Napoleon's Commanders: Volume I
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Hopefully this list will make up for my silly but well-meaning forum post. Anyway, onto the action.

Lately my reading and gaming has brought me to the subject of Napoleon and I've found his generals to be a fascinating mix of personality and talent. So I have presented short character biographies here, but another point of this list is to illustrate how Napoleon used his commanders for good and bad. One aspect I found that was starting in 1808 Napoleon's mismanagement of his commanders increased, and as the years wore on he isolated or misplaced men who had been loyal before 1808. Part of Napoleon's fall came from this misuse of men and illustrates how his once formidable powers of personal discernment declined and he gave men positions they were unsuited for. It is also interesting to note that most of his comrades from the early days in Italy turned on him.

While most of this list is fact I am no expert. If you think I flubbed something let me know and of course add your own comments about this cast of characters. This list doesn't cover everyone, but I got most of the big names on here and then some. I'm leaving the add item function on for anyone who wants include someone I left out.

Before I get to the list I have a few personal observations and opinions:

1. Napoleon's commanders can be roughly split into two groups: the morally loose, like Murat and Massena, and the morally upright, like Davout and Desaix. Both categories had successful commanders, but the morally upright tended to be better.

2. I disagree with the argument that Napoleon tried to pit the marshals one against the other in order to keep them separated. These guys were already a contentious lot before 1799 and I think Napoleon exploited it although he also tried to reign it in, particularly when he created the marshalte in 1804.

3. I don't think Napoleon failed to teach his officers the art of high command and certainly Lannes and Soult learned from the master. Such an argument about Napoleon's inability to teach also supposes that a great general can teach greatness, which is mostly hogwash. Where Napoleon did fail was in not creating a universally competent staff system for all his armies.

4. It is often said that with a few exceptions the marshals were no good on their own and it was due to an inherent weakness of the Napoleonic system. But consider this: Davout, Massena, Soult, Lannes, Suchet, and Saint-Cyr were all capable in independent command. That is more than his opponents usually had on hand. Where Bonaparte failed was in not giving many of these men important commands. Also each marshal had a notable victory on their own, but they lost when facing generals like Blucher, Wellington, Charles John, Moore, and Archduke Charles who were the among the best officers in the Coalition army. They also tended to have independent commands towards the end of the wars, when the Coalition forces had greatly improved and the French were still using some out-dated tactical methods.

5. Most of the commanders had long service in the infantry as privates and only rose up due to the Revolution. They were on a whole a far better cast of subordinates than any other army had at the time except possibly the British, which does in part explain Wellington's dislike for promoting from the ranks. Oh, and he was a confirmed aristocrat who called his men the scum of the earth!
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1. Board Game: Bonaparte in Italy [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:5128]
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Pierre Augereau


Unlike many of the other marshals, Augereau was an older man by the time Napoleon became emperor and had led a full life. As a youth he was a notorious seducer, and was fired for sleeping with maids and waitresses. He served in the French army as a private and was known as an accomplished swordsman, but fled after killing an officer in a duel. He apparently served as a traveling soldier, although how much of this is true is up to debate. He certainly did serve in the Prussian army, but deserted and was in Portugal when the French Revolution, and its promise of worldly rewards, compelled him to return. In addition, he reveled in the fall of the monarchy and the decline in Church influence. Augereau's experience, skill, and charisma earned him higher commands. He was meticulous in dress and owing to his Prussian experience was an excellent drillmaster, a vital asset during the early days of the Revolution. Like many French generals he enjoyed looting and worldly pleasures, but was noted for his generosity. During the Italian Campaign he served with great skill. His finest moment came at Castiglione; in later years Napoleon said he saved the army from destruction. However, the victory became something of an albatross, and whenever Augereau would under-preform Napoleon would remind him of Castiglione.

Augereau played a major role in coup of 18 Fructidor, won a marshal's baton, and fought at Ulm, but the death of his beloved Greek wife made him morose. He was slow at Jena, but famously he showered gifts upon the Prussian privates he had known before the Revolution. while at Eylau he was ill, and had to be supported on his horse while his corps was almost annihilated. To make matters worse he received a wound from which he never quite recovered. In 1809 he went to Spain but earned a reputation for cruelty. He served in Germany in 1813 but his relations with Napoleon had collapsed into bickering. When Bonaparte accused him of not being the Augereau of Castiglione he replied, "Give me back the old soldiers of Italy, and I will show you that I am." To his credit Augereau fought like a lion at Leipzig, but he was now losing faith in Bonaparte and called him a coward and a fool. When he abandoned Lyons in 1814 many thought he had turned traitor and he was among the first marshals to embrace Louis XVIII. When Napoleon was on his way to Elba, he met Augereau, who denounced him; in a popular pamphlet Augereau declared that the only honorable thing for Napoleon to do was die in battle. Nonetheless, when Napoleon returned in 1815 Augereau tried to join him, but was rebuffed and called a traitor. He died a pariah the following year.

Augereau was 10-15 years older than most of Napoleon's other marshals, and it is interesting to note that his decline in skill came at about the same age as it did for other commanders. It was a sign of the kind of stress that wore down the marshals, who had been fighting almost non-stop since 1792. Napoleon failed to shelve Augereau after 1807, but his retention was possibly due to Bonaparte's strong affection for his early compatriots.


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2. Board Game: Borodino: Doomed Victory [Average Rating:4.18 Overall Rank:14844]
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Eugène Rose de Beauharnais


The only son of Josephine, by her first marriage, Eugene was only a teenager when he met Bonaparte and at the time Eugene was apprenticed to to carpenter, as all nobles had been ordered to learn a trade. He did have some exprience, working on the staff of Lazare Hoche, one of Josephine's lovers. At first Eugene disliked Napoleon but after serving on his staff in Italy and Egypt he became a loyal follower and was one of the few men Napoleon fully trusted. This trust only deepened when Eugene helped reconcile Napoleon and Josephine in 1799. Following fine service at Marengo, and considering his loyalty, honesty, amiability, and skill, he was named Viceroy to Italy. His rule was a great sucess and he built up the Italian army into a solid fighting force. Such was the affection between Napoleon and Eugene that for a time Bonaparte considered making him his heir, but Eugene was despised by the rest of the Bonaparte family and Napoleon feared that such a move would cause more problems then it would solve.

Eugene's rule of Italy was a sucess, but in 1809 the Austrians defeated him at Sacile, but with the help of MacDonald he won a victory at Raab and then joined Napoleon in time for Wagram. In 1812 he led the IV Corps, made up mostly of Italian regiments, in Russia where it earned a fine fighting reputation at Borodino and Maloyaroslavets. In 1813 he was given command of the remnants of the Grand Army, but he was forced back into Germany, which upset Bonaparte, although Eugene kept the army together, no mean feat after the hellish Russian campaign. After Lutzen he was sent back to Italy, which he held until 1814 while winning his most impressive victory at Mincio. The Coalition sought his services and offered him the crown of Italy if he would join them. Eugene refused, but during the Hundred Days he did not join Napoleon at the behest of his father-in-law, the King of Bavaria.

While not a great commander, Eugene was competent and his rule over Italy was exemplary. Napoleon used Eugene well, rarely giving him too much battlefield responsibility, while he was perfect for his duties in Italy because of his strong work ethic and natural charisma. Devoted to his family, France, and Napoleon he truly lived by his personal motto: "honor and fidelity."


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3. Board Game: Austerlitz 1805: Partie Sud [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:6233]
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Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte


None of Napoleon's marshals had a stranger or more successful career after 1810. Bred for the legal profession, Berndotte instead joined the army in 1780 and was noted for his fine dress and republicanism, which was strong even before the Revolution. When it came Bernadotte at last moved into the officer class, gaining valuable experience in the field, and his greatest glory at Theiningen. In 1797 he served under Napoleon in Italy, but upset many commanders with his arrogance. He was then was named ambassador to Austria, which was a disaster due to his ardent republicanism and open support for Louis XVI's execution, although his defense of the tricolor from an Austrian mob won the respect of many. 1799 saw him made minister of war and he very successful in this capacity. By this time he didn't trust Napoleon although by marrying Bonaperte's first fiancee, Désirée Clary, he gained a powerful advocate. Bernadotte considered arresting Napoleon for leaving Egypt and did not support his rise to power. In fact Bernadotte had become the champion of the Jacobin faction and considered seizing it for himself, but as many colleagues noted he was more apt to talk than take action. By 1804 Napoleon had direct evidence of Bernadotte's plans to take power, but knowing his administrative skills, proven during his tenure in the Vendee, and influence in France, he named him a marshal.

Bernadotte did well at Austerlitz, but he soon earned a reputation for slowness, first at Jena-Auerstadt where did not take part in either battle and then at Eylau, where his bad positioning caused the battle to happen but he did not fight at the battle. Although he did defeat Blucher at Lübeck after Jena, he failed to prevent the Spanish Army from escaping from Denmark. At Wagram he bungled and was relieved of command on the spot, but his career did not end though. Instead he was offered him the crown of Sweden because Charles XIII had no heir and was now elderly. This fantastic offer came partially in recognition for his kind treatment of Swedish prisoners and friendship to the Swedish ambassador to France, but also because the pro-French faction in Sweden wanted to align itself with Napoleon while the army wanted someone to reform the service after the losing Finland to Russia in 1809. While Bernadotte did improve the army, he was decidedly anti-French and stayed neutral when Napoleon invaded Russia, a stance that earned him the eternal hatred of his former countrymen. Now dubbed Prince Charles John, he led the Swedish army in 1813 as a member of the Coalition. He formed the Trachenberg Plan, in which the Coalition would avoid fighting Bonaparte directly while concentrating aganist armies led by his subordinates, a strategy that had already successful in Russia. Although Charles John was not the sole author of the plan he personally vindicated it with victories at Großbeeren and Dennewitz. However, Charles John was cautious, mostly because the small Swedish army could not absorb heavy losses, and this caution, as well his former ties to France, made him a subject of suspicion among the other Coalition members. After service at Leipzig he moved to attack Denmark in order to gain Norway, which he made the long-term objective of Swedish foreign policy. 1818 saw Bernadotte become Charles XIV, making him the founder of the Bernadotte dynasty that still holds the throne today. He ruled over Norway and Sweden in a period of uninterrupted peace and great internal improvements although he had become very conservative in matters of political freedom. He died in 1844 and was succeeded by Oscar I.

Bernadotte was always ambitious, but never did he have the gumption to rise the way Napoleon did, which the emperor loved to point out. Napoleon did a good job of wooing him with a marshal's baton, but by agreeing to his ascension to the Swedish throne he made one of his gravest mistakes and showed a lack of diplomatic understanding that plagued him after 1807. As for Bernadotte he was a capable commander in both organization and strategy, but always a little too slow. While he had a knack for earning enemies among his officers, his courtly manners and natural optimism made him many friends among the civillians. He also became a reviled figure in France due to his alliance with her enemies in 1813 and his full renunciation of republican ideals after 1810. As bitter as Napoleon was to Bernadotte after 1813, it is interesting to note that Bernadotte remained in awe of Napoleon even though he was never on good terms with him.


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4. Board Game: Marengo: Napoleon in Italy, 14 June 1800 [Average Rating:6.35 Overall Rank:9386]
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Louis Alexandre Berthier


The oldest of Napoleon's comrades, and considered both the ugliest and best dressed, Berthier learned the art of military engineering at an early age, taking up the career of his father. He was successful in this capacity, and was on Rochambeau's staff at Yorktown. He did not side with the Revolution and he helped in the escape of Louis XVI's aunts, but he did later join and earned a reputation as a fine staff officer although he was never fully trusted. It was as chief of staff that he served under Napoleon in Italy and thus began a long and strange relationship. While not a good troop commander, he proved his bravery at Lodi. Most importantly his work in supporting Bonaparte's staff and entrusting that orders went out and were obeyed was undeniable, making him the most important part of Napoleon's command system. One of his high points was the Marengo Campaign, where he helped build an army from scratch and solidified his position as the greatest staff officer of his day. He also earned great respect by being wounded at Marengo. Berthier had other duties too, including minister of war until 1807 as well as a short but successful diplomatic mission to Spain in 1800. He was made a marshal in 1804.

As the years wore on his relationship to Napoleon became strained. He had already earned the title "the emperor's wife" for never leaving his side, but Berthier was often the first to take the brunt of Bonaparte's anger. When Napoleon accidentally shot Massena, it was Berthier who took the blame. Increasingly, Berthier stopped offering advice, especially after he bungled the opening of the 1809 Danube Campaign by poor troop placements. This also led to his quarrel with Davout, and eventually led to Davout being sent to Hamburg in 1813. On the otherside Napoleon started to dismissively refer to Berthier as merely a "chief clerk." The worst moment in their relationship was in 1808, when Napoleon forced Berthier into a loveless marriage rather than to his beloved mistress Visconti, whom he worshiped with an altar while in Egypt. When her husband died shortly after Berthier's wedding, he bemoaned his ill fortune and became a morose man, although he managed to have both wife and mistress live with him in the same house. All of this explains why Berthier openly favored peace in 1813, his first quarrel with Napoleon since before 1800. He slipped away in 1814 without a farewell, and did not join Napoleon in 1815. Napoleon desperately tried to regain Berthier's services, but he would not return. The new arrangement did neither man much good. At Waterloo Napoleon's staff constantly failed him, while Berthier fell from a window as he saw Russian troops invade France. Whether or not it was suicide is still a matter of debate.

1808 and 1809 represented a terrible turning point for both Bonaparte and Berthier. Up to then they were an effective team, but increasingly they drifted apart and while Berthier still did his job well, it was without the duty and enthusiasm of the earlier days. This misuse is another sign that 1808 was truly the beginning of the sharp decline of the Napoleonic Empire, of which Berthier was the most important member after the emperor himself.


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5. Board Game: Aspern-Essling 1809 [Average Rating:7.87 Overall Rank:4730]
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Jean-Baptiste Bessières


Bessieres was training to be a doctor and barber when the Revolution swept France and brought him into the military, although he remained a royalist until 1792. He was a humane, honest, and cultured man but also very brave with a knack for winning the affection of everyone over from rulers and generals to soldiers and foreigners. His service before 1796 was varied but not extensive until he gained a position on Napoleon's staff due to his life-long friendship with Murat. Bessieres did well and joined Napoleon's inner circle; he came to command the cavalry that would form the nucleus of the Imperial Guard. Napoleon trusted him in part because of his generous and loyal nature but Bessieres's old-fashioned values, including a deep religious faith and conservative views, put him at odds with many including Lannes. Marengo saw him lead a powerful cavalry charge; by 1804 he was a marshal.

While distinguished at Austerlitz and Eylau, his performance in Spain, where he was tested in independent command, showed over-caution. Aspern-Essling was another high point, but after the first day he tried to attack Lannes and was stopped only by Massena's intervention. Nonetheless, his popularity within the Guard was unassailable and the guard officers took up his practice of hair powdering and the entire unit let out a groan when he was wounded at Wagram. After another stint in Spain he led the Guard Cavalry in Russia and supposedly convinced Napoleon to not use the Guard at Borodino. After Maloyaroslavets he was the officer to first suggested a retreat was in order, which was in keeping with his moral courage and honesty. His last service came in 1813 just before the Battle of Lutzen, where he was mangled by a ricocheting cannon ball. His loss was mourned by Napoleon and the Guard and seems to have created a mood of fatalism among the remaining commanders. Napoleon declared that he would raise an impressive monument to Bessieres after victory was secured. It was not to be.

Bessieres was loyal and reminds one a lot of Lannes in his temper, which might explain their long rivalry. Napoleon's relations with him could be stormy and Bessieres certainly lacked the skill of Lannes, but he was more honest with his master, who after Spain understood his limitations and tried to keep a close eye on him. Interestingly Bessieres's high morality had cracks in it. Although a loving husband he began a torrid affair with a Paris opera singer and in Spain he was so frustrated that he took to executing hostages.


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6. Board Game: 1812 [Average Rating:6.70 Overall Rank:8164]
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Armand de Caulaincourt


Caulaincourt holds a strange place in the story of the Napoleonic Wars. Although a general his service was mostly in diplomacy and at court. A member of the nobility, he was not a very impressive soldier and his noble birth led to a stint in prison. Nonetheless, he served faithfully and gained many wounds. In 1801 he was named ambassador to Russia, beginning a long association with that land. He returned in 1804 and became an intimate of Napoleon, who trusted him implicitly, in part because he said Caulaincourt was one of the few men who always remained honest in his presence. Caulaincourt served with distinction in staff positions until 1807.

1807 saw another appointment to Russia, which given the hostility of the Russian nobility to France, was almost an impossible task, yet Caulaincourt's charm made him a great sucess and he gained a keen insight into the Russian psyche. While he succeeded in his espionage operations, Caulaincourt did fail to arrange a marriage between the Princess Anna and Napoleon, which played a key part in the fall out between Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon. Due to his knowledge of the country he accompanied Napoleon in Russia and offered stern advice against the invasion and after Moscow fell he declined to bring Bonaparte's peace proposals to Alexander I. He also suffered personal loss when his brother Auguste, an accomplished cavalry commander, fell at Borodino. When Napoleon left the army at the Berezina Rver, he took Caulaincourt with him. By 1813 Caulaincourt was still serving with Napoleon, essentially as an ad hoc foreign minster, a task he preformed with skill despite the difficulties of the situation. He negotiated the 1814 abdication and remained at Napoleon's side until his exile to Elba. When Bonaparte returned he was named minister of foreign affairs, and unsuccessfully tried to persuade Europe of the emperor's peaceful intentions. He only escaped harsher treatment from Louis XVIII when Alexander I acted on his behalf. In the 1930s his memoirs of 1812-1814 were found and remain a classic account of both the times and Napoleon.

Caulaincourt was cultured, brave, and intelligent. While not a great man, Bonaparte trusted him and the two had a strange relationship, espcially since Caulaincourt could be brutally honest and yet escape censure. That he failed in most his diplomatic objectives was due more to Napoleon's foreign policy blunders than Caulaincourt, who managed to be on good terms with most foreigners, in itself a minor miracle.


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7. Board Game: La Bataille d'Auerstædt [Average Rating:7.59 Overall Rank:3796]
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Louis-Nicolas Davout


Born from a noble family with a long record in the military, Davout was one of the few nobles to embrace the Revolution, which caused him to be dismissed from his royalist cavalry regiment after he failed to bring the unit over to the republicans. He then joined a volunteer battalion and attained a good record for himself, although he was removed from command for his aristocratic background. He was a comrade of Desaix, and fought in Egypt and at Marengo. Davout was not an endearing man. He was a strict disciplinarian who despised looting and was almost devoid of charisma while remaining devoutly republican until his dying days. At first Napoleon did not like or trust him, but such was Davout's skill, including a tenure as Paris police chief, that he was the youngest man to be named marshal in 1804. While never popular and often called "The Iron Marshal" he kept his men well fed and such was the training of his troops that formations under his command were considered second only to the Imperial Guard.

Davout fought superbly at Austerlitz, but it was at Auerstedt where he earned his greatest fame. Outnumbered 2 to 1, he defeated the main Prussian army, thus complimenting Napoleon's sucess at Jena. So amazing was Davout's sucess that Bonaparte at first dismissed it as fantasy! Davout also fought at Eylau and was left in Poland and Germany as an independent commander in essence, although is stern measures were not appreciated in Warsaw. In 1809 he won another victory against great odds at Eckmühl and fought at Wagram. Stationed in Westphalia in 1810, he ignored King Jerome Bonaparte and drew the ire of the Germans with his stern ways. 1811 saw him organizing the army used in Russia, where he led the massive I corps in battle. At Borodino he famously suggested that a turning movement be attempted, but Napoleon declined in part because he was afraid the Russians would retreat before it could be made. Davout also suggested an alternate retreat path after Maloyaroslavets but he was rebuffed. During the retreat Davout suffered his first defeat at Vyazma and by this he had become extremely unpopular. Several marshals, notably Murat and Berthier, despised him and Napoleon was no longer inclined to favor him. After Davout ordered the retreat to the Elbe River he was removed of command by his now livid master and ordered to Hamburg, which he held until Napoleon abdicated in 1814. He was the only marshal to refuse to serve the Bourbons. In 1815 he rushed back to Bonaparte and was as loyal as ever. Napoleon named him minister of war and Davout did a superb job by quickly raising armies while as de facto commander of Paris he gave Napoleon a trustworthy and competent subordinate to hold the city and thus avoid the disaster of 1814. After Waterloo Davout was one of the few who advised Napoleon to keep on fighting and suggested that a counterattack could regain the initiative, but his defeat at Issy ended all hopes of victory and added some irony: Davout was defeated by Prussians in the last act of the war. Nevertheless, his ardent stand and subsequent negotiations insured that many officers were spared execution and Paris was not sacked. He tried to stop Ney's execution and was himself almost shot. After he was restored to rank in 1817 he dabbled a bit in politics.

Davout's strictness made him unlikable to many; he was not adverse to execution as a means of enforcing his will. His loyalty to Napoleon and France was absolute, even when he was out of favor. His lack of social skill hurt him deeply, and he reserved his affection for his family while his absence from social functions caused Napoleon some annoyance. Davout was not totally cold and could be given to rage. He was so angry at Berndotte for not coming to his aid at Auerstedt that he challenged him to a duel and in 1813 he requested that he be given whatever command faced Bernadotte so he could teach him a lesson in warfare. Also Davout was friends with Ney, Oudinot, and Saint-Cyr, himself a kindred spirit. Although his personality was always a source of trouble his skills were rarely in question although some falsely think he was not the same man in 1813. Napoleon seemed to think so, but from my reading Napoleon was annoyed when Davout would give sensible advice, and much of this had to do with Davout's supreme confidence in his opinions, which came off as a calm arrogance. Only Lannes and Massena can compete with Davout's reputation and I for one think he was the finest of the marshals.


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8. Board Game: Bonaparte at Marengo [Average Rating:7.40 Overall Rank:1175]
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Louis Desaix


A member of the impoverished noblity, Desaix threw himself into the Revolution although most of his family fled the country. He was almost executed, but such was his skill and devotion that he was spared and then went to fight in Germany, becoming one of the heroes of the Revolution for his defense of Kehl in 1796. Dashing and humane, Desaix had a natural charisma that attracted others and Napoleon said he was the perfect blend of good judgment and aggressive action.

When he met Napoleon in Italy the relationship was a first stormy, although both men acknowledged the skills of the other. Desaix accompanied Bonaparte to Egypt and his humane treatment of the locals made him popular with the people who dubbed him "The Just Sultan." As a measure of Napoleon's trust Desaix was given the independent mission of conquering upper Egypt. Napoleon was also impressed when Desaix did not ally himself to his good friend Kleber, who was a leading critic of Napoleon. Desaix remained in Egypt after Bonaparte left but was captured by the British when he did try to return. Soon released, Desaix was at Marengo where he fought like a lion and died leading the attack that won the battle. His loss was mourned by friend and foe alike, and Napoleon immediately commissioned monuments in his honor. Desaix also fell the same day Kleber died in Egypt.

It is hard to dislike Desaix. He died too young for anyone to know his full talents, or whether old age would have lessened his skills the way Massena's declined, but this hasn't stopped men from praising him. Napoleon thought that if he lived Desaix would have become his finest marshal and few at the time would argue with that assessment nor Bonaparte's belief that Desaix "lived only for noble ambition and true glory; his character was formed on the ancient model."


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9. Board Game: Ligny [Average Rating:6.95 Overall Rank:8509]
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Étienne Maurice Gérard


Gerard was the son of a royal servant and joined the French army in 1791. He soon became a staff officer, serving under his close friend Bernadotte. Gerard established a reputation as a natural soldier with a talent for organization matched with a courage that many found infectious. He was also not a fervent Bonapartist and the combination of his loyalty to Bernadotte and quick-temper made his promotion a slow process.

Such was Gerard's skill that he not only survived Bernadotte's dismissal after Wagram, but was named a baron of the empire for his services there. Gerard was then sent to Spain, where he was severely wounded at Fuentes de Oñoro, but the invasion of Russia saw Gerard's rise to prominence. His courage at Borodino brought him a battlefield promotion and he served with the rearguard during the retreat. His services in 1813 were just as impressive, including distinguished action at Bautzen. Named a corps commander, he was bested by Prussian militia at Hagelburg, but at Leipzig he redeemed himself. Again wounded but did recover in time for the 1814 defensive campaign, winning great distinction during the Six Days Campaign. Gerard was a firm supporter of Bonaparte's abdication and he was sent by Louis XVIII to Hamburg to relieve Davout. Gerard was neutral at first during the Hundred Days, but he did join Bonaparte and was put in charge of IV Corps, seeing action at Ligny, where he broke the Prussian lines, and then Wavre. Gerard tried to convince Grouchy to move to Bonaparte's aid at Waterloo, but he was rebuffed. Gerard stayed in Brussels until 1817 and was then active in French politics, taking part in the July Revolution. In 1831 he invaded The Netherlands and relieved the siege of Antrewp in 1832. After a short stint as prime minister he continued in military and political affairs until his death in 1852.

Gerard's association with Bernadotte prevented his rise in the army, but such was his skill that Napoleon never entertained the idea of relieving him. Nonetheless, he was kept out of high command until 1813, which was something of a mistake although understandable given his career as a staff officer and his connections to Bernadotte, who was both untrustworthy and mediocre as a marshal under Bonaparte. On a side note, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his short stories on the Napoleonic Wars, he named the character Gerard and made him a cousin to Étienne Maurice Gérard.


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10. Board Game: Eagles of the Empire: Friedland [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:8946]
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Emmanuel de Grouchy


A full fledged member of the aristocracy, Grouchy was raised in a privileged lifestyle, but was also privy to the ideas of the Enlightenment. His father was said to have been a bastard child of Louis XV. Grouchy served in the Scottish Company of the elite Gardes du corps before the Revolution. He embraced the new order but was not trusted for a time due to his royal connections. However, by 1795 he was serving as Moreau's chief of staff and earning a reputation not just for courage but for attracting danger: he would be wounded over 20 times in the service of France, 14 of these gained during the defeat at Novi. However, he bungled the attempt to land French troops in Ireland. In addition, his loyalty to Moreau, open opposition to Napoleon's rise to power, and noble birth kept him from high command.

Napoleon never trusted Grouchy, but he did see him as talented and brave so Grouchy served with the cavalry, gaining distinction at Eylau, Friedland, and Madrid. By 1809 he was leading the cavalry in Italy and was seen as one of the best cavalry commanders of his age. In Russia Grouchy earned further honor, particularly during the retreat where he led a unit compromised of unemployed officers, but in 1813 he retired because Napoleon would not give him a corps command. By December 1813 Grouchy was back in command though only to be wounded and out of action in March 1814. Although embraced by the Bourbons, Grouchy defected to Napoleon and helped suppress a royalist uprising. For this he was named a marshal, the last to be promoted by Napoleon, and given a high command for the Waterloo campaign. After the victory at Ligny Napoleon gave Grouchy the job of pursing the Prussians, but Grouchy was slow in doing this and he ignored the advice of Gerard and Vandamme, who both wanted to march to the fighting at Waterloo. Grouchy then gained a hollow victory at Wavre before retreating south. He spent the rest of his life defending his actions, while many blamed him for the defeat at Waterloo. What is clear now is that Bonaparte's instructions to Grouchy were poor and that Grouchy showed a terrible lack imagination by sticking to those orders. Grouchy was almost executed, but instead he was exiled to America and lived in Philadelphia until 1820. He was a pariah in his own land, blamed by the Bonapartists for Waterloo and despised at court for his betrayal of the nobility in 1792 and 1815. Nonetheless, he was once again named a marshal by Louis-Philippe I in 1831 but was not active in military or political affairs.

Grouchy was a fine commander of horse and until 1815 his battlefield reputation was almost unblemished. He was given bad orders by Bonaparte and sent on a fool's errand after the moment to pursue the Prussians had effectively passed. That he himself didn't see the mission as foolish is what ruined him, and unlike Napoleon, Ney, and Soult he didn't have enough former glory to protect his reputation from the disaster at Waterloo. He was never a well-known commander and his sudden accession to high rank had more to do with politics then ability.


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11. Board Game: Lonato [Average Rating:6.68 Overall Rank:8389]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Jean-Andoche Junot


Among Napoleon's first friends, Junot came from the French middle class and was studying law in Paris when the Revolution began. He joined a volunteer battalion and was noted for his courage. While serving in the siege of Toulon he became an intimate of Napoleon, who was impressed by his coolness under fire. During the Italian Campaign Junot served on Napoleon's staff but suffered a severe head wound at Lonato. This changed Junot and he became increasingly flamboyant in manner and erratic performance, but he stayed next to Napoleon and was prone to jealousy when other officers were favored by Bonaparte. Junot was involved in the Egyptian campaign, won some glory in a scrap at Nazareth, but was captured when he tried to return to France. He wasn't released until 1799, at which point he was named commandant of Paris and eventually ambassador to Portugal, but by this time Junot had gained a reputation for extravagance, matched only his beautiful and witty wife Laure. Napoleon complained that no matter how much money Junot was given he was always in debt. What was even more embarrassing was Laure's caustic remarks about Bonaparte and her eventual alliance with his internal enemies, while Junot had a scandlous affair with Caroline Bonaparte

Junot served on Napoleon's staff in 1805 and then in various administrative posts before leading the invasion of Portugal in 1807, although he was upset when this did not earn him the rank of marshal. Laure and Junot plundered great wealth from Portugal and by flaunting such wealth drew criticism from all quarters. In 1808 he became the first of Napoleon's generals to face Wellington and Junot was roundly beaten at Vimeiro, where further wounds made him more imbalanced. Although forced to capitulate generous surrender terms allowed the army to be transported back to France by the British navy, complete with its equipment and loot. Junot was reviled in France and almost stripped of his rank but nonetheless he returned to Portugal, where his mental stability further deteriorated and his penchant for arrogance and jealousy became insufferable. In 1812 he was on Eugene's staff until he replaced Jerome Bonaparte in command of VIII Corps during the Russian invasion. He compiled a mixed record, which included a poor performance at Smolensk but a good one at Borodino. However, Napoleon now saw that Junot was no longer the man of his youth and he was appointed governor of Illyria until his insanity reached a fever pitch and he took to parading naked in the streets. Junot was ordered back to France and returned to his father's house where he mutilated himself and then leapt out a window, although a New Orleans legend holds that he escaped to that city, where some of his family had settled.

All reports indicate that Junot was a competent and good man before his head wound. Increasingly he seemed to melt under pressure and Napoleon would have been wise to remove him after Vimeiro. Once Bonaparte saw him in action in 1812, Junot's fate was sealed and considering his almost irrational devotion to Napoleon, this might have been what sent him over the edge. It would also partially explain Laure's enthusiastic support of the Bourbons and her bitter slanders against Napoleon in her memoirs, written under the encouragement of Balzac, who had become her lover in 1828. Like her husband Laure came to a bad end, dying penniless and alone in 1838.


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12. Board Game: Eagles of the Empire: Napoleon in the Desert [Average Rating:4.92 Overall Rank:14021]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Jean Baptiste Kléber


Kleber came from a humble background of German ancestry. He studied to be an architect, but his assistance to two German nobles in a tavern brawl obtained him a place in the military school of Munich and then the Austrian army, but he resigned because promotion was impossible. An early advocate of the Revolution, Kleber saw extensive service in the Vendee and German theater and held independent commands, but always refused overall command in the region although he was widely seen as France's finest battlefield general.

In 1798 he joined Napoleon on his Egyptian expedition as a division commander. He was wounded early on, but took a major part in the Syrian invasion. Although Napoleon acknowledged his skills, Kleber took to despising Bonaparte, and drew cartoons that mocked him while inciting dissension among the other officers. When Napoleon left, he named Kleber his successor, which caused Kleber great despair. Nonetheless, he tried to get the army safe transport to France. Meanwhile, Napoleon tired to send him fresh supplies but a British blockade of Toulon made this impossible. Betrayed by the British and attacked by the Turks, Kleber won a great victory at Heliopolis. Unfortunately, on the same day Desaix fell at Marengo, Suleiman al-Halabi murdered Kleber in his garden. As punishment Suleiman al-Halabi's right arm was burned off followed by impalement. His skull was shipped to France and used to teach French medical students what the French authorities claimed was the bump of "crime and fanaticism." Napoleon, fearing that Kleber's tomb would become a symbol of republicanism, ordered him to be buried on an island near Marseilles. In 1818 he was interned in his native Strasbourg and in 1838 an elaborate tomb and monument was built in his honor.

Napoleon surmised that Kleber was like Massena in that both were natural commanders hurt mostly by a love of indulgence when away from battle. Most accuse Napoleon of leaving Kleber in Egypt in order dispose of an opponent, but this supposes that Bonaparte had given up on Egypt as a future colony. This is not true and while I think leaving Kleber in command removed an internal opponent, Bonaparte also knew that he left a first rate commander who had the best chance of holding out until help arrived. Kleber proved this. He defeated the Turks at Heliopolis although out-numbered 6 to 1 and only after his death did the French position collapse.


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13. Board Game: Friedland 1807 [Average Rating:7.94 Overall Rank:7362]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Jean Lannes


Among the youngest officers to serve Napoleon, Lannes was apprenticed to be a dyer and had little formal education. This coupled with his early service in Spain caused him to move up the ranks a bit more slowly than many of his contemporaries destined for the marshalate. Nonetheless, he was on Bonaparte's staff in Italy and the two became fast friends. Lannes himself earned a reputation for bravery and was wounded numerous times in Italy and Egypt. While undoubtedly skilled, Lannes's rise had much to do with a strong personal bond with Napoleon, strengthened by the mutual experience of unfaithful wives, which caused Lannes to seek a divorce. Lannes was a full supporter of Napoleon's rise to power. During the Marengo Campaign he won a victory at Montebello, although his performance at Marengo was questionable. His tenure as ambassador to Portugal was a failure and played a part in driving that nation into Britain's orbit. While loyal, Lannes was deeply emotional and fed off of many hatreds. He hated the Bourbons, religion, the British, and Napoleon's turn towards monarchy, but he remained a loyal friend.

One of the original marshals, Lannes saw extensive service in Napoleon's greatest campaigns. During this time Lannes was often employed in semi-independent positions and he won accolades for his conduct at Austerlitz, Saalfield, and Jena. It is worth noting that Lannes was constantly evolving as a general; in his early career he was noted for impulsive actions and a quick temper, but as the wars dragged on Lannes was increasingly able to control his passions and the battlefield. His high point was Friedland, where he fought the Russian army almost unsupported for many hours and by standing firm set up the great victory that followed. 1808 saw further service in Spain, but increasingly Lannes was questioning Bonaparte's judgment and he was very critical of the Spanish enterprise while encouraging Tsar Alexander I to be firm with his master. 1809 saw him fighting the Austrians. To inspire his men he offered to be the first man to storm Rastibon. After fighting with customary skill at Aspern-Essling, Lannes suffered a severe wound that caused Bonaparte great grief and reduced many witnesses to tears. Lannes eventually died after amputation. Napoleon brooded over the loss to his dying day and claimed that Lannes was his best friend, and certainly one of the few men he fully trusted.

Many historians claim that Napoleon never really trained his officers to be better than they were, but Lannes stands in stark contrast. Over the years he was apt to listen to Napoleon's advice and came to heed it. By 1809 he was possibly the finest corps commander in the French service. Napoleon said it best: "I found him a pygmy, and lost him a giant."


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14. Board Game: La Bataille de Deutsch-Wagram [Average Rating:8.08 Unranked]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Jacques MacDonald


A product of the Jacobite diaspora after Culloden, MacDonald was one of many Scottish descendants to serve the French. His early experience was among the elite Irish regiments in French service. When the revolution came MacDonald embraced it and quickly rose through the ranks, offering his best service in Italy. He occupied Rome in 1797 and then seized Naples, where he helped found the short-lived Parthenopaean Republic. He suffered his first reverse at the River Trebbia, where he was crushed by the legendary Russian general Suvorov. MacDoanld was a man of deep conviction and loyalty, but his upright behavior and acute sense of honor led him into many arguments. MacDonald favored Jean Moreau, even after Moreau was exiled and although the two argued. He was despised by Victor and most importantly Talleyrand. When the recently widowed Pauline Bonaparte seduced him, he was shunned by an angry Napoleon. From 1802-1809 he saw no active service in the French army.

1809 saw MacDonald back in the saddle. He was made second in command to Eugene and accompanied him to Wagram where MacDonald personally led the charge on the Austrian center that won the battle. For this feat MacDonald was promoted to marshal on the field of battle, the only man to win the honor in this way. After service in Spain MacDonald was given X Corps, a mostly Prussian outfit, in the invasion of Russia and ordered to take Riga, which he failed to accomplish but he did escape the worst horrors of the campaign. 1813 saw Napoleon leaning even more upon him until he met a shattering defeat at Katzbach. He regained his reputation at Leipzig, where he led the rearguard and swam the Elster River to safety after the bridges were blown on accident. MacDonald continued to serve into 1814, but along with Ney he convinced Napoleon to give up. By this time Bonaparte had grown to admire MacDonald and in a emotional last meeting Bonaparte told him "I have done so much for, and loaded with favors, so many others, who had abandoned and neglected me; and you, who owed me nothing, have remained faithful to me! I appreciate your loyalty all too late." Napoleon then gave him the sword of Murad Bey, a prized trophy from his Egyptian Campaign. MacDonald remained loyal to the Bourbons, tried to stop Napoleon at Lyons, and personally escorted Louis XVIII out of France although his relations with the king were strained. After Waterloo he helped disband Napoleon's army but never abandoned his republican principals; he constantly strove for reform in France.

MacDonald lacked the skills of Lannes and Soult, but he was good in a fight and did have some independent ability as shown during his actions in Italy before Napoleon became First Consul. Bonaparte's mistake was in not trusting him before 1809 and then giving him too much responsibility at Katzbach. As a man MacDonald's honor, loyalty, and lack of cruelty in his treatment of enemies made him an admired figured throughout the era, although he was too inflexible to be a good independent commander. It is to Napoleon's discredit that he didn't understand MacDonald's character until the end.


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15. Board Game: The Battle for Dresden 1813 [Average Rating:7.04 Overall Rank:6324]
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Auguste de Marmont


Marmont was among the few intimate friends Napoleon had and this fact makes his career all the more contentious. Marmont came from minor nobility and learned to be an artillery officer, where he first met Napoleon. He invited Bonaparte to his home, where Napoleon reportedly insulted his parents. They served together at Toulon and became friends. Marmont was on Napoleon's staff in the Italian and Egyptian Campaigns, earning glory and experience. He commanded Bonaparte's artillery at Marengo and afterwords instituted several reforms in that service. Although given many honors he was upset when not given a marshal's baton in 1804, and he seemed to become jealous of Bessières when he joined Napoleon's inner circle. Napoleon had a high opinion of Marmont's administrative skills but viewed him as an average battlefield leader despite his courage at Malta and yeoman's service at Marengo.

Although hurt, Marmont remained steadfast to Napoleon and served at Ulm and then occupied Dalmatia, where he became governor and was very successful, showing a knack for civil administration that many other French commanders lacked. In later years Marmont would say that Napoleon changed for the worse in 1808, a sentiment shared by many. Regardless, the two, once best of friends, were increasingly isolated from each other although Napoleon had Marmont oversee artillery upgrades which made that arm the best in Europe. In 1809 Marmont defended Dalmatia in a brilliant campaign. He then won his marshal's baton after Wagram and in 1810 he was sent to Spain, where he gained a reputation for administrative miracles and masterly maneuvers that kept Wellington in check. In 1812 he fought Wellington at Salamanca, but he was wounded early in the fighting. The battle and his right arm was lost. Marmont would always claim that if he had remained unscathed he would have won, but it seen as a black mark on his career. A year later he had not fully recovered from his wounds, but joined Napoleon in Germany anyway, offering advice while fighting at Lützen, Bautzen, and Dresden. At Leipzig he was in top form. In 1814 he led a corps with skill but was beaten at Loan, and was then given command of the Paris defenses. After a short battle Marmont decided to surrender his army to the Coalition, an action that ended all hopes Napoleon had of retaining the crown for his son. The action made Marmont a hated man, and for Napoleon it sent him into a rage, especially considering there former friendship. Wellington, who had a favorable opinion of him as a general, remarked that all of the marshals were ready to treat, Marmont was just the right man in the right place. Regardless, the betrayal shattered Marmont's standing and although he was lionized by the Bourbons they declined to fully trust him, while soldiers jeered in his presence. In 1830 he was ordered to suppress a rebellion, although he opposed the policy. When he failed he was arrested by the duke d'Angouleme who said, "Will you betray us, as you betrayed him?" Exiled to Austria, he wrote travel logs and history books while tutoring Napoleon II. After this he wandered over all the old battlefields, becoming a lonely and morose man, waxing nostalgically on the early days of his military life. He died in 1852, the last marshal to perish and certainly the most despised in France.

Marmont was a skilled administrator and commander although doubtlessly no genius. His betrayal is a source of controversy and it is hard to pin down his exact motives. Was he tired of the war and Bonaparte? Was he simply another pawn in Talleyrand's game, because it appears it was his council that convinced Marmont to surrender. Regardless, Marmont became a subject of hatred. The verb raguser, derived from Marmont's title, the Duke of Ragusa, was a household word in France for betrayal. One thing is certain though, Marmont felt under-appreciated by Napoleon as the war dragged on.


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16. Board Game: Rivoli 1797 [Average Rating:7.57 Overall Rank:5443]
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André Masséna


One of the greatest generals of his age, was born to a family of shopkeepers of Jewish and Italian descent. Massena was a precocious youth and became a cabin-boy on a merchantman, followed by service in the army, and eventually a career smuggling fruit. By this time he was known for his quiet manner and careful ways. When the Revolution came Massena was once again in the army and rose through the ranks with the great speed that many of Napoleon's future commanders enjoyed. A veteran of the Italian front, Massena expected that he would command the Army of Italy in 1796, only to be shocked when 26 year-old Napoleon rode onto the scene. Their relationship was always a bit tense, but both quickly came to see the talents of the other and Massena was Napoleon's arm hand man throughout the fighting. Massena's high-point under Bonaparte came at Rivoli and after Napoleon left Massena continued to serve in Italy and Switzerland, defeating the Russians at Zurich in 1799 and holding Genoa while Bonaparte triumphed at Marengo, although he was forced to surrender. Nonetheless, he was removed from command because of the rampant looting committed by his troops. Unfortunately for Massena his skill and courage was equally matched by his avarice and lechery.

1804 saw Massena promoted to marshal and given command in Italy, which he held in 1805 when the Austrians invaded. He defeated the Archduke Charles, which was perhaps his greatest accomplishment. When he invaded Naples in 1806 the rampant looting and atrocities committed forced Napoleon to relieve him. In 1808 Massena was wounded by Napoleon in a shooting accident,which made him partially blind but he was back in command in 1809 and preformed superbly at Aspern-Essling and Wagram. In 1810 he was sent to Portugal against his will, correctly pointing out that without Napoleon the generals would not cooperate. His prime was behind him and he became more cautious. His stinginess, which extended to customary financial gifts to brave subordinates, embarrassed Napoleon. Nonetheless, he greatly impressed Wellington, who claimed that Massena was the finest French general after Bonaparte. Massena did put Wellington to siege, but his army wasted away due to poor supply arrangements and the onset of winter. Also the open hostility showed to him by many of his subordinates caused great problems, and stands in contrast to the way he was admired by junior officers in the early days. Bonaparte relieved him in 1811, although 1813 saw him in command of Toulon. He was neutral during the Hundred Days, allowing Napoleon to land and only meeky opposing him. Thus he was not trusted by the Bourbons after Waterloo, and he died comfortably but shunned.

Massena won most of his fame before 1805 and along with Davout and Lannes he is considered the finest of Napoleon's subordinates. Such was his reputation that two towns in America are named after him. Napoleon though was right to relieve him in 1811, for Massena had declined in skill and was by then given to slandering Bonaparte. Massena's character flaws were also quite severe.


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17. Board Game: Eylau 1807 [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:7014]
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Joachim Murat


Born of humble origins, Murat was supposed to be a clergyman, but instead he joined the cavalry. During the Revolution he was a through Jacobin, and was loose with money, earning him easy friends and heavy debts. His relationship to Napoleon began when he helped Bonaparte suppress the coup of 13 Vendémiaire in 1795. The two became close associates, with Murat acting as an aid during the early campaigns. Murat soon earned a reputation for being a dashing cavalryman; at Abukir Murat engaged the Turkish army commander in personal combat and wounded him. Murat's status as Bonaparte's right hand man grew when they returned to France. Murat played a key role in the coup of 18 Brumaire and then married Caroline Bonaparte, solidifying his place in Napoleon's inner circle. In 1804 he was named a marshal and made commander of the cavalry.

Murat was a blessing and a curse as a cavalry commander. His dash and bravery made him popular and infused the cavalry with confidence. His officers loved him, but he earned the disdain of such hard fighting men as Davout, Ney, and Lannes. His emphasis on pursuit and heavy assault tactics made the French cavalry the masters of the battlefield for many years. However, Murat was rather poor at reconnaissance, and often times Napoleon had less than accurate intelligence from his dragoons. At Ulm Murat was given independent duties but preformed poorly, and he was beaten by the Russians at Schöngrabern but at both Austerlitz and espcially Jena he led powerful cavalry pursuits. At Eylau he led the cavalry in a series of desperate charges that saved the army. Due more to his marriage to Caroline than anything else, Murat was named King of Naples in 1808. He took his rule seriously, but earned the irritation of Bonaparte when he opposed the Continental System and failed to make the Neapolitan Army a credible force. In 1812 he led the cavalry in Russia, but the campaign exposed his inability to use cavalry in intelligence roles. However, his dress and bravery impressed the Cossacks, who became obsessed with him and offered to make him one of their chieftains. Left in command of the army after the Berezina crossing, Murat left for Naples and tried to treat with the British and Austrians in a vain attempt to hold his crown. He did join Napoleon in Germany, performed brilliantly at Dresden, but after Leipzig he switched to the Coalition, causing a bitter triad from Napoleon. His treachery did him little good though. The Coalition was not prepared to accept his rule and he allied himself to Napoleon during the Hundred Days, but met defeat at Tolentino. Spurned by Napoleon, Murat tried to lead an Italian uprising, but he was captured. His execution was an emotional moment done with the flourish of old. He declared "I have braved death too often to fear it" and after kissing a carnelian on which the head of his wife was engraved, he called out, "Save my face! Aim for the chest! fire!"

Until 1808 Murat was a sword wielded with great skill by Bonaparte. Murat's vanity and ambition made him an unreliable king, while the Russian Campaign exposed his weaknesses as a cavalry commander. Napoleon had mostly himself to blame since he summed up Murat in a discussion with Caroline: "Your husband is a very brave man in the field of battle, but he is more cowardly than a woman or a monk when not in the presence of the enemy. He has no moral courage." Bonaparte should not have been shocked by his defection after Leipzig.


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18. Board Game: Clash of the Eagles: Borodino & Friedland [Average Rating:6.69 Overall Rank:8870]
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Michel Ney


Born in Lorraine and raised bilingual, like most of Napoleon's commanders Ney came from humble origins and saw service with the cavalry before 1792. His military service during the Revolutionary Wars was mostly in Germany, including the famous Battle of Valmy. He mostly served in the cavalry and his choleric personality, coupled with his red hair and ruddy complexion, earned many nicknames like "the redhead" and "the ruddy." He was recklessly brave, an attribute that eared him the love of his men. Although having never met Ney, Napoleon made him a marshal in 1804 based upon his reputation and as a way of gaining the support of other veteran officers from the German army. It helped that Ney had impressed Josephine, who arranged his happy marriage to Aglae.

Ney proved to be a good corps commander, earning honor at Elchingen in 1805. Although he did poorly Jena he made up for this during the subsequent advance into Prussia and was distinguished at Eylau and Friedland. While given to leading from the front, he did not neglect administrative duties and was conscious of the need to help his troops in high spirits. In 1808 he was sent to Spain but he was given to quarreling, particularly with Massena and Soult. By the time he was relieved in 1810, his reputation was on the decline, although his rearguard action in Portugal was superb, and included a victory over Wellington at Redinha. The 1812 Russian Campaign made Ney a legend. He fought like a lion throughout but the highest honr was won on the retreat; when he and rearguard were cut off at Karsnoi Napoleon gave him up for dead. Cornered by Miloradovitch, one of the best Russian commanders, Ney refused two surrender requests and fought his way back to Napoleon. Even Sir Robert Wilson, normally dismissive of the French, called the fight between Ney and Miloradovitch "a conflict of heroes, and even the vanquished have acquired honor." Ney was dubbed "The Bravest of the Brave" by Napoleon and continued to lead the rearguard into Poland, where he was apparently the last Frenchmen to leave Russia. From here Ney declined as he failed in greater responsibilities and a crack in his mental health led to a decline in his normally abundant energy. He fought well at Lutzen, but poorly at Bautzen. In September he was sent to take Berlin, but met defeat in the close fighting at Dennewitz. By 1814 he was leading the Young Guard and under Bonaparte's close supervision he triumphed in several battles but in April he was the first marshal to counsel abdication. For this he was lauded by the Bourbons, but at royalist gatherings he felt snubbed and his wife hated the new regime. When Napoleon returned Ney promised to "bring him back in an iron cage." Instead he joined Napoleon and served as a wing commander during the Waterloo Campaign where his record was mostly a series of blunders. It is possible he was suffering from battle-fatigue; observers noticed he had grown more morose. His activities were perplexing, and he was bold when caution was needed and timid when action was required. He sought death at the close of Waterloo but it was denied to him. After the battle he worked to secure a swift peace, but instead of some honor, Ney was executed for treason. He refused to wear a blindfold and his last words were: "Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her ... Soldiers, Fire!"

Ney's death showed that for many their loyalty was not to the king but to France, because nationalism offered the opportunities normally denied to men like Ney. As for his abilities, Ney was until 1813 one of the great battlefield commanders of his day, particularly when asked to fight the Russians, whom he seemed to have a knack for defeating. That Napoleon sent him to Dennewitz was a mistake but understandable given that he was unproven in such a high command; that he held such commands at Waterloo was probably for political reasons because Ney was integral in Napoleon's return to power. Where Bonaparte failed was in not closely supervising Ney and thus insuring that his skills were poorly used in the contest with Wellington.


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19. Board Game: Austerlitz 1805: Napoleon's Greatest Victory [Average Rating:5.82 Overall Rank:9934]
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Nicolas Oudinot


Oudinot came from lowly origins and served as a private in the pre-revolutionary army, rising to sergeant but no further due to his lack of noble blood. The Revolution change all of that and soon Oudinot was rising through the ranks and became Massena's protege. For his actions in Italy in 1800 Napoleon personally presented him with a sword of honor.

Oudinot's greatest triumph came in command of a division of grenadiers at Austerlitz. Such was his part in the victory that he was known afterwards as "grenadier Oudinot." He fought at Friedland and then Wagram, where his superb battlefield leadership earned him a promotion to marshal. From here though is career declined. In Russia he was ordered to hold the Dvina River line but was bested in two battles and his main subordinate, the intelligent Saint-Cyr, refused to cooperate with him. Only after Oudinot was wounded did the French manage to gain any victories in the area. He returned to fight at the Berezina, where he preformed brilliantly, but was almost captured by Cossacks and suffered further wounds. Despite his poor showing in independent command, Napoleon gave him command of the column sent to take Berlin in August 1813. Instead Oudinot met defeat at Großbeeren, but he remained with Napoleon until his abdication. Oudinot refused to join Bonaparte in 1815, staying loyal to Louis XVIII despite the pleas of his friend Davout. Thus after 1815 he became one of the senior French commanders, and played a big part in the successful 1823 invasion of Spain. He retired in 1830 and lived a long life, which is a miracle considering that wounds and long service had already broken many other men.

Oudinot was a brave and hard fighter with a surprising talent for administration, but almost everyone from Napoleon on down had a low opinion of his intellect. Such was his recklessness in battle that he suffered no less than 24 wounds (possibly as many as 36), and such was the frequency of his injury that before every action his staff had the medical kit ready. Why Napoleon trusted Oudinot with independent command in Russia is understandable, given his actions at Wagram; what was silly was making Saint-Cyr his immediate subordinate. Oudinot proved he was only good under the supervision of greater military intellects, so his command of an army at Großbeeren is perplexing, in light of Napoleon having more capable men on hand. The promotion of Oudinot to such commands was in part due to a shrinking pool of talent, but also Napoleon's tendency to misjudge men in his later years.


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20. Board Game: Napoleon at Leipzig [Average Rating:7.42 Overall Rank:3141]
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Józef Antoni Poniatowski


Nephew of the last king of Poland, Poniatowski was raised to be a soldier and had a deep sense of duty to Poland. He was also well read, speaking German, Polish, and French, and was a life-long musician. Born in Vienna, he spent his youth there and in Prague and Warsaw and met some of the most powerful rulers of the day: Maria Theresa, Catherine the Great, and Joseph II, of whom he served in a staff capacity. In the Austrian service he distinguished himself and saved the life of Karl Schwarzenberg. After this he returned to Poland and tried to repair his nation's weak military, becoming an ally of Polish patriot and hero Tadeusz Kościuszko. When Russia invaded, Poniatowski resisted them and although out-numbered he managed to win a victory at Zieleńce and caused the Russians much frustration while Kościuszko won at Dubienka, but Poland conceded anyway. This caused Poniatowski much anguish, and supposedly he made a last dash at the Russians, seeking his own death. Poniatowski was exiled, but returned in 1794 to fight with Kościuszko in a general uprising, but his service was mixed and the rebellion ultimately failed. At this point his old Russian enemies tried to coax him into their services and Poniatowski only joined after relations with Tsar Paul I improved. Throughout all of this he remained a bachelor and was noted for his many lovers.

In 1806 Poniatowski was in Berlin serving the Prussians. After Jena he was named governor of Poland, but when Murat entered Warsaw Poniatowski switched his allegiance, seeing a chance to found a new Poland. He also became friends with Murat. When the Duchy of Warsaw was founded in 1807 Poniatowski became war minister, and after proving his loyalty he was named head of the Polish army in 1809. In the 1809 campaign aganist Austria Poniatowski preformed well, defending Poland and winning at Raszyn, where he personally led a bayonet charge, but Warsaw did fall to the Austrians. He then led a counterattack and eventually captured Krakow before the Russians could. By 1812 Napoleon was impressed and the Polish army was significantly expanded. Poniatowski had little faith in the Russian invasion, but did well at Borodino and saved Murat at Vinkovo. He was wounded during the retreat and almost captured at the Berezina River. Poniatowski was offered amnesty by Tsar Alexander I, but he did not trust the Russians and stayed loyal to Napoleon, in particular earning a reputation as a fine cavalry commander. He was named a marshal, shortly before the Battle of Leipzig, where fought with gallantry and fury, only to be shot and then drown while trying to escape across the Elster River. Coincidentally, the triumphant Coalition forces at Leipzig were led by Schwarzenberg. Poniatowski's first burial site in Germany became a popular pilgrimage spot for Polish visitors. In 1817 Poniatowski was laid to rest next to Kościuszko and John Sobieski. He remains a hero of Polish history and was an inspiration during the 1830 uprising.

Poniatowski was dashing, but also competent, and while never meant for high command his actions inspired confidence in a people hungry for it. Despite his nationalism, it must be noted that his skill, charisma, and personal honor earned him admiration throughout Europe, and explains in part why Russia, Austria, and Prussia were anxious to gain his services.


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21. Board Game: Dresden 1813 [Average Rating:6.99 Unranked]
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Laurent de Saint-Cyr


Saint-Cyr was possibly the strangest marshal in all of French history and certainly the most fiercely independent. Born Laurent de Gouvion he adopted the name Saint-Cyr from the mother who abandoned him. He had no interest in the family business of tannery and butchery and sought to become an artist and actor. In 1792 he joined the army and rose through the ranks because of his fanatical republicanism. He soon proved to be capable in command and became one of the bright stars in the French army. However, he was cold and unfriendly which, along with his appearance, led to his nickname: "The Owl." He also despised the looting and sexual license taken by his fellow officers. His great skill in battle could not be ignored and he was calm in a fight, which created a sense of security to his men. He was also reflective by nature and one of the best read of all French officers. He served in numerous theatres but especially in Germany. Finally Jean Moreau had enough of Saint-Cyr and he was sent to Spain, where he planned an invasion of Portugal, but it was cut short when Portugal signed peace terms. He then served as ambassador to Spain.

Saint-Cyr opposed the formal creation of the French empire and was thus held in suspicion by Napoleon. In 1805 he was attached to Massena's army in Italy but refused to serve under him and was sent to secure southern Italy in 1806. He fought in the 1807 campaign against Russia and then was sent to Spain, but his failure to capture Gerona coupled with his open criticism of the entire venture led to him being relieved. He did not return until 1812 for the Russian campaign where he was ordered to hold the Dvina River line while Napoleon advanced on Moscow. He worked poorly under Oudinot, but when Oudinot was wounded Saint-Cyr took command and bested the Russians at Polotsk, restoring the Dvina River position and earning himself a marshal's baton. However, a wound forced Saint-Cyr to give up his command and he did not return until Dresden, where he distinguished himself. Napoleon left him to hold Dresden, which he did until forced to capitulate in November 1813. Saint-Cyr remained neutral during the Hundred Days and later served twice as war minister. He created a general staff, revised military law, and insured that the army remained a nationalist rather than a royalist force. In 1819 he retired and wrote until his death in 1830.

Saint-Cyr was one of the few marshals with independent command experience prior to 1805. His story is frustrating in that he remained a skilled general and highly moral, which led him to treat the Spanish with respect while he disdained the looting and atrocities that came to typify the 1808 campaign in Spain. However, his willfulness hurt his relations with others and prevented his promotion to higher duties. It is to Napoleon's credit that he returned him to command after the Spanish debacle, but Bonaparte was wrong in ever making Saint-Cyr a subordinate to Oudinot or in hoping that he would cooperate with him. Nonetheless, Saint-Cyr must be judged as among the elite military commanders and thinkers of his time.


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22. Board Game: Gospitch & Ocaña 1809 [Average Rating:7.58 Unranked]
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Nicolas Soult


Soult was well educated and planned to become a lawyer before his father's death and economic hardship forced him to join the French army as a private in 1785. By 1789 he wanted to be a baker, but the revolution brought out his ambition. Soult was a smart man, brave in combat and skilled in handling troops. He also had a strong appetite for power complimented by his skill at cultivating the favor of powerful men. His worst trait was greed, which only got worse with age. During the Revolution he rose through the ranks by distinguishing himself at Fleurus and Zurich, becoming a favorite of Massena. His reputation and willingness to embrace Napoleon's ascension to power secured his position as one of the original marshals.

His first campaign under Napoleon was Ulm, followed by brilliant performances at Austerlitz, Jena, and Eylau. For his skill in handling troops Napoleon called him "the ablest tactician in the empire." Soult went to Spain in 1808, where is career declined, beginning with his defeat by the British at Coruna. He became prone to excessive looting and earned the dislike of Joseph Bonaparte and Ney, who threatened to kill him. He also coveted the throne of Portugal, which upset the officers with republican sympathies. His brightest moment came at Ocana in 1809, where he destroyed a Spanish army through superb use of cavalry. In 1810 he went south to take Cadiz, winning some glory but not the ultimate prize. Meanwhile, the situation in northern Spain deteriorated and Soult had to move north. He threw back Wellington's advance but probably missed his best chance to defeat the duke and turn the tide. In 1813 he was recalled to serve with Bonaparte in Germany, but following fresh Spanish disasters he returned. Although in command of raw recruits he fought well and while only winning one battle against Wellington, he also consistently outmaneuvered Wellington while keeping his army intact. Soult served as minister of war for Louis XVIII, but joined Napoleon upon his return and was named chief of staff, a position Soult had no experience with. It proved to be a disaster, and poor staff work played a major role in the defeat at Waterloo. Soult was proscribed, but he eventually returned to public life and leaped into the fray of politics, becoming noted for his willingness to change allegiances as the political wind dictated. He was once again named a marshal, and became war minister and later prime minister. As ambassador to Britain for the coronation of Queen Victoria, his arm was grabbed by Wellington, who recalling his ability to escape destruction on the Peninsula, declared "I have you at last!"

Soult was a very able general. He proved it throughout his career and at Ocana he gained one of the most complete victories of The Napoleonic Wars. However, he had the misfortune of fighting Wellington, one of history's greatest generals. Soult proved to be superb at maneuver, kept his men supplied, and usually started his battles well enough, due to his smart tactical planning. Wellington though was right to say "[Soult] never seems to me to know how to handle troops after the battle had begun" and "in the field he is apt to doubt and hesitate." Some of this came from poor staff work and an inablity to seize the initiative once a plan fell apart. Soult needed a Napoleon to keep him focused in a fight. That being said Soult came closer than most to beating Wellington, and his skilled maneuvers earned him the respect of the British, who dubbed him "the duke of damnation, " a play upon his title Duke of Dalmatia.


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23. Board Game: JENA! [Average Rating:6.78 Overall Rank:6369]
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Louis Gabriel Suchet

Suchet is the only marshal whose career was enhanced during the Pennisular War, and one of the few to have almost no military blemishes. He is also noted for his all encompassing practicality and flexibility which made a successful commander and administrator. He served with distinction at Toulon and during the Italian Campaign, but never made it into Napoleon's inner circle. He did gain the notice of Brune and Massena and did well both in staff and combat duties.

At Austerlitz, Jena, and Pultusk he gained a reputation as a superb division commander and was thus sent to Spain in the same capacity. In April 1809 he became a corps commander and secured Aragon. He mixed humane treatment and understanding with occasional stern measures, and thus secured a large section of Spain, suppressing guerrillas and keeping the peace. For this and some victories against the Spanish Army he was made a marshal in 1811. In 1812 he secured Valencia, but was compelled to withdraw into France, where he served under Soult in the final campaigns of 1814. Although embraced by the Bourbons, he joined Napoleon in 1815 and commanded the Army of the Alps but saw no combat as the issue was decided at Waterloo.

Some have argued that Suchet's talents were wasted by Napoleon, but I think Bonaparte saw him as a perfect fit in Spain and wanted to keep it that way. His efforts in Spain were successful and his methods should have been embraced by other commanders. Napoleon remarked that Suchet was one of the few marshals who improved with age, and it is possible that his command of the Army of the Alps in 1815 was because Bonaparte could actually trust him in independent command, a rare talent in the French Army of 1815.


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24. Board Game: Napoleonic Battles: Austerlitz 1805 [Average Rating:4.90 Overall Rank:13423]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Dominique René Vandamme


Vandamme's early career was tumultuous. He fought well in the Revolutionary Wars but was censured for looting and later sent to Holland after disagreeing with General Jean Moreau. Vandamme was something of an oddity in Napoleon's cadre of generals. He was almost uniformly disliked and mistrusted by his fellow officers because of his biting wit and reputation as a plunderer on par with the worst pirates of the high seas. He was also noted for a willingness to use brutality but it appears his love of loot and leadership style made him popular with the rank and file. Napoleon's opinion of him reveals much of his character. Bonaparte declared that "If I had two of you, the only solution would be to have one hang the other." He also said that if he had to invade hell he'd give Vandamme the vanguard.

Napoleon put him in division command in 1805 and Vandamme performed superbly at Austerlitz. During the 1809 Danube Campaign he was leading a corps, but his personal disputes with fellow officers caused him to be relieved during the Russian invasion. In 1813 he was back in command and led the pursuit of the Coalition forces after Dresden (where Moreau, in the services of Sweden and Russia, was killed). The pursuit came for naught and at Kulm Vandamme was captured with his command, dealing a severe blow to Napoleon's efforts to hold Germany. When confronted by Tsar Alexander I about his penchant for plunder Vandamme said: "I am neither a plunderer nor a brigand but in any case, my contemporaries and history will not reproach me for having soaked my hands in the blood of my father." (An allusion to the murder of Tsar Paul I). Vandamme embraced Napoleon's return in 1815 and was given III Corps. He fought well at Ligny and was part of the forces ordered to pursue the Prussians. Vandamme failed to convince Grouchy that it would be better to halt the pursuit of the Prussians and march to Waterloo; he fought at Wavre and covered the retreat from Waterloo. Vandamme played a prominent role in the final engagement of the Napoleonic Wars: Issy. Afterwards, he was exiled to America, but returned to France in 1819.

Vandamme was a good fighter, but his acidic personality and loose morals made him unpopular with friend and foe alike. His defeat at Kulm negated Napoleon's great victory at Dresden and was possibly the turning point of the campaign. Aggressiveness is a trait many like in a pursuing general, but Vandamme proved it isn't always a good thing. I guess Lincoln never heard of Kulm when he criticized Meade after Gettysburg.


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25. Board Game: Napoleon at the Berezina [Average Rating:6.67 Overall Rank:7524]
Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Claude Victor


Coming from a modest background, Victor served as a foot soldier in the old army for ten years. When revolution broke out he supported the young Davout's efforts to support the republicans. He joined the National Guard and rose through the ranks. Victor was known for his sunny disposition and organizational abilities although he did not possess a great intellect or natural ability. He was an early comrade of Napoleon, impressing him at Toulon and then during the Italian campaign. He remained in Italy for much of his career and distinguished himself at Marengo in 1800. He then gained valuable administrative experience, first as governor of Louisiana, then as commander of the Dutch Army, and eventually as ambassador to Denmark.

After a long absence from active command he returned in 1806 to serve on Lannes's staff. Leading a corps at Friedland, he ordered the artillery forward and shredded the Russian lines, Napoleon made him a marshal. Victor played a major role in the invasion of Spain and despite victories against the Spanish, including a sweeping triumph at Medellín, he was bested by Wellington at Talavera, although most of the blame lies with Joseph and Jourdan. After these mixed results Victor was called in to command IX Corps, the main reserve for Napoleon's army during the invasion of Russia. It was here that he made his greatest contributions, protecting the army as it crossed the Berezina River during the retreat from Russia. Victor commanded the rearguard with Ney until the army reached Poland. Victor never again offered such fine service, and after he arrived late at Montereau in February 1814, Napoleon stripped him of command. Victor then offered to serve as a private, which led Napoleon to give Victor command of two divisions of the Young Guard. Victor though was still hurt by Bonaparte's recriminations and he actively embraced the Bourbon restoration and stayed loyal to Louis XVIII, leading the Household Guard through the Hundred Days. He supported the execution of his old friend Ney. For this he was made one of the premier generals of the post-Napoleonic age and even served as minister of war. Nevertheless, he became bitter with age and declined to attend the return of Napoleon's body to Paris.

While not a great commander, Victor was quite skilled, especially in defensive actions and administration. It was to Bonaparte's detriment that he insulted such a long time friend, who although not possessed of impressive qualities, was reliable in temper and action. The slight seems to have made Victor a bitter man, and he died alone, a stunning contrast to his care free youth.


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