Monday, November 26, 2012

Napoleon and His Marshals

I was born at Pau, Gascony in 1763 January 26th. I was a premature birth. In 1790 I was Sergeant Major in the Grenadiers. In August 1798 I married a gorgeous girl named Desiree. In August 1810 I was elected Crown Prince of Sweden and fought against my former chief at the Battle of Leipzig in October 1813. Who am I?
    Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. Bernadotte never really liked Napoleon and remained in contact with republican and anti-Napoleonic sympathizers throughtout his career in the Marshalate. Upon Napoleon's return from Egypt in October 1799 Bernadotte tried to have him arrested for desertion and evading quarantine. On the face of it, a reasonable enough demand as Napoleon had quite literally deserted his army in Egypt. Despite the friction between the two men - Bernadotte always considered himself the superior general and resented Napoleon calling himself Emperor, Napoleon raised him to the rank of Marshal of the Empire in May 19th 1804. Bernadotte ranked seventh in seniority on the list of Marshals. Friction between the two men came to a head after the battle of Wagram in July 1809. Dissatisfied with Bernadotte's performence Napoleon chided his Marshal and angry words were exchanged. When Bernadotte later issued an order of the day praising his troops part in the victorious battle Napoleon was furious and published an offical rebuke stating that Bernadotte's version was "contrary to the truth, policy and national honour". Napoleon was by now realising that he could not trust Bernadotte. He had been late at The battle of Jena, missing at the battle of Eylau and a failure at Wagram. Bernadotte's star in Napoleon's empire was definitely on the wane. However, in 1809 a coup d'etat in Sweden brought new possibilities. King Gustavus IV was sent into exile and his childless and elderly uncle was crowned King Charles XIII. In June Charles's adopted heir died suddenly. The Swedes were soon going to need a King. Bernadotte had established a good reputation with them during his dealings in north Germany where Sweden had territorial and commercial interests. Although not a first choice, his record as an administrator and the fact that he did not mind changing his religion made Bernadotte the leading candidate. Napoleon, after being approached by Charles, raised no objection; seeing a chance to be rid of the Gascon intriguer, and also judging that a French Marshal on the Swedish throne might mean a final closure of the Baltic trade in naval stores to his arch-enemy England. He was so very wrong!. On August 21, 1810, the Swedish Parliament elected Bernadotte as their Crown Prince. Napoleon released him from his oath of allegiance and the two parted, never to meet again. Bernadotte became Napoleon's open enemy and in 1813 fought against him at the Battle of Leipzig.
I was born in Saarlouis on January 10, 1769. I am the son of a barrel-cooper. I won a tremendous victory at the Battle of Elchhingen on October 14, 1805, thus proving that I could be a great commander. I was known for my impetuosity and daring and, despite my temper and ready tongue, I served the Emperor well. At the end, I deserved better. Who am I?
    Michel Ney. Ney has been called 'the bravest of the brave'. History rather unjustly remembers him as a dim and incompetent commander, mainly because of his part in the cavalry charges at Waterloo. At a lower level he had proved that he could command more than adequately. That he rose as high as he did testifies to that fact. He could be aloof and unco-operative with those of similar rank and this made him unpopular with other Marshals. Ney's handling of his army at the Battle of Elchingen was superb. Some give the credit for this victory to the Swiss mercenary and theorist, Jomini. Not true - Jomini's advice was to withdraw. Throughout the retreat from Moscow, Ney's remarkable courage was equalled only by his tactical brilliance and ingenuity: this is all too easily forgotten. Michel Ney was an emotional man who gave one hundred per cent 24/7. There were no half measures with this man. Like a boxer having one too many fights, and indeed like his master Napoleon, he was utterly worn out long before Waterloo. There is only so often one can 'go to the well'. Ney bore the scars from many wounds received over too long a period of time. Marshal Michel Ney was court-martialed on November 10, 1815 and shot by firing squad on December 7 of that year.
This Marshal lived to a ripe old age. He was the most wounded of all the Emperor's Marshals and yet, he outlived them all. He was the son of a brewer and born on April 25, in Bar-le-Duc. He died on September 13, 1847 at age 81. He was made Marshal of the Empire on July 2, 1809. He was created Duc de Reggio on April 14, 1810. At The Battle of Wagram he disobeyed orders and saved the day. Who was he?
    Oudinot. Nicolas-Charles Oudinot started as a private soldier in the Medoc Regiment. When the Revolution broke out he was elected Captain of a company of Bar-le-Duc volunteers. He was promoted a year later to chef-de-legion (approximately Major) of the department's national guard and shortly afterwards to Colonel of the 3rd Battalion of the Volunteers of the Meuse. Oudinot rose to the marshalate by virtue of the fact that despite what appeared to be a charming nature he was utterly ruthless in combat. He also displayed remarkable powers of recovery from his many severe wounds. Oudinot possessed a fine tactical brain of the kind that fuctions well and accurately under pressure, provided that the scope of operations is limited and local: much like a top rate senior NCO. His wounds were many and it was a mircle that he survived into old age. At Mannheim he was captured the morning after a night attack (later exchanged) after sustaining five sabre cuts. Of his achievments, probably the most notable was in June 1794 at Morlautend where he saved a division of Ambert's Army of the Vosges and was promoted to provisional brigadier-general. After a brilliant and order disobeying performance at Wagram, Napoleon said of him: "It was General Oudinot who took Wagram on the 6th, at mid-day." Oudinot refused to have anythng to do with Napoleon during the hundred days and remained loyal to the King.
The title 'Marshal of the Empire' was a purely military rank.
    f. The title Marshal of the Empire was in practice a peerage as well as a military rank. The favoured men would become grands seigneurs and rank fifth in the court hierarchy. Thus Napeoleon formed what he hoped would be the bed rock of his new nobility.
How many Marshals did Napoleon create?
    26. Napoleon created 26 Marshals which, by the end he might have thought was 20 or so too many. These fighting men had been rewarded with estates and grand titles but few remained loyal as the empire began to crumble. Napoleon missed one salient fact. If you richly reward a man who has roughed and toughed it in battle after battle and fought against the elements, hunger, despair and wounds and who can consider himself lucky to have survived even one fraction of the immensely violent Napoleonic experience, then, that man is likely to want to keep what he has earned and sooner or later quit. One can't blame them (the Marshals) really. They had estates, riches, a nice family life in beautiful homes. Most of them wanted to enjoy the fruits of their labours, even at the expense of the man that had provided those riches and made them what they were. Loyalty or comfort? They, more than anyone else, knew well enough that Napoleon had shot his bolt and was constantly over-reaching himself.
How many of Napoleon's Marshals were Frenchmen?
    25. Twenty-five of the twenty-six Marshals created by Napoleon were Frenchmen. The odd man out was the Polish Prince Josef Anton Poniatowski.
Napoleon insisted upon a Papal coronation. Who crowned him Emperor?
    He crowned himself. Napoleon didn't like the idea of receiving the crown from anybody else's hand and so it was agreed beforehand that whilst Pope Pius VII would anoint him, Napeoleon would take the crown and place it upon his own head.
There was never any friction between the Holy See and Napoleon.
    f. Although not personally disliking Napoleon, Pius VII disagreed with many of his policies. Besides which, he was in cahoots with the Catholic 'old 'regime, and any voluntary agreement with Napoleon would have looked like a betrayal. Things were so bad that at one stage Pius VII was forced to retire to the Quirinal where he barricaded himself in under the constant threat of French guns. It was from here that he issued the Bull of excomunication (Quam Memoranda) against authors of attacks against the Holy See. Although not mentioning Napoleon by name, it was clear who he was getting at. Napoleon arrested the ailing Pope.
What is Napoleon recorded as saying when he learnt of Ney's execution by firing squad?
    Ney only got what he deserved. Napoleon, as ever, was really quite indifferent to the fate of those who served him. Like all great conquerors he was thoroughly amoral. That is not a criticism. It is merely an observation. To kill on the grand scale and send tens of thousands to their deaths in the pursuit of personel glory does, I think, make its own statement as to the character of the individual concerned, regardless of how great a general/politicion he/she may be.
Why did John Wayne not get the role of Napoleon in the 60's epic "Waterloo" - a role that went in the end to Rod Steiger?
    He was never offered the part. What can I say? If you got this wrong please accept the Socrates Hemlock Award.

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