Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Marshals and Generals

French Marshal

Michel Ney, 1st Duc d’Elchingen, 1st Prince de la Moskowa

Born: 1769 Saarlouis, Then France, now in Germany

Died: 1815 Paris, France

RANK: Marshal of France

Ney was born on 10th January 1769 in Saarlouis, France. He was the second son of Pierre Ney, a master barrel cooper and a veteran of the Seven Years’ War. His mothers name was Margarethe Grewelinger.
Ney’s hometown was then a French speaking community in a predominantly German speaking portion of Lorraine and so Ney became bilingual, in both French and German.
Ney was educated at the College des Augustins, where after he became a notary in Saarlouis and then overseer of mines and forges.
Life as a civil servant did not suit Ney and in 1787 he enlisted in the Colonel-General Hussar Regiment. In the French Revolutionary Wars, he served in the Army of the North from 1792-94 and rapidly rose through the non-commissioned ranks. Ney saw action at Cannonade of Valmy, Neerwinden and many more.
In October of 1792, Ney was commissioned and transferred to the Sambre-et-Meuse in June 1794. Wounded at the Siege of Mainz, Ney was promoted to General of Brigade in August of 1796 and commanded cavalry on the German fronts.
During the battle of Neuwied on 17th April 1997, Ney led a cavalry charge against some Austrian lancers trying to seize some French Cannons. The lancers were beaten off, but Ney’s cavalry were then counter-attacked by heavy cavalry.
During the hand-to-hand combat, Ney was thrown from his horse and was taken prisoner of war. On 8th May he was exchanged for an Austrian general.
In March 1799, following the capture of Mannheim, Ney was promoted to general de division. Ney commanded cavalry in the armies of Switzerland and the Danube later that year and at Winterhur, Ney was wounded twice. Once in the thigh and in one of his wrist’s. Once he had recovered he fought at Hohenlinden under General Moreau in December of 1800. From September onwards, Ney commanded French troops in Switzerland and performed diplomatic duties. During that time Ney married Aglae Louise Auguie in Grignon, France on 5th August 1802. They had four sons together which the first being born on 8th May 1803 named Joseph Napoleon, 2nd Prince de La Moskowa.

On 19th May 1804, Ney received his Marshal’s baton and in the 1805 campaign Ney took command of VI Corps of La Grande Armee, and was praised for his conduct at Elchingen. In November that year, Ney invaded the Tyrol, capturing Innsbruck from Archduke John.
In the 1806 campaign, Ney fought at Jena and then later in the campaign, he successfully besieged Magdeburg. In the following year, Ney arrived with reinforcements in time to save Napoleon from defeat at Eylau, although the battle still ended in a draw. He then fought at Guttstadt and Friedland.
On 6th June 1808, Ney was made Duke of Elchingen. In August of the year, Ney was sent to Spain in command of the VI Corps, and won many minor actions.
In Banos 1809, Ney routed an Anglo-Portuguese Army under Sir Robert Wilson and in 1810 Ney joined Marshal Massena in the invasion of Portugal, where he took Ciudad Rodrigo from the Spanish and then Almeida from a joint British and Portuguese force. He quickly defeated the British on the River Coa and fought at Bucaco. During the retreat from Torres Vedras, Ney worsted Wellington in a series of rearguard actions (Pombal, Redinha, Casal Novo, Foz d’ Aronce), but was eventually removed from command for insubordination.
In 1812, Ney was given command of the III Corps for the invasion of Russia. At Smolensk, he was wounded in the neck, but recovered enough to fight in the central sector at Borodino. During the long retreat from Moscow, Ney commanded the rearguard. After being cut off from the main army, Ney managed to rejoin Napoleon and to his delight and for this action Ney was given the nickname “the bravest of the brave”.
Ney saw action at Beresina and helped to hold the vital bridge at Kovno, where the story goes that he was the very last man to cross the bridge and to leave Russia.

On 25th March 1813, Ney was given the title of Prince of the Moswowa. During the campaign of 1813, Ney fought at Weissenfels and was wounded at Lutzen. He commanded the left wing at Bautzen. Ney later fought at Dennewitz and Leipzig and was once again wounded.
In the 1814 campaign in France, Ney fought many battles and commanded various units. At Fontainebleau Ney became the spokesman for the Marshals revolt on 4th April 1814, demanding that Napoleon abdicate. Ney informed Napoleon that the army would not march on Paris, Napoleon responded with “the army will obey me!” to which Ney said, “the army will obey it’s chiefs”.

When Napoleon returned to France in 1815, Louis XVIII sent Ney to stop Napoleon from entering Paris. To show his loyalty to the King, Ney said that he would bring Napoleon back in an iron cage. On Hearing this, Napoleon sent him a letter telling him that he would receive him as after the Battle of the Moskowa. Despite Ney’s promise to the King, Ney joined Napoleon at Auxerre on the 18th March 1815.
On the 15th June Napoleon made Ney the commander of the left wing of the Army of the North. On the 16th Napoleon split his forces’ into two wings to fight two separate battles. Ney was to attack Wellington at Quatre Bras, while Napoleon attacked the Prussians at Ligny. Although Ney was criticized for not capturing Quatre Bras early in the day, at Ligny Napoleon ordered General d’ Erlon to move his corps to the Prussians’ rear in order to cut off their lines of retreat. D’Erlon began to move in position, but suddenly stopped and began moving away, much to the surprise and horror to Napoleon. The reason for the change in movement is that Ney had ordered d’Erlon to come to his aid at Quatre Bras. Without d’Erlon’s corps blocking the Prussians’ line of retreat, the French failed to have a complete victory at Ligny which aloud the Prussians to retreat. To be fair, Ney was d’Erlon’s direct superior and Napoleon never informed Ney of his plans.
At Waterloo Ney was again in command of the left wing of the army. At about 3.30 pm that day, Ney ordered a mass cavalry attack against the Anglo-Dutch line. Ney’s cavalry overran the enemy cannons but found the infantry had formed square for which the cavalry could not penetrate. Ney, without infantry or artillery support, time after time attacked the squares. The action earned him criticism, and some say that it led to Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. There is still debate as to the responsibility for the cavalry charge and why it was unsupported. Ney’s cavalry also failed to spike Wellington’s cannons while they were under French control. (during a cavalry attack the crews of the cannons would retreat into the infantry squares for protection and when the cavalry was a safe distance apart, they would re-manned their cannons.
If Ney’s cavalry had spiked the cannons, the large loss of guns would of weaken Wellingtons army and could of caused him to withdraw his forces from battle.
Ney was seen during one of these charges beating his word against the side of a British cannon in furious frustration. During the battle he had five horses killed under him. There has been a theory to Ney’s action that day and that is for post-traumatic stress syndrome caused by his experiences in the 1812 Russian campaign.

When Napoleon was defeated and exiled for the second time in the summer of 1815, Ney was arrested on 3rd August and tried for treason by the chambers of peers on 4th December 1815. On the 6th December he was condemned, and executed by firing squad in Paris near Luxembourg Gardens on 7th December 1815. This event deeply divided the French Public. Ney refused to wear a blindfold and was allowed the right to give the order to fire, reportedly saying:
“Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last order to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her soldiers, FIRE!”

Ney’s execution was to set an example to Napoleon’s other Marshals and generals, many of whom were eventually exonerated by the Bourbon monarchy. Ney is buried in Paris at Pere Lachaise Cemetery.

After his execution, stories say that Ney had managed to escape to the United States. With the help of Masonic ties including the Duke of Wellington they helped him fake his execution and flee abroad. According to this account, the soldiers in the firing party put blood packets over his heart and then shot blanks at the Marshal. He was then smuggles to the United States and continued his life as a school teacher.
It is then said that a man called Peter Stuart Ney arrived in the States in 1816 and later taught in schools in North and South Carolina. He died in 1846 reportedly after uttering his final words, “Bessieres is dead; the Old Guard is dead; now please let me die.” On his grave stone in Cleveland, North Carolina, you will find the words…”soldier of the French Revolutionary under Napoleon Bonaparte.”

Nay was one of the original 18 Marshals of France created by Napoleon. He was known as “red face” or “ruddy” by his men and nicknamed “The bravest of the brave” by Napoleon.