Farewell to the Old Guard

20 April 1814

Captain Jean-Roch Coignet could not join Napoleon Bonaparte on Elba because the emperor knew he was not one of the Old Guard. He records how at Fontainebleau, Bonaparte paraded his guardsmen one last time and called: "Bring me my eagle." He cradled it in his arms and kissed it, sending a moan of despair through the ranks of his most long-serving and staunch troops.

'Soldiers of my Old Guard, I bid you farewell. For 20 years I have constantly accompanied you on the road to honor and glory.

In these latter times, as in the days of our prosperity, you have invariably been models of courage and fidelity.

With men such as you our cause could not be lost; but the war would have been interminable; it would have been civil war, and that would have entailed deeper misfortunes on France.

I have sacrificed all of my interests to those of the country.

I go, but you, my friends, will continue to serve France.

Her happiness was my only thought. It will still be the object of my wishes.

Do not regret my fate; if I have consented to survive, it is to serve your glory.

I intend to write the history of the great achievements we have performed together.

Adieu, my friends. Would I could press you all to my heart. I embrace you all in the person of your general. Come, General Petit, that I may press you to my heart!

Bring me, the eagle that I may embrace it also!

Adieu, my children! Be always gallant and good.

Do not forget me.'

- Napoleon Bonaparte


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