This detachment was commanded by an officer named Hanno—of course a very different man from Hannibal's great enemy of that name in Carthage. Hanno set out in the night, moving back from the river, in commencing his march, so as to be entirely out of sight from the Gauls on the other side. He had some guides, belonging to the country, who promised to show him a convenient place for crossing. The party went up the river about twenty-five miles. Here they found a place where the water spread to a greater width, and where the current was less rapid, and the water not so deep. They got to this place in silence and secrecy, their enemies below not having suspected any such design. As they had, therefore, nobody to oppose them, they could cross much more easily than the main army below. They made some rafts for carrying over those of the men that could not swim, and such munitions of war as would be injured by the wet. The rest of the men waded till they reached the channel, and then swam, supporting themselves in part by their bucklers, which they placed beneath their bodies in the water. Thus they all crossed in safety. They paused a day, to dry their clothes and to rest, and then moved cautiously down the river until they were near enough to Hannibal's position to allow their signal to be seen. The fire was then built, and they gazed with exultation upon the column of smoke which ascended from it high into the air.
Hannibal saw the signal, and now immediately prepared to cross with his army. The horsemen embarked in boats, holding their horses by lines, with a view of leading them into the water so that they might swim in company with the boats. Other horses, bridled and accoutered, were put into large flat-bottomed boats, to be taken across dry, in order that they might be all ready for service at the instant of landing. The most vigorous and efficient portion of the army were, of course, selected for the first passage, while all those who, for any cause, were weak or disabled, remained behind, with the stores and munitions of war, to be transported afterward, when the first passage should have been effected. All this time the enemy, on the opposite shore, were getting their ranks in array, and making every thing ready for a furious assault upon the invaders the moment they should approach the land.
There was something like silence and order during the period while the men were embarking and pushing out from the land, but as they advanced into the current, the loud commands, and shouts, and outcries increased more and more, and the rapidity of the current and of the eddies by which the boats and rafts were hurried down the stream, or whirled against each other, soon produced a terrific scene of tumult and confusion. As soon as the first boats approached the land, the Gauls assembled to oppose them rushed down upon them with showers of missiles, and with those unearthly yells which barbarous warriors always raise in going into battle, as a means both of exciting themselves and of terrifying their enemy. Hannibal's officers urged the boats on, and endeavored, with as much coolness and deliberation as possible, to effect a landing. It is perhaps doubtful how the contest would have ended, had it not been for the detachment under Hanno, which now came suddenly into action. While the Gauls were in the height of their excitement, in attempting to drive back the Carthaginians from the bank, they were thunderstruck at hearing the shouts and cries of an enemy behind them, and, on looking around, they saw the troops of Hanno pouring down upon them from the thickets with terrible impetuosity and force. It is very difficult for an army to fight both in front and in the rear at the same time. The Gauls, after a brief struggle, abandoned the attempt any longer to oppose Hannibal's landing. They fled down the river and back into the interior, leaving Hanno in secure possession of the bank while Hannibal and his forces came up at their leisure out of the water, finding friends instead of enemies to receive them.
The remainder of the army, together with the stores and munitions of war, were next to be transported, and this was accomplished with little difficulty now that there was no enemy to disturb their operations. There was one part of the force, however, which occasioned some trouble and delay. It was a body of elephants which formed a part of the army. How to get these unwieldy animals across so broad and rapid a river was a question of no little difficulty. There are various accounts of the manner in which Hannibal accomplished the object, from which it would seem that different methods were employed. One mode was as follows: the keeper of the elephants selected one more spirited and passionate in disposition than the rest, and contrived to teaze and torment him so as to make him angry. The elephant advanced toward his keeper with his trunk raised to take vengeance. The keeper fled; the elephant pursued him, the other elephants of the herd following, as is the habit of the animal on such occasions. The keeper ran into the water as if to elude his pursuer, while the elephant and a large part of the herd pressed on after him. The man swam into the channel, and the elephants, before they could check themselves, found that they were beyond their depth. Some swam on after the keeper, and crossed the river, where they were easily secured. Others, terrified, abandoned themselves to the current, and were floated down, struggling helplessly as they went, until at last they grounded upon shallows or points of land, whence they gained the shore again, some on one side of the stream and some on the other.
This plan was thus only partially successful, and Hannibal devised a more effectual method for the remainder of the troop. He built an immensely large raft, floated it up to the shore, fastened it there securely, and covered it with earth, turf, and bushes, so as to make it resemble a projection of the land. He then caused a second raft to be constructed of the same size, and this he brought up to the outer edge of the other, fastened it there by a temporary connection, and covered and concealed it as he had done the first. The first of these rafts extended two hundred feet from the shore, and was fifty feet broad. The other, that is, the outer one, was only a little smaller. The soldiers then contrived to allure and drive the elephants over these rafts to the outer one, the animals imagining that they had not left the land. The two rafts were then disconnected from each other, and the outer one began to move with its bulky passengers over the water, towed by a number of boats which had previously been attached to its outer edge.
As soon as the elephants perceived the motion, they were alarmed, and began immediately to look anxiously this way and that, and to crowd toward the edges of the raft which was conveying them away. They found themselves hemmed in by water on every side, and were terrified and thrown into confusion. Some were crowded off into the river, and were drifted down till they landed below. The rest soon became calm, and allowed themselves to be quietly ferried across the stream, when they found that all hope of escape and resistance were equally vain.
In the mean time, while these events were occurring, the troop of three hundred, which Scipio had sent up the river to see what tidings he could learn of the Carthaginians, were slowly making their way toward the point where Hannibal was crossing; and it happened that Hannibal had sent down a troop of five hundred, when he first reached the river, to see if they could learn any tidings of the Romans. Neither of the armies had any idea how near they were to the other. The two detachments met suddenly and unexpectedly on the way. They were sent to explore, and not to fight; but as they were nearly equally matched, each was ambitious of the glory of capturing the others and carrying them prisoners to their camp. They fought a long and bloody battle. A great number were killed, and in about the same proportion on either side. The Romans say they conquered. We do not know what the Carthaginians said, but as both parties retreated from the field and went back to their respective camps, it is safe to infer that neither could boast of a very decisive victory.
HANNIBAL CROSSES THE ALPS.
The Alps.—Their sublimity and grandeur.—Perpetual cold in the upper regions of the atmosphere.—Avalanches.—Their terrible force.—The glaciers.—Motion of the ice.—Crevices and chasms.—Situation of the Alps.—Roads over the Alps.—Sublime scenery.—Beauty of the Alpine scenery.—Picturesque scenery.—Hannibal determines to cross the Alps.—Hannibal's speech to his army.—Its effects.—His army follows.—Scipio moves after Hannibal.—Sad vestiges.—Perplexity of Scipio.—He sails back to Italy.—Hannibal approaches the Alps.—A dangerous defile.—The army encamps.—The mountaineers.—Hannibal's stratagem.—Its success.—Astonishment of the mountaineers.—Terrible conflict in the defile.—Attack of Hannibal.—The mountaineers defeated.—The army pauses to refresh.—Scarcity of food.—Herds and flocks upon the mountains.—Foraging parties.—Collecting cattle.—Progress of the army.—Cantons.—An embassage.—Hostages.—Hannibal's suspicions.—Treachery of the mountaineers.—They attack Hannibal.—The elephants.—Hannibal's army divided.—Hannibal's attack on the mountaineers.—They embarrass his march.—Hannibal's indomitable perseverance.—He encamps.—Return of straggling parties.—Dreary scenery of the summit.—Storms in the mountains.—A dreary encampment.—Landmarks.—A snow storm.—The army resumes its march.—Hannibal among the pioneers.—First sight of Italy.—Joy of the army.—Hannibal's speech.—Fatigues of the march.—New difficulties.—March over the glacier.—A formidable barrier.—Hannibal cuts his way through the rocks.—The army in safety on the plains of Italy.
It is difficult for any one who has not actually seen such mountain scenery as is presented by the Alps, to form any clear conception of its magnificence and grandeur. Hannibal had never seen the Alps, but the world was filled then, as now, with their fame.
Some of the leading features of sublimity and grandeur which these mountains exhibit, result mainly from the perpetual cold which reigns upon their summits. This is owing simply to their elevation. In every part of the earth, as we ascend from the surface of the ground into the atmosphere, it becomes, for some mysterious reason or other, more and more cold as we rise, so that over our heads, wherever we are, there reigns, at a distance of two or three miles above us, an intense and perpetual cold. This is true not only in cool and temperate latitudes, but also in the most torrid regions of the globe. If we were to ascend in a balloon at Borneo at midday, when the burning sun of the tropics was directly over our heads, to an elevation of five or six miles, we should find that although we had been moving nearer to the sun all the time, its rays would have lost, gradually, all their power. They would fall upon us as brightly as ever, but their heat would be gone. They would feel like moonbeams, and we should be surrounded with an atmosphere as frosty as that of the icebergs of the frigid zone.
It is from this region of perpetual cold that hail-stones descend upon us in the midst of summer, and snow is continually forming and falling there; but the light and fleecy flakes melt before they reach the earth, so that, while the hail has such solidity and momentum that it forces its way through, the snow dissolves, and falls upon us as a cool and refreshing rain. Rain cools the air around us and the ground, because it comes from cooler regions of the air above.
Now it happens that not only the summits, but extensive portions of the upper declivities of the Alps, rise into the region of perpetual winter. Of course, ice congeals continually there, and the snow which forms falls to the ground as snow, and accumulates in vast and permanent stores. The summit of Mount Blanc is covered with a bed of snow of enormous thickness, which is almost as much a permanent geological stratum of the mountain as the granite which lies beneath it.
Of course, during the winter months, the whole country of the Alps, valley as well as hill, is covered with snow. In the spring the snow melts in the valleys and plains, and higher up it becomes damp and heavy with partial melting, and slides down the declivities in vast avalanches, which sometimes are of such enormous magnitude, and descend with such resistless force, as to bring down earth, rocks, and even the trees of the forest in their train. On the higher declivities, however, and over all the rounded summits, the snow still clings to its place, yielding but very little to the feeble beams of the sun, even in July.
There are vast ravines and valleys among the higher Alps where the snow accumulates, being driven into them by winds and storms in the winter, and sliding into them, in great avalanches, in the spring. These vast depositories of snow become changed into ice below the surface; for at the surface there is a continual melting, and the water, flowing down through the mass, freezes below. Thus there are valleys, or rather ravines, some of them two or three miles wide and ten or fifteen miles long, filled with ice, transparent, solid, and blue, hundreds of feet in depth. They are called glaciers. And what is most astonishing in respect to these icy accumulations is that, though the ice is perfectly compact and solid, the whole mass is found to be continually in a state of slow motion down the valley in which it lies, at the rate of about a foot in twenty-four hours. By standing upon the surface and listening attentively, we hear, from time to time, a grinding sound. The rocks which lie along the sides are pulverized, and are continually moving against each other and falling; and then, besides, which is a more direct and positive proof still of the motion of the mass, a mark may be set up upon the ice, as has been often done, and marks corresponding to it made upon the solid rocks on each side of the valley, and by this means the fact of the motion, and the exact rate of it, may be fully ascertained.
Thus these valleys are really and literally rivers of ice, rising among the summits of the mountains, and flowing, slowly it is true, but with a continuous and certain current, to a sort of mouth in some great and open valley below. Here the streams which have flowed over the surface above, and descended into the mass through countless crevices and chasms, into which the traveler looks down with terror, concentrate and issue from under the ice in a turbid torrent, which comes out from a vast archway made by the falling in of masses which the water has undermined. This lower end of the glacier sometimes presents a perpendicular wall hundreds of feet in height; sometimes it crowds down into the fertile valley, advancing in some unusually cold summer into the cultivated country, where, as it slowly moves on, it plows up the ground, carries away the orchards and fields, and even drives the inhabitants from the villages which it threatens. If the next summer proves warm, the terrible monster slowly draws back its frigid head, and the inhabitants return to the ground it reluctantly evacuates, and attempt to repair the damage it has done.
The Alps lie between France and Italy, and the great valleys and the ranges of mountain land lie in such a direction that they must be crossed in order to pass from one country to the other. These ranges are, however, not regular. They are traversed by innumerable chasms, fissures, and ravines; in some places they rise in vast rounded summits and swells, covered with fields of spotless snow; in others they tower in lofty, needle-like peaks, which even the chamois can not scale, and where scarcely a flake of snow can find a place of rest. Around and among these peaks and summits, and through these frightful defiles and chasms, the roads twist and turn, in a zigzag and constantly ascending course, creeping along the most frightful precipices, sometimes beneath them and sometimes on the brink, penetrating the darkest and gloomiest defiles, skirting the most impetuous and foaming torrents, and at last, perhaps, emerging upon the surface of a glacier, to be lost in interminable fields of ice and snow, where countless brooks run in glassy channels, and crevasses yawn, ready to take advantage of any slip which may enable them to take down the traveler into their bottomless abysses.
And yet, notwithstanding the awful desolation which reigns in the upper regions of the Alps, the lower valleys, through which the streams finally meander out into the open plains, and by which the traveler gains access to the sublimer scenes of the upper mountains, are inexpressibly verdant and beautiful. They are fertilized by the deposits of continual inundations in the early spring, and the sun beats down into them with a genial warmth in summer, which brings out millions of flowers, of the most beautiful forms and colors, and ripens rapidly the broadest and richest fields of grain. Cottages, of every picturesque and beautiful form, tenanted by the cultivators, the shepherds and the herdsmen, crown every little swell in the bottom of the valley, and cling to the declivities of the mountains which rise on either hand. Above them eternal forests of firs and pines wave, feathering over the steepest and most rocky slopes with their somber foliage. Still higher, gray precipices rise and spires and pinnacles, far grander and more picturesque, if not so symmetrically formed, than those constructed by man. Between these there is seen, here and there, in the background, vast towering masses of white and dazzling snow, which crown the summits of the loftier mountains beyond.
Hannibal's determination to carry an army into Italy by way of the Alps, instead of transporting them by galleys over the sea, has always been regarded as one of the greatest undertakings of ancient times. He hesitated for some time whether he should go down the Rhone, and meet and give battle to Scipio, or whether he should leave the Roman army to its course, and proceed himself directly toward the Alps and Italy. The officers and soldiers of the army, who had now learned something of their destination and of their leader's plans, wanted to go and meet the Romans. They dreaded the Alps. They were willing to encounter a military foe, however formidable, for this was a danger that they were accustomed to and could understand; but their imaginations were appalled at the novel and awful images they formed of falling down precipices of ragged rocks, or of gradually freezing, and being buried half alive, during the process, in eternal snows.
Hannibal, when he found that his soldiers were afraid to proceed, called the leading portions of his army together, and made them an address. He remonstrated with them for yielding now to unworthy fears, after having successfully met and triumphed over such dangers as they had already incurred. "You have surmounted the Pyrenees," said he, "you have crossed the Rhone. You are now actually in sight of the Alps, which are the very gates of access to the country of the enemy. What do you conceive the Alps to be? They are nothing but high mountains, after all. Suppose they are higher than the Pyrenees, they do not reach to the skies; and, since they do not, they can not be insurmountable. They are surmounted, in fact, every day; they are even inhabited and cultivated, and travelers continually pass over them to and fro. And what a single man can do, an army can do, for an army is only a large number of single men. In fact, to a soldier, who has nothing to carry with him but the implements of war, no way can be too difficult to be surmounted by courage and energy."
After finishing his speech, Hannibal, finding his men reanimated and encouraged by what he had said, ordered them to go to their tents and refresh themselves, and prepare to march on the following day. They made no further opposition to going on. Hannibal did not, however, proceed at once directly toward the Alps. He did not know what the plans of Scipio might be, who, it will be recollected, was below him, on the Rhone, with the Roman army. He did not wish to waste his time and his strength in a contest with Scipio in Gaul, but to press on and get across the Alps into Italy as soon as possible. And so, fearing lest Scipio should strike across the country, and intercept him if he should attempt to go by the most direct route, he determined to move northwardly, up the River Rhone, till he should get well into the interior, with a view of reaching the Alps ultimately by a more circuitous journey.
It was, in fact, the plan of Scipio to come up with Hannibal and attack him as soon as possible; and, accordingly, as soon as his horsemen, or, rather, those who were left alive after the battle had returned and informed him that Hannibal and his army were near, he put his camp in motion and moved rapidly up the river. He arrived at the place where the Carthaginians had crossed a few days after they had gone. The spot was in a terrible state of ruin and confusion. The grass and herbage were trampled down for the circuit of a mile, and all over the space were spots of black and smouldering remains, where the camp-fires had been kindled. The tops and branches of trees lay every where around, their leaves withering in the sun, and the groves and forests were encumbered with limbs, and rejected trunks, and trees felled and left where they lay. The shore was lined far down the stream with ruins of boats and rafts, with weapons which had been lost or abandoned, and with the bodies of those who had been drowned in the passage, or killed in the contest on the shore. These and numerous other vestiges remained but the army was gone.
There were, however, upon the ground groups of natives and other visitors, who had come to look at the spot now destined to become so memorable in history. From these men Scipio learned when and where Hannibal had gone. He decided that it was useless to attempt to pursue him. He was greatly perplexed to know what to do. In the casting of lots, Spain had fallen to him, but now that the great enemy whom he had come forth to meet had left Spain altogether, his only hope of intercepting his progress was to sail back into Italy, and meet him as he came down from the Alps into the great valley of the Po. Still, as Spain had been assigned to him as his province, he could not well entirely abandon it. He accordingly sent forward the largest part of his army into Spain, to attack the forces that Hannibal had left there, while he himself, with a smaller force, went down to the sea-shore and sailed back to Italy again. He expected to find Roman forces in the valley of the Po, with which he hoped to be strong enough to meet Hannibal as he descended from the mountains, if he should succeed in effecting a passage over them.
In the mean time Hannibal went on, drawing nearer and nearer to the ranges of snowy summits which his soldiers had seen for many days in their eastern horizon. These ranges were very resplendent and grand when the sun went down in the west, for then it shone directly upon them. As the army approached nearer and nearer to them, they gradually withdrew from sight and disappeared, being concealed by intervening summits less lofty, but nearer. As the soldiers went on, however, and began to penetrate the valleys, and draw near to the awful chasms and precipices among the mountains, and saw the turbid torrents descending from them, their fears revived. It was, however, now too late to retreat. They pressed forward, ascending continually, till their road grew extremely precipitous and insecure, threading its way through almost impassable defiles, with rugged cliffs overhanging them, and snowy summits towering all around.
At last they came to a narrow defile through which they must necessarily pass, but which was guarded by large bodies of armed men assembled on the rocks and precipices above, ready to hurl stones and weapons of every kind upon them if they should attempt to pass through. The army halted. Hannibal ordered them to encamp where they were, until he could consider what to do. In the course of the day he learned that the mountaineers did not remain at their elevated posts during the night, on account of the intense cold and exposure, knowing, too, that it would be impossible for an army to traverse such a pass as they were attempting to guard without daylight to guide them, for the road, or rather pathway, which passes through these defiles, follows generally the course of a mountain torrent, which flows through a succession of frightful ravines and chasms, and often passes along on a shelf or projection of the rock, hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet from the bed of the stream, which foams and roars far below. There could, of course, be no hope of passing safely by such a route without the light of day.
The mountaineers, therefore, knowing that it was not necessary to guard the pass at night—its own terrible danger being then a sufficient protection—were accustomed to disperse in the evening, and descend to regions where they could find shelter and repose, and to return and renew their watch in the morning. When Hannibal learned this, he determined to anticipate them in getting up upon the rocks the next day, and, in order to prevent their entertaining any suspicion of his design, he pretended to be making all the arrangements for encamping for the night on the ground he had taken. He accordingly pitched more tents, and built, toward evening, a great many fires, and he began some preparations indicating that it was his intention the next day to force his way through the pass. He moved forward a strong detachment up to a point near the entrance to the pass, and put them in a fortified position there, as if to have them all ready to advance when the proper time should arrive on the following day.
The mountaineers, seeing all these preparations going on, looked forward to a conflict on the morrow, and, during the night, left their positions as usual, to descend to places of shelter. The next morning, however, when they began, at an early hour, to ascend to them again, they were astonished to find all the lofty rocks, and cliffs, and shelving projections which overhung the pass, covered with Carthaginians. Hannibal had aroused a strong body of his men at the earliest dawn, and led them up, by steep climbing, to the places which the mountaineers had left, so as to be there before them. The mountaineers paused, astonished, at this spectacle, and their disappointment and rage were much increased on looking down into the valley below, and seeing there the remainder of the Carthaginian army quietly moving through the pass in a long train, safe apparently from any molestation, since friends, and not enemies, were now in possession of the cliffs above.
The mountaineers could not restrain their feelings of vexation and anger, but immediately rushed down the declivities which they had in part ascended, and attacked the army in the defile. An awful scene of struggle and confusion ensued. Some were killed by weapons or by rocks rolled down upon them. Others, contending together, and struggling desperately in places of very narrow foothold, tumbled headlong down the rugged rocks into the torrent below; and horses, laden with baggage and stores, became frightened and unmanageable, and crowded each other over the most frightful precipices. Hannibal, who was above, on the higher rocks, looked down upon this scene for a time with the greatest anxiety and terror. He did not dare to descend himself and mingle in the affray, for fear of increasing the confusion. He soon found, however, that it was absolutely necessary for him to interpose, and he came down as rapidly as possible, his detachment with him. They descended by oblique and zigzag paths, wherever they could get footing among the rocks, and attacked the mountaineers with great fury. The result was, as he had feared, a great increase at first of the confusion and the slaughter. The horses were more and more terrified by the fresh energy of the combat, and by the resounding of louder shouts and cries, which were made doubly terrific by the echoes and reverberations of the mountains. They crowded against each other, and fell, horses and men together, in masses, over the cliffs to the rugged rocks below, where they lay in confusion, some dead, and others dying, writhing helplessly in agony, or vainly endeavoring to crawl away.
The mountaineers were, however, conquered and driven away at last, and the pass was left clear. The Carthaginian column was restored to order. The horses that had not fallen were calmed and quieted. The baggage which had been thrown down was gathered up, and the wounded men were placed on litters, rudely constructed on the spot, that they might be borne on to a place of safety. In a short time all were ready to move on, and the march was accordingly recommenced. There was no further difficulty. The column advanced in a quiet and orderly manner until they had passed the defile. At the extremity of it they came to a spacious fort belonging to the natives. Hannibal took possession of this fort, and paused for a little time there to rest and refresh his men.
One of the greatest difficulties encountered by a general in conducting an army through difficult and dangerous roads, is that of providing food for them. An army can transport its own food only a very little way. Men traveling over smooth roads can only carry provisions for a few days, and where the roads are as difficult and dangerous as the passes of the Alps, they can scarcely carry any. The commander must, accordingly, find subsistence in the country through which he is marching. Hannibal had, therefore, now not only to look out for the safety of his men, but their food was exhausted, and he must take immediate measures to secure a supply.
The lower slopes of lofty mountains afford usually abundant sustenance for flocks and herds. The showers which are continually falling there, and the moisture which comes down the sides of the mountains through the ground keep the turf perpetually green, and sheep and cattle love to pasture upon it; they climb to great heights, finding the herbage finer and sweeter the higher they go. Thus the inhabitants of mountain ranges are almost always shepherds and herdsmen. Grain can be raised in the valleys below, but the slopes of the mountains, though they produce grass to perfection, are too steep to be tilled.
As soon as Hannibal had got established in the fort, he sent around small bodies of men to seize and drive in all the cattle and sheep that they could find. These men were, of course, armed, in order that they might be prepared to meet any resistance which they might encounter. The mountaineers, however, did not attempt to resist them. They felt that they were conquered, and they were accordingly disheartened and discouraged. The only mode of saving their cattle which was left to them, was to drive them as fast as they could into concealed and inaccessible places. They attempted to do this, and while Hannibal's parties were ranging up the valleys all around them, examining every field, and barn, and sheepfold that they could find, the wretched and despairing inhabitants were flying in all directions, driving the cows and sheep, on which their whole hope of subsistence depended, into the fastnesses of the mountains. They urged them into wild thickets, and dark ravines and chasms, and over dangerous glaciers, and up the steepest ascents, wherever there was the readiest prospect of getting them out of the plunderer's way.
These attempts, however, to save their little property were but very partially successful. Hannibal's marauding parties kept coming home, one after another, with droves of sheep and cattle before them, some larger and some smaller, but making up a vast amount in all. Hannibal subsisted his men three days on the food thus procured for them. It requires an enormous store to feed ninety or a hundred thousand men, even for three days; besides, in all such cases as this, an army always waste and destroy far more than they really consume.
During these three days the army was not stationary, but was moving slowly on. The way, though still difficult and dangerous, was at least open before them, as there was now no enemy to dispute their passage. So they went on, rioting upon the abundant supplies they had obtained, and rejoicing in the double victory they were gaining, over the hostility of the people and the physical dangers and difficulties of the way. The poor mountaineers returned to their cabins ruined and desolate, for mountaineers who have lost their cows and their sheep have lost their all.
The Alps are not all in Switzerland. Some of the most celebrated peaks and ranges are in a neighboring state called Savoy. The whole country is, in fact, divided into small states, called cantons at the present day, and similar political divisions seem to have existed in the time of the Romans. In his march onward from the pass which has been already described, Hannibal, accordingly, soon approached the confines of another canton. As he was advancing slowly into it, with the long train of his army winding up with him through the valleys, he was met at the borders of this new state by an embassage sent from the government of it. They brought with them fresh stores of provisions, and a number of guides. They said that they had heard of the terrible destruction which had come upon the other canton in consequence of their effort to oppose his progress, and that they had no intention of renewing so vain an attempt. They came, therefore, they said, to offer Hannibal their friendship and their aid. They had brought guides to show the army the best way over the mountains, and a present of provisions; and to prove the sincerity of their professions they offered Hannibal hostages. These hostages were young men and boys, the sons of the principal inhabitants, whom they offered to deliver into Hannibal's power, to be kept by him until he should see that they were faithful and true in doing what they offered.
Hannibal was so accustomed to stratagem and treachery himself, that he was at first very much at a loss to decide whether these offers and professions were honest and sincere, or whether they were only made to put him off his guard. He thought it possible that it was their design to induce him to place himself under their direction, so that they might lead him into some dangerous defile or labyrinth of rocks, from which he could not extricate himself, and where they could attack and destroy him. He, however, decided to return them a favorable answer, but to watch them very carefully, and to proceed under their guidance with the utmost caution and care. He accepted of the provisions they offered, and took the hostages. These last he delivered into the custody of a body of his soldiers and they marched on with the rest of the army. Then, directing the new guides to lead the way, the army moved on after them. The elephants went first, with a moderate force for their protection preceding and accompanying them. Then came long trains of horses and mules, loaded with military stores and baggage, and finally the foot soldiers followed, marching irregularly in a long column. The whole train must have extended many miles, and must have appeared from any of the eminences around like an enormous serpent, winding its way tortuously through the wild and desolate valleys.
Hannibal was right in his suspicions. The embassage was a stratagem. The men who sent it had laid an ambuscade in a very narrow pass, concealing their forces in thickets and in chasms, and in nooks and corners among the rugged rocks, and when the guides had led the army well into the danger, a sudden signal was given, and these concealed enemies rushed down upon them in great numbers, breaking into their ranks, and renewing the scene of terrible uproar, tumult, and destruction which had been witnessed in the other defile. One would have thought that the elephants, being so unwieldy and so helpless in such a scene, would have been the first objects of attack. But it was not so. The mountaineers were afraid of them. They had never seen such animals before, and they felt for them a mysterious awe, not knowing what terrible powers such enormous beasts might be expected to wield. They kept away from them, therefore, and from the horsemen, and poured down upon the head of the column of foot soldiers which followed in the rear.
They were quite successful at the first onset. They broke through the head of the column, and drove the rest back. The horses and elephants, in the mean time, moved forward, bearing the baggage with them, so that the two portions of the army were soon entirely separated. Hannibal was behind, with the soldiers. The mountaineers made good their position, and, as night came on, the contest ceased, for in such wilds as these no one can move at all, except with the light of day. The mountaineers, however, remained in their place, dividing the army, and Hannibal continued, during the night, in a state of great suspense and anxiety, with the elephants and the baggage separated from him and apparently at the mercy of the enemy.
During the night he made vigorous preparations for attacking the mountaineers the next day. As soon as the morning light appeared, he made the attack, and he succeeded in driving the enemy away, so far, at least, as to allow him to get his army together again. He then began once more to move on. The mountaineers, however, hovered about his way, and did all they could to molest and embarrass his march. They concealed themselves in ambuscades, and attacked the Carthaginians as they passed. They rolled stones down upon them, or discharged spears and arrows from eminences above; and if any of Hannibal's army became, from any reason, detached from the rest, they would cut off their retreat, and then take them prisoners or destroy them. Thus they gave Hannibal a great deal of trouble. They harassed his march continually, without presenting at any point a force which he could meet and encounter in battle. Of course, Hannibal could no longer trust to his guides, and he was obliged to make his way as he best could, sometimes right, but often wrong, and exposed to a thousand difficulties and dangers, which those acquainted with the country might have easily avoided. All this time the mountaineers were continually attacking him, in bands like those of robbers, sometimes in the van, and sometimes in the rear, wherever the nature of the ground or the circumstances of the marching army afforded them an opportunity.
Hannibal persevered, however, through all these discouragements, protecting his men as far as it was in his power, but pressing earnestly on, until in nine days he reached the summit. By the summit, however, is not meant the summit of the mountains, but the summit of the pass, that is, the highest point which it was necessary for him to attain in going over. In all mountain ranges there are depressions, which are in Switzerland called necks,[A] and the pathways and roads over the ranges lie always in these. In America, such a depression in a ridge of land, if well marked and decided, is called a notch. Hannibal attained the highest point of the col, by which he was to pass over, in nine days after the great battle. There were, however, of course, lofty peaks and summits towering still far above him.
[Footnote A: The French word is col. Thus, there is the Col de Balme, the Col de Geant, &c.]
He encamped here two days to rest and refresh his men. The enemy no longer molested him. In fact, parties were continually coming into the camp, of men and horses, that had got lost, or had been left in the valleys below. They came in slowly, some wounded, others exhausted and spent by fatigue and exposure. In some cases horses came in alone. They were horses that had slipped or stumbled, and fallen among the rocks, or had sunk down exhausted by their toil, and had thus been left behind, and afterward, recovering their strength, had followed on, led by a strange instinct to keep to the tracks which their companions had made, and thus they rejoined the camp at last in safety.
In fact, one great reason for Hannibal's delay at his encampment on or near the summit of the pass, was to afford time for all the missing men to join the army again, that had the power to do so. Had it not been for this necessity, he would doubtless have descended some distance, at least, to a more warm and sheltered position before seeking repose. A more gloomy and desolate resting-place than the summit of an Alpine pass can scarcely be found. The bare and barren rocks are entirely destitute of vegetation, and they have lost, besides, the sublime and picturesque forms which they assume further below. They spread in vast, naked fields in every direction around the spectator, rising in gentle ascents, bleak and dreary, the surface whitened as if bleached by the perpetual rains. Storms are, in fact, almost perpetual in these elevated regions. The vast cloud which, to the eye of the shepherd in the valley below, seems only a fleecy cap, resting serenely upon the summit, or slowly floating along the sides, is really a driving mist, or cold and stormy rain, howling dismally over interminable fields of broken rocks, as if angry that it can make nothing grow upon them, with all its watering. Thus there are seldom distant views to be obtained, and every thing near presents a scene of simple dreariness and desolation.
Hannibal's soldiers thus found themselves in the midst of a dismal scene in their lofty encampment. There is one special source of danger, too, in such places as this, which the lower portions of the mountains are less exposed to, and that is the entire obliteration of the pathway by falls of snow. It seems almost absurd to speak of pathway in such regions, where there is no turf to be worn, and the boundless fields of rocks, ragged and hard, will take no trace of footsteps. There are, however, generally some faint traces of way, and where these fail entirely the track is sometimes indicated by small piles of stones, placed at intervals along the line of route. An unpracticed eye would scarcely distinguish these little landmarks, in many cases, from accidental heaps of stones which lie every where around. They, however, render a very essential service to the guides and to the mountaineers, who have been accustomed to conduct their steps by similar aids in other portions of the mountains.
But when snow begins to fall, all these and every other possible means of distinguishing the way are soon entirely obliterated. The whole surface of the ground, or, rather, of the rocks, is covered, and all landmarks disappear. The little monuments become nothing but slight inequalities in the surface of the snow, undistinguishable from a thousand others. The air is thick and murky, and shuts off alike all distant prospects, and the shape and conformation of the land that is near; the bewildered traveler has not even the stars to guide him, as there is nothing but dark, falling flakes, descending from an impenetrable canopy of stormy clouds, to be seen in the sky.
Hannibal encountered a snow storm while on the summit of the pass, and his army were very much terrified by it. It was now November. The army had met with so many detentions and delays that their journey had been protracted to a late period. It would be unsafe to attempt to wait till this snow should melt again. As soon, therefore, as the storm ended, and the clouds cleared away, so as to allow the men to see the general features of the country around, the camp was broken up and the army put in motion. The soldiers marched through the snow with great anxiety and fear. Men went before to explore the way, and to guide the rest by flags and banners which they bore. Those who went first made paths, of course, for those who followed behind, as the snow was trampled down by their footsteps. Notwithstanding these aids, however, the army moved on very laboriously and with much fear.
At length, however, after descending a short distance, Hannibal, perceiving that they must soon come in sight of the Italian valleys and plains which lay beyond the Alps, went forward among the pioneers, who had charge of the banners by which the movements of the army were directed, and, as soon as the open country began to come into view, he selected a spot where the widest prospect was presented, and halted his army there to let them take a view of the beautiful country which now lay before them. The Alps are very precipitous on the Italian side. The descent is very sudden, from the cold and icy summits, to a broad expanse of the most luxuriant and sunny plains. Upon these plains, which were spread out in a most enchanting landscape at their feet, Hannibal and his soldiers now looked down with exultation and delight. Beautiful lakes, studded with still more beautiful islands, reflected the beams of the sun. An endless succession of fields, in sober autumnal colors, with the cottages of the laborers and stacks of grain scattered here and there upon them, and rivers meandering through verdant meadows, gave variety and enchantment to the view.
Hannibal made an address to his officers and men, congratulating them on having arrived, at last, so near to a successful termination of their toils. "The difficulties of the way," he said, "are at last surmounted, and these mighty barriers that we have scaled are the walls, not only of Italy, but of Rome itself. Since we have passed the Alps, the Romans will have no protection against us remaining. It is only one battle, when we get down upon the plains, or at most two, and the great city itself will be entirely at our disposal."
The whole army were much animated and encouraged, both by the prospect which presented itself to their view, and by the words of Hannibal. They prepared for the descent, anticipating little difficulty; but they found, on recommencing their march, that their troubles were by no means over. The mountains are far steeper on the Italian side than on the other, and it was extremely difficult to find paths by which the elephants and the horses, and even the men, could safely descend. They moved on for some time with great labor and fatigue, until, at length, Hannibal, looking on before, found that the head of the column had stopped, and the whole train behind was soon jammed together, the ranks halting along the way in succession, as they found their path blocked up by the halting of those before them.
Hannibal sent forward to ascertain the cause of the difficulty, and found that the van of the army had reached a precipice down which it was impossible to descend. It was necessary to make a circuit in hopes of finding some practicable way of getting down. The guides and pioneers went on, leading the army after them, and soon got upon a glacier which lay in their way. There was fresh snow upon the surface, covering the ice and concealing the crevasses, as they are termed—that is, the great cracks and fissures which extend in the glaciers down through the body of the ice. The army moved on, trampling down the new snow, and making at first a good roadway by their footsteps; but very soon the old ice and snow began to be trampled up by the hoofs of the horses and the heavy tread of such vast multitudes of armed men. It softened to a great depth, and made the work of toiling through it an enormous labor. Besides, the surface of the ice and snow sloped steeply, and the men and beasts were continually falling or sliding down, and getting swallowed up in avalanches which their own weight set in motion, or in concealed crevasses where they sank to rise no more.
They, however, made some progress, though slowly, and with great danger. They at last got below the region of the snow, but here they encountered new difficulties in the abruptness and ruggedness of the rocks, and in the zigzag and tortuous direction of the way. At last they came to a spot where their further progress appeared to be entirely cut off by a large mass of rock, which it seemed necessary to remove in order to widen the passage sufficiently to allow them to go on. The Roman historian says that Hannibal removed these rocks by building great fires upon them, and then pouring on vinegar, which opened seams and fissures in them, by means of which the rocks could be split and pried to pieces with wedges and crowbars. On reading this account, the mind naturally pauses to consider the probability of its being true. As they had no gunpowder in those days, they were compelled to resort to some such method as the one above described for removing rocks. There are some species of rock which are easily cracked and broken by the action of fire. Others resist it. There seems, however, to be no reason obvious why vinegar should materially assist in the operation. Besides, we can not suppose that Hannibal could have had, at such a time and place, any very large supply of vinegar on hand. On the whole, it is probable that, if any such operation was performed at all, it was on a very small scale, and the results must have been very insignificant at the time, though the fact has since been greatly celebrated in history.
In coming over the snow, and in descending the rocks immediately below, the army, and especially the animals connected with it, suffered a great deal from hunger. It was difficult to procure forage for them of any kind. At length, however, as they continued their descent, they came first into the region of forests, and soon after to slopes of grassy fields descending into warm and fertile valleys. Here the animals were allowed to stop and rest, and renew their strength by abundance of food. The men rejoiced that their toils and dangers were over, and, descending easily the remainder of the way, they encamped at last safely on the plains of Italy.
HANNIBAL IN THE NORTH OF ITALY.
Miserable condition of the army.—Its great losses.—Feelings of Hannibal's soldiers.—Plans of Scipio.—The armies approach each other.—Feelings of Hannibal and Scipio.—Address of Scipio to the Roman army.—Hannibal's ingenious method of introducing his speech.—Curious combat.—Effect on the army.—Hannibal's speech to his army.—His words of encouragement.—Hannibal's promises.—His real feelings.—Hannibal's energy and decision.—His steady resolution.—Hannibal's unfaltering courage.—Movements of Scipio.—Scipio's bridge over the Po.—The army crosses the river.—Hannibal's warlike operations.—He concentrates his army.—Hannibal addresses his soldiers.—He promises them lands.—Ratifying a promise.—Omens.—The battle.—The Romans thrown into confusion.—Scipio wounded.—The Romans driven back across the river.—The Romans destroy the bridge over the Ticinus.
When Hannibal's army found themselves on the plains of Italy, and sat down quietly to repose, they felt the effects of their fatigues and exposures far more sensibly than they had done under the excitement which they naturally felt while actually upon the mountains. They were, in fact, in a miserable condition. Hannibal told a Roman officer whom he afterward took prisoner that more than thirty thousand perished on the way in crossing the mountains; some in the battles which were fought in the passes, and a greater number still, probably, from exposure to fatigue and cold, and from falls among the rocks and glaciers, and diseases produced by destitution and misery. The remnant of the army which was left on reaching the plain were emaciated, sickly, ragged, and spiritless; far more inclined to lie down and die, than to go on and undertake the conquest of Italy and Rome.
After some days, however, they began to recruit. Although they had been half starved among the mountains, they had now plenty of wholesome food. They repaired their tattered garments and their broken weapons. They talked with one another about the terrific scenes through which they had been passing, and the dangers which they had surmounted, and thus, gradually strengthening their impressions of the greatness of the exploits they had performed, they began soon to awaken in each other's breasts an ambition to go on and undertake the accomplishment of other deeds of daring and glory.
We left Scipio with his army at the mouth of the Rhone, about to set sail for Italy with a part of his force, while the rest of it was sent on toward Spain. Scipio sailed along the coast by Genoa, and thence to Pisa, where he landed. He stopped a little while to recruit his soldiers after the voyage, and in the mean time sent orders to all the Roman forces then in the north of Italy to join his standard. He hoped in this way to collect a force strong enough to encounter Hannibal. These arrangements being made, he marched to the northward as rapidly as possible. He knew in what condition Hannibal's army had descended from the Alps, and wished to attack them before they should have time to recover from the effects of their privations and sufferings. He reached the Po before he saw any thing of Hannibal.
Hannibal, in the mean time, was not idle. As soon as his men were in a condition to move, he began to act upon the tribes that he found at the foot of the mountains, offering his friendship to some, and attacking others. He thus conquered those who attempted to resist him, moving, all the time, gradually southward toward the Po. That river has numerous branches, and among them is one named the Ticinus. It was on the banks of this river that the two armies at last came together.
Both generals must have felt some degree of solicitude in respect to the result of the contest which was about to take place. Scipio knew very well Hannibal's terrible efficiency as a warrior, and he was himself a general of great distinction, and a Roman, so that Hannibal had no reason to anticipate a very easy victory. Whatever doubts or fears, however, general officers may feel on the eve of an engagement, it is always considered very necessary to conceal them entirely from the men, and to animate and encourage the troops with a most undoubting confidence that they will gain the victory.
Both Hannibal and Scipio, accordingly, made addresses to their respective armies—at least so say the historians of those times—each one expressing to his followers the certainty that the other side would easily be beaten. The speech attributed to Scipio was somewhat as follows:
"I wish to say a few words to you, soldiers, before we go into battle. It is, perhaps, scarcely necessary. It certainly would not be necessary if I had now under my command the same troops that I took with me to the mouth of the Rhone. They knew the Carthaginians there, and would not have feared them here. A body of our horsemen met and attacked a larger body of theirs, and defeated them. We then advanced with our whole force toward their encampment, in order to give them battle. They, however, abandoned the ground and retreated before we reached the spot, acknowledging, by their flight, their own fear and our superiority. If you had been with us there, and had witnessed these facts, there would have been no need that I should say any thing to convince you now how easily you are going to defeat this Carthaginian foe.
"We have had a war with this same nation before. We conquered them then, both by land and sea; and when, finally, peace was made, we required them to pay us tribute, and we continued to exact it from them for twenty years. They are a conquered nation; and now this miserable army has forced its way insanely over the Alps, just to throw itself into our hands. They meet us reduced in numbers, and exhausted in resources and strength. More than half of their army perished in the mountains, and those that survive are weak, dispirited, ragged, and diseased. And yet they are compelled to meet us. If there was any chance for retreat, or any possible way for them to avoid the necessity of a battle, they would avail themselves of it. But there is not. They are hemmed in by the mountains, which are now, to them, an impassable wall, for they have not strength to scale them again. They are not real enemies; they are the mere remnants and shadows of enemies. They are wholly disheartened and discouraged, their strength and energy, both of soul and body, being spent and gone, through the cold, the hunger, and the squalid misery they have endured. Their joints are benumbed, their sinews stiffened, and their forms emaciated. Their armor is shattered and broken, their horses are lamed, and all their equipments worn out and ruined, so that really what most I fear is that the world will refuse us the glory of the victory, and say that it was the Alps that conquered Hannibal, and not the Roman army.
"Easy as the victory is to be, however, we must remember that there is a great deal at stake in the contest. It is not merely for glory that we are now about to contend. If Hannibal conquers, he will march to Rome, and our wives, our children, and all that we hold dear will be at his mercy. Remember this, and go into the battle feeling that the fate of Rome itself is depending upon the result."
An oration is attributed to Hannibal, too, on the occasion of this battle. He showed, however, his characteristic ingenuity and spirit of contrivance in the way in which he managed to attract strong attention to what he was going to say, by the manner in which he introduced it. He formed his army into a circle, as if to witness a spectacle. He then brought in to the center of this circle a number of prisoners that he had taken among the Alps—perhaps they were the hostages which had been delivered to him, as related in the preceding chapter. Whoever they were, however, whether hostages or captives taken in the battles which had been fought in the defiles, Hannibal had brought them with his army down into Italy, and now introducing them into the center of the circle which the army formed, he threw down before them such arms as they were accustomed to use in their native mountains, and asked them whether they would be willing to take those weapons and fight each other, on condition that each one who killed his antagonist should be restored to his liberty, and have a horse and armor given him, so that he could return home with honor. The barbarous monsters said readily that they would, and seized the arms with the greatest avidity. Two or three pairs of combatants were allowed to fight. One of each pair was killed, and the other set at liberty according to the promise of Hannibal. The combats excited the greatest interest, and awakened the strongest enthusiasm among the soldiers who witnessed them. When this effect had been sufficiently produced, the rest of the prisoners were sent away, and Hannibal addressed the vast ring of soldiery as follows:
"I have intended, soldiers, in what you have now seen, not merely to amuse you, but to give you a picture of your own situation. You are hemmed in on the right and left by two seas, and you have not so much as a single ship upon either of them. Then there is the Po before you and the Alps behind. The Po is a deeper, and more rapid and turbulent river than the Rhone; and as for the Alps, it was with the utmost difficulty that you passed over them when you were in full strength and vigor; they are an insurmountable wall to you now. You are therefore shut in, like our prisoners, on every side, and have no hope of life and liberty but in battle and victory.
"The victory, however, will not be difficult. I see, wherever I look among you, a spirit of determination and courage which I am sure will make you conquerors. The troops which you are going to contend against are mostly fresh recruits, that know nothing of the discipline of the camp, and can never successfully confront such war-worn veterans as you. You all know each other well, and me. I was, in fact, a pupil with you for many years, before I took the command. But Scipio's forces are strangers to one another and to him, and, consequently, have no common bond of sympathy; and as for Scipio himself, his very commission as a Roman general is only six months old.
"Think, too, what a splendid and prosperous career victory will open before you. It will conduct you to Rome. It will make you masters of one of the most powerful and wealthiest cities in the world. Thus far you have fought your battles only for glory or for dominion; now, you will have something more substantial to reward your success. There will be great treasures to be divided among you if we conquer, but if we are defeated we are lost. Hemmed in as we are on every side, there is no place that we can reach by flight. There is, therefore, no such alternative as flight left to us. We must conquer."
It is hardly probable that Hannibal could have really and honestly felt all the confidence that he expressed in his harangues to his soldiers. He must have had some fears. In fact, in all enterprises undertaken by man, the indications of success, and the hopes based upon them, will fluctuate from time to time, and cause his confidence in the result to ebb and flow, so that bright anticipations of success and triumph will alternate in his heart with feelings of discouragement and despondency. This effect is experienced by all; by the energetic and decided as well as by the timid and the faltering. The former, however, never allow these fluctuations of hope and fear to influence their action. They consider well the substantial grounds for expecting success before commencing their undertaking, and then go steadily forward, under all aspects of the sky—when it shines and when it rains—till they reach the end. The inefficient and undecided can act only under the stimulus of present hope. The end they aim at must be visible before them all the time. If for a moment it passes out of view, their motive is gone, and they can do no more, till, by some change in circumstances, it comes in sight again.
Hannibal was energetic and decided. The time for him to consider whether he would encounter the hostility of the Roman empire, aroused to the highest possible degree, was when his army was drawn up upon the banks of the Iberus, before they crossed it. The Iberus was his Rubicon. That line once overstepped, there was to be no further faltering. The difficulties which arose from time to time to throw a cloud over his prospects, only seemed to stimulate him to fresh energy, and to awaken a new, though still a calm and steady resolution. It was so at the Pyrenees; it was so at the Rhone; it was so among the Alps, where the difficulties and dangers would have induced almost any other commander to have returned; and it was still so, now that he found himself shut in on every hand by the stern boundaries of Northern Italy, which he could not possibly hope again to pass, and the whole disposable force of the Roman empire, commanded, too, by one of the consuls, concentrated before him. The imminent danger produced no faltering, and apparently no fear.
The armies were not yet in sight of each other. They were, in fact, yet on opposite sides of the River Po. The Roman commander concluded to march his troops across the river, and advance in search of Hannibal, who was still at some miles' distance. After considering the various means of crossing the stream, he decided finally on building a bridge.
Military commanders generally throw some sort of a bridge across a stream of water lying in their way, if it is too deep to be easily forded, unless, indeed, it is so wide and rapid as to make the construction of the bridge difficult or impracticable. In this latter case they cross as well as they can by means of boats and rafts, and by swimming. The Po, though not a very large stream at this point, was too deep to be forded, and Scipio accordingly built a bridge. The soldiers cut down the trees which grew in the forests along the banks, and after trimming off the tops and branches, they rolled the trunks into the water. They placed these trunks side by side, with others, laid transversely and pinned down, upon the top. Thus they formed rafts, which they placed in a line across the stream, securing them well to each other and to the banks. This made the foundation for the bridge, and after this foundation was covered with other materials, so as to make the upper surface a convenient roadway, the army were conducted across it, and then a small detachment of soldiers were stationed at each extremity of it as a guard.
Such a bridge as this answers a very good temporary purpose, and in still water, as, for example, over narrow lakes or very sluggish streams, where there is very little current, a floating structure of this kind is sometimes built for permanent service. Such bridges will not, however, stand on broad and rapid rivers liable to floods. The pressure of the water alone, in such cases, would very much endanger all the fastenings; and in cases where drift wood or ice is brought down by the stream, the floating masses, not being able to pass under the bridge, would accumulate above it, and would soon bear upon it with so enormous a pressure that nothing could withstand its force. The bridge would be broken away, and the whole accumulation—bridge, drift-wood, and ice—would be borne irresistibly down the stream together.
Scipio's bridge, however, answered very well for his purpose. His army passed over it in safety. When Hannibal heard of this, he knew that the battle was at hand. Hannibal was himself at this time about five miles distant. While Scipio was at work upon the bridge, Hannibal was employed, mainly, as he had been all the time since his descent from the mountains, in the subjugation of the various petty nations and tribes north of the Po. Some of them were well disposed to join his standard. Others were allies of the Romans, and wished to remain so. He made treaties and sent help to the former, and dispatched detachments of troops to intimidate and subdue the latter. When, however, he learned that Scipio had crossed the river, he ordered all these detachments to come immediately in, and he began to prepare in earnest for the contest that was impending.
He called together an assembly of his soldiers, and announced to them finally that the battle was now nigh. He renewed the words of encouragement that he had spoken before, and in addition to what he then said, he now promised the soldiers rewards in land in case they proved victorious. "I will give you each a farm," said he, "wherever you choose to have it, either in Africa, Italy, or Spain. If, instead of the land, any of you shall prefer to receive rather an equivalent in money, you shall have the reward in that form, and then you can return home and live with your friends, as before the war, under circumstances which will make you objects of envy to those who remained behind. If any of you would like to live in Carthage, I will have you made free citizens, so that you can live there in independence and honor."
But what security would there be for the faithful fulfillment of these promises? In modern times such security is given by bonds, with pecuniary penalties, or by the deposit of titles to property in responsible hands. In ancient days they managed differently. The promiser bound himself by some solemn and formal mode of adjuration, accompanied, in important cases, with certain ceremonies, which were supposed to seal and confirm the obligation assumed. In this case Hannibal brought a lamb in the presence of the assembled army. He held it before them with his left hand, while with his right he grasped a heavy stone. He then called aloud upon the gods, imploring them to destroy him as he was about to slay the lamb, if he failed to perform faithfully and fully the pledges that he had made. He then struck the poor lamb a heavy blow with the stone. The animal fell dead at his feet, and Hannibal was thenceforth bound, in the opinion of the army, by a very solemn obligation indeed, to be faithful in fulfilling his word.
The soldiers were greatly animated and excited by these promises, and were in haste to have the contest come on. The Roman soldiers, it seems, were in a different mood of mind. Some circumstances had occurred which they considered as bad omens, and they were very much dispirited and depressed by them. It is astonishing that men should ever allow their minds to be affected by such wholly accidental occurrences as these were. One of them was this: a wolf came into their camp, from one of the forests near, and after wounding several men, made his escape again. The other was more trifling still. A swarm of bees flew into the encampment, and lighted upon a tree just over Scipio's tent. This was considered, for some reason or other, a sign that some calamity was going to befall them, and the men were accordingly intimidated and disheartened. They consequently looked forward to the battle with uneasiness and anxiety, while the army of Hannibal anticipated it with eagerness and pleasure.
The battle came on, at last, very suddenly, and at a moment when neither party were expecting it. A large detachment of both armies were advancing toward the position of the other, near the River Ticinus, to reconnoiter, when they met, and the battle began. Hannibal advanced with great impetuosity, and sent, at the same time, a detachment around to attack his enemy in the rear. The Romans soon began to fall into confusion; the horsemen and foot soldiers got entangled together; the men were trampled upon by the horses, and the horses were frightened by the men. In the midst of this scene, Scipio received a wound. A consul was a dignitary of very high consideration. He was, in fact, a sort of semi-king. The officers, and all the soldiers, so fast as they heard that the consul was wounded, were terrified and dismayed, and the Romans began to retreat. Scipio had a young son, named also Scipio, who was then about twenty years of age. He was fighting by the side of his father when he received his wound. He protected his father, got him into the center of a compact body of cavalry, and moved slowly off the ground, those in the rear facing toward the enemy and beating them back, as they pressed on in pursuit of them. In this way they reached their camp. Here they stopped for the night. They had fortified the place, and, as night was coming on, Hannibal thought it not prudent to press on and attack them there. He waited for the morning. Scipio, however, himself wounded and his army discouraged, thought it not prudent for him to wait till the morning. At midnight he put his whole force in motion on a retreat. He kept the camp-fires burning, and did every thing else in his power to prevent the Carthaginians observing any indications of his departure. His army marched secretly and silently till they reached the river. They recrossed it by the bridge they had built, and then, cutting away the fastenings by which the different rafts were held together, the structure was at once destroyed, and the materials of which it was composed floated away, a mere mass of ruins, down the stream. From the Ticinus they floated, we may imagine, into the Po, and thence down the Po into the Adriatic Sea, where they drifted about upon the waste of waters till they were at last, one after another, driven by storms upon the sandy shores.
Hannibal pursues the Romans.—He takes some prisoners.—Revolt of some Gauls from the Romans.—Hannibal crosses the river.—Dismay of the Romans.—Sempronius recalled to Italy.—Sufferings of Scipio from his wound.—He is joined by Sempronius.—The Roman commanders disagree.—Skirmishes.—Sempronius eager for a battle.—Hannibal's stratagem.—Details of Hannibal's scheme.—The ambuscade.—Two thousand chosen men.—Hannibal's manner of choosing them.—Attack on the Roman camp.—Success of Hannibal's stratagem.—Sempronius crosses the river.—Impetuous attack of Hannibal.—Situation of the Roman army.—Terrible conflict.—Utter defeat of the Romans.—Scene after the battle.—Various battles of Hannibal.—Scarcity of food.—Valley of the Arno.—Crossing the Apennines.—Terrific storm.—Death of the elephants.—Hannibal's uneasiness.—He crosses the Apennines.—Perilous march.—Hannibal's sickness.
As soon as Hannibal was apprised in the morning that Scipio and his forces had left their ground, he pressed on after them, very earnest to overtake them before they should reach the river. But he was too late. The main body of the Roman army had got over. There was, however, a detachment of a few hundred men, who had been left on Hannibal's side of the river to guard the bridge until all the army should have passed, and then to help in cutting it away. They had accomplished this before Hannibal's arrival, but had not had time to contrive any way to get across the river themselves. Hannibal took them all prisoners.
The condition and prospects of both the Roman and Carthaginian cause were entirely changed by this battle, and the retreat of Scipio across the Po. All the nations of the north of Italy, who had been subjects or allies of the Romans, now turned to Hannibal. They sent embassies into his camp, offering him their friendship and alliance. In fact, there was a large body of Gauls in the Roman camp, who were fighting under Scipio at the battle of Ticinus, who deserted his standard immediately afterward, and came over in a mass to Hannibal. They made this revolt in the night, and, instead of stealing away secretly, they raised a prodigious tumult, killed the guards, filled the encampment with their shouts and outcries, and created for a time an awful scene of terror.
Hannibal received them, but he was too sagacious to admit such a treacherous horde into his army. He treated them with great consideration and kindness, and dismissed them with presents, that they might all go to their respective homes, charging them to exert their influence in his favor among the tribes to which they severally belonged.
Hannibal's soldiers, too, were very much encouraged by the commencement they had made. The army made immediate preparations for crossing the river. Some of the soldiers built rafts, others went up the stream in search of places to ford. Some swam across. They could adopt these or any other modes in safety, for the Romans made no stand on the opposite bank to oppose them, but moved rapidly on, as fast as Scipio could be carried. His wounds began to inflame, and were extremely painful.
In fact, the Romans were dismayed at the danger which now threatened them. As soon as news of these events reached the city, the authorities there sent a dispatch immediately to Sicily to recall the other consul. His name was Sempronius. It will be recollected that, when the lots were cast between him and Scipio, it fell to Scipio to proceed to Spain, with a view to arresting Hannibal's march, while Sempronius went to Sicily and Africa. The object of this movement was to threaten and attack the Carthaginians at home, in order to distract their attention and prevent their sending any fresh forces to aid Hannibal, and, perhaps, even to compel them to recall him from Italy to defend their own capital. But now that Hannibal had not only passed the Alps, but had also crossed the Po, and was marching toward Rome—Scipio himself disabled, and his army flying before him—they were obliged at once to abandon the plan of threatening Carthage. They sent with all dispatch an order to Sempronius to hasten home and assist in the defense of Rome.
Sempronius was a man of a very prompt and impetuous character, with great confidence in his own powers, and very ready for action. He came immediately into Italy, recruited new soldiers for the army, put himself at the head of his forces, and marched northward to join Scipio in the valley of the Po. Scipio was suffering great pain from his wounds, and could do but little toward directing the operations of the army. He had slowly retreated before Hannibal, the fever and pain of his wounds being greatly exasperated by the motion of traveling. In this manner he arrived at the Trebia, a small stream flowing northward into the Po. He crossed this stream, and finding that he could not go any further, on account of the torturing pain to which it put him to be moved, he halted his army, marked out an encampment, threw up fortifications around it, and prepared to make a stand. To his great relief, Sempronius soon came up and joined him here.
There were now two generals. Napoleon used to say that one bad commander was better than two good ones, so essential is it to success in all military operations to secure that promptness, and confidence, and decision which can only exist where action is directed by one single mind. Sempronius and Scipio disagreed as to the proper course to be pursued. Sempronius wished to attack Hannibal immediately. Scipio was in favor of delay. Sempronius attributed Scipio's reluctance to give battle to the dejection of mind and discouragement produced by his wound, or to a feeling of envy lest he, Sempronius, should have the honor of conquering the Carthaginians, while he himself was helpless in his tent. On the other hand, Scipio thought Sempronius inconsiderate and reckless, and disposed to rush heedlessly into a contest with a foe whose powers and resources he did not understand.
In the mean time, while the two commanders were thus divided in opinion, some skirmishes and small engagements took place between detachments from the two armies, in which Sempronius thought that the Romans had the advantage. This excited his enthusiasm more and more, and he became extremely desirous to bring on a general battle. He began to be quite out of patience with Scipio's caution and delay. The soldiers, he said, were full of strength and courage, all eager for the combat, and it was absurd to hold them back on account of the feebleness of one sick man. "Besides," said he, "of what use can it be to delay any longer? We are as ready to meet the Carthaginians now as we shall ever be. There is no third consul to come and help us; and what a disgrace it is for us Romans, who in the former war led our troops to the very gates of Carthage, to allow Hannibal to bear sway over all the north of Italy, while we retreat gradually before him, afraid to encounter now a force that we have always conquered before."
Hannibal was not long in learning, through his spies, that there was this difference of opinion between the Roman generals, and that Sempronius was full of a presumptuous sort of ardor, and he began to think that he could contrive some plan to draw the latter out into battle under circumstances in which he would have to act at a great disadvantage. He did contrive such a plan. It succeeded admirably; and the case was one of those numerous instances which occurred in the history of Hannibal, of successful stratagem, which led the Romans to say that his leading traits of character were treachery and cunning.
Hannibal's plan was, in a word, an attempt to draw the Roman army out of its encampment on a dark, cold, and stormy night in December, and get them into the river. This river was the Trebia. It flowed north into the Po, between the Roman and Carthaginian camps. His scheme, in detail, was to send a part of his army over the river to attack the Romans in the night or very early in the morning. He hoped that by this means Sempronius would be induced to come out of his camp to attack the Carthaginians. The Carthaginians were then to fly and recross the river, and Hannibal hoped that Sempronius would follow, excited by the ardor of pursuit. Hannibal was then to have a strong reserve of the army, that had remained all the time in warmth and safety, to come out and attack the Romans with unimpaired strength and vigor, while the Romans themselves would be benumbed by the cold and wet, and disorganized by the confusion produced in crossing the stream.
A part of Hannibal's reserve were to be placed in an ambuscade. There were some meadows near the water, which were covered in many places with tall grass and bushes. Hannibal went to examine the spot, and found that this shrubbery was high enough for even horsemen to be concealed in it. He determined to place a thousand foot soldiers and a thousand horsemen here, the most efficient and courageous in the army. He selected them in the following manner:
He called one of his lieutenant generals to the spot, explained somewhat of his design to him, and then asked him to go and choose from the cavalry and the infantry, a hundred each, the best soldiers he could find. This two hundred were then assembled, and Hannibal, after surveying them with looks of approbation and pleasure, said, "Yes, you are the men I want, only, instead of two hundred, I need two thousand. Go back to the army, and select and bring to me, each of you, nine men like yourselves." It is easy to be imagined that the soldiers were pleased with this commission, and that they executed it faithfully. The whole force thus chosen was soon assembled, and stationed in the thickets above described, where they lay in ambush ready to attack the Romans after they should pass the river.
Hannibal also made arrangements for leaving a large part of his army in his own camp, ready for battle, with orders that they should partake of food and refreshments, and keep themselves warm by the fires until they should be called upon. All things being thus ready, he detached a body of horsemen to cross the river, and see if they could provoke the Romans to come out of their camp and pursue them.
"Go," said Hannibal, to the commander of this detachment, "pass the stream, advance to the Roman camp, assail the guards, and when the army forms and comes out to attack you, retreat slowly before them back across the river."
The detachment did as it was ordered to do. When they arrived at the camp, which was soon after break of day—for it was a part of Hannibal's plan to bring the Romans out before they should have had time to breakfast—Sempronius, at the first alarm, called all the soldiers to arms, supposing that the whole Carthaginian force was attacking them. It was a cold and stormy morning, and the atmosphere being filled with rain and snow, but little could be seen. Column after column of horsemen and of infantry marched out of the camp. The Carthaginians retreated. Sempronius was greatly excited at the idea of so easily driving back the assailants, and, as they retreated, he pressed on in pursuit of them. As Hannibal had anticipated, he became so excited in the pursuit that he did not stop at the banks of the river. The Carthaginian horsemen plunged into the stream in their retreat, and the Romans, foot soldiers and horsemen together, followed on. The stream was usually small, but it was now swelled by the rain which had been falling all the night. The water was, of course, intensely cold. The horsemen got through tolerably well, but the foot soldiers were all thoroughly drenched and benumbed; and as they had not taken any food that morning, and had come forth on a very sudden call, and without any sufficient preparation, they felt the effects of the exposure in the strongest degree. Still they pressed on. They ascended the bank after crossing the river, and when they had formed again there, and were moving forward in pursuit of their still flying enemy, suddenly the whole force of Hannibal's reserves, strong and vigorous, just from their tents and their fires, burst upon them. They had scarcely recovered from the astonishment and the shock of this unexpected onset, when the two thousand concealed in the ambuscade came sallying forth in the storm, and assailed the Romans in the rear with frightful shouts and outcries.
All these movements took place very rapidly. Only a very short period elapsed from the time that the Roman army, officers and soldiers, were quietly sleeping in their camp, or rising slowly to prepare for the routine of an ordinary day, before they found themselves all drawn out in battle array some miles from their encampment, and surrounded and hemmed in by their foes. The events succeeded each other so rapidly as to appear to the soldiers like a dream; but very soon their wet and freezing clothes, their limbs benumbed and stiffened, the sleet which was driving along the plain, the endless lines of Carthaginian infantry, hemming them in on all sides, and the columns of horsemen and of elephants charging upon them, convinced them that their situation was one of dreadful reality. The calamity, too, which threatened them was of vast extent, as well as imminent and terrible; for, though the stratagem of Hannibal was very simple in its plan and management, still he had executed it on a great scale, and had brought out the whole Roman army. There were, it is said, about forty thousand that crossed the river, and about an equal number in the Carthaginian army to oppose them. Such a body of combatants covered, of course, a large extent of ground, and the conflict that ensued was one of the most terrible scenes of the many that Hannibal assisted in enacting.
The conflict continued for many hours, the Romans getting more and more into confusion all the time. The elephants of the Carthaginians, that is, the few that now remained, made great havoc in their ranks, and finally, after a combat of some hours, the whole army was broken up and fled, some portions in compact bodies, as their officers could keep them together, and others in hopeless and inextricable confusion. They made their way back to the river, which they reached at various points up and down the stream. In the mean time, the continued rain had swollen the waters still more, the low lands were overflowed, the deep places concealed, and the broad expanse of water in the center of the stream whirled in boiling and turbid eddies, whose surface was roughened by the December breeze, and dotted every where with the drops of rain still falling.
When the Roman army was thoroughly broken up and scattered, the Carthaginians gave up the further prosecution of the contest. They were too wet, cold, and exhausted themselves to feel any ardor in the pursuit of their enemies. Vast numbers of the Romans, however, attempted to recross the river, and were swept down and destroyed by the merciless flood, whose force they had not strength enough remaining to withstand. Other portions of the troops lay hid in lurking-places to which they had retreated, until night came on, and then they made rafts on which they contrived to float themselves back across the stream. Hannibal's troops were too wet, and cold, and exhausted to go out again into the storm, and so they were unmolested in these attempts. Notwithstanding this, however, great numbers of them were carried down the stream and lost.
It was now December, too late for Hannibal to attempt to advance much further that season, and yet the way before him was open to the Apennines, by the defeat of Sempronius, for neither he nor Scipio could now hope to make another stand against him till they should receive new re-enforcements from Rome. During the winter months Hannibal had various battles and adventures, sometimes with portions and detachments of the Roman army, and sometimes with the native tribes. He was sometimes in great difficulty for want of food for his army, until at length he bribed the governor of a castle, where a Roman granary was kept, to deliver it up to him, and after that he was well supplied.
The natives of the country were, however, not at all well disposed toward him, and in the course of the winter they attempted to impede his operations, and to harass his army by every means in their power. Finding his situation uncomfortable, he moved on toward the south, and at length determined that, inclement as the season was, he would cross the Apennines.
By looking at the map of Italy, it will be seen that the great valley of the Po extends across the whole north of Italy. The valley of the Arno and of the Umbro lies south of it, separated from it by a part of the Apennine chain. This southern valley was Etruria. Hannibal decided to attempt to pass over the mountains into Etruria. He thought he should find there a warmer climate, and inhabitants more well-disposed toward him, besides being so much nearer Rome.
But, though Hannibal conquered the Alps, the Apennines conquered him. A very violent storm arose just as he reached the most exposed place among the mountains. It was intensely cold, and the wind blew the hail and snow directly into the faces of the troops, so that it was impossible for them to proceed. They halted and turned their backs to the storm, but the wind increased more and more, and was attended with terrific thunder and lightning, which filled the soldiers with alarm, as they were at such an altitude as to be themselves enveloped in the clouds from which the peals and flashes were emitted. Unwilling to retreat, Hannibal ordered the army to encamp on the spot, in the best shelter they could find. They attempted, accordingly, to pitch their tents, but it was impossible to secure them. The wind increased to a hurricane. The tent poles were unmanageable, and the canvas was carried away from its fastenings, and sometimes split or blown into rags by its flapping in the wind. The poor elephants, that is, all that were left of them from previous battles and exposures, sunk down under this intense cold and died. One only remained alive.
Hannibal ordered a retreat, and the army went back into the valley of the Po. But Hannibal was ill at ease here. The natives of the country were very weary of his presence. His army consumed their food, ravaged their country, and destroyed all their peace and happiness. Hannibal suspected them of a design to poison him or assassinate him in some other way. He was continually watching and taking precautions against these attempts. He had a great many different dresses made to be used as disguises, and false hair of different colors and fashion, so that he could alter his appearance at pleasure. This was to prevent any spy or assassin who might come into his camp from identifying him by any description of his dress and appearance. Still, notwithstanding these precautions, he was ill at ease, and at the very earliest practicable period in the spring he made a new attempt to cross the mountains, and was now successful.
On descending the southern declivities of the Apennines he learned that a new Roman army, under a new consul, was advancing toward him from the south. He was eager to meet this force, and was preparing to press forward at once by the nearest way. He found, however, that this would lead him across the lower part of the valley of the Arno, which was here very broad, and, though usually passable, was now overflowed in consequence of the swelling of the waters of the river by the melting of the snows upon the mountains. The whole country was now, in fact, a vast expanse of marshes and fens.
Still, Hannibal concluded to cross it, and, in the attempt, he involved his army in difficulties and dangers as great, almost, as he had encountered upon the Alps. The waters were rising continually; they filled all the channels and spread over extended plains. They were so turbid, too, that every thing beneath the surface was concealed, and the soldiers wading in them were continually sinking into deep and sudden channels and into bogs of mire, where many were lost. They were all exhausted and worn out by the wet and cold, and the long continuance of their exposure to it. They were four days and three nights in this situation, as their progress was, of course, extremely slow. The men, during all this time, had scarcely any sleep, and in some places the only way by which they could get any repose was to lay their arms and their baggage in the standing water, so as to build, by this means, a sort of couch or platform on which they could lie. Hannibal himself was sick too. He was attacked with a violent inflammation of the eyes, and the sight of one of them was in the end destroyed. He was not, however, so much exposed as the other officers; for there was one elephant left of all those that had commenced the march in Spain, and Hannibal rode this elephant during the four days' march through the water. There were guides and attendants to precede him, for the purpose of finding a safe and practicable road, and by their aid, with the help of the animal's sagacity, he got safely through.
THE DICTATOR FABIUS.
Alarm at Rome.—The consul Flaminius.—Another stratagem.—Confidence of Flaminius.—Complete rout of the Romans.—Effects of the battle.—Panic of the Romans.—Their superstitious fears.—Omens and bad signs.—Curious transformations.—Their influence.—Importance attached to these stories.—Feverish excitement at Rome.—News of the battle.—Gatherings of the people.—Arrival of stragglers.—Appointment of a dictator.—Fabius.—Measures of Fabius.—Religious ceremonies.—Minucius.—Supreme authority of a dictator.—Proclamation of Fabius.—Progress of Hannibal.—Policy of Fabius.—He declines fighting.—Hannibal's danger.—Stratagem of the fiery oxen.—Unpopularity of Fabius.—Hannibal's sagacity.—Plots against Fabius.—He goes to Rome.—Minucius risks a battle.—Speech of Fabius.—Fabius returns to the army.—He is deprived of the supreme power.—Division of power.—Ambuscade of Hannibal.—Hannibal's success.—Fabius comes to the rescue.—Speech of Minucius.—The Roman army again united.—Character of Fabius.—His integrity.
In the mean time, while Hannibal was thus rapidly making his way toward the gates of Rome, the people of the city became more and more alarmed, until at last a general feeling of terror pervaded all the ranks of society. Citizens and soldiers were struck with one common dread. They had raised a new army and put it under the command of a new consul, for the terms of service of the others had expired. Flaminius was the name of this new commander, and he was moving northward at the head of his forces at the time that Hannibal was conducting his troops with so much labor and difficulty through the meadows and morasses of the Arno.
This army was, however, no more successful than its predecessors had been. Hannibal contrived to entrap Flaminius by a stratagem, as he had entrapped Sempronius before. There is in the eastern part of Etruria, near the mountains, a lake called Lake Thrasymene. It happened that this lake extended so near to the base of the mountains as to leave only a narrow passage between—a passage but little wider than was necessary for a road. Hannibal contrived to station a detachment of his troops in ambuscade at the foot of the mountains, and others on the declivities above, and then in some way or other to entice Flaminius and his army through the defile. Flaminius was, like Sempronius, ardent, self-confident, and vain. He despised the power of Hannibal, and thought that his success hitherto had been owing to the inefficiency or indecision of his predecessors. For his part, his only anxiety was to encounter him, for he was sure of an easy victory. He advanced, therefore, boldly and without concern into the pass of Thrasymene, when he learned that Hannibal was encamped beyond it.
Hannibal had established an encampment openly on some elevated ground beyond the pass, and as Flaminius and his troops came into the narrowest part of the defile, they saw this encampment at a distance before them, with a broad plain beyond the pass intervening. They supposed that the whole force of the enemy was there, not dreaming of the presence of the strong detachments which were hid on the slopes of the mountains above them, and were looking down upon them at that very moment from behind rocks and bushes. When, therefore, the Romans had got through the pass, they spread out upon the plain beyond it, and were advancing to the camp, when suddenly the secreted troops burst forth from their ambuscade, and, pouring down the mountains, took complete possession of the pass, and attacked the Romans in the rear, while Hannibal attacked them in the van. Another long, and desperate, and bloody contest ensued. The Romans were beaten at every point, and, as they were hemmed in between the lake, the mountain, and the pass, they could not retreat; the army was, accordingly, almost wholly cut to pieces. Flaminius himself was killed.