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Artillery at War with Napoleon

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Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte: Volume 3—1813-1821

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Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte: Volume 3—1813-1821
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Author(s): Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne
Date Published: 2012/04
Page Count: 492
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-827-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-826-2

The final volume of a three volume special edition of this famous memoir

Students interested in the age of Napoleon are aware of the writings of the diplomat, Louis Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne, the author of these substantial and celebrated memoirs. Bourrienne’s texts have frequently been published in multi-volume editions in abridged and unabridged form. This Leonaur edition offers the entire work, unabridged, in an accessible three volumes, to enable students of the period to own Bourrienne’s work at a reasonable cost. All personal memoirs suffer from a subjectivity that tends to portray the author in a good light and often gloss over his worst qualities while seeking to deny or justify less admirable actions. In this Bourrienne’s work is no exception, for despite the book’s title Bourrienne’s activities feature prominently and many critics have focussed upon this aspect of his work. Nevertheless, Bourrienne knew Napoleon from the earliest days when they were students together. As young men they saw the rise of Revolutionary France and Bourrienne continued to be a close member of Napoleon’s court during his meteoric acquisition of power. Bourrienne’s knowledge of Napoleon throughout the greater part of his career is virtually without parallel and it is for this reason that these books are essential reading for all those interested in the life of this great and driven man.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

We lost in the left wing nearly 5,000 men and several generals. Prince Jérôme, who had already been wounded at the passage of the Sambre, had his hand slightly grazed by a musket-shot. He remained constantly at the head of his division, and displayed a great deal of coolness and valour. Our loss at Ligny, estimated at 6,500 men, was rendered still more to be regretted by General Gérard’s receiving a mortal wound. Few officers were endued with a character so noble, and an intrepidity so habitual. More greedy of glory than of wealth, he possessed nothing but his sword; and his last moments, instead of resting with delight on the remembrance of his heroic actions alone, were disturbed by the pain of leaving his family exposed to want.<br>
The victory of Ligny did not entirely fulfil the expectations of the emperor. “If Marshal Ney,” said he, “had attacked the English with all his forces, he would have crushed there, and have arrived in time to give the Prussians the finishing blow; and if, after having committed this first fault, he had not been guilty of a second folly, in preventing the movement of Comte d’Erlon, the intervention of the 1st corps would have shortened the resistance of Blücher, and rendered his defeat irreparable; his whole army would have been taken or destroyed.”<br>
This victory, though imperfect, was not the less considered by the generals as of the highest importance. It separated the English army from the Prussians, and left us hopes of being able to vanquish it in its turn.<br>
The emperor, without losing time, was for attacking the English on one side at daybreak, and pursuing Blücher’s army without respite on the other. In opposition to this plan it was remarked that the English army was fresh, and ready to accept battle, while our troops, harassed by the conflicts and fatigue of Ligny, would not perhaps be in a condition to fight with the necessary vigour. Finally, such numerous objections were made that he consented to suffer the army to take rest. Ill success inspires timidity. If Napoleon, as of old, had listened only to the suggestions of his own daring resolution, it is probable, nay, it is certain (and this was confirmed by General Drouot) that he might, according to his plan, have led his troops to Brussels on the 17th; and who can calculate what would have been the consequences of that capital falling into his hands)<br>
On the 17th, therefore, the emperor contented himself with forming his army into two columns: one, of 65,000 men headed by the emperor himself, after uniting with it the left wing, followed the English army. The light artillery, the lancers of General Alphonse Colbert, and of the intrepid Colonel Sourd, hung close upon their rear even to the entrance of the forest of Soignies, where the Duke of Wellington took up his position.<br>
The other, 36,000 strong, was detached under the orders of Marshal Grouchy to observe and pursue the Prussians. It did not proceed beyond Gembloux.<br>
The night of the 17th was dreadful, and seemed to presage the calamities of the day. A violent and incessant rain did not allow the army to take a single moment’s rest. To increase our misfortunes, the bad state of the roads retarded the arrival of our provisions, and most of the soldiers were without food; however, they endured this double ill-luck with much cheerfulness, and at daybreak announced to Napoleon by repeated acclamations that they were ready to fly to a fresh victory.<br>
The emperor had thought that Lord Wellington, separated horn the Prussians, and foreseeing the march of General Grouchy, who on passing the Dyle might fall on his flank or on his rear, would not venture to maintain his position, but would retire to Brussels. He was surprised when daylight discovered to him that the English army had not quitted its positions, and appeared disposed to accept battle and await the attack. Several general officers were directed to reconnoitre their positions; and to use the words of one of them, he learned that they were defended by ‘‘an army of cannons, and mountains of infantry.”<br>
Napoleon immediately sent advice to Marshal Grouchy that he was probably about to engage in a grand battle with the English, and ordered him to push the Prussians briskly, to rejoin the Grand Army as speedily as possible, and to direct his movements so as to be able to connect his operations with it.<br>
He then sent for his principal officers, to give them his instructions.<br>
Some of them, confident and daring, asserted that the enemy’s position should be attacked and carried by main force. Others, not less brave, but more prudent, urged that, the ground being deluged by the rain, the troops, the cavalry in particular, could not manoeuvre without much difficulty and fatigue, that the English army would have the immense advantage of awaiting us on firm ground in its intrenchments, and that it would be better to endeavour to turn these. All did justice to the valour of our troops, and promised that they would perform prodigies; but they differed in opinion with regard to the resistance that the English would make. “Their cavalry,” said the generals who had fought in Spain, ‘‘are not equal to ours; but their infantry are more formidable than is supposed. When intrenched, they are dangerous from their skill in firing; in the open field they stand firm, and if broken rally again within a hundred yards, and return to the charge.’’ Fresh disputes arose, and, what is remarkable, it never entered into any one’s head that the Prussians, pretty numerous parties of whom had been seen towards Moustier, might be in a situation to make a serious diversion on our right.<br>
The emperor, after having heard and discussed the opinions of all, determined, on considerations to which all assented, to attack the English in front. Reiterated orders were despatched to Marshal Grouchy; and Napoleon, to give him time to execute the movement he had enjoined, spent the whole morning in arranging his army.<br>
The emperor, with his staff, took his station on a rising ground near the farm of La Belle Alliance which commanded the plain, and whence he could easily direct the movements of the army, and observe those of the English.<br>
At half-past twelve the emperor, persuaded that Marshal Grouchy must be in motion, caused the signal for the battle to be given.
Prince Jérôme, with his division, advanced against Hougomont. The approaches were defended by hedges and a wood, in which the enemy had posted numerous guns. The attack, rendered so difficult by the state of the ground, was conducted with extreme impetuosity. The wood was alternately taken and retaken. Our troops and the English, very frequently separated only by a hedge, fired on each other, their muskets almost touching, without retreating a single step. The artillery made fearful ravage on both sides. The event was doubtful till General Reille ordered Foy’s division to support the attack of Prince Jérôme, and thus succeeded in compelling the enemy to abandon the woods and orchards, which they had hitherto so valiantly defended and kept possession of.
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