Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
THERE was such a large
muster that my rooms could not contain all who were present; the
staircases were crowded. I entered upon my subject by saying all I could
think of best calculated to stir their loyalty, no longer foreshadowing,
but proving to absolute certainty, all the dire misfortunes that would
come upon France and themselves. I saw that they were very animated,
excited and eager. The bitterest and most stinging reproaches were
heaped, often disrespectfully, not only upon the Government, but upon
the King and Royal Family. Loud were the complaints made of prodigality,
unfair distribution of promotions and decorations, neglect, and contempt
of former services. I, of course, tried to lay these faults at the door
of the ignorance and intrigue by which the throne was surrounded;
further, I said that the King, whose intentions were good and
pure, would, when he was better informed, apply a prompt remedy to these
grounds of complaint, which I undertook to communicate to him, and for
which we would find redress, but at this moment our country was to be
served and saved.
Vainly did I exhaust myself for two hours, holding my ground against all
these men, who, without personal rudeness to me, spoke their minds very
freely. It was easy to see why the troops had remained so silent; they
took their cue from their officers. There were several grounds of
complaint referred to ad nauseam, and one of these was the formation of
the King's Household, a corps of officers taken exclusively, and most
unwisely, from the ranks of the old aristocracy, with the exception of
one or two representatives of the new nobility. What was called a
'trooper' ranked as an officer, nay, as a superior officer; a
Sub-Lieutenant of the Household was a Lieutenant-Colonel, and so on.
Complaints upon this subject were, unfortunately, too well founded; and
their anger at seeing a lot of beardless boys dressed in uniforms
resplendent with gold lace, and nearly all decorated with, ribands, and
with the epaulettes of superior officers, was excusable. I repeat that
all they said upon this subject, allowing for some exaggeration, had
foundation in fact; but I could not succeed in making them understand
that, in our critical position and difficult circumstances, the destiny
of the country depended absolutely and entirely upon them. they had made
up their minds to take their chance of that. They were determined not to
fire upon the Grenoble troops that had deserted. I succeeded in
extracting from them a promise to hold their positions and to retaliate
if they were attacked, but this promise seemed to me weak, and was given
with a very bad grace.
There was nothing more to be gained, and I
was worn out with the long and profitless discussion, so I dismissed the
officers, and only kept back a few Generals who thought with me. We went
together to Monsieur; from our sad and downcast looks he guessed that
our attempts had failed. In giving him an account of what had passed, I
told him that we could not reckon upon any defence being made, that
discontent and bitterness had taken possession of every heart, and that,
as his Royal Highness's presence was no longer necessary, I begged him
to depart at once.
'And what will you do?' he asked.
'I shall stay where I am; I have nothing to
fear from the soldiers, but I fear there may be danger for you.'
'No,' he answered; 'I shall stay, if you
will not come with me. After the proofs of devotion you have given, I
will not leave you alone exposed to the turn of events.'
'I repeat, Monseigneur, that I am running no
risk; you have given me the command, I will exercise it to the last
moment. Some incident may arise favourable to your cause; I will seize
and turn it to advantage. But in Heaven's name start; time is flying.'
He seemed inclined to remain, and, I
appealed to the officers to support me. The Duke of Orleans, who was
present, also declared his intention of remaining, with or without
Monsieur. The latter eventually yielded, but required the Duke of
Orleans to accompany him, an order which he had regretfully to obey. At
length Monsieur decided to get into his carriage. He charged me to send
counter-orders to the troops on the road to Lyons, so as not to bring
them into contact with the garrison. Their dispositions were supposed to
be better, but an electric spark seemed to have produced the same
feelings all through the army.
Monsieur told me that he had passed along
the quays and bridges of the Rhone, that no defensive preparations
whatever had been made, that he had distributed money in order to hasten
the work, and that he had received a promise that it should be begun at
At last, to
my great relief; I saw him start, escorted by some mounted National
Guards, ['The mounted National Guard (who were known Royalists) deserted
the I)uc dArtois at this crisis, and in his flight only one of them
chose to follow him. Bonaparte refused their services when offered to
him, and, with a chivalrous feeling worthy of being recorded, sent the
decoration of the Legion of honour to the single volunteer who had thus
shown his fidelity by following the Duke.'l3ourrienne's 'Memoirs of
Napoleon' (edition of 1885), vol. iii., p. 231] some gendarmes, and a
detachment of the 14th Dragoons. His departure took a great weight off
me, for the presence of the Princes had become very embarrassing. if
they had been taken by Napoleon ot arrested by the garrison, they would
have been held as hostages for his personal safety; and had such an
event occurred, royalist public opinion would have made me responsible.
It would have gone even further, and accused me of giving them up!
No doubt there would have been plenty of
witnesses to justify me, including the Princes themselves, but the idea
would have spread rapidly. It would have been impossible to refute it at
first, and then one would have had to write volumes to destroy it; for
once the name of treason is pronounced, however innocent the accused or
suspected person may be, headstrong men will refuse to be convinced, and
will always believe that it had foundation in fact.
I could quote many instances; I will give
but one, the execrable assassination of the Duc de Berry. All the
evidence went to show that the crime had been conceived and carried out
by the scoundrel who committed it, and by no one else. Even now there
are plenty of these violent men who believe that this crime was the
result of a conspiracy. The only satisfactory point in this terrible
misfortune was the immediate arrest of the detestable murderer; had he
not been taken, suspicion and distrust would have lain upon all the
constitutional party, without exception. There are still a considerable
number of people, on the opposite side, who believe it; but the opinion
is losing ground, and remains only in a few of the densest heads. In
spite of party differences and political animosity, there was but one
voice throughout the land, and that was raised to call down the
vengeance of the law for the punishment of this abominable crime.
Although I was somewhat calmed by the
departure of the Princes, I was far from being easy. The minds of the
men, of the officers, and, I must even add, of the generals of the 19th
military division, seemed to become more excited as the decisive moment
drew nearer. I sent for the Prefect and the Mayor, and while waiting for
them telegraphed a short message about the state of affairs to the
Minister for War, of which he only received the heading:
'Marshal Macdonald to the Minister for War.'
Monsieur had desired me to send it, and to
announce his departure for Paris with the Duke of Orleans. I had also
carried out the Prince's orders about halting and retiring the troops
that were marching towards Lyons. I shortly afterwards learned that the
Prefect had quitted the town; the Mayor alone arrived.
At the meeting of the officers they had
promised me that if attacked they would fire in retaliation, but that
they would not take the initiative. From that moment I resolved to bring
the combat to close quarters; but as I was warned that our soldiers
would not fire first, I thought that among so large a population as that
of Lyons it would be easy to find twenty or thirty devoted men, or men
who would be won over by the promise of gain and reward. It would only
be necessary to dress them in the uniform of the National Guard; my plan
was to place them at the advance posts, in front of the troops, to put
myself at their head, and fire the first shot. This stratagem might be
successful, if the engagement became genera], and our soldiers decided
to imitate our shooters. I know from experience how very slight a matter
will suffice to change men's opinions.
Hitherto Napoleon had met with no
opposition. A few battalions and squadrons only had joined him, but an
unexpected resistance, although so far in the centre of France, at the
entrance of a town of such importance, with the Rhone as a barrier,
ought to make him reflect, and recall to his mind the courageous defence
made by the town against the Republican army. The troops he brought back
with him, wearied and disgusted with their sojourn in the island of
Elba, must have before their eyes the fear of being sent back thither,
and the dread of an even severer punishment. Finally the garrisons of
Grenoble and Vienne, seduced and led away as they had been, might
recognize that they had made a mistake, and repent of it.
Such were my illusions; hut, weak as was my
hope, what would happen to Napoleon if my dream came even partially
true? What proves that my reasoning was not entirely without some
foundation is, that when I was at Bourges, after the submission of the
army, I heard from the grenadiers who had been in Elba, and who were
garrisoned there, that they had been delighted to return to France, but
if they had met with the slightest rescstance, the smallest obstacle, or
even a single shot, they would have thrown down their arms and sued for
mercy. This I heard from all ranks, men, officers, even the Commander
When the Mayor entered my
room, I told him of my intention. He was the only civil official who had
remained at his post. I was surprised at hearing him answer that he
would not be able to find a single man to do what I wanted.
'It is impossible,' I cried, 'that a town
which defended itself so valiantly in 1793 in support of the Royal cause
should not now contain one single veteran of that date burning with the
Mayor shook his head. I dismissed him.
After having arranged an appearance of
defence, and even offence, if I could only succeed in bringing my troops
hack to their duty, I rode in the company of the Governor, Viscount
Digeon, Count Jules de Polignac (Monsieur's aide-dccamp, whom he had
left at my disposal), some other Generals and staff-officers, to visit
the posts, and to see for myself what obstacles had been prepared to
stop the advance of Napoleon. I was not surprised to find that little or
nothing had been done; the money that Monsieur had distributed had been
quietly pocketed. The communications between the banks had not been
interrupted; the order to bring the boats across and moor them on our
side and to guard certain fords had not been carried out. The same
remark applied to the reconnoitring parties, which should have been sent
out to announce the approach of Napoleon's scouts. This piece of neglect
made me particularly angry, and I severely scolded the general officer
charged with this duty. I sent out myself some patriots in echelon, and
after making a few more arrangements, I went from the Guilloti'ere to
the Morand bridge.
The disaffection that I met everywhere gave me good grounds for fearing
a complete desertion and a catastrophe I therefore gave private orders
to have the horses put to my carriage and to have it taken to the
outskirts of the suburb of Vaise, at the junction of the roads towards
the Bourbonnais and Burgundy respectively, so that I could follow either
one or the other according to circumstances if I were compelled to
retreat. At the Morand bridge no barricade had been made. It was guarded
by an iron gate; nobody knew where the keys were. I gave a man ten louis
(£8) to go and buy some chains and a padlock. My money went the same way
as that of Monsieur.
As I quitted this bridge on my way back to
the other, I noticed the bustle caused by the return of a reconnoitring
party. It could not have gone very far, and had no doubt seen or met
what we must call the enemy. What had happened? My anxiety was great,
but it was ended by the arrival of a staff-officer, who galloped up to
me and said
reconnoitring party has just returned.'
'What has it seen?'
'Just coming into the suburb of the
'The two parties drank together.'
'Hasten to the Place Bellecour, bring up the
two battalions in reserve there; place one on each side of the bridge.'
The quays were crowded; boats were coming
and going, transporting to the left bank the inquisitive people who
could not cross the bridge occupied by our troops. The latter were ready
to advanceto do their duty, or to betray us? As I reached the
bridge-gates, cries of 'Vive l'Empereur!' burst from the other side of
the river. On the quays the crowd took up the shout, and echoed it in a
instantly put into execution the design I had formed of making some show
of resistance. I intended to gain the head of the bridge with my staff,
stop the first men who appeared, seize their weapons, and fire. The
bridge was blocked by troops in columns.
'Come along, gentlemen' I cried; 'we must
jumped off our horses and hurried along on foot as rapidly as we could,
but scarcely had we reached a quarter of the distance when the 4th
Hussars, Napoleon's advance-guard, appeared at the other end of the
bridge. At this sight officers and soldiers mingled their cheers with
the shouts of the populace; shakos were waved on bayonets in token of
delight; the feeble barricades were thrown down, everyone pressed
forward to welcome the new arrivals to the town.
From that instant all was
lost. We made our way back, and remounted our horses ; there was no time
to lose, for I rightly imagined that the 4th Hussars would meet no
resistance at the Morand bridge, and they might reach the suburb of
Vaise before us by following the quays, which is what eventually
Brayer, who was still with me, on hearing me give orders for the
immediate evacuation of Lyons, took off his mask, and said:
'It is useless, Monsieur Ie Maréchal; all
measures have been taken to prevent your departure.'
'Surely, sir, you know me too well,' I
answered, 'to suppose that I can be easily stopped. I shall know how to
make myself respected, and to make a way for myself with my sword.'
He moved towards his men without replying.
But another obstacle presented itself. The crowd had become so compact
that it would have been vain for me to attempt to pass through it, had
it not been for the arrival of two battalions of reserves which I had
summoned with the intention of posting them on the right and left sides
of the bridge. The mass had to give way to admit of the passage of the
troops. I took advantage of it to march with the column, making gestures
to them as if to indicate where they should go. There was such a noise
that it would have been impossible to make one's self heard. Having at
length reached the rear of the column, I went along the quay. Colonel
Dard, of the dragoons, whose regiment was not far away, came and asked
me for orders without stopping, I said
'Get your horse and follow me.'
'To the Bourbonnais high-road.'
I think his regiment refused to obey him,
but am not certain, and have never been able to discover positively.
As we crossed the Place Bellecour, Comte
Roger de Damas, governor of the 19th division, which was drawn up in the
square, wished to stop. He was very confident, and had taken no
precautions. I pointed out that it was now too late, and that the
slightest delay would cause his arrest. He ran great risks, and had
everything to fear, as a former émegré; but he would not be convinced,
and went to his lodgings, while we started at full gallop. He had the
good fortune to make his escape in disguise.
A little farther on I met Monsieur's escort
returning. As we passed I gave orders to the officer in command to
follow me with his detachment, adding that the regiment was behind us,
and we pursued our road with the same speed, when, in the middle of the
suburb, we met a brigadier and four hussars from Napeleon's troops, who
had come by the Morand bridge and the Quai de Saône, and who barred the
way; they were all drunk.
The brigadier advanced to seize my bridle,
crying: 'General, surrender yourself '
He had scarcely uttered the words when, with
a blow of my fist on his car, I knocked him into the gutter, whence he
had sprung. A hussar threw himself upon General Viscount Digeon, who
scoundrel, would you dare to arrest your General?'
'Oh, is it you, General Digeon? You must
General imitated my method of disposing of his man, as did also Viscount
de Polignac and the others who were behind us.
I was wrapped in my cloak, and was only
distinguishable by the white plume in my hat. The appearance of the
hussars had been so sudden and unexpected that we had had no time to
draw our swords. On looking round to see if we were being followed, I
saw that the detachment of dragoons had passed the hussars without
taking them prisoners, whence I concluded that they were in league with
them, and that they would arrest us if they could catch us; we therefore
pressed on faster.
On the way General Digeon kept repeating to me that he knew a short cut
to the Bourbonnais high-road, but while we were seeking about for it we
reached the extreme end of the suburb. At the moment of the catastrophe,
I had sent my courier on ahead with orders to send my carriage forward.
It had been standing there for several hours, with my aides-de-camp and
my secretary. The postilions had got off their horses, and were probably
in some public-housethey could not be found. I threw a sad glance at my
carriage, which contained a considerable sum in gold. One of my
aides-de-camp handed me a pocket-book through the window, but we passed
so swiftly that none of us could seize it.
Poor General 1)igeon, somewhat upset at
having missed his short cut, did his utmost to induce me to take the
Burgundy road instead of the Bourbonnais, which I knew very well. He had
mistaken the two. As we galloped on he said:
'We are on the Burgundy road; there is a
very bad feeling abroad there. You will be taken.'
I could neither calm him nor convince him
that we were on the right road. A short distance ahead I perceived two
gendarmes' horses tethered to a post without their riders. We might, by
signal or otherwise, have them unfastened and brought after us, for ours
were so tired that they could scarcely move. I gave orders that the
gendarmes' horses should be untied. We were still pursued by what we
believed to be enemies; they had even gained upon us somewhat, but at
last they slackened their speed, and we were compelled to do the same,
as our exhausted horses had of their own accord dropped into a walk.
About a mile from the 'Four de Salvagny, the
first stage on quitting Lyons, I saw a general officer coming towards
us. It was Simmer, who had been through the campaign of 1813 with me,
and had served with great distinction. I had met him the previous day
coming from Clermont with two battalions. He had received my orders to
halt, and was on his way to Lyons for fresh instructions. Surprised at
finding me on the road when he thought me still in the town, he asked
what had happened. My only answer was:
'Have you any fresh horses to lend me?'
'Then go and have them saddled and bridled.'
He started at a gallop. I did not lose sight
of the detachment that was pursuing us; we had drawn away from it
somewhat. At last we reached the post-house. The two battalions were
under arms, and received me with proper honours. Some of my party
thought they noticed some national cockades among them; I did not
myself. The horses were soon ready, and we changed immediately, and
taking General Simmer aside, I told him in a few words what had
happened, and said:
'Order your troop to retreat.'
'They would not obey.'
'Then leave them, and follow me.'
With these words I started again, and the
General remained behind.
Poor Digeon, preoccupied with the fear of
being taken, suddenly perceived the white plume in my hat, and implored
me to remove it. I hesitated, but at length, in order to pacify him, I
pulled it out and tore it to pieces as we were galloping along, and
notwithstanding the inconvenience of the wind and the rain. Just then
his horse stumbled and fell; fortunately he was only scratched, and soon
was in the saddle again, though we had to go rather more slowly. I
noticed that our companions were a long way behind. They had probably
found no horses at the post- house, and I was much afraid they would be
taken; but I could not have saved them, and should only have been
arrested as well. I presumed they would have presence of mind to strike
into the cross-roads and into the open country.
In this state of doubt we galloped on, when
we saw in front of us some horses being led. General Digeon, who
expected to meet his along this road, concluded that they had passed the
night at Tarare, and that those would be his horses. As his sight was
very bad, he did not recognise them until we came close up to them. This
was a piece of luck. We instantly jumped down and saddled and bridled
them ourselves. Those we had left were very hot; they either smelt or
saw the water of a little stream which ran near there, and we let them
go. As we were remounting we perceived some horsemen far behind us,
without being able to discover whether they were our companions or our
pursuers. Away we went again.
As we passed through Tarare, a man leaning against a door, with a cotton
cap on his head, greeted us with a feeble shout of 'Vive l'Empereur!' On
reaching the foot of the mountain, where carriages stop to have extra
horses harnessed to them, I felt too faint to go any farther without
having some food. I had not dined the previous evening, and had eaten
nothing all day. It was then between four and five in the afternoon. We
were told that Monsieur was about half-way up the hill, which is very
long. We were very anxious to catch him up to tell him what had
happened, and I, especially, to get a lift in his carriage, for I could
scarcely sit my horse any longer; my skin was already broken.
Poor General Digeon, who had not yet got
over our meeting with the hussars in the suburbs of Lyons, wished to
push on ; but I needed time to breathe; my horse's action was so
uncomfortable that it had produced a violent pain in my side; his trot
would have been much worse. There were only two of us, and without
quitting my saddle, I asked him to keep watch while I was brought some
bread and cheese and a glass of wine. I ate very little of this frugal
repast, only just enough to satisfy my immediate needs. The General ate
in his turn while I kept a lookout. I do not think our halt lasted more
than eight or ten minutes. We started off again at a gallop,
notwithstanding the hill, and indifferent to the fate of our horses;
what was important to us was to catch up the carriages, which we should
otherwise have missed.
We came up with them just as they were at
the top of the hill. On seeing us, Monsieur guessed what had happened,
and offered us places in his carriage. I accepted; but as I was
dismounting, Digeon said to me in a low voice:
'Don't get in; we shall be taken; they will
go very slowly and will want to stop.'
'All the more reason,' I returned; 'we will
hurry on, or share the same fate.'
Possessed with his idea, he continued on
horseback, but did not, however, get beyond the next stage, where he was
very glad to find a place in the carriage containing Monsieur's staff.
His Royal Highness gave me a seat beside himself, that, I believe, of
the Duke of Fitz-JamesCount des Cars, Captain of the Guards, and the
Duc de Polignac, Equerry, completed the party.
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