The Legendary French Drummer Boy Joseph Bara

Jean-Joseph Weerts “Portrait de Joseph Bara.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The legendary French drummer boy Joseph Bara was raised to the status of hero in the 1790s. His story begins with his birth on 30 July 1779 to a woodranger and a domestic servant, both of whom worked at the Palaiseau estate of the Condés. Unfortunately, while Bara was still a youth, his father died, and, so, when the French politician Lazare Carnot appealed for men and created the conscription called levée en masse to raise any army, Bara’s mother enrolled him as a volunteer in the army at the tender age of twelve. He was then attached to a unit that fought counter revolutionaries in Vendée, and, it was during this time that he was killed. A General J.B. Desmarres gave a written account of his death to the Convention that stated:

“Yesterday this courageous youth, surrounded by brigands, chose to perish rather than give them the two horses he was leading.”[1] Continue reading

How the Prussians Captured Napoleon’s Military Carriage During the Waterloo Campaign

Wellington and Blücher. Public Domain.

One prized possession of Napoleon’s was his military carriage (sometimes called his traveling carriage). He loved it so much that he used it on many of his military campaigns and while exiled on Elba. In fact, when he left Elba the one thing he ordered his troops to take was his military carriage, which was carefully packed and shipped to Cannes.

When Napoleon faced down the British-led Allied army under the command of the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian army under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Prince of Wahlstatt at Waterloo, the military carriage was with him. It was also during the Waterloo campaign that Napoleon’s carriage was captured. Continue reading

The Insects That Defeated Napoleon’s Army

insects defeated Napoleon's army
Napoleon Bonaparte. Author’s Collection.

Napoleon was a great military leader and strategist. He rose to prominence during the French Revolution, led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars, and served as Emperor of the French. He also dominated Europe for more than a decade and fought against a variety of fluctuating European coalitions during the Napoleonic Wars defeating many of his opponents. As a result, he became known as one of the greatest commanders in history, but for all the praise Napoleon received he found that wherever his troops marched or sailed, his biggest opponent was often the smallest one. This powerful opponent was millions of tiny insects, and among the insects that battled and defeated Napoleon were the mosquito, the flea, and the louse. Continue reading

Battlefield Communication Using Drums and Drumming

Battlefield Communication Using Drums and Drumming
Related to America’s War of Independence, This Illustration is a Famous Depiction From the 19th-century Called “The Spirit of ’76” by Archibald Willard, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Battlefield communication using drums and drumming was an important military aspect of war, and this type of communication lasted well into the nineteenth century. During this time, the drum most popular among drummers was the ordinary drum that consisted of a wooden or brass cylinder with a skin head at either end, and described in the following way:

“The skins [on these drums] are lapped at their edges around a small hoop which encircles the cylinder, and a large hoop rests on this and presses it down in place. The large hoops at each end are connected by an endless cord, running through holes in their outer edges and zigzagging up and down the sides of the cylinder from hoop to hoop. Each loop of this cord is surrounded by a sliding leather brace, and by pushing these down, so as to draw the loops together, or up, so as to loosen them, the drum is tightened or slackened, and the clear, tense or harsh, loose notes produced.”

Although it might appear that drum beats were simple, every beat was actually regulated and it was only through “long practice” that perfection by a drummer was attained. Furthermore, to achieve this perfection it was claimed that the drummer had to possess “a quick and nimble wrist.” Drum beats were also regular in the number and the division of strokes that could be produced using the two sticks. Thus, one person noted that if all the drummers in the British Army were assembled together, they would all beat alike.

Different drum beats and rolls signaled different commands to the troops and there were various regulation beats that included the following:

Continue reading

Reasons British Feared Napoleon in 1803

Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit, by James Gillray, which ridiculed Napoleon and annoyed the French. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit, by James Gillray, which ridiculed Napoleon and annoyed the French. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Despite a temporary peace that was achieved between France and Britain in 1802, the English remained on edge. They became more panicked when a new dispute with France broke out and resulted in Britain declaring war against France in 1803. Almost immediately rumors were rife about the ill effects Englishmen would suffer if Napoleon was victorious. In July of 1803, the rumors came to life when one concerned magazine published an article stating what they believed were Napoleon’s schemes.

According to the magazine, one of Napoleon’s main schemes was the confiscation of property, similar to what had happened in France during the first years of the French Revolution. Based on this idea of property confiscation, they also asserted that assignats (French money) were being prepared and would allow the bearer to bid for confiscated property as soon as the French set foot on English soil. Moreover, when the assignats were offered, Englishmen would have to accept them “on pain of death.” Continue reading

French Heroine, Philis de La Tour or Philis de La Charce

Philis de la Tour, Author's Collection
Philis de la Tour, Author’s Collection

In 1669, Philippe de La Tour du Pin La Charce (and sometimes better known as Philis de La Charce) was born in Nyons, located in Dauphiné, France. She grew up to be a well-educated woman, and, in her youth, she met a woman of letters named Antoinette Des Houlières.

Houlières then introduced her to an author named Honoré d’Urfé. He had written a romance titled L’Astree in which a shepherd named Celadon falls in love with a shepherdess named Astrée. It was a digressive tale with a complex plot. Nevertheless, it made such an impact on Philippe, she changed her name to match one of its characters, and thereafter become known as Philis (Phylis or Phillis). Continue reading

Moustache, The French Army Poodle

Moustache, or as he was sometimes called Mous, was a black French poodle who some people claim took part in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. His feats became legendary and many people wrote about his exploits, sometimes exaggerating or fictionalizing them. Between the exaggeration and fiction, it has become nearly impossible to know the precise truth, and so this post probably incorporates elements of both.

French army poodle
Poodles. Author’s collection.

Moustache’s story begins with his birth in September 1799 at Falaise, in Normandy, France. Six months later he was the pet of a grocer living in Caen who treated him kindly. One day when out for a stroll, Moustache happened upon a parade of grenadiers who had just returned from Italy. “They were brilliantly equipped — their spirits were high — and their drums loud.”[1] Enthralled by the noise, the excitement, and their marching, Moustache supposedly “joined the grenadiers … [before] they had marched an hour [away from town].”[2]

Despite being dirty and “tolerably ugly” Moustache was said to be intelligent and have a sparkle in his eye. Because he could forage for himself and because the grenadiers had no dog in their company, they allowed him to attach himself to the regimen. He quickly became known for fetching and carrying things, and, as part of the regiment, the French army poodle was said to favor no person in particular. In fact, he “had an almost equal attachment for everyone who wore the French uniform.”[3]

Example of War Dog Carrying Ammunition, Public Domain
Example of war dog carrying ammunition. Public domain.

There is evidence that Moustache marched through the Alps with Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in the spring of 1800. Along the way he survived by living “from paw to mouth”[4] and reputedly “endured the fatigue of [Great St Bernard’s Pass], with as good grace as any veteran in the army.”[5] When the French engaged with the enemy, Moustache was said to be as brave as any soldier.

Supposedly, the first time Moustache distinguished himself with his French troops occurred on a snowy night after the French had camped. Unknown to the French soldiers, the Austrians were nearby, and they had been ordered to attempt a surprise attack upon the French. That night as the French army slept, Moustache made his normal rounds, and it was during those rounds that he detected the Austrians and barked out an alarm, which allowed the French to repulse their attack.

Moustache was hailed as a hero. For his heroism, his name was added to the roll and “published in a regimental order, that he should, henceforth, receive the ration of a grenadier, per diem — and Moustache was “le plus heureux des chiens” (the happiest of dogs).”[6] With his new status he was “cropped, à la militaire — a collar, with the name of the regiment was hung round his neck, and the barber had orders to come and shave him once a week. From this time [forward], Moustache was, certainly, a different animal. In fact, he became so proud, that he could scarcely pass any of his canine brethren, without lifting his leg.”[7]

The next opportunity for heroism occurred as Moustache was in route to Spinetta Marengo in Piedmont, Italy. The plucky Moustache took part in a small engagement with his regiment where he “received the thrust of a bayonet in his left shoulder.”[8] Fortunately, he had the wherewithal to crawl to the rear and get help: The regimental surgeon dressed his wounds and got him back on his feet.

Moustache had not completely recovered from the bayonet wound when the battle of Marengo took place. His earlier injury, however, did not stop him from participating in the battle.

“He marched always keeping close to the banner, which he learned to recognise among a hundred; and … [he] never ceased barking, until evening closed upon the combatants of Marengo.”[9]

It was also around this same time that Moustache lost an ear. It happened when he got into a scrap with a Pointer owned by a German Corporal. It is claimed the smaller Moustache attacked the Pointer. While they were involved in fierce combat, a gunshot ended the fight by knocking the Pointer dead. As for Moustache, “after a moment of bewilderment, [he] put up his paw, and discovered that he had lost an ear.”[10]

Another story about Moustache’s bravery involves an Ensign carrying the regiment’s colors at Austerlitz. When the Ensign was surrounded by the enemy, Moustache reportedly “flew to [his] rescue — barked like ten furies — did every thing he could to encourage the young officer, but all in vain.”[11] The Ensign died, and Moustache immediately threw himself over him and would have been pierced by a dozen bayonets, if “a discharge of grape-shot [had not] swept the Austrians into oblivion.”[12]

 

Napoleon at Austerlitz, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Napoleon at Austerlitz. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It was at this same battle that Moustache somehow managed to injure his leg, but it did not stop him from making valiant attempts to get the French banner from the dead Ensign. Unfortunately, “the poor Ensign had griped it so fast in the moment of death … it was impossible for [Moustache] to get it out of his hands. The end of it was, that Moustache tore the silk from the cane and returned to the camp, limping, bleeding, and laden with his glorious trophy.”[13]

Later, it was determined Moustache had to have his shattered limb amputated, but it was claimed he “bore the operation without a murmur, and limped with the air of a hero.”[14] When Marshal Jean Lannes learned of Moustache’s heroic deeds, he removed his old collar and “ordered a red riband to replace it, with a little copper medal, on which were inscribed these words:—’Il perdit one jambe à la battaille d’Austerlitz, et suava le drapeau de son regiment.‘”[15] (He lost his leg in the battle of Austerlitz but saved the colors of his regiment).

By this time, Moustache’s reputation was well-known and he could be identified by his collar and medal. Orders had also been given that wherever he should appear, “he should be welcomed, en camarade; and thus he continued to follow the army. Having but three paws and one ear.”[16]

It is said that Moustache’s life changed at the Battle of Aspern-Essling. To his surprise he discovered another poodle, a female. He thus “found his martial ardour subside into transports of another description. In a word, he seduced the fair enemy, who deserted with him to the French camp, where she was received with every consideration.”[17]

The Battle of Aspern-Essling, May 1809, Courtesy of Wikipedia
The Battle of Aspern-Essling, May 1809. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

For a year or so, the pair lived  happily and Moustache even became a father. Unfortunately, one day, a Chasseur reputedly gave “him a blow with the flat side of his sabre.”[18] The Chasseur’s cruelty was too much for Moustache, and he abandoned his regiment and his family. Moustache then attached himself to some dragoons and followed them to Spain. There he was said to be “infinitely useful.” Reports claim he was “always first up, and first dressed. He gave notice, the moment any thing struck him as suspicious … At the affair of the Sierra Morena … [he] gave a single proof of his zeal and skill, by bringing home in safety, to the camp, the horse of a dragoon who had the misfortune to be killed. How he managed it, no one could tell.”[19]

Shortly after this event, Moustache was stolen by a Colonel who wanted to own him. He held Moustache in captivity until Moustache escaped through an open window. After his escape Moustache participated in some of the battles fought at Badajoz, which were fought during the Peninsular Wars. It was during conflict on 11 March 1811 Moustache was killed by a cannonball. Legend has it soldiers buried him at the site of his last heroic triumph — collar, medal, and all — and the inscription upon his grave read simply: “Here lies the brave Moustache.”

 

French army poodle headstone
Honorary monument to Moustache in the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals). Author’s collection.

References:

  • [1] “Moustache, a Biographical Sketch,” in Northern Whig, 09 March 1837, p. 4.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3]  Jack’s Victory, and Other Stories About Dogs, 1882, p. 68.
  • [4] Timbs, John, ed., The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 7, 1828, p. 41.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] “Moustache, a Biographical Sketch,” in Northern Whig, 09 March 1837, p. 4.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Timbs, John, ed.,  p. 41.
  • [9] Ibid., p. 42.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] “Moustache, a Biographical Sketch,” p. 4.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] The Story-Teller, 1830 Volume 1, p. 73.
  • [18] Timbs, John, ed., p. 42.
  • [19] Ibid.

Origin of the French National Guard

Painting of Philippe Lenoir in 1814 His French National Guard Uniform by Horace Vernet, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Painting of Philippe Lenoir in 1814 in His National Guard Uniform by Horace Vernet, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The French National Guard (called la Garde nationale by the French) was a militia that existed from 1789 until 1872 and was separate from the French Army. It favored the middle class and served both as a military and policing force. According to one newspaper, a French politician and diplomat, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, better known simply as Talleyrand, often told a story about how the National Guard originated.

According to Talleyrand, he and Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, a French Roman Catholic abbé, clergyman, and political writer, were walking through the gardens of Tuilieres prior to the French Revolution breaking out. Opposite the gate at the place de Louis XV (later the place de la Révolution and later renamed place de la Concorde), a little beggar girl, leading an old woman on crutches, approached Sieyès and solicited alms from him. He presented her with a sou, which in her zeal to seize, she dropped. Continue reading

Clever Ruse: Surprise at the Tabor Bridge by Napoleon’s Forces

"Surprise du pont du Danube" by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, Courtesy of Wikipedia
“Surprise du pont du Danube” by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Napoleonic Wars were a series of conflicts that begin in 1803 and lasted until 1815. The wars pitted Napoleon I against various European powers. Among one of the cleverest ruses achieved during the Napoleonic Wars was an incident that occurred near Vienna in November 1805 and involved French forces against the Austrians.

The French were under the direction of two Marshals. The first was Jean Lannes, a daring and talented general, and, the second, Joachim Murat, brother-in-law to Napoleon having married Napoleon’s youngest sister, Caroline Bonaparte in 1800. Lannes and Murat had been pursuing the retreating Austrian army, and, at the time, they and their forces were near the market  town of Spitz, located on the Danube River. Continue reading

Napoleon and His Camel Corps

Napoleon's Camel Corps, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Napoleon’s Camel Corps, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The great general Napoleon employed a camel corps during his Egyptian Campaign between 1798 and 1799. He formed the camel corps after suffering Bedouin incursions and raids into Egypt proper. After their raids, the Bedouins would easily escape from the French cavalry because of their swift horses. To remedy this situation, Napoleon decided to form a camel corps partly because of the camel’s adaptability and partly because of the camel’s swiftness.

The men assigned to camel corps came from a variety of regiments. They used two-humped camels, known as bactrians, as their transportation. To establish the camel corps, French soldiers used “the Arab ‘camel language'” to work with the camels. It took about a month’s worth of training to make a solider skillful in the art of camel driving and maneuvering Continue reading