Napoleon and His Marshals - Vol. I
His Early Life— Operations in Spain— The Presentation by Napoleon of his Son to him and the National Guard— His noble Efforts in behalf of Ney— Reception of Napoleon's Body when brought from St. Helena.
THERE can be no greater contrast than that between Moncey and most of Napoleon's other marshals. The moral qualities in him predominated over the mental, and while he did everything right he did nothing brilliant. Notwithstanding the injustice of it, the world will insist on judging every man by the same standard without regard to the natural temperament or mental constitution. For the quiet, upright, and charitable life a man naturally of a mild spirit and equable feelings leads, he receives all the praise of one who has combated his fierce propensities and by a long process of self-discipline chastened his spirit and corrected his actions. The world seems to forget he is acting out his natural tendencies, and to be rash, positive, and encroaching would require a painful effort. Being without force of will and the concentration of purpose which loves action and seeks great accomplishments, he is not at home in the violence of political revolutions or the fierce tumult of battle. In following the peaceful and even path he treads, he is consulting his own tastes and inclinations, yet men point to him as a model. He may be a good man, and worthy of all admiration; yet were the world filled with such it would stagnate. Such men never make reformers—conceive and execute vast plans, or push the race onward toward its final goal.
Neither will men average character. They will not allow for the peculiar nature with which one is endowed, nor let his good and bad qualities balance each other. A man of strong and vivid imagination and impetuous spirit may not only exhibit more principle, show more self-control, and acquire greater virtue in disciplining himself to the point from which errors are still committed, than he who is without spot or blame, out spot or blame,—but his actions if mingled up would take a higher level. One error "covers a multitude" of virtues in this world.
Moncey and Murat were as different as light and darkness; neither one could have been the other by any possible training. The career of the former was like a stream flowing through valleys, steady and equable; that of the latter like a rushing wave, now breaking in grandeur on the shore, and now retiring out of sight into the deep. The former cultivates our sentiments, the latter kindles our imagination and awakens our emotions. Murat was a chivalric knight, Moncey an honest man. One went down like a gallant ship at sea; the other slowly wasted away in the peaceful port where he sought shelter and repose. But, if Moncey was not a brilliant man, he exhibited in the early part of his career the qualities of a good general, and received the reward of his bravery and success in being made Duke of Cornegliano and Marshal of the Empire.
Rose-Adrien de Moncey was born at Bezançon, in July, 1754. His father was lawyer of the town parliament, and designed to fit his son for his own peaceful pursuits. But young Adrian, seized with a love for military life so common to youth, enlisted when but fifteen years old in the infantry. His father, thinking that the rigors of a camp life would soon disgust him, let him remain six months, and then procured his discharge. He, however, soon ran away, and enlisted in another regiment of infantry. His father, seeing the force of his inclinations, left him to pursue his own course, and he served as grenadier for three years. Having been engaged in no battle in that time, and receiving no promotion, he concluded to abandon his musket and return home, where he commenced the study of law. But a garrison being in town, it awakened all his old habits and tastes, and drew him away from his studies. As a natural result, he again became a soldier, and in about four years reached the rank of sub-lieutenant of dragoons. The Revolution breaking out, a new life opened to him, and he entered at once on his successful career. Drafted into a battalion of light-infantry, he went up rapidly to captain, chief of battalion, and general of division. During the first campaigns of the Republic he distinguished himself as a brave and upright officer.
In 1794 he was sent to the Western Pyrenees to defend the frontiers of France against the invasions of Spain. After the success of Dugomier in the East, it was resolved to invade Spain in turn by Catalonia and Navarre. The army advanced in three columns through three different passes—Moncey commanded the third. He forced the passage appointed to him, took St. Sebastian, and on the next day fired the gates of Tolosa. Constant succeeses followed the army, which filled the Convention with joy. The representative Garrau, after enumerating the extraordinary victories that had been gained, closed with saying, "The soldiers of this army are not men—they are either demons or gods." The whole state of French affairs was changed in that quarter, and as it was attributed chiefly to the energy and skill of Moncey, he was nominated commander-in-chief. Hearing of his nomination, he wrote to the Convention not to ratify it, as he did not deem himself qualified for the station. But the Convention paid no heed to his remonstrance, and he was proclaimed "Commander-in-chief of the Army of Spain." He soon showed that the government had not misplaced its confidence; for, pursuing his success, he beat the Spaniards at Lecumberry and Villa Nova,—passed the Deva, overcame the enemy at Villa Real and Mont Dragon—took Bilboa,—routed the enemy at Vittoria, and overrun all Biscay. The court at Madrid, alarmed at the rapid advance of the republican general, offered terms of peace, which were accepted, and the victorious Moncey left the field of his fame, and returned to France. In 1796 he was sent to command the army on the side of Brest. Having used all his endeavor to heal the divisions in Vendée, he was appointed at the end of the year to command the first military division at Bayonne. Here he remained idle, while the French army was filling the world with its deeds, along the Nile and around the Pyramids, and winning laurels in the Alps and by the Rhine.
When Bonaparte was appointed First Consul, Moncey, then at Paris, received the command of the fifteenth military division at Lyons. Soon after, when the former commenced operations in Italy, the latter was despatched thither with fifteen thousand men. While the former was descending from the heights of St. Bernard, the latter was leading his army of fifteen thousand men over the pass of St. Gothard. His historians have made him present at the battle of Marengo, but on the day of that great victory to the French he was guarding the Tessino, awaiting orders from Bonaparte.
In 1801 he was made chief inspector of the gens d'armerie, and three years after received his marshal's baton. Grand officer of the Legion of Honor, President of the Electoral College of his own department, and Duke of Cornegliano, followed in rapid succession.
In 1808, when Napoleon invaded Spain, Moncey was sent into Valencia at the head of ten thousand men to watch the country between the Lower Ebro and Carthagena, and if he thought advisable to attack Valencia itself. Hearing at Cuenea that an army of thirty thousand men was gathering to attack him, and that the insurrection in the province was rapidly increasing, he resolved to march on the city of Valencia. He immelately, according to his instructions, sent a despatch to General Chabran, whom he supposed to be at Tortosa, to march also toward the city, and effect a junction with his army there on the 27th or 28th of the month. In the mean time he moved forward with his small army toward the place.
Forcing the river Cabriel, he continued his march without serious interruption and took up his position at Otriel. But hearing that the patriots to the number of twelve thousand were intrenching themselves at Cabrillas on his left he turned aside to attack them. As he came up to them his experienced eye saw immediately the advantageous position they had taken. Their center was behind a deep, narrow defile, lined with precipitous rocks, on which were gathered multitudes of armed peasantry, while the two wings stretched along the side of a steep and rocky mountain. Opening his artillery on the center, and keeping his cavalry hovering about the defile in order to draw off the attention of the enemy, he despatched General Harispe to turn their flank. The plan was successful, and the enemy was routed at all points. Continuing his march he arrived before Valencia on the 27th, but no General Chabran was there, nor could he get any tidings of him. He, however, disposed his forces to the best advantage, opened his artillery, and summoned the city to surrender. But a walled town, filled with eighty thousand inhabitants and surrounded by trenches flooded by water, so that no approach could be made except through the gates, was not likely to yield to an army of ten thousand men without a struggle. Moncey then undertook to carry it by assault—a foolish attempt, unless, as is reported, a smuggler had promised to betray the place.
The assault was unsuccessful; the people were in arms; and a friar traversing the streets, with a cross in one hand and a sword in the other, roused them by his fiery words to the highest pitch of enthusiasm. In the mean time, no intelligence having been received of Chabran, and the ammunition being nearly expended, and a thousand wounded men encumbering his troops, he concluded to raise the siege, and fell back to Quarte. Hearing at this place that the Spanish general was on the march for Almanza to intercept the communication of the French army, he resolved to advance and attack him before he could leave the kingdom of Murcia, from which lie was hastening. In carrying out this plan Moncey, though now fifty-four years of age, exhibited a vigor of resolution and rapidity of movement that would have honored the youngest general in the army.
Serbelloni was impeded in his march by the sudden appearance of the French marshal before him, and hastily took position behind the river Xucar.
Moncey, however, forced the passage, and Serbelloni retired to some heights that commanded the high road to Almanza, designing to take possession of the defiles before the town, and there dispute the entrance with the enemy. But Moncey's rapidity of movement again defeated him; for, marching all night, he drew up his army in the principal gorge and saluted the Spaniards as they approached in the morning with a discharge of artillery. Having dispersed them, he entered the town in triumph.
The whole province soon after arising in arms, his position became perilous, and Caulincourt was sent to reinforce him. Thus strengthened, he began to march back on Valencia. But Savary, entrusted with the chief command for a short time in this department, arrested his movements with so little ceremony that he was offended, and returned to Madrid. Soon after he was ordered to besiege Saragossa. Arriving before the city, he summoned the inhabitants to surrender, and prevent the slaughter that must ensue if the siege was carried on. In a few days, however, he was superseded by Junot.
Moncey's operations were not very brilliant, and could not well be with so small a force; still he killed and wounded, in the several battles he fought, a number equal to his entire army, showing that he was anything but an inactive and inefficient leader. Napier, in speaking of his operations in Valencia, gives him great credit, and says: "Marshal Moncey, whose whole force was at first only eight thousand French, and never exceeded ten thousand men, continued marching and fighting without cessation for a month, during which period he forced two of the strongest mountain passes in the world—crossed several large and difficult rivers—carried the war into the very streets of Valencia, and, being disappointed of assistance from Catalonia, extricated his division from a difficult situation, after having defeated his opponents in five actions, killed and wounded a number of them equal in amount to the whole of his own force, and made a circuit of three hundred miles through a hostile and populous country without having sustained any serious loss, without any desertion from the Spanish battalions incorporated with his own, and, what was of more importance, having those battalions much increased by desertions from the enemy." In another place he says, "Moncey, though an old man, was vigorous, active, and decided."
"Recalled to Paris by Napoleon, he was sent into Flanders to repel the English, who were threatening a descent upon Antwerp. The failure of that expedition leaving him without active employment, he was appointed to the command of the army of reserve in the North. When Napoleon projected his fatal Russian campaign, Moncey, then an old man, threw in his strenuous remonstrance against it. After its disastrous termination, he did but little till the allies invaded France. When Napoleon, in that crisis of his life, roused himself to meet the storm that was darkening over his throne, he saw, with his far-reaching glance, that the enemy might approach to Paris; and among his last dispositions was the reorganization of the National Guard, over which he placed the veteran Moncey.
On the Monday previous to his setting out for the army, to make his last stand for his empire, he assembled the officers of the National Guard in the Palace of the Tuileries, and there, in solemn pomp, committed his son to their charge. The Empress advanced first into the apartment, followed by Madame Montesquieu carrying the infant king—already proclaimed King of Rome. The innocent child, but three years old, was dressed in the uniform of the National Guard, and his blue eyes sparkled with delight at the gay ornaments that now for the first time adorned his vestments, while his golden locks clustered in ringlets about his neck. Taking him by the hand, Napoleon stepped into the midst of the circle of officers, and thus addressed them: "Gentlemen, I am now to set out for the army, and I entrust to you that which I hold dearest in the world—my wife and son. Let there be no political dissensions; let the respect for property, regard for order, and, above all, the love of France, fill every bosom. I do not conceal from you that in the struggle that is to come the enemy may approach on Paris, but a few days will end the affair. Before they arrive I will be on their flanks and rear, and annihilate those who dare violate our country." After he had closed his address, a silence, like that of the grave, succeeded, and he took the child in his arms and presented him to the aged Moncey. The old man, who had stood so many battle shocks unmoved, was now unnerved; and the quivering lip and swimming eye told of the deep emotions that mastered him, as he received the sacred trust. "This," said Napoleon, "is your future sovereign." He then presented the child to the other officers, and, as with sad and serious countenance he walked uncovered through their ranks, sudden shouts of enthusiasm filled the appartments; [sic] amid the cries of "Vive ‘Empereur, " and "Vive le Roi de Rome," tears burst from eyes unaccustomed to weep.
On Tuesday morning, at three o'clock, Napoleon left his palace for the army, never to see his wife and son again.
At length the allied armies were approaching to Paris; and soon the heights around the city were covered with their victorious legions. But previous to this the Empress and her son, by order of Napoleon, had left Paris. Still the National Guard combated bravely, and Marshal Moncey, firm and steadfast to the end, struggled on after all hope was gone, and remonstrated against submission until Marmont's defection ruined everything. He then resigned his command to the Duke of Montmorency, and, faithful to the last, retired with a few troops to Fontainebleau, to Napoleon. After the abdication of the Emperor he gave in his adhesion to the new government and was confirmed in his office of Inspector-General of the Horse of the King's household, and in June following made Chevalier of Saint Louis, and two days after Peer of France.
When the news of Napoleon's landing reached Paris he addressed the gens d'armes, reminding them of the oath they had taken to be faithful to the King. He himself never swerved from his new allegiance; and after the second overthrow of Napoleon at Waterloo was appointed, as the oldest of the marshals, to preside at the trial of Ney. But the firm and upright old soldier not only refused to sit in the Council of War, but drew up an able and bold remonstrance to the King against the act. This letter came to light a few years after, and was unpublished in this country, and though Moncey, then in favor, saw fit to deny it authenticity, it was in terms that rather confirmed than weakened the common belief of its authorship. The published letter not corresponding in every particular with the written one, allowed him to disavow it for the sake of the King, who did not wish to take the obloquy of having treated so noble an appeal with disregard. He says, "Placed in the cruel alternative to disobey your Majesty or violate my conscience, I am forced to explain myself to your Majesty. I do not enter into the question of the guilt or innocence of Marshal Ney; your justice, and the equity of his judges, must answer for that to posterity, which weighs in the same balance kings and subjects." After speaking of the general peace and security which were established, and that there was no cause for this highhanded act of cruelty, except that the allies wished to take vengeance on one whose very name reminded them of their humiliation, he begs the King to refuse his sanction to it. As for himself, he says, in true nobility of spirit: "My life, my fortune, all that I hold most dear, belong to my King and my country ; but my honor is my own; and no power can rob me of it. What, shall I pronounce upon the fate of Marshal Ney! Permit me, Sire, to ask your Majesty, where were these accusers when Ney was marching over the field of battle? Ah! if Russia and the allies are not able to pardon the victor of Borodino, can France forget the hero of Beresina? Shall I send to death one to whom France owes her life—her families, their children, their husband, and parents? Reflect, Sire; it is, perhaps, the last time that truth shall come near your throne.
"It is very dangerous, very impolitic to push the brave to despair. Ah, if the unhappy Ney had accomplished at Waterloo what he had so often done before, perhaps he would not have been drawn before a military commission. Perhaps those who to-day demand his death would have implored his protection. . . . "Nobly said, brave Moncey, in this trying hour of France, when each was seeking to preserve his own head or fortune. This single act should make him immortal. Braving the hatred of the King and the vengeance of the allies, he on, whose life was no istain, here interposes himself between an old companion in arms and death. His place, his fortune, and his liberty he regarded light as air when put in the balance with his honor and with justice. To any but a Bourbon's heart this appeal would not have been in vain, and that unhappy race would have been saved another stain on its character, and England a dishonor which she never can wipe from her history.
This bold refusal of the oldest marshal to be president of the council of war to try Ney, accompanied with such an noble appeal to the king and deep condemnation of the allies, awakened, as was to be expected, the deepest indignation. The only reply to it was a royal order depriving him of his rank as marshal and condemning him without trial to three months' imprisonment. This order was countersigned by Marshal St. Cyr, to his everlasting disgrace. He had better died on the field of his fame, or been shot like Ney by kingly murderers, than put his signature to such a paper. If all the marshals had entered their solemn protest against the act, as Moncey did, it is doubtful whether Ney would have been slain.
The disgrace and imprisonment of the old marshal, without even the farce of a trial, was in perfect keeping with the despotic injustice that had beforehand resolved on Ney's death. But what a pitiful exhibition of kingly violence was this shutting up an old man over sixty years of age, whose head was whitened in the storm of battle, and on whose name was no stain or even reproach, for daring in the nobleness of his nature to refuse to condemn an old companion in arms, by whose side he had fought so long and bravely for France and for freedom.
When power departed from Napoleon, most of his marshals, in their eagerness to save their hard-earned honors and rank and fortune, showed themselves wanting in some of the noblest qualities of man. But Moncey, unmoved by all his reverses, still kept his honor bright and his integrity unshaken; and the night that he laid his gray hairs on his prisoner's pillow witnessed a nobler deed than the day that looked on his most victorious battle-field.
Louis XVIII. was not long in perceiving the bad policy of this petty tyranny; and when the three months' imprisonment was ended, he reinstated him in his rank, and in 1820 named him commandant of the 9th military division, and soon after chevalier of the order of Saint Esprit.
In the inglorious Spanish war of 1823, Moncey, then nearly seventy years of age, was appointed over the fourth corps. He marched into Spain, fought several battles, and finally sat down in regular siege before Barcelona. The capitulation of this city after some severe fighting ended the war; and Moncey returned to France and received the grand cross of Saint Louis and a seat in the Chamber of Peers.
In the late Revolution of 1830 Moncey took no part. He had long foreseen the storm which Charles X, by determination to keep up the Bourbon reputation for folly, was gathering over his head, and saw without regret the overthrow of his thtone. His age and sorrow for the death of his only son, who in leaping a ditch in a hunting excursion accidentally discharged his gun and killed himself, had driven him from public life. But when the Bourbon throne went down again he replaced with joy his old cockade of 1792.
After the death of Marshal Jourdan in 1834 he was appointed governor of the Invalides. Nothing could be more touching than the sight of this old veteran, now eighty years of age, among the mutilated and decrepit soldiers of Napoleon. Sustained by two servants, he would drag himself from hall to hall amid the blessings of those old warriors, many of whom had seen him, in the pride of manly strength and courage, lead his columns into battle. Nearly two hundred officers, and more than three thousand men, the wreck of the grand army, were assembled here and the oldest marshal of the empire placed at their head. How striking the contrast which Moncey and those few thousand men in their faded regimentals presented to the magnificent army which Napoleon had led so often to victory. From the Pyramids, from Lodi, Arcola, Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, Wagram, and Borodino, where the eye rests on mighty armies moving to battle and to victory, amid the unrolling of standards and pealing of trumpets, the glance returns to the bowed form and gray hairs and trembling voice of Moncey, as he moves on the shoulders of his attendants through the ranks of these few aged soldiers, who have come maimed from almost every battle-field of Europe to die in the bosom of France.
Time had taken what the sword left. Napoleon, the spell-word which had startled Europe, was now spoken in mournful accents, and the fields in which they had seen him triumph were but as dim remembrances. On a far distant isle that mighty spirit had sunk to rest, and the star that had illuminated a hemisphere had left the heaves forever. What ravages time makes! Who would have thought as he gazed on the aged Moncey, borne carefully along, his feeble voice saluting his old companions in arms, that fire had ever flashed from that eye, and amid the uproar of cannon and shock of cavalry he had carried death through the ranks of the enemy, and that those bowed and limping soldiers had shouted on the fierce-fought fields of Austerlitz, Borodino, and Wagram, or sent up their warcry from the foot of the Pyramids?
The old soldiers loved to see the form of Moncey in their midst, and greeted him wherever he went with words of allection and respect. Indeed, all who knew him loved him, for his private life was as spotless as his military career. He was the friend of humanity, the patron of education, and the firm supporter of every benevolent scheme. Upright and kind, he was ever true to himself and merciful to his enemies. No acts of cruelty marred his conquests, and even his captives learned to love him. His face indicated the humane and generous character he exhibited. He was not a brilliant man, but, as Napoleon once said, "he was an honest man." He was not wanting in intellectual qualities, but they predominated too much over his impulsive ones to render him capable of those great and chivalrous actions which characterized so many of Napoleon's generals. Those sudden inspirations which so often visit genius in the hour of danger or excitement he was an utter stranger to. He did all things well and preserved through a long career the respect and confidence of the Emperor; for though he never flattered him in power, he never betrayed him in misfortune. His natural character was better suited to the military tactics of Wellington than Napoleon; who—decided, impetuous, and rapid himself—wished to have around him men of similar character and temperament.
The closing up of Moncey's life presents perhaps the most affecting scene in it. When the remains of Napoleon, a few years ago, were brought from St. Helena, Moncey, though nearly ninety years of age, was still governor of the Hotel des Invalides, and hence was appointed to receive them in the name of those disabled veterans. All France was agitated as the time drew near when the vessel was expected that bore back the dead Emperor to her shores. The insulted hero had already slept too long amid his foes, and when the vessel that was wafting him home swept down on the coast of France the excitement could scarcely have been greater had he been landing with sword in hand.
On the day of solemn procession in Paris the whole city was abroad, and Napoleon in the height of his power never received more distinguished honor than when dead he was borne through the capital of his former empire. As the procession passed through the streets, the beat of the muffled drum and the prolonged and mournful blast of the trumpet as it rose and fell through the solemn requiem and all the signs of a nation's woe filled every heart with the profoundest grief.
There, beside the coffin, walked the remnants of the 0ld Guard, once the pride and strength of the Emperor and the terror of Europe; and there, too, was his old war-horse, covered with the drapery of mourning, on whose back he had galloped through the battle; and over all drooped the banner of France, heavy with crape—all—all mourning in silence for the mighty dead.
The church that was to receive the body was crowded in every part of it, waiting its arrival, when the multitude was seen to part in front, and an old man bowed with years, his white locks falling over a whiter visage, and seemingly ready himself to be laid in the tomb, was borne through the throng in a large arm-chair, and placed at the left of the main altar beside the throne. Covered with decorations and honors that contrasted strangely with his withered form and almost lifeless features, he sat and listened to the heavy dirge that came sweeping through the church, as if memory was trying in vain to recall the past. That was Marshal Moncey, now nearly ninety years of age, brought hither to welcome his old commander back to his few remaining soldiers. As the funeral train slowly entered the court the thunder of cannon shook the solid edifice, blending in their roar with the strains of martial music. They, too, seemed conscious beings, and striving with their olden voices to awaken the chieftain for whom they had swept so many battle-fields. But drum and trumpet tone and the sound of cannon fell alike on the dull ear of the mighty sleeper. His battles were all over, and his fierce spirit gone to a land where the loud trumpet of war is never heard.
As the coffin approached, the old invalid soldiers drew up on each side of the way, in their old uniform, to receive it. The spectacle moved the stoutest heart. The last time these brave men had seen their Emperor was on the field of battle, and now, after long years, his coffin approached their midst. The roar of cannon and the strains of martial music, brought back the days of glory, and as their eyes met the pall that covered the form of their beloved chief they fell on their knees in tears and sobs and reached forth their hands in passionate sorrow. Overwhelmed with grief, and with the emotions that memory had so suddenly wakened, this was the only welcome they could give him. On swept the train till it entered the church; and as the coffin passed through the door, heralded by the Prince de Joinville with his drawn sword in his hand, the immense throng involuntarily rose, and a murmur more expressive than words filled the house. The King descended from his throne to meet it, and the aged Moncey, who had hitherto sat immovable and dumb, the mere "phantom of a soldier," suddenly struggled to rise. The soul awakened from its torpor, and the dying veteran knew that Napoleon was before him. But his strength failed him; with a feeble effort he sank back in his chair, while a flash of emotion shot over his wan and wasted visage like a sunbeam, and his eye kindled a moment in recollection. It was a striking spectacle—that silent coffin and that old marshal together. Nothing could be more appropriate, either, than this reception of Napoleon's body. The old soldiers, and the oldest marshal of the Empire welcoming him back to a resting-place in their midst, to sleep where they could keep guard and visit his tomb.
Soon after this event Moncey died, and, his only son being dead, his title of Duke of Cornegliano was conferred on M. Duchene, who married his only surviving daughter.
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