Letters from the front. Napoleonic war research.

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Here we have three letters from the French officer Faré, captain adjutant-major in the grenadiers of the Imperial Guard. In the first letter, the author confides to his parents his destitution, but also his despair in front of the horrors he encountered and the exactions committed by hordes of Cossacks. He then felt anguish for his family.

In the third document, he speaks of the general appeal: peace and rest. Faré mentions, in his opinion, the task that the new government has to undertake if it wants to be appreciated by the people of France. The outcome is well known…

Reims, 16 March 1814.

My dear parents, I am taking advantage of a moment’s rest which we have finally been granted to share my tidings with you. In the midst of our forced marches and unremitting stay in bivouacs, it has been impossible for me to find a single opportunity to write to you. I have never found myself in such a situation.

I no longer have any boots or trousers. Never have we marched so much and had so little rest. We are fighting a fierce campaign and, if we finally succeed in driving the enemy out of our country, I believe that we will have deserved it well. How I express my relief that you have not yet had to receive these ferocious guests! It is said that in the interior, people do not want to believe the atrocity of their conduct. Certainly, I do not wish the unbelievers to be convinced by their own eyes.

I do not ‘publish newspapers’ and [thus] I report what I have seen. Twenty fold, tears of rage have flowed from my eyes at the sight and account of the horrors they have committed. The most shameless plunder is the least of their crimes. Arson, rape, death: these are the benefits that the liberators of France provide. It seems that sex and age, instead of being for them an object of respect, are an object of fury. Of course, it is in the countryside that the great horrors are committed. In the cities, where there is a sort of order, they show kindness.

They encounter a citizen in the street, they throw him to the ground and take his boots, his buckles, his shoes, his watch. They enter a house, and make hand over the utensils that the inhabitants have not had the time to stash away. It is especially common for them not to leave any curtains in the rooms where they sleep. The officers observe all this, and, far from objecting, proceed to do the same.

If misfortune were to threaten Touraine, hide all the money, linen, furniture, etc., that you can find, and take refuge in the city where it is always safer. But for goodness sake, don’t stay at Amandières!

The idea of seeing them ravage our beautiful regions makes me furious. Ah, why don’t all the Frenchmen have a better understanding of their interests? In less than a month, all these brigands would have crossed the Rhine again. Yet they have managed, by dint of their horrors, to stir the peasants of these regions, who are beginning to chase them [away] vigorously. When the season is less severe, I hope that everyone will rise up.

At the bivouac near Essonnes, 5 April 1814.

My dear parents, I am in good health, and that is a lot in these sad circumstances. Courage, health, that is what you want.

Egreville, 16 April 1814.

My dear and kind relatives, at last, after a great deal of pain and fatigue, I am enjoying a little peace and rest. When I wrote a few words to you at the bivouac on 5 April, we were still unaware of the events which had taken place in Paris [capitulation of the city on 30 March, and the entry of the Allied army the following day] and we were expecting to march on this city. It was the same day that Marshal Marmont’s defection took place, whereupon we were forced to return to Fontainebleau where we were informed of everything by the newspapers. What treachery! What cowardice! What ingratitude! In truth, men are both horrifying and pitiful. Who were the first to abandon the Emperor? Those whom he had showered with wealth and dignity. Who were those who remained faithful to him until the last moment, who almost unanimously asked to accompany him in his exile? We, the junior officers of the Guard, and even more so our soldiers, many of whom have deserted since we gave our support to the new government. What favours had we obtained, what special graces, that our services had not earned us under any government?

And our brave grenadiers, without pay for six months, many without shoes, without trousers, marching ceaselessly in the middle of the harshest season, rushing from one army to another, securing victory by their presence: was it interest that guided them? No: it was honour, shunning [men wearing] cords, plates and embroidery, who then took refuge in our ranks.

We submitted our adhesion on the 11th. We could do no more for the Emperor than he himself wanted. Here we are, then, subjects of a new government which, when once we have given our oath, will be able to rely more on our fidelity than on that crowd of cowards whose only motives are self-interest and fear, and who have so often brought down the idol which they worshipped the day before. Napoleon deserves a part of what happened to him. He committed great faults, everyone mentions them. One of those which I reproach him the most, is to have called to him or suffered people who were not worthy of this honour. He could and should have chosen better.

If the new government is cautious and firm at the same time, it will be easy for it to be adored. Peace. Rest is the general cry. He who grants it, this much desired peace, will be a god for France. Happy inhabitants of the banks of the Loire, you are still unaware of the evils of war, you know this only through hearsay. I congratulate you. My father did well to come and settle in our beautiful and peaceful Touraine!

We are quartered here some four leagues from Nemours, eight from Fontainebleau. Our village, Egreville, is quite nice. We are waiting first for peace to be concluded, then for what the new government wishes to do with us.

Your whole community must feel very triumphant, very pleased with what is happening. Well, I too will be happy if the well-being of France is the result. Faithful to honour, I have done all that my duty required of me, without animosity, without agony. May my country be content, and I will adore those who will make it so.

(Arthur CHUQUET, L’Année 1814. Lettres et Mémoires, Fontemoing et Cie Éditeurs, 1914, pp. 123-126).

The following letter was written by General Christiani and was intended for General Pelet. The document was published in the Carnet de la Sabretache in 1905, as an appendix to an article devoted to the Guard infantry at Waterloo. This letter bore the inscription: ‘Letter from General Christiani, commander in 1815 of the 2nd Grenadiers of the Guard, to Mr. Lieutenant-General Baron Pelet’.

Paris, 24 April 1835.

My general,

I can only answer rather imperfectly to the enquiries you made in your letter of 21 January. My memory, which is too ungrateful, and the time that has elapsed since 1815, are factors on which I can hardly rely. However, I will try to answer your questions as best I can. These answers will at least prove to you my willingness to comply with your wishes.

Question – What was the strength of the 2nd Regiment of Grenadiers on Foot of the Guard at the time of the start of the campaign? Answer – I believe it did not exceed 1,000 to 1,100 men. Q. – How many casualties did this corps suffer on the 16th June? A. – None. During the battle of the 16th, the whole corps of Grenadiers on Foot stayed in reserve, and only changed position twice. The second time, it passed through Fleurus, took position on the left of this village, at a distance of perhaps half a league from Ligny, which the enemy still occupied in part. The four regiments of Grenadiers received the order to clear it out. This movement was conducted without any resistance on the part of the enemy, but while we were being formed in squares by battalions by debouching on the other side of the village, we were surprised by a charge of Prussian lancers who passed through the intervals of the squares, without us being able to make use of our musketry, the squares not having had time to position themselves in echelons.

The enemy would have fared better if they had undertaken a second charge, but they did not return. We spent the night of the 16th to the 17th on the battlefield, that is to say on the height which crowns the village of Ligny. Q. – Where did you spend the night of the 17th and 18th? A. – The next day, the 17th, we left our position around eleven o’clock or noon. We marched all day. I followed the movement of the regiments which preceded me.

The weather was dreadful, and it was already late at night, when I saw a bivouac. It was the one belonging to the 4th or 3rd Grenadier Regiment. I found no one there to indicate to me the position which I was to occupy. The night was dark. In this state of affairs, the tired and soaked grenadiers put themselves together with their comrades of the regiment who were already in the bivouac. This bivouac was situated astride the main road, behind the imperial headquarters, near a hamlet or village whose name I do not remember.

Q. – What were the various positions you occupied during the day of the 18th, and particularly from five to six o’clock in the afternoon, from six to seven, and from seven to eight? A. – The next day, 18 June, a ray of sunlight appeared at about nine in the morning. We were ordered to get our weapons ready and engage the enemy. Subsequently, we took up positions behind the Emperor, who stood on a hill on the right of the Brussels road. Here I do not remember the movements of the other regiments of Grenadiers on Foot, but I do remember being ordered to go forward with the 2nd Regiment and take up a position on the right of the Brussels road.

I stood close to a very deep ravine on my right. I remained in this position all day. I observed the return of the remnants of four regiments of the Guard on foot which had been sent forward under the orders of General Friant to capture the position occupied by the English, a position which was defended by a very deep ravine and numerous artillery which were entrenched. You know as well as I do the sad result of this attack. Between five and six o’clock, perhaps later, I received the order to send forward a battalion of the regiment to a village situated to the right and to the rear of the position which I occupied, to drive out the Prussians, it was stated, who had just seized it [it concerns Plancenoit, where the French Young Guard and the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Chasseurs with Pelet were already present]. It was Mr. Golzio, commander of the 2nd Battalion of the regiment, whom I charged with this mission.

I did not see him again until the evening when we retired. I do not remember if he lost many men, but only that he told me that he had done much harm to the enemy.

Finally, towards seven or eight o’clock in the evening, I believe, I departed with the 1st Battalion, which remained to me, to go and join the Emperor who was on the left of the road, at a short distance from the position which I had just left. He was alone, on foot, and General Drouot was with him. I ordered my battalion to form square. The Emperor remained some time to observe, I think, the retrograde movement which the artillery of the army made on the plain on the left of the road, and he then mounted his horse to withdraw. At about this time the enemy commenced a cavalry charge on the main road, and found themselves entangled with our cavalry and infantry who were withdrawing in disorder.

The English skirmishers also appeared, and began the fusillade. Then I began my retreat alongside my battalion [still formed up] in square. A few bullets hit us and caused confusion in the ranks. The voices of the officers were disregarded, and arriving at the height that the 1st Regiment of Grenadiers was occupying, my soldiers disbanded and, then, it was impossible to rally them. I joined the road in front of Génappe; General Roguet also arrived there. There we attempted to rally as many men as possible to wait for the night, but we were abandoned.

Nevertheless, General Roguet and I did not retire until we heard the enemy advancing on the road at the sound of their fifers. Compelled then to withdraw, I lost sight of General Roguet in the commotion, and I followed a path to the left of Génappe with the intention of reaching Charleroi, when I encountered you and General Petit.

Please accept, General, the assurance of the most sincere affection of your

Most devoted servant.

Signed: CHRISTIANI, maréchal de camp.

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