Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
I RETURNED to Bourges on
March 5, intending to pass my time between that place and Courcclles,
which was only twenty leagues off; but twenty-four hours after my
arrival, during the night of the 6th, a courier brought me urgent orders
to betake myself immediately to Nimes, to receive further instructions
from the Duke of Angoulême, whom I had just quitted, and, as a
preliminary measure, to march all the troops in my government to
Villefranche, in the department of the Rhone. The ministerial despatch
gave no reasons either for this precipitate movement or for my
departure. The same courier was bearer of a packet for the Duke of
Angouléme addressed to Bourges, though his itinerary ought to have made
it clear that by that time— the evening of the 5th—the Prince should be
I racked my brains to
discover what extraordinary events could have happened, and naturally
concluded that it was the result of the Prince de Talleyrand's requests
from Vienna for decided demonstrations on the frontiers, and I thought
that the massing of troops at Villefranche and Nimes was intended to
show that France had means at command to support her demands against
Austria. I imagined that similar gatherings were taking place in the
departments on the Rhine and on the northern frontiers, but I was very
far out in my reckoning.
During the night of March
7, a report from General du Coëtlosquet, Commandant of Nevers, to
Lieutenant-General Lepic, his direct superior at Bourges, and which was
at once communicated to me, announced
THE LANDING OF NAPOLEON
and the arrival of
Monsieur, brother of the King, on his way to Lyons. All my former
conjectures tumbled to pieces I was thunderstruck by this intelligence,
and then predicted the misfortunes which have since befallen France.
I started a few hours
later. Had I received the Minister's packet when near Limoges, I should
have gone direct from there to Nimes by the Toulouse road; but I had
come back to Bourges, and the road by Lyons was more direct.
On reaching La Charit, I
learned that the J)uke of Orleans had just changed horses there,
hastening on his way to join Monsieur, who had a stare of twenty-four
hours. I was anxious to catch up this Prince, whom I had known in the
first campaign of the Revolution, when he was serving with the army of
Dumouriez, to horn I was acting as aide-de-camp. Fortunately, he stopped
to have luncheon at Pougues, otherwise I could not have caught him, as I
had had great difficulty in procuring horses at La Charitt, because the
Prince travelled with three carriages.
He told me all that had
been known in Paris before his departure, from the landing of Napoleon
and his rapid march upon Grenoble, the garrison of which it was believed
would resist him.
'At any rate,' I said,
'we can count upon General Marchand, as he hates Napoleon personally,
and is his declared enemy. Therefore you may count upon his fidelity, as
well as upon his endeavours to resist and avenge himself.'
I travelled with the
Prince as far as Moulins; there we had to part company for want of
horses, and I was obliged to wait for the return of his, so that he had
a start of several hours.
At the last stage, while
the horses were being changed, I received a letter from Monsieur, who
had just learned from the Duke of Orleans that I was following him, in
which he begged me to lose no time in reaching Lyons. He sent me also a
confidential letter, written by the Captain of his Guards, Count des
Cars, to say that his position was very precarious, that Napoleon had
advanced so rapidly as to be within one day's march of Lyons, and that
the garrison showed such bad feeling that he could not trust it to
defend the passage of the Rhone.
I entered the
postmaster's house in order to read and answer this letter. So well had
the secret of its contents been kept, that, on coming out of the house
to give toy letter to the courier, I found a large gathering of
engineers collected, and to them the courier was relating all that was
known at Lyons concerning the march of events and the spirit of the
garrison This was confirmed by the postilion, and was practically the
contents of my letter from Count des Cars.
I started at last and
very rapidly, but just outside the town an axle of my carriage broke,
and it upset. I was none the worse for my fall, but the accident
occasioned a further loss of time, as I was obliged to walk the rest of
the way. On reaching the hotel where I was in the habit of stopping, I
found two officers waiting to conduct me to the house of the Governor,
where Monsieur had dined; a third came up immediately afterwards to
bring me to the presence of his Royal Highness.
It was between nine and
ten o'clock on the night of the 9th of March. The authorities of the
town, as well as the generals and colonels, were with Monsieur. He knew
from the Duke of Orleans that I was on the way to Nimes.
'The roads are
intercepted,' he said to me, 'and you can no longer pass. Remain with
us, take the command; I give you plenary powers.'
The Prince then told me
that no reliance could be placed upon the troops, and that he had given
orders to evacuate the town early next morning. My surprise was extreme.
'Abandon Lyons!' I
exclaimed; 'where, then, will you stop after quitting the barrier of the
'We have neither
ammunition nor guns,' he replied; 'the troops have declared plainly that
they will offer no resistance, and the majority of the population is
with them and against us.
The situation beyond a
doubt was very serious and critical.
'Let us try something
before giving up,' I said; 'let us suspend our retreat; we can always
come back to that if necessary, for, if Napoleon is within a march of
the town, let him make as much speed as he likes, he cannot arrive until
between one and two o'clock in the day, as he has to lead wearied
soldiers. Let us assemble our men at six in the morning, see them, speak
to them; we may gain something by it. We will try to change their
opinion by attacking them on the subject of their honour, always a
delicate point with a Frenchman. We will explain to them the misfortunes
that must result from a civil war, and the danger to France, no less
great, of seeing all Europe raised in arms against her for the second
My advice was unanimously agreed to, and orders were given to
countermand the evacuation, and to summon all the garrison to meet next
morning in the Place Bellecour. Having accepted the command, I ordered
that all communication between the two banks of the Rhone should cease;
that all boats should be brought over to our side and moored there; that
strong outposts should be placed on the right bank and along the roads;
that the Morand and De la Guillotiere bridges should be barricaded and
put into the best state of defence that time would permit; and, finally,
that a succession of patrols and reconnoitring parties should be sent
out so as to give us the promptest information. In a word, I made all
the dispositions that can be made in a campaign when troops are in front
of the enemy. Particular commands were assigned; each officer had a
certain number of troops and posts to establish and watch. These points
settled, I finished by ordering a ration of brandy to be served out
before the review, and we separated.
On reaching my hotel,
accompanied by the generals in command, I asked them to speik to their
chief officers and to do their best to induce the men to give Monsieur a
good reception at the review. I spent the night in giving orders and
Between three and four in
the morning General Brayer, who had command of one of the territorial
subdivisions, came to me; he had served with me through part of the
campaign of 1813 and that of 1814. He came to tell me that the men
refused to be reviewed by the Princes, but that they would be delighted
to see me, their old General. I was thunderstruck at this news.
'Who can have put that
idea into Their heads?' I asked. Are we on the eve of a fresh
revolution? Is every bond of discipline relaxed?'
'No,' he answered; 'they
have been excited by some public-house speeches ; the officers are not
less excited. So many follies have already been committed ! So little
interest has been taken in the soldiers, and so many injustices done in
order to make places for émirés, clioucins, and Vendeans, upon whom
rank, honours, and distinctions have been showered!'
'From your manner,' I
said, 'I gather that you share these opinions.'
'I do,' he replied; 'I
agree with them ; but I will do my duty to the end.'
(You will very shortly
see, my son, how that duty was performed.)
'It is getting late,'
continued Brayer; 'it is more than time to warn Monsieur not to appear
before the troops, to prevent him from being insulted and received
I rapidly considered all
the consequences that this might produce; but how could I undertake to
make such a communication to his Royal Highness? What would happen if he
attempted to brave this warning, as he very likely would? A brilliant
idea occurred to me, and I promptly set about carrying it into effect.
On entering Monsieur's
apartments I found his officers standing about waiting till be awoke. I
remarked that the communication I had to make to him would brook no
delay; Count des Cars entered his bedroom and announced me. I told his
Royal Highness that the reports I had received during the night
regarding the state of mind of the men were no better, and that I had
thought that his presence might be a constraint upon them; that perhaps
it would be better if I saw them alone, being accustomed to war and
soldiers, and being one of themselves—to use an expression in vogue at
that time; that they could express their opinions more freely, and that
I would send to let him know at the earliest favourable opportunity.
From this the Prince could guess or penetrate my real motive; he learned
it later, but not from me. I returned to my rooms to wait till the
troops were drawn up in the Place Bellecour.
I was vexed that the
weather was wet, but I was still more annoyed on learning that no
rations had been served out that it had been impossible to find during
the night either the Commissary-General to sign the orders for the
regiments, or the storekeeper to give out the brandy.
At the time fixed for the
review, General Brayer came to fetch me; he had brought me a horse, and
we started in pouring rain. As we reached the Place, on the right of the
troops, acclamations broke out, and were repeated as I rode down the
lines. Many inquisitive people mingled their voices with those of the
men, but no other name or titles except my own were distinguishable.
This beginning seemed to
me a good omen; I was deceived by it, and soon found out the fact. I
ordered a square to be formed, and rode into the middle of it, so as to
be the better heard by everyone.
I began by thanking them
for their reception of me, flattering myself that it arose from a
recollection of the care that, from duty as well as from attachment to
my men, I had always taken of their comfort ; this has been the constant
preoccupation of my long military career. I continued by saying that I
highly recognized their loyal services, their devotion in good and bad
fortune; that though we had succumbed at last, it had at any rate been
with honour, and that it had required all the armies of Europe, as well
as some great blunders oil own side, which could not be imputed to us,
to bring about results that could not have been prevented. I added that
they all knew that I had been the last to submit, and that thus we had
fulfilled our obligations, but that, released by the will of the nation,
we had contracted others, not less sacred, to which the Royal Government
would find us equally loyal ; that the invasion that had collected us at
Lyons would let loose upon our fatherland misfortunes even greater than
those of the previous year, since then ancient France had remained
intact ; but this time the allies would make us pay dearly for a fresh
appeal to arms. I cannot remember what more I said to Stir these men;
they heard me in silence.
I was very excited. I
finished my speech by saying that I had too good an opinion of their
fidelity and patriotic feelings to think that they would refuse to do as
I did, who had never deceived them, and that they would follow me along
the path of honour and duty; the only guarantee that I asked of them was
to join with me in crying: ' Long live the King!' I shouted this several
times at the top of my voice. Not one single voice joined me. They all
maintained a stony silence I admit that I was disconcerted.
My attempts on the other
squares were equally fruitless. The word seemed to have been given to
all the troops.
While making similar
attempts on the cavalry, I sent for Monsieur, hoping that,
notwithstanding what had been reported to me during the night, he would
be received respectfully, if not cordially, as I had at first been. I
also wished that the Prince should be a witness of my endeavours, and
that our common efforts might succeed in overcoming this obstinate and
dreary silence; but we failed a second time. We had come to the last
regiment, the 14th Dragoons, if I remember rightly. The Prince went up
to an old and decorated trooper, spoke to him kindly, and praised him
for his courage, of which he bore the proofs on his breast. The
dragoon—I can see him now— stood motionless, impassive, with staring
eyes and open mouth. His Colonel and several officers, who were shouting
'Vive Ic Roi!' with us, addressed him by name, exhorted and pressed him,
but he remained unshaken. Monsieur was crimson with anger, but had the
good sense not to show it.
We did not let the troops
march past, but sent them straight to their respective positions and
quarters, arranging for the defence of the bridges and fords over the
Rhone as though in presence of an enemy. I then told Monsieur that we
might perhaps be more successful if we made another attempt upon the
officers by themselves. They also had displayed coldness, but they might
have felt some awkwardness in presence of their men.
I therefore gave orders
that they should all assemble in my rooms, from the General down to the
youngest Sub-Lieutenant. I begged his Royal Highness meanwhile to visit
all the bridges, so as to make sure that the defence works agreed upon
the previous evening had been carried out. The Prince liked the idea,
and started for the Rhone, while I went to the meeting.
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