Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
THE Revolution made giant
strides; war seemed imminent, and I was recalled to my regiment.
Hostilities broke out at the beginning of 1792. Beurnonville received a
command, and took me as his aide-de-camp.
There had been
considerable emigration among the officers of the army, and particularly
among those of my regiment. Efforts were made to induce me to go, too;
but I was married, and very much attached to my wife, who was near her
confinement. These were surely good reasons! Besides, I cared nothing
The campaign opened, and
its first start was not fortunate; there was no feelings of camaraderie
and a great deal of insubordination. General Dumouriez came to take
command of the northern frontier; his headquarters were at the camp at
Maulde, then under the orders of General Beurnonville. He gave me
several commissions, which I carried out satisfactorily, and wished to
keep me near him, with the rank of Captain. Beurnonville, seeing that it
was for my interest, strongly urged me to accept. Gratitude and
friendship compelled me to refuse, and I resisted, but ended by
submitting to reiterated pressure, the more readily that he and I should
still continue in the same corps d'armée.
I will enter here into no
details of the events of the war, even so far as they concerned me
personally; they have passed into the domain of history, and to do so I
should have to write memoirs, which is not at all my intention. Perhaps
I will collect them some day, if I can find time and my papers; but now
I have too much to do, and my career has been too full to admit of my
undertaking such a lengthy task.
Some months later, General Dumouriez
received orders to join the Army of the Ardennes. He took up his
quarters at Grandpré, then at St. Menehould, called VALMY, or Camp de la
Lune. The Prussians attacked him there; he resisted; the enemy retired.
[Had the Marshal, who wrote very rapidly and never re-read what he had
written, looked over this brief but pithy passage, he would doubtless
have found more to say concerning the Argonne campaign.] I was not
forgotten amid the numerous promotions that took place. I was made
Lieutenant - Colonel, now called Chef de batallion. General Dumouriez
left orders with Beurnonville, who was Lieutenant-General, to lead a
body to the assistance of Lille, and went himself to Paris to devise the
ulterior plan of action. I followed him thither.
After a short stay, we rejoined the army
assembled under the ramparts of Valenciennes. 'The plan decided upon in
Paris was to invade Belgium. For the execution of this enterprise the
Comander-in-chief caused reconnaissances to be made all along the
frontier, and his aides-de camp were sent to the principal points of
attack, in order to report upon the strength of the troops opposed to
him. He was to decide from these reports where to concentrate his troops
and commence the main attack. He sent me to Lille. I accompanied the
reconnoitring party sent to Tournai, and commanded by General Lamarlière.
Our men were now to meet an enemy for the
first time face to face, upon his own ground. We were not to provoke a
pitched battle ; our chief object was to gauge the strength of the enemy
by the resistance opposed to us. We were very superior to them, besides
which a strong reserve, following us at a distance, had orders to
support our movements, or to cover us in case of a repulse. This was the
last part played by this troop, commanded by Lieutenant- General la
Baurdonnaie in person; he bore the title of General-commanding, but was
subordinate to Dumouriez, who was a 'General of the Army' (Général
d'armée), a rank corresponding to that of Marshal, which title had been
abolished, though such as already bore it were allowed to keep it.
At the first shot, our reconnoitring party
broke and lied to Lille, carrying with them the panic that had seized
them. However, the enemy did not deploy more than twelve hundred men of
all arms and two pieces of cannon, and I am confident that they had no
more at that particular spot. Vainly did we try to stop our runaways;
but the enemy did not advance much, and the reserve, on being brought
up, made a good stand.
I reported the event, which was absolutely
the second Pas de 13aisieux on the frontier. [An allusion to the rout of
April 29, 1792, after which the fugitives, hurrying from Baisieux to
Lille, massacred their General Theobald Dillon.] The Generals were kind
enough to quote the efforts I had made to carry out the mission with
which I was charged, as well as my demeanour during the skirmish, and,
in truth, I was able to render some services upon this occasion. The
receipt of complete intelligence satisfied us that the enemy's forces,
commanded by Duke Albert of Saxe Teschcri, were drawn up before us in an
entrenched camp upon the heights of Mons and Berlaimont, covering the
latter town, and General Dumouriez resolved upon giving battle.
After all our
preparations were made, the army advanced and took up a position
Parallel to that of the entrenched camp. Orders were given along the
lines for a general attack at noon on the following day. Every watch was
set by that of the General in command. Feints were to be made upon the
principal points on the frontier, and at the same time. It was somewhat
late for a battle, but the plan had been regulated by the march of
General d'Harville, who was bringing 10,000 men from the camp at
Maubeuge, and was to turn Duke Albert's left wing.
A discharge from the twelve-pounder battery
announced the hour of noon. The army advanced upon the enemy, and opened
the attack with plenty of determination. [Battle of Jemmappes, November
6, 1792.] The firing became very brisk, and the resistance obstinate.
Obstacles such as entrenchments, epaulments, abattis, and chevaux de
frise, favoured the defence; they were troublesome, but not
insurmountable. However, our lines began to reel, and even to fall back.
Dumouriez was at hand with a remedy; but General d'Harville, who was to
support our right and turn the enemy's left, did not arrive,
notwithstanding repeated orders to him to hasten his march. Our left did
not advance; the General went to discover the reason, and recognised the
difficulty of forcing the Austrians' right. Our advanced guard,
commanded by Beurnonville, on the right of the line, had just been
repulsed; a second charge had produced no better result. Our centre was
stationary, and losing many men. The Due de Chartres, who was commanding
it, received orders to try to pierce that of the enemy, or so to fix
their attention as to prevent them from withdrawing any men, while, with
a few fresh troops, whom he would himself command, Dumouriez would make
another effort on his right.
I had just informed him that the head of
General d'Harville's column had appeared at last, but that he would
require some hours and a little rest before he could execute the
movement required of him, in order to turn the enemy's left from the
formidable position it occupied. Dumouriez left me with the Due de
Chartres, who desired me to bring him a regiment of dragoons left in
reserve. While this regiment was coming up, we saw Dumouriez and
Beurnonyule rush forward at the head of the advanced guard, and, after a
feeble resistance on the part of the Austrians, we saw our men crowning
the heights. This rapid and decisive attack, coupled with the advance of
D'Harville on our extreme right, appeared to decide the enemy to
retreat, as they did not wish to expose themselves to having the road to
Brussels closed against them, an operation which was clearly indicated
by the movement of this body. The 1)uc de Chartres, as soon as he
perceived the progress and success of the advanced guard, ordered his
troops to charge. The positions so long defended were overcome, and I
myself led the regiment of dragoons at a gallop to the heights, where
they still found some work to do; but we only entered Mons the next day,
after the Austrians had evacuated it.
During the battle, Beurnonville received
orders summoning him to take command of the Army of the Moselle.
Dumouriez, who had appointed him Lieutenant-General, and hoped to keep
him with his army, was displeased at this arrangement, and I was very
vexed at it. However, there was nothing for it but to obey, and
Beurnonville took leave of us, promising not to forget me.
The army continued its march, skirmishing as
it went, and took up winter quarters on the Meuse and the Roër, instead
of pushing on to the Rhine. Dumouriez started for Paris, permitting me
to accompany him. He only remained there long enough to plan the
invasion of Holland, and prolonged my leave.
While 1)umouriez was
subduing the fortresses on the Dutch frontier, the army left on the Roër
and Meuse was surprised in its cantonments, and sought to rally on the
hitherward side of Liege. I)umouriez received orders to hasten there.
All officers on leave were ordered to join, and I was preparing for my
departure, when I learned that Beurnonville had arrived in Paris, and
had been appointed War Minister. I went to see and take my leave of him;
but he retained me, and a few days later presented me with an
appointment as Colonel of the Picardy regiment. Two important promotions
in six months surely ought to have satisfied the most boundless ambition
I had no right to expect such a rapid rise, and was consequently the
proudest and happiest man in the world. I could only hope, supposing
that there had been any favouritism or any friendship on the part of
Beurnonville, that the regiment I was about to command would not find me
unworthy of such a rank, especially as it was one of those that I had
supported during our reconnoitring expedition near TournaI.
We soon had news of the loss of the battle
of Neerwinde, and of Dumouriez's retreat. His enemies declared that
treason had been at work; from that moment he was lost, and the
important services he had rendered in Champagne, Flanders, and Belgium
were forgotten. Such is the fate of men who serve revolutions! Mine only
hung by a thread.
Scarcely had I crossed our frontier when I met bands of fugitives
returning to France, and screaming national songs at the top of their
voices. I reached Brussels, where I found the staff not yet recovered
from the confusion consequent upon the loss of the battle. No one knew
whither the troops had betaken themselves, especially the Picardy
regiment. Durnouriez was covering the army, of what remained of it, with
the rear-guard, which was on its way back from Louvain, so I waited for
him. Some hours later I was told that an officer had come from my
regiment for orders; I sent it into temporary quarters in the
neighbourhood of Tournai.
I saw Dumouriez on his arrival. He
reproached me, as he had previously done Beurnonville, with having
abandoned him. I answered that the friendship of the latter for me had
caused him to reward and encourage some small efforts on my part, and
that no doubt, under more fortunate circumstances, he (Dumouriez) would
have obtained an appointment for me. I added that I was not abandoning
him, as my regiment formed a part of his army. This reasoning soothed
him. He talked over our unlucky position with me, begging me to hasten
to my post, and desiring me to do my utmost to keep my regiment
together, and to preserve it from the bad influences caused by the
disorder into which everything had been thrown. I embraced him, and
departed; each of us had tears in his eyes. Little did we think that
this was our last farewell.
I reached my quarters, and made myself
known, to the indignation of a Lieutenant-Colonel, who exclaimed to all
who would listen to him that the most outrageous injustice had been done
him by the appointment of a superior officer. He asked for leave, which
I granted him, and he never reappeared.
As our retrograde movement continued, we did
not stop till we were once more on our own territory. General
Miaczinski's brigade, to which I belonged, came to Orchies. I was struck
by the half-heartedness of the enemy, who never attacked us.
A few days later, while at dinner, a
corporal of my regiment came to tell me that the War Minister was
changing horses at the post-house, and desired to see me immediately.
Surprised at this unexpected arrival, I went to him. After embracing me,
he presented me to four Commissioners from the Convention, who
questioned me as to our retreat. I was unable to give them much
information, as I had only arrived a few days previously, a statement
which was confirmed by the Minister. They were in a hurry to go on and
fulfil their mission, the object of which was not disclosed to me. I
questioned 13curnonville, but he also was discreet; he recommended me,
however, to hold my regiment in readiness, as he would review it on his
return from the headquarters at Boues de St. Amand.
Next morning Miaczinski sent for me. I found
him in great spirits. His room was full of officers, one of whom was
reading aloud to the General a despatch that had just arrived. I
gathered simply that the War Minister and the Commissioners had been
seized and taken to Tournai. Miaczinski ordered me to have my regiment
under arms, adding that he would shortly send me further instructions.
In a few minutes an aide-de-camp brought me verbal instructions to take
command of the camp, to set the troops in motion, and march upon Lille,
whither the General would precede me. I sent forward my quarter-masters,
[Officers charged with the duty of furnishing provisions and lodgings.]
and we followed. A halt being necessary, I stopped at Pont-a-Marcq.
Fresh orders from the General desired me to hasten my advance, and we
started again. On the road, some of my officers informed me of what had
happened at St. Amand; our General had made no secret of it, and it had
gradually leaked out to the regiment. They tried to discover what I
thought; my answer was simply that we had to obey orders without
troubling ourselves about future events.
The head of the column had just reached the
Faubourg des Malades (a suburb of Lille), when I received a note from
Miaczinski ordering me to stop wherever this note reached me, to provide
refreshment for my men, and not to leave them. They had just reached the
glacis of the fortress. I ordered them to face about, according to the
regulations, and pile their arms. No victuals I sent to Lille for some.
The gates and barriers were shut, and the drawbridges raised. This
circumstance led me to the conclusion that something very unusual was
taking place in the town, seeing that the gates of a fortified town are
not shut, except for form's sake, on the arrival of a fresh garrison.
The proximity of the enemy could not account for it, for we on the
glacis were a goodly number of defenders. While I was discussing this
strange reception with some of ray officers, I was informed that a
municipal official wished to see me. I went to him, and found him in
considerable agitation. He told me that the council, assembled at the
town-hall, wished to see me. I answered by showing him the note from the
General, in which I was ordered not to leave my troops; that I presumed
that the object of this municipal invitation was to concert measures for
food and quarters; that the General was there as well as my
quartermasters; that they should address themselves to him; that I only
held the command in his absence; that I would send a Captain in my
place, who would bring me back his orders.
Our disasters, which extended the whole
length of our frontiers, and especially in the north, were all laid at
the door of the leaders, and the policy of the day was rather to
sacrifice them than to accuse the number of cowards who had brought them
into such straits. That is why Dumouriez was declared a traitor to his
country. A decree of accusation had just been issued against him. The
four Commissioners whom I have mentioned were sent to carry it out at
head-quarters, and to bring Durnouriez to the bar of the Convention.
Beurnonville was ordered to reorganize the army, of which he was to take
command. Dumuuriez, however, had been warned, and had taken such
measures that, after an excited discussion with these gentlemen, he had
caused them to be arrested and carried to Tournai. Here they were handed
over to the enemy, with whom he had made a secret treaty whereby he was
to be supported in his march upon Paris to upset the Convention.
After this coup d'etat, trusting too
implicitly upon the affection of his army, he divided it into several
columns, which were to march upon the capital from different quarters,
and, wishing at the same time to secure the northern strong- holds, he
ordered Miaczinski to take possession of them. The latter, who had a
cause of complaint against the Commissioners, who had treated him very
abruptly at Orchies on the preceding evening, because a detachment that
was to escort them was not ready at the moment they wished to start, was
enchanted at the prospect of having his revenge. He imparted his orders
and all that had happened to those who were about him, and one of these,
St. Georges, his friend, accompanied by the courier who had brought
Dumouriez's orders to Miaczinski, started immediately for Lille and
warned the authorities of the danger threatening their town, and all the
others in the department. Such were the reasons that had decided them to
shut their gates. Poor Miaczinski, urged by a double desire to avenge
himself and to lose no time in executing his orders, hastened thither,
and thus rushed blindly on his ruin. He was to have had an interview
with the general officer in command of the place, but the latter, warned
by the information of St. Georges, hastened to join the civil
authorities, who promptly took all the measures rendered necessary by
the difficult circumstances in which they were placed.
While awaiting the return of the Captain
whom I had despatched into the town, I learned the details of all that
had happened at St. Amand, and the orders that had been given in
consequence. My officer returned without any, instructions for me. Night
was coming on. The men, who had heard something of what was going on,
put various interpretations upon the news, but I paid no heed to them. I
was, however, in the utmost anxiety as to my position and that of my
men, who were loudly complaining that they had a worse reception from
their fellow- countrymen than they would have had from foreigners. They
were ravenously hungry. This state of affairs could only end in a
crisis, when they cried to us from the walls that the troops were to
march to the Faubourg de la Madeleine, where we should find rations,
tents, victuals, etc.; but that we must go round the glacis, as the
gates were not allowed to be opened.
The men accordingly started, marching in a
disorderly manner, which I could see from some distance off, but for
which I could not account, until I came close up to them, when I
discovered the reason. It was impossible to bring this multitude into
order, so I contented myself with accompanying them. On reaching the
gate of the Faubourg de Fives, we found the barrier of the glacis
closed. We summoned them to open it, but our demand was refused. A voice
from within the gate added that the Colonel of the Picardy regiment was
to come at once to the assembled council. My grenadiers mutinied, and
replied in the negative, adding that if their Colonel went they would go
too. This was refused. I had nothing to reproach myself with. I at once
determined upon going alone. The soldiers then raised very alarming
cries, declaring, among other things, that these had killed their poor
Capet (Louis XVI.), and so on. They also began to shout, 'Long live the
King!' I addressed them with severity, threatening them and pretending
that I could recognise individual voices, which frightened them; and I
then extracted from them a promise to remain quiet until my return. The
harrier was opened for me, but I was not even allowed to take with me a
servant to hold my horse.
On passing under the gateway I was
surrounded by about thirty men. The officer in charge said to me:
'Colonel, don't be afraid.'
'I have never been afraid of an enemy,' was
my answer 'why should I fear Frenchmen?'
I put several questions to him, but could
get no intelligence.
'I entered the great vestibule of the
town-hall. All the authorities were assembled. The meeting was public,
and a considerable number of inhabitants were present; profound silence
president interrogated me. His first question was as to my Christian
name and surname, rank, etc. I answered him.
'Are you in command of the troops on the
glacis of the town?'
'Yes, in the absence of General Miaczinski,
who must be here.'
I looked round for him, but failed to see him.
'By whose orders have you come?
'By those of the General I have named.'
'Can you show us his order?'
'it was given by word of mouth. We were in
camp. The General sent for me as the senior Colonel, and ordered me to
put my men under arms. I obeyed, and immediately afterwards an
aide-de-camp came and told me, on behalf of the General, to march my
troops forward to this town, whither he would precede me.'
'Did he tell you the reason for this
'What did you think?'
'That, having entered this territory,
provision was to be made to safeguard the different places, and that we
were intended to defend your town.'
'What do your men say?'
'I cannot conceal from you that they are
discontented. The grief caused by their reverses, the privations they
have endured during the retreat, their fatigues, needs, devotion, all
tended to make them anticipate help from their fellow- citizens; but,
instead, they meet only distrust. They are saying very unfitting things,
and I have had considerable difficulty in appeasing them. In order to
calm them I said that in all probability you desired to concert with me
as to the best means of satisfying their pressing wants, and that I
would not delay in bringing them good news. Unless such be the case, I
cannot answer for any disorders or excesses which they will most
I called upon the officer who had come with me, and who had witnessed my
efforts to calm the irritation of the men who had put their trust in me.
He endorsed all that I had just said, and even went beyond it.
The president, who at first had addressed me
very severely, seemed much appeased by my speech, and, when the officer
had concluded his report, said to me:
'Colonel, return to your Post; keep order
among your men. Lead them to the camp of La Madeleine; you will there
find provision for all your needs. Orders have been given that nothing
should be left unprovided.'
I saluted the assembly and returned to the
Faubourg de Fives.
'Well, my friends,' I said to the soldiers on my arrival, 'I knew that
it was simply to discuss your needs.'
They all began to cry, 'Long live the
the inconstancy of the multitude.
'Forward!' I cried; 'we shall soon find
was my disappointment and theirs! On reaching the place we found
nothing. I sent to the town, and an answer was returned from the
ramparts that it was too late that night, but that it should be attended
to in the morning. On receiving this answer, I could no longer control
my men. They broke away and dispersed, so much so that not a single
soldier was left to guard the flag of the regiment, which I myself had
to carry to the inn where I lodged.
I passed a wretched night, thinking over all
the disorder that might be brought about by such a state of things.
Fortunately, there was less of it than might have been expected; but the
town authorities were very much to blame —hunger has no ears.
Early next morning I caused the assembly to
be sounded, and a few hours later I had gathered together nearly all my
men. I was again summoned into the town, but this time I went with less
anxiety. Fearing a fresh outbreak during my absence, I ordered that the
men should remain under arms.
The meeting at the town-hall was less
crowded, but I quickly perceived that the feeling was less friendly than
it had been the previous night when I left the town. How- ever, I was
soon reassured by the advent of my friend Dupont, [It was this General
Dupont who afterwards capitulated at Baylen, and l)eCafl)e War Minister
at the first Restoration.] Adjutant-General, an old comrade in the
Maillebois regiment, charged by the authorities to settle with inc all
military details. We decided upon provisional cantonments until all that
was necessary for a camp should be distributed.
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