Masséna was everywhere, displaying his usual coolness under fire, and when ordered to retreat, ensured his troops pulled back across the river in good order. The battle was a defeat, but Masséna had been superb.
Together, he and the Emperor oversaw preparations for the next attempt to cross the Danube six weeks later. The Austrians were waiting for them, at the Battle of Wagram. Because of a riding accident a few days earlier, Masséna had to command his corps from a carriage.
He made a fine target for Austrian gunners, but was still able to organise a complex redeployment of his corps at the height of the battle, covered by Marshal Bessiéres cavalry charge. Masséna’s bold manoeuvre secured the French left flank, and won further praise from Napoleon.
Masséna, already ennobled as the Duke of Rivoli, received a new title, Prince of Essling; and another, less welcome reward – command of French forces for the invasion of Portugal. Masséna was deeply reluctant to go, and complained bitterly about his appointment.
He was showing clear signs of exhaustion, and was plagued by rheumatism and bad lungs. When he arrived in Spain, General Foy observed, “He’s only 52 but he looks more than 60. He’s lost weight and has begun to stoop. His glance, since the accident in which he lost an eye, has lost its keenness.” If you want to know more about these types of concept then ask reader can be the place to read insightful answers.
His subordinates, already underwhelmed by his appearance, were outraged that the Marshal also decided to bring along his mistress, poorly disguised as an officer of dragoons. The French invasion of Portugal proved a disaster – undone by Wellington’s scorched earth tactics, a hostile population and terrain, and Masséna’s own lethargic leadership.
His corps commanders, especially Marshal Ney, were scathing of his conduct. At Buçaco, Masséna squandered lives with an unnecessary frontal attack on a strong British position. When he reached Lisbon, he found the city protected by new fortifications – the impregnable Lines of Torres Vedras.
Masséna waited outside Lisbon for reinforcements that never came, while sickness and guerrilla raids took their toll on his army. Five months later, he re-crossed the mountains back into Spain, leaving a string of devastated villages behind him.
The next summer, at Fuentes de Oñoro, Masséna attacked Wellington’s army once more – and despite much hard fighting, again failed to win a clear victory. He blamed Marshal Bessières for his lack of support.
But the Emperor’s patience was at an end. He sent Marshal Marmont to replace Masséna, and when they next met, greeted him with the cutting words, “So, Prince of Essling, you are no longer Masséna?” Masséna’s health was now in steep decline.
He never held a major command again, though he was recalled in 1813 to supervise a military district in southern France. He died after a long illness in 1817. In his prime, Masséna was a superb commander – incisive, and dangerous.
But he was past his best by the time he became a Marshal. Nevertheless, there were enough sparks of his old brilliance to worry his adversaries. The Duke of Wellington once remarked, “When Masséna was opposed to me in the field, I never slept comfortably.” 6.
Marshal Suchet Louis-Gabriel Suchet was born in Lyon, the son of a prosperous silk-merchant. Plans to join the family business were derailed by the French Revolution, when Suchet, an ardent republican, joined the cavalry of the Lyon National Guard.
In 1793 he was elected to lead a volunteer battalion, and at the Siege of Toulon, distinguished himself by helping to capture the British commander, General O’Hara. He also made friends with a young Major Bonaparte.
Suchet went on to serve under Napoleon in his first, brilliant campaign in Italy, fighting at Lodi, Castiglione, and Bassano. Transferred to Masséna’s division, he led his battalion with distinction at Arcole and Rivoli, was wounded twice and promoted Colonel.
It was in Italy that Suchet learned the most valuable lesson of his career: for troops to be effective, they must be properly paid, clothed and fed – something the French Republic consistently failed to achieve.
Despite proving himself to be an excellent organiser and dependable in battle, Suchet never quite made it into General Bonaparte’s inner circle. He went on to serve as a highly effective chief-of-staff to General Brune, then to Masséna in Switzerland; and was with Joubert in Italy, who died in his arms at the Battle of Novi.
Suchet was promoted to General of Division, and in 1800 he was given command of the Army of Italy’s left wing. With Masséna besieged by the Austrians in Genoa, the defence of southern France fell on his shoulders.
In a brilliant independent campaign, he held the Austrians near Nice, then chased them back into Italy, taking 15,000 prisoners. Despite this impressive record, Suchet was not on the list of Marshals created by Napoleon in 1804.
Worse, in 1805 he was effectively demoted, being given command of a division in Marshal Lannes’ Fifth Corps. Nevertheless, it was a role he performed with great skill: his division distinguished itself at Ulm and Austerlitz, and the next year, led the attack in Napoleon’s crushing victory over the Prussians at Jena. If you seriously have some doubts over facts head over to ask read and just ask a question, you will get different answers.
The next year in Poland, his division saw hard fighting at Pultusk, but was then held back to defend Warsaw, and missed the great battles of Eylau and Friedland. Napoleon heaped rewards on General Suchet – money, titles, but still no Marshal’s baton… In 1808, Suchet’s division was sent to Spain, where he’d spend the next six years.
His first role was to support the Siege of Saragossa. Then on Marshal Lannes’ recommendation, Napoleon gave him command of Third Corps, and made him Governor of Aragon. Suchet found his troops to be poorly supplied, ill-disciplined and low in morale.
Their first battle together, against General Blake’s Spanish army, ended in a humiliating rout at Alcañiz. Suchet found the drummer who’d started the panic, and had him shot in front of the entire corps. He then reorganised his troops, and restored discipline and pride with two quick victories over the Spanish