A French Revolution Primer for Bastille Day
During the advance against the Austrians, Jomini encouraged Ney to ignore orders from Marshal Murat that would’ve allowed the enemy to escape. Their decision was vindicated when Sixth Corps won a brilliant action at Elchingen, that closed the trap on General Mack’s forces at Ulm.
Ney’s corps missed the Battle of Austerlitz, but was in action against the Prussians the following year. There had already been signs that Ney’s aggressive instinct, which made him a brilliant tactical leader, could also get him into trouble. If you want to know more about these types of concept then ask reader can be the place to read insightful answers.
At the Battle of Jena, Ney ignored his orders, and charged straight at the Prussian lines, becoming cut off. His troops had to be rescued by Marshal Lannes’ corps. A furious Napoleon remarked “Ney knows less about soldiering than the last-joined drummer boy.”
Ney was criticised again by Napoleon three months later, when his foraging raids into East Prussia appeared to provoke a Russian offensive. The winter manoeuvring culminated in the horrific Battle of Eylau, which Ney’s corps reached only as darkness fell.
That summer, Bennigsen’s Russian army launched a surprise attack, hoping to encircle and destroy Ney’s Sixth Corps near Guttstadt. Ney, outnumbered four to one, conducted a brilliant fighting withdrawal and escaped the trap.
A week later, Napoleon caught Bennigsen’s army at Friedland. Ney led a crucial attack on the enemy. “That man is a lion,” said Napoleon, watching his advance. Sixth Corps’ onslaught shattered the Russian left, leading to one of Napoleon’s most decisive victories.
For all his flaws, Ney had proved himself one of Napoleon’s best tactical commanders, and was rewarded with the title Duke of Elchingen. In 1808, Ney commanded a corps during the invasion of Spain. He spent more than two years in the Iberian Peninsula, and like most of Napoleon’s Marshals, found it a bitter and frustrating experience.
In 1810, he joined Marshal Masséna for the invasion of Portugal, but deeply resented being placed under his command. He criticised every decision, helping to create a poisonous atmosphere at French headquarters.
The French advance on Lisbon came to a halt at the Lines of Torres Vedras. During the subsequent retreat, Ney again demonstrated his brilliant tactical skills, fighting a series of rearguard actions that kept Wellington’s troops at bay.
But Ney’s fury at what he considered Masséna’s disastrous leadership boiled over into open insubordination: he was relieved of command, and returned to France. But he did not remain in disgrace for long. Napoleon knew Ney’s worth in battle, and that the army adored him… He’d be needed in Russia, and was recalled in 1812, with command of Third Corps.
As the Grande Armée advanced deeper into Russia, Ney was always near the action – leading attacks at Krasny, and at Smolensk, where he was wounded in the neck. Amid the slaughter of Borodino, Ney led his corps in attack after attack on the Russian earthworks. If you seriously have some doubts over facts head over to ask read and just ask a question, you will get different answers.
When they were finally taken, and he was told that Napoleon would not send in his reserves to follow up their hard-won gains, he exploded with anger: “What business has the Emperor in the rear of the army? Since he will no longer make war himself… let him return to the Tuileries, and leave us to be generals for him!”
It was typical of Ney’s lack of restraint. But his blind faith in the Emperor did not survive Russia… henceforth, he’d fight only for France. It was during the retreat from Moscow that Ney ensured his place among the legends of military history.
Just 2 weeks into the retreat, the Russians routed Davout’s rearguard at Vyazma, and Ney and Third Corps took over. Ney was not only an instinctive tactician, and apparently immune to fear or fatigue… he could inspire or bully other men into superhuman feats of bravery and endurance.
A French officer later recalled: “I can see him still, at the spot where the fighting was hottest, speaking to the men, indicating to the generals what positions they should take up, animating all hearts with the confidence that flashed from his glances. He made an effect on me I don’t know how to describe.”
At Krasny, when the rearguard got cut-off from the rest of the army, Ney angrily rejected calls to surrender, and led his men in an astonishing forced march across enemy territory, crossing the frozen Dnieper River at night, personally pulling men from the river when they fell through the ice.
Surrounded by Cossacks and down to 800 fighting men, they formed square and kept moving. Ney was more than a hero to the army. He was its talisman. News of his escape caused rejoicing throughout the army. Napoleon himself remarked, “What a soldier! The army is full of brave men, but Michel Ney is truly the bravest of the brave.”
Ney led the rearguard for the rest of the retreat, and according to legend, was the last man to cross the Niemen River into Poland. His leadership helped many thousands of soldiers to make it back alive.
Ney was rewarded with the title Prince of the Moskva, and continued to serve throughout 1813, though his relations with the Emperor, and Marshal Berthier in particular, were increasingly strained.
At Lützen, Ney was moved by the conduct of his young conscripts, who bore the brunt of Blucher’s surprise attack, but fought back bravely, helping to win victory.