Sunday, September 16, 2012
Bonaparte Book 15. Elba and the Hundred Days
“Able was I, I saw Elba.” …Napoleon Bonaparte
The victory of Dresden proved to be little comfort. Soon, our whipped enemies re-amassed with greater strength and a new ally---Britain! Britain had been absent from the war in Moscow. It remained fresh and strong, and it had but one purpose…to obliterate revolutionary France from the maps of Europe.
The British troops had come to help their allies, Prussia, Austria, and Russia, against us. Our spirit, briefly lifted by the victory of Dresden, immediately dampened again upon seeing the insurmountable numbers of Brittania arrayed before us. While our tin buttons broke and exposed fearless French men to the merciless cold, the Russians faced this with no fear. The Austrians were now led by Archduke Charles, their best commander who was far more capable than Karl Mack, and the Prussians too wanted to avenge upon themselves the past defeats of Jena and Auerstadt.
That day, we fought like lions. We knew the fate of France depended upon it, but the enemies proved too strong for us at Leipzig. It became known to later generations as the Battle of Nations. Jerome tried to defend Napoleon, but was defeated by the Archduke Charles, who easily captured him. Soon, the British surrounded Emperor Napoleon himself, and there was little me or Lannes could do to rescue him.
Foreign Minister Talleyrand, that cur of ours, betrayed France by negotiating the surrender to allied troops. According to the terms, Emperor Napoleon would be exiled to St. Elba and kept under custody of the British troops. In addition, a Bourbon, Louis XVIII, would return to France as king. Our enemies had been triumphant. The French Revolution was over.
That day, Lannes and myself wept. We had fought a great war for Napoleon, our one and only Emperor, and there was not a day that we did less than we could, but the Allies proved too strong, and now we were defeated. Napoleon’s wife, the Empress Marie Louise, and her son, Napoleon II, were taken into custody of her father, Emperor Francis I of Austria. And so, the beloved Bonapartes were gone, and the hated Bourbons were back in power. It was truly a day that would live in infamy. Shortly after, the weak Empress, now a mere Archduchess again, married one of her handsome bodyguards to add salt to Napoleon’s wounded pride.
It was then that Lannes and myself took a different path. Knowing no other life but the army, Lannes chose to remain with the French Royal Army and was made commander of the Fifth Infantry under King Louis, whom he despised. As for myself, I chose to become bodyguard for Napoleon at St. Elba and relinquished my titles.
When Napoleon stepped down from the ship, he immediately said, “Able was I, I saw Elba.” I realized that the word written in English, the common language of our enemies, would remain the same even if it were written backwards. There seemed to be a hidden meaning in all that Napoleon did.
To the British, it seemed our Emperor did little on this god-forsaken but comfortable island. He was well-accomplished and retired, though behind Napoleon’s smiles and grand balls set to entertain his erstwhile enemies, the Emperor was secretly plotting his way back to France, and one day, he confided this secret to me.
Napoleon: “Allain, I intend to return to Paris.”
I was shocked, but Napoleon was not one known for wishful thinking. “But my Emperor,” I replied, “How can we do such a thing? The British troops are all over this place.”
Napoleon laughed back my concerns, “I have studied the ways of Colonel Smith Wesson, the man Wellington has entrusted to keeping us here and whom we have befriended over recent weeks. He is one easily given in to his desires for fair women and good French wine. We shall sate him and sneak our way out.”
I looked at the Emperor with wariness. It was to be the greatest attempt to escape in history, and more so because it succeeded.
That day, Madame Floures, Napoleon’s mistress from the days of the Egyptian campaign, seduced Colonel Wesson and drugged him with the finest Bordeaux. It was said that Napoleon was saving it for his victory march in Moscow and the Tsar’s surrender, and the vintage was peerless even in France, the land of wine.
In the sleight of night, loyal soldiers followed Napoleon and myself out. As we caught the Brits unawares, our men hijacked a supply ship carrying King George’s flag and sailed back for the southern coast of France at Marseilles. Fear did not leave me, for much as Napoleon had confidence in himself, King Louis of France would have far more men than us. They would be led by Lannes, a formidable warrior in his own right, and we would not stand a chance, but perhaps, this was the reason I followed Napoleon. He seemed to believe that nothing is impossible, and his excitement was contagious.
By the time, we approached Burgundy and marched with all small army upon Paris, we realized how foolhardy our approach had been. The marshals Messina and Ney who hated King Louis came to join us with the Fourth Infantry and Third Cavarly, but King Louis decided to send two men trained by Napoleon himself with far larger forces. Marshal Lannes would lead the King’s Fifth Infantry against his former Emperor, and Marshal Desauix would lead the King’s Second Cavalry by his side. Combined, Lannes and Desauix had over 100,000 men. Not all of Messina and Ney’s men joined us in this treason against the Bourbons. That day, we had fewer than 10,000 men and were not particularly well-equipped either.
Yet, it seemed as though men would rather have fought on Napoleon’s side than those of Lannes’. Even Lannes himself did not seem so resolute, and neither did Desauix. Both men seemed sent to kill the Emperor they had so much admired all their lives. By contrast, Messina showed no fear and was happy to die by the side of the Great Man.
Suddenly, Napoleon walked forward into the firing distance of Lannes’ army. Lannes shouted “Halt!” to him, but Napoleon did not stop walking. Instead, he raised his left hand up to show that he came unarmed, his right hand remained tucked in his coat as he said, “My sons of the Fifth Infantry, I could not bear to leave you behind and hence have returned to you, escaping from Elba after but one Hundred Days. Come, embrace me.”
Then, Lannes, against his own will, ordered the men, “Fire!!!!”
…But no one fired, and not even Lannes himself. No one could bear to kill the hero…the Father of France. At the risk of insubordination, one of the grenadiers feigned fainting and threw up his rifle. Another of his comrade did not even bother to hold up the pretension and rushed to embrace the Emperor. Soon, the entire Fifth Infantry gave up arms and went to embrace Napoleon, and Lannes’ men had, by the miracle of charisma, become Napoleon’s men again.
So, it was in this manner that Lannes surrendered. He and Desauix approached Napoleon and said, “My Emperor, my father, I have failed thee. I have given an order to men that I could not bear to do myself.”
Then, Napoleon smiled and replied, “Do not do that again, but come, Lannes my brother, embrace me, and France hath need for all unity.”
It was the most joyous site, for France so loved Napoleon and all men wanted him back. Now, it was time to move on the Bourbons. After this great event, I, the nobody from backwaters of Paris, was made Marshal of France for my loyalty. It was the greatest moment of my life to serve Napoleon.
But credit King Louis with one thing, he was clever enough to flee. The British red coats came to rescue him, as no noble Frenchmen would harbor the vile monarch that flew in with the hated allies.
Napoleon gave Talleyrand and Fouche a dressing down so harsh, but then, he decided not to kill them and even to have them remain in their positions after their betrayals. I personally thought this was his biggest fault. Napoleon thought he could always use them, Great Man that he was, but those creatures did not know greatness, and they would soon abuse his magnanimity.
At that time, King George III of England had become insane, and his son, Prince George IV Regent, was ruling in his place. Napoleon decided to address his ultimatum to this man.
“Dear Prince Regent George, the fourth by that name,
I Napoleon Bonaparte, rightful Emperor of the French people, have returned. The Order must be restored. I hereby demand the restoration of all French properties in Poland, Germany, Yugoslavia, …”
Before he could put down his pen, an excited Marshal Desauix walked in and alarmed Napoleon, “My Lord, it is too late for us to write our demands to England, for they have come to us.”
Napoleon laughed and smiled at Desauix in good humor, “Surely, you jest, Desauix. Wesson is probably still not known the full charms of Floures and Bordeaux. Where are these British exactly?”
But Desauix would dead serious when he replied, “In a place called Waterloo, your Majesty. Come! We must prepare.”