|Marechal Ney à Waterloo by Louis Dumoulin|
In the Air Force I actually met a lieutenant by the name of Ney (that hat-less, red haired fellow leading the cavalry charge in the painting is French Marechal Michel Ney). On encountering this fellow (who bore a passing resemblance to the Marshal, sans the red hair) I asked him if he had any famous ancestors.
"Well, there was a Marshal of France under Napoléon who was either a great-great uncle or distant cousin, something like that."
He was surprised that I recognized the name. He didn't know what a history nut I was and still remain! I did point out though the correct title was "Marshal of the Empire." As Buck might have said, "Ever the pedant!"
|Marechal Ney by François Gérard|
Marshal Ney was one of the most renowned soldiers in France during the time of the First Empire. He enlisted in the cavalry two years before the French Revolution (1787) and rose rapidly through the non-commissioned ranks. Gaining his commission in 1792 he was awarded his Marshal's baton in 1804 by the Emperor, amongst the first Marshals created by Napoléon.
When pressured by his Marshals to abdicate in 1814, Napoléon is alleged to have said "the army will obey me!" Ney answered with "the army will obey it's chiefs!" Of whom he was one.
During the exile to Elba, Ney served the French crown under Louis XVIII. Like many of the Marshals, the French court looked down upon Ney and his wife. After all, Ney had been born of a master barrel cooper's wife!
When Napoléon escaped from exile and landed in the south of France in March of 1815, Ney is alleged to have said that he would bring Napoléon back to Paris "in an iron cage."
At Grenoble, Ney had his chance to prove that boast. He and his troops went over to Napoléon en masse.
After years of war Ney was thought to be "not quite right in the head" by many. No doubt he suffered from something very much like, if not exactly like, post-traumatic stress disorder. His performance during the Waterloo campaign was brave to the point of suicidal, but abysmal from a command point of view.
After the campaign, Ney was tried for treason and shot. French royalty tend to be a vindictive lot.
Still and all, Ney remains one of my favorites amongst Napoléon's Marshals. (He and Louis-Nicholas Davout are my favorites.)
Now what sparked this post? (Other than the impending bicentennial of the battle.) Well, my comrade-in-arms, the Ex-Bootneck over at The Mellow Jihadi had a fascinating post the other day. In which this figured prominently -
|Diorama of the Battle of Waterloo (Source)|
The post in question is here. (Two other good posts by EB on the battle are here and here.)
I found that third post most interesting. It seems that the British soldiers who defended the chateau of Hougoumont (that complex of buildings in the right foreground) throughout the day are finally getting a memorial. The Duke of Wellington was convinced that the defense of that chateau was one of the keys to his victory.
It shouldn't have been that important but the Emperor's kid brother (no, really, his kid brother) managed to involve the bulk of an entire French corps (the II, commanded by General Reille, sort of, how do you argue with the Emperor's kid brother?) in the fight for that chateau.
Most of a corps versus what was in essence a reinforced regiment. No more than a battalion in the buildings themselves and other troops upon the grounds and in the woods around Hougoumont.
Now I have been to the Waterloo battlefield a number of times. As you explore and see the sights, one could be forgiven for thinking that the French had won the battle! A large number of the memorials and plaques are dedicated to French units. Hell, there's a statue of Napoléon located just behind the center of the Anglo-Allied position, facing south towards France!
Though the most obvious feature of the battlefield now (which was constructed well after the battle) is a large pyramidal mound called the Butte du Lion which does feature a large lion at the top gazing towards France (in defiance), it doesn't commemorate any specific units.
(And yes, that is quite a climb to the top of that thing. I've done it more than once!)
|Butte du Lion|
(Photo by Jean-Pol Grandmont CC)
Soon though, the defenders of Hougoumont will get a very nice monument to honor their efforts, 200 years after the fact.
I have to admit, the inscription at the base of the statue is somewhat irritating to me. Rather akin to calling World War One, the War to End All Wars. Sure it was.
At any rate, it's about time the defenders of Hougoumont got a nice monument. Beats a plaque on a wall any day.
Maybe that's just me...
(No doubt there will be more Waterloo posts coming your way between now and June. Sorry.)