1796, April: How did General Stengel Die?

Henri Christian Michel de Stengel (or Steingel), born in 1744, was a military man through and through; and after a life in the military became one of Napoleon Bonaparte's most trusted Generals, given charge of the second Calvary. In this capacity Stengel was one of the leaders in the Battle of Mondovi (at Mondovi, Italy) in 1796, where all agree he met his death.

        The problem is that historians can't agree on exactly how or when he met his death.

        To put it bluntly, there are now two versions of General Stengel's death: the one modernly reported, and the one reported at the time of his death. Many modern sources about Napoleon and his men state that General Stengel was wounded in his left arm during the battle of Mondovi on April 21, and that he died a week later on April 28 due to complications from having his arm amputated. Yet sources from the time of the battle, most notably a letter written by Napoleon Bonaparte himself and dated April 27, state that Stengel was surrounded by the enemy while unwisely pursuing them on April 21, and was slain that same day on the battlefield.

        The easiest way to show the complication is with a timeline of the stories as I've tracked them.


1796, Maydied in battle

From a letter written by Napoleon Buonaparte himself and dated for April 27 (translated to English in The Monthly Magazine and British Register for May 1796):

"Our whole army regret the fate of General Stengel, who was mortally wounded charging at the head of one of the regiments of cavalry.
       (Signed) "Buonaparte."

1799died in battleCampaign of General Buonaparte in Italy, in 1796-97, by 'A General Officer,' translated from French to English by T.E. Ritchie
1840died in battleHistory of Napoleon, Vol. I, by George Moir Bussey, English
1843died in battleThe History of France, Vol. 3, by Eyre Evans Crowe, English
1875died in battleThe Life of Napoleon Buonaparte, by William Hazlitt, English
1897died from amputation

Les Hussards, de Chamborant (2e Hussards) - a French journal concerned with histories of the calvary men. Under the entry for Henri Stengel his fate is listed as:

"died (amputation of the left arm) April 28, 1796."

1902died from amputationBuonaparte en Italie, by Felix Bouvier, French
1905died from amputationCarnet de la Sabretache - a French military history journal
1907died from amputationRevue D'Histoire - French journal
1908died in battleNapoleon's Men and Methods, by Alexander Lange Kielland, English
1911died at MondoviThe Campaigns of Napoleon Buonaparte of 1796-1797, by G.J. Fiebeger, English - does not state actual cause of death
1929died in battleMemoirs of Napoleon I, by F.M. Kircheisen, translated from German to English by Frederick Collins
1948died days after battle, cause not statedJoachim Murat: The Early Years, 1767-1800, by Hugh Samuel Bonar, English
1967died in battleNapoleon as Military Commander, by James Marshall-Cornwall, English
1979died from amputationDictionary of the Napoleonic Wars, by David Chandler, French
2000died in battleThe Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, by Robert Asprey, English
2015died from amputationonline Wikipedia article on Henri Christian Michel de Stengel, English


        So as you can see, the story that General Stengel died due to complications from amputation of his left arm first appears in 1897, just over one hundred years after Stengel's death. The source for this detail doesn't explain the story; there is no reference to other sources, no discussion of the battle... simply "died (amputation of the left arm) April 28, 1796." From 1897 onwards, the story of how General Stengel died can be either "in battle" or "by amputation."

        What bothers me most about this matter is that I can find no historian who has ever attempted to explain the origin of the amputation story, or who has compared the two stories: only one death or the other is ever presented in accounts of the General. To be fair, General Stengel is a very minor historic character: a survey of encyclopedias ranging from 1865 to 1940 showed that none of them gave a separate entry for Stengel, and none of them bother to mention his name even in their extensive articles about the Napoleonic wars (sorry Stengel!)... so it's likely that no historian has ever cared enough to notice the discrepency. Maybe someday someone will find earlier references to the amputation story -- and perhaps an explanation -- but for now, Stengel's death will continue to be told in duplicate.

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