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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter VI

IN the spring of 1798 I was ordered to betake myself to Italy. The Egyptian expedition was prepared and ready to set sail. I had no doubt that at Milan I should receive orders to go either to Genoa or Civita-Vecchia. I had been able to gain no intelligence in Paris, but on arriving I found, with pleasure, that the expedition had already started.

Italy was denuded of troops. They had all been embarked, but more were expected from the interior of France. General Brune, who was in command, allowed me to make a journey to Rome and Naples. I passed two well-employed months in the first-named city, but was refused permission to enter Neapolitan territory, as I was both a Frenchman and a soldier. I returned to Milan. whence I made various excursions, one of which was nearly fatal to rue. I was almost drowned while bathing in the canal at Mantua. General Delmas, then in command, rendered me every service that friendship could suggest—he has since been killed in Saxony—and Mayer, now General, saved, my life.

Shortly afterwards I was sent to Rome to take up a command under General Gouvion St. Cyr. He was, I believe, at that time engaged in a quarrel with the Commissioners of the Directory ; he was recalled, and I succeeded him.

The Roman States had been erected into a republic, and were then in a state of ferment. Their neighbours, the Neapolitans, were threatening. Austria sent the famous General Mack to command their army, while she herself was preparing to break the Peace of Leoben. Partial insurrections and considerable risings took place, especially at Terracina. I suppressed and kept them under. These events were merely the precursors of much more serious and important matters. I administered the country under the eye of the Commissioners, but not in blind accordance with their wishes or authority, although the latter was very limited.

I had but 12,000 men under me, but they were good, trustworthy troops. In my correspondence I informed the Government and the Commander in-chief of the army in Italy of our situation. I begged for speedy reinforcements, but no one would believe the danger imminent, albeit it was apparent. I had arranged my men so as to be ready for any emergency. The Neapolitans were organized under no less a chief than General Mack, whose reputation was almost European (and who by no means justified it, whether at the head of the Neapolitans, or later'-on when in the command of the Austrian army), and at that time he had not the difficulties to contend with that he had in later years.

An 'Army of Rome' was created in Paris and a leader appointed to command it, and a few battalions were ordered down from the north of Italy.

The Neapolitans, to the number of 70,000 or 80,000 men, marched to the extreme points of their frontiers, which I caused to be watched and guarded by small picquets. Everything pointed to a speedy outbreak of hostilities.

The Commander-in-chief; Championnet, arrived in Rome while matters were in this position, and with the assurance, given him by the Directory, that the Government of Naples would not dare to take upon themselves the renewal of the war. Both were mistaken, as was proved by the events of the next few days. I thought otherwise, and had arranged to be able to draw off my troops, evacuate Rome, and re- cross the Tiber. My forces at this point numbered about 6,000 men; the remainder, about the same number, were scattered towards Narni, Sulmona, and Fermo, at the entrance of the Abruzzi.

General Championnet had not been more than forty-eight hours in Rome, I think, when I received intelligence, at eleven o'clock at night, that the Neapolitans had crossed their frontiers without any preliminary declaration of war. I informed the Commander-in-chief; and at daybreak we mounted our horses and rode out towards Tivoli, the nearest outlet to Rome. All was quiet there, but I anticipated that the hostile body that intended to invade us at this point was waiting for news of the principal corps coming from San Germano to Velletri through Terracina. With a small detachment, I could easily have kept in check the enemy's troops at the end of the road which crosses the Pontine Marshes, but their principal body would come by the old road. My troops, therefore, retired upon Rome. It was easy to foresee that the Neapolitans would debouch simultaneously from many points on the frontier, and that is exactly what occurred.

The Commander-in-chief opened negotiations for the c-yacuation of the capital and retired, leaving me saddled with the burden of the retreat. I saw among the people signs of an approaching rising, of which, moreover, I had already received warning. I made serious representations to him, to which he seemed at first inclined to give attention. All my troops were drawn up outside the town; the first thing to be done was to complete the victualling of Sant'-Angelo. I had one or two detachments in the town, a hundred and fifty cavalry on the Piazza del Popolo, and cannon pointing down the three streets which opened on to this space.

I had just returned home to give some orders, when 1 heard shouting and hooting in the street. I hastened to the window, whence I saw my Commander galloping as fast as he could, making for the gate, and taking my cavalry with him. This departure—I soften the expression, and refrain from using one more energetic and more correct—' was the signal for the rising that I had foreseen. All stray Frenchmen, whether military, civil, or attached to the Government, were pursued and massacred, and the shops pillaged.

All who could escape the popular fury took refuge in the churches, the large shops, and the fortress of Sant'-Angelo, and some in my house. My aides-dc-camp and staff officers were on horseback, trying to convey orders to the troops to re-enter the town, but they could not make away through the crowd; those Generals who could not come into the city were in the same plight.

During this crisis, the danger of which increased with every minute, I summoned the artillery from the Piazza del Popolo. it was drawn UI) in front of my door, and several charges of grape-shot were fired ; but the gunners, fired upon from the upper windows, abandoned their posts. Every instant brought news of fresh outrages. Communication between one quarter of the city and another, nay, between one street and another, was cut off, when a band of insurgents was seen coining from the Piazza Navona, and marching upon my lodgings. I sent my small guard— twelve or fifteen men—to meet them. They fired several shots, which checked the boldest of them for a moment; but were finally compelled to give way. Seeing them return, I determined to mount my horse and make a way for myself. My guard received orders to re-enter and barricade my house. Sword in hand, we galloped through the Via del Popolo as far as the Piazza di Venezia, receiving some shots here and there, and a serious discharge from the street leading thence to the Palazzo Colonna. One of my suite was killed and one wounded.

Pursuing my road with the intention of rejoining my troops outside the town, I met near the Forum the head of the column commanded by General Maurice Mathieu, who, not being able to communicate with me, and having heard what was going on inside the walls, had at once started to effect an entrance. It was the 31st regiment of infantry, led by Colonel d'Arnaud—now a Lieutenant-General with a wooden leg--that had succeeded in making their way.

I returned to the Piazza di Venezia, where I distributed companies at the entrances of all the streets. They kept up a fusillade along the streets at the windows, and swept all before them. Orders were successfully conveyed, and at the end of two hours quiet was restored. No one was to be seen out-of-doors or at their windows, for they were fired upon as soon as they appeared. Fortunately the enemy was still twenty-four hours' march distant, otherwise it is impossible to say what misfortunes might not have resulted from this day.

I still think that, had the Commander-in-chief not gone off so inappropriately, or had he left during the night, as I begged him to do, we should have quelled the mob by our presence, for, as I have since learned, they believed that the town was entirely evacuated, and that the Neapolitan troops would re-enter it by the old road.

I took advantage of the quiet of night to complete my arrangements for both exterior and interior. A proclamation was printed and published, which remained without effect; for some hours before dawn groups began to form. I would not, however, give them time to concentrate themselves, and they were easily dispersed by a few charges of cavalry. Tranquillity was maintained, notwithstanding the presence of the enemy, who arrived within sight of our outposts.

I had refused to admit any parlementaire, as the town was to be evacuated. Having that evening. having settled every- thing, and while the last provisions were being carried to Sant'-Angelo, which was not included in the convention, while the bread was being baked and distributed as fast as it was ready, I went to the gate of St. John Lateran. On the way I met one of General Mack's aides-de-camp, who had been admitted by mistake, and who summoned me to yield up the city. I made him turn back.

On reaching the gate, the Neapolitan colonel, Moliterno, and a General of the same nation, whose name I have forgotten, reiterated the demand with considerable arrogance. I had a detachment of men masking a strong ambuscade, and a battery containing several guns loaded with grapeshot. The officer in command, who had heard the threats uttered by these gentlemen, whispered to me:

'Will you allow me to fire?'

'No,' I answered; 'no fighting to-day. To-morrow we may be able to make them regret their impertinence—perhaps even to-night.'

A partial engagement might have spoiled all my arrangements, roused the town afresh, stopped the distribution of rations, and disorganized my ranks. I wished to recross the Tiber without trouble and in broad daylight.

On learning that the food was all distributed and the troops assembled, I gave the signal for retreat, and it was effected in the most orderly manner by the three streets that I have mentioned. Gradually the inhabitants emerged until they appeared in crowds, red cockades in their hats, going out to meet the Neapolitans, but without insulting us. My rear-guard came on slowly, followed by the advance-guard of the Neapolitans. While my columns were crossing the river, I went through the Via del Popolo, in the thick of the crowd, as far as the Piazza di Venezia, unaccompanied save by my aides-de-camp, without seeing any signs of insurrection, without hearing any hostile cries. The people had calmed down. The upper classes may have fomented the disturbances of the previous day, but they took no ostensible part in them. Well-disposed people had remained at home, and had even saved many Frenchmen who, but for them, would probably have fallen victims to the insurrection.

When at last all my men had left the city, I sent orders to the Commandant of the fortress, which was not mentioned, and consequently not included in the convention relating to the evacuation of Rome, to withdraw all his men, to close his barriers, and to consider himself as besieged by a hostile army. I had entrusted our wounded in hospital to the generosity and humanity of General Mack, and left fifty men to guard them, begging him to replace and send them on to me. After taking all these precautions, I left Rome, assuring our friends and partisans that we should not be away more than a fortnight; and I undertook not to shave my beard during our absence. I kept my word, and wore it for seventeen days.

After leaving Rome in good order, and recrossing the Tiber, I marched all night. I encamped at Monterosi, whence two roads branch off, one to Viterho, and one to Ancona. There I waited for fresh intelligence concerning the march of the Neapolitans; but after hearing a rumour of a successful engagement at Fermo, on the extreme eastern frontier of the States of Naples, I raised my camp, and chose another at Civita-Castellana, a strong and good position, naturally defended by several ravines and by a castle.

General Mack occupied my position at Monterosi, and advanced to attack me with quite 40,000 men; I had at most 5,000 or 6,000 to oppose to him. I reinforced as well as I could my advance-guard at Nepi, and determined to go out to meet them. The conflict was violent, but the Neapolitans did not make a stand, and etreated. We pursued them as far as their camp, which was still standing, and which they abandoned, continuing their flight to Rome. This was the principal point of attack. During the action three other columns advanced along the old road, on the right bank of the Tiber, passing by Santa Maria di Falori. I retraced my steps, repulsed all partial attacks, and thus dislodged this magnificent and haughty army, with less than 3,000 men engaged. Our gains were considerable: a large number of prisoners, artillery, arms, baggage, the camp, the military chest, etc.

Learning that General Mack had rallied his troops, and was passing along the right bank of the 'Fiber in order to help one of his columns that was descending upon Otricoli, I too, recrossed the river at the bridge of Borghetto, and supported my right. It was not until after this change of position that I was informed by my scouts that this column was marching upon Otricoli, where I had established my depots of wounded and my provisions.

This road was my only means of communication with headquarters and with the rest of the army. I was not yet certain that the Neapolitans had occupied Otricoli, and wished to ascertain their strength and their position. With this object I took a strong detachment from my camp at Borghetto and started.

There was so dense a fog that we could not see four yards ahead, but we could feel the presence of the enemy by a tolerably long line of lire, to which our men replied. From the enemy's hesitation I concluded that they were not in very good order. The thick fog was fortunate for both of us: it covered our movements and concealed our weakness, while it hid from us their direction. I made my cavalry charge them, on the chance, along the highroad. A discharge of artillery did not check my men; the enemy's advance-guard were surprised and put to the sword, and a battery of light artillery abandoned.

The mist lifted, and we continued our pursuit with a better light. I then discovered that I was dealing not with regulars, but with assassins, who had foully murdered my sick and wounded. The sight of some of these poor fellows, horribly mutilated, but not dead, increased our fury and thirst for vengeance. Learning that these banditti were making for Calvi, we followed them thither, and I at the same time sent orders to General Maurice Mathieu to start from camp immediately with his brigade, so as' to cut off their flight to Rome. We surrounded Calvi, situated on a high escarped mountain; we were inferior in numbers, but superior in pluck. The enemy offered to surrender. I answered in these words

'Lay down your arms, or else run the gauntlet of my troopsI'

They yielded to the number of about 7,000 men, commanded by Generals Moesk and --.

After I had thus re-established my communications, I received orders from the Commander-in-chief to join him on the road to Rome; he was starting from Narni. General Mack was also on the way to support General Moesk in his retreat the latter had written to him not to hurry, that he was in a very strong position at Calvi, and that after having rallied and rested his men he would join him. They apparently counted upon our inaction, and that ruined them. General Mack, warned by fugitives of what had happened, turned back, towards Rome ; we hastily followed him. I had left General Kellermann at Borghetto with a strong detachment. I sent him orders to march, and to drive before him, sword in hand, all that he found on the road.

These unexpected successes aroused the bitter jealousy of General Championnet, a very brave man, it must be acknowledged, but without much capacity. He had acquired a certain reputation while with the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, by commanding a division that had taken part in several actions always with success. A clique had obtained his nomination as Commander-in-chief. He himself was a man of pleasant temper, easy to live with; but he was surrounded by envious, pretentious, and ambitious men, one of whom in particular, Romieux, principal aide-de-camp, had the reputation of being the real wire-puller. There was another man, General Bonnami, chief of his staff, who had not borne a very good reputation on the Rhine, where his conduct in regard to money matters had not been always straightforward. These charges were established later on in Naples, and this man had the impertinence to wish to direct and lead operations.

The orders I had received were insignificant, and eventually proved impossible of execution. I had been unfortunate enough to see this from the beginning, and made the mistake of answering.:

'Let me know what the complete plan is, I will act accordingly, and do not trouble about the details.'

I spoke really in good faith, having a better knowledge of the localities, and also that confidence which always comes after a success gained over an enemy. The orders I received were timid to a degree, whereas they ought to have displayed courage and dash, which would have been quite justified by our successes, and by the spirit that animated my men as well as myself.

I only discovered these annoyances from the increasing coldness of our correspondence; mine was gay rather than serious, especially so in those reports in which I related our skirmishes, always brilliant and successful. I joked about them with no other intention than that of showing how little glory was to be obtained from fighting enemies who, a few days previously, had proved themselves both boastful and cowardly. Had they not massacred our sick and wounded at Otricoli, and threatened with a like fate those whom we had left in Rome, together with a detachment of fifty men to guard and preserve them against the fury of the populace? These men had been disarmed and made prisoners contrary to every law of war or of nations; and yet it was Mack, the General with a European reputation, who did these things, who wrote and published the fact! I had given him notice of our precautions, had appealed to his humanity on behalf of our sick, and begged him to send back our detachment after replacing it by another. I was indignant, furious, and in my turn published a general order and an energetic proclamation, which I hope will he considered justified when my correspondence is examined. [Preserved in the archives of the French War Office.]

When I joined the Commander-in-chief on the new road to Rome, he received me with considerable curtness, instead of with congratulation upon our successes, which had already almost annihilated the Neapolitan army. I was much vexed, and an angry explanation ensued.

'You want to make me pass for a fool,' he said. This speech was clearly produced by vanity.

'What foundation or Proofs have you for your statement ? How dare anyone suggest that I could display such a want of courtesy to my chief?'

'Here is your correspondence,' he replied.

It had been wickedly misconstrued, and presented to him as satirical instead of as the joke that I had intended it to be. I explained this to him, and he softened somewhat. General Eblé, commanding the artillery, came up at this moment; he was a friend of mine, and explained matters, and the General and I were outwardly reconciled. I then proposed a series of operations whereby we should immediately re-enter Rome (feeling persuaded that the Neapolitans there must be in confusion, which proved to be the case), and cut off the passage of a column which was being pursued by General Kellermann on the other side of the Tiber. Championnet consented.


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