Napoleonic Literature
Napoleon and His Marshals - Vol. II
Chapter XXIII

His Bravery and Capture at Novi— His Desperate Charge at Raab— At Wagram— At Borodino— Commands the Sacred Squadron— Gallant Charge at Vaux Champs— His Conduct at Waterloo.

    GROUCHY'S bad management at the battle of Waterloo has ruined his fame and placed him in an unenviable position before the world. In the intense excitement the final overthrow of Napoleon created, Grouchy's name became the theme of universal obloquy, and he was accused of weakness, want of energy, and, finally, of having sold France to the allies. It is true, English historians, with that liberality they always show toward those enemies who, through treachery or weakness, injured the cause of Napoleon, have endeavored to defend him, not only against the charge of treason, but also of inefficiency. Indeed, to throw much blame on him would be to confess that the victory of Waterloo was owing more to accident than to skill.
Still Emmanuel Grouchy was a brave man, and through a long and honorable career sustained the reputation of an able commander. A count of the ancient régime, he was born at Paris in 1776 [1766], and entered the service when only fourteen years of age. At nineteen he was an officer in the King's body-guard, but threw up his commission at the breaking out of the Revolution, and joined the cause of the people, and was made colonel of a regiment of dragoons. Soon after, however, the Republican government decreed that no person of noble birth should hold any rank in the army, and he was left without employment. He retired into the country awhile, but, becoming weary of his inactive life, entered the National Guards as a private, and fought against the Vendéans. He seemed to have joined the cause of freedom sincerely, and said, "Though I am not allowed to fight at the head of the Republican phalanxes, they cannot prevent me from shedding my blood in the cause of the people." In 1792, however, he was reinstated in his former rank of commander of a regiment of dragoons, and the next year was placed at the head of all the cavalry in Savoy and the Alps. In the campaign of 1794, against the Vendéans, be distinguished himself, especially at Québeron, where he attacked and defeated the emigrants; and the next year he was made general of division.
    In 1796 he was joined to the expedition under Hoche, to aid the Irish in their attempts to recover their liberty. The fleet was dispersed by a storm, and only a portion of it reached Bantry Bay, yet still Grouchy, with only 6000 men under his command, was willing to land, but was overruled by Admiral Bouvet, and the expedition abandoned. In 1798, he was sent into Piedmont as commander-in-chief of the forces there, and took possession of the country, and the next year fought gallantly at the disastrous battle of Novi.
    A short time previous to this engagement, Joubert was appointed to supersede Moreau in the command of the dispirited Army of Italy, which had met with nothing but defeat since Bonaparte's departure for Egypt. Just married, he left his young wife, saying, "You will see me again either dead or victorious." With his utmost efforts he could muster but 40,000 men to resist Suwarrow, marching against him with 60,000 victorious troops. Forced to accept battle at Novi, he struggled nobly against this overwhelming force, and strained every nerve to save his army and secure a victory.
    The French were formed in a semicircle on the slopes of Monte Rotondo, which commands the whole plain of Novi. Grouchy commanded a division on the left, and was the first engaged. Joubert fell at the commencement of the fight, and as the charging battalions rushed over him as he lay dying, and hesitated whether to advance, he shouted faintly forth, "Forward, my lads! forward!" The battle raged with frightful carnage during the hot August day, and the Russians were again and again repulsed; but the invincible Suwarrow, dressed in his usual costume, in his shirt down to the waist, kept pouring his strong legions into the battle, until at length Moreau, who had succeeded in the command, ordered a retreat. Grouchy had fought with the most obstinate courage during the day, and, though wounded, still led his columns again and again to the charge. Foremost in the fight he moved undauntedly through the hottest of the fire, cheering on his men by his enthusiastic appeals, and still more by his heroic example. Once, his troops reeling back from the shock, he threw himself at their head, and seizing a standard cried, "Forward!" and drove headlong on the foe. The standard being wrenched from his hand in the close and fierce struggle, he took off his helmet, and lifting it on his sabre over his head, continued to advance, when be was wounded and overthrown, and trampled under foot. Extricating himself from the dying mass amid which he lay, he again put himself at the head of his followers, and rushed to the charge.
    In retreating, in obedience to the orders of Moreau, he was opposed to a succession of heavy onsets, against which his men could with difficulty bear up; and, to complete his overthrow, a Russian battalion crept around into a ravine, and poured their unexhausted fire on his exhausted troops in the rear. This threw them into disorder, and artillery, infantry, and cavalry disbanded and fled in wild confusion over the fields. Grouchy, though severely wounded, bravely attempted, with Perignon, to stem the tide; and, rallying a few followers, again charged on the overwhelming numbers that were sweeping over the broken ranks. Again overthrown, and almost cut to pieces, he was made prisoner, having received six sabre wounds. Nothing but the most desperate hand-to-hand fighting could have caused him to receive so many sword-cuts, and he this day proved himself worthy to command the troops that had fought under Napoleon.
    His wounds would have proved mortal but for the kindness of the Grand Duke Constantine, who sent him his private physician, and made his own domestics attend upon him. After four months of suffering, he recovered his health, and in the exchanges that followed the battle of Marengo was restored to the army, and joined Moreau, then combating on the banks of the Rhine. He was present at the battle of Hohenlinden, and was one of the chief actors in that great tragedy. Struggling side by side with Ney, his actions were not eclipsed by those even of "The bravest of the brave."


    The Iser and the Inn, as they flow from the Alps toward the Danube, move nearly in parallel lines, and nearly forty miles apart. As they approach the river the space between them becomes one elevated plain, covered chiefly with a sombre, dark pine forest, crossed by two roads only, while the mere country paths that wind through it here and there give no space to marching columns. Moreau had advanced across this forest to the Inn, where, on the 1st of December, he was attacked and forced to retrace his steps, and take up his position on the farther side, at the village of Hohenlinden. Here, where ore of the great roads debouched from the woods he placed Ney and Grouchy.
    The Austrians, in four massive columns, plunged into this gloomy wilderness, designing to meet in the open plain of Hohenlinden—the central column marching along the high road, while those on either side made their way through, amid the trees, as they best could.
    It was a stormy December morning when those 70,000 men were swallowed from sight in the dark defiles of Hohenlinden. The day before it had rained heavily, and the roads were almost impassable; but now a furious snowstorm darkened the heavens and covered the ground with one white, unbroken surface. The by-paths were blotted out, and the sighing pines overhead drooped with their snowy burdens above the ranks, or shook them down on the heads of the soldiers, as the artillery wheels smote against their trunks. It was a strange spectacle, those long dark columns, out of sight of each other, stretching through the dreary forest by themselves; while the failing snow, sifting over the ranks, made the unmarked way still more solitary. The soft and yielding mass broke the tread of the advancing hosts, while the artillery and ammunition and baggage wagons gave forth a muffled sound, that seemed prophetic of some mournful catastrophe. The center column alone had a hundred cannon in its train, while behind these were five hundred wagons—the whole closed up by the slowly moving cavalry. Thus marching, it came about nine o'clock upon Hohenlinden, and attempted to debouch into the plain, when Grouchy fell upon it with such fury that it was forced back into the woods. In a moment the old forest was alive with echoes, and its gloomy recesses illumined with the blaze of artillery. Grouchy, Grandjean and Ney put forth incredible efforts to keep this immense force from deploying into the open field. The two former struggled with the energy of desperation to hold their ground, and although the soldiers could not see the enemy's lines, the storm was so thick, yet they took aim at the flashes that issued from the wood, and thus the two armies fought. The pine trees were cut in two like reeds by the artillery, and fell with a crash on the Austrian columns, while the fresh-fallen snow turned red with the flowing blood. In the mean time Richenpanse, who had been sent by a circuitous route with a single division to attack the enemy's rear, had accomplished his mission. Though his division had been cut in two, and irretrievably separated by the Austrian left wing, the brave general continued to advance, and with only 3000 men fell boldly on 40,000 Austrians. As soon as Moreau heard the sound of his cannon through the forest, and saw the alarm it spread amid the enemy's ranks, he ordered Ney and Grouchy to charge full on the Austrian centre. Checked, then overthrown, that broken column was rolled back in disorder, and utterly routed. Campbell, the poet, stood in a tower and gazed on this terrible scene, and in the midst of the fight composed, in part, that stirring ode which is known as far as the English language is spoken.
    The depths of the dark forest swallowed the struggling hosts from sight; but still there issued forth from its bosom shouts and yells, mingled with the thunder of cannon and all the confused noise of battle. The Austrians were utterly routed, and the frightened cavalry went plunging through the crowds of fugitives into the wood—the artillerymen cut their traces, and, leaving their guns behind, mounted their horses and galloped away—and that magnificent column, as sent by some violent explosion, was hurled in shattered fragments on every side. For miles the white ground was sprinkled with dead bodies, and when the battle left the forest, and the pine-trees again stood calm and silent in the wintry night, piercing cries and groans issued out of the gloom in every direction—sufferer answering sufferer as he lay and writhed on the cold snow. Twenty thousand men were scattered there amid the trees, while broken carriages and wagons, and deserted guns, spread a perfect wreck around.
    Soon after this decisive battle, peace was proclaimed, and Grouchy returned to Paris, and was appointed inspector-general of cavalry. Here be remained several years, and during the trial of Moreau rather took sides with his old commander; for he had fought by his side at Novi, and in the forests of Hohenlinden, and could not bear to see him disgraced. Napoleon, however, retained him in command, though be did not honor him with those places of trust to which his long services entitled him.
    But in 1807, at the battle of Friedland, he was put over the cavalry of the left wing, and charged with his accustomed impetuosity, rendering efficient aid in securing the victory. He soon after, in reward for his bravery, was named Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honor, made Count of the Empire, and Commander of the Iron Crown. The next year he was sent with Murat into Spain, and in the insurrection in Madrid—the commencement of the Spanish war—he had a horse shot under him while charging on the mob. After the riot was quelled, Murat, enraged at the slaughter of his troops by the populace, ordered all the prisoners to be tried by a military commission and shot. Grouchy was president of this court, and is accused of having put forty to death after orders had been received to stop the execution; but the charge has never yet been substantiated.
    In 1809 he was sent into Italy, and, after fighting bravely under Eugene, passed with him into Hungary, and helped to gain the battle of Raab. This action took place on the 1st of June, the anniversary of the battle of Marengo, and both armies were anxious to commemorate it—the one to wipe out its disgrace, and the other to add to its glory. The Austrians were 45,000 strong, while the French had only 35,000. The conflict from the commencement was fierce and close; and around the center victory for a long time wavered to and fro. One moment the Austrians would be driving the French before them with victorious shouts, and the next moment sallying back under the fierce onsets that met them. Thus the battle raged with changing success, till at length the French yielded, and the Austrians and Hungarians, carried away by the excitement of the moment, advanced rapidly, and too far, for the purpose of outflanking them. The French generals immediately took advantage of the error, and closed on them in a dense column, which rolled the disordered mass before it as a resistless current beats back the waves from the shore.
    Grouchy and Montbrun commanded the right wing, the former having charge of the heavy dragoons, and were compelled to sustain the whole weight of the Hungarian cavalry, 7,000 strong. When this formidable body of horse put itself in motion, and came thundering down on the French lines, it threatened to crush everything before it. Montbrun's division was broken into fragments, and those fierce horsemen swept onward, trampling down the helpless ranks with resistless power, and sending dismay over the field. At this crisis, Grouchy ordered his terrible cuirassiers to advance, and sounded the charge. Their flashing helmets and glittering sabres were one moment seen above the dark mass below, like the foam on the crest of the wave, and the next moment driving furiously through the shattered squadrons that attempted to stay their progress.
    The Austrians were routed, and Eugene hurried on his victorious troops to the Danube, where Napoleon lay with his defeated army, in the island of Lobau. In the battle of Wagram which immediately followed, Grouchy sustained his hard-earned reputation. In the attack on Neusiedel, he, with Montbrun and Arighi, commanded 10,000 horse, and made fearful havoc with the enemy's ranks. Friant and Morand, the heroes of Auerstadt, boldly mounted the heights in the face of a wasting fire, and, after a furious contest, reached the plateau. It was then the Austrian cavalry came down on the heavy-armed. cuirassiers of Grouchy with their tremendous onset. Again and again did these two powerful bodies of horse meet in full career, and as often were the Austrians broken and rolled back, till at length, heavy reinforcements coming up, they rallied and charged again, and drove the now exhausted Grouchy, whose horses were blown in the long encounter, before them in confusion. Just then Montbrun rushed to the rescue, and by a gallant charge again turned the tide of success.
    During this protracted and doubtful contest, Grouchy cast himself fearlessly into every danger, and rode sternly and fiercely at the head of his squadrons, and by his cheering and enthusiastic words carried his men again and again to the shock, with an impetuosity and daring worthy of Murat. He acted over again his great deeds at Novi, and seemed determined to fall on the field or win the victory.
    His bravery on the plateau of Neusiedel, where Davoust struggled so bravely to redeem the day, should cover a multitude of sins.
    Three years after this he was joined to the Russian expedition, and went through it with honor. He commanded the cavalry on the extreme left, at the battle of Borodino, and after Caulincourt had fallen at the head of his cuirassiers, whose charge nothing could withstand, he hurled his own cavalry in overwhelming power on the enemy, till at length, struck by a ball, he was borne wounded from the field. During the progress of the fatal retreat of the Grand Army from Moscow, the cavalry all disappeared, as well as the different corps of infantry, and Grouchy, among, a multitude of officers, was left without a command, and like a common soldier rode amid the cloud of fugitives, as they slowly swept forward through the dreary winter, toward the Beresina. He had fought, endured, and suffered, and seen with sad forbodings the mighty army lie down to die in the snow, yet still, amid the utter wreck of all things, his good steed was left him, on whose back he toiled through the wilderness. The magnificent cavalry were buried in the snow-hills and as the splendid wreck slowly drifted through the storm into the dark forest that spread away from the banks of the Beresina, Napoleon gathered around him all the mounted officers that remained, and formed them into one company, which be called "the sacred squadron." Over this stern band, composed of five hundred officers, Grouchy was placed as commander. Generals of division were made captains, generals of brigades and captains common dragoons, and all poorly mounted at the best. The specific duty of this sacred squadron was to guard the person of the Emperor—and as he plunged into the gloomy forest of Minsk, already alive with the columns of the enemy, Grouchy closed around him with this devoted band. Holding the Emperor in sacred trust, it moved on toward the Beresina, and toward apparent destruction, in stern silence. It enfolded him on the banks of the river, and cleared a terrible path through the distracted crowds over the bridge that, spanning the river, formed the only hope of the army; and through the wild night that followed, kept watch around his frozen tent.
    It was dissolved when Napoleon left the army for Paris, and Grouchy once more mingled in the throng that composed the Grand Army.
    After this, for some cause or other, he lost the favor of the Emperor, and remained idle while the world was ringing with the deeds wrought on the fields of Bautzen, Lutzen, Dresden, and Leipsic.
    In the last struggle, however, of Napoleon, on the soil of France, he was again given a command, and fought with his accustomed bravery. At Brienne be charged with the same desperate valor he did at Novi, and in the retreat of the Russians from the battle-field of Vauxchamps [sic] came near taking Blucher prisoner. While Bonaparte was pressing the retiring column in rear, he ordered Grouchy, with 3000 horse, to make a circuit round the village of Champ Aubert, and take possession of the road beyond, before the enemy could arrive. In a moment those splendid horsemen were clattering through the fields, and after an hour's hard riding found themselves two miles in advance of the Prussian army. Blucher was mowing his way through an enemy that pressed with increased vigor on his weary columns, leaving a bloody pathway behind him, and had got within a half-mile of Etoges, where his greatest danger would cease, when all at once, as he ascended a slight eminence in the road, he saw before him Grouchy's fierce horsemen drawn up in order of battle. The sun was just sinking behind the western hills, and its farewell beams fell full on the glittering helmets of the cuirassiers before him, revealing the destruction that awaited him. His fate now seemed sealed, for, blocked in front and rear, while his flanks were constantly ravaged by the enemy, he could see no way of escape. Disdaining, however, to yield, he stood for a while in front of his men waiting for a shot to strike him down; but aroused at length from his despair by the expostulations of his friends, he gave orders to march straight on that mass of cavalry. Closing up his column, and placing the cannon at its head, he moved sternly forward. Grouchy stood for a while, and let the balls mow down his riders, and then charged fiercely up to the very muzzles of the guns. Had his horse-artillery been with him he would have taken the entire army prisoners, but, impeded by the mud through which the drivers were compelled to drag their pieces, it had not yet arrived, and he had nothing but his naked horsemen with which to resist the onset. Compelled to fall back, he let the heroic column march forward; but, enraged to see his enemy thus escape his grasp, he fell on their flanks and rear with such fury that the last square gave way, and were cut to pieces. He rode like a demon through their broken ranks, and sabred down two battalions—took ten entire regiments prisoners, and, following up his success, continued the work of carnage till ten o'clock at night, when he drew off his troops.
    Through all this melancholy struggle—in this last convulsive throe of the Empire, he exhibited his noblest qualities, and finally at Craon fell severely wounded.
    0n the abdication of Napoleon, Louis XVIII. allowed him to retain his titles and rank. He, however, appointed the Duke of Berri to the command of the Chasseurs in his place, which so exasperated him that his after-allegiance was but ungraciously kept. The monarch, however, made him knight, and afterward commander, of the Order of St. Louis; still, on Napoleon's return from Elba, he hastened to give in his adherence, and was immediately entrusted with the command of three military divisions, and appointed governor of Lyons. On his arrival in the city, be issued a proclamation in favor of Napoleon, calling on the National Guard to rally around their old Emperor. For his zeal and energy he was made Marshal of the Empire. This long-withheld honor was never deserved, for Grouchy, with all his bravery, did not possess the qualities belonging to a great commander.
    In his new capacity, he soon after accompanied Napoleon to Belgium. He commanded the right wing at the battle of Ligny, in which Blucher was defeated, and was left with 35,000 men to watch his movements, while Napoleon should attack the English at Waterloo. Stationed at Wavres, his orders were explicit, his duty a simple one, viz., to prevent Blucher from succoring Wellington; but be failed to perform them, and Napoleon lost the battle. There has been a vast deal written about the management of Grouchy on this day, and more uncertainty than really exists thrown over the whole affair by English writers, in endeavoring to prove that Wellington did not owe his success to an accident. The French, on the other hand, have accused him of treachery: but the truth is, he designed to do his duty—for, fighting as he did, with a rope round his neck, he was not likely to put it purposely in the hands of his enemies. Still he failed egregiously: he was to keep watch of Blucher, and yet Blucher marched on Waterloo without his knowledge. The latter was a defeated general, and yet he carried heavy reinforcements to Wellington, while Grouchy did not send a man to Napoleon. Both heard the tremendous cannonading that told where the great struggle was going on, and one hastened to turn the scale of victory, while the other remained at his post. Even if Blucher had not stirred, if Grouchy had been an able general he would have dispatched some divisions to the field of battle, while with the remainder he kept the Prussians at bay. The Prussian general did this, and in it showed his ability as a commander. But if he had failed in this stroke of policy, he should never have allowed the very army he was appointed to watch, to march away from him unmolested. The only excuse for him is, he obeyed orders. But he did not obey orders. It is a miserable shuffling to declare he obeyed implicitly the directions given him, because he continued his maneuvers at Wavres, when the only person they were designed to affect had departed for Waterloo.
    English writers would have us believe Grouchy acted the part of a faithful officer, simply because he stayed where he was told to. A thousand changes are rung on the words, "he obeyed orders." By this mode of construction, he would have been an equally faithful officer—performed his duty just as faithfully, had he quietly bivouacked his army at Wavres, while the Prussian columns, one and all, were marching to join Wellington. He should not have stirred though he had been left without an enemy to oppose him, unless he had received orders to move. It would be just as reasonable to say that he performed his duty if he had stayed at Wavres when the hostile army had all gone, as to declare he performed it in remaining, when forty or fifty thousand had left. He was not wanted there if he could not keep Blucher from forming a junction with Wellington; and to remain was simply to carry out the letter of his orders, and neglect entirely their spirit. The generals under him knew their duty better, and besought him to let them march their divisions to the spot where the heavy and incessant thunder of cannon told that the decisive battle was passing; but he refused his permission. They did not wish for orders, for they knew if Bonaparte was acquainted with the state of affairs, they would be given soon enough. There is one thing, however, which needs clearing up. Napoleon declared, when a prisoner at St. Helena, that he dispatched an order to Grouchy the night before the battle, to occupy a defile which would have obstructed the march of Blucher on Waterloo, which order Grouchy asserts he never received. In speaking of it, Napoleon remarked that he must have had some traitor in his staff, and it is very probable this was the case, and Blucher, and not Grouchy, received the important tidings he had sent. But even if this were so, still he showed great weakness of character in the course he adopted. The truth is, he was not an able officer. A brave fighter and a good general when acting under immediate orders, he was not equal to a separate command, and never would have been entrusted with the great interests he was had the marshals who had grown up around Napoleon been with him in this last struggle.
    Nothing can show the imbecility of Grouchy more than a remark he once made at a dinner-table in New York city, in company with several exiled French generals. In speaking of their old campaigns, one of the generals turned to Grouchy and said: "How is it Marshal Grouchy, that you did not, when you heard the heavy cannonading at Waterloo, leave Blucher and march thither?" "Why," replied the other, "you see if I had, Blucher might have marched on Paris." The idea of Blucher's marching on Paris, with Napoleon at his back, was too ludicrous even for the politeness of Grouchy's friends, and they could not refrain a smile at the reply. General Vandamme, who was present at the table, immediately said, "I wanted to go with my division, but Grouchy would not let me, and when I insisted, he threatened to treat me as an insubordinate officer."
    Grouchy wanted the energy and self-reliance of a strong  character—there was a lightness and frivolity about him, incompatible with a vigorous mind. He lacked judgment entirely, and though his charge was brilliant, his comprehension was anything but clear. He failed miserably, fatally failed at Waterloo, but he was not guilty of treachery. The only charge that can be brought against him is that of incapacity. He failed through weakness, not from design—but what a failure it was. The destiny of Europe hung on the feeble intellect of a single man, and his sluggish arm in its tardy movements swept crowns and thrones before it—overturned one of the mightiest spirits the world ever nurtured, and set back the day of Europe's final emancipation half a century. It is painful to see how the plans of the loftiest mind, its best combinations, and the hopes of an entire nation are sometimes, from circumstances, made to hinge on the determination of a weak or careless man.
    After the defeat at Waterloo, Grouchy retreated to Laon, where he arrived with 32,000 men and over a hundred cannon. On the second abdication of Napoleon he came to the United States and remained here several years. Being at length allowed to return, he was restored to his rank, and given a seat in the Chamber of Peers. He is still living, though at the advanced age of eighty.
    It is a little singular, that the two generals who inflicted the greatest disasters on Napoleon were both of noble parentage. Nearly every marshal was born of poor parents, and rose from the ranks, except Marmont and Grouchy—and the former hurled him from his throne at Paris and the latter at Waterloo.

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