A Sardinian Officer at Waterloo.

One might call this man a Franco Italian, in that he was born in what is now part of France, but he owed his allegiance to the old Kings of Piedmont & Sardinia, and most British commenters called him a Sardinian because of this. Here is the story that I happened to stumble across of another little known Waterloo Man.

Paolo Francesco de Sales was a man that had been in the struggle against France from the beginning. Born in Annecy Piedmont on November 17, 1778, then Piedmont, Savoy and a large chunk of North Western Italy were territories of the King of Sardinia, a crown worn since 1720, by the Duke’s of Savoy. His family was of the wealthy nobility, his father Claudio de Sales and his wife Louisa. Claudio was the Count of Brense (Bresse?) and a Colonel of the King’s infantry, therefore one might expect his son to be a soldier. When Paolo was 10 he was accepted to the Court of Vittorio Amadeus III at Turin, as a pageboy to Amadeus’ son and heir the Prince of Piedmont Carlo Emmanuelle.
As yet the still old world depended on patronage and connections, and a good way for the well bred to garner them was to put their children into a Monarch’s service early, five years later he had been given a lieutenancy. In 1792 Amadeus joined the First Coalition against the regicidal Republic of France. Eager to prove himself Paolo requested leave to join the army and fight in the coming campaigns, but was denied. It may have been lucky for him that this was so, many young men like him never returned from the battlefield. In April 1796 alone the Astro-Sardinian Army was beaten 3, the 3rd time was at Mondovì were a lone Sardinian army under the Austrian General Marchi numbering 13,000 men was defeated with a loss of 1,600 casualties. These defeats caused the Kingdom to crumble, and Amadeus was forced out of the 1st Coalition, ceded 3 fortresses and Nice and Savoy to the French, he died of apoplexy in 1796.

Paolo Francisco Count De Sales.
Paolo Francisco Count De Sales.

Exile, Retirement & Return.
Though under the terms of the Treaty of Paris, Carlo Emanuele IV, now King of Sardinia, was allowed to retain Piedmont, in 1798 the French under Joubert occupied Turin and forced Carlo Emanuel to abdicate, surrendering all his mainland territory and go into exile on Sardinia. Between 1799 and 1802 an attempt was made to regain Piedmont but Napoleon’s victory at Marengo crushed their hopes and after the death of the King’s wife in 1802 Carlo abdicated and Vittorio Emmanuelle I took the throne.
After the country was annexed in 1798 the army had been absorbed into that of France. All officers that had been active were given the chance to join the army of the Republic, or go into retirement or exile. Paolo, who had lately been appointed one of the Carlo’s private secretaries, had no love for republican ideals, and chose to leave the country rather than wear the tricolour.
Initially he travelled to Geneva with his mother, but ultimately they returned to Piedmont, probably after the abdication of Carlo, putting his return sometime around or after 1802-3, and lived off the shreds of their once large fortune. Paolo determined to get the much reduced, and damaged estates back in their feet, and devoted himself to agriculture and to all intents and purposes became a sort of nobleman farmer.

When the allied armies beset France in 1813-14, the remnants of the old Sardinian army, and those young men that had fled the Napoleonic regime, were gathered to reconstitute the officer corps. Paolo was a Captain by the time Vittorio Emanuele I arrived back in Turin in 1814. His loyalty and, previous record marked him out as a man to trust with important affairs. He was soon chosen to assist in the reorganisation of the army, and was promoted to Major attached to the General Staff. In the brief period before the last descent into war, the the crown of Sardinia worked to restore its kingdom, supporting the reduction of French borders to their Pre 1792 lines and Vittorio decided to add the Duchy of Genoa to his territories. Emissaries were sent out to enlist the Tsar’s help, the most powerful of the allied leaders, and Paolo was one of them, however Napoleon’s escape interrupted the business of rebuilding the kingdom.

King Carlo Emanuele IV, former Prince of Piedmont.
King Carlo Emanuele IV, former Prince of Piedmont.

Napoleon’s escape prompted Vittorio Emanuele to promise 15,000 men of his new army to help defeat the emperor, whose reappearance portended disaster for all he had achieved so far. Also as per the treaty agreements representatives were sent out to the major powers, and Paolo Count de Sales was duly sent to Brussels in May 1815 to liaise with both the allied army under Wellington and the exiled royalist court at Ghent. Paolo wasn’t content to just play the diplomat however he wanted to serve as a soldier, and though he need not have put himself UN danger during the actions of late June, he rode with Wellington’s staff. A role that required more and more courage and responsibility as the campaign wore on.
On the 18th of June the Duke’s attendants drew more and more fire as they day progressed, men were falling fast by the time the last attack broke upon the allied line. Colonel Gordon had already been mortally wounded steadying the Brunswick Squares in the centre. Sir Fitzroy Somerset had his arm shattered by a shot from La Haie Sainte, now in French hands, the Prince of Orange had fallen with a bullet in the left shoulder leading his Nassau battalions in a counter attack against the advancing Old Guard and as the Guard was rolled back the Earl of Uxbridge were carried to the rear, with a shattered leg, moments after cautioning the Duke of Wellington to take care for his safety.
Yet despite riding with the staff through the entire action, the brave Count lost not a horse, nor suffered the merest scratch and during the last half hour after the Imperial Guard was repulsed he was Wellington’s sole attendant. At the climax of the battle, as the Guard recoiled from the summit of the ridge, pursued by Chaussée’s Dutch brigade and Maitland’s Guards, Adam’s brigade came sweeping across the field from the right, maintaining the advantage as the others prematurely recoiled. Officers sent to request orders from the Duke were surprised to encounter a compact looking man, resplendent in a fine but stained white royalist uniform and his aristocratic face blackened by powder, replying to their questions in excellent French. General Adams’ Brigade Major, Hunter Blair was sent out to observe whether any of the enemy were still standing on his right flank as they advanced. As he went he met the Duke quickly riding past him down the ridge close on the heels of the brigade trailed by a single rider. He had just left Maitland’s Guards and was rushing once more to the scene of the action as Adams’ and Halkett’s brigades swept down and across the valley.
Blair stopped De Sales and asked whether it was safe to continue their audacious advance. Paolo looked at him with that mystified air of incomprehension all foreign tourists wear after being bombarded by the sounds of an alien tongue. He stopped Blair mid sentence and spoke in French “Monsieur, je ne parlais pas seul mote d’Anglais” taken aback an instant, Blair quickly collected himself and repeated his question in the international European tongue of the day to which De Sales confidently replied that the Duke himself had seen that there was nothing to fear. Blair returned report to his brigade, thinking he had met one of Louis XVIII’s courtiers, and only found out later that he was addressing an officer of the King of Sardinia.
At foot of the opposite ridge, just below La Belle Alliance were the road rose out of the shallow valley that separated the armies, Adam’s brigade suddenly came under enfilading artillery fire from the left flank, where the Prussians were supposed to be, the convergence of the two armies caused several incidents between them. After a few moments confusion, it was realised that a Prussian battery, firing into the fleeing French army with canister, was starting to accidentally hit them as they crossed into its line of fire. In the dense smoke the Prussian gunners, newly unlimbered and pounding away at the mob of fugitives after passing through the blackened corpse strewn wreckage of Plancenoit, could only discern dark masses moving south towards Rossome, at that range uniforms meant nothing, and reliable information being passed back by Skirmishers and advance troops was vital to fire coordination.
Wellington turned to find an ADC but those that were still standing were already riding around the field with other messages, he managed to the get Dutch Chief of Staff to send a messenger to Von Zieten’s corps, and summoning De Sales in his brusque French, he sent him off to inform the allies that they needed to redirect their fire. Paolo duly rode across the recently abandoned French position, the muddy ground strewn with casualties, passing abandoned guns, limbers and caissons, meanwhile musketry and cannon still roared towards Rossome. After going 700 yards he reached the lead elements of Von Bülow’s IV Corps, now moving up after the shattered French right flank.
Paolo managed to find Bülow, who was unaware of the problem, and quickly sent orders to the oblivious artillery commander to re-lay his pieces.
It was for duties like this that he obtained the Knight’s cross of the order of St. Louis from Louis XVIII and from his own sovereign, the Knight’s cross of the military order of Savoy and Mauritius and in 1815 was promoted to the rank of Major in the cavalry.

King Vittorio Emanuele I, whose restoration in 1814 marked a turning point in Paolo's fortunes,
King Vittorio Emanuele I, whose restoration in 1814 marked a turning point in Paolo’s fortunes,

With the end of Napoleonic adventure he remained with the army on its advance to Paris and was appointed as Secretary of the Embassy there. Like many soldiers left floating on the newly calmed sea of peace, from Wellington to Pozzo Di Borgo (Russian liaison), he continued his service diplomat, due to his prior experience he represented his king in Russian when Alexander I died reacquainting himself with the Duke, and staying on in St Petersburg three years before returning home due to ill health. Illness would plague him for the rest of his life, in 1836 he resigned after 22 years of diplomatic service during which time he had become much favoured by the royal family and been made a General. Even then he was deemed too loyal and efficient an man to be lost to the country and was made Minister of State.
In April 1840 a fire destroyed the old town of Sallanches, and King Carlo Alberto made him responsible for rebuilding it, Paolo worked tirelessly, he supervised employment, controlled building work, demolitions and removal of debris, set plans for rebuilding the city and earned the gratitude of the people and the sovereign.
In 1842 in recognition of his services to the nation Carlo Alberto invested him with the collar of the order of the Santissima Annunziata. In 1848 due to ill health he was finally allowed to retire and stepped down as Minister of State. A seemingly sober and dutiful statesman and an enthusiastic soldier and organiser. As the Kings of Sardinia eventually became Kings of Italy, Paolo is not only remembered as one of the founders of the Sardinian army, but by extension that of Italy as well. He died in August 28, 1850 at his home in Thorens.

Sul Tutto. N.28 – Anno XVII – Dicembre 2011 – Pubblicazione riservata ai soli Soci.
History of Lord Seaton’s Regiment at the Battle of Waterloo. William Leeke
History of the War in France and Belgium in 1815. William Siborne.
The Campaign of 1815. A study. http://www.waterloo-campaign.nl/bestanden/files/june18/defeat.2.pdf
Waterloo Letters, Gareth Glover.
The Lie at the Heart of Waterloo, Britain’s Hidden Last Half Hour, Nigel Sale.

With thanks to Paolo Nurra.

See you again for another Adventure in Historyland.


5 Replies to “A Sardinian Officer at Waterloo.”

  1. Terrific research and a great post. Helpful! I especially needed to hear that Victor Emmanuel promised to raise 15000 troops for the allies. I notice you didn’t say he actually did so. I’ve never found a Piedmontese regiment on any of the lists under Wellington. I have, however, seen a Piedmontese regiment on the French side. Any thoughts on that?

    1. Very glad you liked it! No Sardinian Piedmontese regiment served under Wellington in 1815. However the newly constituted Sardinian army did take the field under the umbrella of the Austrian effort on the Italian frontier. (The small Italian States had done so since the War of the First Coalition). The Army of Vittorio Emmanuelle therefore was part of the Army of Upper Italy commanded by Generl Frimont, all in all some 50,000 Austro Sardinians, which like the Austrian army of Naples (23,000) backed up the main Austrian effort directed by Prince Schwartzenberg agaisnt Paris.
      In June 1815 they faced off against Marshal Suchet, driving the French from the passes of Jura, capturing Lyons and forcing them behind the line of the Loire before the hostilities ceased in July.


  2. Thanks for another excellent post, Josh ! I always greatly enjoy your research and posts.

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