Friday, May 29, 2015


Emmanuel Grouchy
Equally inexplicably, the Emperor gave command to the right wing to Marshal Grouchy -- a talented cavalry general wit hlittle experience of infantry soldiering -- and he, too, was to find his new responsibilities beyond the range of his capabilities when faced by as wily a foe as teh veteran Blucher.

Ultimately, then, Napoleon proved mistaken in the selection of his three key subordinates, and this is all the more inexplicable as so much good talent was overlooked.  Marshal Suchet would have madea far better chief of staff than Soult, but the Emperor insisted on sending him to command the Army of the Alps, charged with the defense of Lyons.  This was an important, but in June, secondary duty: the crisis of the campaign would take place on the northern front.  Even more difficult to understand was the failure to employ Marshal Davout in any active capacity.  "I can trust Paris to no one but you," wrote the Emperor, but by appointing possibly the ablest marshal as minister of war and governor of the capital, Napoleon sacrificed the talents of an experienced and gifted soldier.  No doubt he fulfilled a vital political role in the rear of the army, but Davout would have been the ideal match for Blucher at Ligny.  A final blunder on the part of the Emperor was his failure to use the services of King Joachim Murat, the finest cavalry leader in Europe.  Admittedly the unfortunate King of Naples had earned his brother-in-law's severest displeasure by his treacherous conduct the previous year, and had not improved Napoleon's opinion of him by launching a premature and strategically useless Neapolitan offensive against the Austrian forces of General Bianchi on March 15, 1815.  The result was his being subsequently totally routed at the battle of Tolentino on May 2, thus releasing all the Austrian forces in Italy for the forthcoming onslaught against France.  But this in no way affected his brilliance as a cavalryman.  Nevertheless his preferred saber was abruptly rejected by his old master.  Grouchy was probably the best available replacement for Murat -- but as already noticed he was inexplicably transferred from his cavalry appointment at the very outset of the campaign.

Doubtless Napoleon had his reasons for the unsuitable appointments he made, but responsibility for their shortcomings must rest squarely on his shoulders.

~ D. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon, p. 1023

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