The start of our family story begins with the French Revolution, I have tried to write it up as ‘Faction’, to make it interesting and readable for modern readers. I have used facts I have researched but have woven them together with fiction, using my imagination as to what may have occurred. If anyone has more facts to complete the story and make it more accurate, please feel free to contact me so I can re-write. Little was known about the General’s private family life, but lots can be found out about his military career. I will be following his brother Jean Baptise Scherer as he is the branch of the family from which we are descended. General Scherer’s name is on the Roll of the Revolution and Empire Generals carved on the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile.
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
The mists of time unfurled to reveal the rugged landscape of the Pyrenees with a band of rag tag soldiers huddled around their camp fires. The bleakness of their surroundings only added to the gnawing pangs of hunger and numbing cold that etched itself into the very marrow of their bones.
General Barthelemy Louis Joseph Scherer looked down on his men as he walked around the camp. Men huddled over fires trying to keep warm.
“I cannot do this to them” he said to his Lieutenant who was walking beside him.
“Monsieur General, we have instructions from Paris, from Napoleon himself” said the Lieutenant who had had the misfortune to personally deliver the instructions from Paris to General Scherer.
“Let the man who drafted the plan carry it out!” spat out the General. “Look at them, their boots are falling to pieces, their uniforms are in tatters. We have very little food and look at the horses, they are in such poor condition; we cannot attempt an attack over the Italian border in these conditions.”
“Oi, Monsieur General” said the Lieutenant
“Besides, it is the middle of winter; the conditions are just not favourable to attempt an offensive. Bring me some paper, let me write back to Paris and to tell them we require mules, food and medical supplies as well as cavalry and will wait until the weather is more favourable.”
With that General Scherer went back to his tent, which was reduced to a ragged flap of canvas strung roughly across a couple of wooden poles. He sat down heavily, took out his flask of cognac and took a sip to give him succour to write to Paris. He wrote the letter outlining his strategy and requesting reinforcements, sealed it and called his Lieutenant.
“Lieutenant, please see to it that this letter is dispatched to Paris immediately” said General Scherer handing it over.
“Oi, Monsignor General”, said the Lieutenant bowing out of the tent.
Bartholomy went back into his tent, drew the flap and took out his flask again. He was cold, stabbing pain wracked his feet and his body ached with every movement. He felt the warmth of the cognac slowly seep into his bones, it helped him relax, to forget about this atrocious war and the Revolution and the loneliness of his position. He had always wanted to be a soldier, the army had always been first in his life, so he had never had time to marry and raise a family.
His mind wandered and he could see himself as a child playing soldiers with his brother Jean Baptiste, who did not relish playing the enemy in their games. They had been born and lived in Delle on the upper Rhine in Eastern France near the border of Germany. His father Nicolas was the village surgeon, to whom the villagers deferred as its head citizen. His mother Catherine Lanos had insisted that the boys be well educated. Jean Baptiste had studied music and had some success as a composer.
Barthelemy took another swig from his flask and mused.” This darned Revolution and war has torn the family apart. My parents are old and have moved to Freiberg ,Germany, near where my mother Catherine’s family live, as they were at risk of the guillotine. My brother Jean Baptiste has escaped to England, he did not want any of the social changes the Revolution had forced onto the bourgeois population. Now the childhood game of soldiers was a reality they were on opposing sides. England and France had taken different sides in the American War of independence and they were still at war now. Would this never end?”
A few weeks later, a mounted soldier rode into the camp with the brief from Paris.
“I have been told to personally place this letter into General Scherer’s hand,” he said. The lieutenant escorted him to the General’s tent.
“Monsieur, General, these are you orders. You are asked to attend them immediately” said the soldier.
General Scherer went into his tent, opened the letter and read “There is urgency in the moment; success can only be gained in the winter. It would be better to have supplies and transport, so it would be more useful and correct to procure them from the enemy.” He sat down slowly, sickened with the order. The Directory was expecting him to take an ill equipped army into battle with no supplies; he was expected to live off the land, pillage and loot from the enemy to keep his men and horses fed. He had no medical supplies and not only was he ill, but so were many of his men.
“I shall send a reply on the morrow” said the General “Managers surround the Government. I do not wish to name individuals gnawed by ambition or greedy for posts above their abilities. I have been an officer in the Austrian, Dutch and French armies, and they doubt my professional training in these matters?”
With that he dismissed the Lieutenant and brought out his flask of cognac, if he could just be warm for once. If only the pain would leave and he could feel the vigour of his youth return. He drew up another less ambitious project and wrote to the Directory.
“If you are unable to provide the re-enforcements requested, I beseech you, I implore you to send here a general of more resource and skill than I have, for I admit I am incapable in the present conditions of sustaining the burden of command. I request you as a special favour to send me a successor. My health is impaired by the fatigues of the body and the pains of the spirit and my moral and physical means are below the task you require of me.” With a sigh he sealed the brief and tried to get some sleep.
In the morning the soldier received the dispatch and with heavy heart Barthelemy watched him ride off in the direction of Paris. He knew that his position was now in jeopardy as he was refusing the commission to take the Italian border. Life was very precarious in this revolutionary age, and possibly the guillotine awaited him, but he was adamant he was not going to launch an assault without being properly equipped with men, horses and supplies. He most certainly was not going to let his men loot and pillage to gain supplies. There were certain rules of war which he had always adhered to; it was not the local population he was at war with. These young upstarts did not play by the same rules he was taught and he was tired of the battlefield.
‘Return to Paris immediately’ was the response to his letter. He was made Minister of War, now it was his responsibility to get the supplies to the army. He had complained about having to live off the land, now he had to work out the logistics for getting the supply chain through, but because the army was now using guerrilla tactics, the old methods did not keep up with the soldiers. He was made the scapegoat for the woes of the food supply and was blamed for losing the Italian campaign, it all turned rather ugly and he had to leave the country for a while. All this stress made his health worse, and he turned to the cognac to relieve the pain.
“Father”, Barthelemy said as he consulted with his father on his ill health. “What am I to do? I am a pariah with the Directory in Paris now and my body aches all the time.”
“It is time to retire to the country, find a good wife and raise a family”, was Nicholas’ practical advice.
Barthelemy took his father’s advice and bought Vieux Chateaux at Commenchon near Chauny in the north of France. A marriage was arranged with Marie Francoise Henriette Caroline Muller in Freiburg, his mother’s home town, in May 1794. Two children were born shortly after that, Charles in 1794 and Henriette in 1795.
His health did not allow him to enjoy the fruits of his labour or of his loins and in 1804 his health deteriorated so badly that the family was called to his bedside at Vieux Chateaux. Jean Baptiste (Joseph Cherer, his brother, now an émigré in England) was there at the last to reconcile before it was too late.
“Take my compass,” Barthelemy wheezed, struggling to get the words out, “It is a symbol, let it direct you home.” He fell back on the cushions, expiring his last breath on 19th August 1804.