FRIEDLAND or the consecration of Marshal Victor

Author(s) : TARIN Jean-Pierre
Share it

On 10 June, 1807, Victor replaced the twice-wounded Bernadotte at the head of the 1st corps. Bernadotte’s poor health was thus responsible for Victor chance for glory.

Holding off the Russian guard

In the afternoon of 14 juin, Victor arrived at the Battle of Friedland with his 1st corps in the wake of Napoleon himself. When he presented his men to the emperor, Napoleon decided that only Dupont's division was ready for the fight. The rest of the corps, Lapisse's and Villatte's division, was held to be too inexperienced. Victor was therefore quite logically given a role in the reserve.

Ney was ordered to lead his 6th corps in the main attack on Sortlack. When that attack got into difficulty, Dupont's division was sent up to support him, preceded by Sénarmont's artillery. His mission was to hold the Russian guard which had been sent to provide reinforcements for Bagration's corps which at that time was rattling Marchand's and Bisson's divisions. Barrois's infantry, Latour-Maubourg's dragoons and Marulaz's light brigade beat the Russians back.

Sénarmont sent a message to the emperor demanding permission to concentrate the artillery with the aim of striking a decisive blow. So bold was the plan, that it worried even Napoleon. He sent Mouton to Sénarmont to confirm the artilleryman's reading of the situation. On hearing Mouton's report, he remarked: “They're rough lads. Let's let them have a go.” The old artilleryman in the emperor senses that this bold plan would work. So Victor and Sénarmont were to have their day: as a result of a combination of a sharp eye, a good dose of luck, and the support of immensely brave generals such as Dupont and their valiant (but inexperienced) troops.
In front of Victor stood an increasingly dense mass of Russian soldiers caught in the bottleneck, and Sénarmont put his plan into action. When Russian cavalry counter-attacked, he turned his cannon and blasted a huge hole in the Russian charge.
The French right then entered the town of Friedland, driving up to the river, thus cutting off the Russian retreat over the bridges (the bridge were subsequently burnt). Gortchakov and men were surrounded. Some tried to cross the river but were cut down. The muddy waters were filled with corpses. The battle gradually petered out during the night and bad memories of Eylau were effaced.

Napoleon had cause to be proud of his army, particularly the 1st corps which had given its all, supported Ney at a crucial moment and held on till the end. Victor's corps became the spearhead of the attack and carried the day because of the bravery of its leaders (1) and men.

The rewards were not long in coming. On 30 June, Victor received a personal stipend of 50,000 francs rent from the future Grand Duchy of Warsaw (2) in the form of the domain of Scedecz, in the region of Poznan, in Poland.

The marshal’s baton

The final accolade was to come in the form of the marshal's baton which Victor received at the relatively late age of 42. It was requested by 3). The decree of appointment, which referred to “a tribute of Our satisfaction for the services which he has rendered, particularly at the Battle of Friedland”, was signed by Napoleon in Königsberg on 13 July, 1807.

It is especially noteworthy given that Victor was the only marshal appointed after the great investiture of Marshals in 1804 and the appointments made after 1809, what is more, directly as a result of a feat of arms. As such he was fifteenth on the list of marshals in active service. Victor had no specific relations with Napoleon and received his title simply for his bravery (though it is true that Victor was not great tactician). But the emperor was happy to confirm his judgement of Victor made earlier in a letter to Lannes, at the moment when Lannes took Victor as chief of staff: “I see with pleasure that you have taken him as your chief of staff … He is solid and I trust him. I shall give proof of my good opinion as soon as events allow” (4).

It is probably no coincidence (Napoleon was keen on coincidences and dates in his career) that Napoleon rewarded Victor who had distinguished himself first on 14 June 1800 at Marengo and than again on 14 June 1807 at Friedland. Both men were also appointed général de brigade on the same day, at Toulon. And the coincidences are all the more surprising given Victor's long imprisonment both in Louisiana and in Prussia, from which Victor escaped (5). He was lucky and as a result made it to the top.

Further to his promotion, on 9 August, Victor was appointed governor of Berlin and the surrounding area and the Prussian enclaves in Saxony and Pomerania. Then on 27 September, 1807, he received an annuel stipend from the French Treasury (Grand Livre) and finally in 1808 was given the title Duc de Bellune.
Loaded with honours, Victor's took the logical next step and visited the painter Gros (he had always been rather vain) for an official portrait in the dress uniform of a marshal. He then returned to the army as head of the 1st Corps (6).
June 2007, tr. P.H.


(1) Sénarmont deserved to be promoted to marshal for his brilliant tactics at Friedland and his contribution to artillery strategy, but he was only Général de brigade at the time. His heart was however to be laid in the Panthéon on 5 June, 1811.
(2) The sources differ as to the precise totals. In this specific case, his military record indicates 36,175 francs.
(3) Victor came to Lanne's assistance at Montebello on 9 June, 1800. Lannes returned the compliment at Marengo five days later. When Lannes became Duc de Montebello, he is said to have remarked to Victor: “My friend, it is to you I owe my name!”.
(4) Correspondence of Napoleon Ist, n° 10,961.
(5) Appointed captain general of Louisiana on 10 August, 1802, He could easily have been held as a prisoner there if he had actually left France. Victor was appointed commander of the 10th corps on 5 January, 1807, but was captured by Prussian chasseurs. He was fortunate to be exchanged for Blücher in a prisoner swap. These two events could have ruined his career.
(6) He was to leave the post on 3 April, 1812.

Publication Title :
Revue du Souvenir Napoléonien
Review number :
Page numbers :
Month of Publication :
Year of publication :
Share it