Michel Ney

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Michel Ney, Marshal of France

Michel Ney (January 10 1769December 7 1815) called Le Rougeaud ("the ruddy") and le Brave des Braves ("the bravest of the brave") was a marshal of the French army who fought in the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic Wars.

He was born at Saarlouis in Alsace, a naturalised German and the son of a master barrel cooper. He worked as an apprentice clerk for an iron works before he joined the 5th Hussars in 1787, against his father's wishes.

An impulsive and courageous soldier, Ney is known for epitomizing the soldierly virtue of "leading from the front". For instance, he led the charge of the French heavy cavalry against British infantry at the Battle of Waterloo. However, Ney was not merely a hotheaded sabreur, he was also a skilled commander, peforming excellently at Elchingen (from which battle he later derived his ducal title) and arguably winning the Battle of Friedland for Napoleon.

Ney was elevated to the status of a demi-god following his conduct on the Retreat from Moscow. Commanding the rearguard, he protected the remnants of Napoleon's Grande Arme as it staggered back to France. Attacked daily by Russian Cossacks, Ney was at one point the only man in the whole rearguard, facing several thousand Russians on his own until his soldiers, who had previously deserted him, were shamed by Ney's second-in-command into returning. Ney was the last French soldier on Russian soil. On hearing of his safety, Napoleon, having previously thought Ney to be lost for ever, declared that 'France is full of brave men but, truly, Ney is the bravest of the brave'.

Despite Ney's humble roots, he was one of the first marshals created by Napoleon, who valued talent above all. In addition to his military rank, Ney was created Duke of Elchingen on June 6, 1808 and Prince de La Moskowa on March 25, 1813. Ney personified a new French elite that Napoleon was creating as a loyal support base for a planned Bonaparte dynasty.

When Paris fell and the Bourbons reclaimed the throne, Ney (who was one of those who had pressured Napoleon to accept his first abdication and exile) was promoted, lauded, and made a peer by the newly enthroned Louis XVIII. Although Ney had pledge his allegiance to the restored monarchy, the Bourbon court reactedly coolly to his common origins. When he was sent to arrest the returning Napoleon, he was convinced to switch sides and fight for his old leader again. During the Hundred Days campaign, he led the French forces at the Battle of Quatre Bras and commanded the left wing of Napoleon's army at the Battle of Waterloo.

Ney has been criticized for his conduct in this battle, perhaps unfairly so. Napoleon had not explained his strategy for the whole campaign, nor had he listened to his generals' pleas for an outflanking manoeuvre instead of his own, unsubtle frontal assault on the British positions at Waterloo. Napoleon compounded these errors by remaining away from the front line for the majority of the battle, not giving Ney reinforcements that could have won him the battle and, to round it all off, he was also sick. Ney fought like a tiger, but he could not shift Wellington's men. He was seen during one of the charges beating his sword against the side of a British cannon in furious frustration.

When all was clearly lost, Ney gathered a group of French soliders together and cried 'come, and see how a Marshal of France can die!' As Victor Hugo said of him 'O, unhappy man - you were reserved for French bullets!'

When Napoleon was defeated, dethroned and exiled for the second time in the summer of 1815, Ney was condemned for treason by the Chamber of Peers and executed by firing squad in Paris near the Luxembourg Garden. He refused to wear a blindfold and was allowed the right to give the order to fire, reportedly saying, "Soldiers, straight for the heart!" Ney's execution was an example intended for Napoleon's other marshals and generals, many of whom were eventually exonerated by the Bourbon monarchy.

One of the more colorful legends of Ney that have grown up after the Marshal's untimely demise by firing squad was that Ney had managed to escape to the United States. Proponents of this "theory" argue that Ney had masonic ties, including to the Duke of Wellington, who helped him fake his execution and flee abroad. The basis for these rumors was the presence in the United States of a Peter Stuart Ney, who, when drunk, wowed his friends and students with tales of military glory, and claimed to be – or at least did not deny being – the executed Napoleonic Marshal . While this is almost certainly untrue, Peter Stuart Ney certainly did live for a number of years teaching school in North and South Carolina, including at Davidson College, where he designed the school seal still used today. P. S. Ney died in 1846, after uttering the bizarre last words, "Bessieres is dead; the Old Guard is dead; now, please, let me die."

As for other Neys in the United States, U. S. Representative Bob Ney of the 18th District in Ohio really is related to the Marshal.bg:Мишел Ней de:Michel Ney fr:Michel_Ney nl:Michel Ney ja:ミシェル・ネイ no:Michel Ney sl:Michel Ney sv:Michel Ney


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