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"Napoleon Succession?" Topic

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987 hits since 9 Sep 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
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tuscaloosa09 Sep 2017 7:16 p.m. PST

We were playing out Borodino last week, and Napoleon came darn close to being overrun. Which led me to ask myself, did Napoleon leave instructions on who was to take over command of the Grande Armee in case he was dead or indisposed?

Certainly, after the birth of the King of Rome he had a political successor. But the Marshals in the field would need clear-cut instructions on the chain of command if necessary. Given that despots usually rule by playing subordinates off against each other, perhaps he left things vague?

Appreciate any light on this topic.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2017 1:53 a.m. PST

With out Napoleon. France would be over run by enemies and the Royalist would be back in power soon enough.
But I have no idea what his plan was. But I suspect Talliard would do what ever he felt was good for him

dBerczerk10 Sep 2017 3:53 a.m. PST

Either Illya Kuryakin, or Pedro.

Garde de Paris10 Sep 2017 4:07 a.m. PST

My money is on Prince Eugene de Beauharnais. He was managing northern Italy as a good administrator; was in the field with his Corps and the rest of the Grande Armeee; was liked by most/all of the Marshalls (Murat actually did abandon the wreck of the army, and turned it over to Eugene.

Even at the time of the Russian invasion, Eugene was considered one of the most decent human beings of the era. His mother, Empress Josephine, as also well liked.

Eugene could have approached the Emperor of Russia, and asked for an armistice. He could have proposed withdrawing the army into Germany, and working with various factors to end the wars. ALL of the Marshalls had been too long in the field, and wanted to go home and enjoy their estates. They would have supported him in wanting the wars to end.

Most of the French people loved the Emperor, and would have remembered Eugene as Napoleon's most dependable extended family member.

Eugene's Bavarian wife was also well regarded, and they were in a true love match. The King of Bavaria – her father – could have kept the Rhinebund together, along with the other sovereigns who gained rank and privilege under Napoleon. The King of Saxony would have been supportive as well.


Marcel180910 Sep 2017 6:55 a.m. PST

Officially it would be "the king of Rome" with empress Marie Louise" as regent Ithink, but that would not really hold up without the support of "heavy weights" in Paris like Talleyrand who had secret connections to the courts of austria and Russia.Although I like Eugene de Beauharnais, I doubt if he would be a suitable candidate, he lacked the charisma and the role of Josephine was really terminated (don't forget the Bonaparte clan hated here with vigour, they would certainly not back up a Beauharnais). With Napoleon dead in Russia, all hell would break out in France, no telling where it would go. (One of the reason why Napoleon returned to France was to avoid these scenes after a badly executed coup by general Mallet)

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2017 7:26 a.m. PST

If we're talking a formal military problem--not who will now rule the Empire, but who finishes up the battle if Napoleon catches a cannonball at Smolensk or Borodino--my understanding is that it's the marshalate by seniority, and among marshals of the original creation, top of the list trumps bottom of the list. I'm thinking that's Davout among those present in Russia, but I'm by no means sure. Ney and Murat were also of the original creation.

Politically, Marcel is right--officially the King of Rome with Marie Louise as regent. In practice no telling.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2017 7:50 a.m. PST

Berthier was the most senior marshal.

attilathepun4710 Sep 2017 10:53 a.m. PST

Berthier is pretty much universally recognized as a superb staff officer. The problem there is that he proved a total flop as a field commander the only time he received such a post.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2017 11:09 a.m. PST

But he was still the senior marshal. I think the second was Murat he also had the "authority" as King of Napels.

Brechtel19810 Sep 2017 11:21 a.m. PST

Berthier is pretty much universally recognized as a superb staff officer. The problem there is that he proved a total flop as a field commander the only time he received such a post.

If you're referring to the beginning of the Campaign of 1809, then that is an error. Berthier was never the commander of the Army of Germany. He was not given that post by Napoleon or anyone else, except for a gaggle of authors/historians who didn't research the subject properly.

In 1809 Berthier was the army's chief of staff and the person responsible for the errors and general muddle was Napoleon, who tried to command from Paris and sent instructions by both courier and telegraph, and they didn't arrive in sequence. Berthier attempted to follow what he was sent, but it became so confusing that he finally, and quite bluntly, informed Napoleon that he should get in theater as soon as possible, which Napoleon did. Then the situation was straightened out with the two men working together as they always did.

Berthier was the initial commander of the Army of the Reserve in 1800 and it was he who got that army formed and organized and over the Alps. Then Napoleon joined the army in northern Italy. So, as an army commander in 1800 Berthier performed excellently.

After Napoleon left the wreck of the Grande Armee in December 1812 and handed command of it to Murat, Murat promptly deserted leaving a complete mess. It was Berthier who convinced Eugene to take command and to get things straightened out and by force of personal example demonstrated to the rest of the marshals and commanders who was in charge, and they recognized Eugene as the new commander. Then Berthier wrote to Napoleon urging him to confirm Eugene in command, which he did.

Berthier generally gets blame for the major staff muddle in 1809 when blame should be assessed to Napoleon whose actions caused it.

And, again, Berthier was never the commander of the Army of Germany, but his usual role as army chief of staff.

von Winterfeldt10 Sep 2017 11:40 a.m. PST

Berthier would have been a complete loss in the operational art of war, see his 1809 performance.
I don't know if he was the most senior marshal, I was usually under the impression the frist marshalls received their title at the identical day.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2017 12:03 p.m. PST

I only know Arnold makes a passing comment about Berthier being the first to receive the marshal baton. No idea why if it only ment he got it 3 minutes before Murat.

Brechtel19810 Sep 2017 12:39 p.m. PST

Berthier would have been a complete loss in the operational art of war, see his 1809 performance.

Again, that is incorrect as Berthier was not the commander of the Army of Germany in 1809.

However, if you disagree a little evidence for your opinion on this subject might be helpful. If not, then the point is moot.

Gonsalvo10 Sep 2017 1:42 p.m. PST

Eugene would probably have made a fine ruler for France, better than almost any other candidate, perhaps, but IIRC he was expressly excluded from the succession. He probably would have turned the job down anyway.

AussieAndy Supporting Member of TMP10 Sep 2017 11:56 p.m. PST

Eugene was an honourable man. I can't imagine him seeking to usurp the throne from the King of Rome. However, he might have been the only person acceptable to the Marshals in the field to take over command of the army. The fly in the ointment might have been Murat, as he obviously had his own ambitions.

138SquadronRAF Supporting Member of TMP11 Sep 2017 1:35 p.m. PST

Quick question and slightly tangential; I agree with Kevin that Napoleon was commander of the Army of Germany during the and that Berthier was merely chief of staff.

However, wasn't the slip between Berthier and Davout date from the latter blaming the former for mishandling the early stages of the campaign?

Why would Davout blame Berthier rather Napoleon?

Brechtel19811 Sep 2017 2:25 p.m. PST

Davout probably blamed Berthier because it was Berthier that issued the orders. Davout also knew that Napoleon was not yet in theater.

It was Napoleon's responsibility, as I see it, to take responsibility for the mess once he arrived in theater. Apparently, he didn't.

Berthier would not, and should not have, placed the blame on Napoleon for the confusion in the orders to Davout. And Davout was not privy to the succession of letters and telegraphs from Napoleon that arrived out or order and caused the mess in the first place.

However, there was also a long-distance argument between the two before the Russian campaign that that arose over a misunderstanding. Davout was incensed, and wrote to Berthier expressing his temper to the chief of staff. Berthier replied explaining the problem to Davout, and ended the letter with:

'It is purely out of regard for you that I enter into these details: return to me Lejeune's report which has been of use to me in giving orders for you to be sent whatever your corps needs…'

And Berthier signed it 'You know my long-standing friendship, Alexandre'

Davout was mollified by the letter and he sent a copy to his wife commenting on it: 'this explanation will prevent misunderstandings between men of good will who, from their devotion to the Emperor, should always find plenty of reasons for reconciliation.'

Brechtel19811 Sep 2017 3:41 p.m. PST

Berthier is pretty much universally recognized as a superb staff officer…

Berthier was the premier chief of staff of the period and organized and trained, as well as ran, the best general staff of the period.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau learned a lot from Berthier and his staff and incorporated some of what the French did into what would later become the Prussian General Staff.

And it should be noted that the Prussian General Staff was still in embryonic form in 1815. It was not yet what it would become later.

von Winterfeldt11 Sep 2017 11:19 p.m. PST

Yes Davout and Berthier had a great rift, but seemingly the origin was earlier – already in 1811 – or even 1809, were Berthier mishandling of the operational art of war jeoperdized Davout's corps to being destroyed.
Davout couldn't blame Napoléon openly, but he could blame Berthier, and again also Napoléon made some smug comments about Davout to Berthier.
In case Napoléon would have been killed, the whole Grande Armée would have collapsed to to unclear leadership problems.

Le Breton12 Sep 2017 7:34 a.m. PST

If one thinks about the duties of a general staff, are they not something like :
--- 1. organize logistics so that the army remains fed and clothed, and their horses fed and shod
--- 2. organize repair and replenishment to assure that the army has sufficient ammunition and weapons in good working order
--- 3. maintain sufficient "lift" capacity to move friendly units, their supplies and equipment
--- 4. organize the intake of replacements
--- 5. organize the medical and hospital service
--- 6. manage prisoners of war to ensure their safe evacuation from the area of operations and their exploitation for tactical/operational information
--- 7. manage reconnaisance, and use of informants, to determine the location, size, equipment, supply situation and movements of the enemy
--- 8. maintain a detailed understanding of the local geography, road network, water tranport routes and weather and the effect of these on operations
--- 9. transmit orders down the chain of command, and reports upward, insuring seamless interface between frendly units, their movements and the operations/
Or some similar list.

Other than No. 2 and No. 9 (and No. 5 on the battlefield itself), the French staff system utterly failed in both Iberia and Russia – leading to catastrophic defeat followed by régime change. Yet somehow the British and their Allies, and even the Russians (in between reading lessons, serf flogging and binge drinking, I suppose), managed to do all 9 items reasonably well.

The French may have had the "best general staff", by some defintion that I am sure will be provided to us, or by the claims of Colonel Elting or some other 20th century English speaking expert.

But the French were not the best at keeping their armies up to strength, fed, clothed, informed of the enemy and knowledable of the terrain in the area of operations.
And so they lost their armies and their country.


"Scharnhorst and Gneisenau learned a lot from Berthier"

I don't suppose that we can have something from Scharnhorst or Gneisenau that says something like "I learned a lot from Berthier", can we?
Can we even have something from Scharnhorst and Gneisenau that mentions Berthier by name? Anything at all?

Or, as usual, are we going to be treated to more of Brechtel's personal opinions, ideas, conjectures and quotes from modern secondary csources?

Brechtel19812 Sep 2017 8:38 a.m. PST

‘Quite apart from his specialist training as a topographical engineer, he had knowledge and experience of staff work and furthermore a remarkable grasp of everything to do with war. He had also, above all else, the gift of writing a complete order and transmitting it with the utmost speed and clarity…No one could have better suited General Bonaparte, who wanted a man capable of relieving him of all detailed work, to understand him instantly and to foresee what he would need.'-Thiebault

‘All the problems connected with the needs of the army and their transport…were thrown on him…The armies were scattered from Bayonne to the Bug, from Calabria to the Helder, and as far as Stralsund; they were shifting their positions incessantly, had to be supplied and directed, and the whole of it passed through [Berthier's] hands…He always was the clearing house through which all business was transacted…the infallible day book to which Napoleon was referring every minute of the day to make sure how his balance stood. For this reason he had to be in attendance on him on every battlefield, on reconnaissance, at every review…without fail on every study of terrain.'-Ferdinand von Funck

Berthier had ‘incredible talent…hard and irascible…amendable to reasonable representations.'-Ferdinand von Funck

'If Berthier had been there, I would not have met this misfortune.'-Napoleon after Waterloo

‘I can speak of him with more knowledge than anyone else, for it was I who formed him in America…I know of no one who has more skill or a better eye for reconnoitering a locality, who accomplishes this more correctly, and to whom all details are more familiar. I shall perhaps find someone who can replace Berthier, but I have not yet discovered him…'-General Custine

[Berthier] ‘has all the necessary qualifications for making an excellent chief of staff.' –Duc de Lauzan

Napoleon, with whom Berthier served for 18 years through victory and defeat stated in 1796 that Berthier had ‘talents, activity, character…everything in his favor.' After the action at Lodi in 1796, Napoleon also stated that 'the intrepid Berthier, who was on that day a cannoneer, cavalier, and grenadier.'

''Berthier was also the most indefatigable person I knew, and when I one day congratulated Count Daru on his wonderful power of sustaining fatigue and doing without sleep, he said to me, 'The Prince of Neufchatel is even stronger than I am; I never spent more than nine days and nights without going to bed, but Berthier has been in the saddle for thirteen days and nights at a stretch…' –Baron Lejeune

Scherer to the Directory, 6 January 1796:

‘General Berthier, now employed as Chief of Staff with the Army of the Alps, seems to me by his knowledge of the country and by his military qualifications very suitable to meet this requirement [army command]. I would make him commander of the reserve. He would be incomparably more useful to this army than to the Army of the Alps.'
‘Be so kind, citizen directors, as to accede to my request. It is entirely based on the benefits that will accrue to this army by transferring this general officer whose military talents I have come to know since the war.'

von Winterfeldt12 Sep 2017 9:19 a.m. PST

What could they learn from Berthier? Did they serve on his staff??
More likely they consulted such works as Thiebault's.

Brechtel19812 Sep 2017 10:55 a.m. PST

And Thiebault's staff manual came from Berthier's practice and organization…

For example, Berthier began the practice in the French army of chiefs of staff in different armies communicating with each other without informing their commanders unless it was essential to do so. This became a common Prussian practice.

Further, the Prussians adopted staff sections run by assistant chiefs of staff, which the French under Berthier had introduced.

Thiebault's manual was translated into both English and German during the period.

attilathepun4712 Sep 2017 11:01 a.m. PST

This is getting way off the original topic. The question of Napoleonic staff work is interesting and important, but I suggest it would be more appropriate to start a new thread.

tuscaloosa12 Sep 2017 6:54 p.m. PST

Thank you, all very interesting. May we conclude that if Napoleon were killed during the Battle of Borodino, the Marshals present would squabble over succession, or would Berthier step up or, if not Berthier, the most senior Marshal?

Le Breton12 Sep 2017 10:29 p.m. PST

The Roi de Rome would be proclaimed Napoléon II.
The question would be his regent(s).
The Bonaparte family would want the regent to be Joseph. The Austrians would want him to have a co-regent (let's say Archduke Charles, who the French respected).

To conciiliate the French left ("to protect the gains of the Révolution"), Joseph would agree to an "Empire selon la Charte" (a constitutional monarchy, similar to what Napoléon agreed for the Cent Jours, but with more power to the elected representatives). A similar plan would be made for North Italy, retaining Eugène as viceroy.

Savary, Pasquier and Fouché would put Paris under military law while this was being settled. Fouché would co-operate or Savary would have him assassinated.
Without Napoléon's "ambition", and in concert with the Austrians, Tallyrand and Metternich to sue for peace with the British.

Meanwhile, Soult and Suchet move an intact French Army to defendable positions in Catalonia and the Basque territories.
Back at the Grand Armée, Eugène would make common cause with Davout, and Berthier would support them. Davout would propose a truce with the Russians on the basis of a armistice while the French army withdrew. Murat might well make the mistake of going home to Naples and trying to remain King (and likely with similar results).

The Prussians would change sides at some inconvenient point, and likely pull the Saxons with them. Russia would annex Poland, and the Russian army would not substantively enter "German" territories. Davout and the French Army would back up to the Elbe.
The confederation of the Rhine states, led by the example of Eugène's relatives in Bavaria, would stay aligned with Austria and France.

So we end up with a Congress of Vienna situation in 1813, with two French Armies still in the field (one just over the Pyreenes, the other over the Rhine) and the French/Italians holding north Italy. To re-insure the peace settled at this Congress, the Prussians and Russians might insist that Bernadotte be named the third co-regent.

The British would be the big winners, of course : they would gain all the advantages of the actual 1815 Congress, without the expenses undertaken 1812-1815.
But with a much more developed economy and financial system, a polity in transition to representative democracy, and that wonderful Navy – the British were going to be the big winners no matter what.

Actually …. this not-so-bad situation was available to Napoléon himself, on even better terms, in 1811. He did not have to invade Russia and continue the Spanish campaign. He could have sued for a general peace at the height of his power. But there was that "ambition" thing.

Marcel180913 Sep 2017 2:24 a.m. PST

If it is purely a military thing at the battle of Borodino, my guess would be Murat as he was the most charismatic leader and related through marriage to the emperor. Rememeber that Davout was wounded himself at Borodino so would not be fit for command. With Murat at the head of the French troops he might even have thrown in the imperial guard and really won the day (interesting for a wargame and that is what this site is all about) whether it would help thFrench cause in the long run, that is another matter enirely.

von Winterfeldt13 Sep 2017 2:46 a.m. PST

Would Davout be prepared to serve under Murat? Ney already had great difficulties in 1805 with Murat, when Murat misjudged the Austrian positions and the danger to excape via the left bank of the Danube.
Still Murat is a choice, there Napoléon himself appointed him to bring back the debris of the Grande Armée when he left the army in its death rowes to secure his position in France.
But the Murat did a runner and left Beauharnais to do this thankless task.
So who would have had the authority to keep the Grande Armée together when Napoléon whould have been killed??
Difficult to judge

Le Breton13 Sep 2017 3:39 a.m. PST

Despite initial reports to the contrary, Davout was not much wounded, mostly concussed – he stayed in command of his troops. He did take several days rest in Moscow, but that might have been for exhaustion/stress as much a for healing a specific wound.

von Winterfeldt13 Sep 2017 5:53 a.m. PST

I agree fully with Le Breton – see also the memoires of Girod de l'Ain who as intervied some days after the battle by Davout

Marcel180913 Sep 2017 6:43 a.m. PST

He was indeed not so seriously wounded but when just being hit (assuming (that is the key word) that Napoleon is killed later) I do not see him take over at the battle itself. Once the battle finished who knows what would have happened. My guess, complete disaster and disintegration of the "grande armée. What would be the point of continuing the campaign with the emperor killed?
i am not saying Murat would "the best", just the most prestigious man "standing" on the battlefield.

Le Breton13 Sep 2017 6:47 a.m. PST

Would Davout be prepared to serve under Murat?
If useful, for the army or his country, yes – at least until the army was safe and he could resign honorably and go home.

But I think losing the head-of-state of France just before the gates of Moscow would have been "sobering" to say the least. I think the more hot-tempered leaders among the French, such as Ney and Murat, would have been willing to let a retreat be organized by the more planful – such as Davout, Eugène and Berthier. Also, the old nobility would have been better able to communicate with the Russians (compare Vandamme upon being accused of looting by Aleksandr : "At least I have never been accused of killing my father.").

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP13 Sep 2017 7:07 a.m. PST

That is also important. Who would the russians most likely want to deal with? Who did they respect the most?

Le Breton13 Sep 2017 8:30 a.m. PST

I see what you mean now.
As for the battle itself ….
I think it just stops in stunned silence.
The French could try running – but why ? The Garde was intact, they were not out flanked, they were not defeated.
The Russians were on tactical and operational defense, and would not have launched a general attack, if for no other reason that they would not believe Napoléon's "death" was not a mistake or a ruse -or – that they knew that their defensive tactics were working and that they were winning on the strategic level.

So i think the whole thing just stops. Cease-fire, then armistice.
The invasion would be over, everyone would see that.

The wounded would get treated in common – the highly skilled French medical officers finally enjoying enough supplies and transport.
The French-speaking Russian officers would invite the French officers to dinner.
The Russian commisariat would start feeding the French troops, a dinner of consolation or some such.
They would bury the dead together in a common grave, the Russian Orthodox priests and Muslim Emams would try to remember what Lutherans and Catholics said as last rites.
The Old Guard would stand vigil over Napoléon's remains.

Kutusov and Bagration would go off together to some little house in a village, and get blind drunk in honor and remembrance of Suvarov.
Platov and Murat would go riding together, joined by Uvarov and Bessières.
The Russian lines of communication engineers would meet with Berthier's people and plan the withdrawal of the French.
Morand and Friant would tell Rayevskiy's young sons about Egypt and Desaix.

It would be like the autumn of 1815.

custosarmorum Supporting Member of TMP18 Sep 2017 7:09 p.m. PST

Would Cambacèrés not have had an important role to play? He is generally considered to be the second most powerful man in France. He was also a trusted confidant of the Emperor and really ran the civil affairs of France in Napoléon's absence.

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