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Juana   By: (1799-1850)

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Translated By Katharine Prescott Wormeley


To Madame la Comtesse Merlin.




Notwithstanding the discipline which Marechal Suchet had introduced into his army corps, he was unable to prevent a short period of trouble and disorder at the taking of Tarragona. According to certain fair minded military men, this intoxication of victory bore a striking resemblance to pillage, though the marechal promptly suppressed it. Order being re established, each regiment quartered in its respective lines, and the commandant of the city appointed, military administration began. The place assumed a mongrel aspect. Though all things were organized on a French system, the Spaniards were left free to follow "in petto" their national tastes.

This period of pillage (it is difficult to determine how long it lasted) had, like all other sublunary effects, a cause, not so difficult to discover. In the marechal's army was a regiment, composed almost entirely of Italians and commanded by a certain Colonel Eugene, a man of remarkable bravery, a second Murat, who, having entered the military service too late, obtained neither a Grand Duchy of Berg nor a Kingdom of Naples, nor balls at the Pizzo. But if he won no crown he had ample opportunity to obtain wounds, and it was not surprising that he met with several. His regiment was composed of the scattered fragments of the Italian legion. This legion was to Italy what the colonial battalions are to France. Its permanent cantonments, established on the island of Elba, served as an honorable place of exile for the troublesome sons of good families and for those great men who have just missed greatness, whom society brands with a hot iron and designates by the term "mauvais sujets"; men who are for the most part misunderstood; whose existence may become either noble through the smile of a woman lifting them out of their rut, or shocking at the close of an orgy under the influence of some damnable reflection dropped by a drunken comrade.

Napoleon had incorporated these vigorous beings in the sixth of the line, hoping to metamorphose them finally into generals, barring those whom the bullets might take off. But the emperor's calculation was scarcely fulfilled, except in the matter of the bullets. This regiment, often decimated but always the same in character, acquired a great reputation for valor in the field and for wickedness in private life. At the siege of Tarragona it lost its celebrated hero, Bianchi, the man who, during the campaign, had wagered that he would eat the heart of a Spanish sentinel, and did eat it. Though Bianchi was the prince of the devils incarnate to whom the regiment owed its dual reputation, he had, nevertheless, that sort of chivalrous honor which excuses, in the army, the worst excesses. In a word, he would have been, at an earlier period, an admirable pirate. A few days before his death he distinguished himself by a daring action which the marechal wished to reward. Bianchi refused rank, pension, and additional decoration, asking, for sole recompense, the favor of being the first to mount the breach at the assault on Tarragona. The marechal granted the request and then forgot his promise; but Bianchi forced him to remember Bianchi. The enraged hero was the first to plant our flag on the wall, where he was shot by a monk.

This historical digression was necessary, in order to explain how it was that the 6th of the line was the regiment to enter Tarragona, and why the disorder and confusion, natural enough in a city taken by storm, degenerated for a time into a slight pillage.

This regiment possessed two officers, not at all remarkable among these men of iron, who played, nevertheless, in the history we shall now relate, a somewhat important part.

The first, a captain in the quartermaster's department, an officer half civil, half military, was considered, in soldier phrase, to be fighting his own battle... Continue reading book >>

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