For All Nails #243A: Napoleon's Nail (Part 1)

By Raymond A. Speer

The Vendée, France
Tuesday, 1 September 1795

"I am Jean Cottereau," said the man with the fore and aft hat. "Most of my friends call me Jean Chouan." Chouan -- the sound made by a hoot owl -- the sound that Cottereau had improbably made into a cry of resistance against "Madame Austria," the Queen and Regent of France, Marie Antoinette. Aside from a band of fabric on his hat that showed a gold fleur de lis on a white background, nothing seemed military about Cottereau.

"My name is Napoleon Bonaparte," I answered as boldly as a man bound by ropes could. "I am a colonel in the French artillery."

"You sound like an Italian mercenary," Cottereau commented.

"I was born in Corsica," I explained.

"You were the only officer to resist when we overran that barracks. You are the only French officer I respect, and I'm unsurprised to find that you are not one the Parisian fops that infest the French army. You Corsicans are men, just as Vendeans are."

I was bold. "Then why do you follow the Comte de Provence? He is the essence of a Parisian fop."

"He is also the King's uncle and his rightful Regent," said Cottereau so quickly it was obvious he had asked himself the same question many times. "I am like most men -- I do not believe the Queen's Warrant -- the note by which she claims Louis XVI entrusted her with control of France while their son, Louis XVII, was a minor."

Cottereau grew more animated as he paced before me. "Ah, we Frenchmen. We all know deep in our hearts that Louis the watchmaker did not decide to make Madame Austria our mistress. Louis certainly did not think he was going to die so soon. FN1 He would have never written out instructions for the event of his death."

"The Parlement in Paris accepted the authenticity of the Queen's Warrent," I argued.

"I'm am not impressed with the opinions of lawyers," stated Cottereau, "and I would bet that you never listen to them much, Bonaparte."

"My brother Joseph is a lawyer."

"Every family has its misfortune, Bonaparte."

"Every army answers to the legitimate government, Cottereau, and I am a member of the Army of France."

"Madame Austria has reduced your army to auxilaries for Austria. Dumouriez and Ney are taking thousands of French conscripts to their doom so that Austria can rule all of Germany. How is German unification ever going to be an asset for France? We would be forever inferior to a union of all Germans!"

"Is not the Comte de Provence living in London since the Queen and her brother made the Franco-Austrian Coalition? FN2 You prefer orders from London to influence from Vienna?"

"The Comte de Provence accepts aid from any available source," rationalized my captor. "His behavior in the future will be quite different."

He heard the thunder of my cannons as they sent balls into the woods near the farmhouse we were in. I decided to fib a little -- the truth was that I had been surprised by the raid he had conducted, but I thought it would be more impressive if I made them think I had voluntarily been captured.

"Oh, it is about time for my men to fire, M. Chauan. You see, I co-operated with your capture of me because I think that you are a brave man and a good captain, and I wanted to speak to you of joining the right side."

"You knew of the raid," Cottereau said, his face blanched. He did not ask me a question, but he spoke in awe.

I shrugged. "I thought it might occur. But the Army is not planning to kill our own citizens, M. Chauan. The men of the Vendée will be better employed in line with the rest of France, and you can bring them there.

"You will be prisoners for a few months only. Then her Majesty will pardon you all, and you can lead a brigade into battle."

"Under the butcher of Paris? FN3 I would rather die," said the Vendean guerilla leader insincerely.

I shook my head. "Under me," I suggested. My smile was authentic: if I could end the Vendée rebellion, my career would get the impetus I deserved. Rather than rooting out brigands in the woods, I would be at the front in Germany.

Forward to FAN #243B: Napoleon's Nail (Part 2).

Forward to 28 October 1795: They Tell Me He Was Lonely.

Return to For All Nails.