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Comments on the Grande Armee of 1805

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  • Comments on the Grande Armee of 1805

    ‘I have always considered the superiority of the French troops over those of the Continent, as the result of their individual intelligence; arising in a great degree from the habit of every Frenchman, to discuss whatever topic comes under his notice…Let us hear no more then of soldiers being mere machines. The absurdity of the doctrine is too palpable to need refutation.'-British Major Coffin.

    ‘These troops had a core of veteran soldiers, commanded by officers who had almost won their spurs on the field of battle. Moreover the entire body was put through endless maneuvers and marches, drilled to the point of exhaustion, and subjected to the most exact discipline. Thus the soldiers became a force to be reckoned with, especially in the hands of the Emperor.'-Lieutenant d'Hautpoul.

    ‘Generals, officers, and soldiers lived in perfect harmony, for in their eyes the devotion they bore towards their sovereign was the same as the one they harbored for their country. Members of aristocratic houses like Caraman, Lameth, Saint-Chamans, Latour-Maubourg, Nicolay, and Narbonne were glad to be counted the equal of people like Merlin, Tholoze, Petiet, Montbrun and Mounton.'-Colonel Bigarre, 4th Ligne.

    ‘The combined army came to more than 60,000 men. The Emperor wore on of the uniforms of his Guard, and he sat on a throne surrounded by the colors he had taken from the enemy in Italy and Egypt. At his side were seated the princes, the great dignitaries and the marshals, and the army was drawn up on every side. You can imagine the effect of 60,000 men arrayed in a fairly narrow hollow, not the mention more than 20,000 sightseers who had come from all the neighborhood towns…2,000 musicians and drummers sounded martial airs, and the batteries of cannon beat out the time…'-Captain Pion des Loches.*

    ‘The sight of the army, the camps and the forts, together with the resounding thunder of the waves and the cannon, and the view of the white cliffs of England, all served to arouse our enthusiasm. The noble scene was lit by the rays of a splendid sun.'-Captain Francois.*

    These two quotations are accounts of the distribution of the Legion of Honor in the Channel Camps on 16 August 1804.

    ‘The great army had aroused my surprise and scorn at five in the evening, but by seven the next morning I was lost in admiration. The six component corps acted as one, though each was strong enough to wage a vigorous campaign on its own account. They were led by six marshals, acting under the authority of a superior, a sovereign who alone could inspire unison and harmony in such a mass…I found it amazing and novel to see these confused masses of troops give birth as if by magic to the divisions, columns of attack, and imposing concentrations which Ney managed like the experienced soldier he was. There was not the slightest friction or delay, and this army had scarcely assembled at the assigned locations before it launched an energetic and well-calculated offensive…this was the first time I had seen how these masses could break through to an objective, hold off part of the enemy force while crushing the rest, and finally turn back on the troops they had kept in check and annihilate them in their turn.'-Baron de Comou, an émigré officer in the Bavarian service, attached to the Grande Armee.

    ‘…of all the commanders in Europe, Marshal Soult is the one who is most skillful at moving large masses of troops, and exploiting them to the best advantage on the battlefield.'-Colonel Bigarre.

    ‘These ten battalions comprised about 9,000 combatants. The division had a train of artillery corresponding to its size, and an administration which was responsible for supplying its needs. No particular body of cavalry was assigned to the division, though cavalry was provided from outside according to circumstances. The baggage was reduced to the absolute minimum, so as not to impede the march. Such in brief was the organization of an infantry division of the Grande Armee. After several months of campaigning the division became in every respect a consolidated whole. There were no intrigues, no jealousies, and you could see that the component troops were all animated with the same spirit.'-General Vicomte de Pelleport.

    ‘The divisional generals were expressly urged to retain the formation of two lines of battle and one of light infantry, and to keep the battalions in (tactical) divisional column, at platoon intervals, so that they could operate with greater speed, while being able at any time to form square against cavalry. This arrangement was maintained throughout the action, and if some battalions deployed, it was only to present a greater extent of front to the enemy.'-Marshal Soult.
    We are not now that strength which in old days
    Moved earth and heaven; that which we are we are; One equal temper of heroic hearts
    Made weak by time and fate but strong in will
    To strive to seek to find and not to yield.

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