From defeat to counter-attack in the footsteps of Hannibal
George Furse was a colonel of the Black Watch regiment and an accomplished military historian and author. His writing was never less than serious, well researched and comprehensive. For ‘The Second War of Coalition’ (originally published under the inadequate title ‘Marengo and Hohenlinden’) Furse has referenced source material originally published in the French language including first-hand recollections and official documents. This Leonaur edition is being published in two unique volumes to enable us to include, for the first time, numerous illustrations of the events described.
Volume one commences in 1799 as Napoleon Bonaparte was elevated from solely military rank to First Consul of France. The war, as described here, was initially well fought by the Austrians and the Russians, so that the French were cast out of Italy retaining only footholds in Genoa and on the Ligurian shore. Napoleon then employed his military genius to invade Italy by a master-stroke—crossing his army over the Alps.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The French accounts relate how the soldiers were in high spirits, how they were pleased in being led by such a chief as Bonaparte, and how confident they were of success. The majority of the writers are quite silent on the absence of discipline and mutinous behaviour of some of the troops. The 9th Light, which so distinguished themselves at Marengo as to receive the designation of the incomparable, had been recruited in Paris, and was in a high state of insubordination. Rivaud’s cavalry had also shown signs of insubordination, so much so that for a while they were put out of orders, and it was only by their protesting their devotion to the Republic and to Bonaparte that they were allowed to take part in the campaign. What caused them to break out was the want of provisions and forage.
In passing through Martigny-bourg, Sembrancher, and Orsières the closed doors of the houses added to their discontent, and a voice was heard calling, “At least give us a village to pillage.” The brigadier recommended a little patience, declaring that in the evening the supplies would arrive. The brigade halted at Saint Pierre, and whilst Rivaud was away conferring with General Lannes, the soldiers having heard that the biscuit would not start from Villeneuve before the morrow, ransacked the houses for provisions. They carried bread and cheese to the officers, who accepted these simple provisions without making any remonstrance. In one cellar a large supply of spirits was found; an immense punch was improvised, and many of the soldiers partook too freely of it.
The pillage had been going on for two hours when Rivaud galloped back and entered Saint Pierre. The disorder was too great to be stayed by his voice, so the general sounded the boot and saddle. The troops were speedily recalled to their sense of duty, and having got some way out of Saint Pierre, Rivaud halted them and abused them for having violated the sacred laws of hospitality. An old soldier replied:—
“Citizen General, you were always promising us provisions; we were as hungry as wolves. Now that we are full you may conduct us into the snows and to the enemy. We shall go gaily. Forward, and long live the Republic!”
Berthier ordered Rivaud to punish the squadron commanders severely. This he refused to do, alleging that they had done more than their duty, and that he would rather resign. His words conveyed conviction to Berthier when he told him that if at any time his men were entitled to make a good meal it was on the eve of crossing the Alps, and this they had made.
The discipline of the troops evidently left much to be desired. Coignet relates how General Chambarlhac tried to make the men quicken their pace as they were dragging the guns up the mountain. The gunner who was in command of the detachment told him, “It is not you who command my gun; I am the responsible person. So please move on. At this moment these grenadiers do not belong to you; it is only I who command them.”
The general stepped towards the gunner, but the latter called a halt. “If you,” he then said, “do not move away from my piece I will knock you down with a blow from my lever. Move on, or I will cast you over the precipice.” This seems insubordinate language enough, and evidently the general had to comply, for there Coignet’s story ends.