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December 19, 2014

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Short Rounds

Bourrienne’s Revenge

At a tender age Louis-Antoine Fauvelet de Bourrienne (1769-1834) was sent to the military school at Brienne in Champagne, where he met an intense lad with whom he shared his natal year, one Napoleone Buonaparte.  By Bourrienne’s account, the two became fast friends.  But, perhaps disillusioned with the demands of a military life, in 1787 Bourrienne left the school and went to Germany, where he studied law and diplomacy at Vienna and Leipzig.  After the French Revolution broke out, he returned to France, and shortly encountered Buonaparte, by then an artillery officer.  The two appear to have hit it off again, sharing quarters and witnessing some the great events of the Revolution, including the slaughter of the Swiss Guard on August 20, 1792. Soon afterwards, Bourrienne secured a diplomatic post in Germany.  Returning to France in 1795, Bourrienne once more looked up Buonaparte, who had risen to deputy commander of the Army of the Interior.  In early 1797, shortly after Buonaparte’s series of victories in Italy, the general summoned Bourrienne to serve as his private secretary and advisor on diplomatic and political matters.  This relationship continued for several years, and Bourrienne accompanied Buonaparte on the Egyptian Expedition, had some role in the coup that overthrew the Directoire, and served in various administrative capacities during the Consulate.  Meanwhile, Bourrienne seems to have developed a talent for turning an illegal sou now and again.

In the autumn of 1802, First Consul Bonaparte – for thus he now chose to spell his name – discovered Bourrienne’s shady financial dealings and dismissed him.  A few years later the-by-then Emperor Napoleon decided to give Bourrienne another chance, and sent him to Hamburg, where he was supposed to oversee enforcement of the Continental System, a kind of “reverse blockade” intended to cut off all commerce with Britain.  Rather than perform his duties, Bourrienne took advantage of his office to amass considerable wealth.  The extent to which Napoleon was aware of this is unclear, but early in 1807 he did instruct Bourrienne to secure a large supply of military overcoats.  Bourrienne procured these in England, thereby violating not only the Continental System, but also the British blockade of France!  Bourrienne’s profitable arrangements came apart toward the end of 1810, when Napoleon fired him.  Over the next few years he lived in seclusion in France. 

After Napoleon’s first abdication, in 1814, Bourrienne became an enthusiastic supporter of the Royalist cause, and during the Hundred Days in 1815 actually helped escort Louis XVIII. to exile in Ghent.

Despite his ability to amass wealth, in later life, by which time opportunities for graft had decreased precipitously, Bourrienne found himself desperately short of cash.  To raise some money, he arranged to have C. M. de Villemarest ghost-write his "memoirs."  In fact, aside from some notes and such that Bourrienne supplied, the work seems largely to have been written by Villemarest.  Villemarest produced an interesting compilation of some factual material mixed with a lot of fiction.  Originally published in ten volumes at Paris between 1829 and 1831, the work has seen several editions since, including translations into English and other languages.

Bourriene’s Memoirs include some useful material.  But much of what is contained therein is pure fabrication, often intended to either boost Bourrienne’s status or reduce Napoleon’s.  Indeed, Bonapartophiles were quick to respond with works that rebutted Bourrienne, such as Bourrienne et ses erreurs volontaires ou observations sur ses "Mémoires", a compilation of commentary and essays by a flock of Napoleonic barons and counts, including the Count de Survilliers, actually Joseph Bonaparte, the Emperor’s elder brother and sometime “King of Spain” (Leipzig & Paris, 1830), and Napoleon et ses détracteurs by Prince Napoleon (Paris, 1887). 

While the Bonapartophiles had an axe to grind, in fact they were right about Bourrienne’s Memoirs, which are full of errors and fabrications. Nevertheless, since its appearance, the Anti-Bonapartists have managed to draw upon the often highly unreliable Memoirs for a great deal of ammunition..

 

The Seven Days’ War

Everyone’s heard of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) and the Seven Weeks’ War (1866), but few have heard of the Seven Days’ War of 1871.  Actually, it wasn’t a war at all, but a major exercise, the first in which the British Army pitted two opposing forces maneuvering against each other over real terrain.

Although the Prussians had been doing it for years, it wasn’t easy getting the British Army to conduct real maneuvers.  But in 1870, Gen. Sir James Hope Grant, a seasoned veteran of Sikh War, the Indian Mutiny, and the Anglo-French campaign in China in 1860, became commander of the British Army’s main training grounds at Aldershot.  Having witnessed Prussian maneuvers, he thought they were a very good idea and pushed hard to adopt the practice. 

Sometimes termed the “Hampshire Campaign,” the maneuvers involved over 40,000 troops, who were observed by a host of notables, not only from Britain but also from a number of other countries.

The exercises fell into four phases.

1.      Field Maneuvers, September 8-12.  General exercises and evolutions.

2.      “The Seven Days’ War”, September 13-19.  The maneuvers began when an “invasion force” of 24,000 commanded by a general Staveley and a general Carey, “landed” on the south coast of Hampshire and advanced towards London. Defending the capital was an army of about 16,000 troops under Sir James himself.  For two days the armies maneuvered and probed for each other.  On the 16th they began to make contact and a series of “battles” began near Aldershot, the British Army’s traditional maneuvering ground.  On the 19th Sir James was declared the victor.

3.      Battle of Fox’s Hill, September 21.  The forces, having been reorganized into two different formats, commanded respectively by Staveley and Carey, tangled in a sham fight, with the latter declared the victory.

A few weeks later there was a final installment, the “Battle of Chatham”, on October 24, a sham fight that resulted in the storming of the town.

These exercises were part of a series of modernizing measures – the “Cardwell Reforms” – that were just then being implemented in the British Army.  On November 1, 1871, purchase was abolished, in February of 1872 the British Isles were divided into 65 brigade districts, the following autumn there was a 25 day maneuver in Wiltshire, a new tactical manual was introduced that November, in February of 1873 a chief of staff was instituted for the Army, and a few weeks later the Military Intelligence Department was established.

So even if it isn’t much remembered today, the “Seven Days’ War” played a critical role in the campaign to modernize the British Army. 

 

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