Bravest of the Brave - Marshal Ney of France
I am a Brit and my country fought a long and hard war against Napoleon’s France – like many nations throughout Europe, but this man, despite being a foe, was very brave and honourable. As school boys we all knew of Napoleon’s Marshals and though they were our nation’s enemies, we were taught to have respect for these soldiers of a bygone age.
I think Michel Ney was one of France’s best known Marshals of the Napoleonic times. He was to become much loved by his French soldiers and revered and respected by his enemies too. He was born in a place called Saarlous, which was in France in 1769. Today the town is in Germany.
He joined the army in the 1790s and rose rapidly through the ranks and was caught up in the times of the turbulent French revolutionary wars. In 1797, after taking part in other battle actions, he led a charge against Austrian Lancers at the battle of Neuwied. During this action he was captured but exchanged for an Austrian General.
In 1804 he was made a Marshal in Napoleon’s new imperial Army and from this moment his fighting career really took off. He was at the Battle of Jena in 1806, took part in the siege of Magdeburg in 1807 and brought reinforcements in time to save Napoleon from defeat at Eulou. His battle honours were becoming very impressive.
In 1808 he went to Spain and in the first year won some minor actions. Then in 1809 he routed a combined British and Portuguese force at Barlos. In 1810 he took part in the invasion of Portugal and took Ciudad Rodrigo from the Spanish and Almeida from the British and Portuguese. Despite these winning actions the over all campaign failed and during the retreat from Torres Vedras he held the rear guard and fought a number of retreating actions against Britain’s Duke of Wellington. He was removed from the final campaign for insubordination.
Then came 1812 and Napoleon’s grand invasion of Russia. Five hundred thousand troops of many nations led by France. Marshal Ney was given a command and accompanied the Empower Napoleon on this huge invasion. It went terribly wrong for the French and although they took Moscow; there was no surrender from the Russians who retreated further into the depths of their vast country. Winter came and France was forced to retreat. Marshal Ney held the rear guard all the way back during the horrendous winter conditions. This monumental retreat has become legendary and Marshal Ney was nicknamed ‘Bravest of the Brave’ by his fellow countrymen. He was known as the last Frenchman to leave Russia and his iron bravery had echoed across Europe among ally and foe.
From 1813 to 1814 the enemies of Napoleonic France began to close in on the nation – pushing its imperial borders back to the confines of France itself. From the East, Marshal Ney was caught up in actions against many nations – among them; Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden. From the South, came the British who had crossed the Pyrenees mountain range and entered France. The situation became hopeless and France faced ruin.
There was a revolt among the chief of Marshals and Ney was chosen as the spokesman to demand Napoleon’s abdication. At first the Empower tried to refuse and there was an argument, but eventually Napoleon was made to see how hopeless the situation was. He went into exile and the Bourbons reclaimed the throne of France.
In 1815 Napoleon returned from exile and Ney was sent to stop Napoleon causing a new war. Marshal Ney made a promise to bring the old imperial emperor back in a cage. It was a futile pledge because when he stood before the man, he could not do such a thing. Instead he joined forces and so began the Hundred Days War. There were other small battles that culminated in a grand final one in Belgium – at a place called Waterloo. This epic battle was very closely fought but Britain’s Wellington, with the aid of Prussia and other nations managed to defeat Napoleon. Again, the old Emperor was sent into exile and Marshal Ney was arrested for treason.
On December 6th 1815 he was led out before a firing squad. He made a short speech and refused a blindfold. He was allowed to give the command to fire upon his self and did so. Thus ended the life of Marshal Ney – Bravest of the Brave. He is buried at the Pere Lachaise Cemetery and his execution caused deep resentment and public division in France.