Joseph Bonaparte - John S. C. Abbott

The Expulsion from Spain

Joseph was much embarrassed. Should he leave his scattered forces in the south of Spain, there was danger that they would be attacked and destroyed piecemeal by Wellington. Should he withdraw them, and concentrate his forces in the north, the whole south of Spain would be instantly overrun by the English, and Joseph would lose one-half of his kingdom. His total force in Spain, garrisoning the forts and composing his detached bands in the south, the centre, the north, and the west, amounted to a little over two hundred and thirty thousand men.

In the early part of May of this year, 1812, the English, having taken the defenses which were erected for the fortification of the Tagus, became dominant in that region. Disaster followed disaster. The King's couriers were captured, so that his orders did not reach the marshals. It is hard to be amiable in seasons of adversity, and the marshals reproached each other. Supplies and communications were cut off, and women and children were dying of famine. The deadly warfare of guerrilla bands increased rapidly. The most atrocious acts of vengeance and atrocity were multiplied, and Joseph had no power to prevent them. As Marmont was in danger of being cut off by Wellington, Joseph, leaving a small garrison behind him, took all the troops that could be spared, and marched rapidly to the relief of the marshal. Leaving the Escurial on the 23d of July, he reached Peneranda on the 25th, where he learned that Marmont had attacked Wellington on the 23d at Arapiles, and, after a desperate conflict, had been repulsed. Marmont was severely censured for not awaiting the arrival of Joseph, whom he knew to be at hand. He was accused, perhaps without reason, of precipitating the conflict from fear that Joseph might take the command and gain the renown. Marmont reported his total loss in the battle to have been about six thousand men and nine guns, which were left because their carriages were knocked to pieces. Wellington reported his own loss at five thousand two hundred and twenty.

Marmont retreated to Valladolid, to meet re-enforcements which would join him there. Joseph returned to Madrid, entering the city on the 2d of August. As the English approached, Joseph, with two thousand horse, met their advance-guard, and, with the courage of despair, drove them back in the wildest confusion. He then, at the head of but twelve thousand troops, commenced his retreat toward Valence. Twenty thousand Spaniards, men and women, dreading the vengeance of their enemies, followed, in his retreat, the King whom they had much cause to love. It was a mournful spectacle. Nobles of the highest rank, and the most intelligent and opulent of the city, toiled along in their weary march, the women and the children often unable to restrain their tears and sobs. The partisans of the English, who crowded into the city, received Wellington and his troops with every demonstration of joy. The friends of the new regime who remained behind, crushed in all their hopes, closed the shutters of their houses, retired to the remote apartments, and buried their griefs in silence.

Into whatever city the English or the French entered, they were alike received with unbounded enthusiasm. In every large city there is a throng ready to shout hosanna to the conqueror, whoever he may be. When Wellington and his squadrons entered a Spanish city, the friends of the old regime gathered around them. And so it was with the French and their friends when they were the victors. Thus at Valence, where Joseph arrived on the 31st of August, he was received with all the honors which could be conferred upon the most beloved sovereign. An immense crowd thronged the streets, and lavished upon him every demonstration of gratitude. The devout King, much, moved by this exhibition of popular affection in these dark hours of defeat and humiliation, repaired at once to the cathedral, and in a solemn Te Deum  gave expression to his gratitude to God.

Joseph's first care was for the unhappy fugitives who, dreading the vengeance of the foe, had abandoned home and all, to accompany him in his flight. He had neither money, food, nor shelter to give them. He therefore sent this sorrow-stricken band, counting over twenty thousand, under an escort across the Pyrenees into France, where they would be protected and provided for.

At Valence Joseph concentrated his scattered forces, and early in November commenced his march back to Madrid. It is very difficult to ascertain the precise number of the forces on each side. Wellington's army was estimated at ninety-two thousand men. Joseph had collected superior numbers, and marched eagerly to attack him. Wellington rapidly retreated toward Ciudad Rodrigo, and on the 3d of December Joseph entered Madrid again in triumph.

Conciliation, kindness, deference to the wishes of others are not characteristic virtues of the English. They had long assumed, and with no little semblance of reason, that in wealth, power, arts, and arms they were the leading nation upon the globe. This assumption has made them unpopular as a people. They are so honest and plain-spoken that they never attempt to disguise their contempt for other nations. The victorious soldiers of Welling-ton particularly despised the Spaniards. This contempt neither officers nor soldiers attempted to conceal.

It is just the reverse with the French. The characteristic politeness of the nation leads them to compliment others, and to pay them especial deference. They conceal the sense of superiority which they may perhaps cherish. It is frequently said, as characteristic of the two nations, that the stranger in London gets the impression that every Englishman he meets has taken a special dislike to him personally; in Paris, on the other hand, he receives the impression that every Frenchman with whom he is brought into contact has a special fancy for him, perceiving in him virtues and excellences which he never supposed that he possessed.

The Duke of Wellington himself was a haughty, overbearing man. No soldier loved him, but all bowed submissive to his inflexible will. The deportment of the British troops in the Spanish capital was such as to alienate those who at first welcomed them, and they soon became universally disliked. The Spaniards are proud, proverbially proud; and they could not endure this contemptuous assumption of superiority. So great became the dissatisfaction that many of the Spanish generals proposed to unite their troops with those of King Joseph if he would grant them independent commands.

Exultantly the English on the Peninsula heard the tidings of the terrible disasters Napoleon was encountering in Russia. They could scarcely exaggerate them. It was manifest that for a long time, at least, Joseph could receive no assistance from France; on the contrary, many regiments of infantry and cavalry, and a number of companies of artillery, received orders immediately to leave Spain, and to hasten to the aid of the Emperor. Joseph, thus hopelessly crippled, was directed by the Emperor to concentrate his enfeebled forces upon the line of the Douro. Leaving a garrison of ten thousand men in Madrid, Joseph, with the remainder of his troops, retired toward the north.

In Wellington's retreat from Madrid, his troops committed all imaginable outrages. In his dispatch to his officers commanding his divisions and brigades, he said:

"From the moment the troops commenced their retreat from the neighborhood of Madrid on the one hand, and Burgos on the other, the officers lost all command over the men. Irregularities and outrages of all descriptions were committed with impunity, and losses have been sustained which ought never to have occurred. The discipline of every army, after a long and active campaign, becomes in some degree relaxed; but I am concerned to observe that the army under my command has fallen off in this respect, in the late campaign, to a greater degree than any army with which I have ever been, or of which I have ever read."

Thus terminated the year 1812. The disappointment of the British Government, in view of the discomfiture and retreat of Wellington, was very great, and the indignation of that portion of the English people who were opposed to this interminable warfare against the new regime in France knew no bounds. That the English army had, through a long line of disastrous retreat, according to the testimony of its commander, inflicted outrages upon the Spanish people, its allies, greater than that commander had ever read of in history, keenly wounded the national pride.

As fresh tidings arose of the disasters which had befallen Napoleon in the north, the British Government renewed their zeal to assail him from the south. Large re-enforcements were sent out during the winter with such abundant supplies as to enable Wellington to commence the spring campaign with every assurance of success. The Cortes in Cadiz, with ever-varying policy, much to the disgust of many of the Spanish generals, invested the British duke with the supreme command. The opposition, however, was so great that the duke's brother, Mr. Henry Wellesley, who was then British ambassador at Cadiz, advised him not to accept the office. But the energetic duke was confident that, by combining the whole military strength of the Peninsula with the army and fleet of England, he could drive the feeble remnants of the French from the kingdom. He therefore undertook the command.

The Cortes was led to this decisive measure from the fact that there was a strong and increasing party of their own number in favor of rallying to the support of Joseph. Their only choice lay between Joseph or Ferdinand, or the experiment of a democratic republic. Wellington's visit to Cadiz, says Alison, "brought forcibly under his notice the miserable state of the Government at that place, ruled by a furious democratic faction, intimidated by an ungovernable press, and alternately the prey of aristocratic intrigue and democratic fury. He did not fail to report to the Government this deplorable state of things."

In the beginning of May Wellington was prepared to take the field with an allied army of two hundred thousand men. The navy of England actively co-operated with this immense force, conveying supplies and protecting the extreme flanks of the line, which stretched across the kingdom. The storm of war burst forth again in all its fury. Manfully Joseph contended to the last. In the vicinity of Valladolid he had concentrated fifty thousand men, and hoped to be able there to give battle. But Wellington came upon him with an army one hundred thousand strong, which was reported to be one hundred and ninety thousand.

The French on the 14th of June retreated to Vittoria. The garrison in Madrid and the civil authorities now abandoned the capital and took refuge with the army. Here a short but terrible battle ensued. The English had eighty thousand combatants on the field; the French, according to their statement, had but half as many. Alison states their force at sixty-five thousand. It was an awful battle. Both parties fought desperately. The loss of the French was six thousand nine hundred and sixty; that of the English five thousand one hundred and eighty. The French army was impoverished after weary months of warfare, in a land stricken by famine, and wasted by the sweep of armies and the plundering of banditti. It was with very great difficulty that Joseph could support his destitute troops. Yet Alison, in that strain of exaggeration which sullies his often eloquent pages, writes:

"Independent of private booty, no less than five millions and a half of dollars in the military chest of the army were taken; and of private wealth the amount was so prodigious that for miles together the combatants may almost be said to have marched upon gold and silver, without stooping to pick it up."

In the hour of victory Wellington seemed to have no control over his soldiers, whom his pen describes as drunken and brutal. Reeling in intoxication, they wandered at will. Wellington states that three weeks after the battle above twelve thousand of his soldiers had abandoned their colors. "I am convinced," he says in a dispatch to Lord Bathurst, "that we have out of our ranks doubled our loss in the battle, and have lost more men in the pursuit than the enemy have."

The retreat of the French was conducted with the firmness and admirable discipline characteristic of French soldiers. As the troops slowly and sullenly retired toward the French frontier, pressed by superior numbers, they turned occasionally upon their pursuers, and the advance-guard of the foe encountered several very bloody repulses.

We have not space to allude to these various conflicts, which only checked for a moment the onrolling tide of the victorious allied army. Wellington's troops took the town of San Sebastian by storm. This was a beautiful Spanish city, through which the French retreated, and where they made a short and desperate stand. We will leave it to Mr. Alison to describe the conduct of Lord Wellington's troops.

"And now commenced," writes Alison, "a scene which has affixed as lasting a stain on the character of the English and Portuguese troops, as the heroic valor they displayed in the assault has given them enduring and exalted fame. The long endurance of the assault had wrought the soldiers up to perfect madness. The soldiers wreaked their vengeance with fearful violence on the unhappy inhabitants. Some of the houses adjoining the breaches had taken fire from the effects of the explosion. The flames, fanned by an awful tempest which burst on the town, soon spread with frightful rapidity. The wretched inhabitants, driven from house to house as the conflagration devoured their dwellings, were soon huddled together in one quarter, where they fell a prey to the unbridled passions of the soldiery.

"Attempts were at first made by the British officers to extinguish the flames, but they proved vain among the general confusion which prevailed. The soldiers broke into the burning houses, pillaged them of the most valuable articles they contained, and rolling numerous "casks of spirits into the streets, with frantic shouts, emptied them of their contents, till vast numbers of them sank down like savages, motionless, some lifeless, from the excess.

"Carpets, tapestry, beds, silks and satins, wearing apparel, jewelry, watches, and every thing valuable, were scattered about upon the bloody pavements, while fresh bundles of them were thrown from the windows above to avoid the flames, and caught with demoniac yells by the drunken crowds beneath. Amidst these scenes of disgraceful violence and unutterable woe, nine-tenths of the once happy, smiling town of St. Sebastian were reduced to ashes. And what has affixed a yet darker blot on the character of the victors, deeds of violence and cruelty were perpetrated hitherto rare in the British army, and which causes the historian to blush, not merely for his country, but for his species."

The account which is given by Spanish historians of these transactions is even far more dreadful than the above; so revolting that we can not pain our readers by transcribing it upon these pages. A document issued by the Constitutional Junta, after describing crimes as awful as even fiends could commit, adds:

"Other crimes more horrible still, which our pen refuses to record, were committed in that awful night, and the disorders continued for some days after without any efficient steps being taken to arrest them. Of above six hundred houses, of which St. Sebastian consisted on the morning of the assault, there remained at the end of three days only thirty-six."

The Duke of Wellington, in his dispatch to the Spanish Minister of War, said, in reference to these excesses, that it was impossible for him to restrain the passions of his soldiers, that he and his officers did their utmost to stop the fire and to avoid the disorders, but that all their efforts were ineffectual.

Joseph, in his retreat, threw three thousand men into the citadel of St. Sebastian. They held back the British army sixty days. Their skill and valor extorted the commendation of their foes. The siege cost the allied army three thousand eight hundred men, and delayed for three months the invasion of the southern provinces of France.

Joseph slowly retreated, fighting his way, step by step, across the Pyrenees into France, pursued by the victors. On the 12th of April, Joseph, having crossed the mountains, and being thus driven from his kingdom, had no longer any legitimate power. The command of the French army devolved upon Soult. Utterly weary of the cares and harassments of royalty, for which Joseph never bad any inclination, he joined his wife and children at his estate at Mortfontaine. England had wrested the crown of Spain from Joseph Bonaparte, one of the best men whom a crown has ever adorned, and soon, with the aid of allied Europe, placed that crown upon the brow of Ferdinand VII. one of the worst men who has ever disgraced a throne. The result was that Spain was consigned to another half-century of shame, debasement, and misery.

Joseph had scarcely re-united himself with his wife and children in their much-loved home at Mortfontaine, when the allied armies, numbering more than a million and a half of bayonets, came crowding upon France from the north, from the east, and from the south; while the fleet of England, mistress of all the seas, lent its majestic co-operation on the west. Then ensued the sublimest conflict of which history gives us any account. Never before, in all Napoleon's world-renowned campaigns, had he displayed such vigor as in the masterly blows with which he struck one after another of his thronging assailants, and drove them, staggered and bleeding, before him.

France was exhausted. All Europe had combined to crush the Republican Empire, and restore the despotism of the old regime. Through an almost uninterrupted series of victories, Napoleon lost his crown. When in any one direction he was driving his foes headlong before him, from all other points they were rushing on, till France and Paris were well-nigh whelmed in the mighty inundation. In these hours of disaster, Joseph offered life, property, all to the service of his brother. They held a few hurried interviews in Paris, and then separated, each to fulfill his appointed task in the terrible drama.

The Emperor confided to Joseph the defense of Paris, and the protection of his son and of the Empress. On the 16th of March, 1814, the Emperor wrote to his brother from Reims:

"In accordance with the verbal instructions which I gave you, and with the spirit of all my letters, you must not allow, happen what may, the Empress and the King of Rome to fall into the hands of the enemy. The manoeuvres I am about to make may possibly prevent your hearing from me for several days. If the enemy should march on Paris with so strong a force as to render resistance impossible, send off toward the Loire the Regent, my son, the great dignitaries, the ministers, the senators. the President of the Conseil d'Etat, the chief officers of the crown, and Baron de la Bouillerie, with the money which is in my treasury. Never lose sight of my son, and remember that I would rather know that he was in the Seine, than that he was in the hands of the enemies of France. The fate of Astyanax, prisoner to the Greeks, has always seemed to me the most lamentable in history."

Faithfully, energetically, wisely, Joseph fulfilled the mission intrusted to him. In every possible way he endeavored to aid the Emperor in his heroic efforts; recruiting troops, arming them, and hurrying them off to the points where they were most needed: It was not till the allied forces were upon the heights of Montmartre, and where further resistance would but have exposed the capital to the horrors of a bombardment, that he consented to a surrender. All the arms in the city had been given out to the new levies, as they had been sent to the seat of war, and none remained to place in the hands of the populace, even were it judged best to summon them to the defense of the metropolis. A grand council was called on the 29th of March. The ministers, the grand dignitaries, the presidents of the sections, of the Council of State, and the President of the Senate were present.

The majority of the council were in favor of defending the city to the last possible moment. There were at hand the two corps of the dukes of Ragusa and Trévise, consisting of about seventeen thousand combatants, a few thousand of the National Guard, poorly armed, a few batteries served by the students of the schools and by the Invalides, and a few hundred recruits not yet organized. It was urged that the Empress, like another Maria Theresa, should remain with her son in the city, to assure the populace by her presence, and embolden the defense. She was to show herself to the people at the Hotel de Ville, with her son in her arms. Should the Empress leave the city, it would so discourage the people that all attempts at defense would be hopeless. Should she remain, the danger was very great that both she and her son might be captured; and unless she should immediately escape, all egress might be cut off, as the Allies were ran-idly surrounding the city.

Toward the close of the discussion, the Emperor's letter to Joseph of the 16th of March was presented and read. In this it will be remembered that he said:

"You must not allow, happen what may, the Empress and the King of Rome to fall into the hands of the enemy. Never lose sight of my son, and remember that I would rather know that he was in the Seine, than that he was in the hands of the enemies of France. The fate of Astyanax, prisoner to the Greeks, has always seemed to me the most lamentable in history."

This settled the question. The situation of affairs was so desperate that for the Empress to remain in Paris would be extremely perilous. It was therefore decided that she, with the Government, should retire to Chartres, and thence to the Loire. But Joseph stated that it was important to ascertain the real force of the hostile army, which was driving before them the two marshals, Marmont and Mortier. He therefore offered to remain in the city, making all possible arrangements for its defense, till that fact should be ascertained. Should it be found that resistance was quite impossible, he would rejoin the Government upon the Loire.

It is very evident that Joseph and the assembled Senate, and that Napoleon himself, hoped that Maria Louisa, from her own inward impulse, would soar to the heights of a heroine. Napoleon could not ask her to come thus to his defense. At St. Helena the Emperor allowed the regret to escape his lips that Maria Louisa was not able to rise to the sublimity of the occasion. The Empress, however, was but an ordinary woman, incapable of a grand action, and it is to be remembered that she must have been embarrassed by the thought that, in striving to arouse France for the defense of her husband, she was arraying the empire against her own father. Maria Louisa, as regent, presided over this private council. The session was prolonged until after midnight. Joseph and the arch-chancellor accompanied the Empress to her home. It is evident, even then, that Joseph hoped that the Empress would assume the responsibility of a heroic act. M. Meneval, the secretary of the Empress, who was present at this interview, says:

"After the exchange of a few words upon the disastrous consequences of abandoning Paris, Joseph and the arch-chancellor ventured to say that the Empress alone could decide what course it was her duty to pursue. The Empress replied 'that they were her appointed advisers, and that she could not undertake any course unless she was advised to do it by them, over their own seal and signature.' Both declined to assume this responsibility."

The departure of the Empress was fixed at eight o'clock the next morning. Joseph had already passed the barriers, to proceed to the advance posts of the army to reconnoitre the foe. The day had not yet dawned, when the saloons of the palace were filled with those who were to accompany the Empress in her flight. Anxiety sat upon every countenance, and the solemnity of the occasion caused every voice to be hushed, so that impressive silence reigned. Early as was the hour, the alarming rumor that the Empress was to abandon Paris had reached the ears of the National Guard. Suddenly the officers of the guard who were stationed at the palace, with several others who had joined them, precipitately entered, and, by their earnest request, were conducted to the Empress. They entreated her not to leave Paris, promising to defend her to the last possible extremity.



The Empress was moved to tears by their devotion, but alleged the order of the Emperor. Nevertheless, conscious of the discouraging effect of her departure, she delayed hour after hour, hoping without venturing to avow it, that some chance might arise which would enable her to remain. M. Clarke, the Minister of War, alarmed at the danger that soon all egress would be impossible, sent an officer to the Empress to represent to her the necessity of an immediate departure. Thus urged by some to go, by others to remain, the Empress was agitated by the most distracting embarrassment. She returned to her chamber, threw her hat upon her bed, seated herself in a chair, buried her face in her bands, and burst into an uncontrollable flood of tears. "O my God," she was heard to exclaim, "let them decide this question among themselves, and put an end to this my agony."

About ten o'clock the Minister of War sent again to her a message stating that she had not one moment to lose, and that unless she left immediately she was in danger of falling into the bands of the Cossacks. As Joseph was now absent, and she could receive no further counsel from him, she hastened her departure. It was indeed true that the delay of a few hours would have rendered her escape impossible, for that very day the banners of the Allies presented themselves before the walls of the metropolis.

Joseph had returned rapidly to the city, to make as determined a defense as possible. The National Guard hastened to the posts assigned them. Volunteers, many of them armed with shot-guns, advanced to operate as skirmishers against the foe. The students of the Polytechnic School served the artillery confided to their "young and brilliant" valor. The thunders of the cannonade were soon heard, rousing the populace to a frenzy of courage. They rushed through the streets demanding arms, but there were none to be given them. The arsenals were all empty.

The allied troops came pouring on like the raging tides of the sea. Their numbers in advance and in the rear far exceeded a million of bayonets. It was all dynastic Europe arrayed against one man. Distinctly the allied kings had declared to the world that they were not fighting against France, but against Napoleon.

The next day, the 30th, Joseph received a note from General Marmont, written in pencil, from the midst of the conflict, stating that it would be impossible to prolong the resistance beyond a few hours, and that measures must immediately be adopted to save Paris from the horrors of being carried by storm. Joseph instantly convoked a council, and the opinion was unanimous that a capitulation was inevitable. Accordingly Joseph at once sent General Stroltz, his aide-de-camp, to Marshals Marmont and Mortier, authorizing them to enter into a conference with the enemy, while they were to continue their, resistance as persistently as possible.

All hope of defending Paris was now abandoned. In accordance with the instructions of the Emperor, it was the duty of Joseph to join himself to the Empress and her son. At four o'clock he crossed the Seine. A few moments after the bridges were seized by the enemy. Napoleon had retired to Fontainebleau. Passing through Versailles, where he ordered the cavalry in that city to follow him, Joseph proceeded to Chartres, where he joined the Empress and her son, and with them advanced to Blois. He hoped to join his brother at Fontainebleau, there to confer with him upon the measures to be adopted in these hours of disaster. With this intention he set out from Blois, but squadrons of hostile cavalry were sweeping in all directions, and his communication beyond Orleans was cut off. He was therefore compelled to return to Blois. There he was in the greatest peril, for the Cossacks were in his immediate vicinity. He could neither reach the Emperor nor communicate with him. Neither could he ascertain the result of the negotiation entered into at Paris with the foe.

Almost immediately the news came of the Emperor's abdication. The Cossacks escorted Maria Louisa and the King of Rome to Rambouillet, where they were placed under the care of her father, the Emperor of Austria. The Emperor was sent to Elba. Joseph, who was still wealthy, purchased the estate of Prangins, on the border of the lake of Geneva. Here he had a brief respite from the terrible storms of life, with his wife and children, in that retirement which he loved so well.