It was only at Frankfort
that I found the scattered remnants of my division; we were also
rejoined by the detachment I had left at Hanau. I had orders to continue
my march to Mayence, which I reached that night. The bridge of boats had
been so severely tried by the constant succession of troops, waggons,
and artillery, that two pontoons had nearly given way. It had therefore
been necessary to stop it from being used, and to close the gates of the
têt'e-de-pont. My chief of the staff, who had preceded me, had posted a
notice on the gates that all who belonged to my corps were to betake
themselves to. . . and go into cantonments there.
The Emperor sent for me
next day, and kept me to dinner. He reviewed all the circumstances and
events of the campaign, dealing at length with the bad faith of the
allies, especially of Austria at Prague, during the negotiations of the
Caulaincourt, his Master
of the Horse, and Count Narbonne, his aide-de-camp, had, however, told
me that the entire settlement had been in his hands; that, in reality,
he ought to have given up some conquests or combinations, but that he
could have retained Italy, the Rhine as a boundary, and the Protectorate
of the Helvetian Confederation. That Napoleon had been pressed to
consent to this, and warned that, in case of refusal, Austria would make
common cause with Russia and Prussia. She made no secret of the fact
that she was bound by a treaty, which had been obvious for some months
pasta as the allies, beaten at the beginning of the campaign, had
retired into Silesia, to the foot of the mountains of Bohemia, ready to
enter if they were driven to it, and this they could not have done had
Austria preserved her neutrality. They would have taken good care not to
risk having to surrender at the foot of those mountains, as all their
communications would have been cut off if they had lost a decisive
battle. Moreover, had they not been certain of Austria's co-operation,
they would have recrossed the Oder, near Breslau, in their retreat from
Prudence recommended a
compromise, hut the Emperor, blind, and relying upon his ascendancy at
the Court of Vienna, which he believed was further strengthened by his
position as son-in-law, had obstinately refused to consent to the
cession of Holland and the Hanse Towns, and to renounce the Protectorate
of the Confederation of the Rhine. As soon as the armistice was
denounced, he authorized his plenipotentiaries to make these concessions
those of the allies, however, replied that it was now too late, and that
the question must be settled by the sword.
'Why,' I inquired, 'did
not your Majesty consent sooner? The army earnestly desired it; the
honour of your arms was repaired; your principal leaders begged it of
you, both in the name of the army and of France, so sorely distressed. I
myself ventured to point out the dangers of the situation to you. I
represented the difficulties France had had in fighting against the
Emperor of Russia and the King of Prussia; what, then, would it be when
Austria, Sweden, and other lesser States leagued themselves with them?
Our losses, I admit, had been somewhat repaired, but how? By recruits
who were little more than children, by young untrained horses, already
worn out by long forced marches. The renewal of hostilities would once
more interrupt our coinmunications; any serious reverse must infallibly
ruin us; we had neither provisions nor ammunition ; and,.above all, we
had to avoid discouragement, to keep up the spirits of the men.'
This reasoning had
produced no effect upon him at the time of the negotiations, but now he
admitted it was just.
'I did riot agree to
these concessions,' he said, 'because I feared that the allies would
become more exacting, and would demand still more.'
'But in that case, Sire,'
I replied, 'why did you, when unfortunately too late, end by consenting?
Had you done so earlier, you would have given proof of your desire for
peace; France and the army would have been grateful to you, and perhaps
would have made greater efforts to secure it. Moreover, all the
preliminaries declared that, beyond these concessions, the Emperors
would ask for nothing. You might have done more; you might have freed
yourself with honour from the canker which is destroying your old troops
in Spain, and ruining your treasury, had you restored Spain to herself
and her sovereign, and thereby displayed a moderation which must have
struck France, your armies, and Europe.'
'Yes,' said he, 'that is
true; but now I must retain that country as compensation.'
During this conversation
the bulletin of the allies upon the events at Leipsic was handed to him.
Perhaps there was some exaggeration in their account, but I had to admit
that, on the whole, it was but too true; they were intoxicated with
their success, and not without reason.
Our situation was to
France and Europe a striking proof of our reverses, of the terrible
misfortunes we had already endured, and of those which threatened and
must inevitably overwhelm us if peace, which of course could only he
purchased by fresh concessions, did not speedily come to save the army
and France. To these observations he replied that he was going to try to
re-open the negotiations, but that he wished to keep the line of the
Rhine, wherein I entirely agreed with him.
He informed me that I was
to start for Cologne, and to take command of the line from Mayence to
'With what troops?' I
asked. 'With what am I to defend a tract of such extent?'
'I will send you some.
They are coming in from all sides, and we are raising 300,000 men. You
shall have eighty battalions and sixty squadrons. The enemy, hitherto
concentrated, will be obliged to spread Out, and we shall be strong at
all their vulnerable Points,'
He thought that the
allies would he wearied, and would go into winter-quarters on the right
bank of the Rhine, thus leaving him time to reform and reinforce his
armies ; but in less than two months we were doomed to be disappointed.
Before we parted he asked
me to tell him the amount of my personal losses during the campaign. I
merely said that they were considerable, which was true; I had not even
a clean shirt left. He said that he had no money at Mayence, but that he
would send me an indemnity from Paris.
'I was rich,' he added,
'at the opening of the campaign in 1812. The armies were well provided,
the men paid regularly, and I had left 400,000,000 francs [£16,000,000]
in the cellars at the Tuileries, of which 300,000,000 [£12,000,000] came
from the contributions levied in Prussia. I drew out 340,000,000
[£13,600,000] to help France in reforming the army in 1813; I have only
60,000,000 [£2,400,000] left. It is very little, and I have so much to
do with it!'
This was intended to
convey to me that I should only get a very small share. In fact, he only
sent me, while I was at Wesel, a draft upon Paris for 30,000 francs
(£1,200). I had great difficulty afterwards in getting it cashed, but
eventually Monsieur de la Bouillerie, manager of the Crown property,
very kindly arranged it for me.
I wrote next day to your
eldest sister to send me some linen to Cologne, whither I was going.
Souhain lent me his carriage, and I started that afternoon, finding my
staff and my weak force at Bingen.
Night was drawing on.
They made useless efforts to retain me, but I insisted on starting. The
road was bad masters, men, postilions, everyone was asleep. We upset
coming round a sharp curve recently cut in the rock, and, on leaving the
carriage, unhurt, found with terror that we were within two feet of the
edge of the Rhine. Had the horses advanced one step more, we must have
infallibly Perished in the river, after braving so many dangers, and I,
in particular, having escaped the Elster. I reached Cologne without
further accident, and was thence ordered on to Wesel and Nimeguen.
My command, on the right
of the line, ended at Coblentz, but on the left extended to Arnheim. All
our troops had recrossed the Rhine, and gone from Mayence to Wesel. This
last place was strongly garrisoned, and General Bourke, the Governor,
had orders to place all his troops at my disposal, but only to support
my operations, without compromising the security of the place This
General behaved very well to me; we reconnoitred outside, and decided
that it would be safer not to advance.
I went to Nirneguen,
where I had been garrisoned, while serving under Maillebois, at the
beginning of my career; I had had my quarters there after the siege
during the winter of 1794-95. At that time we were victorious; at the
period I am now describing we were only acting on a very feeble
I made certain that the
enemy were gathering round Arnheirn, which we held with only a small
force. The town was defended by a sort of entrenched camp, but there
were no troops to occupy it. I decided U0fl evacuating the place, and
Upon recrossing the Leck and the Waal. I saw with my own eyes the
enemy's preparations, and that we had not a moment to lose; orders were
given, but very badly carried out. Instead of retiring (luring the
night, they waited till the next day, and the enemy attacked at that
We had 400 or 500 men in
the town, but neither collected together nor ready to leave. They were
dispersed; the gate by which we were to quit was not even guarded, so
much so that the gatekeeper, whether through bribery or treachery,
locked it, disappeared with the keys, and ran away at the first gunshot
The detachment, therefore, had to capitulate. The troops from without
crossed the bridge without destroying it, not knowing the reason why the
garrison did not evacuate the town. The enemy seized the Opportunity,
and followed, but hesitatingly, half-way across. The very fact of the
garrison being shut UI) within the place stopped the enemy's chief
forces, as they thought it was much stronger than it really was ; had it
not been for that, they might have made it difficult for us to cross the
At Nimeguen there were
two little armed Dutch boats. Fearing that they might commit some fresh
act of treachery, and prevent the return of our troops, I ordered them
to move down the river at once, without giving them a chance of learning
what had happened. I thus succeeded in bringing across, without
impediment, all the detachments that were still on the right bank.
I had opened
communications with General Molitor, who commanded in the Province of
Utrecht. I recalled him, and he crossed to the island of I3ommel, whence
he joined me with some more skeleton regiments. As I foresaw that we
should ere long be compelled to withdraw from Nime- guen, I asked
permission to evacuate at the same time Bois-le-Duc, Wesel, Venloo, and
Maestricht; but it was refused. While waiting for an answer to my
despatch, I inquired of General Bourke how long he would require to
undermine and blow up the fortifications of Wesel, and to withdraw his
garrison, supposing his instructions authorized him to carry out such an
order if given by me. The question was simple; but it caused him such
terror that his only answer to me was a request for an interview, but
the events which followed Prevented me from complying with it.
In asking for an
authorization to evacuate these places, I was carrying out the plan of
concentration that I had twice proposed under similar circumstances at
the end of 1812 and 1813 but, in spite of the correctness of my views,
experience had taught no lesson, and the garrisons were compelled to
capitulate one after another. However, as we could look for no immediate
succour, this system served to reinforce our fighting troops, and to
weaken the enemy, who were obliged to leave garrisons in the places we
I am aware that the other
system has certain advantages —for example, that of detaining a large
number of hostile troops by sieges or blockades, and of preserving
resources and communications for one's self, if one can succeed in
beating the enemy in the open field. But to obtain these advantages an
army is a necessity; and when one has none, or nothing but few shattered
remains, and it takes months to raise a fresh one, it is better to have
recourse to evacuation. This is especially the case when the places are
scattered—like Zamosc, Modlin, Pillau, and 1)antzic—if one is driven
back to this side of the Elbe, and like those on the Oder and the Elbe
when one has to retire to the Rhine. In my opinion, it is much better to
run the risk of being obliged to recommence sieges, and to have a
movable army, than to be reduced to mere bundles (paques) of men, which
have to end by giving way, as happened to us at the end of each of our
last campaigns. [Besides the large force shut up in Hamburg under
Marshal Davoflt (and which held out so gallantly even after the
capitulation of Paris), the French had consi(leral)ly over a hundred
thousand veterans and conscripts blockaded in fortresses, such as
Dantzig, Zaniosc, Modlin, Stettin, Pillan, Thorn, Glogau, Torgau,
Custrin, Wittemburg, Magdeburg, Wurtzburg, Freihourg, Erfurt, with
Marshal St. Cyr at Dresden, and in smaller garrisons in Austria, at
dayencc or Coblentz possibly, at Strasbourg, Kehl, Colmar, Dijon,
Bcsançon, l3elfort, Luxembourg, Thionville, Met; Phalsbourg, Saverne,
Bitche, Toul, etc., St. Sebastian, Pampeluna, and in Catalonia. At
Antwerp, also, in the hour of adversity for France, instead of '
emigrating,' the stern Republican Carnot placed his sword at the
disposal of the Emperor whose career he so highly disapproved of (a
pleasant contrast to the many Frenchmen who, like Moreau or Dumouriez,
stabbed their country in the back when they found its enemies in
readiness to support them). All these fortresses were taken or besieged
of course no reference is made here to the garrisons of the interior, or
even to Lyons, which was threatened. (See, too, a note by Colonel Phipps
in the English edition of Bourrienne's ' Memoirs of Napoleon,' published
in 188, vol. iii., p. i and also General Marbot's ' Memoirs,' Eng.
edit., vol. ii., P. 421.)]
I was told to stand firm;
but with such an extended area as I had under my command, and with such
small means, I could only watch the Rhine, and not defend it. The enemy
tried to cross at 1)iisseldorf, and surprised the little garrison of
Neuss. I hastened thither, and on the way learnt that it was only a
feint, and that the enemy had recrossed the river. They tried the same
thing at several other points. All this was insignificant; but it served
to warn me to act with circumspection, so as not to run the risk of
being cut off.
I received no further
orders, and the events which crowded upon me obliged me to act with
prudence. I withdrew slowly to the Meuse, reinforcing Wesel, Venloo, and
Maestricht, when I learned that the enemy had opened the campaign, and
definitely crossed the Rhine. They were advancing very rapidly, as they
met no obstacles to speak of; they might even reach Liege before me. I
hastened thither, and thence to Huy, Namur, and Mezieres.