August 15 1815: Napoleon’s Birthday

“August 15th. We had still light winds and fine weather, with less swell than usual. This may in some measure account for the greater sociability of General Buonaparte.

It being his birth-day, I made him my compliments upon it, and drank his health, which civility he seemed to appreciate.

After dinner I walked with him on deck, and had considerable conversation with him; — In the course of it, I asked him whether he really had intended to invade England, when he made the demonstration at Boulogne.

He told me he had most perfectly and decidedly made up his mind to it; but that he put guns into the Praams, and the rest of his armed flotilla, only to deceive, and to make us believe that he intended to attempt a descent on England with their assistance only : whereas, he had never intended to make any other use of them, than as transports. He observed that he had fully believed that his fleet would have deceived ours, by the route and manoeuvres which he directed his officers to make; and that they would have been enabled, by these means, to get off Boulogne, so as to have had a decided superiority in the Channel, long enough to insure him a safe passage. He said that every thing was so arranged, and prepared, that it would only have required twenty-four hours after arriving at the spot fixed upon. He said he had 200,000 men for this service, out of which, 6,000 cavalry would have been landed, with horses and every thing else, completely fit for acting the moment they were on shore. His Praams, he observed, were particularly intended for carrying over these horses.

He told me the exact point of debarkation had not been fixed by him, as he considered it not material, and to be determined, therefore, by the winds, and the circumstances of the moment; but that he had intended to have landed as near to Chatham as he conveniently could, in order to have secured our stores in that place at once, and then to have pushed on to London by that road.

His Mediterranean Admiral had been ordered to proceed with his fleet to Martinique, to distract our attention, and draw our fleets after him; and then to exert his utmost efforts, to return quickly to Europe, — touching at Brest, where he had ordered another fleet, under Gantheaume, to be ready to join him; the whole was then to push up the Channel to Boulogne, where Buonaparte intended to meet them, and to move with them over to our coast, at an hour’s notice.

In fact, he said he was ready, his things embarked, and himself anxiously looking for the arrival of his fleets, when he heard of their having indeed returned to Europe ; but, that instead of coming into the Channel, in conformity with the instructions he had given, they had entered the port of Cadiz, where they were blocked up by the English fleet, after a partial engagement with it off Ferrol.

Thus, he remarked, by the disobedience and want of management of his Admirals, he saw in a moment that all his hopes, with regard to the invasion of England, were frustrated. His disappointment was aggravated by this additional circumstance, (which he had fully foreseen when he first formed the idea of such an attempt), that the preparations at Boulogne, had given a strong military bias to every individual in England, and had enabled the Ministers to make greater efforts, than they otherwise, perhaps, would have been permitted to do.

He believed, however, that the English administration had entertained great alarm about the issue of his undertaking. In fact, his seciet agents at the Russian Court reported to him, that Great Britain had made urgent requests to that Government, and Austria, to declare war against France, for the purpose of averting from England the danger of this threatened invasion.

The General observed, however, that he had relinquished the project, from the moment he found that his fleets had failed him. Having then turned his whole attention to his new enemies on the Continent, his forces collected at Boulogne, enabled him to make the sudden movement which proved fatal to General Mack, and gave him all the advantages which followed.

The short account which he gave me, very nearly corresponded with Goldsmith’s relation of the same events, (as given in his secret history of St Cloud.)

I must acknowledge, moreover, from what I have hitherto seen, and learned, that there is reason to think, Mr Goldsmith had more foundation for many of his statements, than people hvae generally supposed. Buonaparte informed me, in a manner not at all suspicious, that Admiral Villeneuve actually put himself to death, though the General, in speaking to me of him, seemed very strongly impressed with the idea of the Admiral’s unpardonable disobedience and misconduct. He also told me, that he had ordered Admiral Dumanois to be tried by a court-martial, for his conduct at the battle of Trafalgar; and that he had exerted all his influence to have him shot or broke. He added, that when the sentence of acquittal was given, Admiral Cosmao (who was one of the memberi of the court, and whom he said he considered to be decidedly the best sea officer now in France,) broke his own sword at the time that of Dumanois was returned to him.

This act, Buonaparte seemed to have been very highly pleased with, and it was most probably the real cause of Cosmao’s advancement to a peerage.

In the course of this evening’s conversation, he repeated a former assertion—that he had prepared a strong expedition at Antwerp, destined to act against Ireland, which he had only been prevented from sending forward, by the unfavourable turn of his affairs on the Continent.

His spirits, throughout this day, have appeared considerably better than for some time past. He won at vingt-un, and his good fortune seemed to gratify him the more, as it was his birthday. He did not go to his bed-room this evening, until past eleven o’clock.

Our latitude and longitude this day, at noon, was 43° 51′ N., and 10° 21′ W.”

.— Sir George Cockburn on the HMS Northumberland writes in his diary for August 15 1815.

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