« PreviousContinue »
MEMOIR OF GENERAL CHASSÉ.
LTHOUGH not among the warriors who have filled the world with their renown, the name of this distinguished foreign officer claims a place here by a double title—first, on the general public ground that he is now
in command of a fortress, upon which the eyes of the nations are intent; and secondly, that he is of the race of those from whom spring the genuine Knickerbackers.
The engraving which accompanies this memoir, presents faithfully the lineaments of this veteran soldier. It is executed from an engraving recently received from Holland, and does more than justice to the original. In the compressed inouth, and resolute brow, and air of decision which this portrait exhibits, the daring character and well proved heroism of the man whose life, even unto old age, has been spent amid the din and perils of battle, speak to every eye.
According to a brief notice we find of him in the Biographie des Contemporains-a record, we may say in passing, of as high talents and attainments in every department of knowledge or of art, of as noble characters, and of as daring achievements, as the annals of the world can shew-David HENRY CHASSE was born on the 18th March, 1765, at Thiel, in Guelderland, and at ten years of age, with hereditary taste, (his father being a military officer) he entered as a cadet into the service of the United Provinces. He obtained in 1781 the rank of lieutenant, and in 1787 that of captain. At this period the disputes, which had long agitated the United Provinces, broke out into open and violent conflicts. The republican
party, opposed to the establishment of an hereditary Stadtholdership in the house of Orange, and rendered more ardent in the general cause of freedom, by the success with which these United States had then recently concluded their struggle for independence, proceeded to extremes, and among other measures, a band of the more violent patriots arrested the wife of the Stadtholder, who was sister to the king of Prussia. She immediately besought the aid of her brother, and forthwith a Prussian army of 25,000 men appeared, to avenge the insult and vindicate the cause of the Stadtholder William
V. Young Chassé, then only twenty-two years old, and who, with the natural enthusiasm of youth, had embraced the cause of the patriots, was fired with new zeal at the aspect of foreign mercenaries brought into his own native land, to impose upon it by force a government it rejected, and was foremost in the ranks to combat them. But the resistance of the patriots was unskilfully conducted and unsuccessful; and when, in September, 1787, Amsterdam fell into the hands of the Prussians, and the patriot cause was finally lost, Chassé, with others, went into voluntary exile. Soon again, however, lured by the same idol, Liberty, which now was arousing the people of France from the despotism of ages, he entered into the French armies, and so distinguished himself by his gallantry, that in 1793, he had attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel. In 1794, he was attached to the army under Pichegru, and made the memorable campaign of 1794-5, when the water defences of Holland, which under ordinary circumstances render her almost impregnable, became the sources of her weakness; and the floods which from her dikes she poured forth over smiling fields and villages, in order that the foot of the invader might be cut from her soil, were bridged over with solid ice, and presented the unwonted and unwelcome spectacle of embattled armies, with their horses and their artillery borne into the very heart of the land, by a path made with no human hands. The arms and the opinions of republican France found ready acceptanco among the patriots of Holland, and by their aid, and with their concurrence, the Batavian republic was formed in May, 1795. They too soon found that a republic established by the arms and maintained by the presence of a foreign soldiery, was a mockery of their fairest hopes; and it cannot be doubted, that the delusion which had blinded Chassé to the crime for crime since the days of Coriolanus to those of Moreau it has been, and ever should be, decmed-of bearing arms with foreigners
against his native land, was early and bitterly repented. He, whose youthful patriotism had been kindled to a loftier glow, by the introduction into his country of a Prussian army, to avenge and defend the cause of the Stadtholder, could not, in maturer years, and when the first impulse and ebulition of the high excitement of the times had passed, but feel that he had greatly erred. His career since that period has, however, been wholly with Dutch troops and worthy of the brightest days of that valiant people, who in their early history were styled by Tacitus, “the friends rather than the allies of the Romans,” and whose warlike qualities were so remarkable, as to draw from the same historian this description of the nation—" unvexed by tribute, free from all taxes, they (the Batavians) are, as it were, set apart for the demands of battle, and like arms reserved alone for war.” In the campaign of 1796, he was attached to the army under the command of the Dutch General, Daendels. In 1799, the English having made a descent upon the coast of Holland, General Chassé displayed great military talent at the head of the Dutch corps, who fought several hours against a larger body of English troops. This campaign having terminated, he quitted the country for Germany. He was at the siege of Wurtzburg, took a battery from the Austrians, and four hundred prisoners, on the 27th of December, 1800. In the years 1805 and 1806, he served with distinction in the war against Prussia, under the command of the Dutch General Dumoreau. But, above all, it was in the Spanish war that General Chassé was most distinguished.
Having been created a major-general and appointed to the command of a Dutch division, he led them wherever there was danger and glory. Always in advance himself, always decisive, and distinguished especially for the frequency and the success of the charges he led, he obtained from his own corps and in the army, the significant appellation of the weapon he so freely resorted to; and as Murat, from the number and brilliancy of his cavalry charges, was called the Saberer, and Junot, from the impetuosity of his attacks, was distinguished as the Grenadier, General Chassé came to be known and dreaded as the Bayonet-chief. For six years of this murderous Spanish war, he was always in the hottest of its battles, and in all, the simple and glorious praises of his soldiers, the witnesses of his exploits and the companions of his dangers, accompanied him. At Talavera, Durango, Missa d'Abord, and parti
cularly at Ocana, where the Dutch troops covered themselves with glory, he was conspicuous; and when finally the broken remnants of the many gallant armies, which the insatiate ambition of Napoleon had poured into Spain, to be sacrificed piece-meal to the great revenge of a wronged and outraged nation, were fast retreating under the auspices of Marshal Soult, before the better fortune and better cause of a combined English and Spanish force, led by the Duke of Wellington, the valor and the daring of General Chassé were signally displayed at Col de Maja, a pass in the Pyrenees. In this pass the corps d'armée commanded by Count d'Erlon, hemmed in and pressed by superior numbers, was relieved by the bayonets of the Dutch division led on by General Chassé, and extricated from its difficulties. The military eye of Soult could not fail to perceive the merit of such a commander, and at his suggestion, the decoration of the Legion of Honor was the reward conferred by Napoleon, of so brilliant an action. He was created, by special decree, Baron of the Empire. When the tide of war had changed, and the great Captain who had entered as a conqueror the capital of almost every continental power, was, in January, 1814, driven back upon his own, and in the presence of combined Europe was fighting for crown and life within sight of the towers of Notre Dame, and the triumphant arches of the Carousel, he testified his confidence in General Chassé, by ordering him in that extremity to join him at once with his troops, in the vicinity of Paris. On the 27th February, with the remains of only four regiments, he attacked at Bar sur Aube, a corps of 6,000 Prussians, supported by a battery of six pieces, and after an obstinate and hotly contested action, in the course of which he was thrice charged by cavalry, and in which he himself was wounded, overthrew them. But the star of the conqueror had set, and the allied sovereigns entered Paris, with the profession of hostility only to the chief, and not to the people of France. With Napoleon fell the vast empire, which his arm alone could hold together, or wield in unity; and General Chassé, released from the banner under which he had so long and gloriously served, returned to his native country. Here the House of Orange had been reestab, lished with the full consent of the nation, and to its head the present king of the Netherlands, this soldier of many fields presented himself, and was welcomed by him with the confidence and distinction, to which his well earned laurels entitled him. He was received into the army of the Netherlands, with the rank of lieutenant-general, on the 21st April, 1814.
Europe now for a space seemed to breathe in peace and the disorganization consequent upon years of war and suffering, and the fancied derangement of that blood bolstered illusion—the balance of power-were to be remedied by congresses of sovereigns and protocols of ministers. Diplomacy was now to bind anew those whom the sword had loosed, and with “Louis XVIII as a principle,”—for in that light alone the wily Talleyrand told the assembled despots in Paris, could he be presented to the French; that is, as representing the conquest of legitimacy over the revolution—the nations were parcelled or parcelling out among the heaven-born-when lo! a sound from an obscure town on the shores of the Mediterranean, reverberating in instant thunder throughout France and Europe, scattered at once congress, and sovereigns, and ministers; and Napoleon, the exile, stood again unquestioned sovereign in the palace of the Thuilleries. Faithful to his new duties and to his country, General Chassé prepared himself in the war that immediately ensued, to defend the menaced frontier of the Netherlands; and on the field of Waterloo he displayed anew the peculiar qualities, both as a soldier and a chief, which had marked so honorably his previous career. At a critical period of the battle, perceiving, at a moment when an English battery having exhausted its ammunition, had ceased firing, that it was menaced by an attack from the old imperial guard, and aware of the fatal consequences of such an attack if successful, he detached instantaneously his artillery under Major Van Smissen,
to repulse at all hazards the advancing French columns. The man@uvre was gallantly performed, and the fire of the artillery was so well directed and murderous, that the assailants were compelled to fall back, leaving the declivity of Mont St. Jean covered with their wounded and their dead. This was the moment for the Bayonet-chief-his Dutch and Belgic corps was led to the charge, and soon completed the route which the artillery had prepared. This eminent and timely service was remarked by the Duke of Wellington, and publicly acknowledged by letter in the July following. The final overthrow of Napoleon, consequent upon this bloody day, again promised peace to the nations; and the sword of our warrior, which had been bared in so many climates and so many combats, was quietly rusting in its scabbard, when the revolution of the three days in Paris, which overturned at once and at a breath, as it were, the throne of a thousand years, and the more recent combinations of the Holy. Allies,