Not infrequently, Francisco de Miranda from Caracas was arrested in France during the Revolution. Intrigues and internal struggles while fighting foreign forces created the conditions for betrayal.
Under this picture of tensions Miranda was accused and tried of negligence and treason in the battle before the Austrian army in the Belgian city of Neerwinden, on March 18, 1793. All for the treason of Charles Dumouriez, the General in Chief of the Armies del Norte, his superior, but, ironies of history, a written order from the accuser himself, would be the proof that would save him from the guillotine.
This is part of the amazing story of the Venezuelan whose name is engraved on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Miranda joins the French Army
Miranda joins the ranks of the French Army a few months before the Battle of Neerwinden at the request of his friend, the then mayor of Paris, Jérôme Pétion de Villeneuve.
On August 24, 1792, twelve days after the fall of the Monarchy in France, Miranda ends up accepting Pétion's proposal to fight the invading troops, on the condition that, once peace in Europe was restored, his project for the liberation of Spanish America would be approved.
Miranda had already triumphed on September 20, 1792 in Valmy under the command of Dumouriez. He fought against the Prussians with troops led by himself. They were two thousand French against six thousand enemies.
After a day of battle, the French revolutionaries achieved victory, generating a very good impression on Miranda. The Prussian troops were considered the best in Europe and the most disciplined.
Miranda's military skills were formally recognized on January 10, 1793, because in the absence of Dumouriez, the Venezuelan was provisionally appointed General-in-Chief of the Northern Armies, the most important military position at that time in France.
In addition, Miranda is thought of in those days when Gaspard Monge, the Minister of the Navy, announces his resignation from office, although he finally decides to withdraw, remaining in the Ministry. The Venezuelan had also become a target of attacks for his recognized achievements.
Only one day after Valmy, in Paris the Republic was proclaimed from the recently installed National Convention, where differences between the Girondists and the Highlanders also began to be generated.
Miranda was a Girondist sympathizer, a party in which many of his friends in France, such as the mayor of Paris, were active. In the famous painting of Miranda in La Carraca by Arturo Michelena you can see the Venezuelan with a tendril, a Girondin symbol.
The antecedent with Dumouriez
During a dinner shared by Miranda and Dumouriez at the beginning of September 1792, days after the guillotining of King Louis XVI, the French generalissimo asked the Venezuelan to accompany him to "reestablish freedom" in Paris, to which he responded with a resounding no .
Doumouriez, seeing Miranda's firmness in the face of the counterrevolutionary project, tried to make the Venezuelan believe that what he said was a joke, but his plans were very serious, and Miranda knew it.
From that moment on, hatred and distrust between the two men were established.
Miranda was convinced that the revolution was deeply anchored in the heart of the French people.
The defeat of Neerwinden
Two days before the battle of Neerwinden, on March 16, 1793, Miranda, in command of his troops, recaptured the city of Tirlemont (Belgium), forcing the Austrians to retreat.
But for the next armed confrontation, which would be in the Belgian city of Neerwinden, the French Army did not have the necessary number of men to defeat the Austrian, in addition to the fact that the enemy had a position of great advantage on the ground, at the heights of Halle and of Villeré.
"Do you know," Miranda asked General Dumouriez, "the number of enemies we have in front of us?"
"I think it rises to 52 thousand men."
"How many are we?"
"Do you think it is possible that we can dislodge the enemy from such a position?"
To this last question the French generalissimo declined to answer and Miranda ended up telling him to count on him. "We will not fail to carry out your orders, attacking vigorously with five columns."
Miranda went to meet his lieutenants and, with the order in hand, ordered them to carry out the mandate of the general in chief.
The order of Dumouriez
Dumouriez's written order to Miranda, which would be the only thing that would save the Venezuelan's head from the guillotine days later, was conceived in the following terms:
“General Miranda will attack from the left, between Orsmael and the Chapelle de Betania, both with his troops and with those of General Champmorin; it will cross the river by all the bridges and it will attack with as many columns and vigorously the enemy in its position.
“It is noted that the attack is general from Overwinden to the Chapelle of Bethany. The entire attack on the left is absolutely at your command.
"General Champmorin must necessarily keep the bridge at Budingen and employ a sufficiently imposing force on it to be able, if necessary, to threaten the enemy with a flank attack towards the part of Leau, where this force would march in a column ..."
The defeat of France, which was practically a foretold death, suspiciously begins on the side of the troops that Miranda had to command; the weakest and most distant part of the center where the French generalissimo and the bulk of the army were.
The false accusation
After the defeat of the French Army against the Austrian, Dumouriez blamed Miranda for what happened before the National Convention, accusing him of negligence, and asked that the Venezuelan be sent to the Assembly bar to explain his conduct.
This accusation could lead Miranda to trial and death. At that time, in addition to the defeats of Holland and Belgium, the great uprising of the La Vandée region was added in favor of the Monarchy.
Meeting in Louvain (Belgium) on March 21, 1793, Miranda and Dumouriez have a conversation that forces the Venezuelan to write to Petión to denounce the French general for the defeat of the battle against the Austrian Army.
The letter to Pétion
In the letter, Miranda states that he received in writing and then verbally the order from Dumouriez to attack the Austrian Army, despite the fact that it had a number of XNUMX thousand men, higher than the French, who only had XNUMX thousand at that time, in addition to finding the enemy stationed "very advantageously", "with a fearsome artillery."
"I did not have time but to say: count on me and we will not fail to execute your orders., and of which three were led by me personally to the attack, ”Miranda told Petión.
He also informed the mayor of Paris about the casualties: “Our loss is considerable. In my division there was only one general officer killed and more than 30 officers killed or wounded. Among others, my first aide-de-camp, whom you knew, died at my side. In total 2 thousand men were killed and wounded ”.
The Venezuelan adds in the letter that there are many other important things that he would be delighted to be able to communicate to Petión, but that he cannot "trust on paper."
“When I read your letter in which you told me that the ramification of the recently uncovered plot against our beloved freedom extended to the army, I thought you were exaggerated, and very timid. Today I am convinced that there is reason to believe it, and I suspect more than one individual principal agent, ”Miranda pointed out, making a clear reference to Dumouriez.
News of the loss of the Battle of Neerwinden reached Paris on March 21, 1793 by a letter addressed to the National Convention signed by Dumouriez on March 19, 1793 at Tirlemont.
The press headlined against Miranda: "The left wing commanded by Miranda has been defeated." It was also published that the Venezuelan "had sold his army and handed himself over to the butcher shop"; and that he was to blame for the disaster of this battle, because he did not want to hear the warnings that were given him and he did not pay any attention to the murmurs of the soldiers.
On March 24, the following decree is issued:
“The National Convention decrees that General Miranda and the Colonel of the 73rd Infantry Regiment will be detained and taken to the Convention bar.; that the executive council is in charge of executing the decree and of sending it by means of an extraordinary post;
"It further decrees that General Dumouriez will supply all the necessary documents regarding General Miranda's conduct before Venloo and Maëstricht."
Miranda before the National Convention
Miranda arrived in Paris on March 28, 1793 accompanied by Sergeant Gregorio Dulac, from the Puy de Dôme battalion., attached to the aides of the Army of the North.
At the request of the Venezuelan, Pétion and Bancal des Issarts, his friends, go to see him. Miranda tells them that she has a lot of information to give to the National Convention on Dumouriez and what is happening in Belgium. He assures them that Dumouriez is a traitor, that he believes he wants to march on Paris and advises them to warn the constituted powers of this.
Although Miranda had all the evidence to defend himself against the erroneous and unjustified “military accusations” to which he was the subject, after reflecting, he considers that exonerating himself from this fact was less relevant in the face of Dumouriez's betrayal and asks again to be heard .
After several postponed dates, the Convention finally decides that Miranda be heard, but to respond to the military accusations against him, including those made by an Austrian deserter brought to the Military Committee by the revolutionary section of the Faubourg Montmartre, who alleges that Miranda provided the Austrians with food carts from the French forces on a daily basis.
It was in an evening session, followed by two more, that the War and Vigilance Committees heard Miranda's responses to the 63 questions asked.
The issues concerning Dumouriez's counterrevolutionary attitude did not provide material for more than a single question, number 58. For the rest, Miranda had to explain herself regarding military issues, especially the "Neerwinden disaster."
Miranda denied all the accusations against him, noting that he had never seen the Austrian in question or even heard of the enemy food supply. And as for the Battle of Neerwinden, fought under the worst conditions and where all odds were against the French, he did nothing more than conform strictly to the orders written by Duomouriz.
The Venezuelan defends himself so brilliantly that the committee unanimously declared that there was no place to indict him and free him from the guillotine.
- Text with sources from the book The French Revolution and the Independence of Venezuela, by Juan Uslar Pietri, and the book Miranda and the French Revolution, by Caracciolo Parra Perez