Thursday, 12 March 2015

"My blood belongs to the Emperor" - General Lasalle

Lasalle with his pipe.
The figure is from Front Rank.

For this week’s blog post I’m leaving the trenches of Verdun, traveling only a short distance east to Metz, the birthplace of the legendary “Hussar General” – Lasalle.

Early Life

Born on May 10th 1775 into a family of minor nobility, Antoine-Charles-Louis showed a flair for the military trade from an early age. Already at 14 he had joined the local regiment and merited a rank of Second Lieutenant. 

Lasalle leading the 5th into battle.

When the Revolution threw France into turmoil, Lasalle was in 1792 stripped of command due to the idealistic view of the revolutionaries, wanting to wash out all the old aristocratic officers. Lasalle was however not deterred, and took this setback with great calm. He moved to Paris and enlisted in the revolutionary army as a private.


Campaign in Italy

In 1793 Lasalle joined the Army of the North on its campaign in Italy, and his conduct soon earned him advancement in the ranks. He was present at the Battle of Rivoli, where he proved to be beyond fearless, charging down and breaking an complete Austrian regiment with only 26 chasseurs at his side. The Italian campaign thus saw Lasalle’s star rise, and Napoleon personally asked the young cavalry officer to join him for the Invasion of Egypt in 1798.

Lasalle smoking his pipe.


The Invasion of Egypt

At the Battle of the Pyramids Lasalle made yet another daring charge, storming a garrisoned village at the head of no more than 60 horsemen. The wild charge bore home, and Lasalle continued his advance down an unknown path amongst the Giza Pyramids, offering him an opportunity to cut off the enemy, and serving them on a plate to Napoleon. Greatly impressed, Napoleon promoted Lasalle to Lieutenant Colonel of the 22nd Horse Chasseurs and the 7th Hussars.

Lasalle at the head of his brigade.

Lasalle would soon repay Napoleon for this advancement, when he saved the life of Davout. The General had been cornered by mamulukes at the Battle of Remedieh and was about to be cut down, when Lasalle dashed in, chopped both hands off the mameluke in front of Davout, broke his own sword over the head of Osman Bey, but kept on fighting by picking up swords and guns from the battlefield around him. The mamelukes eventually broke, and Lasalle had once again proven to have a cool head in the heat of action.


The Libertine Lasalle

Lasalle’s passions extended further than the battlefield. He consumed life in great breaths, or should I say in big gulps. A true light cavalryman he founded the “Society of Alcoholics”. Reputedly Lasalle drank, swore and was quite the libertine. After a night of heavy drinking, Lasalle proudly asked Paul Thiébault to count all the empty wine bottles. Thiébault remarked: “Do you want to kill yourself”? Lasalle answered: “My friend, any hussar who is not dead by thirty is a blackguard”

The libertine in a quiet moment of reflection.

No stranger to the passions of the flesh either, Lasalle had a long standing affair with Minister of War, Berthier’s wife Joséphine. When Berthier finally had enough and divorced Joséphine, Lasalle was quick to propose to her. To help out with the costs for the wedding, Napoleon gave 200.000 Francs to Lasalle. When the two men met up only a week after, Napoleon was keen to know how the planning was coming along. Lasalle remarked that he had spent the money on old debt and the rest he had gambled.

A view at the sabretasche and the dolman.

Normally this kind of insolence would have seen any other soldier stripped from rank and scorned, but Napoleon simply gave Lasalle another 200.000 Francs, and told him to get on with it. When Napoleon’s astonished staff asked why this Lasalle got such a soft treatment, Napoleon quietly answered: “It only takes a stroke of a pen to create a prefect, but it takes twenty years to make a Lasalle".


The “Brigade Infernale”

At the famous battle of Austerlitz, Lasalle won the admiration of Murat, who then put him in command of a Light Cavalry Brigade consisting of the 5th and 7th Hussars. Under the leadership of Lasalle, this brigade would become known to history as The Hellish Brigade – Brigade Infernale.

Detail: Lasalle raising his pipe signaling the charge. 

At the Battle of Jena, Lasalle and his brigade captured the King of Prussia’s bodyguard, and pursued the Prince of Hohenlohe off the battlefield at sword’s point. Later during the Prussian campaign, Lasalle and his small contingent of hussars reached the fortified city of Stettin. The well defended city had a garrison of 5.000 men and 281 guns, but Lasalle calmly demanded their surrender stating: “If, by 8 a.m. you have not surrendered, the town will be bombarded by our artillery, stormed by 50,000 men, the garrison will be put to the sword and the town will be plundered during twenty-four hours"

The commander of Stetting believed the message from Lasalle, and surrendered his entire force to the little group of French cavalrymen. This feat made Lasalle more famous than ever, and upon hearing of the city’s surrender, Napoleon wrote to Murat: "If your Light Cavalry captures fortified towns, I’ll have to discharge my Engineer Corps and have my heavy artillery melted down"

Lasalle punishing his brigade at Golymin.

But Lasalle could be brisk as well as dashing. During the Battle of Golymin, the Hellish Brigade was charging a battery of 15 Russian guns. As they closed in on the enemy the fire on the horsemen intensified. A big portion of the brigade broke, and they fled to the rear. The furious Lasalle spurred his horse and pursued his fleeing men. Catching up with them he screamed “Halt!” - the men obeyed their enraged commander and stopped their wild stampede. Lasalle quietly brought the brigade back to the front line, positioned it across from the Russian guns, and told them to hold ground. Lasalle rode forward to a position 20 paces in front of his men, and calmly took the murderous fire from the Russian battery. The brigade accepted this punishment with no further disobedience. 


The final battle and immortality

On July 5th 1809, Lasalle fought what was to be his last battle at Wagram.
On the morning of the battle he had a strange feeling, that the fight before him might be his last. When he opened his baggage he found his pipe broken and a wine glass that his wife used to be crushed. The passionate Lasalle read this as an omen of death to come.
He then wrote two letters, one to the Emperor and one to his wife.

The final charge.

Later during the battle of Wagram, while charging at the head of the 1st Cuirassiers, Lasalle was shot between the eyes, dying instantly. The farewell letter to his wife became famous. The last part of it reads: “"Mon coeur est à toi, mon sang à l'Empereur, ma vie à l'honneur" (My heart belongs to you, my blood to the Emperor, my life to honor)

The dashing libertine general had almost kept his word. He died 34 years old.


Thank you very much for reading!

24 comments:

  1. Amazing brushwork on this equally colorful character, Soren. He was truly a larger than life character. Grand work on this fine tribute.

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    1. Thanks a lot Dean, Napoleon certainly knew how to pick his men, and I just love the story about how Lasalle squandered the money for the wedding, but was simply given some more by Napoleon.

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  2. Outstanding rendition of LaSalle and very enjoyable bio of the great beau sabreur! Fascinating stuff. The rescue of Davout was a classic LaSalle maneuver. That guy was Hell-bent for leather.

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    1. Thanks Jonathan, Hell-bent indeed - incredible that he made it past the famous rockstar deadline at 27... Perhaps we have Murat to thank for that, as he apparently save Lasalle from certain death at the battle of Heilsberg.

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  3. Superb detailed painting Soren, and a very informative read up on the General, a real man of his times you could say!

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    1. Thanks Chris, a man of his time for sure - I wonder how a founder of the "Society of Alcoholics" would fare in current day military career:0)

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  4. Great read and an amazing miniature!

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    1. Cheers Ulf - one down and plenty more legendary commanders to go for our Napoleonic project. I think I'll throw myself at Pontiatowski next...

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  5. Excellent work! Now if we can only find a good miniature of Marshal Bernadotte! It would be great to paint up a figure of "our King". I am looking forward to our game this weekend.

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    1. Absolutely, we should add Bernadotte on the To Do list together with some more Russians and Austrians. Looking forward to sitting down for a game again, it's been far to long since we last threw some dice!

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  6. Great write up and beautiful painting!

    Christopher

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    1. Thank you very much Christopher, appreciate the kind comment!

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  7. Exellent paintwork and history matey !!!

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    1. Cheers Micke, slowly but surely the Napoleonic collection is growing...

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  8. A fantastic post and a beautiful paint job on one of our best generals...brilliant!

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    1. Thanks Phil, he is a personal favorite and that says a lot considering all the colorful personalities in Napoleons pallets of great commanders! I'll be adding another soon, Pontiatowski...

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  9. Superb figure :)
    The model really captures the portrait of the man - great painting in 2D and 3D!

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    1. Cheers Mike, very glad you liked the outcome. It's the preferred Foundry 3-step paint system at it's most straight out use, hardly any mixing of paints for this particular project!

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  10. That's some mighty fine painting! Especially the reddish brown of the horse is a treat. The contrats between the bright green vest and the blood red trouser makes for a great eye catcher.

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    1. Thank for the nice comment M, the horse is simply Foundry Chestnut 53 A to C, using a GW earth wash on the A tone. Very happy you liked the result:0)

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  11. Very nice painting of such a fascinating character! You certainly have mastered the skill of painting horses.

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    1. Cheers Jonas, appreciate it! I whipped myself through so much cavalry when we did the Lund-project that anything less than a 3-layer highlight by now would just be sloppy :0)

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