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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter III


MEANWHILE, all the movements ordered by Dumouriez had been paralyzed. He himself ran great dangers, and was compelled, to save his head, to throw himself into the arms of the enemy, with whom, according to the admission made by himself in his memoirs, he had been treating secretly.

General Dampierre, who succeeded him, sent General Lamarlière to take command of Lille and of the northern frontier. Immediately upon his arrival someone prejudiced him against the Picardy Colonel, whose name he did not even know. He was suspected.' [Persons supposed not to be thoroughgoing revolutionists were commonly known as 'suspects.'—Translator.] The General sent for the Colonel, and when I appeared, great was his surprise. He had not forgotten the Pas de Baisieux, where he had noticed me; and without further explanation said to me:

'Return to your post; I will vindicate you.'

This magnanimity touched me. He himself became shortly afterwards 'suspected,' and fell a victim, although innocent.

More Commissioners came to Lille from the Convention. They were also biased, as General Lamarlière had been, against me. One of them had served as Captain in my regiment, and had but recently left it. He was an intimate friend of the Lieutenant-Colonel who was so vexed when I arrived to take over the command. This man chanced to be in Lille, profiting by the leave I had given him. He also took advantage of his friendship with the Commissioner to try to have me removed as a 'suspect,' owing to my having been aide-de-camp to Beurnonville and Durnouriez, the former of whom had also become 'suspected' since his arrest.

My conduct underwent severe inquiry. Poor General Lamarlire justified it, adding that I had ceased to be aide-de-camp some four or five months previously. As they could not injure me on that score, they proposed to appoint me Adjutant-General (now called Staff-Colonel), a rank corresponding to that which I already held. My good friend Lamarlière spoke to inc about it, pointed out the danger of a refusal, and, regarding mere objections as equivalent to consent, announced my acceptance, without my leave, to the Commissioners. The deed of appointment was then and there drawn up, for they had plenary powers, and worded in very complimentary terms, based upon my excellent conduct, my patriotism, etc.

Possessed of this document, I went straight to the General, and, while thanking him for his kindness, declared that I could not take advantage of it; that in the eyes of the army it would appear that I was incapable of commanding a regiment ; that my susceptibilities were wounded, my honour compromised, and that I would rather be deprived of my command altogether; that he, whose own feelings were of the keenest and most honourable, could, better than anyone else, feel for my position; that I already owed so much to him that I should be glad to increase my debt by another service, and, as I saw that he did not insist, I added

'Besides, it will be just as much to the interest of the Commissioners as to mine to let this affair go no further, seeing that the dullest individual will easily understand that they are acting in private and not public interests' (they had appointed the Lieutenant-Colonel to succeed me). 'Moreover, this officer is unpopular with the regiment; he is narrow-minded and ill-tempered.'

I ended by saying that, if they thought I should make a good Adjutant-General, I considered that I could render more service at the head of a regiment.

'By the way,' I exclaimed, 'why should they not give him the title they have conferred upon me? He wants to be Colonel. Well and good, his ambition would be gratified.'

This idea had not occurred to Lamarlière. It seemed to strike him, and he said:

'Give me the letter containing the orders, and your commission. I will take them to the Commissioners, and beg them to make the exchange you propose.'

'No, certainly not. I cannot part with them. They are much too flattering, and, besides, they are my justification.'

The Commissioners could find no serious objection to the plan proposed by the General. It was adopted, and I was left in peace.

I occupied myself seriously, with ardour and activity, in exercising and drilling my regiment, and in accustoming it to warfare by marches and reconnaissances on the frontier. The enemy occupied the adjacent woods, and I sometimes obtained some little successes in skirmishing. Other corps followed my example, and we thus accustomed our men to see and face the enemy. I forgot to say that my regiment had been divided. I had but one battalion ; the second was with the Army of the Moselle, and the Commissioners had appointed a Colonel to it. All communications ceased between us as soon as our accounts were settled.

Another Captain belonging to the regiment, named Béru, who was away on leave, returned to Lille. He was also an intimate friend of the Commissioner, and was by him made General-of-Brigade, and had command, under Lamarlière, of the troops collected in our camp. Thus I saw one of my subordinates put over my head; however, I made the best of it, and set the example of obedience.

The new General came to the camp with some prejudices against me. A straightforward explanation ensued; he was honest, and we became and remained friends. Shortly afterwards General Lamarlière was deprived of his command, arrested, and taken before the revolutionary tribunal, to which he soon fell a victim. I regretted him deeply. My superior Captain succeeded him with the rank of General-of-Division, and I was appointed General of Brigade. [Macdonald received this appointment from Houchard, Commander-in-chief, and it was confirmed by the representatives with the Army of the North, Levasseur and Bentabole, August 26, 1793.]

This came upon me like a thunderbolt, as, although for several months past I had performed the duties of the office, I had not had the responsibilities attaching to the rank. I represented that I was youthful and inexperienced, but they would not listen. I had to how to their decision under pain of being treated as a 'suspect,' and arrested. I resigned myself accordingly. My Captain, now General-of-Division, who had also made some representations on his own account, was not listened to either, so we agreed to help each other.

I was charged with the command of the frontier from Menin to Armentires, and my quarters were fixed at Lannoy, if I remember rightly, for I have no map at hand.

Partial and simultaneous attacks were made almost daily during August at Linselles, Commines, Blaton, Pont-Rouge, etc., and almost invariably terminated in our favour, which gained me some reputation. These attacks were but the prelude to a real onslaught, which the enemy at last made, advancing with a large body of troops against my lines. Linselles, Commines, and Blaton were all carried at once. The General-of-Division and I consulted together. He sent me some reinforcements, raised his camp at La Madeleine, marched upon Linselles and Jupon, Commines and Blaton. Having made all my dispositions, I charged the enemy with the bayonet. They retreated ; we pursued eagerly. We regained possession of the two places, and our success was crowned by a large number of killed, wounded, and prisoners. We got ten pieces of cannon, all the ammunition, baggage, etc. Affairs went otherwise at Linselles, where we lost the same number of guns. My poor General was in despair. He came to see me, and I consoled him as best I could; and before he left me we learned that the enemy had retired from Linselles, which comforted him.

We entered Lille in triumph with our captures, so as to dissipate the bad impression caused by the reverses at Linselles. Everyone hailed us as victors; my troops who had taken part were intoxicated, and, to say the truth, I enjoyed the moment as much as anyone, though as modestly as I could. My name appeared honourably mentioned in the official despatches, and this caused me to be regarded as an important person, and roused jealousy and enmity against me.

After these events I daily harassed the enemy, but they had caused so much vexation to the General-of-Division that he asked permission to retire, which was granted.

The four Commissioners, to my great bliss, had been recalled or sent elsewhere; they were replaced by another, who, having heard of my success at Commines, and other partial successes, wished for my personal acquaintance. I went to Lille, where he received me with civility, returning my visit a few days later; the outposts thought he was making an inspection. In this interview he expressed to me his desire to be present at a little brush with the enemy. I undertook that he should see one, and promised to let him know the day, hour, and place at which it should occur.

The enemy had replaced by fresh troops those which had been lately worsted, and among the newcomers was a regiment commanded by the Duke of York. Their men swaggered considerably, and gave themselves great airs, and I determined to give them a lesson. Having made my preparations and taken all precautions, I sent word to the Commissioner, who arrived in hot haste towards the end of the brush. He saw the rout of the enemy, and a good many prisoners taken, after we had killed and wounded a considerable number. He heard balls and bullets whistle past him, and was beside himself with joy. I asked leave to quote his name in my report; he himself drew one up in which he praised me, and was not too modest about his own share. Finally, when the action was over, and my troops were recalled, he complimented them, gave me the kiss of fraternity, and said aloud that I might count upon him till death. Such protection was by no means to be despised during those horrible times of revolutionary crises, and I thought myself safe from all anxieties,. whatever denunciations might be brought against me from any quarter.

I have said that the General-of-Division had 'retired; while awaiting the appointment of his successor, the General in command at Lille held his place. The successor came at last. He was General Souham, who struck up a friendship with me which still endures. Feeling quite easy about the point where I commanded, he turned his attention to the others, and left me a free hand. Security was reestablished upon part of the frontier, and I was determined to see that it was respected.

It was then that the good idea occurred of amalgamating all the volunteer battalions, whether of old or new formation, with the regulars, putting two of the former to one of the latter, and I was charged to carry out the operation; but such confusion reigned that nobody seemed to know where these battalions were quartered, because, as it transpired, if they did not like the place where they had been sent, or if it did not Suit them, they moved on somewhere else without giving any notice, so that I was ordered to travel through all the neighbouring departments, in order to send in as many battalions as possible to Lille.

While these events were in progress, two new Commissioners Extraordinary arrived, with greatly extended powers. I had been denounced to them; their first act was intended to be my disgrace, arrest, and eventual arraignment before the revolutionary tribunal at Arras, from which no one ever escaped.

I admit that I had made a terrible enemy of a republican and superlatively revolutionary General by laughing at him for cowardice in a skirmish at Menin. He had become the butt and laughing-stock of the troops, even of those who shared his opinions. It was he, moreover, who had denounced and ruined poor General Lamarlire; but Divine justice allowed him to perish eventually by the same means.

Another enemy whom I strongly suspected was a former and very bad comedian, now a General commanding a revolutionary army, [It was not the revolutionary army of Ronsin and Rossigriol, which was specially attached to the northern district.] who used a seal engraved with a guillotine, but who nevertheless simulated some friendship for me. His functions, however, and his intimacy with the other, left me no doubt, and I received a warning. I despised these men too much to pay the least attention; I was wrong, and too self-confident, for in those terrible times a clear conscience, upright conduct, without blot or blemish, were no guarantees; they only excited jealousy by making others ashamed.

General Souham fought loyally and generously against the accusations, denunciations, etc., and succeeded in staving off the execution of the warrant against me until the return of the Commissioners, who were to go to Dunkirk in order to see and hear me. I was in ignorance of all that was being plotted against me, and was quite comfortable in my quarters, when the General sent for me and told me of all that had happened. He then added:

'Look here, you are done for; therefore consider what steps you had better take, and decide quickly, for you are going to he suspended from duty.'

He then advised me to put myself out of the reach of the warrant, the execution of which was only postponed. The Commissioners, in granting the delay, had imperatively demanded that my command should be taken from me, and that Lille should be my temporary prison. Therefore it was open to me to go abroad. But if I did, what should I do? What would become of me? I should have found numerous enemies among the emigrants, who never forgave those who refused to join them in 1791.

I then had recourse to the papers given to me when I was appointed Adjutant-General, and which I had kept.

'They will be no use to you,' said Souham. 'The very men who signed them are now "suspects" themselves.'

'There is my friend the warlike Commissioner,' said I. 'I will go and see him.'

'He!' replied Souham. 'Why, he was present at the discussion. I called upon him to speak UI) for you, but he was silent.'

'Never mind,' I answered; 'maybe he was intimidated by the presence of his colleagues and superiors. I should like to try him, and perhaps inspire him with a little pluck, if he wants it.'

'Go and try,' was the answer, 'and then come back to me.'

I departed in search of my friend.

'Look here! you know that I have fallen into disgrace, and I have come to ask your help. I thought that my conduct and services would save me, but I learn that damaging suspicions have been sown broadcast by enemies who remain in shadow, concealed like those whom we are fighting every day.'

'Indeed!' he replied. 'Do you wish me to speak quite openly to you? I tell you you are not a republican, and I neither can nor will mix myself up with you.'

'But,' I answered, 'I have not changed, as far as I know, since the day when we met on the frontier at the skirmish at Commines; and on that occasion you assured me publicly'

'I remember what you mean,' he said roughly, interrupting me; 'but times are changed,' and thereupon he turned on his heel.

I returned directly to Souham and related this conversation to him. He implored me to take some steps for my safety.

'They are already taken,' I said. 'I will be, if necessary, one of the thousand victims sacrificed daily. I shall remain.'

But have you thought it over carefully and weighed all the consequences?'

'Yes.'

I was right in acting as I did. The Commissioners Extraordinary were recalled to Paris from Dunkirk, and I was sent back to my post and forgotten.

I continued to maintain respect for the frontier under my command, which was considerably extended. In it was included all the territory between Armenti'eres and the sea, and my headquarters were moved to Cassel. Although I was only General-of-Brigade, I had eleven of the same rank under my control, and about forty thousand men scattered over this long frontier-line, which vastly increased my responsibility.

I had made representations with a view to being relieved, for, notwithstanding this force, scattered as it was, we were weak everywhere. A promise had been given me that I should be replaced by the first General-of-Division who should arrive, and I experienced great satisfaction when he was at length announced to me. I was to have returned to my former quarters, but my destination was altered, and this change of plans was coloured by a representation as to the necessity of retrieving some checks that one of my comrades had received. As a matter of fact, this comrade had started in his military career with the rank of General, and his troops had no confidence in him. I took his place, and my command extended from Menin to Tournai.

About this time serious thoughts arose as to the advisability of assembling the whole army and taking the offensive. For this purpose a new Commander-in-chief [General Pichegru.] came down, accompanied by two Commissioners Extraordinary. A decree had just been published ordering all 'nobles' to move thirty leagues from the frontiers, to quit the army and Paris. Under these circumstances I ought to have retired. I had furnished the headquarters staff with all the information in my possession upon the frontier, the enemy, their strength, positions, weapons, etc. My services and conduct had also been mentioned with praise, and the Commanderin-chief begged the Commissioners to retain me, and exempt me from this measure. They desired me to come to them, and informed me that, by virtue of their plenary powers, they required my services. I answered that I wished nothing better, and that they might count upon my zeal and my efforts, but that they should give me a written commission. I added that, should we have the misfortune to meet with reverses, I should assuredly be accused of treachery, and of having remained with the army in order to secure its defeat, notwithstanding the decree of expulsion. Despite my arguments, they refused to satisfy me, whereupon I said:

'Very well, then.. I shall send in my resignation.'

'If you leave the army, we will have you arrested and brought to trial.'

I had no choice but to submit, so I remained where I was, in spite of the twofold odds against me.

Success alone could ensure my position and save me. After various ups and downs, Victory at length declared herself for us. I took the most important share in the engagements at Lannoy, Roubaix, Tourcoing; at the battle of Hooglède, where I was alone in command; [At the battle of Hooglède, fought on the 26 Prairial, year iii. (June 13, 1794), Macdonald commanded the centre.] at the capture of Ypres, Menin, Courtrai, Ostend, Ghent; at the passage of the Scheldt, and of the canal at Mechlin; then at the taking of Antwerp; at the battles of Turnhout and Roxtel; at the capture of Bois-le-Duc, which the Dutch did roe the honour of attributing to me because I had been in their service and garrisoned there, though in truth I did nothing but cover the besiegers; and finally at the passage of the Meuse and the taking of Nimeguen.

The Waal stopped us. We took up quarters for the winter, which promised to be very severe. Mine were temporarily at Kronenburg. While there I received, most unexpectedly, and, above all, without wishing for or desiring it, my commission as General-of-Division, and my quarters were shifted to Nimeguen.


 


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