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Andre Massena: The Beloved Child of Victory

Posted August 5th, 2018 at 06:07 PM by Lord Oda Nobunaga
Updated August 5th, 2018 at 06:45 PM by Lord Oda Nobunaga

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Andre Massena (1758-1817)

Andre Massena was a highly distinguished army commander and Marshal of France. He has the distinction of serving both as Napoleon's superior and later subordinate in Italy from 1794 until 1797.

In 1799 he was put in command of an army in the Swiss Alps where he successfully fought Archduke Charles and despite being forced to abandon Zurich he rapidly returned to defeat Alexander Korsakov outside of the city. This action allowed Coalition military efforts to be split in half and Alexander Suvorov was forced to maneuver his way along the Alps and retreat to the north east whilst being blocked and pursued by Massena.

He was again sent to Italy in 1800 to protect Genoa but was completely cut off and besieged within Genoa by Michael von Melas. Despite a brilliant defense he surrendered the city on the condition of dignified retreat back to France. Although he surrendered the city not knowing that Napoleon was approaching with an additional army, the defense made him a popular general but brought him some criticism from Napoleon. Regardless his delaying of Melas' forces allowed for Napoleon to catch the Austrians by surprise as he emerged from the Alps directly onto the enemy rear and cutting off their supply and communications. Massena took part in further operations under Napoleon's command until after the Battle of Marengo.

No doubt for his reputation as the commander of an army Napoleon gave him his Marshal's Baton upon the founding of the Empire and he was again employed in Italy.

As commander of the Italian front he spent all of 1805 sweeping back Archduke Charles army to the Austrian border and after the Austrian capitulation he was sent to conquer the Kingdom of Naples.

He spent the Fourth Coalition and Fifth Coalition Wars as a corps commander under Napoleon in Germany, Poland and Austria.

Again he was given an independent command in Portugal where Junot (1808) and Soult (1809) had failed and despite successfully capturing some cities along the Portuguese and Spanish border he was checked at the Anglo-Portuguese defenses of Torres Vedras and defeated at Bussaco (1810) and then fought an indecisive engagement at Fuentes de Onoro (1811) against the Duke of Wellington. He was then relieved by Marshal Marmont and saw very little service afterwards given the chance to go into retirement (being a full decade older than Napoleon).

To Massena, the Beloved Child of Victory and the Prince of Essling, the Emperor was very generous indeed: "To win is not enough: it is necessary to profit from success. In the profession of war, like that of letters, each has his style. For sharp, prolonged attacks that require great boldness Massena would be more appropriate than Reynier. To protect the kingdom against invasion, Jourdan is preferable than Massena. General Reynier had been trained to be a topographical engineer. He understood maps thoroughly, had waged campaigns with the Armies of the North and of the Rhine, where he acquired the reputation of being a man of sound advice, but he lacked the most essential qualities of a commander in chief. He loved solitude, was by nature cold and silent and not very communicative, and he knew neither how to electrify or to dominate men. A division commander in the Army of Italy, Massena had a strong constitution and was tireless, on his horse night and day among the boulders and in the mountains. This was the kind of war that he understood particularly well. He was determined, brave, bold, full of ambition and vanity. His distinctive characteristic was stubbornness and he never got discouraged. He would neglect discipline and pay little attention to administration and for this reason was not much loved by his soldiers. He was tolerably poor in his dispositions for an attack. His conversation was not very interesting but at the first cannon shot, in the midst of bullets and dangers, his thought would acquire strength and clarity. If defeated he would start again as if he had been the victor".
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