Marshal AugereauPassage of the
SaaleAt ErfurtPlain .Speaking Arrival at
GelnhausenDiscouragementIn Hanau Woods Issue from the
WoodsEntry into Hanau.
THE next day, October 20, at dawn, we started on our march
towards the Saale. About 800 or 900 men, the remains of my army corps, had been
rallied, and with these I marched. As we were without artillery or carriages,
while the roads were encumbered with them, we marched along very easily. We
crossed the river by a covered bridge, and I encamped for the night on the
opposite side. I met Marshal Augereau, and asked him for an explanation of the
order brought to me from the Emperor by General Girardin to send a division to
his support, while I was bearing the brunt of so severe, a combat in the
suburbs of Leipsic, and, further, why nobody had been found in the place named.
He replied with an oath :
'That idiot does not know what he is about! Have you not
already noticed that ? Have you not observed that he has completely lost his
head in these recent events, and in the catastrophe by which they have been
followed ? The coward ! He abandoned and was prepared to sacrifice us all ; but
do you imagine that I am fool enough to let myself be killed or made prisoner
for the sake of a Leipsic suburb? You should have done as I did, and have gone
That was all I could get out of him.
The next morning we started again on the road we met the
provision waggons belonging to the Imperial Guard. For myself I had not a
morsel of bread. I asked for some. The inspector or commissary in charge of the
waggons made difficulties.
' Your carriages are lost,' I said, ' and will fall a prey
to the enemy. Distribute at once your food and provisions to the troops around
I at last obtained five or six loaves from him, which I
divided among my officers.
We had to recross the Saale. A slender bridge had been
thrown across for the infantry, who precipitated themselves on to it in crowds,
and caused it to give way. Nobody took command. I spent at least two hours in
trying to re-establish order, and at last crossed over myself without having
succeeded. It was then between two and four o'clock in the afternoon; I was
told that the principal headquarters were in a village hard by. I saw the
Emperor in front of a house, reclining in a chair. He did not appear to see me.
The Master of the Horse (Caulaincourt) beckoned me in, and gave me a loaf of
bread, a chicken, and a bottle of wine. I had not broken my fast, and received
these refreshments with avidity and gratitude.
The Prince Major-General told me that he had sent me orders
to continue my march, and that a little farther on I should find a broken
bridge, which was being repaired; I went thither. I was alone with a groom. My
officers had crossed the Saale pell-mell when I betook myself to headquarters
for further orders; they thought I was going to return. I found a company of
pontonniers and sappers at work; men on foot and led horses could pass, but not
carriages. These men had been eating some broth, and I asked if they had any
'Yes,' they replied, and brought me some. I dipped some
bread into it, and ate it greedily.
After this light repast I examined the place, and saw that
no precautions had been taken to cover the bridge under repair. It was visible
from the slope of a range of mountains, at the summit of which the enemy could
place artillery and blow it to pieces, and that of course happened.
I again crossed in order to see if I could discover their
number, and some of our skirmishers were sent in their direction. At the first
gunshot the Emperor crossed the frail little bridge used by the workmen, and I
saw him going away at a rapid trot on the other side. A column of our troops
came at last to cover the principal bridge; before their front rank reached it
I crossed it once more, and went to headquarters.
I did not know what had become of my little troop and my
officers. I therefore remounted my horse, and followed the marching troops. It
was now quite dark, and, as the road was blocked, we gained a bank that ran
near it at the risk of breaking our necks by falling into the ravines or ruts;
at length we reached the place where the headquarters were established. As I
passed the Emperor's house, Caulaincourt recognized me, and begged me to come
in and dine with the staffthey were just going to sit down; I accepted.
The next morning a small advance-guard was collected for me;
the enemy were scouring the country. Late that night we reached Erfurt, The
town, occupied by our troops, possessed a strong castle; General d'Alton was in
command; but the gates were shut, as disorder was feared from arrivals late at
night, though they did not escape it even on the following day. Stores of all
kinds had been formed there ; to save time and formalities they were burst open
We had been there for some hours, when the Emperor sent for
me. I went to the castle, and first saw the King of Naples, who cautioned me
that the Emperor's intention was to order me to find a strong defensive
position, where he could remain for five or six days.
'You had better find a weak one,' added Murat with an oath,
' or he will not rest till he has ruined himself and us too.'
'Never fear,' I replied. 'Even if the position be excellent,
I will tell him my mind about our situation.'
I was ushered in. The Emperor gave me the commission of
which Murat had warned me.
' It is out of the question to make a reconnaissance at this
moment,' I said, 'because there is such a thick fog that it is impossible to
see fifteen yards ahead. But, Sire, I continued, 'are you in earnest in talking
of remaining here?'
' The men are tired,' said the Emperor, ' and the enemy
pursuing slowly. We must give them a rest.'
' No doubt that would be advisable, or even necessary under
other circumstances,' I replied; ' but in our present state of disorganization,
or demoralization, as I may as well call things by their proper names, we shall
gain nothing by it. We must get to the Rhine as fast as possible. The majority
of the men are already in disorder, and making their way thither.'
' But yet I am told that a considerable number have been
stopped, and fifteen battalions formed.'
' You are being flattered and deceived,' I said with
firmness. ' Exactly the same thing happened after the death of Turenne and the
rout of his army. The courtiers told Louis XIV. that the troops were coming
back across the Rhine in such numbers that, counting them all, there were now
more men than there had ever been in the army! Louis XIV. himself made this
judicious remark. Our men are going away pell-mell ; all our efforts to stop
them have been vaintheir instinct urges them towards the Rhine. No one
amongst us is ignorant of the defection of the King of Bavaria, nor of his
treaty with the allies, nor of the movement that General Wrede is making by
forced marches to cut off our retreat between this and Frankfort ; and that,
clearly, is why they are pursuing so slowly - to retard our march, and give
Wrede time to get in our rear. If he reaches Gelnhausen ' (a place that I
already knew), ' it is very doubtful that we shall be able to dislodge
himif he has had time to establish himself, that is; and he will have
plenty if your Majesty remains here for two or three days. You can now only
count upon the Guard, and have to beware lest they he carried away by the force
of example, as in the last campaign.'
All these reflections were self-evident.
The Emperor's attitude was one of profound meditation. Three
other persons were in his room, and they had ceased writing in order to
listentwo of them were, I think, his private secretaries ; the third, the
Duke of Bassano, placed his pen between his teeth, and folded his arms. He kept
his eyes fixed upon me, and displayed astonishment at hearing, for the first
time, his Majesty addressed with such freedom and outspokenness. I stopped to
hear the Emperor's decision. He at length broke silence, saying that he
recognized the justice of my observations, thanked me for my honesty, and would
reflect upon what I had said, but that, meanwhile, he wished me to make the
I left, and returned some hours later to report that the fog
had not lifted, which was true, and that consequently I had only been able to
observe what was immediately before my eyes'namely, that the
neighbourhood of the town was very steep and uneven. Thereupon he said :
' Very good ; we will start to-morrow,'
' Even that will be too late,' I answered; ' we ought to
start at once. The men are continually leaving laden with booty.'
Nobody had attempted to stop the pillage. We had no choice
but to remain where we were till next day.
On reaching Geinhausen, I found the position occupied,
fortunately weekly, by about a thousand men. The Kintzig covered it, and the
bridge had already been broken, but so hurriedly that the beams were still
floating about. Some of the enemy's pickets came near us. Many isolated men had
stopped; I formed them into companies, and made up a battalion. The enemy had
no cannon at this point, and with mine I drove them away from the river.
As soon as the bridge was sufficiently repaired, I ordered
an attack. The position might have been ambushed. The enemy were so weak that
they made no effort to keep us back; but if they had had time to establish
themselves, I do not know if we should have managed to dislodge them. Later on
they received reinforcements, principally of cavalry; we skirmished all day,
continually advancing towards a village, which we reached as night was drawing
on. There was a castle in the place, and the Emperor came thither to take up
his quarters, although he had already fixed them in a little village in the
rear. Everything, therefore, had to be repacked, and the waggons reloaded for
the move. In the village just mentioned, there was only one uncomfortable house
; while in the place where I was, and whither Napoleon came, there was a
castle, uninhabited, but furnished.
I received information that the Bavarian army was posted at
Hanau. Its strength was unknown; but it had begun to arrive the previous
evening, and troops had been coming in that same day. There had only been just
time, therefore, to send a detachment to Geinhausen, and some troops of cavalry
to other points from Hanau. I had this information from a person who had come
thence that very day, and who had been an eye-witness of what he told me.
The Emperor then sent for me, and inquired whether he were
in safety, as his Guard had not yet come up,
' I cannot answer for it,' I replied. ' We only arrived
after dark, shortly before you; and I do not even know whether all my troops
' Are we, then, with the outposts ?'
He kept me to dinner, and sent for the person who had
arrived that evening from Hanau, and whose words I had repeated. He liked to
ask questions for himself, but he learned no more than I had told him. He
declared that the Bavarians would not stand up against him. The next day proved
At daybreak I started on my march. A short distance away we
met the Bavarian outposts, supported by a strong advance-guard. I had to stop
and wait till our cavalry came up, and crossed sabres with the enemy. We pushed
them back into the woods of Hanau, whither we followed them. A fusillade began
which my handful of troops could not stand; I made them retire into shelter
several times. I also ordered the cavalry to charge in order to support my
infantry. This state of things had lasted for some hours, when, wishing to see
what was taking place on the high- road, I ventured out with some of my staff.
As soon as we appeared we were greeted by a hot fire of cannon and musketry
which compelled us to withdraw hastily into the wood. I had, however, had time
to glance at the enemy's position, and what I could see of it was not very
encouraging, nor calculated to inspire my troops with confidence.
All my messages to the Emperor to warn him of the resistance
we had met with, of the reduction of our small means (of which the enemy,
fortunately, could not judge, as they were scattered about the wood), and of
the urgent necessity for reinforcements, remained unnoticed. I was much
impelled to go to him in person ; but I feared that if I left the men would
become discouragedmy presence kept them together. As we were not more
than a quarter of a league from headquarters, I at length made up my mind; and,
in order to divert observation, ordered a fresh charge of cavalry into the
wood, and then started off at full gallop. On reaching the Emperor, I spoke to
him very energetically about the position of affairs.
' What can I do?' he said indifferently. ' I give orders,
and no one heeds them. I wished to assemble all the waggons at one point under
a cavalry escort. Well, nobody came to do it!'
' I can quite believe it,' I returned. ' these men have
experience and instinct, and rightly presume that the road by which you wish
them to communicate is closed to us. But consider that our situation is no
ordinary one. You must force a passage, Sire, and send forward, without an
instant's delay, all the troops at your disposal. Why have not the Guard come
up ? We shall be utterly done for if they don't come immediately.'
' I can't help it,' he answered dejectedly.
Formerly at a sign, a gesture, a word, all had trembled
around him, or he would have known the reason why!
However, the Emperor summoned the Major-General, who
declared that he .also had given orders. They were repeated, the assembly was
sounded, and I went away with a promise that a portion of the Guard would come
and place them- selves under my orders. I announced this news, and it
encouraged the soldiers a little. The firing and the short charges continued;
the Guard did not arriveimpatience reappeared. At length the bearskins of
the Old Guard came in view ; I pointed them out, and said that this troop would
take our places while we rested.
Four battalions of chasseurs arrived; the General in command
of them asked for my orders; I caused half of them to be deployed as
sharpshooters, flanked by companies, and the two others in line to support
them. They advanced to the scene of action. The mere sight of these veterans
made the enemy retire from the wood; but it was still difficult to get clear of
it, or even to line the fringe. The enemy continued to fire volleys of
grapeshot and shells. We kept our position ; that was a great deal. The Emperor
came up, followed by his Guard and some other troops ; he asked for
information, which I gave him, reckoning the enemy's force as at least 30,000
' Can we reconnoitre their position without danger ?' he
' Not without danger; we must risk it; I have already done
it once.' ' Very good ; come along.'
And away we went. Just as we were starting a shell burst
close to him without hurting anyone. Straightway he stopped, dismounted from
his horse, and from that moment till the evening it was impossible to get him
out of the wood. He ordered General Drouot to discover a position on the right
of the road where he could post the artillery of the Guard. The personal danger
was extreme, but this brave General, as modest as he was distinguished, never
gave it a thought. In order to cause a diversion at this point, the Emperor
ordered his cavalry to debouch on to the high-road ; the grenadiers à
cheval were in front. They charged, but were brought back and protected by a
regiment of ' guards of honour,' composed of young men of good family, who were
making their debut, but who showed great courage. The grenadiers rallied behind
this regiment, while the dragoons swept forward and repulsed the enemy with
great success, gallantly breaking their squares.
General Drouot had succeeded, not without heavy loss, in
establishing his batteries, and others were afterwards mounted at other points.
We had also succeeded in reaching the fringe of the wood; the enemy were
retreating in every direction, and recrossing the river; but they still
maintained their defence of Hanau, and there was still on our right a strong
battery, which we could not succeed in silencing, and which was doing us
considerable damage. We might have obtained great advantages from the retreat
of the Bavarians, but as the Emperor spent the whole day in the wood he could
see nothing, and everyone acted as he pleased without any concert. There seemed
to be an idea that we had done enough in reaching the river and driving back
the enemy; and no one observed, apparently, that, situated as we were, it was
most important for us to reach the other side, and that, until Hanau had been
stormed, our communications with France must continue interrupted.
The day was drawing to an end, and the battery just
mentioned caused us great inconvenience; the shooting was very straight, and
was aimed at the point where the wood debouched into the high-road. I was there
Nansouty's cavalry came through the wood. I asked him to
charge and carry the battery; he refused, alleging the fatigue of his men.
' If you will only make an effort, then,' I said but
received only the same answer.
I was urging him with some considerable heat, when one of
the Emperor's aides-de-camp, General Flahaut, chanced to pass. Seeing me very
excited, he inquired what was the matter.
' Look here,' I said ; 'a slight effort would secure us that
battery. If the Emperor were here, something would be doneduty, at least,
if nothing more ! Situated as we are here, it is of vital consequence to sweep
aside every obstacle and to force our way through.'
' Would you like to see the Emperor ?' he said, ' I will
bring him to you.'
' Do, if you can,' I answered.
It was now late, and instead of coming himself, he sent
orders to Nansouty to act. The latter moved at last. As soon as the enemy saw
him, they retreated, which would have been a boon to us a few hours earlier.
I had rallied the remains of my division on the outskirts of
the wood. We were at a short distance from Hanau; a few troops advanced
thither, but stopped just out of range of a hot fusillade.
We had been at ease for some time, when I saw a shapeless
column, preceded by a lighted torch, issue from the wood and defile along the
high-road. I was told that a report was spread, no one knew how, of the
evacuation of Hanau; and as the Emperor was sure of good quarters there, he had
started without any further information. The torch was borne before him. All
that had been in the wood, troops, carriages, artillery, led horses, etc., were
following him in disorder.
I called for my horse in order to head him and warn him of
his mistake; but the mass that widened out as it issued from the wood prevented
me from passing. I also had to ride carefully along the edge of a ditch by the
roadside; however, a few yards farther on I was able to cross it, and hastened
on for a moment, so as to come up with the head of the column.
Suddenly a few shots were heard; the column stopped, and I
saw the torch take a pace to the right and describe a curve retiring into the
wood, whence the shapeless and ever increasing mass was still pouring and
pressing on the head thus suddenly arrested. I found myself caught in the mob,
unable to advance or retire, without having succeeded in joining the Emperor. I
tried to recross the ditch and to regain the edge of the wood, feeling very
sorry that I had ever quitted it. At length I lost my temper, and ordered my
bodyguard to force a passage for me sword in hand. They at once obeyed, crying
' Make way ! Make way !'
One voice alone could be heard in the crowd asking ; ' What
guards are those creating such a disturbance ?'
It was Count Daru, Commissary-General of the army. I did not
feel called upon to answer, or to make myself known. I succeeded in making my
way back to the place I had left, leaving the mass to disentangle itself as
best it could. Had the enemy known what was going on, and made a sortie from
Hanau, the disorder must have been even greater, and their losses immense ;
happily, their only idea was to retreat.
In the middle of the night the Emperor sent me orders to
collect a battery of howitzers, and to fire on the town; the enemy did not
reply, whence we concluded that they were unarmed. They moved out at break of
day, and our troops occupied the town.
Scarcely had this news penetrated into the wood, when the
disorderly mass once more made its way out with no less confusion than on the
previous evening. The Emperor himself passed, and gave me orders to relieve the
troops in the town, promising that I in turn should be relieved by General
Bertrand. I had not perceived until then that all the soldiers remaining to me
had left, and had joined themselves to the living torrent that was flowing
towards Frankfort, whither the Emperor was going in person. I sent after them,
and recovered about 150 men, whom I brought into Hanau to replace a troop not
much larger, of which General Souham had command. I found him in a house in the
suburbs; he left, and I entered the town. The enemy were not far off on the
other side of the river. The place had an enclosure, but could not resist an
Just as I was sitting down to breakfast, Tuilier, commanding
the engineers, whom I had sent to the top of the steeple, came and whispered to
me that the enemy were advancing.
' Go back again,' I said, ' and let me know when they are
near the gates.'
' They are not far off now,' he replied; ' and you have
barely time to retire.'
The fusillade commenced as he was speaking. I left my
breakfast, therefore, and, calling the chief officer of my little group of men,
told him to hold firm, and that he would be relieved immediately. As I was
quitting the town I met General Bertrand, who had orders to relieve us; he
asked how many troops he should take in with him.
' All you have will not be enough,' I replied, and continued
¹ There is an
accidental glimpse of the Duke of Tarentum at the Battle of Hanau in General
Marbot's ' Memoirs' (Eng. edit., vol. ii,, p. 431). 'I keenly regretted the
loss of my trumpeter,' says Baron de Marbot, ' who was beloved by the entire
regiment no less for his courage than for his general behaviour. He was the son
of a professor at the College of Toulouse, had been through his course there,
and took great pleasure in spouting Latin, An hour before his death, observing
the majority of trees in the forest of Hanauwhose spreading branches
formed a kind of roof-were beeches, he quoted the lines from Virgil
' " Tityre, tu patulæ,
recubans sub tegmine fagi."
Marshal Macdonald, who happened to pass at
the moment, laughed heartily, exclaiming, " There's a little chap whose memory
isn't disturbed by his surroundings. It is surely the first time that anyone
has recited Virgil under the fire of the enemy's guns !" '
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