22 Lead­ers & com­man­ders

The Se­cond French Em­pire’s gen­er­als weren’t quite the pa­rade of stars pro­duced un­der Napoleon III’S un­cle

History of War - - CONTENTS -

The gen­er­als of the Se­cond French Em­pire failed to live up to their il­lus­tri­ous pre­de­ces­sors

NAPOLEON III THE FUM­BLING FOUNDER 1808–1873

Napoleon III was noth­ing like the mil­i­tary leader his un­cle had been, nor did he have such a daz­zling ar­ray of gen­er­als to call upon. The com­man­ders of the Se­cond French Em­pire are gen­er­ally viewed as a de­cid­edly in­fe­rior bunch, partly be­cause they were weighed down by the tra­di­tion of French mil­i­tary might es­tab­lished un­der Napoleon Bon­a­parte, and partly be­cause they did not get the prac­tice of reg­u­lar pitched bat­tles that proved so cru­cial half a cen­tury ear­lier.

Napoleon III did his best to get in­volved as a com­man­der, but his in­ter­fer­ence dur­ing the Crimean War was em­bar­rass­ing and his ex­pe­ri­ence on the bat­tle­field at Solferino shocked him to his core. An at­tempt to help the cre­ation of the Se­cond Mex­i­can Em­pire was des­tined to fail, and he es­tab­lished French in­flu­ence in In­dochina that was to have tragic con­se­quences in the fol­low­ing cen­tury.

The em­peror did, how­ever, ini­ti­ate some use­ful re­forms in the French army, es­pe­cially when it came to the adop­tion of the Chas­se­pot breechload­ing ri­fle, giv­ing the French infantryman a weapon to eclipse that of the Prus­sians.

LEROY DE SAINT-AR­NAUD THE GLORY HUNTER 1798–1854

Saint-ar­naud pressed Napoleon III for com­mand of the French army that was to be sent to Crimea in 1854, see­ing the po­ten­tial for glory. A colour­ful fig­ure, scan­dal fol­lowed him ev­ery­where, and he had al­ready demon­strated his brav­ery and hunger for fame in Al­ge­ria, serv­ing in the For­eign Le­gion. By the time war broke out in Crimea, his rank (mar­shal of France and min­is­ter of war) and the many medals crammed onto his tunic should prob­a­bly have been enough to sat­isfy him, but he wanted more. Mil­i­tar­ily, his think­ing was lim­ited. En­vi­sion­ing only a great bat­tle, he had lit­tle no­tion of how to wage a cam­paign. A vic­tory at Alma brought him a last taste of the glory he loved so much, but he died shortly af­ter­wards.

“HIS IN­TER­FER­ENCE DUR­ING THE CRIMEAN WAR WAS EM­BAR­RASS­ING AND HIS EX­PE­RI­ENCE ON THE BAT­TLE­FIELD AT SOLFERINO SHOCKED HIM TO HIS CORE”

Although his undis­tin­guished per­for­mance as French com­man­der-in-chief dur­ing the Crimean War was a blot on his ca­reer, Canrobert de­serves credit for serv­ing with dis­tinc­tion in many of the ma­jor bat­tles of the Se­cond French Em­pire. Alma, Ma­genta, Solferino and Grav­elotte all saw Canrobert play his part. One of the gen­er­a­tion of French com­man­ders to cut his teeth in Al­ge­ria, he was per­son­ally brave in bat­tle but lacked the imag­i­na­tion and strength of will to com­mand an army, as his in­abil­ity to stand up to Napoleon III dur­ing the Crimean War con­firmed. Re­placed as com­man­derin-chief, he went on to lead a corps suc­cess­fully in bat­tle, no­tably at Ma­genta and Solferino dur­ing the Se­cond Ital­ian War of In­de­pen­dence. Per­haps aware of his lim­i­ta­tions, he turned down the com­mand of the Army of the Rhine in 1870.

ADOLFE NIEL THE FOR­LORN RE­FORMER 1802–1869

Hav­ing stud­ied as an en­gi­neer, Niel worked his way through the ranks and was made a cap­tain in 1833. He was pro­moted to chief en­gi­neer dur­ing the Crimean War and was con­sid­ered to be the eyes and ears of Napoleon III. Per­haps his great­est achieve­ment on the bat­tle­field came dur­ing the Bat­tle of Solferino in 1859. Amid con­fu­sion over the dis­po­si­tion of the army lined up against them, Niel’s corps was iso­lated on the bat­tle­field and forced to fight a des­per­ate hold­ing ac­tion through­out the day. Fail­ure could well have led to the col­lapse of the French army, but he res­o­lutely held his ground, aided by ri­fled ar­tillery that out­classed the Aus­trian guns ranged against them. As min­is­ter of war from 1867, he laid out plans for whole­sale re­form of the army, but he died be­fore he could put them into ac­tion.

FRANÇOIS ACHILLE BAZAINE THE RANK-AND-FILE VET­ERAN 1811–1888

one of a new gen­er­a­tion of French gen­er­als, Bazaine en­joyed the re­mark­able dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing served in the French army at ev­ery rank, start­ing as a fusilier in 1831. Serv­ing with the For­eign Le­gion in Al­ge­ria, he went on to see ac­tion in

Italy and Crimea, be­com­ing the youngest gen­eral in the army at the age of just 44. Ser­vice in Mex­ico fol­lowed, but Bazaine’s Although he had died be­fore the coup that saw Louis-napoléon Bon­a­parte be­come Napoleon III, Thomas Robert Bugeaud was a fig­ure of huge in­flu­ence in the Se­cond French Em­pire. Hav­ing served un­der Napoleon Bon­a­parte (he joined the Im­pe­rial Guard at the age of 20 and fought at Auster­litz), he then at­tracted at­ten­tion for his com­mand in Al­ge­ria, es­pe­cially for his use of ‘fly­ing col­umns’.

It was in Al­ge­ria that he be­came the lead­ing char­ac­ter in the so-called ‘Al­ge­rian clique’ that was to see of­fi­cers with ex­pe­ri­ence in North Africa dom­i­nate the French army. He took a strong in­ter­est in the ca­reer of Leroy de Sain­tar­naud, help­ing him rise to the po­si­tion of min­is­ter of war and ce­ment­ing his own im­por­tance in the army. From then on, any­one on the wrong side of Bugeaud would find it al­most im­pos­si­ble to ad­vance in the army. ca­reer was to end in ig­nominy. While the gen­er­a­tion of gen­er­als that spanned the two French em­pires faded away, Bazaine’s youth meant he was still around at the out­break of the Franco-prus­sian War in 1870. Ap­par­ently aware of the mon­u­men­tal task fac­ing him as com­man­der-in-chief of the Army of the rhine, he is re­ported as say­ing, “We are walk­ing into a dis­as­ter”, but his sub­se­quent sur­ren­der of 180,000 men was greeted with shock. he was sen­tenced to death fol­low­ing a trial, although the sen­tence was changed to 20 years’ im­pris­on­ment. he es­caped and lived out his days in Spain.

FRANÇOIS CER­TAIN DE CANROBERT THE SUR­VIVOR 1809–1895 BUGEAUD, DUC D’ISLY THE GOD­FA­THER 1784–1849 “HIS SUB­SE­QUENT SUR­REN­DER OF 180,000 MEN WAS GREETED WITH SHOCK”

Napoleon III lacked the mil­i­tary prow­ess of his un­cle, which led to him mak­ing some dis­as­trous mil­i­tary blun­ders

Saint-ar­naud had been forced to go to Al­ge­ria to es­cape his debtors

Bazaine will for­ever be re­mem­bered as the man who sur­ren­dered his army to the Prus­sians

Be­ing in favour with Bugeaud was vi­tal for the hopes of any as­pir­ing of­fi­cer

Adolphe Niel died dur­ing surgery a year prior to the dis­as­trous Fran­co­prus­sian War

Canrobert was best equipped to lead a divi­sion or corps and strug­gled in over­all com­mand of an army

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