Sunday, August 15, 2010

Colonel Saint-Chamans - Liepzig 1813

Comte De Saint-Chamans was the Colonel of the 7e Régiment de Chasseurs à Cheval when he was wounded on the 17th of October 1813 in the vicinity of Wachau during the Battle of Leipzig. The 7e Regiment was ultimately to be destroyed in this battle losing some 17 officers and barely 100 men remained of the 3 squadrons by the the time the French retreated on the 19th.

The morning of the 17th began well enough, at 8:00am his good friend Generale Boyer, who's brigade was posted in a nearby village, came to tell him he had some paté and a few bottles of white wine which he proposed to share with him.

Saint-Chamans, who had been sulking for several days over a decoration that he thought he richly deserved but didn't receive, was over the moon as it had been months since he had had such fine food, unfortunately hardly had they sat down to eat than a cannonade commenced and "as all to often happens in the French Army" they had to rush off "to fight on an empty stomach".

The Regiment found itself in front of some Austrian cavalry but were not strong enough in this sector of the field to launch an attack and so engaged only in some light skirmishing. Marbot's mentions this as a deliberate plan of all the regiments of 2e Cavalry Corps and in typical Marbot style claims responsibility for it.

Then I tried a new plan, namely, to send troopers, well apart, to fire at the enemy's gunners with their carbines. This made the enemy also send out skirmishers, and when skirmishing was thus going on between the lines the enemy's guns could not fire on us for fear of hitting their own people. Ours were of course similarly hampered; but to get the artillery silenced on even a small part of the line was all in our favour, as the enemy was far superior in that arm. Moreover, our infantry was just then at close quarters with that of the enemy in the villages, and the cavalry on both sides had nothing to do but await the issue; so it was of no use for either side to be smashing up the other with cannon-balls. A skirmishing engagement, in which for the most part more powder is burnt than damage done, was a much better way of spending the time. Accordingly, all the colonels followed my example, and much bloodshed was saved. All the cavalry colonels of the 2nd corps approved so highly this plan of economising human life that we all agreed to employ it on the 17th.

The divisional commander Exelmans however did not approve of this idea but as Marbout continues;

... as he was always rushing from one wing to another, as soon as he was a little way from a regiment the colonel would send out his skirmishers and the artillery would cease to speak.

However in front of Saint-Chamans the Austrian's ordered up a battalion of infantry and a horse battery to try to dislodge the chasseurs.

Around 10:00am as they came under direct fire from the battery they began to take heavy casualties, men were being wounded and others were leaving to help them to the rear and as they could do little to respond the Chassuers started to become a little unsettled, Saint-Chamans was just about to say some encouraging words when he himself was thrown from his horse, landing unconscious on the ground.

He appears to have been in some respects extremely lucky, in that the roundshot that knocked him from his horse seems not to have directly struck but instead had hit his giberne, however the blow was strong enough to throw him from his horse, leaving him with concussion, broken ribs and coughing up blood, he remarks he was to have chest pains for many years as a result of this incident.

Saint-Chamans was carried back to the village where he had breakfasted with Boyer, he was attended by his surgeon and another Doctor from the 23e Chasseurs (Marbot's Regiment), they decided he needed bleeding which they proceeded to do immediately.

The village came under attack and looked like it would fall, it was proposed to move Saint-Chamans back to Liepzig, two leagues away, on a stretcher. They made there way slowly along the road but a mile from Liepzig at a larger village they had to stop as they were told the road had been cut by Cossacks, so they found a nearby house to rest in. About 8:00pm they heard the roads had been cleared and they continued in to Leipzig.

On the 19th came the news that the French were to retreat, the house where Saint-Shamans lay was then occupied by some of Marshal Augereau's Grenadiers who prepared to defend it forcing the group to move on. Saint-Chamans was eventually carried to the Hotel de Bavière, occupying the same room that Marshal Ney had previously been using, Saint-Chamans was accompanied by a Doctor, his Surgeon and his brother who also served in the 7e Regiment. Saint-Chamans was too ill to be moved further and the hotel passed into allied hands as the French retreated.

The hotel was first occupied by some passing Prussians who relieved the Saint-Chamans' party of all their money and watches, then later in the day it was occupied by several Russian staff officers who refused to believe the group had been robbed as strict orders had been given that anyone found looting would be shot. They were told to stay in their room and be quiet which they nervously did. Around 10:00pm there was a pounding on the door and they opened it to find a very drunk Cossack Officer and the following conversation then took place:

Cossack - Give me money, I want money.
Doctor - We have nothing, the Prussians took everything from us this morning.
Cossack - The Prussians! Oh, the thieves! Give me your watches, I want your watches.
Doctor - The Prussians have taken them also this morning, they have left us with nothing.
Cossack - The Prussians! ... Those robbers ... You have nothing for us?
Doctor - Alas! No, and here in this bed sir is my Colonel badly wounded, and who has been deprived of everything.
Cossack - Those beggars, what thieves, the Prussians! ... But yet you still have something for me?
Doctor - Look, look for yourself around the room, we have only our clothes.
Cossack - Thieving Prussians! ... but what is this ? (Looking at the strap of Saint-Shamans sword)
Doctor - This is the Colonel's sword.
Cossack - The Colonel is a prisoner ... he no longer needs a sword ... (Looking again at the strap) It's a very nice sword ... I need one... I think I will take this sword for myself ... You don't have anything else?
Doctor - Nothing.
Cossack (opening the door to leave) - Oh, those stealing Prussians! Thieves, I will find them, they must pay me my share!

The night passed without further disturbance, but to prevent a repeat occurrence of the days events they decided they needed to seek protection, they knew enough of the Prussians to want to avoid becoming their prisoner and the idea of being taken by the Russians horrified them, so for several days Saint-Chamans tried to have himself made a prisoner of the Austrians, first through the Austrian staff officers now billeted in the hotel and then later through someone on Bernadotte's staff who knew Metternich but all to no avail.

Ultimately he became a prisoner of the Swede's under Bernadotte and it was some 21 days later that he, along with 40 other officers, left Leipzig heading north to Straslund and then on to Rostock. Eventually he was to be paroled and returned to France, after many trials and tribulations, in 1814. It has to be said that despite the parole this only happened through the repeated intervention of Bernadotte, though Saint-Chamans believed that some of Bernadotte's motivation lay with his aspirations for the French throne after the inevitable removal of Napoleon.

He arrived in Paris on the 23rd March a few days ahead of the Allies but bound by the terms of his parole he felt he could not take part in the final actions of the Empire though one has to imagine that his health at that point would probably have prevented him from being of any useful service anyway. In 1815 he didn't support Napoleon and was made non-active during the hundred days.

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