Napoleonic Literature
Napoleon and His Marshals - Vol. II
Chapter XVI
MARSHAL BRUNE

His Early Life— A Jacobin in the Revolution— Patronized by Danton— First Campaign in Italy— Commander-in-chief in Switzerland— Repels the Invasion of the English and Russians of Holland— Commands the Army in Italy— His Disgrace— His Tragical Death.


    MARSHAL BRUNE is here introduced not so much for the services be rendered Napoleon, or for his achievements in battle, as to make the list of marshals created by Bonaparte complete. The only ones omitted in this work are Kellerman, Serrurier, and Perignon, and they are left out because their titles were purely honorary, and they took little or no part in the events that make up the history of France under Napoleon. Covered with honorable scars, and respected by both friends and foes, they occupied seats in the senate after their appointment, and passed the remainder of their lives in peaceful avocations. Hence they belong to the history of the Republic rather than to that of the Empire.
    Guillaume-Marie-Anne-Brune was born the 13th of May, 1763, at Brives-la-Gaillarde. His father was a lawyer of the place, and young Brune, was designed for the same profession. After remaining a while in his father's office he went to Paris to complete his studies. In a short time, however, he turned literary man, and wrote for a living. He published a book entitled, "A Picturesque and Sentimental Voyage in several of the Western Provinces of France."It was written both in prose and verse, and published anonymously. He soon after became proprietor of a paper devoted to the aristocracy, which he edited till the Revolution broke forth in all its fury. Being a fierce republican he plunged headlong into the agitation and excitement of those times. Enrolled in the National Guard, his fine figure, martial bearing, and ardent patriotism soon made him conspicuous. A full-blooded Jacobin, he attended all the meetings of the club—took a part in their intrigues, and was foremost in all their acts of violence. At the revolt of Champ de Mars his press was seized, and he himself thrown into prison. But as the indiscriminate sword of popular vengeance was about to descend on his head Danton interposed and effected his deliverance. Out of gratitude to his benefactor, he immediately swore fidelity to his interests, and became a willing instrument in his hand to carry out all the bloody measures of the Jacobins.
    Promoted to the rank of adjutant in a battalion of volunteers, he continued in the army until the fatal 10th of August, and overthrow of royalty, when he returned to Paris, and was made adjutant-general of the interior. This was in 1792, just before the horrid massacre of the fifth of September, when the prisons and streets of Paris ran blood. It is said that Brune was one of the agents of the Jacobins in this bloody deed, but there is no reason to believe the charge is true, though he was immediately promoted to the rank of colonel, and in that capacity joined the army under Doumouriez, in Belgium. He showed great courage as an under-officer, and throughout this miserable campaign proved himself better fitted to command than many of those who held rank above him. After the defeat at Nerwinde, and the partial disbanding of the army, he put forth great efforts to rally the troops, and succeeded so well that the government made honorable mention of him, and he was looked upon as one of the most promising young officers of the army.
    Having returned to Paris, he was sent against the federalists of Cavados, whom be soon quelled. Again returning to Paris he claimed, as a reward for his services, the office of Minister of War, but Danton soon drove that arrogant expectation from his head. To console him for his disappointment, however, he caused him to be made general of brigade. Joining the Army of the North, he fought bravely in several engagements, and soon after was sent by the Committee of Public Safety to quell the insurrection in the Gironde. He executed his mission like a Jacobin, and showed himself a fit instrument for the Terrorists. At the death of Danton, he was left for a while without employment. Barras, however, at the time he placed Bonaparte over the troops at Paris to quell the sections, gave Brune an appointment at Feydeau for the same purpose.
    After having shown great energy on the 10th of September, 1796, against the Babouvists, he joined the Army of Italy, and as a commander of a brigade under Massena, went through the remainder of the campaign with great honor to himself. Arriving at Rivoli with him, after marching the whole night, he led his brigade to the assault with great intrepidity, and was one of the most active, energetic, and brave officers in the division. He was always seen in the front lines in battle, and by his commanding form and great daring attracted the admiration of all. In the successive engagements he here in a short time passed through, seven bullets pierced his uniform without inflicting a wound. No toil seemed to exhaust, no danger daunt, and no obstacles discourage him. Young, ardent, fearless, and ambitious, he pursued his career with an energy and success that promised rapid promotion.
    At the peace of Leoben, Massena was sent to Paris with the terms of the treaty, and Brune was given the command of his division. He was soon after made general of division on the field of battle, and took the place of Augereau, when the latter also departed for Paris. After the treaty of Campio Formio, he was sent into Switzerland as commander-in-chief of the French forces there, and while Bonaparte was in Egypt, he was busy reducing the distracted and divided Helvetian States. By negotiation, promises, a good deal of deception, and some hard fighting, he at length subjugated the country. The immense treasures of Berne fell into his hands, which he pretended to send to the Directory,—without any very lucid account, however, of the amount he originally received. At all events, it so happened that he received some $150,000 as his portion of the spoils.
    After the reduction of the country, he assumed the office of legislator, and proposed divisions of states, and laws, and constitutions, in a manner that highly displeased the Directory, and he was transferred to the Army of Italy. He intrigued in Piedmont, till, in fact, he intrigued the King from his throne.
    Being recalled again he was sent to Holland to repel the invasion of England and Russia. These two powers had entered into an alliance by which the former was to furnish 13,000 and the latter 17,000 men, and make a descent on Holland for the purpose of striking a blow at France by threatening her northern provinces, and causing a diversion in favor of the armies in the Alps and on the Rhine.
    The English, under Sir Ralph Abercromby, effected a landing at Helder, but were compelled to wait the arrival of the Russians, before they could assume the offensive. General Brune, seeing the condition of the English commander, rapidly concentrated his troops and advanced to the attack, but was repulsed. The field of battle, like that of Arcola, was a collection of dikes and causeways, where everything depended on the firmness of the heads of the columns.
    At length, the reinforcements having all arrived, the whole army, amounting to 35,000 men, was placed under the command of the Duke of York, and boldly advanced in four massive columns against the republicans, posted at Alkmaer. The Russians rushed impetuously to the attack, and were at first successful, but at length, being arrested, they were driven back at the point of the bayonet in utter confusion. The English also, after a dreadful slaughter, were forced to retreat, and Brune remained master of the field, on which were strewn 7000 killed and wounded. A fortnight after, the allies, having received reinforcements, again assumed the offensive, and after an obstinate combat, in which nearly five thousand more fell, forced the French from their position. Four days subsequent to this (October 6), following up their advantage, they again made a violent assault on the French. The battle raged all day with almost equal success, and when night ended the carnage, nearly four thousand men were left on the hard-fought field.
    But reinforcements having now come up to Brune, he took the offensive, and driving the allies before him, swept them from the land, and ended victoriously this bloody campaign of two months.
    In the mean time, Bonaparte returned from Egypt, and assumed the reins of government. Brune, however, kept aloof till he saw him firmly fixed in power, and then professed acquiescence in the change. But Bonaparte distrusted his professions, and, to get rid of him, sent him into Venice to command the army there. Being in a short time superseded by Bernadotte, he was dispatched into the Grisons, and after the battle of Marengo was placed over the army in the north of Italy. Macdonald, after his passage of the Splugen, had the mortification to find himself under the orders of Brune, of whose army he was to form the left wing.
    The latter, in the mean time, was concentrating his forces in large masses on the Mincio, where the Austrians, occupying the left bank, stood ready to dispute the passage. He was hesitating what course to adopt, when the news of the victory of Hohenlinden reached the army, rousing the enthusiasm of the soldiers to the highest pitch; and they demanded eagerly to be led against the enemy.
    No longer able to restrain their ardor, he, on the 20th of December, approached the Mincio in four columns. The right, under Dupont, first got over and was hotly engaged when a dispatch from the commander-in-chief arrived, desiring him not to cross, but cover the bridge he had secured by a heavy fire of artillery. It was too late, and Dupont determined to maintain himself where he was. The enemy, however, coming down on him with an overwhelming force, he would have been driven into the river but for the timely arrival of Suchet, who commanded the center column. This brave general, hearing of the desperate condition in which he was placed, advanced, without waiting for orders, to his relief, and pouring his eager divisions over the bridge, rushed to the conflict. A moment later and Dupont would have been lost. As it was, it required all the firmness these two brave leaders possessed to hold their position against the greatly superior numbers of the enemy, The heavy cavalry came thundering on them in repeated and apparently resistless onsets, but were as often steadily hurled back. The Austrians, however, bringing up fresh troops, at length bore down before them, and were sweeping victoriously over the field when Suchet threw himself with his division in their path. The contest then became fearful. The overwhelming numbers would bear back Suchet; and then the steady valor of the latter, leading his men with leveled bayonets against the dense masses as they swept onward, would again triumph. Thus backward and forward the two armies swung in the smoke of battle, till darkness separated them. Suchet was a host in himself in this unequal conflict, and fought with a desperation that scorned superior numbers and scoffed at death.
    But even the wintry night did not long divide the enraged combatants. About midnight, Suchet and Dupont saw by the fitful light of the cold moon, as it now and then broke through the tempestuous clouds, two dark and massive columns moving in dead silence on their entrenchments. Suddenly the very ground seemed to open with fire, and artillery and musketry, flashing through the gloom, lit up the banks of the Mincio, like noonday. The shattered columns of the enemy, arrested before the destructive storm that received them, at length, after vainly endeavoring to bear up, turned and fled.
    During all this bloody conflict, Brune remained inactive. Not having designed originally to effect a passage where Dupont and Suchet had crossed, he could not consent to abandon his first project, and did not. He acted without judgment in this, and was severely censured by Napoleon. He was, however, able to carry the army over, as the Austrians had already been beaten the day before.
    Following up his victory, he pressed on after the enemy, who now, defeated at every point, requested an armistice. Brune consented, and a convention was called, but in arranging the terms he agreed to give up Mantua, the very fortress of all others which Bonaparte wished to hold. This so enraged the latter, that he for a long time would not entrust him with any important command. This, in reality, ended his military career, although he afterwards commanded the army of the invasion of Sweden.
    In 1802, he was sent ambassador to Turkey, where he behaved foolishly for two years, and was then recalled and made Marshal of the Empire. He had seen much service, and acquired a great reputation in the army, yet it is hard to understand why he was elevated to the rank of marshal, when there were so many, more deserving than he, passed by.
    The next year he was placed at Boulogne, to superintend some of the preparations for the invasion of England. Being, however, soon superseded by St. Cyr, be was sent to Hamburg as governor of the Hanseatic villages, and afterwards placed over a corps of the Grand Army, when there was no more fighting to be done.
    In 1807 Napoleon put him over an army of 30,000 men with directions to invade Sweden. He showed great activity and energy in this expedition, and soon brought the King to terms. But not having effected as much as was expected, or, more probably, from having compromised the dignity of Napoleon in his negotiations with the King, allowing the latter to treat his title of Emperor with neglect, and conducting himself foolishly throughout, he was permanently disgraced. His rapacity may also have had something to do with it; at all events this Marshal of France, in the very heat and crisis of the continental struggle, was sent to preside over the electoral college in the department of Ercaut. Bonaparte could not have shown his contempt for the man more effectually than by this appointment.
    Brune, now laid aside forever, began to fear he should lose his estates too, and commenced playing the sycophant both to the Emperor and to Berthier. He continued, however, unmolested, while years of great events rolled by; and when at length Napoleon abdicated, he gave in his adhesion to Louis XVIII., and was honored by him with the Cross of St. Louis. The Bourbon seemed to take Bonaparte's measurement of men in graduating his honors, and this miserable bauble was all the degraded marshal could obtain.
    Mortified and indignant, he hailed with delight the return of the Emperor from Elba, and was placed by him over the corps of observation at Var. Acting the tyrant and Jacobin here, he ravaged the provinces, and enraged the royalists, and gathered a storm which was soon to burst on his own head.
    On the second abdication, Brune threw up his command and hastened to Paris. At Aix the people assembled to mob him, but the Austrian soldiers prevented them from executing their design. From thence he went to Avignon, though warned of the consequences, as the town was the scene of frightful disorder and violence. He, however, would not be dissuaded from his purpose, nor even change his military dress, and with two of his aid-de-camps drove boldly into the place, and alighting at the hotel, ordered his dinner. After remaining an hour, he again entered his carriage, and was about to drive away, when a hundred or more of the populace gathered around him and blocked his passage. Stones were hurled into his carriage; and, amid curses, shouts, and cries of vengeance, he was forced back to the hotel. The enraged mob, increasing every moment, swarmed in a confused mass around the house, and demanded the head of him who they declared was the assassin of Madame Lamballe.*  The gens d'armes endeavored to quell the tumult, but not being seconded by the national guard, they finally retired from the scene. The prefect of the place then interposed, but in vain; and the mayor at length placed himself at the head of a detachment of the national guard, and defended the gate of the hotel. But the infuriated mob would not be deprived of their prey, and mounting the walls in the rear of the hotel, and passing along the tops of the neighboring houses, finally penetrated into the chamber of the unfortunate marshal. One of the leaders, a young man, then accused him of the murder of the princess. He denied the charge with scorn, declaring that be had never slain any one but on the field of battle. He saw, however, that his hour had come, and that he was to expect no mercy from the hands of the assassins. He had seen too many mobs in Paris to be deceived with false hopes, and he asked for paper that he might write his will, and for his arms, that he might put an end to his own life. Both requests were refused. His will was doubtless already made, and as for his arms, if he had but once got them in his possession he would have made wild work with the rabble. He was a determined man, and his chamber would have flowed in blood, and more than one soul gone to the next world before he would have been taken.
    But finding it was all over with him, he drew himself up haughtily, and received a pistol ball without falling. He dropped at the second fire, when a rope was immediately placed around his neck, and he was dragged down the stairs and over the pavement, mangled and torn, to the brink of the river. The mob then drew up in front of the lifeless body and fired five volleys, ten shots in the volley, into it. While this revolting scene was enacted on the banks of the Rhone, a troop of women, in the hotel, were dancing in horrid mirth around the blood-spots in the apartment where the murdered marshal fell.
    The mangled body was left on the shore of the river, and that tall and martial form, that had so often moved in the front rank of battle, in the strength and pride of a victor, was covered with dirt and gore—the clotted hair wrapped around the pallid features, and the brilliant uniform torn and soiled by the hands of assassins. But, still, vengeance was not satisfied. As the corpse was borne, by order of the town authorities, to the place of sepulture, the mob rushed upon the procession, and wresting it away, returned, and cast it into the river. The current threw it back upon the shore, and there it lay for two days unburied, while crowds came and looked upon it; yet none dared to give it a burial.
    In 1819 his wife endeavored to bring the assassins to justice but royalists were not eager either to avenge a dead republican general, or involve themselves in a difficulty with the people of Avignon for the sake of his wife.
    Brune is an evidence that the French Marshals were something more than brave men—mere instruments in the hands of Napoleon. With undoubted courage, he still possessed so little ability, that he could not hold the place to which he was entitled by his rank. He was tried and abandoned like a worthless vessel, and that too, when Napoleon needed all the military talent he could command. All men commit errors, and must now and then suffer defeats, and the French marshals did not escape the common lot of mortals. They, however, still retained their places, while Brune was disgraced. Augereau, another weak-headed man, was trusted but slightly in great emergencies. Those on whom Napoleon leaned, were many of them one-sided men, yet they possessed great mental power, as well as physical energy.

=========



* This unfortunate princess was the friend of the queen, and one of the most beautiful women of the French court. She was a prisoner in the Abbey when this massacre commenced, and was brought forth to share the fate of those who had been murdered before her. At the spectacle that met her eyes, as she was led out, she fainted, and hardly recovered before a sword-cut laid open her head behind. She fainted again, and on reviving was forced to walk between two half-naked monsters over a heap of corpses, and was finally speared upon them. Her body was then stripped and exposed for two hours to every insult that human depravity could invent, and then one leg torn off and thrust into a cannon, which was fired off in honor of this saturnalia of hell. Still unsatisfied, the infuriated mob cut off her head, and thrusting a pike through it bore it aloft, the auburn tresses clotted with blood streaming down the staff, and thus they swung it through the crowd, amid shouts, and songs, and blasphemies.
    There is no evidence that Brune took any part in this horrid affair.  Return to paragraph text.

(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.)