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MILITARY REMINISCENCES OF THE DUKE OF FEZENSAC *
The Duke of Fezensac entered the French service in 1804, being then twenty years of age; he must, therefore, have attained at the present moment, when he is inditing his " Military Reminiscences," the patriarchal age of eighty. He began his career as a simple soldier, and that not precisely as a youngster. His actual name—if the same at that epoch—was not inspiriting; it bore, with the idea of " a fez in his knapsack," greater promise of hard service in Eastern lands, than of that traditionally prevalent to the Frenchman's mind of a marshal's baton. There are few in this country who would not be curious to know something of the experiences of a general who has served in the ranks, and Monsieur le Due is pleasantly communicative upon the subject It must be admitted that the impression left upon us is, that, in his particular instance, the thing was in part a farce, and what is more extraordinary for the French army, a young man in his position was often guilty of acts of insubordination ; but the army was not, at the time of its assembling to invade Great Britain, and its sudden march from the cold shades of the cliffs of Albion to force the gates of the Danube and chastise our historical allies the Austrians, who had dared to effect a lucky diversion in oar favour, precisely what it was in aftertimes.
The future duke joined the 59th Regiment of infantry, the colonel of which, M. Lacuee, was a family friend, when that regiment formed part of the army stationed at Ambleteuse (Davoust), Boulogne (Soult), and Etaples (Ney), preparatory to the descent upon our coast, which, thanks to the incapability of Villeneuve, was ultimately adjourned sine die. The 59th was encamped at Montreuil with the third division, or that of the left, under Ney. M. Lacuee was a personal friend of the Emperor"s, and had been his aide-de-camp, but his advanced republican principles brought him into disgrace, and Napoleon appointed him to the 59th Regiment, with a few characteristic words. " I give you," he said, " one of the worst regiments in the army; you must make it one of the best." It was not saying much in favour of the 59th, although it showed confidence in the quondam aide-de-camp. M. de Fezensac tells us, however, that he was by no means the man for the task, and that the regiment was, when he joined, still in a state of utter disorganisation. Colonel Lacuee gave our young volunteer, however, some good advice on joining. " He must learn," he said, " to know those whom he might one day be called upon to command, and the only way to do so was," to live with the soldiers. Living with them, one learns how to appreciate their virtues; under other conditions, one only knows their vices." " Most sensible words," adds the duke, " the wisdom of which I have since had so many opportunities to verify."
The huts were not palaces. There were sixteen men in each. The ground was dug out to the depth of a yard, which rendered them damp.
* Souvenirs Militaires de 1804 a 18U. Far M. le Due de Fezensac, Geneial de Division.
The bottom was covered with straw—a " camp bed," as the French call it—and each man laid his own blanket on the straw, used his knapsack for a pillow, and had a linen sack and another blanket above. It wa?, as our author expresses it, sleeping together and yet apart. To while away the tedious hours of darkness, one or other would volunteer a tale. To ascertain if any were listening, he would now and then interrupt his story by saying eric; and it was a rule that those who were awake should answer crac* If no one replied, the story-teller went to sleep. The infantry was at this epoch dressed in blue, with white breeches and black gaiters, three-cornered hats, and pigtails without powder. The costume would, in the present day, be deemed sufficiently strange. The uniform of the most dashing sergeant-major of the day would, the duke says, have disgraced the last private in the army of the present day. " Such," he adds, " were my lodgings, my toilette, my repasts, my society." But we have not said anything about the repasts yet, although such are serious subjects with the parties concerned. The mid-day repast consisted of a good " soupe grasse," with vegetables, and a little bit of beef; that of the evening, of potatoes, served up with onions, rancid butter, and vinegar. The bread was black and sour, but white bread was put into the soup; brandy was served out to correct the water, but the rules upon this subject were, as may be easily imagined, often infringed.
When our volunteer was taken by the captain of his company to be accoutred, he requested the commissary to send in his things as soon as possible. The captain smiled, and said: " You are not, perhaps, aware that a soldier's things are not conveyed to him ; it is he who must fetch them." This was not the only rap on the knuckles that he got the first day. He remarked, that in such a garb he should feel as if he was playing a part in a comedy. " I can readily imagine it," replied the captain, coolly; " but I fear the comedy will appear rather a long one to you, and you know that tickets once taken the money is never returned."
Once installed in his hut, his handsome watch, his good linen, and a purse pretty well lined, became the objects of general admiration. The report spread at once through the company that he had a Louis a day to spend. That is the way in which soldiers express their idea of unlimited resources. Next day he found the musket rather heavy, but he set to work with a will to learn his exercise. But as to cleaning the hut, sweeping the approaches, or giving a hand in removing the crockery, that he would not do. These were menial offices repugnant to his pride. The colonel pretended not to notice this, and he on his part, by bribing the men with a few sous, got his duties done for him. Nor could he be brought
* The Gascon Baron de Crac is the traditional Munchausen, and a great favourite with the French soldiery. One of their pet songs says:
" Je tiens cette maxime utile,
to wear a pigtail. He obtained permission to wait till his hair grew longenough, and then bribed the sergeant to cut it every week. He joined, however, with good will in some hard work, such as cutting wood and carrying stones. He takes much credit to himself for this. But what is> more remarkable, he only mounted guard once as a soldier; this was at the Commissariat, and he left his post! Half a century afterwards lie mounted guard, he says, as a National Guard at the barracks of the Rue de la Pepiniere, after 1848, and on that occasion he did not desert his post. He inaugurated his admission into his hut by a festivity, in which meat, salad, potatoes, beer, and bad wine figured to the delight of fourteen comrades, the expenses of the treat amounting to twenty-one francs. He also often stood treat to breakfast, consisting of a roll and a glass of brandy, so that he was soon a favourite in his hut.
On the 18th of October he was made corporal; but as the same indulgence was not shown to him when he had to command others as when he was a private, he did not gain much by the change, but, on the contrary, often got severely reprimanded. The colonel, however, encouraged him. " It is a period of ordeal," he said, " for you to undergo; you must keep the advantages of your personal position to yourself, forget and make others forget that you may one day have to command them; in fact, you must go through your part as soldier and as corporal. You knew how to play a comedy in the Marais and at Mereville ; why don't you play it here i" To which he replied, " That the piece was one of exceedinglength, that the costumes were frightful, the actors had no talent, and, above all, there were no actresses !"
He was still more insubordinate on the occasion of his being appointed, on the 22nd of January, to a gunboat. The colonel insisted, and said, " You must learn not to have always your own way." It was in vain that he declared that his education was complete in that respect; he had to go. But what was the result ? He had not been five days on board, grumbling at mouldy cheese and hard peas fried in oil, than the news came that he was appointed sergeant, and had to return to the camp. With his new step he likewise changed his company, passing his new one forthwith in review—a proceeding which flattered his vanity exceedingly. He, however, made himself beloved by the men, for he sometimes undertook to act as counsel for the accused, when some poor fellow was brought before a court-martial, and this with so much success, that whenever one of his company got into trouble he invariably sought his assistance. Another step soon promoted him to the rank of sergeant-major, and he acted as such for five months.
The advantage of gathering together large bodies of soldiers in camp is admitted by all military men. The honour of the successes that were obtained in the subsequent campaigns, M. de Fezensac tells us, was attributed to experience obtained in the camp of Boulogne. It is surprising, then, to read how little, in reality, the commanding olficers troubled themselves with instructing the soldiery, and what little advantage they took of such valuable opportunities. Marshal Ney reviewed the troops once in 1804, and once in 1805. General Malher had three field-days, but there was no brigading of his division; in fact, the general seldom came to the camp. Each colonel instructed his regiment as it pleased him, the recruits were drilled now and then, but many of the non-commissioned oflScers did not even know the platooa exercise. The old adjutant addressed himself one day to an old sergeant to take a batch of recruits in hand. " I can't do it, sir," was the reply. " I don't know the exercise; if I knew it, no one would be required to teach me. If I don't know it, I can't teach it myself." The soldiers had, in reality, little to do; they slept part of the day, sang songs, or told stories. A plot of ground was given to each to cultivate ; they murmured at the work. Soldiers are like children, and must be treated as such. As to other camp evils which have lately attracted so much attention in connexion with other sanitary improvements, the duke assures us there was nothing of the kind. The fact was, he says, that such tilings were never thought of. There were no religious services except in cities. The Emperor, who has been lately extolled as a great upholder of Christianity, from some not very profound conversations at St. Helena, in which he argued the divinity of Our Saviour upon the grounds that his peaceful conquests had been more durable than his own sanguinary triumphs, according to the Duke of Fezensac, thought that piety was suited for women and not for men.
The chief advantages derived from this prolonged encampment were, according to the same authority, that the men learnt to know one another, and became accustomed to one another's society. They also became accustomed to do without a number of conveniences such as could not be expected on a campaign. Generals, staff, and regimental officers also became acquainted with one another. Bonds of fraternity thus united regiments which otherwise might have been separated by feelings of pride and emulation. " It was," says the duke, " this union, this confidence in one another, this appreciation of merit and of talent, of the qualities and even of the defects of every one, that contributed to our success, and all these sprang from long residence in camp." As to his soldier life, the general further adds, " By always living with the soldiers, I learnt many things that I should otherwise have been ignorant of, and the knowledge of which has been useful to me when I was called upon to command."
At length a vacancy for a sub-lieutenancy presented itself. By a law of the republic, which had not at that epoch been repealed by the Emperor, the sub-lieutenants designated three of their number for promotion, the lieutenants selecting one of the three. It was the same with the other ranks, the lieutenants in case of a vacancy selected three of their number, out of whom the captains elected one. The authority of the colonel prevailed, however, over all these republican manoeuvres, and with the well known desire to do what was pleasing to him, M. de Fezensac was promoted, and thus ended his ordeal of ten months' duration. Even with the French an impassable interval separates the officer from the soldier. No matter how iutimate and friendly parties may have been in the ranks, the moment a soldier is taken from them to wear an epaulette no further relations can exist between them. Sometimes a kind word from the one, and respectful thauks from the other, are all that remain of their former intimacy.
M. de Fezensac did not make a very promising debut as a sub-lieutenant. One of those frequent sham embarkations with which the camp at Boulogne was entertained took place the very next day of his promotion. Such an event was looked upon as a day of festivity. This, combined with the excitement of promotion, induced the future general of division to indulge too freely, and when bade to retire by a captain of police (for the Emperor had introduced the system of police, and even of spies, into the camp), he rudely refused. For this act of insubordination he was placed under arrest for a fortnight, had to pay three francs a day to the sentinel at his door, and, what was worse, incurred the serious displeasure of his colonel, who felt that his kindness in ensuring such rapid promotion was ill requited by acts of drunken insubordination the very 6rst day of his appointment
The camp of Boulogne broke up in August, 1805, according to common report from Villeneuve's incapacity, but, to judge by the " Napoleon Correspondence," still more so from the attitude assumed by Austria. It was utterly impossible that the Emperor could think of carrying out his projects of invading England with the whole eastern side of France threatened by the enemy. There was nothing, then, but to march off to the Rhine, and to enter upon a campaign of reprisals. The third division started on the 1st of September. M. de Fezensac's usual bad luck attended upon him. He had been promised permission to pay a hurried visit to his relations before entering upon the new campaign, but unfortunately on the second day's march, being in the rear guard, he was conversing with a cantiniere, who, complaining that she was tired and suffering, he could not help proffering his arm to her, as if, he says, she had been a " dame de Paris." Unfortunately General Malher caught sight of the couple, and hastened to congratulate the colonel on the gallantry of his officers, who gave their arms to cantinieres. The colonel stormed, and it was only some time afterwards that his anger had sufficiently subsided to grant even a few days' leave.
M. de Fezensac returned in time to join in the triumphant passage of the Rhine. No nation is so apt in exciting military ardour as the French. The men carried green branches in their hands, and saluted the fatherlaud on the other side of the water with shouts of " Vive l'Empereur !" This was on the 26th of September; on the 30th head-quarters were at Stuttgard. Marching thence on Ulm, necessity drove the soldiery to disorderly conduct. The first day of bivouac became also the first day of plunder. The colonel fell upon a group of grenadiers roasting a pig. There was some embarrassment at first, but one of the most impudent invited the commanding officer to join in the repast. The colonel was dying of hunger, and accepted. It was authorising plunder. The enemy was first encountered at the bridge of Guntzburg, near Ulm, and M. de Fezensac tells some amusing tales of many who then made their first pass of arms. The adjutant kept so strictly to his post, that he says, had it been a question of capturing " un bou chateau," he would not have been so formal. M. de Fezensac himself let his men go over the bridge first one by one. His captain, who had led the way, exclaimed, " Ah! you are come at last; well, it was time !" The bridge was carried and the town of Guntzburg evacuated, but the general remarks that there was a time when a bayonet charge or an assault of cavalry on the flanks would have driven them all back into the Danube. Colonel Lacuee fell in this first encounter. Marshal Ney followed up this advantage by the capture