michel linovich - an Italian in napoleon's grand army
by Kathy Warnes
Often the stories told in old newspapers are inaccurate and overblown, but often they are the only sources that mention people who otherwise fade into the mists of history. The story of Michel Linovich and the impact of Napoleon Bonaparte on his life illustrate this historical truth.
Michel Linovich was born in Boretto, in Reggio-Emilia in northern Italy, in1785, into a family of farmers. Michel Linovich came of age along with the military career and conquests of Napoleon Bonaparte and Napoleon and his armies catapulted Michel’s life from the path of an obscure farmer to a seasoned soldier and exile in distant lands. Like Napoleon, Michel Linovich possessed the gift of extraordinary energy of mind and body. Historians estimate Napoleon to have been about 5 ‘7” tall, and Michel also stood tall and physically imposing. Women of their time considered both Michel and Napoleon handsome.
Revolutionary France Conscripts Michel Linovich
In the first decade of the Nineteenth Century, Napoleon Bonaparte led the French Empire in series of conflicts called the Napoleonic Wars that involved every major European country. Napoleon defeated a series of coalitions and controlled most of Europe, seeking to conquer the world and spread Revolutionary ideas. In 1812, Napoleon’s invasion of Russia marked a shift in his fortunes when his Grande Armee suffered heavy damage in the campaign and never recovered.
In 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated Napoleon’s forces at Leipzig and in 1814, the Coalition invaded France. The Sixth Coalition forced Napoleon to abdicate and exiled him to the island of Elba. In less than a year, Napoleon escaped Elba and recaptured power. In 1815, the Seventh Coalition- Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia- defeated Napoleon and his army at the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. The British imprisoned Napoleon on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean for the last six years of his life.
Michel Linovich’s life became entangled with Napoleon’s ambitions and actions. At age 21, Michel found himself part of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and he served with his regiment in the 1806-1807 Prussian Campaign, fighting at Jena and Friedland. Napoleon decisively defeated the Prussians in a lightning campaign that came to a climax at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt on October 14, 1806.
Michel’s regiment participated in the advance on the Russian frontier and in the French victory at Friedland on June 14, 1807. France and Russia signed the Treaties of Tilsit in July 1807, and Russia agreed to join the Continental System, the embargo that Napoleon instituted against British trade which he began on November 21, 1806. The Battle of Friedland which Michel also fought in, ended the War of the Fourth Coalition against Napoleon which lasted 1806-1807, with the Russian army retreating in chaos over the Lyna River.
Michel Linovich Goes to Dalmatia And Then To Spain With General Lecchi’s Division
Now age 23, Michel spent 1808-1810, with his battalion in Dalmatia and Spain with General Lecchi’s Division. When Napoleon had created the Kingdom of Italy around the Adriatic Sea in 1805, he annexed the former Venetian Dalmatia as well and he used his soldiers to rule and keep order. Michel Linovich was one of these soldiers.
Michel’s next assignment in Spain – the Provincial Campaign- proved to be more hazardous for him. Spain’s struggle for freedom signified one of the first national wars and the creation of widespread bands of guerrillas- Spanish guerrilleros, Portuguese guerrilha- and English guerrillas.
Napoleon and his French troops occupied Spain and destroyed the Spanish government which broke into quarreling provincial ruling groups. In 1810, a new national government reemerged in Cadiz, but it couldn’t raise effective armies. British and Portuguese forces secured Portugal and used it as a base to launch campaigns against the French Army. Spanish guerrilleros waged their own war against the French. Napoleon’s marshals couldn’t subdue the rebellious Spanish provinces and the many years of fighting in Spain gradually wore down Napoleon’s famous French Army. Years of fighting affected Michel as well.
Wounded in an assault in 1810, Michel Lino returned to Boretto and worked on his father’s farm for two years. Then in 1812, when Michel was 27, Napoleon called his old soldiers to serve once again under his victorious eagles and Michel Lino rejoined the service as a sergeant of the Grenadier Guards. Under the command of Eugene Beauharnais of the Grande Armee, Michel Linovich marched off to fight the Russians.
Michel Linovich And The Russians
October 19, 1812, Napoleon’s Grand Armee evacuated Moscow and marched southwest to Kaluga, with Beauharnais leading the advance. The Russians under Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov with about 15,000 men and 84 guns decided to hold out at the town of Maloyaroslavets on the Luzha River until reinforcements arrived. The French forces consisted part of the corps of Eugene de Beauharnais which numbered about 20,000 strong. The two armies met on October 24, 1812. General Raevski arrived with 10,000 more Russians, but the French, especially the Italian Royal Guard under Eugene de Beauharnais “fought like lions.” Domenico Pion, Minister of War of the Kingdom of Italy, fought hard. The French won the battle, but they continued to retreat.
Michel Linovich fought with the General Pino’s Fourteenth Division and after being severely wounded by the Cossacks of Platow, he was taken prisoner. The Cossacks transported Michel and a large convoy of French prisoners to Orenburg, a Russian city located on the Ural River over 900 miles from Moscow. From Orenburg, Michel and a few of his fellow soldiers were sent to a village located at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains, located in Eurasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. On the border of Europe and Asia, the Caucasus Region includes what is now Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.
For over ten years, Michel stayed in the village, working hard and suffering hardships. Finally he requested and received permission to join the Russian Army as a private soldier.
As a Russian soldier, Michel Linovich fought in the campaign of the Caucasus in the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-1829. He was one of the 92,000 soldiers in the Russian Army that fought the Ottoman forces that Hussein Pasha commanded. After a year of fighting and Russian sieges, the Sultan signed the Treaty of Adrianople on September 14, 1829.
At the close of the Russo-Turkish War, the Russian government offered Michel Linovich a small piece of ground as a reward for his services and he faithfully cultivated it. In 1835 when Michel Linovich was 45, he married a Polish girl named Nerawska and they had three sons. She died in 1855, and eventually so did their three sons, leaving him alone in the world. He returned to Orenburg, formally Russianized his name to Michel Linovich, and lived there comfortably for many years.
Michel Linovich Comes Home to Italy
In 1889, famine swept through Orenburg and the surrounding region and unsettling revolutionary currents made the reign of the Russian Czars seem less autocratic and less divine. Perhaps influenced by the unsettling events happening around him or perhaps homesick for Italy, Michel Linovich decided to return to Italy after 78 years in exile.
Maurizio Marochetti, the Italian Ambassador at St. Petersburg, negotiated with the Italian government and Italy paid for Michel Linovich’s return to his native country. Michel arrived at the Boretto railroad station, a tall, old man with a long white beard. He got off the train and handed the mayor of Boretto a feuille de route, or soldier’s orders, signed by Baron Marochetti instructing the Italian people to take good care of him.
At 105 years old, Michel Linovich had survived a lifetime of battles and was one of the last of the Italian heroes who fought at Jena, Friedland, and Moscow. He spent the remainder of his years in an asylum for old people at Reggio, loved and respected.
Like Michel Linovich’s story, the story of the feuille de route, the message that he handed the mayor of Boretto, has faded in and out of history and its meaning has changed through the years. The feuille de route, translated as a direct orders or road map that Marochetti sent to Baretto with Michel Linovich secured his safety and well being. By World War I, a feuille de route was interpreted as a document for soldiers ordering them to the front and setting out their exact itinerary to get there. Once again, the expression fell into disuse, with some French language dictionaries calling it archaic. Then in 2003, it came into use again with a slightly different twist during the United Nations attempt to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
For Michel Linovich, the feuille de route he handed to the mayor of Reggio was an order to return home that he was glad to obey.
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Guicciardini, Francesco. The History of Italy. Princeton University Press, 1984.
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Maude, F.N. The Jena Campaign: 1806-The Twin Battles of Jean and Auerstadt Between Napoleon’s French and Prussian Army. Leonaur, 2007.
McNab, Chris, Armies of the Napoleonic Wars, Osprey Publishing Ltd., Oxford, 2009.
Rothenberg, Gunther. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon. Indiana University Press, 1981.