Thursday, 30 April 2015

30 April: Jean-Marie Dorsenne (1773-1812)

Anonymous engraving depicting "le beau Dorsenne".
Dorsenne (General Count), born in Picardy [actually Ardres, which is in Pas-de-Calais], owed his military elevation to his sole merit, and before becoming a general, he went through every rank. He enlisted in 1791 in a volunteer battalion of Pas-de-Calais; in April 1792, he was present at the first encounters between the French and Austrian armies between Lille and Tournai, and he was wounded; he followed General Bonaparte to Egypt; he served in Desaix’s division as a commandant and was wounded a second time. In 1804, he was made the colonel of the 61st Line, and in January 1805, Napoleon made him the major of the grenadiers of the Guard. His valour at the battle of Austerlitz was rewarded with the rank of brigade general. As the new commander of the Imperial Guard, he fought the Prussians and Russians in the 1806 and 1807 campaigns. In 1808, he served n the war against Austria. At the battles of Essling and Wagram and in the fights at Ratisbon, his bravery singled him out once more. His military talents earned him the rank of divisional general in 1811, and he was sent to Spain. One month after his arrival (August 1811), he led the army of the North against the Spaniards, routed them completely and settle his headquarters in Valladolid, after crossing Navarre and Biscay unimpeded. General Dorsenne never concealed his opinion on this dreadful war; his reports give a picture of his state of mind at the time. Exhausted by the violent pains that resulted from previous head trauma, he decided to withstand the pain and the hazards of trepanning; but this did not help him. His sufferings grew worse, and he came back to Paris, where he died on 24 July 1812.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I. Paris-Strasbourg

So. I think I need to take a break from Thiébault, especially now that I'm using his Mémoires as a bedtime story for my little brother (leaving out the sexual and racist content, of course, as well as the boring details of military manoeuvres). Instead, let's turn to his friend Charles-Louis Cadet de Gassicourt for a while... More specifically, since Gassicourt was very prolific, to his Voyage en Autriche, published in 1818 and chronicling his adventures throughout Europe in Spring 1809.

One of the most beautiful roads of France is the one leading to Strasbourg. One cannot fail to be surprised at the sight of the agricultural riches of the departments crossed by the Marne and the Meuse; from Meaux onwards, I did not see the simple dwellings or neglected fields that are common sights everywhere else. The pastures are admirable. The huge amount of manure collected by the farmers proves the generosity of this land, and ensures its fecundity; thus the people of Champagne and Lorraine are healthy and vigorous and rather well-dressed; but they do not have good races of horses, oxen and cows; the horses of Lorraine in particular often look like they are descended from the one of the Apocalypse, or from Don Quixote’s emaciated mount.
Until Saint-Dizier, the vines of Champagne all have very slender stocks, cut at six inches from the ground. From this city to Strasbourg, the vines’ appearance changes, the stocks are strong, rising in two V-shaped branches, or in one plant that snakes up to a height of about two feet. The shoots from the previous year fold in on themselves, and each vine looks like a hare trap. If M. Cadet Devaux [Gassicourt’s uncle, also a pharmacist] knows of this culture, spread all throughout Lorraine and Alsace, he can draw useful conclusions for his system of tree bowing.
From Epernay to Strasbourg, I was afflicted to see the many crosses recently planted out of superstition; every village, every vineyard, every field, every crossroads has a huge crucifix. Most of these small religious monuments are made of stone and carefully sculpted. Only one house-owner, in a suburb of Nancy, had replaced the Virgin put inside a niche in his door with a bust of Napoleon and this inscription: To Bonaparte, saviour of the Republic. Bonaparte and the Republic! This juxtaposition of words felt rather strange to me.
In the same city, good modern mottoes were inscribed upon the arc de triomphe that serves as the gate to Stanislas’ palace; but the old ones were not properly erased, so that one can distinctly make out the words Imperatori, liberty, pacifico principe, equality, victori; this gibberish recalls two very different times.
None of the prefects of the departments I crossed has enforced the decree on mendicancy. At each halt, at each climbing, one is tired by the constant buzzing of the many beggars, both able-bodied and disabled, who surround the carriages. The peristyles of churches are full of them. These wretches call the pettiest officer monseigneur or mon général; but the travellers really ought to be spared this nuisance, even if it means depriving the braves in uniform of a reliable source of flattery.
While the solid, elegant and picturesque architecture of most towns and villages of Champagne and Alsace are a nice sight, it is quite unpleasant to see that the people of these provinces still do not know how to properly cover their houses. Everywhere they use hollow tiles arranged in gutters, which is very heavy and inelegant. It seems that the wind often disrupts this arrangement; for the edges of these roofs are loaded with stones, at the risk of killing passer-bys, in order to keep them in position.
In Nancy, Lunéville, Phalsbourg and Saverne, the main streets are paved with rolled pebbles the size of a lemon. They use lime mortar for this paving, which is surprisingly solid and aesthetically pleasant, especially kind to light carriages, but very tiring for pedestrians.
There are many ponds in the forests of Lorraine. The main building material is a pink or red sand or gravel, and there are three different kinds of it. One of them is extremely fine and hard; it is used to make grindstones; the other is as tender as sandstone; the third one is schist-like and contains mica; it forms superposed layers, but retains much consistency. The three kinds served to build the Strasbourg cathedral, which is wonderfully well preserved.

It is quite pleasant to meet educated chatterboxes, when one manages to make them chatter on an interesting subject and with the possibility of leaving at any time. I experienced this with M. Lenoir, our host, whose greatest pleasure in life is to tell strangers everything about the town he inhabits.
“Strasbourg has forty-seven to forty-eight thousand inhabitants, not counting the garrison,” he told me. “We mostly trade tobacco, gold wares and liquors. We also have a fine armoury. Strasbourg was Argentora in Roman times, destroyed by Attila and rebuilt by Clovis’ sons on the road between France and Germania. I point this out, Monsieur, because the name Strasbourg, made up of Stratz and Burg, means a city on the great path; this is why other towns bear this name. There is a Strasbourg in Pomerania, one in Prussia and one in Carinthia. Our first bishop was St. Arbogaste, in Dagobert’s times. In 1529, the people embraced Luther’s reformation, appointed a senate and drove out the priests and nuns who behaved badly; but in 1550, Erasme de Limburg, Charles Quint’s protégé, came back to the cathedral and brought the Holy Mass back to us after making compromises with the Lutherans. Upon the Emperor’s death, this prelate took fear and retired to Lower Alsace. Until 1681, there was a rather violent war between the two churches; in the end, the bishop took his throne back and was only forced down by the French Revolution.
“In Notre-Dame, you will see the debris of the famous clock”, M. Lenoir added, “which formerly indicated hours, minutes, months, days, feasts, vigils, eclipses, moon phases, Zodiac cycles and many other things. All of this is now broken. Thomas Corneille says this masterpiece is Copernicus’ work, but he is wrong: the clock was made in 1575 and Copernicus died in 1545.”
Even though Strasbourg is near a large river and is crossed by a smaller one, the only water they drink here comes from the well; it is quite pure1.
In the civilian hospital, they keep hundred-year-old wine, and they have been preserving some wheat for the past hundred and thirty years, sometimes making bread out of it for curious visitors.
1The same phenomenon can be noted in Orleans and Cologne. Modern chemical knowledge has not yet uprooted the popular prejudice that the water of quick rivers is less healthy than that of wells and cisterns.

29 April: Jean-Baptiste Jourdan (1762-1833)

Jourdan as a lieutenant-colonel of the 2nd battalion of Haute-Vienne, portrait by Horace Vernet, now hanging in the 1792 room of the Château de Versailles
Jourdan (Jean-Baptiste), Marshal of France, born in Limoges on 29 Avril 1762, enlisted in the Auxerrois regiment in 1778 and fought in the American war. After the peace treaty, he came back to France. In 1790, he was the captain of the chasseurs of the Limoges National Guard; in 1791, he was appointed as commander of the 2nd battalion of the volunteers of the Haute-Vienne, which he led to the Army of the North; he fought in Belgium under Dumouriez and distinguished himself in many occasions, especially around Namur, during the army’s retreat. On 27 May 1793, he was made a brigade general, and on 30 July of the same year, he became a divisional general. He led the battle corps at Honschoote and was wounded as he stormed the enemy positions at the head of his troops. Two days earlier, he had taken Hout-Kerke, Herzeele, Bambeke and Rexproede. On 26 September, he took over command of the army from Houchard. On 17 October, he won the battle of Wattignies, a fierce 48-hour fight, and forced Prince Coburg to lift the blockade of Maubeuge. The Committee of Public Safety then summoned Jourdan to Paris in order to confer with him about future operations. The Committee was inebriated with its successes and wanted to take the offensive. Jourdan retorted that the army was made up of fresh levies, most of whom had neither weapons nor uniforms, and that is was better to spend the winter in defensive positions, so as to be able to attack in Spring. His plans were adopted; however, his resistance was not forgotten, and as soon as the troops were ready to march, Pichegru came to replace him. The Committee of Public Safety had even issued a decree ordering General Jourdan’s destitution and arrest; but Representatives of the People sent to the army took his defence, and Barère suggested that the Committee merely send him into retirement. However, he was soon re-employed, and he obtained command of the Army of the Moselle. He opened the 1794 campaign with the battle of Arlon, where 16,000 Austrians were completely defeate. He then received orders to cross the Ardennes and to reunite with the right wing of the Army of the North in Charleroi, along with 40,000 men; he carried out this move successfully. The troops placed under Jourdan’s orders were henceforth known as the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse. This army crossed the Sambre, was victorious in Fleurus on 8 Messidor (26 June), at Ourthe and Aiwaille on 18 September, and on the Roër on 2 October. It defeated the enemy in a multitude of fights, reconquered Landrecies, Lequesnoy, Valenciennes and Condé, took Charleroi, Namur, Juliers and Maästricht and planted its flats along the Rhine, from Cleves to Coblenz. Thus, in a single campaign France conquered the plentiful land around the Rhine, which it retained for twenty years and lost only after the disasters of 1814. In 1795, Jourdan took possession of the fortress of Luxemburg, which surrendered to him. In September, he forced his way across the Rhine, through a corps of 20,000 Austrians, and captured Dusseldorf. Clairfayt’s army, gathering on the Lahn, did not dare take the chance of a battle, and withdrew beyond the Mein. Jourdan chased it and took position between Mayence and Hochst, which was crossed by the neutrality line agreed upon with Prussia. Pichegru, who had crossed the Rhine in Manheim, and who should have advanced with the main body of his army, as the government ordered, to cut Clairfayt’s retreat and join the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse, merely sent 10,000 men to Heidelberg; they were completely defeated a few days later. Secure in the immobility of Pichegru, who was in contact with the émigrés, Clairfayt pulled reinforcements from the Austrian army of the Upper Rhine, crossed the neutrality line above Frankfurt, and manoeuvred to trap the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse between the Lahn, the Mein and the Rhine. Such are the causes of General Jourdan’s retreat. The government wrote to him on that subject: “Yes, General, we are pleased to give you the justice you deserve; we approve the retreat you ordered, and we are convinced that it was indispensable. We praised you when you led the Army of Sambre-et-Meuse to victory; we congratulate you on having saved it from almost certain doom.” Soon afterwards, General Clairfayt broke through the lines of Mayence, and Jourdan marched to save the Army of Rhin-et-Moselle. After a short but brilliant campaign in Hundsruck, he agreed on an armistice, and the war only resumed on the next spring, by which point he crossed the Rhine again, forced General Wartensleben to retreat, took Frankfurt and Wurtzburg, and reached the outskirts of Ratisbon. But after an attack by Archduke Charles, who was backing off before Moreau and came to save Wartensleben with 40,000 men, he had to withdraw on the Rhine. In 1818, Jourdan published a book titled: Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de la campagne de 1796, in which he demonstrates that his retreat was caused by the government’s misdirection of the two armies, and by Moreau’s decision to go for an easy victory on the Lech instead of chasing Archduke Charles. Having resigned from his command, Jourdan was appointed to the Council of the Five Hundred in March 1797 by the department of Haute-Vienne. He was elected president on 23 September and secretary on 21 January 1798. On 24 September of this year, he was re-elected to the presidency and resigned on 14 October, announcing that the Directory destined him to a military command. During his legislative term, he often took part in discussions, wrote various reports, proposed and obtained the vote of the law on conscription. The Directory—which had turned the whole of Europe against it with its exaggerated pretensions in Rastadt and its Italian and Swiss endeavours—not only neglected to levy armies capable of weathering the storm, it also engaged hostilities before all its offensive means were gathered on the points it wanted to attack; so that the Army of the Danube, led by General Jourdan, only numbered 38,000 men when it crossed the Rhine on the 1st of March 1799 and entered Swabia. Jourdan soon found himself facing Archduke Charles, who had more than 65,000 men under his orders. The hostilities began on 20 March; on the next day, three French divisions sustained a stubborn fight in Ostrach, only giving ground after causing considerable losses for the enemy. Jourdan, being convinced that he would compromise his army if he persisted in fighting against such superior forces, decided to march closer to the Rhine, hoping to receive the relief he needed in order to resume the attack. He retreated in good order and the Archduke pursued him without energy. On the 24th, seeing that the prince had badly disposed his troops around Stockach, he hoped that this situation would compensate for the gap in numbers between his adversary and him, and he decided to try his fate once again. Thus he attacked the Archduke on the next day, at Liebtingen, took 4,000 prisoners and two cannons, slept on the battlefield and spent the next day there. However, the advantage gained was not as great as Jourdan had hoped, and he kept retreating towards the Black Forest. on 10 April, he was replaced with Masséna. He was re-elected to the Council of the Five Hundred in May 1799. The government’s incompetence being the cause of the armies’ setbacks, Jourdan offered to proclaim a state of emergency, hoping to put through appropriate measures for pulling France out of her deplorable situation. But he failed. On 18 Brumaire, he did not rally to General Bonaparte’s banner, fearing that protecting the nation from anarchy would mean taking its liberty away. He was excluded from the Corps Législatif and temporarily condemned to detention in the department of Charente-Inférieure. On 24 July 1800, he was appointed minister extraordinary, then administrator of Piedmont. He eradicated brigands, restored financial order and enforced the rule of law in this country. In 1802, he was called on to sit at the Council of State. In January 1803, he was chosen as a candidate for the Senate by the electoral college of Haute-Vienne, then he was called upon to command the Army of Italy. On 19 May 1804, he was made a Marshal of the Empire and grand-cordon of the Legion of Honour. In June 1805, he received the cross of Saint-Hubert of Bavaria and led manoeuvres of the Castiglione camp during Napoleon’s crowning as King of Italy. Following his replacement by Masséna just as the war broke out, he complained bitterly to the Emperor, who replied the following: “My cousin, I received your letter of 5 Vendémiaire; my pain equals yours. It is impossible to be more satisfied than I was of your conduct, and to have a better opinion than mine on your talents. If I sent Masséna to Italy, it was due to my inner conviction that in such a hazardous war, so far removed from governmental relief, I needed a man with a more robust health than yours, and with thorough knowledge of the area. Things are moving so quickly around us that it took these exceptional circumstances to silence all personal considerations. The man I sent in Italy had to be the man who knows it best. From Genoa to the Adige, there is no position that Masséna does not know. If a move forwards is required, he is further advantaged, for he has equally thorough knowledge of these rustic lands of which even Vienna has no maps. My dear Marshal, I can imagine that you must be hurt; I know that I truly wrong you, but you must remain persuaded that it was against my will. In less urgent circumstances, you would have had the winter to familiarise yourself with the area, and my trust in your talents and experience would have reassured me. But you know the Rhine; it was there that you won your battles. The campaign has started today; but within 15 or 20 days, events will require new formations, and I will have an opportunity to send you to this theatre which you know best, where you will be able to use your competences to the fullest. I want your answer to tell me that you are satisfied with this explanation, and that you do not doubt my good feelings for you.” In 1806, Jourdan was sent to Naples as the governor of this town; and in 1808, he went over to Spain as major-general under King Joseph, whom he followed constantly as an advisor. As his vexations and disgust grew, he requested his recall, which he obtained late in 1809. On that subject, General Clarke, the Minister of War, wrote to him: “I presented the Emperor with your request to go back to France; if he grants it, I will keenly miss the frankness, exactitude and skill of your correspondence. I fear that in our dire circumstances, there is no one who can replace Your Excellency.” Jourdan was living with his family when the Emperor, readying himself to wage war on Russia, ordered him to go back to Spain and return to his previous position. The retreat from Madrid and the battle of Vittoria (21 June 1813) took place during this second period. Marshal Jourdan was often blamed for the defeat on that day; but he was not in command on that day, and his advice was often contradicted. Moreover, we know that in his frequent reports to the government, he had predicted the setbacks it was not in his power to prevent, and he had circumscribed their causes. After the battle of Vittoria, he came back to France and remained idle until the next year, where he was appointed governor of the 15th military division. On 3 April 1814, from Rouen, he sent his adhesion to the provisional government. On 2 June, he was made a knight of St Louis. After the 20th of March 1815, he retired to his country house. Napoleon summoned him to the Chamber of Peers and sent him to Besançon, as the governor of this fortress and the corresponding military division. He presided the court martial that was to try Marshal Ney and declared itself incompetent. In 1816, the King of Sardinia gave him his portrait, lined with diamonds, as a reminder of his administration of Piedmont in 1800. He was made the governor of the 7th military division in 1817, and on the next year, the King summoned him to the Chamber of Peers.
[Jourdan was very briefly involved in the first government of the July Monarchy. I’ll let Benoît Yvert’s Dictionnaire des Ministres speak for me next: “One of the most illustrious swords that Louis-Philippe used from time to time to enhance the prestige of his newborn monarchy. Unfortunately, the victor of Fleurus had lost the sacred fire of his youth. Being ignorant of the habits and customs of the diplomatic corps, in poor health and legendarily ugly, he was hardly the right man for Louis-Philippe’s Foreign Ministry on the morrow of the revolution of 1830. On his request, Louis-Philippe made him the governor of the Invalides on 11 August 1830, and he held this position until his death.” He fell victim to the second cholera pandemic that also claimed Casimir Perier, Charles X and Gneisenau, among others.]

Monday, 27 April 2015

27 April: Jean Rapp (1772-1823)

General Rapp at the battle of Austerlitz (detail from the painting by Gérard)

Rapp (Count Jean), lieutenant-general, born in Alsace, on 26 April 1772*, had a firm taste for military life, and he enlisted on 1 May 1788. He was noticed from the beginning of the Revolutionary wars for his bravery and intelligence; he became General Desaix’s aide-de-camp, and as such, he fought by his side in Germany and Egypt. He was near General Desaix when he was fatally wounded in Marengo, and he had to carry the dire news to General Bonaparte, who took him in his service. In 1802, he had to announce to the Swiss cantons that France would intervene in their civil war, and demanded that the Bernese insurgents lay down their arms. A few days later, he evacuated Fribourg, which had been taken during the armistice, forced the Schwyz Diet to clarify its positions and installed it as mediator. The Bernese Senate sent General Rapp a deputation to thank him for France’s intervention. In November, General Rapp went to Coire, summoned the town’s small council, and forced the municipality to disband. Back to Paris in 1803, he accompanied Bonaparte in his travels to Belgium, and left to visit the banks of the Elba and build redoubts there in order to fortify it. He later became a commandant of the Legion of Honour; in April 1805, he married Mlle Vanderberg, the daughter of a supplier, whom he divorced a few years later, and on the following month, the electoral college of the Haut-Rhin elected him as a candidate for the Senate. When hostilities resumed with Austria, he followed Emperor Napoleon to Germany, and gave proof of his eminent bravery at the battle of Austerlitz. With two squadrons of the chasseurs of the Guard, he routed the Russian Imperial Guard in a bold charge and captured Prince Repnin; his fine conduct was rewarded with the rank of divisional general on 24 December 1805. In 1806 and 1807, he led a dragoon corps and singled himself out in every fight of these campaigns, especially at Golymin, where he was wounded. On 2 June 1807, he replaced Marshal Lefebvre as the governor of Dantzig, which he remained for two years, to the inhabitants’ great satisfaction; they gave him a magnificent sword as a token of their esteem and gratitude when he left in August 1809. In the campaign of 1812, he led Daendels’ Dutch division and made miracles at its head; but nowhere was he more brave and talented than at Malo-Iaroslavetz, where he had a horse killed under him. After this disastrous campaign, he was ordered to shut himself into Dantzig, where he gathered 30,000 men of the garrison. All the means of defence, all of his genius and heroism were mobilised for this harsh siege that lasted a whole year; after struggling against famine and a cruel pandemic that killed two thirds of his garrison, General Rapp had made his name truly glorious. Finally yielding to the inhabitants’ prayers, he decided to capitulate. A convention was signed on 27 November 1813, saying that the fortress would surrender on the 1st of January if no relief force had come by then; that the garrison would leave with full war honours; that it would retain artillery, rifles and all of its baggages. But the convention was flouted, the soldiers of the garrison were made prisoners and taken to Muscovy, while the general was sent to Kiev, in Ukraine. It was from there that he sent his adhesion to Napoleon’s fall and the Bourbons’ restoration on 4 June 1814. Upon returning to Paris on the following July, he received a distinguished welcome from the King and on the 23rd of the same month, he was made a knight of Saint-Louis and grand-cordon of the Legion of Honour. After Napoleon’s landing in March 1815, General Rapp was put at the head of the I Corps to stop his march; but it was so quick that all resistance soon became futile. General Rapp himself swore allegiance to Napoleon, accepted command of the 5th division, was made a Peer, a member of the Chamber of Representatives and also the commander-in-chief of the Army of the Rhine. His army, 10,000 men strong, included all the corps stationed in Alsace, as well as the national guards of the Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin led by General Molitor. This army, whose left rested upon the lines of Lanter and Weissemburg, stretched along the Rhine from Spire to Huningue, and its right tied into the Jura corps, under orders of General Lecourbe; all it could do was delay the march of a much stronger enemy, and it was forced to give up on its lines and withdraw under the cannons of Strasbourg. The second Restoration did not immediately terminate General Rapp’s functions; he remained in position until the month of September, at which point the army was disbanded. In 1816, he sought shelter from partisan clashes in Aargau and bought Wildenstein Castle. It was there that an Englishman gave him a beautiful horse. This Englishman had won 10,000 guineas by betting that Dantzig would hold on for a certain amount of time, and he thought he should express his gratitude to the man whose courage had made him richer. General Rapp came back to Paris in 1817 and the King received him in a private audience. The ordnance of 22 July 1818 put him at the disposal of the Ministry of War. He was made a Peer of France. Count Rapp died prematurely in 1823. The Memoirs he left behind make for a very interesting read.
*[The memorial plate on the house where he was born says 27 April, though. More proof that this was written in the pre-Wikipedia era!
Additional browsing shows that nobody can even agree on his years of birth and death. Great, and I thought Sébastiani was the only one.]

Sunday, 26 April 2015

26 April: Anne Savary (1774-1833)

Why yes, it's another series! You can thank my bright idea of programming historical dates of birth into my phone's calendar.
This time, I crib from Jouy and Norvins' Biographie nouvelle des contemporains. The choice of these particular authors won't surprise you too much if you know about their family trees... specifically, who they married.
Anyway, since their dictionary was published in 1825 and a good number of these people were alive by then, I took the liberty of writing their eventual fate in brackets.

And now that we're done with the preambles, happy 241st birthday, Savary!

Sketch by Mathieu van Bree

Savary (Anne-Jean-Marie-René, Duke of Rovigo), lieutenant-general, grand-cordon of the Legion of Honour and of the Order of Fidelity of Baden, knight of the Iron Crown, etc., was born on 26 April 1774 in the village of Marc[q], in Champagne, from an honourable and locally famous family. His father, a former soldier, knight of Saint-Louis, had obtained the position of major of the Sedan fortress after his retirement. Young Savary showed the same penchant for a military career, enlisted as a second lieutenant in the Royal-Normandie cavalry regiment, in October 1790, and was called on to serve within the staff of the Army of the Rhine in 1794. At the crossing of this river, he was under General Moreau’s orders; even though he was only a captain, the commander-in-chief entrusted him with the command of a battalion that was to lead a diversion, allowing the rest of the army to cross the bridge of Kehl, in front of Strasbourg. At the battle of Friedberg, near Augsburg, he was given command of the infantry column right of the army, which outflanked the enemy’s left and contributed to the victory on that day. On the following year, Desaix put him at the head of the troops in his division that were to attempt the crossing of the Rhine once more, which they did, by force and during the day. His conduct on that day earned the young captain a promotion to lieutenant-colonel. He then accompanied General Desaix to Egypt as his aide-de-camp, leading the troops from this general’s division that landed in Malta and Alexandria; he returned to Egypt as a colonel and reunited with the Army of Italy along with Desaix, and he was by Desaix’s side when the mortal blow that struck him deprived France of one of her most distinguished generals. Colonel Savary immediately ran to tell General Bonaparte of these dire news, and the latter, who had already seen his bravery and military talents in Egypt, immediately took him in his service and made him one of his aides-de-camp. Moreover, Savary was soon given command of an elite legion of the gendarmerie, comprising the pick of every brigade, and specially destined to guard the First Consul. Soon afterwards, he was made a general, but he nonetheless continued to serve as the head of state’s aide-de-camp. As Emperor, Napoleon still trusted him entirely. In 1805, Savary was sent as an ambassador to the Russian Tsar, before and after the battle of Austerlitz. In 1806, he accompanied Napoleon to Prussia. After the battle of Iéna, General Savary received command of a flanking corps meant to prevent the scattered enemy corps from reuniting; it was then that he obtained General Urdoin’s surrender in a plain, despite the latter’s formidable artillery, and made him his prisoner. Being increasingly satisfied with General Savary’s zeal and competence, the Emperor sent him to command the corps that would besiege Hamelin and Wienbourg; both surrendered to him, and 13,000 more men were made prisoners. After this expedition, he joined the Emperor in Warsaw. In January 1807, while the French army was preparing to move, Napoleon sent General Savary to command the V Corps as a temporary replacement for Marshal Lannes, who was then gravely ill. His orders were to watch the movements of the Austrian troops in Galicia, to protect Warsaw, to maintain the Grand Army’s communications with this city, and finally to prevent the Russian corps, which formed the enemy’s left, from reuniting with this army’s centre, the target of the Emperor’s moves. The battle of Eylau was a blow to the hopes that were thus conceived; victory came at a high price, and the French army could only retain its positions for eight days after the victory, on account of the lack of supplies that forced it to withdraw behind the Passarge. During its march, it was overwhelmed by hordes of Cossacks. The Russian corps, facing the V Corps, received orders to march towards Warsaw and cut the French army’s lines of communications. General Savary marched to encounter the Russians, fought them in Ostrolinka, on 16 February 1807, defeated them completely and forced them to retreat. This earned him the grand-cordon of the Legion of Honour. In the following June, the Emperor replaced him at the head of the V Corps with Marshal Masséna, instead giving him an infantry brigade of the Imperial Guard, at whose head Savary fought in Heilsberg and in the famous battle of Friedland. The Emperor made him the Duke of Rovigo as a reward for his services in this campaign. He also gave him the government of Old Prussia, which was then under French occupation. After the signature of the peace treaty of Tilsitt, on 8 July 1807, the Duke of Rovigo was sent to the court of Tsar Alexander and remained in charge of French affairs in Russia for seven months. Over the course of this mission, he managed to restore all the friendly relationships between the two Empires that had been broken since 1804, and with all the new and intimate political ties then formed between France and Russia, the latter power declared war on Sweden and England. The Duke of Rovigo was recalled from St Petersburg in 1808 and replaced by the Duke of Vicenza; Napoleon sent him to Spain, after the Aranjuez revolution that had forced King Charles IV to abdicate. After the Spanish crown was ceded to the Emperor’s brother, the Duke of Rovigo obtained command of the French troops in the Peninsula; moreover, he presided the Spanish junta in Madrid until the new sovereign arrived. Then he joined Napoleon, whom he accompanied to the Erfurt congress, he went back to Spain with him and followed him all the same in the 1809 campaign against Austria. The Austrian army had started the hostilities with a foray into Bavaria, and upon reaching the Danube, Napoleon found the King and his court sheltered in Dillingen. He immediately marched on Donawerth through Ingolstadt in order to reach Marshal Davout’s corps, for a misinterpretation of his orders had led to him being left in Ratisbon. This corps was surrounded by danger now that the main Austrian army had forced the Bavarian army to withdraw behind Abensberg, thus leaving Ratisbon exposed. The Emperor tasked the Duke of Rovigo with trying to force his way to Marshal Davout at any cost, to inform him of his arrival and to give him orders to rejoin, all the while leaving enough forces in Ratisbon to defend the bridge on the Danube. Success in this risky mission seemed almost impossible, and it looked so unlikely than the one entrusted with it would avoid capture that Marshal Lefebvre, who commanded the Bavarians in Abensberg, was somewhat reluctant to open the gates for the Duke of Rovigo, instead showing him the Austrian sentinels posted on the road he would have to take, not even four hundred paces away from the town. Not to be discouraged by such obstacles, the Duke of Rovigo, fully aware of the importance of his mission, only asked for a detachment of a hundred chosen cavalrymen who were immediately taken from the regiment of the Bavarian Crown Prince. He left Abensberg, send half of his detachment to charge the Austrians in the way, and he took the rest through the woods bordering the Danube, crossing them without a sound and reaching Ratisbon after marching just next to the enemy lines. Marshal Davout had left the town on this very morning to march against the main enemy army, which had taken position between the Bavarians and him. After giving his orders to the commander of Ratisbon, the Duke of Rovigo made haste to join Marshal Davout, who was already facing the enemy, gave him the orders he bore and soon afterwards came back to Ratisbon and reported to the Emperor, who had been told that his aide-de-camp had been captured. After the battle of Eckmühl, during his march on Vienna, Napoleon learned in St Pölten that the Austrians had retained the bridge of Krems, on the Danube, in order to threaten his operating lines. He sent the Duke of Rovigo to destroy that bridge with an infantry regiment, a cuirassier regiment and an artillery battery; but from the second shot, the enemies themselves set fire to the bridge and withdrew. Savary spent the rest of the campaign by the side of the Emperor, who distinguished him in every occasion and honoured him with particular trust. On 3 June 1810, Napoleon gave him the Ministry of the Police, which he directed until March 1814. The Duke of Rovigo’s situation of favour had already made him many enemies. Now the partisans of the dispossessed minister (Fouché) came to add themselves to this number, and his successor was often the target of many a calumnious imputation. Yet of all the rigorous decrees that marked these times, none were quoted as being born from the Duke of Rovigo’s will, and several people, including some of the former privileged class, who had seriously compromised themselves with their imprudences, could thank him for his services to them. However actively he watched over Paris, along with the police prefect Pasquier, none of the many agents of these police forces managed to catch on General Mallet’s bold conspiracy. The plotters had not broken their secret, and there was not a single informer among them, which is quite unique in France. At seven in the morning, the Duke of Rovigo was arrested in his bed by Generals Lahorie and Guidal and taken to the prison of La Force, where he only spent a few hours. The plot failed and its heads were shot. In 1814, the Duke of Rovigo was part of the Council of Regency. After the Emperor’s abdication, he lived in retirement until this prince came back from Elba. Napoleon then made him a Peer of France and the first inspector of the gendarmerie. After the Hundred Days, in 1815, when Napoleon left Paris, the Duke of Rovigo left along with him in his carriage to guard him and embarked on the Bellerophon along with him, but they were separated when the Emperor was sent to Saint-Helena. With utter contempt for human rights, and without anything that could legitimate such mistreatment, the English took the Duke of Rovigo to Malta, where he remained imprisoned for seven months in Fort Lazareth. He finally managed to escape and found shelter in Smyrne, where he learned that a court martial in Paris had sentenced him to death in absentia. He left Smyrne and went to Austria, where he merely asked the French government for permission to go back to living peacefully in Smyrne; but his tranquillity was now compromised in that city, and he left once more, to England this time, arriving in June 1819. He left in December of the same year without having informed anyone of his plans, and after embarking in Dover, he landed in Ostende, where he boldly came to Paris demanding justice. Unanimously acquitted on 27 December 1819 by the first court martial of Paris, he then recovered his ranks and honours. Since then, the Duke of Rovigo has been retired. In 1824, he published a memorandum on the execution of the Duke of Enghien; this gave rise to many writings, none of which has yet managed to lift the thick veil that still covers the deepest causes of this deplorable event. Yet we have cause to believe that the day this veil is torn for good will soon come.
[In December 1831, Savary was sent to Algeria as commander-in-chief of the French troops sent there, and his brutal occupation set the tone for the 130 years to come. His Algerian career did not last long, though; by March 1833, he was too ill to serve any longer and was recalled to France. He died in June of the same year, presumably of larynx cancer.]

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

X. Poisson d'avril !

Arthur John Butler was kind enough to translate part of what Thiébault has to say about his pal Charles-Louis Cadet de Gassicourt (1769-1821), a possible son of Louis XV who's perhaps best known as Napoleon's pharmacist and the one who invented Lannes' awesome deathbed diatribe. Only he left out the best part.

Okay, only half of this actually has to do with an April Fool's joke, but the part about their law studies is worth reading too, I swear!
We studied law together; thanks to his perseverance in making me learn Justinian’s Institutes, stuffing my head full of Latin words and turning these odd scholarly sentences into familiar objects, I obtained my baccalaureate with some distinction, even though I was facing four extremely severe examiners, and, from noon to two o’clock, each of them interrogated me for a full thirty minutes. My father had sent fifty pounds of candles to the examiners; but they returned them, declaring that with my performance at the examination, I owed my diploma to no one but myself.
As for my thesis, I did not disclose the day I would defend it, for fear that my dear cousin the Abbé Gravier would debate with me over it; but it went quite well, in deep solitude and in a silence that was only broken by one or two formal arguments, which some old doctor made in a nasal voice, and I think he did not even listen to my answers. French law gave me much less trouble. At last, after two years, I left these schools, looking back at some scribbling on one of their walls: a tomb, with the caption:
Ci-gît le Droit. Ah ! qu’il est bien
Pour son repos et pour le mien !
[Here lies Law. Ah! What a good sign
For the sake of its rest and mine!]
Gassicourt, who then wanted to be a lawyer, found out about an old prosecutor, who hosted procedure classes; but he needed to have at least two students, and we decided to take the class together. This man had a clever method. We chose a grievance to present to the court, and the plaintiff wrote his reclamation. We appeared before a mock conciliatory court and we wrote the motives preventing each side from coming to an agreement. Then we started the procedure, and from the first sitting to the elaboration and execution of the final judgement, we each wrote all the documents relating to our side of the case. Thus we successively played the parts of prosecutors, bailiffs, notaries, lawyers and judges; we even imagined reluctant witnesses, missing files and every perfidious obstacle that can rise during a trial, ending up with huge piles of procedural documents. You can imagine how dry and off-putting all of this was, aside from the defence speeches that we liked to develop; but this was a very instructive method in all respects.
Among the vows we had made to each other in our passionate friendship, we had pledged to support each other, and if need be, to defend each other against the rest of the world; thus we signed all our letters with: Your friend and second. Until then, this sort of brotherhood in arms had only led to me being presented as a husband in a love affair, which by the way had excessively far-reaching consequences for Gassicourt, when, on 31 March 1788, as I came back from a dinner in the countryside, my father’s servant secretly told me that Gassicourt had come around nine o’clock, saying that he had a duel to fight on the next morning and that he was waiting for me at 5:30 sharp. I told the servant to wake me up at four; the fear of being forgotten kept me awake through the whole night; I left the house before five, and at a quarter past five, I was at the door of Gassicourt’s apartment with my sword in hand. I knocked; no one answered. I knocked again, without much success. I then went to his pharmacy; the assistant on duty opened; there I was in the shop, but this was not much of a progress. I did not dare ring M. Cadet’s bell, for fear of bothering him and committing an indiscretion; however, I did not want Gassicourt to miss the hour either. I ran up to the garrets where the servants slept; I woke up M. Cadet’s footman and asked him to open the door of Gassicourt’s apartment for me; inside, I found my friend in a deep sleep.
“What,” I exclaimed, shaking his arm, “are you still sleeping? It’s half past five!”
“Well, why wouldn’t want me to sleep at half past five?” he grumbled, only half-awake.
“What about your duel?”
“What duel?”
“The duel you have to fight this morning...”
“With who?”
“This I don’t know,” I replied, “besides, I shouldn’t be the one telling you all this, since you were the one who sent for me yesterday!”
He thought about it for a moment and said:
“My friend, today is the First of April, and you were fooled. Let’s be the first to laugh at this, and then we’ll spend the day together!”
Indeed, it was my mother who had come up with this prank; but in the end, she must not have laughed very much on that day, for I came home very late; I went to bed without speaking to anybody, and on the next day, I asserted that all of this was just a stale joke.