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Savary: Memoirs of the Duke of Rovigo
Additional Chapter - Section A
General Kellermann claims for himself exclusively the honour of the victory of Marengo—His letter—Anonymous pamphlet—My observations—The 9th light regiment—General Desaix—The Austrian staff assigns to each individual his proper share of glory.

I had written these Memoirs, as I have already stated, during my detention at Malta, and my sojourn at Smyrna ; at which latter place I concluded them. Having proceeded to England in 1819 with the intention of returning to France, I heard of the claims which had been set up with reference to the battle of Marengo. They appeared to me of so extraordinary a nature, that it never occurred to my mind that General Kellermann could have put them forward. I ascribed them to the zeal of some indiscreet friend; and contented myself with adding to the account of that great battle the reflections that conclude it. They neither contest the merit nor the apropos of the charge; and they leave to the general a share of glory sufficiently splendid to gratify his ambition. They have, nevertheless, excited great displeasure: a friend of truth contested their fairness, and met them by insinuations and assertions which it behoved me not to leave unanswered. I had to call in aid my recollections; but the anonymous writer had warned me that they could not be relied on; I therefore searched amongst written documents. Great was my surprise, on running over the Bibliotheque Historique , to find that I was mistaken ; that the honour of the victory of Marengo was not claimed by General Kellermann's friends on his behalf, but by the general himself!

He addressed the following letter to the director of that literary collection, under date the 8th of October, 1818:

" Sir, I have read in one of the numbers of your third volume an article respecting a monument erected at Marseilles to the memory of General Desaix. I therein find that you share the error, so common at the present day, regarding the last circumstance of his life: an error which has been propagated and countenanced by a man whose ambition and envy found it more to his purpose to extol the glory of the dead than that of the living.

" The article in question asserts, that General Desaix purchased, at the price of his life) the gain of the battle of Marengo.

" God forbid I should presume to lessen the glory of that illustrious warrior and virtuous citizen! But he has gathered a sufficiently abundant harvest of it not to stand in need of its being further augmented by the portion belonging to others. Had he lived, his mind was of too noble a stamp to allow it, and to refuse to each one his proper meed of praise. Had he lived, he would have refused all claim to a glory which did not belong to him. He would have restored it to the individual who has an exclusive right to it: for the fact is, that General Desaix had no share in the decisive event which restored victory to our standards at the battle of Marengo. .

" This will be made manifest to you by the following brief statement.

" At the commencement of the action, the French army consisted of the corps of Lieutenants-general Lannes and Victor. Exhausted of men, of ammunition, and of artillery, it was compelled, towards noon-day, to desist from the combat, and abandon the field of battle. Its half-destroyed battalions retreated across the plain, under cover of the brigade of cavalry of the general of brigade Kellermann, son of the marshal of that name; and thanks to the tardiness with which the Austrian army debouched from the marshes of the Bormida, and to the wrong direction taken by its immense cavalry, those scattered remains took shelter behind Desaix's corps. "The First Consul, proud of the success of the action of Montebello, fancied he was proceeding on a mere hunting excursion, rather than to a deadly strife, and had sent that corps, if it deserves the name, towards Novi, in order to cut off the retreat to Genoa from the enemy, who was supposed to be in full flight. Desaix was recalled in all haste; he had just established himself at the position near San-Juliano, on the left of the road from Tortona to Alexandria, when General Kellermann's brigade of cavalry came up to that spot. He found there the aid-de-camp Savary, who was waiting for him; this officer announced that the battle was about to be resumed, and handed to him the First Consul's directions that he should support the attack of General Desaix.

" General Kellermann had only four hundred troops left, belonging to the 2nd and 20th regiments of cavalry, who were exhausted by eight hours' fighting and by repeated charges. Valiant regiments, your numbers did not exceed those of Leonidas; but you were more fortunate than the Spartan soldiers: the country was on this occasion indebted to yon for its safety ; the names of each of the gallant men present on the occasion should have been handed down to posterity.

" It was therefore with the corps of Desaix, amounting at most to three or four thousand infantry, and with four hundred horsemen under General Kellermann, that the battle was resumed. This bandful of warriors moved forward once more, whilst the Austrian army was advancing in a compact mass to a victory, which it entertained no doubt of securing.

" The two corps approached each other: a discharge of artillery was heard; Desaix was mortally wounded; but there was too great a disparity of numbers. The remains of the French army so imprudently thrust forward were unable to resist the shock ; they were broken in, and took to flight. Being masked by the vineyards, General Kellermann quickly perceived the disaster of his own party and the disorder of the enemy, who incautiously gave themselves up to the pursuit. At this critical moment, he only consulted the courage of his companions in arms, rushed headlong into the midst of the Austrians, whom he surprised with their fire-arms unloaded, and in the disorder of victory; six thousand grenadiers were trodden under the horses' feet, or instantly laid down their arms. The mass of the enemy's army being panic-struck, and imagining they were opposed by an unexpected reinforcement, fled in confusion towards the Bormida, and resigned to us a victory which they had it yet in their power to dispute.

" The weak corps of General Kellermann found itself alone for a short time in the midst of the two armies; and the army of the First Consul was in such a state of annihilation and disorder, that it was found impossible to collect sufficient troops to complete the enemy's destruction.

" Nevertheless, the Austrian general acknowledged himself defeated; and sent the next day to propose a capitulation, which restored to us the possession of Italy.

" The foregoing is an exact statement of the occurrence which decided the fate of the battle: there are a sufficient number of eye-witnesses in existence to attest its truth, and no one can presume to contest it.

" Desaix, therefore, had been slain, and the troops were in flight, when General Kellermann plunged in the midst of the enemy, and wrested the victory from their grasp. It belongs to that general and to the gallant men who devoted themselves along with him. If the general-in-chief of the French army, with the view of evading the duty of gratitude which he owed to the men who (unintentionally no doubt) had placed the crown upon his head, omitted to acknowledge services which were rather rendered to the country than to himself; if he deemed it consonant with his interest to avert the glory of it towards a deceased warrior ; if General Kellermann persevered in a modest silence, and was satisfied until now with the good opinion of his comrades, it becomes his duty to break that silence, and to restore the truth respecting a memorable and unheard-of military achievement, at this moment when it is studiously affected to make it the brightest gem in General Desaix's civic crown.

" I do not ask of you to publish this letter : for what purpose could now be answered by recalling victories, the results of which have been rendered ephemeral by the ambition of a madman" The battle of Marengo is as far removed from us as those of Zama and of Pharsalia, for any useful purpose we have derived from it.

" But I request of you to correct, when an opportunity shall offer, what you have advanced on that subject, and to restore to each one the share that belongs to each. "

"I have the honour to be, &c. "
"KELLERMANN, Lieutenant-general."

The pamphlet of the Friend of Truth is hardly anything more than a long paraphrase of the general's letter.*

* "The Duke of Rovigo has just published fresh memoirs illustrative of the history of Napoleon, From the very first pages of that new publication, it will have been discovered that his recollections were not much to be relied on ; and when we come to the account of the battle of Marengo, and to the charge effected by General Kellermann, an opportunity is offered of observing the justness of this remark.

We therein find, at page 182 (Vol. i. part 1.) this singular phrase :— "Since the downfall of the Imperial government, some pretended friends of General Kellermann have presumed to claim for him the merit of originating that charge. This is too bold a pretension , and it is certainly not set up by that general, wliose share of glory is sufficiently splendid to gratify his ambition." The author of the refutation proceeds as follows :—

Those reflections, besides being rather uncourteous towards General Kellermann, are not in accordance with the truth. This is not the first time that certain individuals have contested to him the glory of the inspiration of a feat of arms so closely bordering upon the marvellous, that he is much more disposed to ascribe it to chance, than to any merit on his part.

So legitimate, so incontestable a property has already been claimed for him, as it is again found necessary to do at the present day ; why, in fact, should he content himself with the share to which the Duke of Rovigo again pretends to reduce him, when he has a just right to the whole ?

There is felt no hesitation in affirming that the happy inspiration of the charge of cavalry, which on that day had the effect, not of deciding the victory, but of bringing it back to our standards, belongs to General Kellermann. With respect to tlie glory of the execution, he shares it in common with the handful of gallant men who all, without exception, plunged headlong, at his command, on the enemy's compact body of troops.

If the idea did not originate with him, who then can lay claim to it ? No one has hitherto ventured to do so in explicit terms, not even the First Consul himself. If the then aide-de-camp Savary had set up such a pretension on his own part, it would be of a still more daring character. No such injury will be done to that officer as to ascribe to him the merit of it. There was too great a distance between him and the aforesaid general, young as he was, that he should have pretended to issue directions to him. If the Duke of Rovigo has written in the interest of the First Consul, why does he not say so, and prove his assertion ? He is satisfied with throwing out the insinuation, and obscuring the truth. He gives to understand in page 181 (Vol. i. part 1.) that he did not quit General Kellermann until after the dispersion of the Hungarian column. It may be positively asserted that M. Savary has had no personal knowledge of the fact : he was not near General Kellermann when the latter flew to the relief of his comrades, with that instinctive feeling which induces a person to plunge into the water in order to rescue a fellow-creature from drowning. Chance presented him with this opportunity: he eagerly grasped at it : five minutes sooner or later, his timely interference would have failed of its object.

No such injury will be offered to the memory of the First Consul as to suppose that the Duke of Rovigo has made himself in this place the interpreter of his private sentiments, it would be ascribing a weakness of character to him, from which his well-established superiority ought readily to screen him.

The man who, at twenty-six years of age, had begun his career by the campaign of 1790, in Italy, who had made the conquest of Egypt, had been borne on the shoulders of the French from Frejus to Paris, had planned and executed the wonderful passage of the St. Bernard, and conceived the idea of stopping Melas by pulling him back, as it were, by the skirts of his coat, of forcing him away from France, into which country he was about to penetrate, and compelling him to light for his own safety, such a man, I say, could have no need of a few more laurels he who already possessed the splendid treasure of a still maiden and undefiled glory. Does not, besides, the glory of a battle definitively belong at all times to the general-in-chief ? When success has been attained, the conqueror is at liberty to describe his battle as he thinks proper. He will represent a rout as a change of front ; he will acknowledge no other error than that which he claims the merit of having repaired, though lie often owes it to mere chance. The truth is, as the Duke of Rovigo himself admits, that Napoleon did not calculate upon a battle.

He considered, in fact, that the enemy was more intent on escaping from than on fighting him. Fully bent upon this idea, he had sent Desaix forward towards Novi, in order to cut off the road to Gerres; and having himself left a portion of his troops in the rear, he was closely following Melas with less than twenty thousand men, with twelve pieces of cannon, and ammunition insufficient for a battle. The latter was no sooner broken by the engagement of Castigio, than he suddenly turned round, and the battle of Marengo was the consequence.


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