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Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

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Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby Senarmont198 » September 27th, 2016, 7:06 pm

‘Military discipline admits of no modifications.’-Napoleon to Jerome, 3 April 1807.

The army must understand that discipline, wisdom, and the respect for property support its victories, that pillage and theft belong only to the cowardly, who are unworthy of remaining in the ranks…that they plot the loss of honor and that they have no goal other than to stain the laurels acquired by so much bravery and perserverence.’-Order of the Day, 11 June 1796.

‘Without discipline there is no victory.’-Napoleon to the Directory, 6 April 1796.

‘The success of an army and its well-being depend essentially upon order and discipline, which will make us loved by the people who come to greet us and with whom we share enemies.’-Order of the Day, 20 March 1799.

‘Pillaging destroys everything, even the army that practices it. The inhabitants leave, which has the dual drawback of turning them into irreconcilable enemies who take revenge upon the isolated soldier, and of swelling the enemy ranks in proportion to the damage that we do. This deprives us of all intelligence, so necessary for waging war, and of every means of subsistence. Peasants who come to peddle provisions are put off by the troops who stop them, pillage their wares, and beat them.’-Order of the Army, 12 December 1808.

‘When I arrived [in Italy in 1796] the army was injured by the bad influence of the troublemakers: it lacked bread, discipline, and subordination. I made some examples, devoted all of our means to reviving the administrative services of the army, and victory did the rest…Without bread the soldier tends to an excess of violence that makes one blush for being a man.’-Napoleon to the Directory, 24 April 1796.

‘We will never forget to make a disciplinary example of these soldiers who deviate from the rule of severe discipline.’-Napoleon to AM Battaglia, 10 December 1796.

Army Order, 22 June 1812:

‘Each marshal or corps commander will name a provost commission composed of five officers, which will try every soldier who, following the army, is absent from his regiment without a legitimate reason and every marauder and individual caught pillaging or molesting the local inhabitants. The commission will condemn the guilty to death and will have them executed in twenty-four hours.’
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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby Josh&Historyland » September 28th, 2016, 5:18 pm

Highly interesting.

Form this of course two principle thoughts occur. First, it is obvious that Napoleon had a realistic understanding of the damage caused by looting (and his threats of harsh punishment nullify those comparisons about Wellington's harsh strictures on that score). But yet we are lead to believe in pretty much every book about the wars, that the French had a terrible reputation for living off the land. Does this mean that the popular conception of ravaging french armies is false, or was Napoleon unable to control the practice. Especially in Spain etc.

Secondly these quotes are interestingly grouped. The majority come from the Italian campaign era. Did Napoleon perhaps try to restrict pillaging, but let it slide under different circumstances? And was the Grande Armée's pillage record better or worse when Napoleon was in personal command?

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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby unclearthur » September 28th, 2016, 7:51 pm

I think his words show hypocrisy of the highest order. Napoleon seems to have dressed his personal looting of invaded countries both as 'reparation' and scientific/artistic research on behalf of France, so that was fine, of course.
His living off the land approach needed a secured (ish) area with tax collecting infrastructure in place. Since he was famed for quick, penetrating advances on campaign, in practice this couldn't have worked for much of the time and he must surely have known it.
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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby jf42 » September 28th, 2016, 8:27 pm

There appears to be a force advancing on a broad front. Whether they have sufficient supplies remains to be seen.

http://www.napoleon-series.org/cgi-bin/ ... ;id=176178

http://theminiaturespage.com/boards/msg.mv?id=433389

http://www.armchairgeneral.com/forums/s ... ost3269370
Last edited by jf42 on September 29th, 2016, 12:53 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby Senarmont198 » September 28th, 2016, 8:31 pm

Josh&Historyland wrote:Form this of course two principle thoughts occur. First, it is obvious that Napoleon had a realistic understanding of the damage caused by looting (and his threats of harsh punishment nullify those comparisons about Wellington's harsh strictures on that score). But yet we are lead to believe in pretty much every book about the wars, that the French had a terrible reputation for living off the land. Does this mean that the popular conception of ravaging french armies is false, or was Napoleon unable to control the practice. Especially in Spain etc.

Secondly these quotes are interestingly grouped. The majority come from the Italian campaign era. Did Napoleon perhaps try to restrict pillaging, but let it slide under different circumstances? And was the Grande Armée's pillage record better or worse when Napoleon was in personal command?


Napoleon did attempt to restrict pillaging. Further, 'living off the land' is not synonymous with pillaging and looting. All of the armies 'lived off the land' some using cruder methods than others, the Austrians and Russians being excellent examples of the latter. The Cossacks were undoubtedly the international champions of looting and pillaging and did it indiscriminately.

The Prussians were thought to be worse than the Cossacks by the Belgians in 1814. And for a period flashback, Frederick's peeling of Saxony in the Seven Years' War was probably the most devastating of that period and probably for the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars as well. Some folks pillaged, such as the Bavarians and Prussians, just to hear things go smash, and Blucher encouraged his troops to loot, pillage, and rape in France in 1814. One of his corps commanders, Yorck, damned his own men as bandits.

The following might also be interesting:

From Journal of the Waterloo Campaign by Cavalie Mercer, 90-91:
'Another misery I endured was the constant apprehension of falling under the Duke's displeasure for systematic plundering of the farmers by our people, which I could not well check without risk of incurring the same on another score-ie for not doing it! This is enigmatical; let me explain. Our allowance of forage, though sufficient to keep our horses in pretty good condition when idle, was not sufficient when they were hard worked; nor was it sufficient at any time to put on them that load of flesh, and give them that rotundity of form which Peninsular practice had established as the beau ideal of a horse entering a campaign, the maxim being-'The more flesh a horse carries, the more he has to lose, and the longer he will be able to bear privations' to keep up this, therefore, it was necessary to borrow from the farmers; and at this time of the year the superb crops of the trefe offered themselves most opportunely. The practice was general amongst cavalry and artillery, so that all the horses were equally in good case; and it would have been a most dangerous proceeding, by abstaining from it, to let your horses appear thinner than those of your neighbor. The quick eyes of the Duke would have seen the difference, asked no questions, attended no justification, but condemned the unfortunate victim of samples as unworthy of the command he held, and perhaps sent him from the army. We therefore, like others, plundered the farmers' fields; with this difference, however, that we did it in a regular manner, and without waste-whereas many of the cavalry regiments destroyed nearly as much as they carried away, by trampling about the fields. This dread of being reported kept me continually in hot water, for my farmers (who, under the reign of the Prussians, would never have dared utter a complaint), hearing how strictly plundering was forbidden by the Duke, soon became exceedingly troublesome with their threats of reporting me. How we escaped it is difficult to say, but certainly we continued helping ourselves; and latterly, St Cyr, and some other farmers, getting more docile, would themselves mark out where we were to cut...'
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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby Senarmont198 » September 28th, 2016, 8:35 pm

unclearthur wrote:I think his words show hypocrisy of the highest order. Napoleon seems to have dressed his personal looting of invaded countries both as 'reparation' and scientific/artistic research on behalf of France, so that was fine, of course.
His living off the land approach needed a secured (ish) area with tax collecting infrastructure in place. Since he was famed for quick, penetrating advances on campaign, in practice this couldn't have worked for much of the time and he must surely have known it.


To what 'personal looting' by Napoleon are you referring?

If you're referring to the looting of art and other valuables during the Italian campaigns of 1796-1797, that was done by the agents of the Directory, the French government of the period. And Napoleon attempted to restrict their looting of those art objects.

See The Road to Rivoli by Boycott-Brown and The Age of Napoleon by JC Herold.
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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby unclearthur » September 28th, 2016, 9:06 pm

Senarmont198 wrote:
unclearthur wrote:I think his words show hypocrisy of the highest order. Napoleon seems to have dressed his personal looting of invaded countries both as 'reparation' and scientific/artistic research on behalf of France, so that was fine, of course.
His living off the land approach needed a secured (ish) area with tax collecting infrastructure in place. Since he was famed for quick, penetrating advances on campaign, in practice this couldn't have worked for much of the time and he must surely have known it.


To what 'personal looting' by Napoleon are you referring?

If you're referring to the looting of art and other valuables during the Italian campaigns of 1796-1797, that was done by the agents of the Directory, the French government of the period. And Napoleon attempted to restrict their looting of those art objects.

See The Road to Rivoli by Boycott-Brown and The Age of Napoleon by JC Herold.


So you're saying he never enriched himself in any way on his travels? Every invading commander did, including the British. Soult, Loison, Massena and Kellerman, to name those usually cited as the worst offenders in Iberia, were just following their leader. I can only recall coming across the odd missive censuring any of them, and then without any great heat.
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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby Senarmont198 » September 28th, 2016, 9:13 pm

I'm asking what is the source of your allegation?

Berthier, Davout, Serurier, and Bessieres certainly did not and Augereau no longer looted after being promoted to marshal. I haven't seen any evidence that either Lannes or Suchet did either.

Napoleon was frugal with his own income and had definite ideas on how long his clothing should last. I have found no evidence that he was personally corrupt, though he certainly has been defamed in that way.

Perhaps you have found something that I have not?
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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby Josh&Historyland » September 29th, 2016, 12:52 pm

Senarmont198 wrote:
Josh&Historyland wrote:Form this of course two principle thoughts occur. First, it is obvious that Napoleon had a realistic understanding of the damage caused by looting (and his threats of harsh punishment nullify those comparisons about Wellington's harsh strictures on that score). But yet we are lead to believe in pretty much every book about the wars, that the French had a terrible reputation for living off the land. Does this mean that the popular conception of ravaging french armies is false, or was Napoleon unable to control the practice. Especially in Spain etc.

Secondly these quotes are interestingly grouped. The majority come from the Italian campaign era. Did Napoleon perhaps try to restrict pillaging, but let it slide under different circumstances? And was the Grande Armée's pillage record better or worse when Napoleon was in personal command?


Napoleon did attempt to restrict pillaging. Further, 'living off the land' is not synonymous with pillaging and looting. All of the armies 'lived off the land' some using cruder methods than others, the Austrians and Russians being excellent examples of the latter. The Cossacks were undoubtedly the international champions of looting and pillaging and did it indiscriminately.

The Prussians were thought to be worse than the Cossacks by the Belgians in 1814. And for a period flashback, Frederick's peeling of Saxony in the Seven Years' War was probably the most devastating of that period and probably for the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars as well. Some folks pillaged, such as the Bavarians and Prussians, just to hear things go smash, and Blucher encouraged his troops to loot, pillage, and rape in France in 1814. One of his corps commanders, Yorck, damned his own men as bandits.

The following might also be interesting:

From Journal of the Waterloo Campaign by Cavalie Mercer, 90-91:
'Another misery I endured was the constant apprehension of falling under the Duke's displeasure for systematic plundering of the farmers by our people, which I could not well check without risk of incurring the same on another score-ie for not doing it! This is enigmatical; let me explain. Our allowance of forage, though sufficient to keep our horses in pretty good condition when idle, was not sufficient when they were hard worked; nor was it sufficient at any time to put on them that load of flesh, and give them that rotundity of form which Peninsular practice had established as the beau ideal of a horse entering a campaign, the maxim being-'The more flesh a horse carries, the more he has to lose, and the longer he will be able to bear privations' to keep up this, therefore, it was necessary to borrow from the farmers; and at this time of the year the superb crops of the trefe offered themselves most opportunely. The practice was general amongst cavalry and artillery, so that all the horses were equally in good case; and it would have been a most dangerous proceeding, by abstaining from it, to let your horses appear thinner than those of your neighbor. The quick eyes of the Duke would have seen the difference, asked no questions, attended no justification, but condemned the unfortunate victim of samples as unworthy of the command he held, and perhaps sent him from the army. We therefore, like others, plundered the farmers' fields; with this difference, however, that we did it in a regular manner, and without waste-whereas many of the cavalry regiments destroyed nearly as much as they carried away, by trampling about the fields. This dread of being reported kept me continually in hot water, for my farmers (who, under the reign of the Prussians, would never have dared utter a complaint), hearing how strictly plundering was forbidden by the Duke, soon became exceedingly troublesome with their threats of reporting me. How we escaped it is difficult to say, but certainly we continued helping ourselves; and latterly, St Cyr, and some other farmers, getting more docile, would themselves mark out where we were to cut...'


You will pardon me I trust for using my usage of "Living off the land". I did not mean to suggest it to equate exactly to plundering, rather only to be general identifier for a multitude of possible evils, for as you say to some extent every army plundered and every army at some point or another lived off the land.

It is undoubtedly correct that the Prussians were terrors in 1814 and 15. Wellington had to deal with many complaints and had to stop them ripping down any french monument with a Germanic name on it when he got to Paris. And undoubtedly the Cossacks refined the idea of plundering and living off the produce to an art.

In this sense it is completely fair to show that it wasn't just the French, yet it is fairly clear to me that the unusual veracity shown by the Prussians late in the war was due to a desire to exact revenge. Likewise with the Russians, whose depredations nonetheless were generally done by the hand of their irregular cavalry, and it was Tsar Alexander who also called for measures of restraint in Paris.
While undoubtedly some French marshals did not encourage looting, and Napoleon may well have felt it detrimental, after all he never stopped trying to improve the Grande Armee's performance, there is no doubt that some did as unclearthur points out.

Now an interesting case of a looter and its consequences is Vandamme, After being captured he was accused by Tsar Alexander of looting as only a Tsar could, to which the ready, slightly schoolyard zinger was "At least I am not accused of murdering my father". It is undeniable that this officer was not shy about taking what he wanted, yet in 1793 Moreau had him suspended from command for looting. That this could occur in the chaos of the Revolutionary wars, when the directory was hardly picky about such things, shows that the officers of the French army were aware that there was a problem going up to high levels and tried to stop it.

The Allied effort to restore art treasures to their respective countries in 1814 and 1815 shows that quite apart from ordinary looting, the victors had partaken liberally of the spoils, just to look at the Waterloo gallery in Apsley House we can see a small sample of the wealth that was being taken out of Spain. During the Cintra enquiery the board of examination were particularly incensed that Junot had been allowed to escape with the treasures taken from Portugal. When General Alava "hit" the Louvre in 1815, just after Blücher had gone in with his shopping list, he too was able to account for 287 paintings and 800 objects. Yet private collections of Marshals like Soult remained untouched.

So turning once more to ordinary looting, which is of course different from living off the land, which can mean paying for what you take, wether with cash or reciepts. This occured in highly disciplined armies, despite the threat of death and flogging. Mercer is instructive. Note he says the people feared to report the Prussians, but hearing of the Duke's orders forbidding the plundering of the country, were bold in reporting those British troops who took what had been left by the Prussians, which by all accounts wasn't allot. In Spain Wellington hanged men for looting, murder and rape on several occasions, yet was at points unable to prevent it or punish it adequately when undertaken on a large scale such as the sacks that followed most of his major sieges and the looting of the French baggage train at Vitoria.

So perhaps we should not be so concerned with which army plundered, for they all did it, but which army had in place strictures agaisnt the crime. Which was nonetheless an evil of war. Who also enforced said strictures, not least which armies allowed local people to obtain redress?

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Re: Napoleon on Looting and Pillaging

Postby Senarmont198 » September 29th, 2016, 10:21 pm

The reported exchange between Vandamme and the Tsar is most probably apocryphal. Vandamme mentions in his own account of the 'incident' that he was 'treated with great courtesy.'
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