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Napoleon's Nail (Part 4)

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For All Nails #243D: Napoleon's Nail (Part 4)

By Raymond A. Speer


April 18, 1796, Monday.

The breath of Cardinal Tallyrand stank from his consumption of the pungent blue white cheese he loved, but that was a monentary distraction as he leaned back, far away from me, after I knelt and kissed his hand.

"Arise, General Bonaparte," the Cardinal told me. "Please sit down." His large desk was covered with loose documents and folders, as were the tables set about the room. As the Queen Regent's Chief Minister, Tallyrand had the output of thousands of clerks converging on his office.

"I do regret the press of business which has prevented me from congratulating you earlier on your defeat of the Prussians and the Russians at Dottwald, southeast of Hanover."

At last someone in authority acknowledged the obvious! In last year's debacle, I led the French Army to the only victory we had that season.

Tallyrand patted a thick packet of papers that lay on the corner of his desk. "Field Marshal Beauharnais does not think as highly of your exploit as I do, General. Do you know what he writes?"

"He feared that the Army of the Rhine would have been surrounded and destroyed if we had not joined the rest of France's armies in retreat." I said that calmly and matter of factly.

The scarlet clad politician steepled his fingers and looked at me intently. "Even we clostered priests can see some merit to such a military argument."

"My point was that the withdrawal of our forces to the Rhine was premature, particularily in the north of Germany. Had we stood our ground, we could now be in Berlin, instead of only now entering central Germany again."

"You may be pleased to learn that the Queen Regent shares your sentiments, General Bonaparte," said Cardinal Tallyrand, smiling. "Alas, Marshal Dumouriez backs Beauharnais' evaluation throughly and it is not now the time to pick a fight with the commander of our armies in Germany."

I shrugged like a Frenchman. "So I will receive no opportunity to return to Germany," I stated glumly.

"Germany -- hah. It is only a geographic expression for an expanse of forests and breweries." Cardinal Tallyrand smiled without showing any teeth. "There is a better theatre of operations for the sons of France."

"Spain?" I inquired.

"Absolutely," agreed the Cardinal. "Since King Carlos accepted our alliance against England and Prussia, FN1 the English have invaded Spain from Portugal. FN2 They move slowly, but they keep on moving nevertheless. The Marquis de la Fayette, our commander down there, does not appear to be the man to stop them."

I smiled at the Cardinal. "May I have a chance to challenge the English?"

"I feel that such an appointment would please Her Majesty," said Tallyrand, smiling back at me.


July 4, 1796, Monday.

"Today is a promising day," said General La Fayette. The man had hid in Madrid fortresses until I had arrived in May. After three of my victories had repulsed the English from the gates of Madrid to the town of Badajoz on the Portuguese border, my theoretical superior had arrived in the field in time to try and steal my glory.

My troops would have none of that. They knew who stayed with them at the front of the line at Talavera, and who had bridged the Tagus without the loss of a single man or wagon. Even the Spanish auxiliaries had caught a confident spirit from my example.

La Fayette was surplusage, and he knew it. "It is a warm morning with a clear sky," I told him. "I doubt it will rain."

"I mean, this is the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of America," said the aristocrat.

I looked at La Fayette with puzzlement. "How is the anniversary of a lost cause a good omen for us today, Excellency?"

"The Americans were going to inaugurate a new sense of community among men," said La Fayette, drifting into the impractical reveries with which he had bored me in Madrid. "Had Gates been a better general, that American example would have flourished and influenced the whole world."

I did not have time to talk to La Fayette of his brief sojourn in America during the Rebellion there. He had shivered in some miserably supplied camp ground near Philadelphia in '77 and then left for home when his American patron had resigned his command of an army that was quickly dissolving from desertions. How could even the empty-headed Queen Regent and her scheming little Cardinal entrust Spain's safety to a General who had La Fayette's background? Had it not been for his noble birth, I suspected, Dumouriez would have had him arrested and executed back in '89 for his radical views.

The war was not progressing well in Germany. Russia's Catherine II had died in December 1794, either from natural causes or by poison administered by an English spy. FN3. Her successor, Paul, had rushed in the surprise reinforcements which had given us such a blow in the Russian Winter of 1795. Fortunately for France, Czar Paul ignored the advice of his allies to stay on the defensive with Prussia in Germany. Instead, Paul's attention (and most of his soldiers) were devoted to attacking Austria through the petty lands of Wallachia and Moldavia.

Effectively, three wars were being fought in three widely separated theatres. Dumouriez led the French armies fighting Prussia in central Germany. Archduke Charles was defending Hungary against the Russian forces lead by Generals Suvorov and Kutuzov. And my army in Spain was on the threshold of Portugal. FN4

General Dugommier, who chafes at being subordinate to me, came riding up. He may dislike me because he envies me, but he is performing his duties. "General Bonaparte, we received word that a new English general has replaced Walker."

"Who is it?"

"One of their sepoy commanders from India. A man named Arthur Wellesley."


(Proceed to Napoleon's Nail (Part 5).)

(Return to For All Nails.)

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