Continuing with excerpts from the memoirs of General Griois pertaining to Murat during the 1812 campaign, we have a description from Griois of a confrontation between Murat and an unnamed Russian general over the position of Russian outposts during a truce. Murat is also outraged that a Cossack recently took a shot at him (as General Caulaincourt claims in his memoirs of the campaign, the Cossacks had allegedly spread word that the King of Naples was not to be fired upon, though they hoped to take him prisoner). To provide some further context to explain Murat’s volatile temper displayed during this episode, I’ve also included a letter he wrote to his chief of staff, General Belliard, around this time, expressing growing anxiety over his situation and the outcome of the campaign in general.
The enemy had made no movement on the evening of the 4th [of October] when we withdrew. But he had gradually approached us and his vedettes were within pistol range of ours on the 6th. Murat, informed, sounds the whole line to mount and approaches the Russian outposts; calling to one of the leaders, he demands in an imperious tone by what right the Russians occupy ground from which they were repulsed in the affair of the 4th, and orders him to withdraw immediately. The officer apologizes for the orders he has received and proposes to inform his general, who will be able to give the king the explanations and satisfaction he desires. The general soon arrives. Murat, impatient, addresses the same reproaches and intimations to him as to the officer, even more loudly, and his anger knows no bounds when the general answers him, in the calmest and most respectful tone, that the space separating the two armies after the affair of the 4th being unoccupied by our troops, nothing could prevent him from putting there his outposts, who had orders not to commit any hostile act. “You had no right,” continues Murat, “This ground belongs to me; I chased your troops away from it. You should have stayed in the position into which I drove you, and you’ve broken your word by leaving it despite the suspension of arms. But you can’t be trusted. You don’t respect anything. Yesterday, while visiting my posts, one of your Cossacks had the insolence to fire on me. If my officers hadn’t restrained me, I would have sabred him on the spot. Furthermore, I order you to immediately retire your posts from their first position or I will oblige them to do so.” And at the same time he orders the cavalry to advance and my artillery to arrive at a gallop. “Your Majesty,” responds the Russian general, “is free to do as he pleases; I cannot retire my posts and, if they are attacked, they will be defended; the Cossack who permitted himself to fire on Your Majesty will be severely punished, and I pray you receive my excuses for this action, which I disavow entirely.” We were greatly pained to see that the violence of Murat was perhaps going to break off the negotiations that had begun, and for a misunderstanding that had no importance. So, the generals who surrounded the King, after having let him freely vent his irritation, made him some representations on the consequences of this rupture. They finished by mediating between him and the Russian general, who relaxed his pretensions. After an hour of debates and at the moment when our troops, arriving on the ground, were only awaiting the signal to attack, everything was amiably arranged and we returned to Vinkovo. I was with the King during this entire scene, which Murat’s rage would have made very humorous, had it not been for the gravity of the consequences it might have had, and without the King’s martial air, which gave dignity to the disorderly movements of his anger and to his Gascon rants.
(Source: Mémoires du Général Griois, Vol II, pages 67-69.)
Letter from Murat to General Belliard
10 October 1812
My dear Belliard, my position is dreadful; the entire enemy army is before me. The troops of the vanguard are reduced to nothing; they suffer from hunger, and it is no longer possible to go forage without running the near certitude of being taken. There is not a day that I don’t lose two hundred men in this manner. How will this end? I am afraid to tell the truth to the Emperor; I would upset him. Will there not be people there, all unofficial, to poison my reports? Well, so much the worse. The future will prove only too well that I was right: tell the Prince of Neufchatel something about it. Why can I not see the Emperor! How is your wound? Heal quickly, and come find me. Why have you not sent Carata? What he is doing? My health is not at all good, and I am certain to take ill with the first rains; but may God’s will be done!
So does the Emperor not want to do anything for the vanguard? It is highly complained of, and this adds no little to the inconvenience of my position; well, patience; at the end of the ditch, the tumble. Send us flour, or we are going to die of hunger. Give me news, I no longer know anything; and you will know that the Emperor has just prevented parleying again, and that is what further hinders us, because I was sure that I would not be attacked without being warned: it made our foraging easier. I am unhappy, adieu! When will the Emperor make a decision? What will become of his army this winter? Adieu, believe always in my friendship.
(Source: Mémoires du Comte Belliard, Vol I)