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Napoleon the First, a biography online

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as if nothing but the war just then thundering at the country's
gates, with its train of privations and excesses, saved Napoleon
and his government from an internal crisis that was already
drawing nigh. Now, in the hour of need, he was not so much
a sovereign to the French people as a military leader, certainly
the ablest of them all and in this case the most earnest, for he
fought for his throne. It will be no surprise to us to behold once
more all the marvels of his genius.

The allies had made no pause in the war, as Metternich
had informed Saint-Aignan they would not. During the first
week in November they had already agreed on prosecuting it im-
mediately, despite the objections of a few old-fashioned military
men like the Austrian General Duka. He proposed taking up
a fortified position along the Rhine, and once even brought
Francis I. to the point of threatening Radetzky, who preached
the offensive, with court martial. In regard to the plan of opera-
tions opinions were for a time divided. Gneisenau had pro-
posed with good reason an offensive movement through Belgium.
Schwarzenberg, on the other hand, insisted that only 30,000
men under Biilow should proceed to Holland, but that the
main army must try to penetrate France through Switzerland,
which must be won to the cause of the allies and should by no
means be left on the flank, and thence gain the plateau of Lan-
gres. In that way, he thought, they would be nearer to the
Austrians advancing through upper Italy and to Wellington.
Bliicher's army should go across the middle Rhine and so cover
the right flank. It was a methodical plan, which involved a
loss of time and aimed more at gaining a position than at a vie-

^T. 44] The Objects ot the AlHes 653

tory over the enemy. Yet the statement is incontestable with
which Radetzky advocated it: "All the south of France, where
now not a soldier is to be found, will be prevented from organ-
izing, and the Emperor Napoleon will lose a coasiderable portion
of his resources."

For this was the principal object of the allied leaders, to
prevent by breaking into France the arming of the enemy, to
make him by this means incapable of lasting resistance and to
dispose him more to peace.* To annihilate him or banish
him was b}^ no means their purpose. And they did in fact
succeed in so far that when the two armies at the end of the
year crossed the Rhine and (during the first half of January)
entered France, more than a third of the country was checked
in the midst of its preparations, while Napoleon's new army
was in the first stages of formation. The troops of the former
army under Macdonald, Marmont, and Victor, which had been
left at the Rhine, and those that Ney and Mortier gathered at
Nancy and Langres, had amountetl to little over 50,000, for at
least as many more had died from typhus in December.f These
forces, retiring before superior numbers, marched during January,
1814, in the direction of Vitry on the Marne. Gerard with
a few thousand reserves and Lefeb\Te with the Guards added
only about 10,000 to their numbers. The effort at a " levee en
masse " was a total failure, and the decree of January 3d author-
izing it was without effect.

Napoleon's original plan, when he heard of the advance of
the aUies, was to let them approach near the capital, where he
in the mean time would have stationed and built up his new
army, and then to unite all his available forces there and seek
to decide matters in a battle. But to prevent the allies from
seizing too much French soil with all its supplies he gave up

* The "military operations," writes Gentz on the 19th of December
from Freiburg to the Princess of Wallachia, after speaking of the negotia-
tions, "will be continued nevertheless with greater emphasis, because
the allies hope in this way to prevent the reorganization of the army in
the interior of France, and so confirm all the more the peaceful mood of

t Houssaye, "1814," p. 59, now gives the official figures.

654 E^^^ f^^^"^

this plan and determined to fight between the Seine and the
Marne, though he had at first nothing but the remnants of the
last army. His purpose in this was to strike the separate de-
tachments of the enemy before they effected a junction, and,
both for strategic as well as political reasons, to turn first upon
Bliicher, who was moving rapidly on Saint-Dizier, while the
main army was slowly advancing by way of Montbeliard and
Langres. There was a variety of reasons for this delay. In
the first place, Alexander, influenced by Laharpe, Jomini, and
other Swiss, had long been opposed to the march through Switzer-
land; then again, in sentimental memory of the passage over
the Niemen on New Year's Day, he had waited until the Russian
New Year (January 13th) before crossing the Rhine at Basel;
and finally Metternich had directed Schwarzenberg on the 8th
of January to advance "discreetly," as he hoped soon to bring
to a close the great peace negotiations. For Caulaincourt was
waiting at Luneville for the congress to be opened and com-
plained of the delay, as his Emperor had surely given the strongest
evidence of his hearty desire for the establishment of a universal
peace by sending his minister of foreign affairs with full powers.*
Another thing hampered the operations of the main army.
At Abo Alexander had held out hopes to Bernadotte of getting
the French throne, and the latter had accordingly shown him-
self very sparing toward the French throughout the campaign.
Now this project of the Czar stood revealed and cooled Austria
off still more, whose ardour was none too great at best.

On the 26th of January Napoleon left Paris and on the next

* See " Oesterreich's Teilnahme," etc., p. 790. Metternich states in
his letter from Freiburg on the 9th of January addressed to Schwarzenberg
that he had sent to Caulaincourt the official answer referring him to definite
explanations in the immediate future, and a few lines in private besides.
The latter have never been published. It would be most interesting to
see them. Metternich's view of the situation before the arrival of Eng-
land's minister, Castlereagh, at headquarters is also defined in a second
letter to Schwarzenberg dated January 13th. "To make an end, and
an honourable one, to obtain what is desirable and advantageous without
going to Paris, or to go to Paris if it is not otherwise to be obtained: that
is the whole of my policy."


.Et. 44] The Allies Increase their Demands 655

morning arrived at Chalons. Bliichcr was on the road bctwcon
Saint-Dizier and Brienne on that day, his object being to come
closer to the main army. After sending Yorck's corps toward
the Moselle and leaving that of Langeron's (all but one division)
to watch Mainz, he had only about 30,000 men at hand. Na-
poleon thought he had still less, and determined to attack him
although he, too, had no more than 40,000. He supposed
Bliicher to be still at Saint-Dizior, but found only the rear-guard
there; he hastened on after him toward Brienne, leaving Mar-
mont behind. There an engagement took place which compelled
Bliicher, who was just on the point of proceeding westward, to
turn south toward Tranncs.

Meantime at the headquarters of the allies some memorable
resolutions were reached. The English Minister of Foreign
Affairs, Lord Castlereagh, had arrived there on the 25th, and
had at once begun to exercise a dominant influence. First of
all he had demanded "the uninterrupted prosecution of mili-
tary operations," and at the same time he had given encour-
agement for a conference of ministers who should determine
the political course to be pursued. And so on the 29th it was
agreed that at the congress to be opened presently at Chatillon
the "old boundaries of France" were to be proposed to Caulain-
court as a basis of peace. That is to say, the conditions once
given to Saint-Aignan, which Napoleon did not accept speedily
enough, were retracted, and France was to be circumscribed no
more by the Rhine, the Alps, and the Pyrenees, but by the
boundaries she had at the beginning of the wars of the Revolu-
tion in 1792, when a legitimate king still sat on the throne. In
favour of this proposition they urged the successes of the allies
since November: their invasion of France, the conquest of
Holland, and the desertion of Murat, who had entered an offensive
and defensive alliance with Austria on the Uth of January.
By this decision, denying to France her gains through the Revo-
lution and restricting the state to its former territory, the
powers, assuming that they fought out their programme with all
their resources, undermined the revolutionary monarchy, whose
principle had been unlimited extension of boundaries and of

656 Elba [1814

influence. Hence it was but consistent that at Langres the
restoration of the old dynasty of the Bourbons had already
been in view. The clause: "in case it [the dynasty] should
be recalled by an act of the nation itself," laid much less stress
on the sovereign people than the appeal from Frankfort had

These wide-reaching resolutions were to be emphatically
supported by a victory over Napoleon during the next few
days. He had followed Bliicher to the vicinity of Trannes,
ever hoping to strike him a blow before Schwarzenberg arrived.
He was disappointed. Schwarzenberg, after much crying out
upon those who could not get quickly enough to Paris and upon
Metternich, who had not yet secured peace, had determined
to support Bliicher and sent him two corps that increased his
force to 60,000, while Napoleon had only 40,000. Wrede's
corps also hastened from Joinville, so that the dreaded Em-
peror of the French might be confronted with more than double
odds. What, therefore, Napoleon had thought to prevent
had been done after all. The stubbornness with which Bliicher
held his position at Trannes left no doubt as to the proximity
of the main army. He had even given orders on the 1st of
February to march west, when Bliicher took the offensive at
La Rothiere. The entire afternoon the French troops held
out against great odds, until towards evening their line on the
left wing near Chaumesnil was broken by the onslaught of
Wrede, and the reserves, led by Napoleon himself, were unable
to repair the damage. The village, and with it the battle, was

It was a brilliant victory for the allies, and it might, per-
haps, have been definitive if it had been followed up by an
energetic pursuit. But this was neglected. The alHes deemed
Napoleon incapable of further resistance. On the very evening
after the battle Bliicher wrote that "it had, as it were, decided
everything," and in eight days they would be in Paris. Con-
sequently they neglected to push rapidly after the beaten foe,
and thus allow him no time to restore order to his confused
troops. Napoleon, too, felt the whole weight of the blow he

iET. 44] Negotiations Fail 657

had received, Maret, who was with liiin at Troycs durinp; the
gloomy days after the engagement and who assumed the office
of secretary of state, relates in his Memoirs that the Emperor
had made up his mind to the extreme of compliance and that
he gave carte blanche to Caulaincourt when the latter requested
definite instructions for the congress to be opened on the 5th
of February, "The Duke of Bassano," we read in the Memoirs,
"handed Napoleon the letter (from Caulaincourt) and conjured
him to yield. The Emperor at first scarcely seemed to be
listening to him, then he pointed to a passage in Montesquieu,
whose pages he had been turning abstractedly. 'Read it,*
said he, 'read it aloud.' The words were: *I know nothing
more magnanimous than the determination of a monarch of
our time to bury himself under the ruins of his throne rather
than accept terms that no king should listen to,'" "But I know
something far more magnanimous," exclaimed Maret, "that
you make a sacrifice of your glory and thereby fill up the abyss
which will otherwise swallow up France and you together."
"Well, then, gentlemen, make peace; Caulaincourt shall con-
clude it, and shall sign everything that can bring it about; I
will bear the shame. Only do not ask me to dictate my own
humiliation." So Maret wrote to the minister that the Em-
peror gave him carte blanche to bring the negotiations to a happy
conclusion, to save the capital and to prevent a battle in which
the very last hopes of the nation would be at stake. When
Caulaincourt, frightened by the weight of responsibility laid
on him, asked on the 6th of February for definite instructions
as to how far he could go, Maret finally brought the Emperor,
who had gone back to Nogent on the 7th, to the point of actu-
ally "dictating his humiliation" during the night. "It was
settled," the Memoirs proceed to relate, "that for the sake of
peace Belgium and even the left bank of the Rhine must be
given up, and the instructions read that the plenipotentiary
should first offer Belgium, and then, if it was indispensable, the
left bank of the Rhine as well, Italy, Piedmont, Genoa, nay,
even the colonies, were to be sacrificed first of all. Napoleon
intended to sign the new instructions the next morning. But

658 Elba ii8i4

before the break of day tidings came that upset everything,
and when Maret appeared in the cabinet with the document
he found his master bending eagerly over his maps, "1 am
concerned with wholly different matters," the Emperor shouted
to him; "I am just on the point of dealing Blucher a blow."
And nothing further was said about signing the order. Talley-
rand was right: he could not be King of France as long as he
was the Emperor Napoleon.*

Shortly after the battle of La Rothiere, when the allies had
agreed to move on Paris, they had separated the two armies.
Schwarzenberg held the road to Troyes and Fontainebleau,
and Bliicher marched north at first, later turning west past
Fere Champenoise. He was to send for Yorck, who was march-
ing from Chalons along the Marne after Macdonald, and for
certain re-enforcements that were following along from Germany
under Kleist and Kapzevitch. That meant slow progress for
his division, and in fact Schwarzenberg, too, advanced but
cautiously. Then Bliicher quite suddenly conceived the plan
of pushing hastily forward northwest by Montmirail with two
Russian divisions (Sacken and Olssufief), blocking Macdonald's
road on the Marne, cutting him off from Napoleon and crushing
him between his own force and Torek's. He did not now wait
for re-enforcements, which, besides, had gone in the wrong direc-
tion by command of Emperor Alexander, and he divided his
army into three widely separated colunuis. Napoleon had
learned of this when he refused to sign the document for Maret
on the 8th. He was going to follow the plan recommended by
Marmont and overpower in detail the " best army of the allies, "
as he called Bliicher 's forces. He left Oudinot, Victor, and
Gerard behind at Montereau with not quite 40,000 men to watch
Schwarzenberg, and hastened with nearly 30,000 (Marmont, Ney,
and the Guards) by Sezanne north to Champaubert. At this
point the corps of Olssufief was marching by on the 10th of

* Even though Maret's story be true, it must not be overlooked that
Napoleon had been following Bliicher's movements for several days, and
on the evening of February 7th he wrote to Joseph : " In this state of affairs
we must show confidence and adopt bold measures."

Mt. 44]] The Allies Repulsed 659

February, while Sacken had already gone ahead to Montmirail,
Bliicher had rejected Gneisenau's advice to recall all the corps.
So Olssufief was on that day nearly annihilated, and Napoleon,
leaving Marmont behind, rushed on after Sacken, who met him
at Montmirail. Here, on the forenoon of the 11th, the Emperor
advanced his troops under cover of a splendid artillery fire,
that prevented the enemy from breaking through. Then he
purposely weakened his left wing to draw Sacken's attack in
that direction, while he pressed the latter's left with superior
forces. That made it impossible for Sacken to join Yorck,
who was advancing from Chateau-Thierry; the latter was driven
back and Sacken meantime totally defeated. Both generals
then retreated after great losses, while those of the French
were insignificant, to Chateau-Thierry, whither the Emperor
followed them on the 12th, but where Macdonald failed to
intercept them. He sent the latter general with reinforce-
ments to Montereau on the Seine. He himself did not turn
and move at once on Schwarzenberg, for he had heard that
Bliicher, with the corps of Kleist and Kapzevitch, was ad-
vancing in person on Montmirail, to which point Marmont was
retiring before him. He therefore paused in his pursuit of the
enemy defeated in the last few days and turned rapidly south
from Chateau-Thierry, to treat this third column to the fate
of the other two. At Vauchamps on the 14th of February, at
noon, the French encountered the vanguard of the enemy and
dislodged them, whereupon Bliicher resolved to retreat. He
was able to effect, it however, only at the cost of constant
fighting w^ith heavy losses, especially when Napoleon sent
a corps of cavalry under Grouchy in a wide circuit to intercept
the retreating colunm at Etoges. The vaUant troops, retiring
in the best order, succeeded in breaking through, but only with
great sacrifice of life. They then retreated to Chalons, where
Yorck and Sacken also met with the remnants of their forces.
These rapidly succeeding actions at Champaubert, Mont-
mirail, and Vauchamps have been compared with the first vic-
tories of Napoleon as a young general; and in fact there was
the same fire, the same bold energy, the same force of genius

66o Elba [I814

now, indeed, refined by a rich experience. But would all
that suffice to bring such an unequal contest to a tolerable con-
clusion? And supposing the general does his share, will not the
Emperor interfere as he has so often in the last two years?
After the third victory gained within the last five days, he
could no longer afford to follow up the Silesian army. It was
high time to turn and move on Schwarzenberg. vSo Marmont
alone was left behind to face Bliicher, with orders to retreat,
at the latter's first offensive move, slowly past Montmirail, and
get into communication with Napoleon again. The Emperor
supposed the main army of the enemy to be already far beyond
the Seine above Montereau. He therefore took the troops of
Ney and Gerard and the Guards and marched with incredible
speed to Guignes on the Yeres, where he also found Macdonald,
Oudinot, and Victor, and so had his entire army together with
the exception of Marmont's corps. His hopes had risen to the
highest pitch; perhaps he could succeed with the second gen-
eral as well as he had with the first; perhaps the columns of
Schwarzenberg could be defeated in detail. Appearances favoured
his hopes. Pushing forward from Guignes towards Nangis,
Napoleon met at Mormant the advance-guard of the enemy's
right wing under Wittgenstein, who was moving from Nogent and
Provins on Paris, and annihilated it. And if Victor could only
have advanced, as he was ordered to, on the same day over the
Seine at Montereau, the Austrian corps of Bianchi, which had
reached Fontainebleau and was now hastily • recalled, might
possibly have been cut off like Sacken at Montmirail. But this
advance could not be undertaken until the next day, and then
Napoleon led it; but Schwarzenberg had managed by that
time to retire beyond the Seine and the Yonne with all his

The commander-in-chief of the allied forces had been cha-
grined at Bliicher's ill fortune and was now in sheer despair.
"To avoid being beaten in detail," he wrote from Bray to Met-
ternich, who had remained with his Emperor at Troyes, " I shall
limit myself to defending resc^lutely [" serieusement "] the bridges
of Bray and Nugent and uniting my forces behind the Seine

MT.4i] Divisions Among the Allies 661

and Yonne." He was beside himself with rage because Alex-
ander had, on the 9th of February, called his plenipotentiary away
from the congress at Chatillon, and because the proposal of
Caulaincourt, to negotiate on the basis of the "ancient boun-
daries" provided a truce were allowed, was not accepted. He
now set out to make good this neglect, and got authority from
the Czar and King Frederick William to write to Berthier on
the 17th. In this letter he himself suggested a cessation of
hostilities, as the plenipotentiaries at Chatillon had received
instructions to close preliminaries on the basis of Caulaincourt's
proposal, and should have done so on the 16th. The last state-
ment was but a ruse, and it was at once detected by Napoleon.
He perceived the enemy's ill-concealed embarrassment , and his
spirits rose high. "According to the latest news," he wrote to
Joseph on the 18th, "everything is different with the allies.
The Emperor of Russia, who but a few days ago had broken
off negotiations because he wanted to impose on France still
worse terms than the 'ancient boundaries,' * now wants to resume
them; and I hope that I shall secure a peace on the basis of
the Frankfort terms, the minimum that I can treat for with
honour. If I had (before the last operations) signed a peace
on the ' ancient boundaries ' basis, I would have taken up arms
again two years later and toldthe nation that that was no
peace, but a capitulation. In the new state of affairs I could
no more say that, as my good fortune has returned and I am
master of my own terms." In a similar strain he had sent word
to Caulaincourt through Bassano after the victory of Mont-
mirail: "There is no reasonable peace except on the terms of
Frankfort ; any other is a mere armistice." f Caulaincourt's full
powers were limited accordingly on the 17th, and Eugene re-
ceived orders to bestir himself in Italy.

* This was true. Alexander, who wanted the whole of Poland, wished
to indemnify Austria for the loss of Galicia by giving her Alsace. His
neighbour would thus get into a dispute with France, and very likely with
Prussia as well, on account of encroachments on Germany. Russia would
thus have her hands free in the Orient. (Cf. Oncken in Raumer's Hist.
Ta-schenbuch, 1886, p. 34.)

t Houssaye, "1814," p. 103.

662 ' Elba [1814

Napoleon was right : ' ' everything was different . " At the very
time when he was fighting Bliicher sharp antagonisms had arisen
at the headquarters of the alhes. Alexander had come forward
with the plan to conclude no peace, but to move with utmost
speed on Paris, put the capital under a Russian governor, and then
let the nation decide — of course under Russian patronage —
the question of a ruler, be it Bernadotte, the republic, or Na-
poleon again. Manifestly, any head of the French nation thus
confirmed would be the devoted ally of Russia. These plans
were opposed by Austria in particular, which hoped rather for
an understanding with the Bourbons, who had conceded during
the last century her powerful position in Europe and her ascend-
ency in Italy. It was these dissensions that caused the dila-
tory operations of the main army. Not until they felt the pres-
sure of Napoleon's victories over Bliicher did they begin to
act a little more in unison, and by the middle of February
Alexander had yielded to the requirements of the other powers.
Negotiations were resumed at Chatillon, and the proposals of
Caulaincourt were to be the basis. So when Schwarzenberg
retired to Troyes — after Napoleon had defeated a Wiirttemberg
corps at Montereau on the 18th — he felt that he had made way
for peace, rather than for his conquering foe. And when he
summoned Bliicher, who had rapidly recovered himself, to
come up from Chalons, it was only in case of emergency. He
would not risk a battle, although the allies certainly had 150,000
men, while Napoleon, who was boldly moving on Troyes, could
only command 70,000. On the 23d of February he actually
retired to Bar sur Aube, and even had thoughts of receding to the
plateau of Langres if the dreaded foe should follow him farther.
But his hopes of peace were not destined to be fulfilled. The
powers at Chatillon demanded as conditions of a preUminary
peace the boundaries of 1792, and as a guarantee the evacua-
tion not only of all fortresses outside of France, but also of the
French ones of Belfort, Besangon and Hiiningen. When Cau-
laincourt reported this he received from Napoleon the following
answer: "I am so irritated by this project that I feel myself
dishonound by the mere proposal." He himself would send

iEr. 44] Bliicher Moves on Paris 663

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