The next day, June 17, 1815, at three o’clock in the morning, orders to advance were sent out. At seven o’clock our columns had come up. At that hour there were only the English in front of us. The Emperor sent an officer of the engineer corps to reconnoitre their position on the heights of Belle-Alliance, and to see if they were fortified. He returned, and said that he had seen nothing. Marshal Ney came up, and was rebuked for not having followed up the English, for there were only some “sans-culottes” (The Scotch, thus called on account of their bare legs) at Quatre Bras. “Go, marshal, and take possession of those heights; the enemy are drawn up in front of the woods. When I hear from Grouchy, I will give you the order for the general attack.” The marshal started, and the Emperor went up on an eminence near a chateau by the roadside. From this point he could observe his right wing, opposite at the strongest part of the English army. I was sent for, and orders given me to go a little to the right of the road to Brussels, to make sure of the position of the left wing of the English which rested on the wood. I was obliged, in descending, to skirt the road on account of a broad and deep ravine which I could not cross, and a hill where the artillery of the guard was in battery. I must mention that we were drenched with rain, and the ground was very muddy; our artillery could not manoeuvre. I passed near them, and when I came to the edge of the ravine, I saw columns of infantry closely massed in the lower part of it. I passed it by, going a little to the right, and came upon an isolated barn, a little way from the road. I stopped to look. On my right I saw some large rye-fields and some of the enemy’s guns in battery, but no one was moving. For a moment I did a little swaggering. I went near the rye-fields, and saw a body of cavalry behind them. I had seen enough. It appeared that it did not suit them to see me come near them: they saluted me with three rounds from a gun. I went back to tell the Emperor that on the right their cavalry was concealed behind the rye-fields, their infantry masked by the ravine, and that a battery had fired on me.

The Emperor gave orders for a general attack. Marshal Ney performed prodigies of courage and daring. This intrepid marshal had in front of him a formidable position. He could not take it. Every few moments he sent to the Emperor for reinforcements so as to finish it off, as he said. At last, in the evening, he was given some cavalry, who put the English to rout, but without positive success. One more effort, and they would have been overthrown in the forest. Our centre was making progress. They had passed the barn in spite of the grape-shot which fell among them. We knew not the misfortunes which awaited us.

An officer came up from our right wing. He told the Emperor that our men were retiring there. “You are mistaken,” said he, “it is Grouchy coming.” He sent off immediately in that direction to assure himself of the fact. The officer returned, and confirmed the report that a column of Prussians was rapidly advancing on us, and that our troops were retiring. The Emperor immediately altered his dispositions. By transferring a division from the centre to the right, he reinforced the retreating column. But an army commanded by General Blucher came up, while Grouchy was looking out for it in a different direction. Our centre was weakened, the English had time to breathe, and there were no more supports available for Ney, who now wanted to get himself killed, so it was said. The Prussian army moved into line, and the junction was complete; there were two or even three of the enemy to one of us; there was no means of holding out. The Emperor, seeing himself outflanked, took his guard, and marched it forward to the centre of his army in close columns. Followed by his whole staff, he formed the battalions into squares. Having gone through this manoeuvre, he spurred his horse forward so as to enter the square commanded by Cambronne; but all his generals surrounded him. “What are you doing?” they cried. “Is it not enough for them to have gained the victory?” His design was to have himself killed. Why did they not allow him to accomplish it? They would have spared him much suffering, and at least we should have died at his side; but the great dignitaries who surrounded him were not anxious to make such a sacrifice. However, I ought to say that we all surrounded him, and compelled him to retire.

We had the greatest possible difficulty in getting away. We could not make way through the panic-stricken multitude., And it was still worse when we arrived at Jemmapes. The Emperor tried to re-establish some kind of order among the retreating troops, but his efforts were in vain. Men of all units from every corps struggled and fought their way along the streets of the little town, with no one in command of them, panic-stricken, flying before the Prussian cavalry, which hurrah’d continually in rear of them. The one thought uppermost in the minds of all was to get across the little bridge which had been thrown over the Dyle. Nothing could stand in the way of them.

It was nearly midnight. No voice could make itself heard above the tumult; the Emperor, recognizing his impotence, gave way and let the torrent flow, being convinced that he would be able to stem it next morning; he sent a party of officers to inform Marshal Grouchy of the loss of the battle. The confusion lasted a considerable length of time. Nothing could calm them; they would listen to no one; the mounted men blew out their horses’ brains; the foot-soldiers blew out their own to avoid falling into the hands of the enemy; everything went pell-mell. I found myself taking part in another rout as complete as that of Moscow. “We are betrayed,” they cried. This great blow came upon us on account of our right wing being broken in. The Emperor did not know the extent of the disaster till he reached Jemmapes.

The Emperor left Jemmapes, and rode to Charleroi, where he arrived between four and five o’clock in the morning. He left orders that all of his equipages should fall back, part by way of Avesnes, part by way of Philippeville, to Laon, which he reached about ten o’clock. Officers were also sent to Marshal Grouchy with orders for him to come on to Laon. The Emperor dismounted at the foot of the city; there he had a long conference with his generals; some wanted him to stay with the army, others wanted him to go on to Paris without more ado. To these last he said: “How can you advise such a thing? My place is here.”

After he had given his orders, and made out his bulletin for Paris, an officer arrived who announced the approach of a column. The Emperor sent to reconnoitre it. It was the old guard returning in good order from the battlefield. When the Emperor heard this news, he was no longer willing to start for Paris; but he was compelled to do so by the majority of his generals. An old open carriage had been got ready for him, and some carts for his staff. One of his superior officers came, and gave orders to Colonel Boissy to take command of the place, and collect all the stragglers. The national guard was coming in from every direction. At last the Emperor came out into the great court where we were all together in the greatest state of anxiety. He asked for a glass of wine; it was handed to him on a large tray; he drank it, then saluted us, and started off. We were never to see him again.

We remained standing in the courtyard without speaking to one another. We climbed that steep hill in profound silence, worn out with hunger and fatigue. Our poor horses could scarcely move, after twenty-four hours in the field. Men and horses fell from want of food, not knowing what would become of them. No one took any account of us. We were, indeed, miserable. A few stout men, who had not thrown away their arms, were collected together. The greater portion of the soldiers had abandoned them in order to save their lives, leaving the main roads, and running across the fields. When the officers of the headquarter staff were collected together with Count Monthyon at their head, we started for Avesnes in profound dejection. By forced marches we reached the forest of Villers-Cotterets. We spent the night at the house of a physician on the edge of the forest. Count Monthyon said to me? “My friend? do not unsaddle your horses, for the enemy may surprise us during the night. I am sure they are on our heels, and we must not undress.” I saw to all our horses. Fortunately, I found some hay in the house. The grooms were ordered to remain in the stable with the bridles on their arms. I set one on guard to warn the general, and returned to his side. After supper I begged the general to take off his boots to rest himself. “No,” said he. I pulled out a mattress, “Lie down there; you will rest better than on a chair. I will go and keep a lookout with the servants. Do not worry, I will call you in time.” At three o’clock in the morning the Prussians attacked Villers-Cotterets. They came out upon the main road, having turned suddenly to the right so as to shut us up in the city. This was what saved us. They fell upon our train, and made fearful havoc. At this noise I ordered the horses to be bridled and brought out, and ran to inform the general: “To horse, general! the enemy is in the town.”

That time the servants did their duty quickly, I assure you. The horses were at the door as soon as I was. The general came down the stairs, and mounted his horse as I did mine. “This way,” said he to us, “follow me.” He went to the left into a narrow road, concealed from view, which ran along the edge of the forest. Three minutes later and we should have been captured. Two musket-shots behind us were platoons of foot-soldiers, putting out sentries everywhere. When we reached the end of the main avenue, the general dismounted to breathe and think. After that we started for Meaux. Desolation reigned everywhere. Our deserters were coming in, most of them without arms. It was a heart-breaking sight. Meaux was so filled with troops that we had to go on to Claye; there we found the country deserted. All the inhabitants had moved out. It was as though the enemy had passed through. Every one was on the way to Paris with his valuables. The roads were blocked up with carriages. They had turned their houses inside out. The enemy could not have caused greater destruction. We reached Paris at the gate of St. Denis. All the barriers were barricaded. The troops were encamped in the plain of Les Vertus, and along the Buttes St. Chaumont. The headquarters was at the village of Villette, where Marshal Davoust was stationed.

Our whole army was then reunited on the north of Paris, in the plain of Les Vertus, and there Marshal Grouchy arrived with his army corps, which had not suffered. We were told that he had thirty thousand men. General headquarters were established at Villette, near Marshal Davoust. As I was transport-officer, I had the right to present myself every day to receive orders, and be present at the distributions. Consequently, I saw all the deputations arrive: generals and great personages in citizens’ dress. Grand conferences were held night and day. I ought to say, for the credit of the Parisians, that we lacked for nothing. They sent everything, even Bologna sausage and white bread for the staff. About four or five o’clock in the morning I saw the brave national guards mount the walls which enclose Paris, turn to the left of the village so as not to be stopped, and advance to the line to exchange fire with the Prussians. Every day I witnessed this same movement. On the 28th or 30th of June, I said to my servant, “Give my horse some hay, and saddle him. I am going to see the national guards.” I started off well armed. I had two pistols in my holster. They were rifled: A wooden ramrod was necessary in loading them, and they had a long range. They had cost me a hundred francs.

When I reached the plain of Les Vertus, I had the old guard on my right, and the national guards on my left. I went as far as the last of our sentries who were in the first line, standing to. I spoke to them. They were furious at their inaction. “No orders,” they said; “the national guards do the firing, and we merely support arms. We are betrayed, captain.”—“No, my lads, you will get orders soon; have patience.”—“But we are forbidden to fire.”—“Listen, my brave fellows, I want to pass the line. I see down there a Prussian officer who is taking on great airs; I should like to take him down a peg. If you will let me pass, you need not be alarmed. I am not going over to the enemy.”—“Pass, captain.”

I saw behind me four well-dressed gentlemen, who were approaching me. One of them came up to me, and said, “Have you come out to see the sport?”—“The same as you, I think.”—“Yes,” said he to me; “you are well mounted.”—“So are you, sir.” The other three turned to the right. “What are you looking at over there in the Prussian lines?” said he to me.—“You see that officer down there who is making his horse prance? I want to pay him a visit; he displeases me.”—“You cannot approach him without danger.”—“I know my trade. I shall have him out in front of the line, and make him angry, if possible. If he gets angry, he is mine. I beg you, sir, not to follow me; you will spoil my manaoeuvre. Go back a little, rather.”—“Very well, go ahead.”

I started off, having thoroughly determined what to do. When I reached the centre of the space between the two lines, he saw that I was advancing upon him. He thought that I would doubtless cross over to his side, so he came out to welcome me. A hundred paces from his own lines he stopped and awaited me. Having gone the same distance) I also halted, and, drawing out my pistol, I sent a ball past his ears. He got angry, and started in pursuit of me. I wheeled about. He no longer followed me, but turned back. Then I wheeled round to the left, and charged him. Seeing me again, he came back at me. I sent him a second pistol-shot. He got angry, and came hard at me. I wheeled about and rode off. He pursued me to the centre of the space between the lines, in a rage. I faced about, and fell upon him. He came close to me, and tried to stick his sabre into me. I struck his sabre up above his head, and, with the same stroke, brought my sabre down upon his face with such force that his nose went down to find his chin. He fell stone-dead.

I seized his horse, and proudly returned to my private soldiers, who crowded round me. The gentleman who had watched all my movements came galloping up to me, and said, “I am delighted; that’s one to you; you know the game well; it is not your first trial. I beg you to tell me your name.”—“For what purpose, if you please?”—“I have friends at Paris; I should like to tell them about this little play that I have seen. To what corps do you belong?”—“To the Emperor’s staff.”— “What is your name?”—“Coignet.”—“And your Christian names?”—“Jean Roch.”—“And your rank?” —“Captain.” He took out his memorandum-book, and wrote it down. He told me his name: Boray or Bory. He went over to the right of the St. Chaumont hills where the old guard was stationed, and I returned to headquarters, leading my horse, and very proud of my capture. Every one stared at me. An officer asked me where I got my horse. “It is a horse which deserted and came over to our side; I caught him as he was going by.”—“Good capture,” said he.

When I reached my lodgings, I had some hay given to my horse, and examined my prize. I found a small portmanteau with some fine linen and other things necessary to an officer. I had the saddle taken off the horse, and sold him; as I had three horses, they were sufficient. I went to headquarters to resume my office manners. I found a great many people with the marshal, some going, some coming. There were conferences all night long. The next day, July I, we received orders to move to the south of Paris, behind the Invalides, where the army was reunited and well intrenched. I went there after having gone to receive my general’s orders. He sent me off with his aide-de-camp and his horses. “Go,” said he; “Paris has surrendered. The enemy is about to take possession of it. Lose no time; all the officers are to leave Paris; you will be arrested. Join the army which is collected on the side next the Barrière d’Enfer, and there you will receive orders to cross the Loire at Orleans.”

When I reached the Barrière d’Enfer, where the army had collected, I found Marshal Davoust on foot, his arms folded, gazing at that splendid army, who were shouting, “Forward.” He, silent, not speaking one word, walked up and down along the fortifications, deaf to the supplications of the army who wished to advance upon the enemy. The troops wanted to move against the enemy forces which had crossed the Seine, part on Saint-Germain, part on Versailles, whereas we had only to cross the Champ de Mars to be in the Bois de Boulogne. With our left wing on Versailles, not a Prussian nor an Englishman could have stood against the fury of our men. Marshal Davoust was doubtful what to do; he summoned the generals of the old guard, and ordered General Drouot to show an example to the army, saying that he would follow him with the main body, and that it would be necessary to march at once to Orleans. Our lot was thus decided. The old soldiers set off without a murmur. The movement began, our right wing moving towards Tours, and our left wing toward Orleans. The enemy immediately became our rear-guard, and they had the cruelty to seize some men who were rejoining their corps, and rob them, as well as the officers. At our first halting place they pressed so closely upon us that the army wheeled about, and attacked their advance guard; they were driven back. After this they were not so insolent, and followed us only at a distance.

We reached Orleans without being pursued. We crossed the bridge over the Loire, and established the headquarters in a large faubourg which seemed to be almost entirely deserted. The inhabitants had gone into the city, and we were entirely without supplies. When we were installed, we set to work to barricade the bridge in the centre, with enormous posts and two gates to resist a heavy attack; then the bridgehead was put in a condition of defence, and made to bristle with pieces of artillery. We remained quiet for several days; the two enormous gates opened voluntarily to those who went in search of provisions, and we were obliged to go to the city for them. We found a house to lodge in at the entrance of the principal street, and every day the gates had to be opened; but this did not last long. The great marshal was seen behind his batteries, his arms behind him, and his face anxious. No one spoke to him. He was no longer the warrior whom I had formerly seen in his brilliance on the field of battle; all the officers were afraid to go near him.

One morning, as usual, we started out at nine o’clock to go to our billet for breakfast. The rascal came to us, and said, “I cannot serve you. I have orders to be ready to receive the allies who are at the gates and are about to enter; the authorities have sent them the keys of the city.” At the same moment there was a shout of “The Cossacks!” We went out with empty stomachs, and had scarcely got into the streets, when we saw the cavalry marching slowly in line of battle, and an immense crowd of people of both sexes, men and women. It was a damnable sight. All the women, richly dressed, with little white flags in one hand and white handkerchiefs in the other, formed the van, shouting, “Long live our good allies!” But the crowd was driven along by the cavalry close to the bridge and past our gates. Then the enemy stationed sentries; the gates were closed, and each party was left to itself on either side of the palisades. As for the white handkerchiefs and little flags, our soldiers seized them all. Some of the husbands tried to resist, but all they got from our men was a box on the ear; it was a case of submitting to the rule of the strongest, and the husbands had to cross the Loire in rafts to rejoin their dear allies, as they called them. Their wives spent the night on our side; boats had to be sent over for them.

The marshal did not utter a word; everything went off as quietly as you please. Pains and pleasures pass in due time. We received orders to move the headquarters to Bourges, and Marshal Davoust established himself there, but it was not for long. Not being in favour with Louis XVIII., he was displaced by Marshal Macdonald, who took command of the army of the Loire. Davoust then offered his services to the king, but he was the first to be disbanded. Marshal Macdonald arrived with a brilliant staff, the chief of which was Count Hulot, who had only one arm, and two aides-de-camp wearing the Cross of St. Louis. I went every day to the marshal for orders, and then to the post to collect the letters. I always went late, and found the marshal at table. One of his aides-de-camp came out, and asked me for my package of despatches. “I do not know you,” said I; “tell the marshal that his transport-officer is waiting for him at the door.”—“But the marshal is at table.”—“I tell you I do not know you.” He went to inform the marshal of my refusal to deliver the papers. “Send him in.” I went in, hat in hand. He rose to receive his package, and said to me, “You know your duty; you were perfectly right to answer my aide-de-camp as you did. I thank you, my good fellow; this shall not happen again. Let him come in whenever he brings my despatches; he should deliver them only to me.”

In 1815 each day was only a repetition of the last. The army was disbanded and new regiments formed which bore the names of the several departments. I was appointed to have the rations distributed each day, and during the time I stayed at Bourges I had two hundred thousand rations distributed to the different ranks. Often I could only give out half rations. Then I had to call on the gendarmes to keep order.

The marshal kept me with him as long as he could; but it was intimated to him that an order would be sent to retire me on half-pay. On the 16th of January, 1816 the marshal sent for me. “I was told to come; that you wished to speak to me.”—“Yes, my brave fellow. I am obliged to send you home on half-pay. I sincerely regret to part with you, but I have received orders to do so. I have put it off as long as possible.”—“I thank you, marshal.”—“If you wish to rejoin the depot of the Yonne, and go into service again, I will see that you have a company of grenadiers.”—“I thank you; but I have some business to attend to at Auxerre, and then I have three horses which I wish to get rid of. I shall ask leave of you to go to Paris to sell them.”—“I grant it with pleasure.”—“I shall only need a furlough of a fortnight. My horses are valuable; I can only sell them well in Paris.”—“You can start from here.”—“I should like to go by Auxerre.”—“I give you full permission to do so.”

On the 16th of August, 1848 the anniversary of my birth, the greatest of all misfortunes befell me. I lost my dear wife, after thirty years of happy days. I was left alone, crushed with sorrow. What could I do at seventy two years of age? I could not undertake anything. My little business was not sufficient to rouse me from my deep dejection. For a long time I thought over the events of my earlier life, which now seemed so far away. I said to myself, “If I only knew how to write well, I could undertake to write the story of all my fine campaigns, and the tale of the saddest childhood that a child of eight years ever suffered. Well, I think God will help me.” My resolution taken, I bought some paper and other necessary things. I set to work. What made it most difficult for me was, that I had no memoranda or any documents to assist me. No one can imagine how much thought and worry I went through in order to be able to retrace the whole of my military career. I can give no idea of the trouble I had in portraying myself. If I have succeeded, I shall consider myself sufficiently rewarded; but it is time for me to come to an end. My memory is failing. It is not the history of others that I have written; it is the story of my own life, which I have told with all the sincerity of a soldier who has done his duty, and who writes without prejudice.

And now let me speak to the fathers of families who may read this. Let them use every effort to have their children taught to read and write, and to educate them well. This is the best inheritance, and is easily managed. If my parents had bestowed this precious gift upon me, I might have made a distinguished soldier; but one must not insult the memory of one’s parents. At thirty-three years of age, I did not know A from B; and there was a career open to me, had I only been able to read and write. I had courage and intelligence. I was never punished, always present at roll-call, untiring in marches and counter-marches, and I could have gone round the world without complaining. In order to make a good soldier one must have courage in adversity, obedience to all officers, no matter of what rank. And he who is a good soldier will make a good officer. I end the story of my life to-day, July 1, 1850.
Written by me,

JEAN-ROCH COIGNET.



(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.)