Shirley Donnelly: The Strange Story of Marshall Ney

My favorite Fayette County historian wrote an article on Marshall Ney.

Below is a wiki clip of Ney’s details and further below that, I have clipped and transcribed Donnelly’s article.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I love a good “who is buried in this grave” kind of mystery!

Per Wikipedia:

Michel Ney, 1st Duke of Elchingen, 1st Prince of the Moskva (10 January 1769 – 7 December 1815), popularly known as Marshal Ney, was a French military commander and Marshal of the Empire who fought in the French Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. He was one of the original 18 Marshals of the Empire created by Napoleon I. He was known as Le Rougeaud (red-faced or ruddy) by his men and Napoleon characterized him as le Brave des Braves (the Bravest of the Brave), a real paladin in the field, a braggart without judgment and decision in the workroom and after all is said, a Don Quixote.

When Napoleon was defeated, dethroned, and exiled for the second time in the summer of 1815, Ney was arrested on 3 August 1815. After a court-martial decided in November that it did not have jurisdiction, he was tried on 4 December 1815 for treason by the Chamber of Peers. In order to save Ney’s life, his lawyer André Dupin declared that Ney was now Prussian and could not be judged by a French court for treason as Ney’s hometown of Sarrelouis had been annexed by Prussia according to the Treaty of Paris of 1815. Ney ruined his lawyer’s effort by interrupting him and stating: “Je suis Français et je resterai Français!” (I am French and I will remain French!). When the Peers were called to give their verdict, a hundred and thirty-seven voted for the death penalty, seventeen for deportation and five abstained. Only a single vote, that of the Duc de Broglie, was for acquittal. On 6 December 1815, Ney was condemned, and on 7 December 1815 he was executed by firing squad in Paris near the Luxembourg Gardens. He refused to wear a blindfold and was allowed the right to give the order to fire, reportedly saying:

Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her … Soldiers, fire!

Ney’s execution deeply divided the French public. It was an example intended for Napoleon’s other marshals and generals, many of whom were eventually exonerated by the Bourbon monarchy. Ney was buried in Paris at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Records in Charleston, South Carolina, indicate the arrival of a “Peter Stewart Ney” the year following Ney’s execution. Ney’s father was named Peter, and his mother’s maiden name was Stewart. “Peter Ney” served as a school teacher in Rowan County, North Carolina until his death on 15 November 1846. Supposedly, upon hearing of the death of Napoleon in 1821, “Peter Ney” slashed his own throat with a knife, nearly killing himself. Upon his death, his last words were “I am Ney of France”. His body was exhumed twice, in 1887 and 1936, but both times no conclusive proof emerged.

However, there is evidence contradicting this legend, the main being that the execution of Ney is well documented and verified. One researcher also claims evidence exists that Peter Stewart Ney was one Peter McNee, born in 1788 in Stirlingshire, Scotland.

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Beckley Post-Herald
Beckley, West Virginia
03 Aug 1956, Fri  •  Page 4

My old friend, the Rev. John K Fleming of Centervile Presbyterian Church, Greenville, Monroe County. W, Va., is a gentleman and a scholar and judge of good stories. He and I slept through the same theological seminary and lived to tell the tale.

John hails from down in North Carolina and has been a beloved Tar Heel all the days of his earthly pilgrimage. When it comes to knowledge of local history, this Presbyterian preacher leaves me as limp as a dish rag.

When Fleming was only a boy he united with the historic Third Creek Presbyterian Church, Cleveland, Tennessee. History, in that community is so thick you can stir it with a stick. Hard by the quaint old meeting house of the elect of the Cleveland community is a thickly occupied God’s Acre. In it reposes the dust of one of these whose name is writ large in the annals of history. So, listen, my children and ye shall hear of the weird, fantastic, eerie, and mysterious story of the world famous Marshall Ney. Keep in mind that there are two schools of thought about what I was told by Fleming, so you can take your choice.

First, though, let me tell you a thing or two about Marshall Ney and if I get my story wrong, some of you who went to school are to feel free to correct me because my memory falls off the sled right much anymore. Ney was the famous Frenchman of the Napoleonic era of France. He was born in 1769 and was supposed to have died before a firing squad in France in the early morning of Dec. 7, 1815, after a Chamber of Peers found him guilty of treason. Napoleon called his brilliant but tricky Marshal “the bravest of the brave.” When I was stationed in France in World War II, I was often at Besancon and Lons-le-Saunier where Ney performed some of his famous jobs. Also, when at Ulm in Germany, I thought of how the French under Ney practically secured the surrender of the Austrians there in 1808. After Waterloo, where Ney led the Old Guard, Ney fell on evil days. The Bourbons after Napoleon’s exile, tried Ney for treason and sentenced him to be shot. Here’s where Fleming’s, story takes over. Wellington, who controlled the bayonets of the Bourbons, is said to have directed a hoax in the execution of the famous Marshal Ney. He ordered, so the story runs, the firing squads to use blanks when they fired at the blindfolded Ney. When the rifles cracked, Ney fell to the ground and his body was borne inside the building in the Luxembourg Gardens near the Observatory. That night he was whisked to the coast where Ney, alive, was put on board the ship “City of Philadelphia” that December night, Dec. 7. 1815, and sent across the Atlantic.

On Jan. 16, 1816, the ship docked at the port of Charleston, South Carolina. There they said Ney was recognized. He traveled northward until he reached Third Creek in North Carolina. There and in northern South Carolina he became a school teacher, living until 1846.

Fantastic as the story is, there are those who confidently affirm it is true. Ney was wounded three times in Swiss campaign of Massena, as I remember my history. When the refuge Ney lived in the Carolina country. Fleming says his identity became known. Ney belonged to the Reformed Church of France. Mention of this starts off a chain of recollections in my mind. While I was in France, I conducted services in Reformed Churches all over Alsace-Lorraine and other sections of France. Ney was a Free Mason and was born near Metz, another famous place in France. When Ney was in his terminal illness and died at Third Creek he was attended by Dr DB Wood MD, grandfather of 64 year old Rev. John Fleming. On coming America, Ney came under an assumed name, the name of Peter Stuart. On his death bed, Fleming goes on to say how that the celebrated French warrior admitted his identity and confessed he was Marshal Ney, whom Napoleon made the Duke of Elchingen when Ney’s VI Corps of the Grand Armee won the field at Elchingen. This led to Ulm and the Austrian surrender, remember. When Dr. Wood examined the body of the dead Ney at Third Creek, he turned and said to those present, “This was indeed the man who was ‘the bravest of the brave'”

Third Creek Presbyterian Church in North Carolina is an old congregation. Seven generations of Rev. John Fleming’s ancestors have, belonged to it. John’ united with it at the start of his Christian experience. Since 1751 the Flemings have been members of the aforesaid congregation. In the quaint and historic church yard outside the meeting house at Third Creek is buried the world-famous Marshal Ney. Fleming showed me a picture of it, one snapped with Fleming’s own camera. A Presbyterian minister of Third Creek church read the service over Napoleon’s trusted leader who was a French Hugenot and a member of the Reformed Church of France. Back in France when Ney was delivered by Wellington’s hoax, they were executing soldiers who were included in the military capitulation to the Allies under Lord Wellington. There was a body buried in the coffin that was supposed to have been the body of Marshal Ney. Story of today has it that it was not the body of Ney but another. By the way, do you believe Hitler is dead?

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