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Ney: General of Cavalry Volume 1—1769-1799

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Ney: General of Cavalry Volume 1—1769-1799
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Author(s): Antoine Bulos
Date Published: 2009/05
Page Count: 308
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-661-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-662-5

Volume one of Ney's early career

Antoine Bulos was commissioned by Marshal Ney's family to write a comprehensive memoir of his life. All students of the Napoleonic age have visions of Ney at his most iconic—standing with a small rearguard in the snow fighting off Cossacks during the disastrous retreat from Moscow or charging bareheaded, his red hair a rallying point for all, up slopes crowned with red-coated infantry at Waterloo. These two volumes paint an entirely different portrait, concentrating as they do on Ney's early career. In volume one—Ney: General of Cavalry—we see Ney in his formative years as the consummate commander of light cavalry. This volume, culminating in 1799, reveals how the soldier won his deserved reputation for courage. Perhaps more surprisingly it shows how Ney was far from the headstrong but shallow thinker many have portrayed him to be. Here is a man of both principle and no small capacity for administration. These essential volumes for those interested in the Napoleonic epoch are available in soft back and hard cover with dust jacket for collectors.

“A thousand francs for each piece of cannon,” he exclaimed.<br>
“Agreed,” the soldiers replied. The infantry was formed, and the cavalry and artillery occupying their respective stations, advanced with the infantry, and soon came to close action. The attack was fearfully impetuous, and the bayonet was soon resorted to; it overcame all resistance, and in a very short time the right wing of the Austrians was overthrown. On the left, the action was longer and more obstinate. Lefebvre, Gratien, and Spital threw the ranks of the imperialists into disorder, without, however, being able to break them. Ney was more fortunate: he had taken up a position in front of Neuwied, and having despatched the 2nd Hussars to occupy the space between the redoubts at the bridgehead, threw himself with the 3rd and 4th into that between the redoubts at Hellesdorf, cut to pieces the infantry which guarded it, and took a great many prisoners, with several pieces of cannon; then falling with the same impetuosity upon the masses which covered Hellesdorf, drove them into the defiles of Braunsberg.<br>
But the Austrians were scarcely dislodged from the village, ere they became aware how. critical their situation was. Having perceived the impossibility of maintaining themselves upon the line they had formed, they immediately took measures for occupying the woods and defiles leading to Neuwied. Heavy masses of their troops advanced for this purpose; and two columns with a numerous artillery were about to attain the position; but Ney, who perceived all the importance of the movement, and that if it succeeded, the fortune of the day would again become doubtful, did not hesitate with his comparatively small force to attempt counteracting it.<br>
Notwithstanding the fatigue which the men had already undergone, he divided them into two bodies, and marched up to the enemy. Though the nature of the ground, and the exhaustion of his troops, gave him but slender hopes of success, both men and horses seemed on a sudden to arouse at his voice, charged the Austrians with irresistible spirit, and made great havoc in their ranks. They gave way, and those who escaped death, being stopped in their flight by the baggage-wagons with which the road to Neuwied was covered, were obliged to ask for quarter. The whole of the Austrian column was either taken or destroyed; Ney established himself in the plain, and took up his position on the road to Dierdorf at the entrance of the mountain gorges.<br>
His attitude was threatening; and the Austrians, broken throughout their line, perceived that they were in danger of being shut up in the plain of Neuwied. They therefore resolved upon a fresh attempt to occupy the woods. Columns of infantry, much stronger than the former, advanced under the support of a numerous body of cavalry and artillery, but were unable to debouch. Ney's hussars kept them in check, and drove them back each time they attempted to force their way. The battle had now lasted many hours, and the manner in which the French troops behaved was fully appreciated by their general-in-chief, who did ample justice to the decision and ability which Ney had shown. Hoche, in his despatch, thus speaks of him:—<br>
Ney proceeded with rapidity to Dierdorf, where he found the reserve of the Austrians, six thousand strong, and still untouched. With less than five hundred hussars, he engaged this body during four consecutive hours, and by his skill and energy succeeded in gaining time until the arrival of our infantry and reserve of cavalry.<br>
The French were now a match for their adversaries, whom they overthrew on every point. Ney pressed upon them, and allowed them no time to breathe. He had already driven them from Dierdorf and Steinberg, and was preparing to force them beyond the Lahn, when they again sounded the charge, and came towards him. Unable to account for this sudden change, he advanced and soon discovered its cause. The French hussars had forced an Austrian column to lay down its arms, but were still stopped by a line of sharp shooters. Anxious to disperse these, and drive them from the heights which they occupied, the French had brought a field-piece into play. The Blankestein Hussars, perceiving this fault, hastened to take advantage of it, and, supported by the Cobourg Dragoons, made a desperate charge. The troops advanced on both sides, fought round the gun, and both parties struggled for it as the prize contended for.<br>
The ground was bad, and the numbers of the Austrians very superior; but Ney succeeded in throwing their ranks into confusion, and they gave way. The French were now in hopes that they should be unable to return to the attack, and were congratulating themselves on their victory, when fresh squadrons came up to the assistance of the Austrians. The republicans were broken in their turn, and it was in vain for Ney to resist the torrent which swept his forces along. His horse fell, and rolled with him into a ravine.<br>
He was covered with bruises and blood, and to complete his disaster, his sword snapped in twain. The enemy surrounded him, and he had no further hope of escape. He resisted, nevertheless; for perceiving the 4th about to make a fresh charge, he was anxious to give them time to come to his assistance. He therefore used the stump of his sword, struck, parried, and kept in check the crowd which pressed upon him. Such a contest could not last long;—the ground was slippery, Ney's foot slid, he fell to the ground, and the Austrians succeeded in seizing him. He was thus made prisoner, and conveyed to Giessen.<br>
The fame of his capture preceded him thither, and everyone was eager to behold a man whose deeds seemed fabulous. The women more especially could not imagine how he had dared to resist a whole squadron, and, for a time, with some appearance of success. As they were taking him to head-quarters through a by-street, these fair admirers of courage begged that he might be led through the public square.<br>
“Really,” said an Austrian officer, annoyed at their importunity, “one would suppose that he was some extraordinary animal.”<br>
“Extraordinary indeed,” replied one of the ladies, “since it required a whole squadron of dragoons to take him.”
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