General Humbert's Career after Ireland

Valerian Gribayedoff
Chapter IX

Humbert's Career subsequent to his Return from Ireland—His Part in the Campaign against the Austrians, and the Expedition to San Domingo—His Love Intrigue with Pauline Bonaparte—Escape to America—Present at the Battle of New Orleans—Expedition to Mexico.


HOUGH the story of Humbert's descent upon Ireland is concluded, there is still something to be added regarding his subsequent career. This would be superfluous were it not that he later played an active role in the history of the New World, and that his name must ever be linked with the stirring events that created one of its great commonwealths. Fame he never acquired, but throughout this latter portion of his life he displayed qualities of no mean calibre. He proved himself a man of courage and ability, lacking but few of the essentials of greatness.

After his return to France, Humbert was detailed to join Massèna's army, engaged in opposing the Austrians in Switzerland and the Tyrol. The situation there was critical for the French, who were also menaced on their flanks by a host of Russians, under Suvoroff. At the beginning of June, 1799, the surroundings of Zurich became the theatre of several obstinate engagements between Massèna and the Austrian general, Hotze, and in one of these Humbert received a severe wound. He recovered, however, in time to take part in the closing battles of the campaign, which terminated in September with the annihilation of Hotze's army and the retreat of Suvoroff. We next hear of him as a member of the expedition sent in December, 1802, by the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, to San Domingo to crush the rebellion of the black population of that island. It is noticeable that our hero had received no further promotion in the mean time, and that the commander-in-chief, Leclerc, who was Bonaparte's brother-in-law, did not at first invest him with a separate command. This had its reason. Humbert had been one of the opponents of the 18th Brumaire, the coup d'état which practically ended the republican era, and he had consequently incurred the displeasure of the First Consul. Whatever his faults, he can never be accused of lukewarmness in the cause of liberty. He remained a consistent republican throughout.

It is needless to go into the details of the horrible Haytian war of independence, a blot on the history of civilization. As far as Humbert is concerned, he did his duty as a soldier with his usual uncompromising vigor. To him fell the task of dislodging the rebel general, Maurepas, from his position near Gonaives, while the other strategic points were being attacked by three separate divisions under Generals Desfourneux, Hardi and Rochambeau. Of these different corps, that commanded by Humbert was the most perilously placed, and its movements were impeded by heavy rainfalls. After some hard but indecisive fighting Humbert received reëforcements under General Desbelles, and the attack on the rebels was renewed. In the mean time General Leclerc sent another column against the rear of the rebel position, and finding himself almost encircled by the French, Maurepas at last surrendered to Humbert and Desbelles upon the condition, held out in General Leclerc's proclamation, that he should retain his rank.

The remaining divisions of the French Army were equally successful in their various undertakings, so that less than two months after the opening of the hostilities the rebel chiefs, from Toussaint l'Ouverture down, declared themselves willing to submit on honorable terms. An agreement was accordingly entered upon between the opposing armies, which might have eventually restored quiet to the island had it not been treacherously violated by the French commander. The arrest of Toussaint and his transportation to France drove the blacks to desperation, and the war was resumed with unparalleled barbarity. Decimated by the attacks of the black guerillas and the ravages of fever, the French forces dwindled down to the mere skeleton of an army. The dreadful maladies generated by the mephitic atmosphere, resulting from the decomposition of the thousands of unburied dead, spared not even the commander-in-chief. On the night of November 1st he died, after a prolonged sickness, in the arms of his wife, the beautiful Pauline Bonaparte, eldest sister of the First Consul.

Pauline was a woman of fickle disposition. She possessed, moreover, the passionate nature of her race. Even during her husband's sickness her eyes had rested favoringly upon the athletic and graceful form of one of the generals of Leclerc's entourage, and when it was decided that she should convey the corpse back to France, she selected him as an escort. This object of her admiration was none other than Humbert, and the world can scarcely blame him for responding to advances from so distinguished a source. Indeed, Humbert seems to have fallen fairly in love. When the couple reached their destination he endeavored to secure the proconsul's consent to their marriage. Bonaparte, however, had no desire for so democratic a brother-in-law as Humbert, and fearing lest his veto might be disregarded, he exiled the bold applicant to Brittany. Not satisfied with this, he afterward pre-pared to throw him into prison—a fate Humbert avoided by making his way to the United States.

Little, if anything, is known of his movements during the first few years of his sojourn in this country. The war of 1812 found him actively engaged on the American side, and at the battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815, he distinguished himself as the commander of a corps of Creole marksmen. One of the peculiar circumstances of the event was the coincidence of his finding himself on the occasion opposed to one of the very men who had contributed to his defeat at Ballinamuck. General Packenham, the English commander, had formerly been an officer in Lake's army, and had narrowly escaped death during that engagement in consequence of a premature announcement of the French surrender.(65)

The renewed taste of war's excitement seems to have fired Humbert's blood, and he looked around for fresh fields for his martial ambition. His glance needed not to wander far. The people of Mexico were in open rebellion against Spanish authority. From the frontiers of Texas to the extremity of Yucatan the spectre of war was pervading the land. Alternately victorious and defeated, the insurgents, first under Hidalgo and then under Don J. Morelos, had long defied the best troops of Calleja, the bloodthirsty Spanish viceroy. One of the incidents of the war was Don J. M. Toledo's abortive expedition for the relief of the struggling patriots. Toledo, who had been a member of the Cortes in Spain for Mexico, arrived in the United States at the close of the year 1812, and in conjunction with Don B. Guiterrez, then at Washington in the capacity of commissioner from the new Mexican Government, formed a plan for invading the eastern provinces of New Spain. They engaged some citizens of the United States to join the expedition, and set out for the Provincias Interas, and having entered the Spanish territories were reenforced by some guerillas. They obtained some advantages over the royalists, and took San Antonio de Bejar, the capital of the province of Texas. But they were attacked in January, 1813, and completely dispersed by Don N. Arredondy, military commander of the internal provinces, upon which Toledo made his escape to the United States.

At the time of the conclusion of peace between this country and England the situation in Mexico was anything but favorable to the cause of liberty. A patriot Congress convened at Chilpanzingo, ninety miles south of Mexico, had endeavored to revive the spirits of the people by offering them a democratic constitution; but in the end this body of representatives, by its lack of accord, only proved a hindrance to Morelos' operations in the field. When he or any of his generals proposed a military plan of action the long discussion which it must undergo in the Congress not only occasioned delay, but often defeated the object in view.

It was at this point that Humbert appeared on the scene. He had come in contact with Toledo in the city of New Orleans, and eager to join in any struggle on behalf of the oppressed, he set about to organize an expedition which should help the patriot army, then concentrated in Yucatan, out of the existing dilemmas. He succeeded in assembling over one thousand men of all nationalities and in chartering a vessel to convey them to the small port of El Puente del Rey, situated between Jalapa and Vera Cruz. In addition to this force the vessel carried a large quantity of arms and ammunition, then sorely needed by the insurgents.

As soon as Morelos learned of the arrival at its destination of Humbert's little army, he decided to join it with his available forces, and accompanied by the Congress. The march of the patriots commenced early in November, 1815, and although the royalists hovered around and harassed them continually, no general attack was attempted. Nevertheless, an unforeseen catastrophe prevented their junction with Humbert's hardy band. On November 5th, Morelos, the life and soul of the national cause, was surprised and captured at the village of Tepecuacilco while covering the retreat of his troops with a body of cavalry. The event cast a gloom over the Mexican ranks, not alone because the fate of their beloved leader was sealed, but because all felt he could not be replaced. Humbert vainly awaited the arrival of his allies in a country unknown to him and teeming with foes. He engaged the latter on several occasions, and with invariable success. He was also fortunate enough to receive reëforcements from the Rio del Norte and Nueva Santander. All that availed him nothing in the end. The utter disintegration of the patriot forces, and the advance of the loyalists toward the sea-coast, soon placed him in imminent danger of being cut off from his only means of retreat. He therefore reluctantly concluded to return to the United States. The brave but unfortunate Morelos, on the other hand, suffered death some seven weeks after his capture. He was shot in the back as a traitor at the village of San Cristobal, eighteen miles from the capital.

Humbert took no further part in the sanguinary contest, which ended several years later with the establishment of Mexican independence. He died at New Orleans in February, 1823, passing the closing years of his life in comparative obscurity, and earning a modest competence as a teacher of French and fencing.