Thursday, August 11, 2011

Soldier of Monarchy: Marshal Elie Frederic Forey

Elie Frederic Forey was born on January 10, 1804 in Paris and like so many French military heroes before him he attended St Cyr military academy and graduated as a lieutenant in 1824. Posted to the 2nd Light Infantry he served in an expedition in Algeria in 1830. He had a distinguished career and earned steady promotion from lieutenant to captain to finally command his own light infantry battalion. By 1852 he was in charge of his own brigade and in appreciation for his support of Louis Napoleon Bonaparte taking power in France he was promoted to General of Division. He saw action at Sebastopol in the Crimean War as well as throughout the war with Austria where he earned particular fame for breaking the final Austrian position at the bloody battle of Solferino. Undoubtedly he was one of the rising stars of the French army and was elected senator upon his return from Italy. Following the humiliating defeat of the French at the battle of Puebla on the famous 5th of May it was General Forey who was called on to take charge of the reinforced French Expeditionary Force in Mexico.

Determined not to repeat the mistakes of his failed predecessor General Lorencez, General Forey moved slowly and deliberately. Known as "the Bear" by his men, Forey was not going to underestimate his enemy and took measures to try to win whoever he could over to the French side as he moved carefully and in force with two divisions under Generals Bazaine and General Douay. He issued a proclamation which stressed the peaceful intentions of his master Emperor Napoleon III and of the "love he bore for Mexico and the gallant Mexicans". When he sent a copy of the proclamation to the republican commander of Puebla, General Jesus Ortega, the Juarista sent it back to him saying that such a proclamation could not be allowed to appear in the government archives. Forey moved against Puebla with great care and deliberation, placing his men and setting up his batteries. He sent word to Paris that he had commenced the bombardment on the birthday of the Prince Imperiale.

As Forey encircled the city with entrenchments some of his subordinates thought he was giving the republican forces credit they did not deserve but Forey was not going to take any chances in his drive to avenge the earlier French defeat there. He set his engineers to work digging tunnels under the Mexican fortifications to fill with gunpowder and explode them. With that done he sent his men charging forward, including the allied Mexican army of General Leonardo Marquez. Forey took a lesson from the first Napoleon and concentrated his attacking forces at a single point in the Mexican defenses. The defenders abandoned the walls and fell back into the narrow streets of the city for a house-to-house fight. Slowly but surely the French tightened the noose and finally General Ortega asked if his forces might be allowed to abandon the town under arms and disperse. Naturally, Forey refused, not wishing to fight the same troops twice and knowing that, as the only major obstacle on the road to Mexico City, it was vital that the Puebla garrison be crushed completely. Forey replied that the common soldiers could be paroled but that the officers would be the prisoners of France. Finally, on March 17, after blowing up their guns and ammunition the republican army surrendered and General Forey marched his troops in as the conqueror of Puebla.

General Forey marched on virtually unopposed to occupy Mexico City and was widely celebrated at home and was given full military and civil powers over his theatre of operations. When he took Mexico City it was a grand event with huge crowds turning out to cheer the conquerors. Forey thought it extremely telling but he did not know that General Juan Almonte had paid the crowd of people 30 cents each to come out and cheer the French army. Nonetheless, Forey was determined to enjoy his role as occupier and held a grand ball for the ladies of Mexico -at the expense of his officers. When he moved about the city he so won over the local children he met that whenever he was spotted out of doors crowds of children would come running shouting, "Don Forey! Don Forey!".

However, political difficulties proved more of a headache than the military victory had been and Forey was soon known to be against the whole idea of setting up a new monarchy in Mexico with French support. The Church was not cooperating as expected since the French had refused to return the vast estates that the republic had previously taken from them. When the clerics of Mexico threatened to shut their doors to the French troops Forey responded that they would blow them open with their artillery if they tried it and the priests backed down. He called together the Assembly of Notables that would eventually offer the crown to Archduke Maximilian but he was not overly impressed with them. His negativity was an annoyance to Napoleon III who could not simply sack so celebrated an officer. So, the Emperor used the age old tactic of kicking an unwanted general upstairs. He told Forey that his talents were too great to waste on administrative duties and so he promoted him to Marshal of France and called him back home to be replaced by his former subordinate General Bazaine. Forey went home to command the II Corps but was laid low by a blood clot that put him on the inactive list, keeping him out of action for the Franco-Prussian War. He died in Paris in 1872.

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