Thursday, May 22, 2008

Against the odds (..Continued)

We will get back to the roman era again in the next post. But first let us take a peep into the period when the French revolution was at its peek. Yes guys, French revolution has a lot more to contribute to history than just some angry mob of psychopaths roaming around the streets and beheading every aristocratic organism they could find. The battle which I am going to tell you about now, occured in time when French revolution was at its zenith. Just like the battle of Alesia, even the battle of Tuileries is not among the most well known. Yet, to best describe it, if Battle of Alesia paved way for Caesar to become the most powerful man in the world, then Battle of Tuileries as good as placed Napolean Bonaparte at the helm of Revolutionary command. Moreover this battle is described in a completely erroneous way on Wikipedia, in just eight lines. Not only does it deserve a lot more emphasis, but also, the guys on Wikipedia have mentioned that " Bonaparte was serving in Paris and was given command of the improvised forces defending the Convention in the Tuileries Palace". This is totally bullshit. Technically, the whole sentence is correct. But they haven't written anything about the circumstances under which he was given command, nor about the importance of this battle. The person who wrote this probably forgot to include that if the Royalist would have won, the French Revolution would have ended then and there and that few hours before being given command Napolean was working near the palace as a librarian. From a librarian to a commander of 'National guards'(the term is explain later in this post), in a matter of hours, is really a feat only the greatest can perform. Which is why this battle must be given the attention it deserves(not on my blog). But yet this is for those who would like to read about such extraordinary feats.

Battle two

Battle of Tuileries : "Citizen Bonaparte knows the best"

Napolean was truly a hero made out of persistent hardwork right from youth. There was a time once when he couldn't work out a math problem in school, but reluctant to admit to anyone he can't solve it, he spent 72 hours working on it till he finally craked the nut. Imagine, three days one one problem. I can't spend more than an hour on a problem before I call up my pals for the solution. Much of todays warfare techniques and tactics like building bunkers and trenches, cover fire, gas bombs for cover, and even the concept of a sniper, were all a brainchild of this young man.

Few years after the French Revolution began, England made a desperate bid to attack France to help all the aristocrats being murdered there. They decided to attack from the south, and advanced in the Toulon region. Napolean then was hardly out of his teenage, and yet he was given command of the troops to drive the english out of Toulon, which he successfully did with along with the assistance of a young soldier named Junot(who later became the Duke of Abrantes). This was his first major battle in charge. Yet somehow the credit of victory was never given to Napolean since he was junior and of lower ranks, and people never knew the real mastermind behind the defeat of English. Nevertheless, the truth could not be hidden from the army and he became a celebrity among all the high ranking officers.

Toulon ; English ships hit by French artillery

But the celebrations were short lived as he was soon caught in an attempt to help an aristocrat escape out of the country. His reputation was the only thing that saved him from guillotine, and he went on to loose his place in the army. Later on he was overwhelmed with frustration, and unemployment didn't appeal to him at all. He said in his biography that he even considered suicide for some time. After a certain time he managed to get a job of a librarian in the capital of the Revolution and was working there.

Then ame the day when fortunes turned for both France and Napolean. The French army was engaged in war with Prussia, who just like england were trying to save the monarchy. All the major armed forced were on the battle front. Realizing this, the Royalist made their last and even their least attempt to save the kingdom. They managed to gather about forty thousand troops including supporters of monarchy and laid a siege on the capital. Citizen Robespierre was long dead then along with Danton and Marat. The country was then run by the "Committee of Public Safety', and was then gathered at the Tuileries palace. The Royalists planned to wipe out the committee, and end the godforsaken revolution. The capital had mere 4000 national guards, who hardly had any first hand combat experience, and were a sort of people used against local criminals and for arresting aristocrats. There were all the committee had to protect themselves.

On their first assault, the national guards were almost halved in numbers by the royalists. The Committee decided to hand over the command of the guards to General Menou, who was a well respected officer, and had never lost a battle in his entire career. But Menou refused the appointment, saying it was impossible to win, and that he didn't want to be the man responsible to end the revolution. The committee had then given up all hope and were waiting for the doom.

Just hours later, Menou while making his way out of the palace noticed Napolean around who had finished his library duties. He recognised him to be the man who drove the English out of Toulon, and greeted him. He then apprised Napolean of the circumstances, and Napolean said "Let me handle it". General Menou was an experienced man and he believed that if anyone could save the revolution now, Napolean would be that man. He then went on to introduce Napolean to the Committee, and told them he was the man they were looking for. At first glance the committee looked at Menou as if he had lost his mind. Napolean never had the features of a soldier, including his short height and feminine looks, along his record for helping an aristo. But realising they had no choice, they agreed to Menou's terms and appointed Napolean as the Commander of the guards.

On being appointed Napolean struck a 'commando operation' along with fellow soldier Joachim Murat, and captured all the royalist artillery(cannons). Adding this the the stockpile of cannons at the palace, he set up a number of booby traps withing the city for approaching royalist forces. Spending the whole afternoon setting up troops in the capital, he positioned the guards in such a manner as to create an ambush in every street, with help of the captured artillery.

Joachim Murat

An then there was the great battle. The royalist, who were already in half mind to celebrate victory, went in head first in the capital only to be shot like ducks. And they went on to save the revolution. Over twenty thousand were killed, and the survivors fled into the country. Napolean had hardly lost any men or any street in this whole battle. Two thousand men against forty thousand attackers. Not exactly a desirable ratio for the defending side. The odd are still the largest among all the battles fought, earlier and later.

Battle of Tuileries palace: Royalists killed in the ambush

Till morning he was just a librarian and by nightfall Napolean had become the national hero, with is name being pronounced in every corner of Paris. Vicomte de Barras, then the head of the committee, pardoned Napolean for his sympathy towards the aristocrats, and welcomed him on the committee. Within the next five years, Napolean had captured power, and was the undisputed ruler of France.
Vicomte de Barras

Its is to be noted that his achievements weren't sheer luck. He had worked hard than any other soldier, and was a high ranking official before he was dismissed from the army. He never wasted even so much as an hour without study, and was an exceptional academician. He still is the youngest person to be given the rank of a General till this date, which was before the battle of Tuileries took place.


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