Saturday, April 1, 2023

First Encounter

Brigadier Tomasz Kasprowicz was admiring the view out over the valley towards the mountains. Though the road was steep, and very narrow in spots, they were making good time. Looking to his front he saw one of the Chasseurs à Cheval galloping down the road. The man was in a hurry

He heard the man shout something to his lieutenant but the rider continued down the road without pausing. Kasprowicz knew that there had to be enemies ahead. Perhaps, potential friends?

"Sire! One of the scouts!"

The officer commanding the Emperor's escort saw the galloper first, though before he spoke he saw that the Emperor had spotted the man as well.

"Adjudant sous-officier, what news?"

Napoléon Bonaparte was only 46 years of age, but wasn't in the best of shape. His lifestyle on Elba, though busy, didn't compare to the rigors of campaign nor the running of an Empire. Truth be told, he was bothered by a number of small ailments, but the stress of this moment was telling in the effect it was having on his health. Needless to say, the adventure could be ending a scant five days after coming ashore.

"Infantry, Sire! At least a regiment, they have no cannon that I could see."

Turning to Cambronne,² the Emperor sighed and said, "Battle order, no one fires without my command. Understood?"

Cambronne nodded and said, "Of course, Sire."

Soldat Michel Chevrier felt sick to his stomach. He could see, coming up the road near Laffrey, the bearskins of the Garde Impérial. In front of those men, he saw the man he had followed since he was a callow youth of 18. The man was wearing his gray riding coat, buttoned up, the air was cold here in the mountains, the famous hat on his head which every French soldier recognized.

Oddly enough, the Emperor was on foot, his hands behind his back, almost as if he was intending to inspect the men of 5th Regiment of the Line. Those men were deployed to stop the man, not receive him as their leader.

"Steady men, your King demands we stop this nonsense now." The young lieutenant had turned to address Chevrier's company. He was some spawn of the nobility, recently returned from exile, jumped up to command the 2nd Company of the 1st Battalion of the 5th. Most of the soldiers he addressed were veterans, many wore the cross of the Legion of Honor. As did Chevrier.

Jean Boutet, standing next to Chevrier, mumbled under his breath, "F**k the King."

Chevrier's hands were sweating, he had no idea what was about to happen, but the Guard had halted and the Emperor was coming up the road, alone.

Throwing his coat open, Napoléon Bonaparte yelled out, "Soldiers of the 5th, if there is a man among you who wishes to shoot his Emperor, HERE I AM!"

The silence was deafening, one of the 5th's new lieutenants, another scion of the petty nobility, began to give the command to fire, when the commander of Chevrier's battalion urged his mount forward, and screamed, "VIVE L'EMPEREUR!"

The battalion immediately broke ranks an surged forward, all of the soldiers yelling and jostling each other, trying to get close to the man they had followed for years.

Chevrier was among them, shouting "Vive l'Empereur" while tears of joy streamed down his face.

Le retour de Napoléon d'Elbe
Charles de Steuben (PD)
The small army of Napoléon Bonaparte began to grow.

¹ This is a screen shot from the video in the source article, tracing the route that Napoléon and his small band of soldiers took on the way from Golfe Juan to Grenoble. The terrain in this area is very rough, but very scenic. I like the way the maker of the video superimposed the Napoleonic cavalry over the video of a steep section of the route.
² General Pierre-Jacques-Etienne Cambronne commanded the small detachment of the Imperial Guard which had accompanied Napoléon into exile at Elba. Later famous for what he allegedly said at Waterloo when the Guard was called on to surrender. He allegedly yelled out, "The Guard dies, they do not surrender!" More likely he yelled out "Merde!" (shit) which is known in France as "le mot de Cambronne." The word of Cambronne."


  1. "le mot de Cambronne". Mon Dieu! Gent's eloquence predates that of Anthony McAuliffe and Chesty Puller. Extra points for having the sartorial style of George Patton.

    Great Guns...

  2. One of those many pivotal moments in history. The Hundred Days continues.

  3. Well...given the choice between "King" and "Emperor" can't say I'da "voted" any differently.

    1. It was a choice between a blithering idiot and a charismatic cult leader. Or face the takeover or breakup of France itself.

      No good choices at all.

    2. That's an oversimplification but we can live with that.

    3. Oversimpification, but that's what I do best!!!

      I don't know enough about the period to know if the individual provinces were at hatred with each other like they'd been since the days of Charlemagne, but I'm sure there's some of that along with the always city folk vs country folk, mixed in with the remnants of the anti-aristocracy movement and the old/new aristocrats, bitterness over how the Revolution went, peeves over stuff that happened before the Revolution, longstanding hatreds that, with some, went back as far as... the time of Charlemagne, the war against the new scientific ways vs the old ways that always worked, the Great Awakening vs Luddites, and many more. So oversimplification always works.

    4. There were rural areas where royalist sentiment remained strong. In general though, Napoléon did a lot to make France one country and not a collection of provinces.

      As always, upon his return, there were a number of politicians and generals who were more interested in preserving their own privileges and power than what was perhaps best for France.

      We'll meet them.

    5. Not that that would happen here...EVER!, No not a chance!


    6. Hit enter a bit too fast. Really looking forward to reading it in its entirety. Pretty sure it'll be a one seating read.
      Well Done.

    7. juvat @ 2:47 PM - Yeah, I guess history does repeat itself, at least it rhymes I suppose.

    8. juvat @ 2:48 PM - I'll try not to make you wait too long!

  4. My impression - and it is purely an impression - is that the restored Bourbon monarchy was not at all inspiring or inspirational. Sometimes given the option between seeing what is available and remembering what was, people often choose what was.

    (And can I say again how happy I am to wake - two days in a row - with new stories? Yay!)

    1. As was said about the Bourbons upon Napoléon's First Abdication, "They have learned nothing, and they have forgotten nothing." - Talleyrand (a right piece of work himself, Napoléon allegedly referred to him as "manure in a silk stocking.")

    2. Yeah, the new Bourbons were far worse than Charles the Fat (or Charles the Stupid, or Fat and Stupid, depending on who you are talking to (if talking to Normans, Stupid or Fat and Stupid were the ways to go.) For those playing at home without the answers, Charles mentioned was King of France when Rolf/Rollo and his gang of merry Norwegians raided Paris and said Charles bought them off with a semi-breakaway province that became known as Normandy. He was fat, and not remarkably bright, but at least he was smart enough to see the handwriting on the walls, that is, the Vikings will keep viking (yes, it's a verb!) unless stopped, and since a military victory was iffy at best, hey, here's this disgruntled semi-breakaway province to the west of Paris full of malcontents and disgrunted and very aggressive people...

    3. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer perhaps?

      But it was about his only move.

    4. It is interesting - in doing my review of Anglo-Saxon history (and indirectly of Viking history) I cannot think of another example that where the Vikings were effectively "bought off" with land - usually it was with money and they would return, eventually. Mostly (at least in the British Isles) they just conquered where they wanted to be, or at least tried to conquer it. In that sense, perhaps Charles got it right.

    5. The closest you can find in England is the Danelaw. Basically it was "We conquered it, suck it, Anglo-Saxons." And the tension of the Danelaw and issues thereof laid the groundwork for the year of 1066 as the Dane-Anglo-Saxons caused quite a stir and led to Harold Godwinson (whack-sptoooie) to take the throne after Edward the Confessor shuffled off his weak mortal coil.

      The Anglo-Saxons basically 'gave' the secured Danelaw to the Danes in exchange for the Danes to quit pillaging the rest of the Anglo-Saxon areas, which worked. For the most part.

      So what Charles did wasn't too far-fetched nor new. It had been done before, would be done later.

  5. Excellent. You have a way of making big moments in history very personal. Must have been one hell of a ride those 100 days (and all the time before as the preparations for Nappy's return were secretly and not-so-secretly bandied about.

    1. I have read so much about that time period, that it almost feels as if I was there.

      Who knows?

      Yes, I'm a big fan of Patton's Through a Glass, Darkly. You can read it here.)

    2. Never read it before, as my education seems sorely lacking. Powerful piece.

      The eternal warrior is a theme that keeps coming up in almost every culture.

      Gilgamesh was perhaps the first eternal warrior written about.

      Then there's the stories about Longinius, the legionnaire who stabbed Christ in the side.

      Edgar Rice Burroughs' Captain John Carter was also an eternal warrior, fighting for one cause or another until semi-dying and being transported to Barsoom.

      Some form of ancestral memory or semi-reincarnation or ghostly thoughts would explain why some people seem to be able to do things that they never knew about before, and considering that war and fighting is very violent, and violent moments tend to fix memories or dredge up memories, then it is possible, if thoughts and memories can be transmitted from ancestors to descendants, that said memories would be there.

      Or it's just a case of very vivid imagination. I remember reading "The Illiad" (translated, not in the original Greek) and it felt like I could smell the ground where 10 years of struggle and siege happened. Same with reading about the Battle of The Hot Gates (or watching the two movies about it,) good story telling can pull you into feeling like you are there.

      Which is what you do very well. Or you (or part of you) was there. Or going there in modern times caused some memory ghosts to jump you.

    3. George C. Scott recites part of it in the movie Patton.

      While Patton always seemed to envision himself as an officer of one sort or another, I'm sure I would have been a simple foot slogger, the eternal sergeant ...

    4. Nothing wrong with that. From what I've seen, sergeants have more control and real power, well, good sergeants do, than most LTs and even Captains.

    5. There you go, you understand how things work. And yes, good sergeants make things work. I won't say a word about the bad ones.

  6. The "ghost photo" is a reminder that no matter if reading of Kasprowicz or von Lüttwitz, we should be mindful that a good 6-7 generations of troopies humped the same ground.
    In that vein, I recall flanking post in Washington, D.C. fifty odd years ago while assigned to a guard platoon. Walking a well-lit path, I noted an object that didn't "blend in". Stooping down, I immediately realized it was a Minié ball...likely from the Civil War. My discovery was not so much any observation skill as it was the whiteness of lead's natural oxidation against the darker color of the surrounding ground. Other than having been dropped by a long ago soldier and the paper covered powder charge subsequently dissolving and natural erosion shifting things about, there's no other rationale for my discovery. When I came off watch I gave the Minié ball to a shipmate.
    During the Civil War a network of approximately 70 forts encircled Washington, D.C.

    1. Indeed they did. I've been a few places in the world where I had a sense of an unseen presence, if you know what I mean. They were places like Waterloo, the Ardennes, the Hürtgenwald, Okinawa, and (closer to home) the forests around Fort Ticonderoga.

      Great story.


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