Farewell to the Old Guard

Napoleon the night before Austerlitz.

Where Napoleon went on the battlefield his soldiers cheered.  Austrian piquets the night before Austerlitz reported hearing cheering coming from the French campfires, it was Napoleon moving among his men preparing them for the morning's battle.  By all accounts, he had a special relationship with his men the way very few generals do.

So it is not surprising that in 1814 before he would step down from power for the first time, that he penned this farewell message to the Old Guard, the men he had served with the longest.

Foot grenadier of the Old Guard.
Soldiers of my Old Guard: I bid you farewell. For twenty years I have constantly accompanied you on the road to honor and glory. In these latter times, as in the days of our prosperity, you have invariably been models of courage and fidelity. With men such as you our cause could not be lost; but the war would have been interminable; it would have been civil war, and that would have entailed deeper misfortunes on France.  

I have sacrificed all of my interests to those of the country. 

I go, but you, my friends, will continue to serve France. Her happiness was my only thought. It will still be the object of my wishes. Do not regret my fate; if I have consented to survive, it is to serve your glory. I intend to write the history of the great achievements we have performed together. Adieu, my friends. Would I could press you all to my heart.

Napoleon Bonaparte - April 20, 1814

Of course, Napoleon would be restored to power for the 100 days, and the Old Guard would answer his call and march for him one more time.

As far as other pre-20th century generals that may have had this sort of relationship with their men, I can think of very few:  General Robert E. Lee, General McClellan (before his failures), Wellington (at times) and General John Burgoyne.  I am sure there are others but these are the generals that come to mind from my reading of history.

If there are other generals to add to this list, please leave them as a comment below.  Thanks!


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