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Savary: Memoirs of the Duke of Rovigo
Additional Chapter - Section B


It [Kellermann's letter] has the advantage over the latter in the choice of its expressions and in the sentiments which pervade it. This difference readily explains itself; but it is not the less entitled to remark. I shall presently return to this discreet friend, who remains in the back-ground in order not to compromise the object of his affections. I will first reply to the individual whom he has so improperly claimed the credit of defending. I acknowledge my reluctance at bringing forward a document dictated by the misfortunes of the times. Nevertheless, as it assails the character of two men, whose memory it behoves me to preserve unsullied, it becomes a duty for me to discuss that document. I turn to the allegations which it contains :—•

Desaix took no part in the decisive occurrence which brought victory back to our standards.
The Austrian staff will presently reply to this impudent assertion. Let us confine ourselves to the artful manner in which it is set forth. No doubt Desaix took no part in the charge of cavalry which routed the Hungarian grenadiers. But is this the only decisive circumstance ? Is there nothing decisive in the appearance of an -unbroken column which debouches upon the field of battle at the moment when the corps are about to disband, which rallies and covers our flying troops? What would General Kellermann have done, since he acknowledges having set himself in motion to support General Desaix, if the latter had not guessed to a certain degree in what direction the action was about to be decided ; if he had not suspended his march ; and if, at the risk of the personal consequences with which such a halt on his part might have been attended, he bad not placed himself in an attitude to take a share in the struggle which was engaged on the banks of the Bormida ? How could this fresh attack, of which General Kellermann claims for himself the glory, have been undertaken if the modest victor of Sedi-man had adhered to the literal execution of the order which he had received to march upon Novi, and had not stopped his division as soon as he heard the thundering reports of the artillery on the field of Marengo ?

There was the inspiration. That halt, and the retrograde movement, decided the fate of the battle. Had the First Consul been accessible to the passions which are ascribed to him, he would have shown great want of dexterity in adding to the glory of a celebrated warrior, instead of concentrating the merit of the action upon an officer, a distinguished one no doubt, but who was yet in the outset of his career. The monument, however, which has been erected on the Great St. Bernard attests in what manner the First Consul dispensed rewards, and how he evinced feelings of jealousy.

The First Consul fancied he was proceeding on a mere hunting excursion.
Is this the expression of a general officer, of a man who boasts of brilliant achievements ? What! the First Consul had drawn troops from the heart of Brittany, and directed them to Italy by forced marches with the same indifference with which a hunting excursion is arranged! This assertion refutes itself: it is needless to dwell upon it.

I found Savary, the aide-de-camp, there.
This is incorrect : Kellermann did not find me. He was standing in order of battle when I came up to acquaint him with the operation about to be undertaken, and in which General Desaix was to take the principal share. I was the person who informed Kellermann, (whom we had not seen since our departure for Egypt, ) that General Desaix had arrived on the spot. I pointed out the position which be occupied; for Kellermann could not discover him from the place where he stood. Now, when General Desaix dispatched me to the First Consul, the space between the 9th light regiment forming his first line and the Austrian column just halted, did not exceed two hundred paces. The least movement on either side must have brought on an engagement. General Desaix, at least, so considered it, since he sent me to request the First Consul would order him to be supported, as he was under the necessity of boldly commencing the attack, to avoid the risk of being broken.

The danger was pressing; not a moment was to be lost. General Bonaparte accordingly directed me to proceed to Kellermann, make known to him the importance of the crisis, and point out at the same time the precise spot through which General Desaix was about to appear on a scene where General Kellermann was stationed since the morning, and where he stood almost alone at that moment.

The First Consul had his own aides-de-camp about him ; but he preferred availing himself of my services, because I had witnessed the circumstances I was about to report.

Now, as I knew from ocular evidence General Desaix's position at the moment of my departure, as I was the bearer of an order of so much importance from the First Consul to Kellerman, is it consistent with common sense that I should have gone to wait for the general at a spot to which he might not have repaired ? Nothing can be more improbable than such a supposition. It is, besides, contrary to the fact. I did not wait for General Kellermann. I hastened to overtake him at the very place which the First Consul himself was pointing out with his finger. I conveyed to that officer the order confided to me; and had scarcely done so when General Desaix commenced his attack. This may readily be explained ; for it will be recollected that the First Consul, in giving me his instructions for Kellermann, sent another officer with directions for General Desaix to advance upon the Austrians. All this occurred in the space of a few moments ; and Kellermann, who claims the merit of originating the charge, had not even any time for reflection..

The remainder of the French army were unable to resist the shock: they were broken in, and took to flight.
Took to flight! this is the first time I read such an assertion. Undoubtedly I have no right to give it a positive denial, since it is vouched by General Kellermann, and I was engaged in conveying to him the First Consul's orders at the moment when the flight is alleged to have occurred. But from the point where he was stationed with his troop, neither of us could discover Desaix's division. He therefore makes so grave an assertion upon nothing more than hearsay. I may then be allowed to doubt its accuracy.

The first line of General Desaix consisted of the 9th light regiment, one of the most formidable in the army, which was commanded by Colonel La Bassee, who is still alive. This regiment, and its chief, were wont to affix their names to every field of battle upon which they had to contend. They were never known to hesitate at the sight of danger; and I can attest that, as I was proceeding after Kellermann's charge, to overtake the division which was debouching, upon the left of San-Juliano, I beheld at the head of the column the 9th light regiment, which certainly bore no resemblance to a regiment just broken in.

This accusation is rendered still more improbable by another circumstance. The First Consul was fully aware of all the occurrences of the day. The reports could not have left him in ignorance of those acts of weakness or of courage which had marked the vicissitudes of the battle. Nevertheless, he congratulated the 9th light regiment upon its conduct, and assigned to it the title of the incomparable regiment. Now, it is a fact of general notoriety that, however well disposed to distribute praises, he was never lavish of them.

If these considerations were deemed insufficient, I should invoke a testimony which General Kellermann would no doubt be disposed to admit; for none could be better aware than the Austrians themselves which of the two contending corps was broken in. The following are the expressions contained in the account published by the staff of the vanquished army. I regret that a French general officer should have placed me under the necessity of bringing such a quotation in opposition to him. But the Austrians have done justice to his accusation. It is no fault of mine if the nations we have so long conquered have acted more equitably towards our soldiers than some of the chiefs who commanded them.

" The corps of General Lannes," says the Austrian account, " and Mounier's division, took up a position on the right of General Desaix, beyond the corps of General Vior [sic]. General Boudet's division came next, and was placed upon two lines in front of San-Juliano. The first line extended on a plain covered with vineyards and trees; its right was protected by twelve pieces of cannon, and its left by General I Kellermann's brigade of cavalry.

" General Zach bad no sooner debouched by the heights of Casina-Grossa than he deployed his advanced guard on two lines. The first consisted of three battalions of the regiment of Michel-Wallis, which had on their left Lichtenstein's regiment of dragoons and the second line of Lattermann's brigade of grenadiers. The offensive movement towards San-Juliano continued at the sound of music. The advanced guard had already reached the vineyards, when the regiment of Wallis was opposed by a strong cannonading, and a sharp fire of musketry. It was repulsed, and fell back upon the second line, which stood its ground, and opened to make room for the fugitives. It formed again as soon as they had passed, and answered the enemy's fire by slowly moving forward. At the same time, the fire of two batteries was directed towards the position of the French at San-Juliano. The regiment of Wallis rallied during this manoeuvre, and again marched up to the enemy.

" Bonaparte then discovered the cavalry of the Austrian light wing, which gave him some uneasiness respecting the safety of his cannon. He ordered in consequence General Kellermann to execute a charge by the right wing of Boudet's division. This movement was effected at a brisk trot by passing between the lines. General Desaix, at the head of the 9th light half-brigade, debouched with great impetuosity from the enclosures of the vineyards, and threw himself headlong in the midst of the Austrian battalions. This movement was followed by the remainder of Boudet's division. The residue of Lannes and Mourner's divisions also took part in the engagement.

" The Austrians were not proof against the boldness and vigour of this attack. Their batteries moved rapidly to the rear, in order to avoid falling into the hands of the aggressors : the advanced guard began to give way. At this critical moment General Desaix fell from his horse, having been struck dead by a ball.

" The French, transported with rage, penetrated the first line of the Austrian advanced guard, and compelled it to fall back. Nevertheless, General Zach succeeded with his grenadiers in arresting their progress; but General Kellermann debouched with his cavalry. Lichtenstein's regiment of dragoons was unable to resist its superior strength. It did not even await the charge, but fell back upon the Austrian cavalry, which was at the head of the main column. Kellermann caused this regiment to be pursued by a part of his brigade, surrounded with the remainder the eight battalions of the advanced guard, and penetrated them on all sides. This un... [To be continued]

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