The Objects

30th May 1815

Schlachthaus cropped resized.jpg
Source: Eton College, with permission.

Das Grosse Schlachthaus (The Slaughterhouse)

Contributed by: Mark Philp

This German print depicts Napoleon dragging a set of conscripts towards the slaughterhouse – from which the blood of earlier victims is streaming, with the carcasses of earlier victims hung as in a butcher’s, beneath signs indicating the death tolls of those conscripted: Spanish 350,000, German 900,000, Austrian 400,000, Italian 500,000, Egyptian 50,000, St Domingue 55,000. The dogs are pulled by Napoleon and beaten from behind by the Prefect – Napoleon’s device for ensuring the dominance over the Napoleonic regime over the provinces in France. The sign on the right is a ‘Senatus consultum’ conscripting an additional 380,000 troops.

The print may well date from the events prior to 1815, not least since the losses in Russia are not mentioned. Its significance for the 100 Days, however, concerns the refusal of the newly empowered legislature to agree to conscription, and the failure of the prefects to raise local support for the oncoming war. Denied conscription, Napoleon decreed that the class of 1815 be classified as discharged soldiers, and therefore as eligible for recall to service, but it was a ruse that raised him only 46,000 troops, who never served in the field.

Moreover, the failure to recruit locally was a major blow to Napoleon’s claim to represent the spirit of the nation. Faced with the prospect of war, the vast majority of French citizens lacked the stomach for it – unsurprisingly given the death tolls of earlier conflicts. In the absence of conscription Napoleon had to fall back on the remnants of his imperial guard and the national army – a total of 124,000 men and 358 cannon. When he had moved on Russia in 1812 he had done so with some 450,000 men and he had left over 300,000 fighting the British in Spain. Given the paucity of military support he could call on in 1815, it might be wondered whether he in fact posed the sort of danger that the Congress of Europe claimed.