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Napoleons Marshals

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Napoleons Marshals

Postby Lannes09 » November 20th, 2014, 5:49 pm

I am looking to find out about the 'performance' of Napoleons Marshals during the war of the seventh coaliton. The reason i have not posted there was because i feel that i am spamming that section a tad if i post there again and you guys over here can probably answer me better.

I mainly wish to focus around grouchy and Ney but eventually plan on branching out to discover more about others.
My question is how well did Napoleons marshals perform during the war of the seventh coalition? How did they fail and how did they succed?
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Re: Napoleons Marshals

Postby Andrew » November 21st, 2014, 6:27 pm


whilst I applaud your enthusiasm, the question you ask requires an essay on each of the marshals you name!! If I was to sum up each in a short paragraph it would only be my own interpretation without the evidence to back up my conclusions. I have no doubt that this is what is putting others off responding.

In his own accounts of 1815 (try Napoleon's Memoirs - edited by Somerset de Chair, London, 1986) Napoleon lays the blame of the failure of the campaign on Ney and Grouchy. In response, Grouchy spent many years (and published many books!) trying to clear his name and justify his performance. Even after his death his son took up his pen to continue the efforts to clear his name. Ney of course was executed, but his son also went to great lengths in ink to justify his father's performance, roping in many officers to speak in his defence. These many books, articles etc are available, but all in French. I can really only refer you to the books I recommended under your thread in the Seventh Coalition.

The only other marshal that took part in the campaign was Soult who worked as Napoleon's chief of staff. He is certainly not free of blame for some of the shortcomings in the French staff work. Marshal Mortier was allocated command of the Imperial Guard, but was struck down with Sciatica just as the campaign started and took no part in it, selling his horses to Ney. There is some speculation that he 'pulled a sickie', although I have not seen any evidence of this.

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Re: Napoleons Marshals

Postby Josh&Historyland » November 21st, 2014, 10:41 pm

Yes, Lannes. We can only give our own opinions based on what we know. But that much (In condensed form) I am happy to give. Certainly go to the contemporaries where possible to form your own.

For my money. Neither Ney, Grouchy or Soult deserve any more blame than Napoleon. Perhaps Grouchy deserves some criticism for not marching to the guns, but his orders from Napoleon gave him little concrete direction until it was too late to do anything. As I see, though Grouchy should have shown more initiative, only our hindsight allows us to see what he should have done, it the Emperor deserves as much blame as Grouchy in this.

Indeed given I've just laid blame at Napoleon's feet, Soult must bare some of that blame as he was the mouthpiece through which Napoleon communicated his orders. Only Berthier would have had the courage and knowledge of the emperor's way of working to interpret Napoleon's mind and edit his words accordingly. Soult like Grouchy was new to the job (New Marshal, new chief of staff) and was put in the worst possible position, so he did the natural thing. He wrote down exactly what he was told. This caused immeasurable problems for men like Grouchy and Ney.

Much castigated for his wasteful and pointless tactics Ney deserves more credit than he has been given. First at Quatre Bras he gave a creditable performance, though actually I must say a better commander might have taken the crossroads that day, as Wellington only gained numerical superiority at the end of the day and was in a perillous position. At Waterloo after giving the initial attack orders, Napoleon essentially gave over control of the entire battle to Ney and then sat back and watched after D'Erlon's attack failed, then seemingly as an after thought demanded that La Haye Sainte be captured and then at the end he handed over the attack of the Garde to him. Left essentially to his own devices Ney's job as far as he could see it was to maintain pressure along the front and take La Haye Sainte. His biggest criticism is in failing to halt the massed cavalry charges, which some say he instigated but some say was a semi spontaneous action caused by a routine redeployment of the French cavalry. To blame Ney for starting the attacks is fair, maybe, but to blame him for letting them continue! I don't get that, Napoleon had eyes too and he allowed it to continue. Ney fought the battle for Napoleon largly by himself and as Wellington said, it was the "nicest thing you ever saw", he took La Haye Sainte and again Napoleon let him down, apart from the cavalry issue I only praise for Ney's conduct.

For me responsibility for most battles is up to the commander, (Not all but certainly this one), and Napoleon deserves more blame than his Marshal's.

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Re: Napoleons Marshals

Postby Senarmont198 » July 8th, 2015, 11:10 am

What might be useful is getting a copy of Georges Six work on the French general officers of the period. It's in French but it is very useful and probably has more information than you are looking for.

As to their relative ability, that should be able to be determined from their records, which is available in Six.
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Re: Napoleons Marshals, Ney

Postby david hall » December 7th, 2017, 6:24 pm

As I've just discovered this site, I'm most interested in discussions re: Marshall Ney. Common opinion is that he was ordered shot by firing squad after Waterloo.
My interest starts w/ the OTHER proposed end of his life.. Local legend here is that he escaped the firing squad, came to America and eventually spent his last years here, dying in home I live in, November 1846.
I'd be happy to chat w/ others interested in Ney.
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