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For All Nails #243F: Napoleon's Nail (Part 6)

By Raymond A. Speer


May 3, 1797, Wednesday.

It had taken almost half a year, but in the end, I had seized Gibraltar from the English, despite distractions like the second English invasion of Iberia. For twenty days, I had thinned my seige lines, trusting that Abercrombie was not the general who would challenge my depleted command quickly. In that short space of time, I defeated the English at the Battle of Fatima, then returned to Gibraltar. My cannon finally made the English hold on the Rock untenable, and they have sailed away.

For yet another year, I am the only successful general for the Franco-Austrian Alliance. Ney was relieved when the Prussians over ran our Bavarian ally, joining Dumouriez as one of the Queen Regent's military advisors. Alexandre Beauharnais is now the Field Marshal for our operations in Germany, and I have learned that his wife, Josephine, is now one of the Queen's favorites at court. I've heard that Marie Antoinette has strong appetites in that direction, and it would really be something to see the Queen and Josephine locked in a torrid embrace . . .

Enough of that!

Now that I have paralyzed the English Navy in the Mediterranean, we can tend to other issues. The Turks have been our allies ever since the impulsive Czar Paul crossed Moldavia and Wallachia in order to attack Austria. I could sail to the aid of Selim III's army, which is just holding on despite Russia's concentration of resources against Archduke Charles in Hungary. With Charles from the east and me from the south, Russia can be deprived of the rich province of the Ukraine.

Or I could unify Italy under the Alliance. Italy is far richer and more populous than Spain -- under proper management, my management, it could be of inestimable benefit in the war against England, Prussia and Russia.

But instead, I have an army probably smaller than the one that Hoche used in subduing the Netherlands last year. I have the Spanish court resisting the use of Spanish hulls in naval battles with England, and I face the strong probability of another invasion by the English. That is certain to come -- when I control the Pillars of Hercules, I can choke off their control of the sea to the south of Europe. The English cannot long tolerate that.

One of the reasons that my army is so small for my responsibilities is that Paris does not trust me. Talleyrand, the Cardinal of Bourges, keeps me off the path of power, even if it risks losing the war. Rumors abound that Talleyrand has been trying to negotiate a separate peace with England FN1 and the return of Gibraltar is one of the prizes he is supposedly offering. Another concession that Talleyrand may be willing to make involves French betrayal of our Spanish allies, even to the extent of making one of the sons of George III the King of Spain!

I get many of those rumors from the minister of the Republic of Jefferson to Madrid. Aaron Burr was a Colonel in the failed Rebellion against England, and he is proud of having made the Wilderness Walk, a long pilgrimage by disgruntled Rebels to Spanish territory far to the west.

I've learned from my own sources that Burr is in disfavor with the Jeffersonian leader, Alexander Hamilton, and that is why he got the thankless job of representing an upstart republic in Europe's most reactionary state. "I wanted to go twenty miles further when we were so close to New Orleans," Burr once explained to me. "So did Andy Jackson. But General Jacob Mellon turned us around, letting New Orleans stay wide open for the Tories to seize it."

"Wasn't your western army facing large numbers of soldiers from New Spain?" I asked.

"Yes, but all those soldiers were starving and underequipped after a long trip from Mexico City. Governor Hamilton had enough men in the Army of the Rio Grande to handle that rabble."

Burr's opinion that his battalion should have gone to New Orleans instead of going to Hamilton's aid made its way to Hamilton's ear. FN2 In short order, Burr was dispatched to Madrid with the task of getting Spain to recognize Jefferson's expansion.

"Manuel de Godoy will approve anything, once he is in receipt of a sizeable bribe. But Our Beloved Governor Hamilton won't make the necessary appropriation for that purpose. Rather than sit in the salons of Madrid, I came south to see your campaign, General Bonaparte."

"And what did you think of the fall of Gibraltar?"

"We sure could have used you in the days of the Rebellion," said Burr in accented but adequate French. "With you replacing Gates, I bet we could have beat Burgoyne at Saratoga."

I laughed. "I would not be so sure of that, Colonel. When Saratoga was fought, I was only eight years old."

Later that afternoon, Burr was one of my companions as I climbed the Rock and looked down on what had been a vital naval base for the English. We all had spyglasses, which damnably showed English ships running past our poor marine obstacles to their passage.

"Once we have ships here, the English will be bottled tight."

The Prince de Monaco, Honoré IV Grimaldi, my cavalry commander at Fatima and other victories, FN3 predicted that we would sail to the rescue of Naples before the campaigning season came to an end in 1797.

"You would hope the Queen Regent would come to the assistance of her sister," I commented. Neapolitan Queen Maria Carolina had persuaded her husband, Ferdinand IV, to break off relations with London when Jenkinson declared war with France and Austria in August 1795. The English were shelling the ports of Naples within weeks and had occupied the country by the winter of that year. FN4 The royal pair were held hostage in England, their roles usurped by an English ambassador, Sir William Hamilton, and his slut of a wife.

"Her love sleeve is able to squeeze your member as tight as a vise," said Honoré, retailing the gossip of Italians in exile. "She is insatiable -- I heard she took on the whole crew of a warship, from captain to cabin boy, in a week of nights."

"With perks like that," Burr said, "no wonder English sailors have such high morale." We all laughed.

"What is the name of that English Messalina?" I asked the Prince.

"Emma," said Honoré. "Emma Hamilton."


(Proceed to Napoleon's Nail (Part 7).)

(Return to For All Nails.)

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