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The Defeat of the U-Boats

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The Campaigns of Alexander

Sabre and Foil Fighting

The Fourth Leonaur Book of Ghost and Horror Stories

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General Von Zieten

Armoured Cars and Aircraft

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Gronow of the Guards

Plumer of Messines

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The Recollections of Constant--Volume 2: 1809 - 1815

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The Recollections of Constant--Volume 2: 1809 - 1815
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Author(s): Louis Constant Wairy
Date Published: 2009/09
Page Count: 368
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-819-3
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-820-9

The second volume of the recollections of the man by the side of the Emperor

“Attached to the person of the Emperor Napoleon for fifteen years, I have seen all the men, and witnessed all the important events, which centred around him. I have seen far more than that; for I have had under my eyes all the circumstances of his life, the least as well as the greatest, the most secret as well as those which are known to history,—I have had, I repeat, incessantly under my eyes the man whose name, solitary and alone, fills the most glorious pages of our history. Fifteen years I followed him in his travels and his campaigns, was at his court, and saw him in the privacy of his family. Whatever step he wished to take, whatever order he gave, it was necessarily very difficult for the Emperor not to admit me, even though involuntarily, into his confidence; so that without desiring it, I have more than once found myself in the possession of secrets I should have preferred not to know. What wonderful things happened during those fifteen years! I had been an eye-witness, had seen everything, and could say, ‘I was there.’”

The corps of Marshal Davoust was one of those which suffered most in the whole army. Of the seventy thousand men with which it left France, there only remained four or five thousand, and they were dying of famine. The marshal himself was terribly emaciated. He had neither clothing nor food. Hunger and fatigue had hollowed his cheeks, and his whole appearance inspired pity. This brave marshal, who had twenty times escaped Russian bullets, now saw himself dying of hunger; and when one of his soldiers gave him a loaf, he seized it and devoured it. He was also the one who was least silent; and while thawing his moustache, on which the rain had frozen, he railed indignantly against the evil destiny which had thrown them into thirty degrees of cold. Moderation in words was difficult while enduring such sufferings. <br>
For some time the Emperor had been in a state of great anxiety as to the fate of Marshal Ney, who had been cut off, and obliged to clear for himself a passage through the midst of the Russians, who followed us on every side.<br>
As time passed the alarm increased. The Emperor demanded incessantly if Ney had yet been seen, accusing himself of having exposed this brave general too much, asking for him as for a good friend whom one has lost. The whole army shared and manifested the same anxiety, as if this brave soldier were the only one in danger. A few regarding him as certainly lost, and seeing the enemy threaten the bridges of the Borysthenes, proposed to cut them; but the army was unanimous in their opposition to this measure.<br>
On the 20th, the Emperor, whom this idea filled with the deepest dejection, arrived at Basanoni, and was dining in company with the Prince of Neuchatel and the Duke of Dantzic, when General Gourgaud rushed in with the announcement that Marshal Ney and his troops were only a few leagues distant. The Emperor exclaimed with inconceivable joy, “Can it be true?” M. Gourgaud gave him particulars, which were soon known throughout the camp. This news brought joy to the hearts of all, each of whom accosted the other eagerly, as if each had found a long-lost brother; they spoke of the heroic courage which had been displayed; the talent shown in saving his corps in spite of snows, floods, and the attacks of the enemy. It is due Marshal Ney, to state here, that according to the opinion I have heard expressed by our most illustrious warriors, his safe retreat is a feat of arms to which history furnishes no parallel. The heart of our soldiers palpitated with enthusiasm, and on that day they felt the emotions of the day of victory! Ney and his division gained immortality by this marvellous display of valour and energy. So much the better for the few survivors of this handful of braves, who can read of the great deeds they have done, in these annals inspired by them. His Majesty said several times, “I would give all the silver in the vaults of the Tuileries to have my brave Ney at my side.”<br>
To Prince Eugene was given the honour of going to meet Marshal Ney, with a corps of four thousand soldiers. Marshal Mortier had disputed this honour with him, but among these illustrious men there were never any but noble rivalries. The danger was immense; the cannon of Prince Eugene was used as a signal, understood by the marshal, to which he replied by platoon fires. The two corps met, and even before they were united, Marshal Ney and Prince Eugene were in each other’s arms; and it is said that the latter wept for joy. Such scenes make this horrible picture seem somewhat less gloomy. As far as the Beresina, our march was only a succession of small skirmishes and terrible sufferings.<br>
The Emperor passed one night at Caniwki, in a wooden cabin containing only two rooms. The one at the back was selected by him, and in the other the whole service slept pell-mell. I was more comfortable, as I slept in his Majesty’s room; but several times during the night I was obliged to pass into this room, and was then compelled to step over the sleepers worn out by fatigue. Although I took care not to hurt them, they were so close together that it was impossible not to place my feet on their legs or arms.<br>
In the retreat from Moscow, the Emperor walked on foot, wrapped in his pelisse, his head covered with a Russian cap tied under the chin. I marched often near the brave Marshal Lefebvre, who seemed very fond of me, and said to me in his German-French, in speaking of the Emperor, “He is surrounded by a set of who do not tell the truth; he does not distinguish sufficiently his good from his bad servants. How will he get out of this, the poor Emperor, whom I love so devotedly? I am always in fear of his life; if there were needed to save him only my blood, I would shed it drop by drop; but that would change nothing, and perhaps he may have need of me.”
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