“One foot booted and the other nude”

An account of Murat at the battle of Heilsberg (10 June 1807), in which Murat lost one of his boots but continued to fight on; shortly afterwards, he and General Lasalle saved each other’s lives. [The boot was also rescued.]

Source: Lieutenant Aubier (20th Chasseurs), Un Régiment de Cavalerie Légère de 1793 à 1815, 2nd edition, 1891; pages 155-158.

[Aubier attributes this story to one Brigadier General Henri, who was serving as an ADC of Murat.]


On the murderous day of Heilsberg… I was detached from ordinance to be with Prince Murat. You know him: he is the general in chief of all our cavalry who is always dressed as a drum major and who takes the saber to the enemy like a true hussar.

Eh bien! For two hours of the day, Prince Murat was at the side of the Emperor, who was with the grenadier division, combined under the orders of General Oudinot. The Emperor and this general dismounted at a point elevated enough for His Majesty to look down on the enemy through his spyglass.

Prince Murat, arriving, dismounted, gave me his horse to hold, saluted the Emperor, took the hand of General Oudinot and began to talk with him. Suddenly a cloud of dust arose before us; the Emperor immediately directed his spyglass on this point, saying to Prince Murat:

What is that, Monsieur?

Nothing, Sire.

Nothing, how is it nothing, Monsieur? Go take a closer look! And in pronouncing these words, the Emperor applied a vigorous blow of the whip to the buttocks of the horse of Prince Murat, who was already in the saddle.


The prince, his suite and I, we departed at the gallop.

Follow me with your regiment, said the prince in passing by Colonel d’Ery, commanding the 5th Hussars, and we charged this mob. 

In an instant we were engaged and were striking the first blows of the saber when a ball struck the prince’s horse. I threw myself at once to the ground and, taking the bridle of the horse under my arms, aided the Prince in getting out from under his horse. 

He left his left boot* there in the stirrup. 

It’s nothing! It’s nothing! A horse, said the prince. 

I offered mine which was accepted, and the prince mounted, one foot booted and the other nude, like in the song. It was not in order to take himself out of danger that the prince had taken my horse; it was, on the contrary, to throw himself anew in the midst of the enemy, with the cries of: Forward! forward! Vive l’Empereur! and in a quarter of an hour, 3,000 to 4,000 Cossacks who had made themselves masters of the center of the plain were swept away like dust. 


*Lieutenant Aubier goes on to describe this boot as “one of those superb boots in red morocco and all braided in gold that completed this magnificent costume ‘of the drum major’ of which the brigadier Henri speaks.” He writes that this boot was actually rescued from being captured by the Cossacks by “a brigadier of the 8th Cuirassiers, Millot, who in effect threw himself into the midst of the Russians and, at the peril of his life, picked up and brought back this singular trophy.”

Murat’s biographer Atteridge continues the story:

He… was hardly in the saddle again when he was cut off and surrounded by a party of Russian dragoons. He was fighting for his life, when Lasalle in person arrived to the rescue, cutting down several of the enemy. A few minutes later, Murat saved Lasalle’s life in the mêlée. “We are quits now, my dear general,” he said, grasping his hand. It was because Murat, Prince of the Empire, Grand Duke of Berg, and Marshal of France, was thus ready to risk his life and fight like a man in the ranks, that all who followed him felt an admiring devotion for their daring leader.

Source: A. Hilliard Atteridge, Joachim Murat: Marshal of France and King of Naples, 1911, pages 166-7.



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