Soldier, artist, engineer, designer, writer, courtier. This is a book by and about an exceptional and talented man, Lejeune epitomized the ideals of the age of revolutions and became an incomparable chronicler, in both words and pictures, of the reality of the Napoleonic era. In the first volume of his memoirs we meet a young artist charmed by Marie Antoinette in the gardens at Versailles. Such is the pace of this narrative that within pages we experience with Lejeune the Terror in Paris, the slaughter of the Swiss Guards and her execution on the guillotine. His time in the army follows, with campaigns in Holland and Italy – battles such as Austerlitz, Jena, Eylau and Friedland are graphically described. Designing uniforms for Napoleon is followed by war in the Peninsula where his participation at the siege of Saragossa inspired a lyrically written account of appalling intensity. The war with Austria follows, and once more Lejeune shows us what a bloody place a Napoleonic battlefield was.
At noon, the fog which had partially hidden the town from us having cleared away, the signal was given to fire the mines of Santa Engracia, and our troops dashed into the open to cross the wide rampart and ascend to the assault. All the bells in the town sounded the alarm at once, the people rushed to the points attacked and poured a hail of shot and hand grenades upon us. At the same moment the enemy fired three mines prepared by them beneath the path we had to cross on our way to each of the three breaches, but we passed so rapidly that we escaped the explosions, which hurt none of us. Everywhere we managed to get a footing, although behind each opening the enemy had established batteries which riddled us with grape shot, whilst all the walls bristled with enraged defenders.
After scaling the breach, which really was scarcely practicable, we found ourselves arrested at the top by the wall of a garden rising more than ten feet above the ground on the other side. The neighbouring terraces were covered with troops and artillery which would completely crush us. We had to get out of this altogether untenable position as quickly as possible, and try a second assault on some of the positions occupied by the Spaniards. We flung ourselves forward and charged with the bayonet. In this second assault a Spaniard dealt me a blow with the butt of his musket, which wounded my face and rendered me insensible. A few moments later I regained consciousness, and went to wash away the blood in the water of the Huerba, quickly rejoining the right column, to which I belonged. Meanwhile a footing had been obtained upon the breaches, and several of the neighbouring houses had been taken, the doors and walls having been staved in, though the courts were so raked with the fire of the enemy that they were quite impassable.
In the attack of the centre, the mines laid by Major Breuille under the rampart flung down some half of the walls of the Convent of Santa Engracia. The Poles of the Second Vistula Regiment, commanded by Chlopiski and directed by Rogniat, colonel of engineers, had been divided into several small detachments, which were taken into action one after the other, to avoid confusion. These heads of columns traversed at a run some 200 exposed yards, and dashed impetuously on to the ruins of the first wall of the enclosure, which had been flung down for a considerable length. A second wall behind the first had only been damaged by the breaking open of the breach some eight or ten feet wide, and the guns of the 1,200 defenders of the convent were all pointed on it and pouring forth a hot fire. The first of our brave fellows to arrive, Captain Segond, of the engineers, and Captain Negrodski, flung themselves head foremost upon the breach, and were followed by all the men of the Vistula Regiment, who came on like enraged lions, flung themselves into the opening, and defiled beyond it. A terrible struggle now took place in every part of the convent, monks, soldiers, peasants, even women and children, urging each other on, and disputing every inch of ground, defending themselves from the top to the bottom of the stairs, from corridor to corridor, from room to room, entrenching themselves behind bales of wool or even piles of books, and from every point pouring out a murderous fire. One of the Poles was actually killed on the stairs by a monk with blows from a crucifix. For all that, however, the Spanish were driven back beyond the Capuchin Convent, of which we remained masters. Even six fougasses, which the enemy blew up under our feet, did not arrest us, and we pursued them into the ruins of the adjacent houses, on which also other batteries opened fire, doing us a good deal of damage. We suffered most cruelly from the musket shots fired from the top of the neighbouring belfries, where the best marksmen, who never missed their aim, were stationed.
I was crossing the heaps of ruins resulting from the explosion in the court of the Santa Engracia Convent, with Generals Lacoste and Valazé, on the way to attack the Capuchin Convent, when I was badly wounded in the shoulder by a ricochet ball, which caused a most painful choking sensation. This second wound placed me hors de combat for several days. As I was being supported over the debris of the ruined cloister, my helpers paused for a moment on the scene of carnage, opposite to a white cross rising above a marble group representing the dead Christ in His grave clothes across the knees of His Mother, who was praying at the foot of the cross.