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Truly the Bravest of the Brave

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Joined: 18 Jan 2007
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 26, 2012 4:46 am    Post subject: Truly the Bravest of the Brave Reply with quote

200 years ago last Saturday, in my humble opinion, occurred the greatest act of military bravery I for one know of....

General Jean-Baptiste Éblé, who commanded the Imperial Pontonniers, a principally Dutch regiment of pontoon engineers, was ordered to erect 3 bridges over the Berezina at the height, or perhaps depths, of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. Éblé and his men worked in the semi-freezing waters, often up to their chests, in erecting and then maintaining the bridges over the next 5 days. This was a certain death sentence for him and each of his men but they bravely remained at their posts to the very end.

After the last remaining bridge was burnt to deny it to the Russians, Éblé finally consented to leave the bridgehead. But his health was entirely broken and he died on 31st December, 1812 at Koenigsburg. None of his men survived.

A ferocious act of instant gallantry I can perhaps understand. But such men engaging in a considered incremental act inviting certain death over five days is one beyond my comprehension or my capacity to express appropriate admiration for.

Vale General Éblé and each of your amazing men

PS From Chief of Staff Berthier to General Éblé, ordering the move to Borisov. (French and English)

Lettre du major général Au général Éblé.
Bobr, le 24 Novembre 1812, a quatre heures et demie du matin
Monsieur le général Éblé, l'empereur ordonne que vous partiez avant six heures du matin, pour vous rendre en toute diligence au quartier-général du duc du Reggio, à Borisow, et travailler a établir plusieurs ponts sur la Bérézina pour le passage de l'armée. Vous vous diviserez en deux. Si tout votre monde ne peut pas aller assez promptement, vous prendrez avec vous ce qui peut le mieux marcher, de manière à ce que vous arriviez dans la nuit, et que vous soyez au travail demain à la pointe du jour, et que l'autre partie puisse être au travail demain avant midi. Ayez soin de laisser en route des ateliers pour réparer les ponts et les plus mauvais passages. Je donne le même ordre au général Chasseloup; vous vous entendrez avec lui et avec M. le duc de Reggio, pour les travaux à faire sur la Bérézina, où il est indispensable que l'armée puisse passer au plus tard demain.

Letter from the Major General to General Éblé.
Bobr, 24 November 1812, 0430 hours
General Éblé, the emperor orders that you will have left before 0600 with all possible speed to the Duke of Reggio's headquarters at Borisov, and to work to establish several bridges on the Berezina for the passage of the army. You will divide in two. If all your command can not go promptly enough, you will take with you those who can better walk, in such a way you will arrive in the night, start working tomorrow at dawn, and the other party start working tomorrow before midday. Take care to assign work for repairing of the bridges and the most severe passages. I am giving the same order to General Chasseloup; you will come to an understanding with him and with the Duke of Reggio for the work to be done on the Berezina, where it is essential that the army can pass tomorrow at the latest.
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Joined: 06 Oct 2011
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 30, 2012 9:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fine sentiments indeed. Especially considering that he had been ordered to leave behind his pontoon train and equipment. Disobeying orders he retained one field forge and upon that decision hung the fate of the empire.
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