Paris Commune1n 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 to the Convention from Toulon, he was widely acclaimed as a hero, 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 after which 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. Barras was influential, and 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 the Hotel de Ville run by his friends, the sans-culottes. So, Barras had no time to lose. He accepted the nomination to become commander of the Paris military forces and immediately went to City Hall to fetch Robespierre. Robespierre was wounded in the process, and the next day, on July 28th, 1794, he was guillotined, followed by 80 more mad dogs the following day. The French Revolution ended overnight.
A year later, when the Royalists threatened to take control of the Convention, Barras had a way to stop them. He employed an idle Bonaparte who had long sought from the revolutionary government to be reinstated as brigadier general. On October 5, 1795, Barras commanded him 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 himself gave him a contract to supply the Navy. He was quite generous towards his friends as 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 indirectly financed by Mayer, and having the full support of Bonaparte to whom he had given his mistress, Joséphine Beauharnais, he had nothing to worry about.
From his headquarters in Luxemburg Palace, Barras became known as le ‘roi pourri’, the rotten king. Of course, this dictatorship wasn’t meant to please the Royalists who were almost totally excluded from power, but they weren’t about to demonstrate in the streets of Paris again, especially since Bonaparte, the ruthless one, was in charge of the Paris garrison and was protected by Barras. However, 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 was 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 weak, hungry, 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’, 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 make Italy his home base, where he accumulated victories and worked on his propaganda machine, for he had Italian blood and spoke Italian.
While he ruled 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, was within seventy-five miles of Vienna. Stunned by the advancing French armies, the Austrian Emperor sued for peace.
His way of fighting was like no other before him, he made great use of artillery, moved his army with lightning speed, and never satisfied with just winning a battle, he always went in for the jugular. He was a ruthless foe, using ungentlemanly tactics unknown to Ancien Regime field commanders.
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.