marshal lannes


A Plan so Crazy it Just Might Work

During the Napoleonic Wars in 1805, two weeks after the Battle of Austerlitz, the Austrian Army had been destroyed by Napoleon Bonaparte and the Russians were in full retreat.  The Emperor of Austria sued for peace, thus occupying Napoleon’s time.  He left the French forces in command of his two most trusted Marshals, Joachim Murat (pictured left) and Jean Lannes (pictured right).

Napoleon’s orders were for Murat and Lannes to advance against the Russians, preventing the Russian Army from meeting up with reinforcements.  The only problem was that lying between the French Army and the Russian Army was the Danube River and a single bridge.  There was no other intact bridge across the Danube, nor was there a suitable crossing place.  Worse yet, the bridge was heavily guarded with Austrian infantry, cannon, and was rigged with explosives.  Both Murat and Lannes knew that there was no way they could take the bridge intact by force.  Instead the two Marshals of France  resorted to guile and trickery instead.

To the amazement of the Austrians, Murat and Lannes confidently walked across the bridge alone holding a banner of truce.  Then to the Austrian general’s surprise, they claimed that an armistice had been reached between Napoleon and the Austrian Emperor, and that the bridge was to be momentarily occupied by France.  When a disbelieving engineer tried to blow the bridge, Lannes grabbed the torch from his hand, angrily scolding him that he was in violation of the armistice and could be held for court martial.  The Austrian general was so taken by their act that he concluded their claims of armistice was legit.  He ordered his men to grab their gear and vacate the bridge.  

Incredibly Murat and Lannes had successfully taken a heavily fortified bridge without firing a shot or shedding blood.  The Russians would later use the same tactic to escape, with the Russian General Bagration suggesting that they should negotiate terms. During the negotiations, Gen. Bagration quietly evacuated his army from harms way.  Needless to say, Napoleon was furious at Murat and Lannes could so stupidly be fooled by their own trick.

“Napoleon wept. On the eve of the battle of Wagram, during his Austrian Campaign in the spring of 1809, the Emperor received word that his long-time friend Marshal Jean Lannes had been gravely wounded on the battlefield at Essling. Following the gruesome amputation of his shattered left leg, Lannes had been evacuated to a safe position on Lobau, an island in the middle of the Danube river, six kilometers east of Vienna. Rushing to his side amid the carnage of a rudimentary field hospital, Napoleon embraced his friend of sixteen years and Lannes lay in agony. an eyewitness report by general Marcellin de Marbot, the marshal’s chief-of-staff, explains how “the emperor, kneeling at the foot of the stretches, cried while embracing the marshal, whose blood soon stained his white cashmere coat.” Despite his rough military exterior and almost twenty years of battle experience, Napoleon was overcome by emotion at the sight of Lannes. in an effort to comfort his bleeding friend, he embraced Lannes and covered him with tears. ten days later, after a week of excruciating pain, infection, and gangrene, Lannes died. once more, Napoleon rushed to his friend’s side where, despite the overwhelming odor of putrefaction caused by Lanne’s gangrenous wounds, Napoleon “moved towards the marshal’s body, which he kissed while bathing it in tears, saying several times, ‘what a loss for France and for me!’
Napoleon’s public grief at the death of Jean Lannes represented a new model for social relations between soldiers in the early nineteenth-century France. weeping over his friend’s broken body, Napoleon demonstrated how the revolution and empire had made it possible not only for an emperor to grieve openly for a fallen marshal, but for a soldier to love his comrade. this uncharacteristic expression of affection between Napoleon and Lannes was echoes in similar relationships between officers and foot soldiers in Napoleon’s armies. military memories of the first empire bear witness to a wide range of intimate relationships among generals, colonels, and captains as well as sergeants, corporals, and grunts (grognards), the infantry soldiers who made up the majorirty of the imperial armies. Napoleon’s love for Lannes might thus be said to represent a broad spectrum of masculine affection and intimacy in the ranks of the Grande Armée, or what could be called Napoleonic friendship.”

This…is heartbreaking. Thanks to nabulione for this one. </3