Photo: A Whiff of Grapeshot, Église Saint-Roch, Rue Saint-Honoré

This photo from Rue Saint-Honoré is the second part of the Paris series. It is me, reading my Napoleon guide book, on the staircase of the Église Saint-Roch. The baroque church is located in the 1e arrondissement, just north of Louvre (Metro: Pyramide). It was finished in 1722, but my interest takes us to 1795. (Actually, I have a side interest in the year 1763, since it turns out that de Sade was married in Saint-Roch. But that notwithstanding.) The event I’m referring to is 13 Vendémiaire. The Revolutionary calendar date refers to the battle in the streets of Paris between the French Revolutionary troops and the Royalists.

France was at this point governed by the National Convention, and the defense of Paris was entrusted to Paul François Jean Nicolas, vicomte de Barras. He had risen to political prominence after having sided with Robespierre’s opposition during 9 Thermidor (27 July 1794). Having voted for the execution of King Luis XVI, Barras had plenty of reason to fear the royalist uprising after the Terror. He nominated Bonaparte, then General of Brigade, to defend the Convention in the Tuileries Palace, a task the latter accepted on the condition that no one would interfere with his command.

Bonaparte then gave orders to Joachim Murat, then an unknown cavalry officer, to seize large cannons and use them to block the narrow streets north of the Palace. The famous quip ‘a whiff of grapeshot’ is apparently due to Thomas Carlyle’s The French Revolution: A History, rather than Napoleon himself. At any rate, grapeshot is a type of artillery shot which consists of a number of chained metal elements, typically employed against massed infantry. Napoleon used it with devastating effect on 13 Vendémiaire, firing into the crowds in the streets next the Église Saint-Roch. The royalist uprising in Paris was promptly ended, with at least 600 dead.

Barras’ success helped him into the Directory and executive power later that year, while Napoleon took over the command of the Army of the Interior. Soon he would use his new position to leverage a commission as head of the Army of Italy.