30-RECRUITING BONAPARTE

In late 1793, when Gutle heard of the Vendean genocide, she took it very hard, for she hadn’t yet gotten over Marie-Antoinette’s execution on Oct. 14th of that same year. If her man was the most powerful banker in the world, and he was, he just had to do something about stopping the atrocities.

Mayer agreed. The time had come to put an end to the terror. When Barras returned from Toulon, he was widely acclaimed as a hero by members of the Convention, and Mayer seized the moment. He wrote to Ouvrard telling him to finance Barras and give him all the means necessary to put an end to the Paris Commune working out of Paris City Hall. Not only was Robespierre running the guillotine at full speed, but he had set up procedures for mass trials where 50 to 60 victims were executed at a time.

Barras became very affluent in a very short period of time and took charge of the Convention. When he sensed that the moderates were ready to get rid of the mad dogs (les sans-culottes) in the Assembly, he moved to have Robespierre and his lieutenants arrested on July 27th, 1794. However, Robespierre was brought to Paris City Hall that was run by his cronies, the sans-culottes. So, fearing retaliation and an attempt on his own life, Barras quickly had himself named commander of the Paris military forces and immediately went to City Hall to fetch Robespierre. Robespierre was wounded in the process, and on July 28th, 1794, he was guillotined. The following day, 80 ‘sans-culottes’ were also guillotined and the Reign of Terror ended just as suddenly as it had begun on September 2nd, 1792.

A year later, when the Royalists threatened to take control of the Convention, Barras knew how he would stop them. He employed a brilliant and idle Bonaparte by reinstating him as brigadier general. On October 5, 1795, Barras ordered the latter to stop the Royalists who were marching on the Convention. Using artillery, Bonaparte massacred 300 Royalists on the steps of St. Roch Church. The young man received all the honors of victory, and Barras praised him highly in the presence of the assembly. His appointment to the rank of general of division was voted by acclamation while his protector, Barras, settled in the Luxembourg Palace.

Barras was a completely debauched individual, and he welcomed bribes from military suppliers and big business in order to pay for his mistresses, and his aristocratic lifestyle. Ouvrard personally gave him a contract to supply the Navy. Barras was quite generous with his friends and he entertained many at the Castle of Grosbois which served both as his summer headquarters and his hunting lodge. Suppliers, solicitors, horses, and adventurers of all kinds, accompanied Barras wherever he went. Barras was the most popular of the five directors and his court presented a singular mixture of the biggest names of old aristocratic France and ‘nouveaux riches’. Being assured financial backing by Mayer through Ouvrard and having the full support of Bonaparte, to whom he had given his mistress, Joséphine Beauharnais, Barras had nothing to worry about.

Ruling from his headquarters at Luxemburg Palace, Barras was called ‘le roi pourri’ (rotten king) by his fellow citizens. Of course, his dictatorship didn’t please the Royalists either, but there wasn’t much they could do about it. They were almost totally excluded from power, and they didn’t dare take to the streets, especially since Bonaparte was in charge of the Paris garrison. After the Toulon massacre, when Barras had asked Bonaparte to take charge of the Paris Garrison and protect the Convention, he had warned Barras, “Once my sword is drawn, it will not be sheathed until order is restored”.

On March 9, 1796, Bonaparte married Josephine de Beauharnais. Two days after his marriage, Barras sent him off to take charge of the Army of Italy. It seemed like quite a promotion, but it was in fact a way to keep him out of the way. Not surprisingly, what Bonaparte found was an army that was weak, hungry, tired, and running out of supplies. Nonetheless, in less than one year, he had recruited one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers, five hundred and forty cannons, not to mention horses, uniforms and weapons for all.

When he went to Italy, he was quite aware that his future rested on the shoulders of his ‘grognards’(grumblers), and he set about turning them into soldiers. In no time, he had them eating out of his hand, and if they called him ‘petit caporal’, it was not because of his rank or his size, it was an affectionate term they used in addressing a great general who spoke their language. He made them feel he was one of them by showing great familiarity without ever jeopardizing his commander status. He was a man of stature who treated them with respect.

Bonaparte authorized his soldiers to take what they needed in an orderly way, and because northern Italy was such a rich region, the conquering army soon started looking like one. As Bonaparte’s fame and fortune grew, so did his soldiers’ self-esteem, for they were the recipients of many promotions and decorations and they basked in glory. In no time at all, the grumblers were draped in well-fitting uniforms, had shining weaponry, and the officers were riding spirited horses. The medals that were handed out in profusion made the spectacular uniforms even more striking. It was only natural for Bonaparte to feel at home in Italy, for he had Italian blood and spoke Italian. He accumulated victory upon victory, worked on his propaganda machine, and enjoyed much success generally.

While in Italy, Bonaparte never stopped chasing the Austrians. Throughout the autumn of 1796, he whittled away at the Austrian army with victories at Castiglione, Bassano and Arcole. In March 1797, just two months after routing the enemy at Rivoli and driving them from northern Italy, he crossed the Alps into Austria itself, and by April 7, 1797, he was within seventy-five miles of Vienna. Stunned by the rapid advance of the French army, the Austrian emperor admitted defeat and ratified the Treaty of Campo Formio.

Bonaparte had found new ways to do battle. For instance, since armies needed first and foremost bread and fodder to survive, he first worked on that aspect. If bread and fodder could not be requisitioned in the occupied countries, the armies had no choice but to live off their own stores, which considerably limited troop movement. So, in order to live entirely off the land and move his army quickly, Bonaparte chose the right growing season to engage in battle, moved quickly through the most fertile areas, and sent his storekeepers ahead to negotiate and buy the necessary supplies from farmers and artisans.

Militarily, he used a much greater number of troops than was the norm, which he equipped with long-range muskets. He also used long-range cannons, that were lightweight, had greater accuracy and that he could move around with lighting speed. More importantly, he invented the division system where the artillery, the cavalry and the infantry became separate units. Finally, by attacking the enemy from the rear and the flank, it meant he could herd the enemy into the area where he wanted the battle to take place which in the process had the effect of breaking down enemy morale. He, on the other hand, had troops with good morale because his soldiers were fighting for the ideas of the Revolution and were very motivated. However, the techniques of rapid movement, of attacking from unusual directions and of pursuing the retreating army used by Bonaparte were deplored by the commanders of the old school who had never seen such barbaric behavior.

Each victory was not only related in detail, often in advance, but embellished as well. In every French village, it was a common occurrence to hear the church bells heralding a news bulletin describing the great exploits of Bonaparte, the crier never failing to stress the General’s great courage and prowess. The fact that these bulletins were more often than not written by the great man himself didn’t seem to bother anybody. The French were a battered people and they couldn’t get enough of these great military feats involving brave Frenchmen. Bonaparte was building a solid reputation that no one in metropolitan France would dare attack, not even the newly-entrenched landed gentry. Understandably, when he returned to France in 1797, he was acclaimed as a hero.

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