“Of what value were these men…?”

Part 7 of excerpts from General Pépé’s memoirs takes us to the beginning of Murat’s final campaign. We left off with Pépé discussing Napoleon’s departure from Elba and alleged communications with Murat, and Pépé’s criticisms of Murat for indecisiveness and not having begun the campaign with a large enough force. Here, Pépé discusses (and deplores) the composition of this army, and also notes a courier Murat received from Joseph Bonaparte, urging him to move his army faster. This would appear to be yet another piece of evidence that Napoleon was not only aware of Murat’s plans, but also supported them, contrary to the claims he would later make on Saint Helena regarding Murat having moved his army despite Napoleon supposedly telling him to stay put. The courier from Joseph also claims that Austrian forces are weak in Italy because they are preparing to join the Allied forces against Napoleon, which also conflicts with Napoleon’s later claim that Austria only declared against him because of Murat’s movements in Italy. Finally, Pépé meets Jerome Bonaparte, with whom he seems unimpressed.

[Part 1]
[Part 2]
[Part 3]
[Part 4]
[Part 5]
[Part 6]

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Source: Memoirs of General Pépé, Vol 2 (London: 1846), pages 35-41.

The army with which the King opened the campaign was composed of the foot and horse-guards, together about six thousand men; of four divisions, three of infantry and one of cavalry, forming altogether under arms a body of about twenty-four thousand men. Of these, only about thirteen thousand men belonged to the regular active army, out of which scarcely eight thousand had been trained to war in Spain and Germany. In the campaign of the preceding year, my own brigade was the only one which had had the opportunity of acquiring military experience. Scarcely a thousand men had returned from Spain. There was more ardor, soul, and energy in the soldiers and non-commissioned officers than in the subalterns, and these in their turn were better than the superior officers. Nearly half the Colonels were French; and of what value were these men, whilst every one of their countrymen who was imbued with a right sense of honour had returned to France, that he might not draw his sword upon his native country? There were at least ten general officers of that nation, and not one of them had ever led a regiment into the field of battle. Of the sixteen Neapolitan Generals, the really brave and able ones were, Carascosa, Ambrosio, Florestano Pépé, Macdonald, Filangieri, the Prince Campans, De Gennaro, Napolitano, and the Duke of Roccaromana.

(…)

His Majesty arrived in Sinigaglia towards the end of March, and reviewed the first division. After having saluted him at the head of my brigade, as was the custom, I placed myself at his side. The brigade was in the most admirable condition, and animated by feelings of the deepest enthusiasm. The King, highly gratified by this sight, bestowed great praise upon its appearance as the men filed off before him. I said to him: “With such men we can go far,” to which he replied: “N’en doutez pas, nous irons.” A few hours after the review, I received orders to march towards Pesaro on the following morning at day-break. My column was beyond Fano, when an officer, who commanded an advanced piquet of lancers came to me to ask permission for a traveller, just come from the upper part of Italy, to continue his journey. I replied that he might proceed. The traveller on beholding me from his carriage, sent to request that I would alight from my horse, as he had something of importance to reveal to me. He proceeded to state, that he was secretary to Joseph, Ex-King of Spain, who had sent him from Switzerland to urge Joachim to hasten the march of his troops. This gentleman who was provided with a passport, in which he was styled a Swiss merchant, assured me that the Austrian troops in Italy were by no means numerous, and that they were not likely to receive any support, because Austria was making preparations to second the Allied Powers then directed against France. I thanked him for his intelligence, which at a later period, I discovered to have been not quite exact, and told him that he would find the King either at Fano or Sinigaglia.

(…)

The King fancied he possessed an army that could vie with the Imperial Guard of Napoleon, and was little pleased to hear me say, that with the exception of the hussars of the guard, of the guard of honour, which was by no means numerous, and the light horse, the remainder of the cavalry stood in great need of instruction. 

Before day-break, I was on horseback with my column upon the heights of Bertinoro, and on the other eminence upon the left of the high road which leads to Bologna. I was in hopes of overtaking the Austrian forces; but they continued their retreat, in order to concentrate their forces in the territory of Bologna. I was presented at Forli by the King to the Emperor’s brother, Jerome Bonaparte, ci-devant King of Westphalia, who had arrived thither by sea. This personage, instead of exerting himself to unite the veterans of the kingdom of Italy under the banner of Joachim, in defence of the common cause, called upon them to bear in mind that they were subjects of Napoleon, and that they ought to serve no other Prince. 

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2 thoughts on ““Of what value were these men…?”

  1. Josefa vom Jaaga

    I guess this is Napoleon trying to rewrite history. Again, as with most of what was published from Saint Helena. That the Austrains declared war on him because of Murat is simply not true. They declared war on Napoleon because Napoleon had tried to regain his position as emperor, that’s all.

    As a matter of fact, from what I have read about the Vienna Congress, Napoleon did himself a huge disservice. The big four were already on the edge of being at each others’ throats, Castlereagh had started to support Austria, just to reign in the tsar and the Prussians. The news of Napoleon retaking France was what immediately brought them together again. If the coalition had split up into two parties, things might have become very interesting.

    Another thing I read in Pepe’s text: the need of “instruction” in the Neapolitan army. I wonder, did Murat ever hold a position, before he became King of Naples, where he had to train and organize and truely build an army himself? (Because that is one military thing I think Eugène really excelled at. He may not have been a great strategist and general but he was an excellent colonel. He built up the Army of Italy from scratch.) I seem to recall that Murat was at the head of the Guard briefly. But he was not in command of any of the Boulogne camps, was he? And I had the impression on campaign he usually just took over the cavalry, like a jockey getting on a racehorse ^_^.

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    1. Sorry for the late response. Yeah, Napoleon pushed the “Murat’s 1815 campaign is the reason we’re here” narrative endlessly on St Helena. He claimed he had been coming to an “understanding” with Austria and then Murat’s allegedly impetuous attack on the Austrians bungled everything and made Austria think Napoleon had put him up to it (which, to be fair, the evidence seems to indicate that Napoleon HAD encouraged Murat’s troop movements). But Murat was dead and a convenient scapegoat by this point. Napoleon just piled the blame on him for everything he could think of.

      Regarding Murat training/organizing men, what I’ve come across so far are instances of him being tasked with organizing and training units on a large-scale—such as when he’s put in charge of building a grenadier/light infantry division at Beauvais in 1800–but the actual small-scale training was handled by his subordinates and not by him personally. I think Napoleon realized early on that Murat wasn’t good at the training side of things, one of his biggest problems being an unwillingness to inflict corporal punishment on the men, leading to ill-disciplined troops—a recurring problem in Naples, as you’ve seen from the Pépé memoirs. So that task was doled out to others. Murat was fairly competent at the organizing side of things though and showed a very underappreciated attention to detail.

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