A great Napoleonic soldier’s life—two volumes complete in one special edition
Armand Caulaincourt was a principal figure of the Napoleonic epoch. Born in 1773, he was serving in the army of France at the age of 15. By 1801, he had been swept up by the tide of French revolution and politics, had risen in rank, been reduced to common soldier, risen again to colonel and twice suffered wounds in his thirteen campaigns. Becoming an aide to Napoleon, Caulaincourt’s fortunes prospered during the imperial period and led to his becoming Duke of Vicenza in 1808. He strongly advised Napoleon not to invade Russia, but was ignored. He served during the Russian Campaign as Grand Ecuyer to the emperor being present at Borodino and upon the retreat from Moscow until Napoleon left the doomed army. Caulaincourt accompanied Napoleon on his return to France, becoming Grand Marshal of the Palace following the death of Duroc. The remainder of his career was spent engaged in diplomacy for which he had a considerable talent, particularly impressing Tsar Alexander I who subsequently used his influence to save Caulaincourt from arrest and execution following the Hundred Days. This good value Leonaur edition of the life of this outstanding man, contains the complete text of both volumes as they were originally published.
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“The dispatches which the emperor had just received were from General Lasalle, who was encamped in the village of Deppen. He informed the emperor that a column of the enemy, amounting, it was presumed, to between fifteen and sixteen thousand men, having been unable to work a passage through the snow, had got separated from the main body of the Prussian Army. This intelligence was of the utmost importance. The emperor’s answer was, an order to General Lasalle to attack with his division the column commanded by General Lestocq, and thereby to prevent the junction which the latter was endeavouring to effect with the Russian Army. At the same time, he directed two regiments of dragoons, who had been posted as scouts, at half a league from Deppen, to join Lasalle’s division, and to fall simultaneously on the column, which was attacked in front by the troops of General Lasalle.
“He sent for the orderly officer whom he had rebuked a few minutes previously. ‘Set off immediately, sir,’ said he; these dispatches must be delivered with the utmost speed. General Lasalle must receive my orders by three o’clock—by three o’clock. You understand, sir?’
“‘Sire,’ replied the young officer, in a most resolute tone, ‘by half-past two the general shall have the orders of which I have the honour to be the bearer.’
“‘Very well, sir; mount your horse—and, stay—’added he, calling the officer back, ‘tell General Lasalle that it will be agreeable to me that you should be the person selected to announce to me the success of these movements.’
“This orderly officer was the son of a senator. The emperor was perfectly aware of this fact; but he was always more strict and severe towards young men who left the military colleges with the rank of officers, than towards those who gained their epaulettes by facing fire and sword. It is but just to acknowledge that the latter rarely needed a reprimand, and when they did, the emperor admonished them with paternal gentleness. Thus he created in all ranks of the army men who would have sacrificed their lives rather than incur his displeasure. It is remarkable, too, that men who performed prodigies of valour, and covered themselves with glory, never looked for any reward. It seemed that the lives of all belonged to one alone, and that to perish in the cause of that one was merely the performance of a sacred duty. The heroic phasis of the empire impressed a noble stamp on the French character.
“At the time to which I was just now referring,” continued the duke, “wherever we fought the victory was our own. The intrepid Lasalle, with less than three thousand men, repulsed the enemy’s column. General Lestocq, closely and vigorously pursued, owed his safety only to the swiftness of his horse. Three thousand Prussians perished in the conflict; two thousand five hundred prisoners and sixteen pieces of artillery were the trophies of this partial engagement. Its consequences were of vast importance, for the Russian Army was cut off from some of its communications, and awaited in vain the promised reinforcement.
“On learning this news, the emperor was quite transported with joy, and he several times exclaimed, ‘Brave General Lasalle!—Admirable troops!—I am now sure of gaining the battle which I am going to fight at Eylau!—This is a good augury!—We will now march forward to Eylau, gentlemen!’
“On the day of the battle the weather was dreadful. The snow, which fell thickly in fine flakes, froze as it reached the surface of the earth. Our clothes, being covered with this sort of hoar frost, were stiff and heavy. The horses could not keep their footing. The sanguinary conflict had been maintained since morning, and when night set in, all was yet undecided. The emperor, in a state of the utmost anxiety and impatience, galloped up and down the field of battle, braving the grape-shot which was showering in every direction. He was always to be seen on those points threatened with the greatest danger, well knowing that his presence would alone work miracles. Meanwhile, the ceasing of the fire on some points indicated that the enemy was falling back.
“At eight o’clock, Napoleon was informed that the important position of the church, which had been obstinately disputed, taken and retaken several times in the course of the day, had again been carried by the enemy. Our troops, whose numbers were infinitely inferior to those of the Russians, retired fighting to the church-yard. At the moment when the orderly arrived with this intelligence, the emperor had dismounted, and was personally directing a formidable battery pointed on the left wing of the Russian Army. He instantly leaped on his horse, galloped off with the rapidity of lightning, and throwing himself into the midst of the battalions, which were beginning to give way, ‘What!’ he exclaimed, ‘a handful of Russians repulse troops of the Grand Army! Hear me, my brave fellows. Let not a Russian escape from the church! Forward with the artillery! We must have the church, my lads!—we must have it!’ This address was answered by ‘Vive l’Empereur!’—‘Forward! we must have the church!’ and all rushed onward, rallying in good order.
“At a few paces from us we espied an old grenadier. His face was blackened by gunpowder, and the blood was streaming down his clothes. His left arm had been carried away by a bomb-shell. The man was hurrying to fall into the ranks. ‘Stay, stay, my good fellow,’ said the emperor, ‘go and get your wound dressed,—go to the ambulance.’—‘I will,’ replied the grenadier, ‘when we have taken the church,’ and we immediately lost sight of him. I perceived the tears glistening in the emperor’s eyes, and he turned aside to conceal them.
“At ten o’clock that night the church was ours. The emperor, who was thoroughly exhausted, tottered with fatigue as he sat on his horse. He ordered the firing to cease; and the army reposed, surrounded by the enemy’s bivouacs. Our head quarters were established on the Plateau, behind Eylau, in the midst of the infantry of the guard.
“‘All is going on admirably,’ said the emperor to me as he entered his tent. ‘Those men have fought bravely!’ Without undressing, he threw himself on his bed, and in a few instants was sound asleep.
“At four in the morning the emperor was again on his horse. He surveyed the ground, arranged his plans, posted the artillery, harangued the troops, and rode past the front rank of each regiment. At daybreak he gave orders that the attack should commence simultaneously on all points. About eleven o’clock, the snow, which had fallen incessantly during the whole morning, increased with such violence that we could scarcely perceive any object at the distance of ten paces. After the lapse of some little time, a Russian column, amounting to between five and six thousand men, was discerned; during the night this column had received orders to join the main body of the army, and had missed the way. The troops, who were marching forward hesitatingly and without scouts, had strayed to within the distance of a musket shot of our camp.
“The emperor, standing erect, with his feet in the stirrups, and his glass at his eye, was the first to perceive that the black shadows slowly-defiling through the veil of snow must belong to the Russian reserve. He instantly directed towards them two battalions of the grenadiers of the guard, commanded by General Dorsenne. Whilst the grenadiers advanced in silence, the squadron on duty near the emperor turned the column, attacked it in the rear, and drove it forward on our grenadiers, who received it with fixed bayonets. This first shock was terrible to the Russians. But soon comparing their numerical strength with the small number of troops opposed to them, the officers drew their swords, rallied their men, and all defended themselves with great courage.