An essential first hand account from a French soldier
Personal accounts by French soldiers have not proliferated in the English language and those that concern the Napoleonic Wars are much sought after by readers and invariably repay the effort to find them with an interesting tale, compellingly told. This account concerns another period some one hundred years or so before the time of the First Empire, but it too is a first rate personal account full of anecdote, drama, duelling, camp and campaign life, battles and sieges that will not disappoint. This highly regarded French soldier fought in the War of the Spanish Succession—among others—and so the reader will understand what warfare was like on the other side of the lines from the great Duke of Marlborough and his ally, Eugene of Savoy. Seconded to service by the Elector of Bavaria, the author was a committed and aggressive soldier who, together with his French contingent, invariably found himself in the thick of the action. This is an essential and riveting narrative from the time when central Europe was boiling with dispute and the Bourbon monarchy was at the pinnacle of its power and influence. Highly recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
At nightfall I disclosed my plan for surprising the hussars to the captain in command of the two squadrons, and in a few words told him how I was going to set about it. In the first place I asked him to mount a man whom he could rely upon, who was to ride into the town as if he had come with an order from the officer commanding at Straubing, which order would be for me to rejoin the garrison with my detachment. The trooper carried this out quite to my satisfaction. In accordance with this imaginary order, the two cavalry squadrons saddled and mounted, and I marched off the whole detachment, with the countryman at my side as a guide.<br>
But when we were well away from the town I left the Straubing road and made for the village where the hussars were. The moon, which was up most of the night, was a great help to us, and in order to render the march less exhausting to my infantry, I made a point of talking and conversing with them. I made much of the booty awaiting their arrival at the place I was leading them to, and convinced them that owing to the measures I had taken nothing possibly could escape from our hands; such was the charm of future profit that no one amongst them played the part of straggler.<br>
A quarter of a league from the village my guide told me that a little mill lay a hundred paces off the road, inhabited by a miller who would certainly be able to give me the latest news of the hussars, so I sent him on to fetch him quietly. The miller told me that he had left the village at nine o’clock that evening, and that the hussars had made themselves quite comfortable there in strong force, without watch or guard of any sort, and that all the barns were full of their horses. On my questioning him further, he said that the country was flat and open on this side of the village, but that there was an almost inaccessible cliff on the other, impossible for troops to hold or even retire over if pursued. As concerned the village itself, it consisted of a single street, in the middle of which was a small square opposite the church, in the cemetery of which I could post a number of my men. The miller turned out to be a loyal Bavarian; he joined my guide in order to point out to me all these details, as well as the principal houses in the village.<br>
When we got to the open ground outside the village I formed up my troops in battle formation as quietly as possible, and taking with me the officers of the grenadiers and my two guides, we noiselessly made a circuit of the place, noting all the points which should be occupied by infantry.<br>
This done and each detail settled, I told off my grenadiers, posted them myself, and gave them their orders couched in the clearest possible terms.<br>
Having thus made sure of the interior of the village with my infantry, I sent my cavalry at a foot’s pace to occupy its two outlets, after having despatched some smaller parties to watch the flanks. This was carried out so promptly that my men were all in position before daybreak, and as there was not long to wait for this, they had no time to get wearied at their posts. As soon as it was possible to see at all, I took my two peasant guides, with a small escort, and went quietly to the house wherein was lodged the commanding officer of the hussars. I had his host called up by name, as if one of his neighbours had something to say to him. He came to the door, and under threat of being poignarded, was ordered to show us the officer’s chamber. This done, I went to the occupant’s bedside, requested him to get up, and took him to our post at the cemetery.<br>
After thus securing him, we went to the quarters of four others, who were treated in a similar manner, when, day beginning to break, someone in the village must have caught sight of my grenadiers in their red uniform, for the alarm spread at once. The astonished hussars, in a state of nature but for their shirts, rushed about the town. Some ran to their officers’ quarters; some made for the stables to escape on horseback; but as fast as these worthies showed themselves they were saluted by my grenadiers with volley after volley, and those who sought to save themselves by flight through the fields at the back of the houses fell into the hands of our cavalry, who received them with pistol shot and the sabre.<br>
The result was that they lost more than four hundred killed, and the remainder, seeing the hopelessness of their case, hid themselves in sheds, lofts, and even under the beds. When everything was quiet I called the inhabitants together and ordered them to produce all the hussars hidden in their houses, threatening to burn the village over their heads if I found one left after their search; and it was not long before I had one hundred and forty prisoners. My victory was complete. I had not lost a single man, and had the satisfaction of keeping my word as to the plunder that I had led my people to hope for; it turned out to be very considerable indeed. I made no distinction as to my own share, but put the whole up by auction, and distributed the proceeds to each according to his rank.