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Recollections of Marshal Macdonald
Chapter 5
Army of the Sambre and Meuse—Donauwerth—Operations on the Rhine—Neuwied—Mistake of General Castelvert—His Excuse and Recall—At Dusseldorf—Fresh Hostilities on the Rhine—Arrival of General Augereau—Politeness and Literary Attainments of General Lefebvre—Macdonald summoned to Paris.


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 stationed in

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 our arrival.

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 d—d 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 winter.

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.

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