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Rapp: the Last Victor

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Rapp: the Last Victor
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Author(s): Jean Rapp
Date Published: 2010/06
Page Count: 260
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-063-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-064-8

The career of a great French soldier of Napoleon

Jean Rapp was the epitome of the best of Napoleon’s soldiers. The son of a janitor, bound for the clergy, Rapp found his own temperament and the spirit of his times drove him instead to the military. A man of undoubted courage, championed by Desaix, he captured a battery during the Egyptian campaign—an act which propelled him to the attention of Napoleon and set him on the path to high rank. Rapp fought at Marengo, memorably at Austerlitz, at Jena, at Golymin were he was wounded, at Essling and during the campaign to and retreat from Moscow. This giant personality of the First Empire fought by Ney’s side with the rear guard and personally saved Napoleon’s life-twice! Rapp rallied to his master during the 100 days but did not accompany him to the fateful field of Waterloo. He was given command of V Corps to defend the Vosges. Hardly commemorated by many, some ten days after the defeat of the French at Waterloo, Rapp engaged Coalition forces at the Battle of La Suffel and decisively beat them. This was effectively the last full scale engagement—and a French victory—of the Napoleonic epoch. A nation that had set the globe aflame had come to ruin, but its last victor was Jean Rapp. Available in soft cover and hard back with dust jacket.

We advanced towards the heights occupied by the enemy, whom we attacked on the right and the left: he was unable to resist the shock, and was repulsed. Our troops evinced unexampled valour: Napoleon applauded their courage; and he called Generals Morand and Petit, on whom he bestowed the most flattering compliments. He wished to afford some repose to the corps, who had just been engaged; and he detached Friant’s division in pursuit of the Russians. Our voltigeurs came up with them at Nasielsk, attacked their left wing, routed, cut them up, and took three pieces of cannon: they pursued them into the woods; the fusillade commenced on both sides, and we experienced obstinate resistance.<br>
We had no artillery, and we could not drive from their position, columns which were protected by the nature of the ground, and the grape shot; but the courage of our troops made amends for their deficiency of artillery. The signal for the attack was given: the 48th, led on by the intrepid Barbanegre, rushed headlong upon the enemy’s masses, and routed them. Night approached, and the darkness enabled them to escape from the thrusts of our bayonets. We collected several pieces of cannon, which had stuck in the mud on the road.<br>
Some formidable masses of the enemy’s force were before us; but they did not venture to wait until we came up with them: they fled, some towards Golymin and others towards Pultusk. I pursued those who fled in the former direction, with the division of dragoons which the Emperor had entrusted to my command. The Marshal detached Daultane to cover the rear of the 5th Corps, which he knew had proceeded to Pultusk. There had been a complete thaw for the space of two days;—a circumstance which was uncommon in Poland at that season of the year. The ground over which we passed was a clayey soil, intersected with marshes: the roads were excessively bad: cavalry, infantry, and artillery stuck in the bogs; and it cost them the utmost difficulty to extricate themselves. We advanced only a short league in the space of two hours. Many of our officers stuck in the mud and remained there during the whole of the battle of Pultusk. They served as marks for the enemy to shoot at.<br>
The Third Division had no sooner debouched from the village than it was informed by its pioneers that a considerable mass of cavalry covered, at some distance a column of artillery and baggage. General Friant ordered them to be watched by detachments of cavalry, as he was well convinced that the cloud of Cossacks would disperse on the appearance of the infantry. They fled, and we took artillery, ammunition, carriages and cassoons of every kind. The General, pleased with these advantages, went to take up a position for the night, when a heavy cannonade was heard; it proceeded from Marshal Lannes’ forces, who were driven by the Russians from Pultusk.<br>
We had our turn on the following day: they occupied a wood whence we wished to dislodge them; our columns advanced, the voltigeurs were in front, and the infantry were disposed en echelon behind them. We experienced obstinate resistance on the part of the enemy. He attacked us: we charged with the bayonet; and our battalions drove him back on his own masses. We remained masters of the field: it was covered with the bodies of the dead, and with bags which the Russians had thrown down in order to fly with the greater speed. The infantry was dislodged, and the cavalry now advanced. I went forward to meet them and drove them back. But the voltigeurs, who were dispersed about in the marshes, overwhelmed us with their balls: I had my left arm broken.<br>
I had been four times wounded in the first campaigns of the army of the Rhine, under Custine, Pichegru, Moreau, and Desaix; twice before the ruins of Memphis, and in Upper Egypt before the ruins of Thebes; at the battle of Austerlitz and at Golymin. I also received four other wounds at Moscow, as I shall hereafter have occasion to mention.<br>
From Golymin I was removed to Warsaw. Napoleon arrived there on the 1st January, and he did me the honour to come and see me. “Well, Rapp,” said he, “you are wounded again; and on your unlucky arm too.” It was the ninth wound which I had received on my left arm, and the Emperor therefore called it my unlucky arm.<br>
“No wonder,” Sire, said I, “we are always amidst battles.”<br>
“We shall perhaps have done fighting,” he replied, “when we are eighty years old.”

**********

We had inclined too much towards the right; the King of Naples remained alone, exposed to the havoc of the batteries of Scminskoe. He had nothing but cavalry; a deep ravine separated him from the village: it was not easy to take it, but it was necessary to do so under pain of being swept away by the grape-shot. General Belliard, who only perceives a screen of light cavalry, conceives the design of driving it off and moving by the left on the redoubt. “Run to Latour Maubourg,” Murat said to him; “tell him to take a brigade of French and Saxon cuirassiers, to pass the ravine, to put all to the sword, to arrive at full gallop at the back of the redoubt, and to spike all the cannon. If he should fail, let him return in the same direction. You shall place a battery of forty pieces of cannon and a part of the reserve to protect the retreat.” Latour Maubourg put himself in movement, routed, dispersed the Russians, and made himself master of the works. Friant came up to occupy them.<br>
All the reserve passed, and established itself on the left of the village. There remained a last retrenchment, which took us in flank and commanded our position. The reserve had taken one, it thought that it could take another. Caulincourt advanced, and spread far and wide confusion and death. He falls suddenly on the redoubt, and gets possession of it. A soldier hidden in an embrasure stretched him dead. He slept the sleep of the brave; he was not a witness of our disasters.<br>
Everything was in flight; the fire had ceased, the carnage had paused. General Belliard went to reconnoitre a wood situated at some distance. He perceived the road which converged on us; it was covered with troops and convoys, which were retreating. If they had been intercepted, all the right of the enemy’s army had been taken in the segment in which it was placed. He came and informed Murat of it. “Run and give an account of it to the Emperor,” said the Prince.<br>
He went, but Napoleon did not think the moment come. “I do not see sufficiently clear on my chessboard; I expect news from Poniatowski. Return, examine, come back.” The general returned, indeed, but it was too late. The Russian guard was advancing; infantry, cavalry, all were coming up to renew the attack. The general had only time to collect a few pieces of cannon.<br>
“Grape-shot, grape shot, and nothing but grape shot,” he said to the artillerymen. The firing began; its effect was terrible; in one instant the ground was covered with dead. The shattered column was dissipated like a shadow. It did not fire one shot. Its artillery arrived a few moments after; we got possession of it. The battle was gained, but the firing was still terrible. The balls and shots were pouring down by my side. In the space of one hour I was struck four times, first with two shots rather slightly, then with a bullet on the left arm, which carried away the sleeve of my coat and shirt close to the skin. I was then at the head of the Sixty-First regiment, which I had known in Upper Egypt. There were a few officers present who were there; it was rather singular to meet here. I soon received a fourth wound; a ball struck me on my left hip and threw me headlong from my horse:—it was the twenty-second. I was obliged to quit the field of battle; I informed Marshal Ney of it, his troops were mixed with mine.<br>
General Dessaix, the only general of that division who was not wounded, succeeded me; a moment after he had his arm broken; Friant was not wounded till afterwards.<br>
I was dressed by the surgeon of Napoleon, who also came himself to visit me. “Is it, then, always your turn? How are things going on?”
“Sire, I believe that you will be obliged to make your guard charge.”<br>
“I shall take good care not to do so. I do not wish to see it destroyed. I am sure to gain the battle without its taking a part.” It did not charge in effect, with the exception of thirty pieces of cannon, which did wonders.<br>
The day ended; fifty thousand men lay on the field of battle. A multitude of generals were killed and wounded: we had forty disabled. We made some prisoners, took some pieces of cannon: this result did not compensate for the losses which it had cost us.