“In the midst of the thickest fire”

Apologies for my long absence; it’s been an extremely busy last three months for me, both at work and home. I did promise in the comments of one of my last posts that I’d try to post some things relating to Murat’s military campaigns, so here is the first of what I’m intending to be multiple excerpts on Murat during the 1812 campaign, from the Memoirs of General Griois. This particular except describes Murat at Smolensk (16-18 August).

Source: Mémoires du Général Griois, Vol II, pages 20-21.

[Image: Detail of Murat & Napoleon from Bataille de Smolensk 17 Aout 1812, by Jean-Charles Langlois (1839)]

***

The enemy still had troops on the outskirts who were trying to drive us away and reconnoiter the movements of our army. Several squadrons of Russian dragoons approached us with this intention. The first brigade of dragoons of our corps was ordered to charge them. The 7th, supported by the 23rd, immediately went to meet them. The two troops approached at a gallop and the melée was lively and deadly. I have seen few cavalry charges pushed deeper. But finally, the Russians folded; they retired in disorder beyond the city walls, and my artillery, which was only half-range, cannonaded them so well that all our balls and our shells fell in their midst and increased their disarray. Murat was beside me near my pieces; delighted with the vivacity and the accuracy of our blows, he expressed his satisfaction to the cannoneers, telling them, with his Gascon accent: “Bravo, children! Bowl this rabble over; you are firing like angels!” He commanded the vanguard of the army of which we were a part, and he was with us each day. His quite theatrical costume would have thrown ridicule on anyone else, but it seemed made to his measure and the perfect accompaniment of a brilliant valor that was his alone. His rather long, handsome brown hair fell in ringlets on to his shoulders. He wore a turned-up hat, trimmed with plumes and aigrettes, or else a Polish cap surmounted by a vast plume, a chamois undercoat à la chevalière, crimson trousers and yellow boots. A short mantle of green velvet embroidered in gold, or an elegant fur, ornamented with braids and twists of gold, was thrown over his shoulders. His horses had a bizarre but magnificent harness, and the grace and skill with which he handled them enhanced their beauty still further. His bravery was so well regarded in the army and we were so accustomed to seeing him in the midst of the thickest fire, that the aides-de-camp or orderly officers who had orders to take to him or information to give him, always headed towards the point where the fighting was going on and to where the attack seemed most intense; they were sure to find him there. He was the beau idéal of courage. 

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