WE foresaw that we should
be called ere long to play a part in the events that were in progress on
the other side of the Rhine. The Army of the Sambre and Meuse was
commanded by General Jourdan, that of the Rhine by General Moreau; each
acted without any concert or consideration for the movements of the
other. The new campaign had opened brilliantly and decisively, but this,
unfortunately, did not last long. A clever and well-designed feint on
the part of the Archduke Charles of Austria deceived General Moreau. The
Archduke unexpectedly crossed the Danube at I)onauwerth, and fell, with
overwhelming numbers, upon the right flank of the Army of the Sambre and
Meuse, which was on the Rednitz, while that which General Jourdan was
pressing back from the Rhine suddenly turned and attacked in front. The
inequality of numbers and the great extent of ground occupied by the
French army compelled a retreat.
Prompt succour was
necessary. In September, 1796, the camp at Gorssel was raised and set in
motion, as well as another division pf the Army of the North stationed
in Belgium. The latter advanced to the tete-de-pont at Neuwied, while,
with the former, I advanced to the enormous entrenched camp at
1)iisseldorf. During our march the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, being
hard pressed, fell back upon the Lahn, which position it endeavoured to
hold until our arrival.
General Castelvert, who
commanded the Belgian division, was ordered to put himself in line on
the right of this army, in touch with the division temporarily under the
command of General Marceau, which extended along the right bank of the
Lahn as far as its mouth. General Castelvert's orders, in case the enemy
should force the passage of the river, were to retire to the téIe-depot
of Neuwied, and to preserve that post on the Rhine at all costs. For
this he was to answer with his head. Completely engrossed with this
responsibility, he learned that the enemy had taken possession of the
town of Nassau, and, without reflecting that this town was situated on
the left bank, and that its occupation was consequently immaterial to
his position, he hastily retreated to the 11e-de-ponf without giving
notice to General Marceau, [This General was mortally wounded on
September 20, 1796. His remains rest by treaty in a few feet of French
territory in Germany in the banks of the Rhine. The spot was recently
visited, we believe, by President Carnot, the head of the present
Republic.] and thus left absolutely uncovered the extreme right of the
Army of the Sambre and Meuse, which that very day was defeated and
compelled to retire. This army, of course, threw all the blame upon
Castelvert, and there is no doubt that he had committed a serious
blunder in compromising the position. The excuse that he made to me is
too curious not to be quoted.
'Why,' I asked him, 'did
you retire without being compelled to do so, and without giving any
'There!' he replied. Of
course they want to throw all the blame for their defeat upon the Army
of the North; but they were dying to have an excuse to get away, and as
they were retreating eight leagues, surely I had a right to retreat ten,
and be d-d to them!'
He was recalled.
I advanced from
Düsseldorf to Mfllheim, but the enemy left us quiet on the Wupper and
the Sieg. General Beurnonville succeeded General Jourdan, bringing with
him imperative and reiterated orders to take the offensive; but besides
the lateness of the season, the Army of the Sambre and Meuse was not
really in a condition to advance; it had scarcely anything. A tacit
understanding was arrived at between the two opposing Generals to the
effect that the troops should have a rest on condition of ten days'
notice being given on each side should either Government order the
reopening of hostilities. I took up ray quarters on the right bank of
the Rhine, extending my left to the line of demarcation settled by the
Prussians at the Treaty of Basle. I established my headquarters at
Dusseldorf, and thus we passed the winter.
In February, 1797, I
recrossed the Rhine, in order to execute a mission in Belgium, leaving
my command at Düsseldorf to General-of-Division Desjardins, and that of
my titular division to General-of-Brigade Gouvion. In my absence the
troops of the Army of the North were 6che1oned from Dusseldorf to
Arnheim. I rejoined at Nimeguen.
Hostilities broke out
afresh upon the Rhine. General Hoche was in command of the Army of the
Sambre and Meuse, when he died suddenly. I have never heard that the
cause of his death was satisfactorily cleared up. It was said that he
had been poisoned by an opposing faction. This corjs d'a'-mée of the
North, under my orders, returned to the Rhine; but on the road we heard
of the Treaty of Campo Formio, which stopped the Armies of the Rhine and
of the Sambre and Meuse in the midst of their successes.
A political revolution
occurred in Paris, and General Augercau came to take command of the
three armies combined under the name of the Army of Germany. He reviewed
us at Cologne, and was struck with the smart appearance of the Army of
the North, directly under my orders. Instead of praising it, he said:
'I observe and understand
that these troops are drilled in the Prussian manner, but I will soon
put a stop to that.'
A halt was called before
the march past. The soldiers crowded round the new Commander-in-chief.
His dress was startling; he was covered with gold embroidery even down
to his short hoots, thus contrasting strongly with our simple uniforms.
lie related his Italian campaigns, spoke of the bravery of the troops,
but without even mentioning the leader of that army. He said that the
soldiers were very well treated there, and that there was not a man
among them, bad character as he might be, who had not ten gold pieces in
his pocket and a gold watch. This was a hint to our fellows.
On one occasion the
theatrical manager came to offer him a choice of plays. Augereau
insisted on something very revolutionary, and chose, if I remember
rightly, either 'Brutus' or the 'Death of Csar.' General Lefebvre, who
had held the command temporarily, was his principal lieutenant. Trigny,
commandant of Cologne, had offered his carriage, in the hope, probably,
that the Commander-inchief would give a seat in it to his wife. This
idea, however, never seemed to occur to the latter, so Trigny very
respectfully suggested it. Lefebvre, seated beside General Augereau, put
his head out of window, and inquired:
'What did you say?'
Trigny repeated his
'Go to blazes!' replied
Lefebvre; 'we did not come here to take your wife out driving!'
Lefebvre, who had not the
remotest acquaintance with literature, applauded heartily with his
clumsy hands, believing that the play had been written that very morning
in honour of the occasion. He kept nudging me with his elbow, and
'Tell me, where is the
chap who wrote this? Is he Present?'
On the conclusion of
peace, I think in November, I returned to Holland. General Beurnonville
was recalled. General Dejean, who held the command provisionally, made
it over to me, and I exercised it through the winter, until the moment
when General Joubert came to take it over permanently, and I received
orders to go to Paris.