Marshall Ney
Posted by Admin on February 26 2013 06:26:21

Marshall Ney


Marshall NeyMarshal Ney, "the bravest of the brave" among those who clustered round Napoleon, was doomed, after a glorious life, to an inglorious death. Yet, like his great master, be remains in the world's memory as he appeared in the zenith of his career, rather than at its close. He is the typical general of cavalry.


Michael Ney was the son of an old soldier who had fought at Rosbach, but had afterwards returned to his trade of cooper at Sarre-Louis, on the border of Lorraine. Here Michael was born on the loth of January, 1769. After receiving a fair education, he was placed with a public notary but, on account of his dislike for the tame drudgery of this occupation, bis father sent him to the mines of Assenwider. Two years spent here only strengthened his strong desire for military life, and finally the willful lad ran away and enlisted in a regiment of hussars. Ney was tall! well -proportioned and vigorous! with fiery red hair, which caused his comrades to call him the Red Lion." He was a subaltern at the outbreak of the French Revolution; but be soon attracted the attention of his commanders, especially Kleber and Hoche, by his desperate valor and skill in the campaigns against the armies of Austria, and was rapidly promoted, until, in 1798, he had attained the rank of general-of-division. Ney shared in the glories of .Massena's campaign in Switzerland, in 1799. and had the satisfaction of returning to his native town with all the pomp of a victorious general. In the year following he aided, under Moreau, in gaining the victories of Moeskirch and Hohenlinden.


Napoleon afterwards employed him as minister plenipotentiary to complete the submission of the Swiss to French ascendancy, a task which was performed with such success, that thenceforth he stood high in the great leader's favor. While commanding the camp at Montreuil he begged, in the name of the army, that Napoleon should declare himself emperor. On the organization of the Empire, in 1804, Ney was created marshal. In the campaign of 1805 against Austria, he commanded the French at the victory of Elchingen, for which service he was made Duke of Elchingen. Ney contributed greatly to the overthrow of the Prussians at Jena, and to the defeat of the Russians at Friedland. Such, indeed, had been his conduct during the campaign of 1806-7, that the veteran conquerors of the Continent of Europe unanimously awarded him the title of "Bravest of the Brave." As a general, Ney had the good fortune to have as his chief of staff Baron de Jomini, whose treatises on the art of war as exemplified in Napoleon's campaigns have long been standard military text-books. What Jomini suggested, Ney executed.


In 1808 Marshal Ney was transferred to the Spanish Peninsula, and for sometime commanded in Galicia, and on the northern frontier of Portugal. In 1810 be acted under Massena in the invasion of Portugal, which was baffled by the genius of ':VeIlingtoll, and the lines of Torres Vedras. During that invasion and in the subsequent retreat of the French army, Ney, according to Sir William Napier, displayed" a happy mixture of courage and skill." But the altercations between him and Massena were frequent and violent, and at last Ney was deprived of his command.


In 1812 Ney served again under Napoleon, and took part in the invasion of Russia. Fe had command of the French, center at the battle of Moscow, and gained from that victory a new title, It Prince of Moskwa. His heroic bravery was still more signally displayed during the awful retreat from Moscow. His honorable task was to protect the French rear. On leaving Smolensko, Ney, at the head of about 7,000 men, found his path barred, near the river Losmilla, by a large Russian army under Milaradovich. Being summoned to surrender, he replied: "A Marshal of France never surrenders," and he led his men on with the bayonet against the Russian batteries. Driven back repeatedly with fearful carriage, Ney counter marched the remnant of his column, and wheeling to the left, under shelter of the night eluded the Russian pursuit. He reached the bank of the Dnieper at a spot where the river was frozen over, but so thinly that the ice bent and often broke beneath the soldiers' tread. The perilous passage was, however, accomplished, but was followed by a succession of desperate contests with other Russian forces that strove to intercept him. With 1,500 of his men Ney fought his way through to Orcha, where Napoleon was encamped with the wreck of the main army. Napoleon's joy was almost rapturous when the intrepid marshal rejoiued him, for all had believed that he had been slain, or made prisoner.


After Napoleon left the army, Ney still continued to fight in the rear against the advancing Russians. Thrice did the rear guard, which he commanded, melt away beneath him by death, captivity, or Right and as often was it reorganized by the indomitable marshal. At last, Ney, with about thirty men under him, defended the gate of Kowno, the last place in the Russian dominions through which the French retreated, against the pursuing enemy, whilst his comrades escaped to the other side of the town. He himself was the last man to retire; with his own hand he fired the last shot against the foe, threw the musket into the river Niemen, plunged into the neighboring forests to baffle the enemy who held him in chase; and, after a series of almost incredible personal adventures, rejoined his comrades in the Prussian territory.


In the campaign of 1814, Ney was present at the victories of Lutzen and Hautzen; but he was defeated with great loss by Bernadotte, then Crown Prince of Sweden, at Dennewitz. This defeat brought upon him Napoleon's displeasure, and be was little employed during the rest of the struggle against the Allies, which ended to Napoleon's first abdication. On the first return of the Bourbons, Ney professed, and probably felt, great willingness to serve them loyally. When, in 1815, the news reached Paris of Napoleon's escape from Elba, Ney took command of the army which was sent to oppose him. He promised Louis XVIII. that he would bring the ex-emperor to Paris like a beast in a cage," There seems no reason to doubt Ney's sincerity in this critical moment of his career. But as he advanced against the emperor, he received a letter from Napoleon, who summoned him by the magic name of, the bravest of the brave" to join his old master beneath the old banner. The army which Ney was leading, showed, both officers and soldiers, their strong desire to fight under Napoleon. Ney caught the contagion, and passed over with all his troops to the emperor, who received him with expressions of the warmest welcome.


But, though Ney had thus deeply committed himself against the Bourbons, Napoleon appears to have mistrusted him, and to have long hesitated as to employing him in the campaign of 1815. It was only on the night of the 11th of June, that Ney received at Paris an order to join the French army in Belgium. Hurrying forward to the frontier, Ney met Napoleon on the 15th at Charleroi, after active operations had commenced. Napoleon gave him the command of the left wing, and sent him to seize the post of Quatre Bras, and oppose the English. Ney's want of promptness in this eventful campaign has been censured; but it should be remembered that the marshal had been so suddenly appointed to his command, that he did not know the strength of the regiments placed under him, or even the names of their commanding officers. On the I6th Ney attacked the Allies at Quatre Bras, but after many hours' hard fighting was repulsed; though he succeeded in preventing the English from marching to the help of the Prussians, who were being defeated by the emperor at Ligny.


On the 18th Ney acted as the emperors lieutenant at Waterloo. He led in person several of the fiercest assaults upon various parts of the English line, and especially the final charge of the "Old Guard." Never was his valor more grandly, though unsuccessfully, displayed. His horse was killed under him in the last great attack, and he was seen on foot, striving, sword in hand, first to urge his men forward, and at last to check their flight But his exertions were in vain, and the day was lost. On the second restoration of the Bourbons, Ney, foreseeing the consequences of his defection from Louis, secreted himself with one of his relatives at the Chateau of Bessaris, but was discovered. After an unsuccessful attempt to have him tried by a council of war composed of the marshals of France, he was brought before the Chamber of Peers, and, under express directions of the king's ministers, he was found guilty of treason. He was sentenced to be shot, December 7th, 1815, and died with the greatest intrepidity, his severest trial having been the parting from his wife and children. His father, who had rejoiced in the glory of his son, lived to the age of one hundred, dying in 1826.




After the battle of Fleurus, in June, 1794 Kleber, the command~r of the left wing of the army of the Sambre and Meuse, being desirous to reconnoitre a position, sent for an escort; and, entering into conversation with the officer who commanded it, was so much struck by his remarks, that, after returning home, he sent his aide-de-camp with an order of appointment for this officer to his staff. It was Ney who, however, declined the offer. Shortly after, at an engagement near Pellemberg, Ney, hearing the firing, changed the route he was following, and came upon the ground at a critical moment. The men nnder his command were, however, too much fatigued by a long march to follow him. He put himself at the head of a few dragons, rushed upon the Austrians and routed them. Kleber, who was an ere-witness of this daring charge, spoke of it thus, in his dispatch to the commissioner: "Captain Ney, acting adjutant-general, performed prodigies of valor. At the head of thirty dragoons, and a few chasseurs acting as orderlies, he charged two hundred of the Blanckestein hussars, and threw them into the greatest disorder." In consequence of this report, Gillet, the representative in attendance, appointed Ney, on the 1St of August, 1794, lieutenant colonel and adjutant-general; the duties of which latter office he had been for some time performing.


Toward the close of the same month, Ney, at the head of his daring troopers, was making brilliant forays through the country, carrying off stores, intercepting convoys, and keeping the enemy in constant alarm. On the 27th of August, when he had advanced toward the village of Werdt, and had become separated from the rest of the army, a trooper, who had deserted, gave the enemy information of the position and strength of Ney's party, and a large company of Prussian dragoons immediately placed themselves in his rear. Becoming apprised of his peril, Ney set out to return; but his scouts soon brought him word that the road was completely beset, that the enemy's cavalry Banked it right and left, and that it was impossible to pass. immpossiblel" cried Ney. "Sound the charge!" With sword in band, Ney rushed forward at the head of bis men, broke the ranks drawn up to intercept him, and cleared the passage in safety. The plain, however, was full of Austrian troops; and, as he approached Eyndhoven, another considerable body of cavalry debouched in front of them. Regardless of superior numbers, Ney threw himself headlong into their ranks, dispersed them, and took prisoner their commander, who proved to be the Baron Homspech. For this service, Ney was promoted to the rank: of chief of brigade.


During the remainder of the campaign, Ney was employed under Bernadotte, who led the van of the army, in the boldest and most daring enterprises against detachments of the enemy, which were crowned with brilliant success. During the siege of Maestricht, Ney's valor in forcing the passage of the Roer, won him especial distinction. Bernadotte, in reporting his success to Kleber, said: "Great praise is due to the brave Ney: he seconded me with the ability which yon know he possesses; and I am bound to add, in strict justice, that he greatly contributed to the success we have obtained." The same commander wrote a day or two afterward to Ney himself: "The general who commands an army in which you are employed is a fortunate man. I have that good luck, and I fully appreciate it. Continue to pursue and hussar the enemy. It is not the least striking, of the strange changes in position which the incidents of the time brought about, that, twenty years after, this same Bernadotte, as King of Sweden, should gain a great victory over this same Ney, as the marshal of an empire yet undreamed of. Ney's vehemence and ardor were of signal value in the siege of Maestricht, which finally capitulated on the 4th of November, 1794. Gillet, the representative, wrote to his colleagues: Ney is a distinguished officer, and is necessary to our large body of cavalry. Men of his stamp are not common.


In January, 1795, while the siege of Mayence was proceeding, Ney, being near a redoubt which the enemy had thrown tip and manned hastily, and having under him some troops from the army of the Rhine, and some from that of the Sambre and Meuse, was desirous to give the former a specimen of the valor which he wished them to emulate. He therefore assembled a few dragoons and voltigeurs for the attack of the position. "I am going," said he, I,to show you a trick after the manlier of Sambre and Meuse." Sending his vOltigeurs against the front of the redoubt, he passed round to the rear with his dragoons, and approached along the pass which the redoubt defended. His men hesitated and hung back, so that he entered the redoubt alone. Single-handed, he cut his way through the midst of the enemy, repassed the ditch, and escaped, after a severe wound in his arm. A species of lockjaw ensued, and his health became completely shattered. At this time, he was appointed general of brigade but, believing that he bad not yet sufficiently earned that promotion, be wrote to the board of war declining the appointment, and, notwithstanding the entreaties of his friends, persisted in refusing to accept it.


Merlin, the representative in attendance upon the army, advised him to try his native air for the benefit of his wound. My brave friend," he wrote to him, on the 7th of January, 1795, "go, and complete your cure at Sarre-Libre, your birth place. I have dispatched an order to a surgeon of the firstclass, Bonaventure, to send one of his pupils with you. Return soon, and lend us your powerful aid against the enemies of your country." Kleber, at the same time, gave him a certificate, stating that he had commanded, with distinction, various bodies of cavalry during the campaign, and "that, in every operation intrusted to him, he displayed the most consummate skill and bravery, particularly at the siege of Maestricht, where, by bis valor, he did eminent service to the republic." Ney, accordingly, returned home, and resigned himself, reluctantly, to the tedious delay of convalescence; but, in the autumn of 1795, he was again with the van of the army when it crossed the Rhine, and was exhibiting anew his characteristic energy and hardihood.-J. T. HEADLEY.




The whole continental struggle exhibited no sublimer spectacle than the last great effort of Napoleon to save his sinking empire. Europe had been put upon the plains of Waterloo to be battled for. The greatest military energy and skill the world possessed had been tasked to the utmost during the day. Bonaparte's star trembled in the zenith, now blazing out in its ancient splendor, now suddenly paling before his anxious eye.


At length, when the Prussians appeared on the field, he resolved to stake Europe on one bold throw. He committed himself and France to Ney, and saw his empire rest on a single charge. The intense anxiety with which he watched the advance of the column, the terrible suspense he suffered when the smoke of battle concealed it from sight, and the utter despair of bis great heart when the curtain lifted over a fugitive army, and the despairing shriek rang out on every side, "Lagarde recule, Lagarde recule," make us, for the moment, forget all the carnage, in sympathy with his distress.


Ney felt the pressure of the immense responsibility on his brave heart, and resolved not to prove unworthy of the great trust committed to his care. Nothing could be more imposing than the movement of the grand column to the assault.


That guard had never yet recoiled before a human foe ; and the allied forces beheld with awe its firm and terrible advance to the final charge.


For a moment the batteries stopped playing, and the firing ceased along the British lines, as, without the beating of a drum, or the blast of a bugle, they moved in dead silence over the plain. The next moment, the artillery opened, and the head of the gallant column seemed to sink down; yet they neither stopped nor faltered. Dissolving squadrons and whole battalions disappearing, one after another, in the destructive fire, affected not their steady courage. The ranks closed up as before, and each, treading over his fallen Comrade, pressed firmly on. The horse which Ney rode fell under him, and be had scarcely mounted another, before it also sank to the earth. Again and again did that unflinching man feel his steed sink down, till five had been shot under him. Then, with his uniform riddled with bullets, and bis face singed and blackened with powder, he marched on foot, with drawn sabre, at the head of his men.


In vain did the artillery hurl its storm of fire and lead into that living mass up to the very muzzles they pressed, and driving the artillery-men from their places, pushed an through the English lines. But, at that moment, a file of soldiers, who had lain flat on the ground behind a low ridge of earth, suddenly rose and poured a volley into their very faces. Another and another followed, till one broad sheet of flame rolled on their bosoms, and in such a fierce and unexpected flow that human courage could not withstand it. They reeled, shook, staggered back, then turned and fled.


The fate of Napoleon was writ. The star that had blazed so brightly over the world, went down in blood, and the bravest of the brave had fought his last battle.-J. T. HEADLEY.


Marshall Ney