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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

When Doppet sounded the retreat


we come on to ground that has been fiercely fought over in wordy war. Did Bonaparte originate the plan of attack? Or did he throw his weight and influence into a scheme that others beside him had designed? Or did he merely carry out orders as a subordinate? According to the Commissioner Barras, the last was the case. But Barras was with the eastern wing of the besiegers, that is, some miles away from the side of La Seyne and L'Eguillette, where Buonaparte fought. Besides, Barras' "Memoires" are so untruthful where Buonaparte is concerned, as to be unworthy of serious attention, at least on these points.[22] The historian M. Jung likewise relegates Buonaparte to a quite subordinate position.[23] But his narrative omits some of the official documents which show that Buonaparte played a very important part in the siege. Other writers claim that Buonaparte's influence on the whole conduct of operations was paramount and decisive. Thus, M. Duruy quotes the letter of the Commissioners to the Convention: "We shall take care not to lay siege to Toulon by ordinary means, when we have a surer means to reduce it, that is, by burning the enemy's fleet.... We are only waiting for the siege-guns before taking up a position whence we may reach the ships with red-hot balls; and we shall see if we are not masters of Toulon." But this very letter disproves the Buonapartist claim. It was written on September 13th. Thus, _three days before Buonaparte's arrival_, the Commissioners had fully decided
on attacking the Little Gibraltar; and the claim that Buonaparte originated the plan can only be sustained by antedating his arrival at Toulon.[24] In fact, every experienced officer among besiegers and besieged saw the weak point of the defence: early in September Hood and Mulgrave began the fortification of the heights behind L'Eguillette. In face of these facts, the assertion that Buonaparte was the first to design the movements which secured the surrender of Toulon must be relegated to the domain of hero-worship. (See note on p. 56.)

[Illustration: THE SIEGE OF TOULON, 1793, from "L'Histoire de France depuis la Revolution de 1789," by Emmanuel Toulougeon. Paris, An. XII. [1803]. A. Fort Mulgrave. A'. Promontory of L'Eguillette. 1 and 2. Batteries. 3. Battery "Hommes sans Peur." The black and shaded rectangles are the Republican and Allied positions respectively.]

Carteaux having been superseded by Doppet, more energy was thrown into the operations. Yet for him Buonaparte had scarcely more respect. On November 15th an affair of outposts near Fort Mulgrave showed his weakness. The soldiers on both sides eagerly took up the affray; line after line of the French rushed up towards that frowning redoubt: O'Hara, the leader of the allied troops, encouraged the British in a sortie that drove back the blue-coats; whereupon Buonaparte headed the rallying rush to the gorge of the redoubt, when Doppet sounded the retreat. Half blinded by rage and by the blood trickling from a slight wound in his forehead, the young Corsican rushed back to Doppet and abused him in the language of the camp: "Our blow at Toulon has missed, because a---- has beaten the retreat." The soldiery applauded this revolutionary licence, and bespattered their chief with similar terms.

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