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 Post subject: Waterloo @ 200 - The Flight of the Eagle: Escape
Unread postPosted: 12 Mar 2015, 22:55 
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Waterloo @ 200
The Flight of the Eagle: Napoleon's Escape from Elba

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Napoleon bides his time for his return onto the European stage


By Matthew Groves

By February 1815, Napoleon had been exiled on the Mediterranean island of Elba for over nine months. He had wasted no time, not only did he improve Elba as a functional island by modifying her roads and industry, but Napoleon had been receiving information of the growing dissatisfaction of the French people with the restored Bourbon monarchy. He also received word of the Congress of Vienna, where the great powers of Europe were arguing amongst themselves what to do with post-Napoleonic Europe.

Restoration France

The returning royalist emigres successfully turned the majority of France against them. The returning émigré nobility mocked and ostracized those who had come far in society during the Revolution and Empire, they regarded the military peerage of Napoleon’s creation as a set of upstarts with a further taint of brigandage. The veterans of the Empire’s wars were also treated badly under the Bourbon restoration and the army was particularly resentful, especially as the royalists removed the symbols which French regiments had fought and won for, the Eagles were melted down, royalist white cockades replaced the tricolour cockades on shakos and royalist commanders replaced those who had fought with their men for years. Verterans who returned to France from imprisonment in Britain, Spain and Germany returned to France where all they had been fighting for was gone and replaced by a regime that had been placed there by foreigners. Politically, the rule of Louis XVIII was very soon associated with the ancient regime. Symbolic acts, such as the replacement of the tricolour with the white flag, the titling of Louis as the 'XVIII' (as successor to Louis XVII, who never ruled) and as 'King of France' rather than 'King of the French', and the monarchy's recognition of the anniversaries of the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were significant. A more tangible source of antagonism was the returning émigrés attempting to repossess their former lands. The gains of the Revolution appeared to be under attack.

Congress of Vienna

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The foreign ministers of the nations of Europe at the Congress of Vienna

Meanwhile at the Congress of Vienna, negotiations between the Allies were at a stalemate. The essential topic was what was to be done with all the German states that had part of Napoleon’s Confederation of the Rhine before many were encouraged to change sides late in the campaign of 1813. An issue which caused particular tension was the fate of Saxony, Prussia and Russia were campaigned for Prussia to annex Saxony whilst Russia would annex the Duchy of Warsaw. France, Britain and Austria were all against the idea of Russia and Prussia dominating central Europe. In the end a settlement was agreed that over half of Saxon lands would be annexed to Prussia, whilst Poland was mostly annexed by Russia with some land being given to Austria and Prussia. The affair demonstrated the fragility of the ties that bound the Allies and showed that they were all just as suspicious of each other as they had been of Napoleon.

The Eagle Takes Flight

Napoleon was under the constant watch of Austrian and French guards. Nonetheless, he was not isolated: he received thousands of letters from all over Europe and read major newspapers that kept him abreast of events throughout the world. It was difficult to improve his little kingdom further because the pension he was promised from Louis XVIII of two million francs failed to materialise. No doubt sensing that events in France and Europe were changing in his favour, and receiving worrying reports that the Allies were planning on moving him to the distant Azores, Napoleon prepared for the most daring gamble in his life. When his British observer, Colonel Sir Neil Campbell departed for brief visit to Florence for his health, Napoleon completed his preparations. He kept his plans secret from the aristocracy of Portoferraio, at 11am on the Sunday 26th February, a small boat arrived on the beach with news that the coast was clear, the ships tasked with guarding the Emperor were nowhere to be seen. At noon the drums beat out the call for assembly, and as the soldiers returned to their barracks they were told to kit themselves out in battledress and be ready to leave at four o’clock.

A small flotilla awaited Napoleons small invasion force. The small fleet consisted of a brig, the Inconstant by name, four small transports named Caroline, Etoile, Saint Espirit and Saint Joespeh, and two feluccas. With bands playing and flags flying the troops had marched down through the twilight, past the windows illuminated in Napoleon’s honour, under the coloured lanterns in the square, and through a crown which called out and cried in excitement. The grenadiers of the Guard had come first, for they were to go on the Inconstant with the Emperor and his personal staff. The grenadiers accounted for almost 500 men. The remainder of the Guard, the Polish landers and the civil employees were loaded on to the Saint Espirit, the Corsican battalion, the gendarmes, the gunners, farriers, and other small groups of specialists were divided among smaller vessels, and the Caroline was to carry the marines of the Guard. Altogether there were just over 1,100 men, 40 horses and 4 cannon.

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Napoleon bidding farewell to the crowd at the Portoferraio harbour

After a tearful farewell from the nobility of Elba, Napoleon began to embark. They were singing ‘La Marseillaise’ as Napoleon went down the steps into the Caroline, which was to take him out to the Inconstant. There was so little wind that the men had to row all the way, and as the little craft passed each vessel in the flotilla there was a burst of cheering. As the Emperor boarded the Inconstant a single cannon signalled that the escape had begun.

The Voyage in Jeopardy

The escape did not begin smoothly, when the flotilla was ready to set sail there was no wind, meaning the boats had to be rowed out of the lee of the island. It was midnight before they all cleared the lighthouse on the point at Portoferraio, at dawn they were still only six miles away, slowly heading west by north towards the small island of Capraia.

It was now the Monday 27th February, at noon when the ships were close to Capraia, backing and filling in an effort to get round to the north of the island, the royalist frigate Melpomène was sighted to the south-west of it, in the passage between Capraia and Corsica. The second of the patrolling frigates was also in a position to intercept the convoy, for the Fleur de Lys was cruising somewhere to the north, between Capraia and Gorgona. Thus, by design or ill-fortune, there was a hostile frigate in each of the two channels which ran from Elba towards the coast of France. And beyond Capraia the French naval brig Zéphir was sailing towards Livorno on a course which would bring her right up to the Inconstant at dusk. Early in the afternoon, therefore, the Inconstant was at the south-east corner of a diamond which had Capraia at its centre and three French warships at the other corners. To worsen the situation, the look-outs reported another strange sail coming down from Livorno. It was the HMS Partridge, the ship tasked with guarding Napoleon, making painfully slow progress back to Portoferraio.

Napoleon was aware how close the Partridge came to running him down. When the look-out saw her topsails the two ships were about fifteen miles apart, and the gap was slowly closing as the English sloop picked up the variable airs. At two o’clock Napoleon decided that he had been recognized and that he would do better to seek help from the Melpomène, which he had sighted about the same time and away to leeward, than to risk a single-handed engagement with the Partridge. Napoleon himself wrote afterwards that “We knew enough about the feeling of the officers of these vessels, let alone the crews, to be sure that they would hoist the tricolour and defend the Emperor against the English ship.” An hour later, with the flotilla still caught in a patch of calm, these revealing precautions proved to be unnecessary. While the Partridge “had come much nearer and could be clearly distinguished”, Napoleon added, “she did not seem to be concerned with us and she was steering towards Portoferraio”.

Why the captain of the Partridge did not realise the identity of Napoleon’s brig has been a source of historic debate, as has the actions of the French frigates also in the vicinity. Some believe the Partridge mistook the ships for merchant vessels or the French ships that were expected there. One suspicion was that the captains of the Fleur de Lys and Melpomène were involved with Napoleon’s escape, there is some evidence pointing in that directions. Fleur de Lys appears to have left her station and kept out of the way and Melpomène took no action on seeing the flotilla. The captain of Fleur de Lys also appears to have misled HMS Partridge by insisting the little flotilla had not passed her. Either the French ship had not been on station or it had allowed the flotilla to pass and then denied seeing it.

It is likely that the captain of the Partridge believed the Inconstant was the Zéphir, this is because these two ships looked incredibly similar due to the fact both were brigs and were made in the same harbour. The crew of the Partridge were also expecting to see the Zéphir in those waters so did not think anything out of the ordinary, having spotted ‘three sail’ it is likely the crew mistook the ships for the French guard ships. Napoleon’s luck and judgement had saved him from a narrow escape.

Story of the Zéphir

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The Inconstant passing the Zéphir

Later that day the Zéphir came in sight of the flotilla and Captain Andrieux, her commander, actually took his ship so close to Inconstant that he was able to hold a brief conversation with her skipper. It was impossible for Andrieux not to have noticed how heavily laden the little ships were, with both stores and personnel, but he did nothing. The ships’ logs have disappeared and no further record of their whereabouts and actions can be established. After the event, Andrieux admitted to guessing that Napoleon was on board, but chose not to interfere as he believed he was sailing to Italy, although his direction of travel was clearly towards France. Perhaps further solidifying the suspicion that Andrieux was aware of what was sympathetic with the Emperor’s cause, Napoleon promoted Andrieux after his return to Paris.

The Eagle Lands in France

In the afternoon on Tuesday 28th February the Maritime Alps were in sight, there was no doubt where the flotilla was heading. Napoleon promised that they would be in Paris by his son’s birthday on 20th March. He gave the Legion d’Honneur to the officers of Inconstant Chautard and Lieutenant Taillade as a reward for safe passage from Elba. He talked optimistically to his officers “There is no precedent in history for what I am about to do”, he told Colonel Mallet of the Guard, “but I can count on the popular astonishment, the state of public opinion, the resentment against the Allies, the affection of my soldiers, and the attachment to the Empire which lingers everywhere in France.”

Antoine Drouot, Napoleon’s aide-de-camp, was uneasy of the venture before them. Napoleon teased him, “I know that if I had listened to our wiseacre I should never have started, but there were even greater dangers at Portoferraio.” And when a few members of his personal staff seemed to share Drouot’s uneasiness at this ‘bold and unexpected stroke’ he dismissed their fears. “I shall arrive and find no organized resistance, I shall reach Paris without firing a shot.”

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Landing in Golfe Juan, exhausted grenadiers relaxing in the foreground with Napoleon to the right supervising the landing.

It was one o’clock in the afternoon on Wednesday 1st March when the flotilla passed Antibes, turned in beyond the short peninsula and anchored at Golfe Juan, about a mile to the west on the road to Cannes. Napoleon immediately sent Captain Lamouret ashore with twenty men to neutralize the Gabelle fort which dominated the beach, and to tell anyone they met that the troops were simply a large party of the Guard returning from Elba on leave. The first precaution was unnecessary, as the fort was unoccupied. The second was temporarily convincing, since several parties of men on leave had landed at Antibes in recent weeks and that confusing report ran ahead of the news that this time the Emperor had come with them.

Although Lamouret was quickly followed by Cambronne, with a hundred picked grenadiers who were to cover the beach and then to form an advance guard for the march, the landing itself was a slow and makeshift business, and the band amused the toiling men by repeatedly playing the popular songs. It was dawn on Thursday morning before all the troops, stores, the treasure, the cannon, the horses, and the carriage were safely unloaded.

When the zealous Lamouret took his men on to Antibes to demand the surrender or defection of the garrison the major who was in command instead arrested Lamouret’s little squad, sent a courier to General Corsin who was away on a visit to the nearby island of Sainte Marguerite, and he shut the town gates.

Soon after four o’clock Napoleon himself was rowed in from the Inconstant. He walked up the beach to the olive grove where his troops were bivouacked for the night and sat by a camp fire chatting to soldiers and some peasants who had come to see what was happening.

The eagle, filled with complete confidence, had landed in France and at dawn he would begin to fly northwards.

Bibliography:

Carsaniga, Giovanni, Napoleon and the French Revolution, (Oxford University Press, 2002).

Glover, Gareth, Waterloo: Myth and Reality, (Pen & Sword Military, 2014).

Hamilton-Williams, David, Waterloo New Perspectives: the Great Battle Reappraised. (John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1994).

Mackenzie, Norman, The Escape from Elba: The Fall & Flight of Napoleon 1814-1815, (Oxford University Press, 1982).


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 Post subject: Re: Waterloo @ 200 - The Flight of the Eagle: Escape
Unread postPosted: 17 Mar 2015, 17:02 
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interesting, so the French naval vessel probably let Napoleon go

was pro-Napoleon sentiment wide-spread within the navy, did they join Napoleon during the 100 days?



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 Post subject: Re: Waterloo @ 200 - The Flight of the Eagle: Escape
Unread postPosted: 17 Mar 2015, 21:31 
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Well the navy was incredibly small, Napoleon had given up on naval ambitions after Trafalgar so many sailors and marines were incorporated into the army. What little navy there was did join Napoleon in the Hundred Days but were blockaded or hunted down by the Royal Navy.


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