Category Archives: Napoleonic War Poetry


Robert Mack: “The Battle of Marengo, by Bonaparte”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

Had Napoleon lost the battle of Marengo, it is safe to say he never would have worn the crown of France.  A return to Paris, defeated in Italy, meant for him a forced retirement from the head of National affairs and the substitution of Carnot, or some other sturdy republican in his place.  With such a change, at that time, Waterloo, in all human probability would never have been fought, and “Napoleon at St. Helena” would never have become history.

The escape was a narrow one.  In the space of half an hour, what appeared to be a crushing defeat was turned into a glorious victory.  To Desaix’s opportune arrival upon the field and to Kellerman’s masterly cavalry charge, a great share of the glory of that day is due.  The victory won was decisive and the campaign ended, with the close of the battle.  Within two months after leaving Paris, Napoleon returned – again the savior of France.

The campaign of 1800 will ever be recorded as one of the most brilliant achievements in history, and the one which bore the mightiest results to the man who planned and carried it out to a successful issue.

marengo

Battaile de Marengo

by Louis Francois Lejeune

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The Battle of Marengo

By Napoleon

 

From flattering crowds, and laurel crowns,

To muse in thought profound,

An evening’s hour I sometimes seize,

And sigh beneath the Western breeze,

Which o’er these torn demolish’d trees,

Floats awfully around.

My friend, how mournful are these plains;

How deep the solemn silence reigns,

Where nature lately smil’d!

Yonder where tulips blooming stood,

And roses blush’d around;

Gaunt mastiffs gorge, on lapper’d blood,

All around for miles, tremendous ruin’s spread!

By whom? You’ll cry:

Heaven, I reply.

Melas and I.

Were but the instruments, by whom whole nations bled!

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Friend L, to you, on trembling wing,

The muse in shudd’ring tones shall sing,

Thalia’s self shall tell;

Shall paint that bloody scene, that dreadful sight,

Which stopp’d the songs in heaven, and turn’d the day to night,

And made a pause in hell!

Seraphs, from heaven’s high battlements,

Look’d down, and dropp’d a tear.

Wrap’d round with smoke, form’d gloom, the sun

Gleam’d with a blacken’d red!

While devils, thinking time was done,

That God, to finish had begun,

And the last hour at last was come,

Darted from earth, swift to their home,

And hid in hell for fear!

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When from the slumbers of the night,

At morning light I rose,

Seem’d kindling to a flame;

Impell’d by heaven, my horse I sprung,

And bounded to the plain.

Then what a sight my wondering eyes beheld!

Austria’s lesions tow’ring o’er the field!

Compact and strong,

The dreadful throng,

Mov’d firmly on;

As if to force the Gaulic lines, or storm the gates of Death!

If that’s your mind, exclaim’d my soul,

Hungary’s passing bell may toll,

For here in blood your chiefs shall roll,

And pant away their breath.

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Along Bormida’s broken hills,

Between the river and the north,

To keep our foes from marching forth,

Our army held its posts;

The spacious plain, that lay between

Those hills and deep Bormida’s stream,

Roar’d with the Austrian hosts.

One noble pass, nature had here supplied;

A smooth defile some hundred paces wide.

At all these posts our lines were thin,

For brave Desaix, with half the men,

Lay in reserve behind.

But seeing now, the hour was come,

When all was lost and all was won,

I cried, “Let swiftest couriers run,

And all our powers be joined.”

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Meantime, the Austrian phalanx form’d

In terrible array;

Proud Melas, in refulgent arms,

Rides through his host, their courage warms,

And cries “Behold the day:

Behold the day, by Heaven design’d,

To crush th’ oppressors of mankind!

Be men this day, and down the tyrant’s hurl’d.

This day, the Corsican comes down;

This day we ransom Capet’s Crown,

And peace restore unto a bleeding world!”

This said, to eighty thousand men,

The bloody word was given;

Whose dread reply embowell’d air,

Shook earth, and enter’d heaven!

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In haste, through Gallia’s lines I rode,

Along the dreadful van!

With military grandeur swell’d,

I scarcely felt as man!

To ardent warriors, loud I cried:

“Ye sons of France, ye heroes tried

Beneath the burning sun,

Who thrice have thunder’d down the Alps,

And Italy o’errun:

Ye shakers of Vienna’s wall!

To you, your former glory calls:

I’m too immense for faith, without renewed proof.

In thunder, then, convince the world,

Your standard over conquer’d Nile unfurl’d,

That mighty Charles and Wurmser overthrown,

Those proud defenders of a tyrant’s throne,

And Joseph hiring carts, to move his home,

Were but the opening wonders of your youth.”

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On this, the horrid scene began,

And the dread tempest fell:

Twas then, Marengo’s thunders roar’d,

Down to the gates of hell!

For three long hours, the flame, the roar,

The dying screams, the streams of gore,

Waited on death, triumphing o’er

The undecided field.

At length o’er Austria’s Eagles victory hung,

My unsupported legions were o’ercome –

And all the chance, seem’d now from France,

Either to die, or yield.

This helpless situation, flow’d

From my mistake alone;

For when I bid the trumpets sound,

I thought Desaix was  near;

When O, alas! Almost too late I found,

His legions lay full three leagues in the rear!

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Of all the dreadful hours I’ve seen,

Pregnant with nations’ fates,

The muse yet never witness’d one,

Like that she now relates?

On either hand, our wings were turn’d;

The centre only, stood;

Guarding the dread defile, which roll’d

With rivulets of blood!

Upon the right, a strange tremendous sound

Was heard, like thousands in despair:

Each, in a panic scream.

Not quite, but half, by thund’ring cannons drown’d,

It died away, along Bormida’s stream,

Like the dire wailings of the unhappy dead,

A sinking down to worlds unknown,

With terror, and with dread!

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Had Melas one decisive charge

Made through the hollow way,

Scarce heaven itself, could have retriev’d

The fortunes of the day.

But thinking all our powers were join’d,

Restrained by heaven or fear;

He sent his forces three miles round,

To take us in the rear.

Not knowing, all that stopp’d his progress then

Was barely just six thousand weary men!

On whom for fear, lest we should charge,

He made his cannon roar—

Vomiting death amongst our ranks,

Till down, around their gasping dead;

Flaoted the Gaulic gore!

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‘Twas in this dreadful hour, I rose

Above my former fame;

From friends, obtesting heaven, I would retire;

I broke, and brav’d the whole Austrian fire,

Across the bleeding plain.

From rank to rank, on every side I flew,

Serenely calm; “My friends,” I cried,

“Desaix is just in view.”

The bosom of the earth was tore

Beneath my courser’s feet –

Whole platoons dropp’d, amidst their gore –

The shiver’d trees, in fragments fell around,

And join’d the cumbrous carnage of the ground:

While horrid devastation rag’d  along,

And ruin seem’d complete!

At length like showers, to sun-burst flowers,

The great deliverers came;

Raging they broke, through fire and smoke,

And hillocks of the slain!

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Transported at the long wished aid,

My daring plans were in a moment laid.

The troops, I in a solid column form’d;

Resolv’d to send, down to the world beneath,

Thousands, to tell the Austrian lines were storm’d,

Or Bonaparte had resign’d his breath!

But one half hour, these grand arrangements took;

During which time, disgorging flame,

Red globes, and death, across the plain,

One hundred cannons, roar’d amain;

Till heaven and earth resounding run –

With the dire clamour shook!

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At length, prepar’d, the bleeding front,

To right and left I wheel’d;

And bade the column, form’d behind,

Rush thund’ring to the field.

The horrid pas de charge, at once was given,

Its tones re-murmur’d from the vault of heaven;

While like tremendous rolling flames,

By raging tempests driven,

The column in a torrent pour’d

On the Austrian host;

O’er bellowing cannons, and the dead;

O’er those that fought, and those that fled;

Like Aetna’s burning lava red,

Roaring, resistless, down it spread;

With bayonets plunge, down to Pluto’s dreary coasts

Thousands , who are now wandering there,

Pale, melancholy ghosts!

Thus ended this tremendous day

Of terrible renown;

‘T was thus, I snatch’d bright victorious prize,

Perhaps, the Imperial Crown,

But while we triumph, tears should pour,

For brave Desaix is gone:

As down upon the foes he bore,

Leading the van, thund’ring before,

Fate flew, and down amidst the gore,

He fell without a groan!

Hem’d round with glory, lo! He dies;

And worlds must do the same!

Even then, o’er nature’s smoking wreck,

Deathless, shall live the grandeur of his name,

Borne on Marengo’s dreadful sound

To everlasting fame.

LargeDeathofDesaixatMarengobyBroc.

Death of General Desaix

Jean Broc

Anna Letitia Barbauld: “Corsica”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

CORSICA

The island of Corsica is situated in the Mediterranean sea, about one hundred miles from the coast of France, and almost directly south of Genoa and west of Rome. The village of Ajaccio is on the western coast of the island, and it was there, on the fifteenth day of August, 1769, that Napoleon Bonaparte, the son of Charles Bonaparte and Letitia Ramolino, was born.

Of thirteen children born to these parents, eight survived, of whom, as matter of age. Napoleon was second ; but who, in reality, from early manhood was the recognized head of the family. Charles Bonaparte died when Napoleon was sixteen years old, and it was to his mother that the future Emperor was indebted for that strength of character and brilliancy of intellect which enabled him, alone and unaided, within the short space of less than twenty years, to transform himself from a poor unknown Corsican sub-lieutenant into the greatest character of ancient or modern history. Perhaps some of the qualities which went to make up this most remarkable man may be attributed to his birthplace, rugged Corsica, so well pictured in the following lines:

CORSICA

How raptured fancy burns, while warm in thought

I trace the pictured landscape ; while I kiss

With pilgrim lips devout the sacred soil

Stained with the blood of heroes. Cyrnus, hail!

Hail to thy rocky, deep indented shores,

And pointed cliffs, which hear the chafing deep

Incessant foaming round thy shaggy sides.

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Hail to thy winding bays, thy sheltering ports,

And ample harbours, which inviting stretch

Their hospitable arms to every sail:

Thy numerous streams, that bursting from the cliffs

Down the steep channelled rock impetuous pour

With grateful murmur : on the fearful edge

Of the rude precipice, thy hamlets brown

And straw-roofed cots, which from the level vale

Scarce seen, amongst the craggy hanging cliffs

Seem like an eagle’s nest aerial built.

 .

Thy swelling mountains, brown with solemn shade

Of various trees, that wave their giant arms

O’er the rough sons of freedom ; lofty pines,

And hardy fir, and ilex ever green,

And spreading chestnut, with each humbler plant.

And shrub of fragrant leaf, that clothes their sides.

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With living verdure; whence the clustering bee

Extracts her golden dews : the shining box

And sweet-leaved myrtle, aromatic thyme,

The prickly juniper, and the green leaf

Which feeds the spinning worm ; while glowing bright

Beneath the various foliage, wildly spreads

The arbutus, and rears his scarlet fruit

Luxuriant, mantling o’er the craggy steeps ;

And thy own native laurel crowns the scene.

 .

Hail to thy savage forests, awful, deep ;

Thy tangled thickets, and thy crowded woods,

The haunt of herds untamed ; which sullen bound

From rock to rock with fierce, unsocial air,

And wilder gaze, as conscious of the power

That loves to reign amid the lonely scenes

Of unequalled nature ; precipices huge.

 .

And tumbling torrents ; trackless deserts, plains

Fenced in with guardian rocks, whose quarries teem

With shining steel, that to the cultured fields

And sunny hills which wave with bearded grain,

Defends their homely produce.

Young Napoleon at Le Grotte du Casone

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Liberty,

The mountain goddess, loves to range at large

Amid such scenes, and on the iron soil

Prints her majestic step. For these she scorns

The green enamelled vales, the velvet lap

Of smooth savannahs, where the pillowed head

Of luxury reposes ; balmy gales,

And bowers that breathe of bliss.

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For these, when first

This isle, emerging like a beauteous gem

From the dark bosom of the Tyrrhene main.

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Reared its fair front, she marked it for her own.

And with her spirit warmed. Her genuine sons,

A broken remnant, from the generous stock

Of ancient Greece, from Sparta’s sad remains.

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True to their high descent, preserved unquenched

The sacred fire through many a barbarous age;

Whom nor the iron rod of cruel Carthage,

Nor the dread sceptre of imperial Rome,

Nor bloody Goth, nor grisly Saracen,

Nor the long galling yoke of proud Liguria,

Could crush into subjection.

 .

Still unquelled

They rose superior, bursting from their chains.

And claimed man’s dearest birthright, liberty :

And long, through many a hard unequal strife

Maintained the glorious conflict ; long withstood,

With single arm, the whole collected force

Of haughty Genoa and ambitious Gaul.

Ferdinand Freiligrath: “The Hussar Horse”

Excerpt, “Poems from the German of Ferdinand Freiligrath.” Edited by his daughter. Kate Freiligrath. Leipzig: 1871.

Lord Byron: “The Star of The Legion of Honour”

Excerpt, “A Metrical History of the Life and Times of Napoleon Bonaparte: A Collection of Poems and Songs. Many from Obscure and Anonymous Sources, Selected and Arranged with Introductory Notes and Connective Narrative.” William J. Hillis. 1896.

The only peace agreed to between France and England during the Napoleonic wars was that known as the “Peace of Amiens,” which lasted from March, 1802, until May, 1803. During the existence of that peace the whole world, as it were, rushed to Paris, to catch a glimpse of the man who had wrought such mighty changes in so short a time. The obscure Corsican had become the greatest man of the times. Emperor of France, in all but name, his Court began to take on all the trappings and ceremonies of royalty. Holding the reins of power absolutely within the grasp of his own hands, he tolerated no interference, either by his colleagues or by the people.

In peace, as in war, he rested not, but laboured incessantly for the advancement of his country, whose needs he seemed to comprehend fully. Society was reorganised for the better; judicial reforms were perfected, and the Code pushed forward towards completion; the educational system of the nation was thoroughly revised and improved; the relations between church and state were settled by the signing of the Concordat in the spring of 1802: the finances were brought up to a flourishing condition; magnificent roads and bridges were built; everything, in fact, that could enhance the greatness and glory of France was thought of and carried out by this tireless mind.

It was at this time the Legion of Honour was established.

a-depiction-of-napoleon-making-some-of-the-first-awards-of-the-legion-of-honour-at-a-camp-near-boulogne-on-16-august-1804

Premiere ‘Légion d’honneur’ by Charles Étienne Pierre Motte

A depiction of Napoleon making some of the first awards of the Legion of Honour, at a camp near Boulogne on 16 August 1804

How many a gallant soldier rushed to his death in hopes of winning a place in that legion, and how many a dying hero was made happy by being presented with its badge before he answered the last roll-call. When the “Star” no longer led the Legion on to victory, Byron gave us the following lines.

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Chevalier Légion d’honneur

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