Army of the Sambre and
MeuseDonauwerthOperations on the RhineNeuwiedMistake of
General CastelvertHis Excuse and RecallAt DusseldorfFresh
Hostilities on the RhineArrival of General AugereauPoliteness and
Literary Attainments of General LefebvreMacdonald summoned to
WE foresaw that we should be called ere long to play a part
in the events that were in progress on the other side of the Rhine. The Army of
the Sambre and Meuse was commanded by General Jourdan, that of the Rhine by
General Moreau, each acted without any concert or consideration for the
movements of the other. The new campaign had opened brilliantly and decisively,
but this, unfortunately, did not last long. A clever and well-designed feint on
the part of the Archduke Charles of Austria deceived General Moreau. The
Archduke unexpectedly crossed the Danube at Donauwerth, and fell, with
overwhelming numbers, upon the right flank of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse,
which was on the Rednitz, while that which General Jourdan was pressing back
from the Rhine suddenly turned and attacked in front. The inequality of numbers
and the great extent of ground occupied by the French army compelled a retreat.
Prompt succour was necessary. In September, 1796, the camp at Gorssel was
raised and set in motion, as well as another division of the Army of the North
Belgium. The latter advanced to the tete-de-pont at Neuwied,
while, with the former, I advanced to the enormous entrenched camp at
Dusseldorf. During our march the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, being hard
pressed, fell back upon the Lahn, which position it endeavoured to hold until
General Castelvert, who commanded the Belgian division, was
ordered to put himself in line on the right of this army, in touch with the
division temporarily under the command of General Marceau, which extended along
the right bank of the Lahn as far as its mouth. General Castelvert's orders, in
case the enemy should force the passage of the river, were to retire to the
tete-de-pont of Neuwied, and to preserve that post on the Rhine at all costs.
For this he was to answer with his head. Completely engrossed with this
responsibility, he learned that the enemy had taken possession of the town of
Nassau, and, without reflecting that this town was situated on the left bank,
and that its occupation was consequently immaterial to his position, he hastily
retreated to the tete-de-pont without giving notice to General Marceau, and
thus left absolutely uncovered the extreme right of the Army of the Sambre and
Meuse, which that very day was defeated and compelled to retire. This army, of
course, threw all the blame upon Castelvert, and there is no doubt that lie had
committed a serious blunder in compromising the position. The excuse that he
made to me is too curious not to be quoted.
' Why,' I asked him, ' did you retire without being
compelled to do so, and witliout giving any notice?'
' There !' he replied. 'Of course they want to throw all the
blame for their defeat upon the Army of the North ; but they were dying to have
an excuse to get away, and as they were retreating eight leagues, surely I had
a right to retreat ten, and be dd to them !' He was recalled.
I advanced from Dusseldorf to Mulheim, but the enemy left us
quiet on the Wupper and the Sieg. General Beurnonville succeeded General
Jourdan, bringing with him imperative and reiterated orders to take the
offensive; but besides the lateness of the season, the Army of the Sambre and
Meuse was not really in a condition to advance, it had scarcely anything. A
tacit understanding was arrived at between the two opposing Generals to the
effect that the troops should have a rest on condition of ten days' notice
being given on each side should either Government order the reopening of
hostilities. I took up my quarters on the right bank of the Rhine, extending my
left to the line of demarcation settled by the Prussians at the Treaty of
Basle. I established my headquarters at Dusseldorf, and thus we passed the
In February, 1797, I recrossed the Rhine, in order to
execute a mission in Belgium, leaving my command at Dusseldorf to
General-of-Division Desjardins, and that of my titular division to
General-of-Brigade Gouvion. In my absence the troops of the Army of the North
were echeloned from Dusseldorf to Arnheim. I rejoined at Nimeguen.
Hostilities broke out afresh upon the Rhine. General Hoche
was in command of the Army of the Sambre and Meuse, when he died suddenly. I
have never heard that the cause of his death was satisfactorily cleared up. It
was said that he had been poisoned by an opposing faction. This corps d"armee
of the North, under my orders, returned to the Rhine; but on the road we heard
of the Treaty of Campo Formio, which stopped the Armies of the Rhine and of the
Sambre and Meuse in the midst of their successes.
A political revolution occurred in Paris' and General
Augereau came to take command of the three armies combined under the name of
the Army of Germany. He reviewed us at Cologne, and was struck with the smart
appearance of the Army of the North, directly under my orders. Instead of
praising it, he said :
' I observe and understand that these troops are drilled in
the Prussian manner, but I will soon put a stop to that.'
A halt was called before the march past. The soldiers
crowded round the new Commander-in-chief. His dress was startling; he was
covered with gold embroidery even down to his short boots, thus contrasting
strongly with our simple uniforms. He related his Italian campaigns, spoke of
the bravery of the troops, but without even mentioning the leader of that army.
He said that the soldiers were very well treated there, and that there was not
a man among them, bad character as he might be, who had not ten gold pieces in
his pocket and a gold watch. This was a hint to our fellows.
On one occasion the theatrical manager came to offer him a
choice of plays. Augereau insisted on something very revolutionary, and chose,
if I remember rightly, either ' Brutus ' or the ' Death of Caesar. ' General
Lefebvre, who had held the command temporarily, was his principal lieutenant.
Trigny, commandant of Cologne, had offered his carriage, in the hope, probably,
that the Commander-in-chief would give a seat in it to his wife. This idea,
however, never seemed to occur to the latter, so Trigny very respectfully
suggested it. Lefebvre, seated beside General Augereau; put his head out of
window, and inquired : ' What did you say ?'
Trigny repeated his proposition.
' Go to blazes !' replied Lefebvre ; ' we did not come here
to take your wife out driving !'
Lefebvre, who had not the remotest acquaintance with
literature, applauded heartily with his clumsy hands, believing that the play
had been written that very morning in honour of the occasion. He kept nudging
me with his elbow, and asking:
' Tell me, where is the chap who wrote this ? Is he present
On the conclusion of peace, I think in November, I returned
to Holland. General Beurnonville was recalled. General Dejean, who held the
command provisionally, made it over to me, and I exercised it through the
winter, until the moment when General Joubert came to take it over permanently,
and I received orders to go to Paris.