Ney began his career as an apprentice of a local lawyer. In 1788, he joined a hussar regiment. His first experience of fighting wars was in the Revolutionary Wars, in which he fought at Valmy and Jemappes (1792). He also fought the Battle of Neerwinden (1793).
In April 1794, Ney was promoted from lieutenant to captain. He then joined the Army of Sambre and Meuse. General Kléber promoted Ney to the post of “chef d'escadrons.”
In October that year, he fought at Aldenhoven and was promoted to the position of colonel. The following month, Ney served in the siege of Maestricht and then served in the siege of Mainz. During the second siege, he was wounded and was sent home.
He returned in 1795, fighting at Poladen. He then fought at Lahn, Friedberg, Montabaur, and Dierdorf. In June 1796, he fought at Altenkirchen and Uckerath. He also fought at Niedermerle, Wurzburg, and Forchheim. In August that year, he was promoted to the post of “général de brigade,” after which he fought at Amberg.
In 1797, Ney became in charge of the hussars of the Army of Sambre and Meuse, under General Grenier. He fought at Neuwied and Dierdorf and won at Kirchberg and Herborn. He was taken captive by enemies at Giessen on April 21 but was later exchanged for an Austrian prisoner, after which he re-joined the Army of Sambre and Meuse.
In February 1799, he was in charge of a cavalry in Bernadotte's Army of the Lower Rhine. He was to take over Mannheim. After a successful siege, he was made the “général de division.”
In May 1799, he was in charge of the light cavalry of the forces of Switzerland and the Danube. He then became the commander of a division of the advance guard. He fought at Frauenfeld and Altikon. He was wounded at Witherthur. In August that year, he became part of the Army of the Rhine and then had temporary command of the army for some time. Ney was then in charge of the advance guard, fighting at Heilbronn, Lauffen, Hochheim, Wissloch, and Ludwisbourg. He was hit by a bullet but lived.
In March 1800, Ney became a commander of the ‘1st Division’ of Gouvion St. Cyr's corps in the Army of the Rhine. He then fought at Engen and Messkirch, followed by Guttenzell and Hochstaedt.
He also fought at Ingolstadt and Wasserbourg, before his campaign came to an end. He fought at Ampfing, after clashes resumed.
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In 1800, he fought in the Battle of the First Republic at Hohenlinden.
In May 1801, Ney was called by the First Consul at the Tuileries. There, Napoleon and Joséphine relished the excesses of the court. The Army of the Rhine had been dismissed by then, and Ney had bought a farm in Lorraine.
When France and England were about to clash, Ney was made in charge of the ‘VI Army Corps.’ In 1804, a plot to kill Napoleon was uncovered by the police. Ney’s friend General Moreau was suspected to be involved and faced a trial. Napoleon reduced Moreau’s 2-year sentence and banished him instead.
On May 19, 1804, a day after Napoleon became the French emperor, he restored the ancient military rank of marshal. Ney was one of the 14 generals to be made gazetted marshals of the empire.
Napoleon fought the European coalition of Russia, England, and Austria valiantly. In 1805, Ney was awarded the “Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honor.” In October 1805, Ney won at Elchingen. He was thus made the duke of Elchingen in 1808.
Soon, Napoleon crushed the Russo-Austrian forces at Austerlitz. Ney played a crucial role in defeating Prussia at Jena (1806). He was also instrumental in crushing the Russians at Eylau and Friedland (1807).
In 1808, he was sent to Spain. He was known as a mercurial and impulsive commander. Ney also had differences in opinion with Napoleon, about the operations in Spain. Thus, in 1811, he was sent home.
In 1812, he restored his position during the Russian campaign. Following the battle at Borodino, Napoleon made Ney the 1st Prince of the Moskva. During the retreat from Moscow, Ney was in charge of the rear guard. Thus, he was exposed to Russian artillery and also to Cossack attacks. He was missing for weeks but then joined the ‘Grand Army.’
During the European campaigns of 1813, Ney fought his former friends. Moreau had returned from his U.S. exile and had become Tsar Alexander I’s military advisor. Moreau died after a French cannonball hit him outside Dresden.
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Ney was defeated at Dennewitz by Charles XIV John, or Jean Bernadotte, the crown prince of Sweden. Bernadotte was a sergeant earlier, in the revolutionary forces, just as Ney.
Ney was injured at Leipzig and had to retire. The army went across Germany into France, where Napoleon started a fresh campaign. Ney was in charge of the forces in eastern France and arranged a partisan warfare.
Napoleon concentrated on Fontainebleau, to march against the allies in Paris. However, Ney told him that the army would obey his orders and not Napoleon’s, and thus would not march. Napoleon soon abdicated. Ney then began following the Bourbon dynasty.
When Napoleon reappeared in France on March 1, 1815, Ney was in charge of Besançon. He told the Bourbon king that Napoleon should be taken captive. However, he realized that the people in his kingdom were hostile to the Bourbons.
Thus, after being communicated by Napoleon, Ney decided to join him again. The Bourbon king escaped Paris, and Napoleon restored his power in the Tuileries.
Ney later retired in his country estate. He was then summoned by Napoleon 3 days before Waterloo and asked to serve in the army. He was made the commander of the left wing, which was to fight the English, while Napoleon was to take the right wing, fighting the Prussians. While Napoleon won his war, Ney’s battle at Quatre-Bras, against the English, was drawn.