The Eve of WagramBattle of
WagramThe Marshal's Bâton gained on the Field of
BattleDismissal of BernadotteArmistice.
AFTER our fruitless attempt to destroy the bridge at
Komorn, I received orders to advance towards Ofen, capital of Hungary; but
shortly afterwards was recalled by forced marches to the chief headquarters at
Ebersdorf, opposite the island of Lobau. It was clear that a great operation
was being prepared. We were not the last to arrive, and by nine o'clock in the
evening of July 4 we were at our posts on the Danube at the crossing-place that
had been selected for the surprise of the enemy. We had marched sixty leagues
in three days, and notwithstanding our excessive fatigue, and the heat of the
season, we had but few laggards, so anxious were the men of the Army of Italy
to take part in the great events that were preparing, and to fight in presence
of their brothers-in-arms of the Grand Army, and under the very eyes of the
That night an appalling storm burst upon us; rain and hail
fell in torrents, driven by a raging north wind, the whistling of which mingled
with the peals of thunder and the roar of cannon. This tempest was extremely
favourable to our passage of the Danube upon bridges built on piles, at which
they had been working since the fatal 22nd of the previous May [The Battle of
Aspern-Essling] ; were masked by the thickly-wooded island of Lobau. I landed
upon the island at about six o'clock in the morning; what we most wanted was a
good fire to dry us, but the sun soon came out and warmed us with his kindly
rays. Meanwhile, several corps of the Grand Army, which had roused the enemy
from their security, were driving back their advance-guard, and this, being
supported from behind, was slowly retreating towards the intrenched position of
I moved forward in my turn, and was momentarily placed in
the second rank with the remainder of the Army of Italy. Scarcely had I
deployed, being myself on the extreme right, when I heard cries of vive '
l'Empereur !' coming from the left.
The soldiers, as he approached, raised their shakos upon
their bayonets in token of joy. He turned his horse towards the direction
whence the cheering proceeded, and, recognising the Army of Italy, rode down
the line; as he approached the right, I moved forward slightly. He spoke to no
one, merely saluting with his hand. In spite of what the Viceroy had told me,
that I should be pleased with my first interview, I was not more favoured than
the rest. I do not know where Prince Eugène then was, but immediately on
hearing that the Emperor had passed, he hastened up and said:
'Well, I hope you were satisfied. No doubt he confirmed by
word of mouth all that I have written to you ?'
'He did not address a single word to me.,
'Not a word. He merely nodded, as if to say: " I can see
through you, you rascal !"'
The amiable Prince was miserable, fearing, of course
wrongly, lest I should think that he had been a well-meaning but clumsy
interpreter ; and he gave me his word of honour, of which I had no need, so
convinced was I of his friendly and honest truthfulness, that he had only
written to me the Emperor's exact words.
It was already late. The troops of the Grand Army, tired
with marching and fighting since the morning, formed into columns to let us
pass. We thus had the honour of becoming the front rank and of pursuing the
enemy, who only turned now and again in order to check our ardour. They
eventually regained their positions, and we halted within short cannon-range. I
was then in front of the position at Wagram ; the village of that name was on
the left, and that of Baumersdorf on the right. A violent cannonade continued
along the whole line while we were forming.
The Emperor came up to speak to the Viceroy, with whom I was
talking; I fell back some yards. He did not speak to me as yet, but I heard him
say somewhat carelessly:
'Order General Macdonald to attack and carry the plateau.
The enemy are retiring, and we must make some prisoners.'
Thereupon he went away. The Prince, joining me, said:
'Do you know what the Emperor has just been saying to me ?'
'Yes,' I replied ; 'I heard his orders.'
'Well' what is your opinion ?'
'I think the Emperor is mistaken; the enemy are not leaving,
they are simply retiring to the intrenched position they have selected for the
battle. Do you not see, the entire army is there, looking very brave? In order
to carry through such an undertaking, although we have but an hour of daylight
left, we should need to attack with the whole army. Lose no timego, or
else send these remarks of mine to the Emperor.'
But he was afraid of him, and answered:
' Not I ! He ordered us to attack ; let us do it.,
'So be it,' I answered ; 'but you will see how we shall be
beaten,' which of course happened, as it could not fail to do.
We started, well protected by artillery, but our leading
columns soon stopped at the Russbach, a stream with steep banks, which covered
the Austrian front. I sprang to the ground, made my staff do the same, and
sword in hand we set the example of crossing it, and were followed by the men.
This bold stroke drove the enemy back, and we obtained possession of the
plateau. We were obliged to halt near their huts, and form into columns, in
order to attack the enemy, drawn up not far off, and also to wait till General
Grenier, who was crossing the stream with his troops, could come up to our
support. We had passed the villages of Wagram and Baumersdorf, which other
corps of the Grand Army had failed to take ; they had even retreated. The enemy
debouched in large numbers, and attacked one flank, while the columns that we
had held in check advanced against us.
General Grenier's troops, amazed at this unexpected
onslaught, threw themselves in disorder among my men, breaking their lines and
scattering them. All my efforts to restrain them were vain, although, sword in
hand, with the majority of the officers, I had drawn up a line to check the
fugitives. A rout ensued, and we were carried away, crossing the stream in the
The Prince, who had remained on the other side, tried to
stop the runaways. On coming close to him, I pointed out that he could not
reform men under such a hot fire, as they were now panic stricken, although a
few minutes before they had displayed such resolution ; that what he should do
was to send some detachments of cavalry out of range, and that the fugitives
would naturally stop on reaching them. Fortunately, the enemy was satisfied
with having repulsed us, and dared not cross the stream in pursuit, although a
few squadrons would have sufficed to disperse us, for night had come on, and we
should have imagined ourselves charged by the entire Austrian army, and the
result would not be difficult to imagine. The loss of my corps in killed,
wounded, and prisoners was enormous, amounting to nearly two thousand men.
General Grenier had his hand shattered by a bullet at the beginning of this '
brush,' as the Emperor called it.
I did not leave the Viceroy. We passed the night out in the
open, as did all the army, keeping a sharp look-out while our officers tried to
rally the fugitives.
' What will the Emperor think ?' asked the Prince anxiously.
' Nothing detrimental to you or me. He will realize, now
that it is too late, that his orders were hasty. Where I think you were wrong
was in not taking or sending to him the observations that I had made to you
before embarking upon this unlucky attempt, the result of which was a foregone
At daybreak, on July 6, a violent cannonade began on our
extreme right. We re-established our line, and formed up. The enemy in front of
us remained motionless, but soon advanced some troops on the right; they slowly
descended the heights as if to cross the stream in front of Bernadotte, who was
posted on my left in front of the village of Wagram. On the right was Marshal
Davoust, who, marching against the enemy, was either warned, or else met them
coming towards him. The firing was violent, and, as the Marshal believed that
he had the entire Austrian force against him, all our reserves were ordered up
to support him and effect a diversion. The Emperor came to the spot where I
was, and addressed himself directly to me, saying:
' Last night you carried the plateau of Wagram; you know the
way up to it; carry it again. Marmont will at the same time attack the village
of Baumersdorf; you and he seem to understand each other; I will send him to
Marmont soon came, and we mutually agreed to support each
other; and, in order not to expose ourselves to a repetition of the previous
evening's occurrences, the General quite understood that the village should be
carried before I commenced my attack upon the plateau; but while we were
commencing operations, other events were taking place behind us on the left.
Massena commanded at the real point of attack. The Marshal
could not make a stand against troops much superior to his own. He was driven
back with great loss on to the tete-de-pont, by which we had passed after
crossing the Danube. The Austrians sent forward their right. Davoust was kept
in check; Bernadotte, repulsed before Wagram, left me uncovered. The movements
of the enemy on my left and rear were concealed from me by little hillocks and
inequalities in the ground. I slowly advanced towards the plateau, because
Marmont had met with considerable resistance at the village of Baumersdorf,
when the Emperor came up and changed my destination.
The retreat of Massena, which I then learned for the first
time, and the retrograde movement made by Bernadotte, had left the centre of
the army exposed. I therefore received orders to change my directionto
turn almost completely round, and go and take up my position near the hillocks.
The Emperor betook himself to the highest of these in order to observe, and
kept sending officers, one after another, to me to hasten my movements. The
manoeuvre that I was carrying out, however, demanded some time, and, besides, I
thought it would be imprudent to arrive disordered and straggling.
Vexed and anxious to know the reason for these reiterated
orders, I galloped towards the Emperor, when I saw him leaving the hillock as
fast as his horse could go, followed by his numerous staff. I continued,
however, and gained the top of the hillock he had just quitted, when at once I
saw what was the matter. The enemy, who were in great numbers at this point,
were marching the more boldly that they encountered no resistance : I then
understood (as the Emperor afterwards admitted) that his intention in thus
hurrying me was to show that he was not in retreat there, as he was on the
left. It was therefore necessary to risk something in order to carry this out
with the utmost speed; but little did I think that this spot was to become
shortly afterwards the principal point of attack, against which the numerous
forces of the enemy would come to shatter themselves.
I therefore ordered four battalions, followed by four others
which I deployed in two lines, to advance at the double; and while my artillery
opened fire, and that of the Guard took up position (which the Emperor called
the hundred gun battery), my two divisions formed themselves into attacking
columns. The enemy, who were still advancing, halted; and redoubling their
fire, caused us terrible loss. However, in proportion as my ranks became
thinned, I drew them up closer together and made them dress up as at drill.
While I was doing this, I saw the enemy's cavalry preparing
to charge, and had barely time to close my second line on the first one; they
were flanked by the two divisions still in column, and the square was completed
by a portion of General Nansouty's cavalry that had been put under my orders
that morning. I ordered both ranks to open fire, my famous battery mowing down
the cavalry. This hot fire broke them just as they were preparing to charge;
many men and horses fell pierced by our bayonets. The smoke rising disclosed to
me the enemy in the utmost disorder, which was increased by their attempt to
retreat. I ordered an advance at the point of the bayonet, after previously
commanding Nansouty to charge, at the same time desiring the cavalry officers
whom I saw behind me to do likewise. Unfortunately, they were not under my
orders, and the Emperor was not there to give any.
The enemy were in extreme disorder; but still their fire
during their retreat did us much harm. I was in despair at the slowness of
General Nansouty. Not far from us I saw a large number of abandoned pieces of
cannon; the Austrian officers were bringing up men, by dint of blows with the
flat of their swords, to remove them. At last Nansouty moved, but too late to
profit by the gap that I had made in the Austrian centre. I halted to allow his
division to pass ; I was, moreover, so weakened that I dared not venture into
the plain to pursue the enemy (the more so as Nansouty's cavalry was repulsed,
but not followed) until the Emperor sent me reinforcements. Unfortunately, the
favourable moment had been allowed to slip. The results would have been
enormous had Nansouty charged immediately, supported by the cavalry which was
in the rear.
I had no staff-officers round meone of my
aides-de-camp had been killed, as well as my orderlies; the others were either
incapacitated or away on a mission. While I was thus awaiting reinforcements, a
general officer in full uniform rode up to me. I did not know him. After the
usual greetings, he paid me great compliments upon the action that had just
occurred, and finished by inquiring my name, which I gave him.
I knew you by reputation, he said; and am happy to make your
acquaintance on a field of battle so glorious for you.' After replying to his
compliment, I, in my turn, asked him his name: he was General Walther, of the
Guard; I had never heard of him.
' Do you,' I asked, ' command that fine and large body of
cavalry which I perceive in the rear ?'
' I do.'
' Then why on earth did you not charge the enemy at the
decisive moment, after I had thrown them into such disorder, and after I had
begged you to several times ? The Emperor ought to, and will, be very angry
with his Guard for remaining motionless when so glorious a share was offered to
them, which might have brought about such enormous and decisive results !'
' In the Guard,' replied he, ' we require orders direct from
the Emperor himself, or from our chief, Marshal Bessieres. Now, as the latter
was wounded, there only remained the Emperor, and he sent us no orders.'
He added that at the Battle of Essling several Generals had
made use of regiments of Guards, and that they had suffered very much ;
wherefore, since then, Marshal Bessieres had obtained instructions that they
should only act altogether and under his orders, or under the direct command of
' But,' I retorted, ' there are circumstances in which such
a rule cannot be considered as absolutesuch a case as this, for example.
The Emperor could not have failed to approve your action, as it would have
secured the destruction of a considerable portion of the Austrian army. And,
supposing that we had been repulsed instead of gaining a success, would you not
have protected us ? and would you have retired from the field without a blow
because you had received no orders ?'
These questions embarrassed him, he saluted, and returned to
his troop. I afterwards learned that the Emperor had reprimanded him and the
other Generals of the Guard very severely; but the fault really lay with the
Emperor himself. He should not have forgotten the restriction he had imposed,
and should have remained in person at the principal centre of the action to
direct everything. Later on, in talking over these occurrences with me, he was
still very bitter against his Guard.
' Why did you not make them act ?' he said. ' I put them
under your orders !'
' I knew nothing about that,' I replied. ' I limited myself
to repeated, but fruitless, requests. And how could I have made them charge,
when I had endless trouble even to get General Nansouty to move ? He wanted so
much time to form his men!'
' That is true,' said the Emperor ; ' he is rather slow.'
The reinforcement I had asked for came at last; it was
composed of General Wrede's Bavarian division, and of General Guyot's brigade
of light cavalry of the Guard. The enemy's retrograde movement had commenced,
and I began mine to follow them. I thought the whole corps d'armee were doing
Towards evening I caught up the rear-guard close by a
village called Sussenbrunn, which was fortified with earthworks. I made a feint
of attacking in front, while I made an oblique movement to outflank it ; but
the Austrian General, discovering my intentions, immediately beat a retreat. I
called back the outflanking party, and warned General Guyot to hold himself in
readiness to charge. He sent me back word that his Guards were always ready, a
boast that he justified a moment later; for scarcely had I given orders to
attack, than both his men and the Bavarians charged together. The two troops
stormed the camp, and cut off the column, bringing me back 5,000 or 6,000
prisoners and ten guns. Scarcely were these prisoners removed, when a reserve,
posted on a height commanding the village, assailed us with bullets, grapeshot,
and a well sustained musketry-fire. I saw General Wrede fall, and hastened to
his assistance; his men raised him up, and he then said to me :
' Tell the Emperor that I die for him; I commend to him my
wife and children.'
He was being supported, and, to reassure him, I said,
' I think that you will be able to make this recommendation
to him yourself; and, what is more, that your wife will continue to have
children by you.'
It proved to be merely a slight wound from a ball that had
grazed his side. The wind of the ball had made him giddy.
The firing was then very severe, and the flames of the
burning village helped to reveal our weakness, especially as night was coming
on, and the enemy could see to shoot straighten I became seriously uneasy on
looking round and finding myself isolated ; I had been so occupied in pursuing
the enemy that I had failed to notice that the rest of the army was not
following. I did not know what singular motive had stopped or suspended its
movement, for at five o'clock they had taken up position, and I had received no
orders countermanding my advance.
The Emperor, on the other hand, was much surprised to hear
such persistent firing going on far off at one particular point of the
battle-field. He sent several officers to discover the cause. I had no need to
give explanations; our position spoke for itself. From these officers I learned
that the whole army had been bivouacked since five o'clock.
Massena also was a long way to the rear of my left. He too
sent to know which was the adventurous corps engaged so far ahead.
Meanwhile, in the twilight, and by lying at full length on
the ground, we could distinguish in the distance some bodies of cavalry coming
towards us, or rather towards the fire, and this reassured me ; but if the
enemy had had any pluck, they could have surrounded me with superior force,
seeing that all their reserves were collected on the heights. Fortunately,
their sole idea was to cover the retreat and disorder of their wings.
The firing ceased on either side about eleven o'clock, but
we remained under arms till daybreak. As I then perceived that the enemy had
retired, I sent my cavalry in pursuit while waiting for orders. They kept on
sending back numerous prisoners, including those taken the previous evening;
these amounted in the aggregate to 10,000, and fifteen guns. At the Island of
Lobau 20,000 prisoners had been made. I had therefore captured half the total,
and the artillery I took was all that was captured.
A few hours later the Viceroy passed ; he gave us great
praise, and said that the Emperor was very pleased with me, that he had as yet
given no orders as to our ulterior movements, that I was to wait, and that he
would follow my cavalry. I then noticed for the first time that my horse had
received a bullet in the neck, but which had remained between the skin and the
flesh; he was taken away in order that it might be extracted. As for me, I went
to one of the houses in the town, where I had passed a few hours the previous
night, worn out, and suffering from a kick given me by my horse the day before.
I soon fell asleep, but not for long, as I was awakened by
cries of ' Long live the Emperor!' which redoubled when he entered my camp. I
asked for my horse, but he had been taken away. I had no other, as the rest
were far behind. As I could not walk, I remained on my straw, when I heard
someone inquiring for me. It was an orderly officer, either M. Anatole de
Montesquieu, or his brother, who was afterwards killed in Spain. He came by the
Emperor's order to look for me. On my remarking that I had no horse and could
not walk, he offered me his, which I accepted. I saw the Emperor surrounded by
my troops, whom he was congratulating. He approached me, and embracing me
cordially, said :
' Let us be friends henceforward.'
'Yes,' I answered, 'till death.' And I have kept my word,
not only up to the time of his abdication, but even beyond it. He added :
' You have behaved valiantly, and have rendered me the
greatest services, as, indeed, throughout the entire campaign. On the battle
field of your glory, where I owe you so large a part of yesterday's success, I
make you a MARSHAL OF FRANCE ' (he used this expression instead of ' of the
Empire'). 'You have long deserved it.'
' Sire,' I answered, ' since you are satisfied with us, let
the rewards and recompenses be apportioned and distributed among my army corps,
beginning with Generals Lamarque, Broussier, and others, who so ably seconded
' Anything you please,' he replied; ' I have nothing to
Thereupon he went away much moved, as I was also. Thus did I
avenge myself for all the petty annoyances caused me by General Lamarque, who,
although he had heard me mention his name first of all, still continued to
Scarcely had the Emperor turned his horse's head, when many
exalted personages came to congratulate and compliment me. The one who showed
me most affection was the Duke de Bassano, at that time Secretary of State,
then Berthier, Prince of Neuchatel, Major-General of the army. Both these men
were in Napoleon's most intimate confidence.
' No doubt you knew what he intended to do?' I said to the
' No,' he replied naively.
Then came embraces and handshakings that I thought would
never end. Many would have passed me by had it not been for the Emperor's
The Emperor caught up the Viceroy, and related to him with
considerable emotion the scene which had just taken place and my elevation. The
latter promptly despatched an aide-de-camp to congratulate me, to invite me to
breakfast, and to beg me to bring my troops forward on the highroad between
Vienna and Wolkersdorf. I found the Prince in the hunting-lodge known as the
Rendezvous; he was at table with the Artillery-Generals Lariboisiere and
Sorbier, the former of whom was killed at Konigsberg, at the end of the
campaign of 1812; the latter is still living in the neighbourhood of Nevers. As
soon as I was announced, he hastened to meet me, and we embraced each other
The good accounts that you have given of me have procured me
this honour,' I said to him. ' I shall never forget it.'
' It is you, and you alone,' he replied, ' who have gained
The others joined in congratulating me; I only knew
Lariboisiere by reputation.
' I am sure,' I continued to the Prince, ' that you knew
what the Emperor had in contemplation, though you concealed it from me this
He answered frankly, ' No,' and added after a moment's
thought, ' I remember now that while I was walking and talking with the Emperor
in his tent early this morning we spoke of the battle. He regretted that so
little had resulted from it, and after a moment's silence said: " It is not
Macdonald's fault, though, for he worked very hard." I see now,' added the
Prince, ' that he was then thinking of rewarding you, and was determined to
give as much eclat as possible to your nomination.'
Such was the circumstance that raised me to the dignity of
which, I am convinced, I had been deprived by intrigue when the first
appointments were made. It was necessary to have had the command in chief of
armies to obtain it, and I had had temporary command of that of the North, full
command of those of Rome, Naples, and the Grisons, while several others had
only commanded large divisions or wings. I think that I have already said that
my intimacy with a person belonging to the Emperor's family weighed against me
and also the Moreau trial, in which an attempt had been made to implicate me,
but which attempt signally failed, as I was proved entirely innocent of any
complicity, and finally intrigue and jealousy. One Marshal the less, and
especially a man who had every claim to the dignity, was a victory for the vain
and the ambitious.
After breakfast the Viceroy proposed to me to accompany him
to the Emperor's headquarters at Wolkersdorf, but I had no fresh horses, and,
moreover, was suffering a good deal from the kick I had received.
' Here we are,' I observed, ' in hot pursuit of the
Austrians. If the Archduke John, who is commanding their other army, and ought
to be at Presburg, pursues us in turn, he may be able to seriously interrupt
our communications. I suppose that the Emperor has taken steps to provide
against this ? Can you in any case question him so as to find out if he has any
precise information as to the position and objective of this army. If really at
Presburg, I fail to understand why it did not take part in yesterday's affair;
but it is lucky for us that it did not.'
The Prince departed, and on his return told me that he had
submitted my observations, to which the Emperor had replied:
' What would the Archduke do on the rear of my army ? He
must know that the battle has been lost by his brother.'
' No doubt,' replied the Prince; ' but if he meets with no
opposition, nothing need prevent him from harassing you.'
' Well,' replied the Emperor, frowning, ' if he dares to do
so I will wheel round and crush him !'
The Prince had not recovered his stupefaction even when he
related the answer to me.
Nevertheless, the Emperor thought over what I had said.
Shortly afterwards he learnt that the Archduke John was making a movement to
follow us. We immediately received orders to face about, and the whole Army of
Italy went to meet the Austrian Prince, who in his turn retired as soon as he
learnt that we had come to fight him and to join General Reynier's force. This
General had replaced Marshal Bernadotte, who had been dismissed by the Emperor
for publishing a general order, wherein he attributed the victory of the
previous day to his Saxons, although they had vanished from the field and I had
taken their place. That had been the object with which I was changing my
direction, when the Emperor himself came to me to order it, and made me hasten
so much by sending constant messages to be quick: speed was necessary, as I
have related. The Emperor, very angry with Bernadotte, issued, to the Marshals
only, an order wherein he expressed his displeasure, and said that the praise
given by the Commander of the Saxon force belonged to me and to my troops.
As we were approaching the river March, a staff-officer from
the Emperor's headquarters galloped up with a despatch from the Major-General.
' What has happened ?' I asked.
' Upon my word, I don't know. I hear some talk of an
armistice, but I am not acquainted with the contents of the despatches I have
It was indeed the armistice that was officially announced to
me, with orders to halt.
' The armistice is signed,' I said to the officer.
' Quite likely,' he replied carelessly and indifferently.
The next morning I received orders to recross the Danube,
return into Styria, and take up my headquarters at Gratz.
The results of the battle had been so scanty that I could
not conceive how it was that the Austrians were compelled to beg for an
armistice; but I heard afterwards that their army was in such a state of
disorganization that it was equivalent to a rout. Neither was it known then
that the Emperor only granted the truce because he also needed opportunity to
repair his enormous losses, and because we should infallibly have run short of
ammunition. Rewards even were offered to those who collected the balls of
either army. On our side we had fired close upon 100,000 rounds!