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Thread: Massena: Good or Bad?

  1. #1

    Default Massena: Good or Bad?

    Following the like-named topic on Wellington, I want to open one up on one of Napoleon's most controversial generals. It seems that Massena had one major screwup for every act of brilliance. Massena was Napoleon's right-hand man in the war of Italy. He defended Genoa for two months, surrendered when he ran out of supplies, but bargained for his entire army to walk out of the fort. This also bought Napoleon enough time to counterattack the Austrians at Marengo. His widespread looting, however, resulted in his dismissal.

    Massena was brought back during the War of the Fifth Coalition where he once again served in every major battle until the truce, when he was sent to the Iberian Peninsula. Here, his men were again responsible for widespread looting and atrocities, and he came out second against Wellington at Bussaco and Fuentes de Onoro. Afterwards, he was replaced and did not serve again. It was a relatively early dismissal, keeping this general out of Russia, Leipzig, and the Waterloo campaigns.

  2. #2
    Pro-opera Jungian's Avatar Tiro
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    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stellerex View Post
    Following the like-named topic on Wellington, I want to open one up on one of Napoleon's most controversial generals. It seems that Massena had one major screwup for every act of brilliance. Massena was Napoleon's right-hand man in the war of Italy. He defended Genoa for two months, surrendered when he ran out of supplies, but bargained for his entire army to walk out of the fort. This also bought Napoleon enough time to counterattack the Austrians at Marengo. His widespread looting, however, resulted in his dismissal.

    Massena was brought back during the War of the Fifth Coalition where he once again served in every major battle until the truce, when he was sent to the Iberian Peninsula. Here, his men were again responsible for widespread looting and atrocities, and he came out second against Wellington at Bussaco and Fuentes de Onoro. Afterwards, he was replaced and did not serve again. It was a relatively early dismissal, keeping this general out of Russia, Leipzig, and the Waterloo campaigns.
    I've always been mixed as Massena. As a subordinate he was solid, and he was one of Napoleon's best field commanders, but he lacked good administrative skill. Napoleon thought highly of Massena, giving him 50,000 men in the Army of Italy in 1805 where he showed great skill. I thought Massena's dismissal was unwise, but in Napoleon's view, with his general never learning from his past punishment, I could see why he was finally fed up with the general's looting. He was also personally iresponsible, some atribuite his loss against Wellington due partly to a female distraction on the field

    Aside from his faults, he commanded well as an army commander, always dependable. He lost few battles in the course of his career. Led it not be ingored how in the war of the 2nd coalition, he saved the collapsing French Republic from utter defeat in Switzerland, beating the Archduke Charles, how he captured Verona in 1805, captured many key Spanish fortresses in the Peninsular war, along with all the other honors you listed.

    In my opinion, he was a great leader, Napoleon said he was the "Greatest name in his Empire" and called him the "Child of Victory. He was a great leader, but a flawed man. I'd put him in my top 5 marshals, but definitely not the top of the 5. Or to use my marshal ranking system-

    Tactical Ability (Command of an army on the field)-9
    Strategic Ability (In pre battle maneuvers and campaigning)-8
    Subordinate Ability (Was he good in a supporting role)-9
    Leadership Ability (How did he inspire his men plus his presence on the field)-7
    Administrative Ability (Acting not only as a general but how did he mange his cities\ supply and how did he manage his army)- 7
    Total- 40\50 or 8.0

  3. #3

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    I always thought that looting was a common thing due to:
    - an inadequate supply system in all armies,
    - an inefficient payment system for soldiers,
    - a natural act of revenge against enemies.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Degiorgio View Post
    I always thought that looting was a common thing due to:
    - an inadequate supply system in all armies,
    - an inefficient payment system for soldiers,
    - a natural act of revenge against enemies.
    Massena had it down to a fine art, including pocketing the funds given him by the French government for the maintenance of field hospitals. It was likely such actions as this that led Napoleon to dismiss him, rather than any looting of the enemy. He dismissed Bourienne for being a petty thief as well. I find much to admire in Massena as a general, and I think that his campaigns suffered not from incompetance but inattention: he always had one eye out for Andre Massena, and eventually cared little for the interests of France.
    'Truth...which is not a beautiful shape living in a well, but a shy bird best caught by a stratagem.' -Joseph Conrad.

  5. #5
    Jom's Avatar A Place of Greater Safety
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    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by IAB1789 View Post
    Massena had it down to a fine art, including pocketing the funds given him by the French government for the maintenance of field hospitals. It was likely such actions as this that led Napoleon to dismiss him, rather than any looting of the enemy. He dismissed Bourienne for being a petty thief as well. I find much to admire in Massena as a general, and I think that his campaigns suffered not from incompetance but inattention: he always had one eye out for Andre Massena, and eventually cared little for the interests of France.
    I suppose you can't expect much better from someone with such a checkered past. Enlisted as a private and became a smuggler before his meteoric rise. Presumably during his time in the ranks he learnt that looking after number one was the most important, and easiest, thing to do during war and he never really changed after gaining supreme command.

    Personally I prefer to rate Napoleonic generals on their command ability first and then look at everything else. If his corruption had a detrimental effect on his campaigns then that is another matter. Having said that, there are others, such as Berthier, whose organisational skill transcends any criticism due to them for inability to command.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jom View Post
    I suppose you can't expect much better from someone with such a checkered past. Enlisted as a private and became a smuggler before his meteoric rise. Presumably during his time in the ranks he learnt that looking after number one was the most important, and easiest, thing to do during war and he never really changed after gaining supreme command.

    Personally I prefer to rate Napoleonic generals on their command ability first and then look at everything else. If his corruption had a detrimental effect on his campaigns then that is another matter. Having said that, there are others, such as Berthier, whose organisational skill transcends any criticism due to them for inability to command.
    I protest! Not all private soldiers are like that. I was a fantassin myself, for four years...I must agree with Pro-opera Jungian: he would rank in the top five of Napoleon's marshals, but not at the top of the five.
    'Truth...which is not a beautiful shape living in a well, but a shy bird best caught by a stratagem.' -Joseph Conrad.

  7. #7
    Jom's Avatar A Place of Greater Safety
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    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by IAB1789 View Post
    I protest! Not all private soldiers are like that. I was a fantassin myself, for four years...I must agree with Pro-opera Jungian: he would rank in the top five of Napoleon's marshals, but not at the top of the five.
    Well I daresay that the provisions made for infantry nowadays are slightly better than the ones in the Napoleonic era, particularly in the realm of pay.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jom View Post
    Well I daresay that the provisions made for infantry nowadays are slightly better than the ones in the Napoleonic era, particularly in the realm of pay.
    No question of that, but still rather bad. I wouldn't have objected to an opportunity for a little looting, he he
    'Truth...which is not a beautiful shape living in a well, but a shy bird best caught by a stratagem.' -Joseph Conrad.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    "Looking out for number one" was something Napoleon had in common with many of his men, including Massena, Marmont, and Bernadotte. It was probably what got them their positions in the first place. Remember, none of these guys would've gotten very far in the ancien regime, whose top positions would always be held by court favorites. These guys took advantage of the collapse of royal authority to propel themselves to the top. Little surprise they would continue to find ways to serve themselves best in Napoleon's new regime.

  10. #10
    Bobby the Huntsman's Avatar Civis
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    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Andre Messena origonally looked forward to a prosperous spell in the french navy, however he did not find it too enthralling so he left and joined the french army. He quickly rose throught the ranks to sergant however was released in 1789. From here after he began smuggling on the Cote d'Azure.
    Two year later howecer, the siren song of the drummer boys brought messena back to the army where he joined the nation guard (lol what a crap units in napoleon!) and was elected colonel.
    By the time of his first victory at Lonato 1795, where the massed austrian columns were routed,he was a general of division. It was about this time where he joined up with a younger, General Napoleon.
    In the Campaign of 1796 he played a pivotle role, featuring in battles such as Montenotte, Lodi, Castiglione, Bassano, Caldiero, Arcola, and Rivoli. (some links if your unfamiliar with the battles, i hope they work!).
    Messena encountered the ageing russian field marshal Alekzander (sorry if spelt wrong) V Suvarov at the second battle of zurich in 1799. His victory bolstered his reputaion and even the harrowing siege and eventual surrender of his men at Genoa could not tarnish it.
    He rose above Napoleon in commanding the army of italy, but was instantly dismissed due to the culmination of his outragish looting and violent actions commited by his soldiers.
    To messena's luck, all was forgiven in the following years and in 1804, after taking verona (featued in shakespears play much ado about nothing, a good fact guys!) and fighting at Caldiero.
    Messena was again recalled for pillaging some years later, and had his takings ceased by the emperor.
    He featured in the Danube Campaign where his couragous display of skill shined through at Aspern-Essling, earning him the title, `Prince d'Essling`.
    Messena was later moved from Austria to spain where he was put to the test by british troops lead by the rising star of the general staff, sir arthur wellesley duke of wellington. The debacle at bussaco where the french columns gave messena his first brutle taste of the peninsula war. Messena and his army (le army d'portugal-sorry if i got that wrong im not entirly sure please correct me) were then later forced to retreat due to the sortched earh policy employed by wellington and the face to face meeting with the famed lines of torres vedras, a solid wall of cannon and bastions streching to protect lisbon from the hungry french.
    Starved and disirited, the french were forced to retreat. Returning to france messena did no assume and further active feild command after his failure in the peninsuler. A harsh end for a talented, and yet flawed General. hope this was helpful!

  11. #11

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobby the Huntsman View Post
    Andre Messena origonally looked forward to a prosperous spell in the french navy, however he did not find it too enthralling so he left and joined the french army. He quickly rose throught the ranks to sergant however was released in 1789. From here after he began smuggling on the Cote d'Azure.
    Two year later howecer, the siren song of the drummer boys brought messena back to the army where he joined the nation guard (lol what a crap units in napoleon!) and was elected colonel.
    By the time of his first victory at Lonato 1795, where the massed austrian columns were routed,he was a general of division. It was about this time where he joined up with a younger, General Napoleon.
    In the Campaign of 1796 he played a pivotle role, featuring in battles such as Montenotte, Lodi, Castiglione, Bassano, Caldiero, Arcola, and Rivoli. (some links if your unfamiliar with the battles, i hope they work!).
    Messena encountered the ageing russian field marshal Alekzander (sorry if spelt wrong) V Suvarov at the second battle of zurich in 1799. His victory bolstered his reputaion and even the harrowing siege and eventual surrender of his men at Genoa could not tarnish it.
    He rose above Napoleon in commanding the army of italy, but was instantly dismissed due to the culmination of his outragish looting and violent actions commited by his soldiers.
    To messena's luck, all was forgiven in the following years and in 1804, after taking verona (featued in shakespears play much ado about nothing, a good fact guys!) and fighting at Caldiero.
    Messena was again recalled for pillaging some years later, and had his takings ceased by the emperor.
    He featured in the Danube Campaign where his couragous display of skill shined through at Aspern-Essling, earning him the title, `Prince d'Essling`.
    Messena was later moved from Austria to spain where he was put to the test by british troops lead by the rising star of the general staff, sir arthur wellesley duke of wellington. The debacle at bussaco where the french columns gave messena his first brutle taste of the peninsula war. Messena and his army (le army d'portugal-sorry if i got that wrong im not entirly sure please correct me) were then later forced to retreat due to the sortched earh policy employed by wellington and the face to face meeting with the famed lines of torres vedras, a solid wall of cannon and bastions streching to protect lisbon from the hungry french.
    Starved and disirited, the french were forced to retreat. Returning to france messena did no assume and further active feild command after his failure in the peninsuler. A harsh end for a talented, and yet flawed General. hope this was helpful!
    I think the website you got that from would appreciate a citation:

    http://www.napoleonguide.com/marshal_massena.htm

  12. #12
    Bobby the Huntsman's Avatar Civis
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    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    I actually got the info from a report i did on him in school however that info in turn did once come from the website you stated, many years ago.

  13. #13

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bobby the Huntsman View Post
    Andre Messena origonally looked forward to a prosperous spell in the french navy, however he did not find it too enthralling so he left and joined the french army. He quickly rose throught the ranks to sergant however was released in 1789. From here after he began smuggling on the Cote d'Azure.
    Two year later howecer, the siren song of the drummer boys brought messena back to the army where he joined the nation guard (lol what a crap units in napoleon!) and was elected colonel.
    By the time of his first victory at Lonato 1795, where the massed austrian columns were routed,he was a general of division. It was about this time where he joined up with a younger, General Napoleon.
    In the Campaign of 1796 he played a pivotle role, featuring in battles such as Montenotte, Lodi, Castiglione, Bassano, Caldiero, Arcola, and Rivoli. (some links if your unfamiliar with the battles, i hope they work!).
    Messena encountered the ageing russian field marshal Alekzander (sorry if spelt wrong) V Suvarov at the second battle of zurich in 1799. His victory bolstered his reputaion and even the harrowing siege and eventual surrender of his men at Genoa could not tarnish it.
    He rose above Napoleon in commanding the army of italy, but was instantly dismissed due to the culmination of his outragish looting and violent actions commited by his soldiers.
    To messena's luck, all was forgiven in the following years and in 1804, after taking verona (featued in shakespears play much ado about nothing, a good fact guys!) and fighting at Caldiero.
    Messena was again recalled for pillaging some years later, and had his takings ceased by the emperor.
    He featured in the Danube Campaign where his couragous display of skill shined through at Aspern-Essling, earning him the title, `Prince d'Essling`.
    Messena was later moved from Austria to spain where he was put to the test by british troops lead by the rising star of the general staff, sir arthur wellesley duke of wellington. The debacle at bussaco where the french columns gave messena his first brutle taste of the peninsula war. Messena and his army (le army d'portugal-sorry if i got that wrong im not entirly sure please correct me) were then later forced to retreat due to the sortched earh policy employed by wellington and the face to face meeting with the famed lines of torres vedras, a solid wall of cannon and bastions streching to protect lisbon from the hungry french.
    Starved and disirited, the french were forced to retreat. Returning to france messena did no assume and further active feild command after his failure in the peninsuler. A harsh end for a talented, and yet flawed General. hope this was helpful!
    Thanks, this is very helpful!

  14. #14

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Marbot served under him his ADC for several years in both Genoa and a decade later in Spain and clearly did not get on with him and mercilessly depicts his avarice, meanness, nepotism, moral cowardice etc - and above all his repeated failures to promote him (Marbot) as he deserved:

    'The campaigns in Spain and Portugal were MassÚna's last, and as I have related, they were not fortunate. His mind was not what it was, so that these two campaigns added nothing to his glory, but rather diminished his reputation as a general, and the 'spoilt child of victory' experienced reverses when he might and ought to have been victorious'.

    'MassÚna was lean and spare, below the middle height; he had a highly expressive Italian face. The bad points in his character were want of candour, a tendency to bear malice, harshness, and avarice. He had much natural ability, but his adventurous youth and low origin never gave him a chance of studying, and he was totally lacking in what is called cultivation. He was a born general; his courage and tenacity did the rest. In the best days of his military career he saw accurately, decided promptly, and never let himself be cast down by reverses. As he grew old he pushed caution to the point of timidity, in fear of compromising the reputation he had earned. He hated reading, and thus had no knowledge of what had been written about war; it was an inspiration with him, and Napoleon judged him rightly when he said in his memoirs that when MassÚna arrived on the field of battle he did not know what he should do, and circumstances decided him.'

    'I have noted many blemishes in the life of this famous warrior, but they are covered by his renown and his signal services to France, and MassÚna's memory will go down to posterity as that of one of the greatest captains of an age so fertile in illustrious soldiers'.

    http://napoleonic-literature.com/Book_3/V2C19.html


    If he'd contrived to die gloriously like Lannes in 1809 he would certainly be up there with Davout as the best of the marshals.

    But his failure against Wellington in 1810-11 effectively terminated his career as a field commander.

    The question is could even the best of Napoleon's marshals with the forces, terrain and above all logistics he was presented with, have won in 1810?

    Personally I can't see it - Wellington knew perfectly well that he couldn't face a real French army in the field so hit on the one strategy that exploited all of the French weaknesses - withdrawing behind an un-turnable ine of fortifications and devastating everything behind him.

    And that was it - Massena had one chance to destroy Wellington at Busaco - but fluffed it as the sneaky bastard insisted on camping on a mountainside.

  15. #15

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Napoleon's dissmissal of him definantly shows Napoleons character, and how different he was from modern Autocrats

  16. #16

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Not sure what you mean by that - modern autocrats don't summarily dismiss subordinates after one failure? - tell that to Hitler or Stalin who had generals shot for far less.

    One of Napoleon's guiding principles was no just is he intelligent but 'is he lucky?' - Massena's luck had clearly run out.

    He also believed that war was a young or at least a younger man's game - and Massena was one of his older marshals and showing it (not least because Napoleon had shot out one of his eyes in a hunting accident so he couldn't even see properly any more)

  17. #17

    Default Re: Massena: Good or Bad?

    Quote Originally Posted by Duke of Reichstadt, KINGBOSS View Post
    Napoleon's dissmissal of him definantly shows Napoleons character, and how different he was from modern Autocrats
    Please clarify. Dictators NEVER employ generals they can't control (hence the tendency for cronies/favorites). A letter by the Chinese general Xiang Yu to his opponent comes to mind, where he basically said "If you lose, your lord will have your head, if you win, your lord will become jealous of your success and have your head anyway. Come over to us". He did.

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