The grand ceremonies at the Champ de Mai and the Champ de Mars marked the end of Napoleon’s glorious return to power. They also marked Napoleon’s effort to restore the faith of the army in its emperor, to see him arrayed in splendour, an invincible deity like figure that walked amongst them.
Some of the army were not impressed. This glittering classical figure from Olympus was a little too glorious, a little too untouchable than they remembered. Would the 5th and 7th Ligne have given their hearts so freely to this actor? Not as easily as they had to the ordinary looking soldier in the olive grey greatcoat I think.
Not even the newly restored Emperor really believed that parades, robes and oaths alone would win him France. For him to think that he could assume power without a fight, not a year after being defeated and exiled, would be naive in the extreme and despite his peaceful posturing to keep the allies off his back, he had no delusions about what he would have to do to retain his throne. He wasted no time in mobilising tired, war weary, but newly invigorated France once more. The ceremonies in Paris with their oaths, tricolours and Eagles were a final rallying cry to unite the army behind him, before going off to war.
The country was used to fitting out for sudden conflicts, and while some in the army were half hearted, the ordinary soldiers of the army were eager to have their “petit corporal” back. Indeed some of the army had expected him. 15 days before he took Paris many had already gotten out their old cockades and Eagles in preparation of his return. Just three months after his return Napoleon could depend on an impressive fighting force.
Just as in 1792 the Garde National had been mobilised, and at the lowest estimate 25,000 men of military age returned to active service. The sight of the tricolour had seemed to incite a hatred for the ancient regime and spurred a Revival of the old revolutionary imperial patriotism that had imbued the army with such fine fighting spirit. Nevertheless Napoleon mistrusted the people, and conducted the campaign in an Imperial manner rather than mobilising the nation. He concentrated on putting the army back on a professional footing and was probably sensible to do so, but just as the theatre of the Champs disillusioned as many as it heartened, perhaps it was a mistake to think like this now. He armed no ad hoc militias, lack of muskets made this impractical anyway, but he raised no new regiments of cavalry or infantry either, there would be no return to the old volunteers of the Republic or Demi brigades of the consulate. He feared that mass conscription would turn the country against his new regime, so artfully propagated on the 1st of June.
The problem was that by denying the spirit of the revolution he gave the intellectuals time to realistically consider the odds and realities, and Imperial hyperbole left these people cold. The bourgeois, the bankers and major businessmen hated the empire now, and the emperor. These also including men that Napoleon had raised to rank, who wanted to keep their wealth and retire. They disliked Louis as well, and preferred the Duke of Orleans but more importantly they wanted stability that neither Louis nor Napoleon could give, or had been able to give. An end to useless wars of expansion and legitimacy, their love of freedom did not extend to the proliferation of the Republic or the propping up of decaying Monarchs. They wanted to make money and neither the ancient regime or the 1st Empire could give them that. These were the people Napoleon should have mistrusted, not the people themselves or indeed the army, which nevertheless was in truth wracked by a crippling betrayal neurosis in its mid to upper echelons. Indeed much of the army’s officers were in this indifferent state, suffering from an unhealthy dose of disenchantment after the defeat in 1814 and the first restoration. In the lower ranks this took the form of a genuine adoration of the Emperor, but a deep suspicion of everyone else except for perhaps Ney. Napoleon depended on officers like the Prince of Moskowa to instil loyalty in the ranks and he countered the jaded and sceptical by pushing propaganda telling them that he had been betrayed in 1814, not defeated. Soldiers on leave or retirement returned believing every word.
On 30 April a decree had given the regiments of cavalry and infantry back their old numbers and the tricolour cockades were distributed. Numbers had grown steadily, by March 1st 145,000 men were available to him and by the great day of the 1st of June, which was also his deadline to begin operations, 570,000 men were in arms across France. Napoleon’s expectation was to have 750,000 men by the end of June and 900,000 in July, but this could only be achieved if he scored a big success early in the campaign.
From the big numbers it looks simple but while it was fairly routine to get a respectable body of infantry, the other arms proved more complicated. The cavalry was especially weak, in April General Pajol reported that he had only 310 men under his command. Orders went out to buy 10,000 horses and 6,000 were requested, or rather required from the gendarmerie, meanwhile all the horses of the Kings Household were taken, or were attempted to be taken. Of the 2,000 theoretically available only 500 were found, their caretakers had hidden the others away.
At the end of April the 2nd Cuirassiers mustered 21 officers and 214 men under arms, 31 officer’s horses and 216 trooper’s. The depot could provide 205 men to put the regiment up to a basic compliment, but they had neither uniforms nor equipment and the contractor responsible refused to fulfil the contract. (Perhaps because he had made this deal with a Royalist Government?) despite the obstacles, many very understrength regiments were able to form decent sized divisions, and even a single grand cavalry reserve.
In June the Armée du Nord had 12 divisions of cavalry attached to Four corps d’Armée, with four Corps of cavalry in the reserve, some 20,600 Sabres in all.
The artillery was a problem too and Napoleon paid great attention to this arm. Especially the Guard, which he was particular about reconstituting after it was dismantled by the Bourbons. This was done at the expense of the Line and Marine Artillery. There was no shortage of guns, but not enough gunners of any experience, such men were in high demand, but it also meant that losses in action would seriously affect the artillery’s performance.
The musket factories at Tulle and Versailles were ordered rebuilt in April, ordering 400,000 model number I 1777 pattern muskets to be produced in a year. The Naval Minister was to give over 5,900 muskets from Bastia. The minister of War was ordered to repair 66,200 muskets stored at Montpellier, Perpignon, Toulouse and Bayonne, while 61,000 arms were discovered at Grenoble, 24,000 at Mezieres and 23,000 in Strasbourg. Assembly workshops were established in Paris to produce 400 weapons a day. By June Napoleon had gathered an extensive artillery train of 400 guns served by 4,860 gunners and 207 officers, hauled by 4,898 men and 105 officers of the train, half of which would follow him into Belgium. The Guard alone was 16 artillery companies strong comprising 116 guns 65 officers and 1,605 men.
A fast and brilliant victory in the mould of Austerlitz or Jena was now needed. Such a crushing blow at the beginning of the war would buy time from his political enemies in Paris, sway the doubters amongst the people and the army, unite the nation, allow for more reinforcements to be called up, and knock one of the major powers out of the game. It is realistically doubtful if Napoleon thought this early victory would end the fighting, but it would set him up for the next one very well, and allow him a breathing space of perhaps a month to get a hoped for over 100,000 more men in the field. As it was he had gathered 123,000 men of the Armée du Nord under his personal command ready for offensive action. The question was where to strike. The Austrians and their Italian allies were one wouldn’t ring many bells in Paris. The Russians were too far away. The Prussians, British & Dutch however were tempting for a number of reasons.
Massing in Belgium was the Anglo-Dutch under Wellington, and on his eastern flank was the Prussians under Blucher. Together they were two of the greatest allied hero’s of the last six years fighting. The old hussar was a known quantity to Napoleon and more important was the fact that if he could decisively destroy the Anglo-Dutch and the Prussians, it would knock out 3 key players in the game and possibly return the minor German and Belgian principalities to his pocket. At one stroke he could cut the 7th Coalition in half, wreck its self confidence, perhaps even capture Louis XVIII, and threaten the coalition’s right flank and squeeze them between himself and Rapp. He was aware also that the allied armies would attempt to retreat from him, so at the very least it offered the temptation of a triumphal entry into Brussels, and a war of manoeuvre like the campaign of Ulm. What many see as a terribly short sighted and naive strategy to bring the allies to the treaty table, can also been seen as the first blow of what could have been his most brilliant campaign ever.
Waterloo new perspectives: David Hamilton Williams.
Waterloo 1815 (vol 2) Ligny: John Franklin.
Waterloo, Napoleon’s Last Campaign: Christopher Hibbert.
The Waterloo Companion: Mark Adkin.
A narrative of the political and military events of 1815: James M’Queen.
L’Armée Français: Jules Richard & Edouard Detaille.
The Campaign of 1815: Siborne.