Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
THE next day, October 20,
at dawn, we started on our march towards the Saale. About 800 or 900
men, the remains of my army corps, had been rallied, and with these I
marched. As we were without artillery or carriages, while the roads were
encumbered with them, we marched along very easily. We crossed the river
by a covered bridge, and I encamped for the night on the opposite side.
I met Marshal Augereau, and asked him for an explanation of the order
brought to me from the Emperor by General Girardin to send a division to
his support, while I was bearing the brunt of so severe a combat in the
suburbs of Leipsic; and, further, why nobody had been found in the place
named. He replied with an oath:
'That idiot does not know
what he is about! Have you not already noticed that? Have you not
observed that he has completely lost his head in these recent events,
and in the catastrophe by which they have been followed? The coward! He
abandoned and was prepared to sacrifice us all; but do you imagine that
I am fool enough to let myself be killed or made prisoner for the sake
of a Leipsic suburb? You should have done as I did, and have gone away!
That was all I could get
out of him.
The next morning we
started again; on the road we met the provision waggons belonging to the
Imperial Guard. For myself I had not a morsel of bread. I asked for
some. The inspector or commissary in charge of the waggons made
'Your carriages are
lost,' I said, 'and will fall a prey to the enemy. - Distribute at once
your food and provisions to the troops around you.'
I at last obtained five
or six loaves from him, which I divided among my officers.
We had to recross the
Saale. A slender bridge had been thrown across for the infantry, who
precipitated themselves on to it in crowds, and caused it to give way.
Nobody took command. I spent at least two hours in trying to
re-establish order, and at last crossed over myself without having
succeeded. It was then between two and four o'clock in the afternoon ; I
was told that the principal headquarters were in a village hard by. I
saw the Emperor in front of a house, reclining in a chair. He did not
appear to see me. The Master of the Horse (Caulaincourt) beckoned me in,
and gave me a loaf of bread, a chicken, and a bottle of wine. I had not
broken my fast, and received these refreshments with avidity and
The Prince Major-General
told me that he had sent me orders to continue my march, and that a
little farther on I should find a broken bridge, which was being
repaired; I went thither. I was alone with a groom. My officers had
crossed the Saale pell-mell when I betook myself to headquarters for
further orders; they thought I was going to return. I found a company of
pontonniers and sappers at work; men on foot and led horses could pass,
but not carriages. These men had been eating some broth, and I asked if
they had any left.
'Yes,' they replied, and
brought me some. I dipped some bread into it, and ate it greedily.
After this light repast I
examined the place, and saw that no precautions had been taken to cover
the bridge under repair. It was visible from the slope of a range of
mountains, at the summit of which the enemy could place artillery and
blow it to pieces, and that of course happened.
I again crossed in order
to see if I could discover their number, and some of our skirmishers
were sent in their direction. At the first gunshot the Emperor crossed
the frail little bridge used by the workmen, and I saw him going away at
a rapid trot on the other side. A column of our troops came at last to
cover the principal bridge; before their front rank reached it I crossed
it once more, and went to headquarters.
I did not know what had
become of my little troop and my officers. I therefore remounted my
horse, and followed the marching troops. It was now quite dark, and, as
the road was blocked, we gained a bank that ran near it at the risk of
breaking our necks by falling into the ravines or ruts; at length we
reached the place where the headquarters were established. As I passed
the Emperor's house, Caulaincourt recognized me, and begged me to come
in and dine with the staffthey were just going to sit down; I accepted.
The next morning a small
advance-guard was collected for me; the enemy were scouring the country.
Late that night we reached Erfurt. The town, occupied by our troops,
possessed a strong castle; General d'Alton was in command; but the gates
were shut, as disorder was feared from arrivals late at night, though
they did not escape it even on the following day. Stores of all kinds
had been formed there; to save time and formalities they were burst open
We had been there for
some hours, when the Emperor sent for me. I went to the castle, and
first saw the King of Naples, who cautioned me that the Emperor's
intention was to order me to find a strong defensive position, where he
could remain for five or six days.
'You had better find a
weak one,' added Murat with an oath, 'or he will not rest till he has
ruined himself and us too
'Never fear, I replied.
'Even if the position be excellent, I will tell him my mind about our
I was ushered in. The
Emperor gave me the commission of which Murat had warned me.
'It is out of the
question to make a reconnaissance at this moment,' I said, 'because
there is such a thick fog that it is impossible to see fifteen yards
ahead. But, Sire, I continued, 'are you in earnest in talking of
'The men are tired,' said
the Emperor, 'and the enemy pursuing slowly. We must give them a rest.'
No doubt that would be
advisable, or even necessary under other circumstances,' I replied; 'but
in our present state of disorganization, or demoralization, as I may as
well call things by their proper names, we shall gain nothing by it. We
must get to the Rhine as fast as possible. The majority of the men are
already in disorder, and making their way thither.'
'But yet I am told that a
considerable number have been stopped, and fifteen battalions formed.'
'You are being flattered
and deceived,' I said with firmness. 'Exactly the same thing happened
after the death of Turenne and the rout of his army. The courtiers told
Louis XIV. that the troops were coming back across the Rhine in such
numbers that, counting them all, there were now more men than there had
ever been in the army! Louis XIV. himself made this judicious remark.
Our men are going away pell-mell; all our efforts to stop them have been
vaintheir instinct urges them towards the Rhine. No one amongst us is
ignorant of the defection of the King of Bavaria, nor of his treaty with
the allies, nor of the movement that General Wrede is making by forced
marches to cut off our retreat between this and Frankfort; and that,
clearly, is why they are pursuing so slowly -to retard our march, and
give Wrede time to get in our rear. If he reaches Gelnhausen' (a place
that I already knew), 'it is very doubtful that we shall be able to
dislodge himif he has had time to establish himself, that is; and he
will have plenty if your Majesty remains here for two or three days. You
can now only count upon the Guard, and have to beware lest they he
carried away by the force of example, as in the last campaign.'
All these reflections
The Emperor's attitude
was one of profound meditation. Three other persons were in his room,
and they had ceased writing in order to listentwo of them were, I
think, his private secretaries; the third, the Duke of Bassano, placed
his pen between his teeth, and folded his arms. He kept his eyes fixed
upon me, and displayed astonishment at hearing, for the first time, his
Majesty addressed with such freedom and outspokenness. I stopped to hear
the Emperor's decision. He at length broke silence, saying that he
recognized the justice of my observations, thanked me for my honest',
and would reflect upon what I had said, but that, meanwhile, he wished
me to make the reconnaissance.
I left, and returned some
hours later to report that the fog had not lifted, which was true, and
that consequently I had only been able to observe what was immediately
before my eyesnamely, that the neighbourhood of the town was very steep
and uneven. Thereupon he said
'Very good; we will start
'Even that will be too
late,' I answered 'we ought to start at once. The men are continually
leaving laden with booty.'
Nobody had attempted to
stop the pillage. We had no choice but to remain where we were till next
On reaching Gelnhausen, I
found the position occupied, fortunately weakly, by about a thousand
men. The Kintzig covered it, and the bridge had already been broken, but
so hurriedly that the beams were still floating about. Some of the
enemy's pickets came near us. Many isolated men had stopped; I formed
them into companies, and made up a battalion. The enemy had no cannon at
this point, and with mine I drove them away from the river.
As soon as the bridge was
sufficiently repaired, I ordered an attack. The position might have been
ambushed. The enemy were so weak that they made no effort to keep us
back; but if they had had time to establish themselves, I do not know if
we should have managed to dislodge them. Later on they received
reinforcements, principally of cavalry; we skirmished all day,
continually advancing towards a village, which we reached as night was
drawing on. There was a castle in the place, and the Emperor came
thither to take UI) his quarters, although he had already fixed them in
a little village in the rear. Everything, therefore, had to be repacked,
and the waggons reloaded for the move. In the village just mentioned,
there was only one uncomfortable house; while in the place where I was,
and whither Napoleon ,came, there was a castle, uninhabited, but
I received information
that the Bavarian army was posted at Hanau. Its strength was unknown ;
but it had begun to arrive the previous evening, and troops had been
coming in that same day. !here had only been just time, therefore, to
send a detachment to Geinhausen, and some troops of cavalry to other
points from Hanau. I had this information from a person who had come
thence that very day, and who had been an eye-witness of what he told
The Emperor then sent for
me, and inquired whether he were in safety, as his Guard had not yet
'I cannot answer for it,'
I replied. ' We only arrived after dark, shortly before you ; and I do
not even know whether all my troops followed me.'
'Are we, then, with the
He kept me to dinner, and
sent for the person who had arrived that evening from Hanau, and whose
words I had repeated. He liked to ask questions for himself, but he
learned no more than I had told him. He declared that the Bavarians
would not stand up against him. The next day proved him mistaken.
At daybreak I started on
my march. A short distance away we met the Bavarian outposts, supported
by a strong advance-guard. I had to stop and wait till our cavalry came
up, and crossed sabres with the enemy. We pushed them back into the
woods of Hanau, whither we followed them. A fusillade began which my
handful of troops could not stand; I made them retire into shelter
several times. I also ordered the cavalry to charge in order to support
my infantry. This state of things had lasted for some hours, when,
wishing to see what was taking place on the high-road, I ventured out
with some of my staff. As soon as we appeared we were greeted by a hot
fire of cannon and musketry which compelled us to withdraw hastily into
the wood. I had, however, had time to glance at the enemy's position,
and what I could see of it was not very encouraging, nor calculated to
inspire my troops with confidence.
All my messages to the
Emperor to warn him of the resistance we had met with, of the reduction
of our small means (of which the enemy, fortunately, could not judge, as
they were scattered about the wood), and of the urgent necessity for
reinforcements, remained unnoticed. I was much impelled to go to him in
person; but I feared that if I left the men would become discouragedmy
presence kept them together. As we were not more than a quarter of a
league from headquarters, I at length made up my mind; and, in order to
divert observation, ordered a fresh charge of cavalry into the wood, and
then started off at full gallop. On reaching the Emperor, I spoke to him
very energetically about the position of affairs.
'What can I do?' he said
indifferently. 'I give orders, and no one heeds them. I wished to
assemble all the waggons at one point under a cavalry escort. Well,
nobody came to do it!'
'I can quite believe it,'
I returned 'these men have experience and instinct, and rightly presume
that the road by which you wish them to communicate is closed to us. But
consider that our situation is no ordinary one. You must force a
passage, Sire, and send forward, without an instant's delay, all the
troops at your disposal. Why have not the Guard come up? We shall be
utterly done for if they don't come immediately.'
'I can't help it,' he
Formerly at a sign, a
gesture, a word, all had trembled around him, or he would have known the
However, the Emperor
summoned the Major-General, who declared that he also had given orders.
They were repeated, the assembly was sounded, and I went away with a
promise that a portion of the Guard would come and place themselves
under my orders. I announced this news, and it encouraged the soldiers a
little. The firing and the short charges continued; the Guard did not
arriveimpatience reappeared. At length the bearskins of the Old Guard
came in view; I pointed them out, and said that this troop would take
our places while we rested.
Four battalions of
chasseurs arrived; the General in command of them asked for my orders; I
caused half of them to be deployed as sharpshooters, flanked by
companies, and the two others in line to support them. They advanced to
the scene of action. The mere sight of these veterans made the enemy
retire from the wood; but it was still difficult to get clear of it, or
even to line the fringe. The enemy continued to fire volleys of
grapeshot and shells. We kept our position; that was a great deal. The
Emperor came up, followed by his Guard and some other troops; he asked
for information, which I gave him, reckoning the enemy's force as at
least 30,000 men.
'Can we reconnoitre their
position without danger?' he asked.
'Not without danger; we
must risk it; I have already done it once.'
'Very good; come along.'
And away we went. Just as
we were starting a shell burst close to him without hurting anyone.
Straightway he stopped, dismounted from his horse, and from that moment
till the evening it was impossible to get him out of the wood. He
ordered General Drouot to discover a position on the right of the road
where he could post the artillery of the Guard. The personal danger was
extreme, but this brave General, as modest as he was distinguished,
never gave it a thought. [In a review of the first edition of this work,
on its appearance in 1892, the Australasian newspaper remarks: 'To skulk
in the hour of danger was the last thing which Napoleon would have done.
His belief in his star sustained him in the unwavering conviction that
he bore a charmed life; and he exemplified this only a year afterwards,
at the Battle of Arcis.sur-Aube, by a well-authenticated incident which
Macdonald passes over in silence. A shell fell immediately in front of
one of the battalions of the Guard. Napoleon, spurring his horse, rode
straight up to the smoking fuse, in order to give the veterans a lesson
in sangfroid. The shell burst, the horse was killed, and, when the smoke
dispersed, the Emperor was seen, calm and unhurt. "Don't be alarmed, my
friends," said he; "the bullet that will kill me has not yet been cast."
And, calling for another horse, he mounted it, and placed himself at the
head of his soldiers, who recognized his supreme indifference to danger
with shouts of enthusiasm.'] In order to cause a diversion at this
point, the Emperor ordered his cavalry to debouch on to the high-road;
the grenadiers a cizeval were in front. They charged, but were brought
back and protected by a regiment of 'guards of honour,' composed of
young men of good family, who were making their debut, but who showed
great courage. The grenadiers rallied behind this regiment, while the
dragoons swept forward and repulsed the enemy with great success,
gallantly breaking their squares.
General Drouot had
succeeded, not without heavy loss, in establishing his batteries, and
others were afterwards mounted at other points. We had also succeeded in
reaching the fringe of the wood; the enemy were retreating in every
direction, and recrossing the river; but they still maintained their
defence of Hanau, and there was still on our right a strong battery,
which we could not succeed in silencing, and which was doing us
considerable damage. We might have obtained great advantages from the
retreat of the Bavarians, but as the Emperor spent the whole day in the
wood, he could see nothing, and everyone acted as he pleased without any
concert. There seemed to be an idea that we had done enough in reaching
the river and driving back the enemy; and no one observed, apparently,
that, situated as we were, it was most important for us to reach the
other side, and that, until Hanan had been stormed, our communications
with France must continue interrupted.
The day was drawing to an
end, and the battery just mentioned caused us great inconvenience; the
shooting was very straight, and was aimed at the point where the wood
debouched into the high-road. I was there in person.
[There is an accidental
glimpse of the Duke of Tarentum at the Battle of Ilanau in General
Marbot's 'Memoirs' (Eng. edit., vol. ii., P. 430. ' I keenly regretted
the loss of my trumpeter,' says Baron de Marhot, ' who was beloved by
the entire regiment no less for his courage than for his general
behaviour, lie was the son of a Professor at the College of Toulouse,
had been through his course there, and took great pleasure in spouting
Latin. An hour before his death, observing the majority of trees in the
forest of Hanauwhose spreading branches formed a kind of roofwere
beeches, he quoted the, lines from Virgil commencing:
Tityre, tu patuIa
recubans sub tegmine fagi.'
Marshal Macdonald, who
happened to pass at the moment, laughed heartily, exclaiming, "There's a
little chap whose memory isn't disturbed by his surroundings. It is
surely the first time that anyone has recited Virgil under the fire of
the enemy's guns!"']
Nansouty's cavalry came
through the wood. I asked him to charge and carry the battery; he
refused, alleging the fatigue of his men.
'If you will only make an
effort, then,' I said but received only the same answer.
I was urging him with
some considerable heat, when one of the Emperor's aides-de-camp, General
Flahaut, chanced to pass. Seeing me very excited, he inquired what was
'Look here,' I said; 'a
slight effort would secure us that battery. If the Emperor were here,
something would be doneduty, at least, if nothing more I Situated as we
are here, it is of vital consequence to sweep aside every obstacle and
to force our way through.'
'Would you like to see
the Emperor?' he said. 'I will bring him to you.'
'Do, if you can,' I
It was now late, and
instead of coming himself, he sent orders to Nansouty to act. The latter
moved at last. As soon as the enemy saw him, they retreated, which would
have been a boon to us a few hours earlier.
I had rallied the remains
of my division on the outskirts of the wood. We were at a short distance
from Hanau; a few troops advanced thither, but stopped just out of range
of a hot fusillade.
We had been at ease for
some time, when I saw a shapeless column, preceded by a lighted torch,
issue from the wood and defile along the high-road. I was told that a
report was spread, no one knew how, of the evacuation of Hanau; and as
the Emperor was sure of good quarters there, he had started without any
further information. The torch was borne before him. All that had been
in the wood, troops, carriages, artillery, led horses, etc., were
following hint in disorder.
I called for my horse in
order to head him and warn him of his mistake; but the mass that widened
out as it issued from the wood prevented me from passing. I also had to
ride carefully along the edge of a ditch by the roadside; however, a few
yards farther on I was able to cross it, and hastened on for a moment,
so as to come up with the head of the column.
Suddenly a few shots were
heard; the column stopped, and I saw the torch take a pace to the right
and describe a curve retiring into the wood, whence the shapeless and
ever increasing mass was still pouring and pressing on the head thus
suddenly arrested. I found myself caught in the mob, unable to advance
or retire, without having succeeded in joining the Emperor. I tried to
recross the ditch and to regain the edge of the wood, feeling very sorry
that I had ever quitted it. At length I lost my temper, and ordered my
bodyguard to force a passage for me sword in hand. They at once obeyed,
'Make way! Make way!'
One voice alone could be
heard in the crowd asking:
'What guards are those
creating such a disturbance?'
It was Count Daru,
Commissary-General of the army. I did not feel called upon to answer, or
to make myself known. I succeeded in making my way back to the place I
had left, leaving the mass to disentangle itself as best it could. Had
the enemy known what was going on, and made a sortie from Hanau, the
disorder must have been even greater, and their losses immense; happily,
their only idea was to retreat.
In the middle of the
night the Emperor sent me orders to collect a battery of howitzers, and
to fire on the town; the enemy did not reply, whence we concluded that
they were unarmed. They moved out at break of day, and our troops
occupied the town.
Scarcely had this news
penetrated into the wood, when the disorderly mass once more made its
way out with no less confusion than on the previous evening. The Emperor
himself passed, and gave me orders to relieve the troops in the town,
promising that I in turn should be relieved by General Bertrand. I had
not perceived until then that all the soldiers remaining to me had left,
and had joined themselves to the living torrent that was flowing towards
Frankfort, whither the Emperor was going in person. I sent after them,
and recovered about 150 men, whom I brought into Hanau to replace a
troop not much larger, of which General Souham had command. I found him
in a house in the suburbs; he left, and I entered the town. The enemy
were not far off on the other side of the river. The place had an
enclosure, but could not resist an attack.
Just as I was sitting
down to breakfast, Tuilier, commanding the engineers, whom I had sent to
the top of the steeple, came and whispered to me that the enemy were
'Go back again, I said,
'and let me know when they are near the gates.'
'They are not far off
now,' he replied; 'and you have barely time to retire.'
The fusillade commenced
as he was speaking. I left my breakfast, therefore, and, calling the
chief officer of my little group of men, told him to hold firm, and that
he would be relieved immediately. As I was quitting the town I met
General Bertrand, who had orders to relieve us; he asked how many troops
he should take in with him.
'All you have will not be
enough,' I replied, and continued my journey.
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