Birthplace: Nice, France
Location of death: Paris, France
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, Cimetière du Père Lachaise, Paris, France
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Napoleon's greatest marshal
André Masséna, duke of Rivoli, prince of Essling, the greatest of Napoleon's marshals, son of a small wine merchant, it is said of Jewish origin, was born at Nice on the 6th of May 1756. His parents were very poor, and he began life as a cabin boy, but he did not care much for the sea, and in 1775 he enlisted in the Royal-Italien regiment. He quickly rose to be under-officer-adjutant; but, finding his birth would prevent his ever getting a commission, he left the army in 1789, retired to his native city, and married. At the sound of war, however, and the word republic, his desire to see service increased, and he once more left Italy, and joined the 3rd battalion of the volunteers of the Var in 1791. In those days when men elected their officers, and many of the old commissioned officers had emigrated, promotion to a man with a knowledge of his drill was rapid, and by February 1792 Masséna was a lieutenant-colonel. His regiment was one of those in the army which occupied Nice, and in the advance to the Apennines which followed, his knowledge of the country, of the language, and of the people was so useful that in December 1793 he was already a general of division. In command of the advanced guard he won the battle of Saorgio in August 1794, capturing ninety guns, and after many successes he at last, on the 23rd of November 1795, with the right wing of the army of Italy, had the greatest share in the victory of Loano, won by Schérer over the Austrians and Sardinians.
In Bonaparte's great campaign of 1796-97 Massna was his most trusted general of division; in each battle he won fresh laurels, up to the crowning victory of Rivoli, from which he afterwards took his title. It was during this campaign that Bonaparte gave him the title of enfant gâté de la victoire, which he was to justify until he met the English in 1810. In 1798 he commanded the army of Rome for a short time, but was displaced by the intrigues of his subordinate Berthier. Massénas next important service was in command of the army in Switzerland, which united the army in Germany under Moreau, and that in Italy under Joubert. There he proved himself a great captain, as he had already proved himself a great lieutenant; the archduke Charles and Alexander Suvorov had each been successful in Germany and in Italy, and now turned upon Masséna in Switzerland. That general held his ground well against the archduke, and then suddenly, leaving Soult to face the Austrians, he transported his army to Zürich, where, on the 26th of September 1799, he entirely defeated Korsakov, taking 200 guns and 5000 prisoners. This campaign and battle placed his reputation on a level with that of his compatriot Bonaparte, and he might have made the revolution of Brumaire, but he was sincerely attached to the republic, and had no ambition beyond a desire to live well and to have plenty of money to spend. Bonaparte, now First Consul, sent him to Genoa to command the debris of the army of Italy, and he nobly defended Genoa from February to June to the very last extremity, giving time for Bonaparte to strike his great blow at Marengo. He now went to Paris, where he sat in the Corps Législatif in 1803, and actually defended Moreau without drawing upon himself the ill-will of Napoleon, who well knew his honesty and lack of ambition.
In 1804 he was made one of the first marshals of France of the new regime, and in 1805 was decorated with the Grand Eagl of the Legion of Honor. In that year Napoleon needed an able general to keep in check the archduke Charles in Italy, while he advanced through Germany with the grand army. Masséna was chosen; he kept the archduke occupied until he received news of the surrender of Ulm, and then on the 30th of October defeated him in the battle of Caldiero. After the peace of Pressburg had been signed, Masséna was ordered to take possession of the kingdom of Naples, and to place Joseph Bonaparte on the throne. This task done, Napoleon summoned Masséna to Poland, where he as usual distinguished himself, and where he for the time gave up his republican principles. In 1808 he was made duke of Rivoli. In 1808 he was accidentally wounded by his old enemy Berthier when both were in attendance on the emperor at a shooting party, and he lost the sight of one eye. In the campaign in 1809 he covered himself with glory at Landshut and at Eckmühl, and finally at the battle of Aspern-Essling his magnificent leadership made what would without him have been an appalling disaster into a mere reverse of which the enemy could make no use. On the field of Wagram Masséna, though too ill to ride, directed from his carriage the movements of the right wing. For his great services he was created prince of Essling, and given the princely castle of Thouars. He was then ordered to Spain to "drive the English into the sea." Masséna himself, with some justice, ascribed his failure to the frequent disobedience of his subordinates Ney, Reynier and Junot, and public opinion attributed this disobedience to the presence with the army of Masséna's mistress, and to the resentment thereat felt by the wives of the three generals. Still, unsuccessful as he was, Masséna displayed the determination of the defense of Genoa and the fertility in expedients of the campaign of Zürich, and kept his army for five weary months close up to Wellington's impregnable position before retiring. His retreat through a devastated country was terrible, but his force of character kept his men together, and Ney having shown the worst side of his character now showed the best in the frequent and brilliant rearguard actions, until a new act of insubordination at last made the old marshal dismiss Ney from his command. Soon Masséna was once again ready to try his fortune, and he nearly defeated Wellington at Fuentes d'Oñoro, though much hampered by Bessières. But his recall soon followed this and he returned home to find his prestige gone. The old marshal felt he had a right to complain of Ney and of Napoleon himself, and, it is said, opened communications with Fouché and the remnant of the republican party. Whether this be true or not, Napoleon gave his greatest marshal no more employment in the field, but made him merely a territorial commandant at Marseilles. This command he still held at the restoration, when Louis XVIII confirmed him in it, and with true Bourbon stupidity gave him letters of naturalization, as if the great leader of the French armies had not ceased to be an Italian. When Napoleon returned from Elba, Masséna, probably by the advice of Fouché, kept Marseilles quiet to await events, the greatest service he could do the royalists, but afterwards imputed to him as a fault. After the second restoration Masséna was summoned to sit on the court-martial which tried Marshal Ney, but, though he had been on bad terms with that general, and attributed his own disgrace to him, the old soldier would not be his comrade's judge. This refusal was used by the royalists to attack the marshal, against whom they raked up every offense they could think of. This annoyance shortened his life, and on the 4th of April 1817 the old hero died. He was buried in Père-la-Chaise, with only the word "Masséna" upon his tombstone.
In private life indolent, greedy, rapacious, ill-educated and morose, in war Masséna was, like Napoleon, the incarnation of battle. Only his indolence and his consequent lack of farranging imagination prevented him being as great in strategy as in tactics. His genius needed the presence of the enemy to stimulate it, but once it sprang to life Masséna became an ideal leader, absolutely brave, resourceful, unrelenting and indefatigable. He was as great a master of the strategy of forces in immediate contact -- of gathering up as it were the threads of the fugue into a "stretto." For the planning of a whole perfect campaign he had neither knowledge nor inclination, and he falls short therefore of the highest rank amongst great generals; but his place among the greatest of soldiers is beyond challenge.
Do you know something we don't?
Submit a correction or make a comment about this profile
Copyright ©2014 Soylent Communications