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July 25 1812: Marshall Marmont's Excuses



On July 25, 1812,  Auguste Frédéric Louis Viesse de Marmont, the Duke of Ragusa, French General, nobleman and Marshal of France, tries to explains to Napoleon the French army's loss at the Battle of Salamanca under his command. Marmont explains but for the fact that he had been gravely injured he would have won. He writes: 
"I was proceeding to lead them and to take the immediate command of this part of the battle, when, by a cruel accident, at the moment when my presence was most required, a round of grape-shot threw me over, shattering my right arm, and inflicting two severe wounds in my side, thus rendering me incapable of taking any part in the command. The anarchy consequent upon this accident and on the wound of General Bonnet, my next in command as the senior general of division, who was struck a few instants afterwards, prevented the execution of my orders; so that General Maucune, notwithstanding the brilliant success which he had obtained, was forced by superior numbers to retire."
Marmont's letter is written to King Joseph of Spain, Napoloen's brother, but Marmont knew the letter would be sent to Napoleon. In fact, Napoleon received Marmont's  letter on September 2 1812 in Russia, just prior to the Battle of Borodino. He was not happy. Marmont's letter is reproduced below. 


Marmont to Joseph.
Arevalo, July 25,1812.

I have the honour of giving an account to your Majesty of the events which took place before my arrival on the Douro, and of the motives which led me thither. Having increased my artillery and cavalry, and joined by General Bonnet's division, I set about to resume the offensive. On the 17th of this month, after having, in order to deceive the enemy, manoeuvred for four or five days to my right in the direction of Toro, I crossed the bridge of Tordesillas and arrived without difficulty upon the table-land of Rueda: the same night the army halted at Nava del Rey. On the 18th, having surprised the advanced guard of the enemy at Tordesillas, I pressed it with vigour, and forced it to make a retreat of more than three leagues with much precipitation and great danger, and constantly under the fire of my artillery. That day I reached the banks of the Zuarena, where the enemy took up a position. The strength of that position having prevented me from attacking, I manoeuvred to effect the passage of the river, which took place on the 20th. The enemy, who had followed me in my movement, sought to gain possession of the table-lands, on which depended the security of my operation, but he failed, and we manoeuvred under a constant cannonade from each other's artillery. This sort of operation is the only one which is good against the English, who have a peculiar talent for taking up positions, and whom therefore it is advisable to thwart by preventing them as much as possible (before entering into action) from establishing themselves as they wish to do. On the 20th the enemy moved to the strong position of St. Cristobal. On the 21st I effected the passage of the Tonnes, after having taken possession of the bridge of Alba; the army placed itself between Alba de Tormis and Salamanca, at the entrance of the woods. On the night of the 21st the English army passed the Tonnes, and placed itself in position opposite to me at a distance of three-quarters of a league.


I made a reconnaissance at daybreak, and I passed the morning in making my dispositions, first with a view of preparing a good defence, and secondly with that of attacking, if circumstances should appear favourable. Everything promised well. I thought it necessary to occupy a table-land which completed our system of defence, and, at the same time, would be very useful in case we should act upon the offensive, on which I had almost determined. I caused it to be occupied by the 5th division and the reserve of the horse-artillery, with strict orders to confine themselves to taking possession of the table-land. As it was possible that the enemy, when he saw that we were masters of it, would attack it before I had time to collect all my forces, I directed two divisions to draw near as a support. General Maucune broke and drove off the English detachment which occupied the heights.


Up to that time we had had nothing but success, and everything promised that it would be complete. I thought it necessary to bring up frosh troops to act with vigour in support of General Maucune, and to crush the enemy, who was assembling his forces. I immediately collected together all the troops at my disposal, and I was proceeding to lead them and to take the immediate command of this part of the battle, when, by a cruel accident, at the moment when my presence was most required, a round of grape-shot threw me over, shattering my right arm, and inflicting two severe wounds in my side, thus rendering me incapable of taking any part in the command. The anarchy consequent upon this accident and on the wound of General Bonnet, my next in command as the senior general of division, who was struck a few instants afterwards, prevented the execution of my orders; so that General Maucune, notwithstanding the brilliant success which he had obtained, was forced by superior numbers to retire. The troops which came to his assistance, performing prodigies of valour, but acting without concert, were also forced to retreat. At length, Sire, the army, having maintained the combat for three hours, quitted the field of battle.


General Clausel, who is in command, has judged it necessary to recross the Tormes, and will take a position on the right bank of the Lesma and the Douro.

The condition in which I am, obliges me to offer to your Majesty a very brief report. As soon as I can, I shall have the honour of entering into fuller details upon this event, which illustrates but too forcibly the caprices of fortune and the dissipation of the most flattering hopes by sad realities. The army has to regret the loss of a considerable number of officers of every rank. The Generals Ferez-Thomiere and Desgravier have fallen; General has received a ball through the thigh; General Menne is wounded, as is also General Clausel, but slightly. We estimate our loss at nearly 5000 men: that of the English must be much greater. I can hardly describe the mischief which was done to them by our artillery.



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