The outbreak had thus become serious, and had Pugatchef been skilled as a leader he might have won the throne. As it was, his followers showed a fiery valor, and, undisciplined as they were, gave the armies of the empire no small concern. Bibikof, who had been sent to subdue them, failed through over-caution, and was slain in the field. His lieutenants, Galitzin and Michelson, proved more active, and frequently defeated the impostor, though only to find him rising again with new armies as often as the old ones were crushed, like the fabulous giant who sprang up in double form whenever cut in twain.
Prince Galitzin defeated him twice, the last time after a furious battle six hours in length. Pugatchef, abandoned by his followers, now fled to the Urals, but soon appeared again with a fresh body of troops. Between the beginning of March and the end of May, 1774, the rebel chief was defeated six or seven times by Michelson, in the end being driven as a fugitive to the Ural Mountains. But he had only to raise his standard again for fresh armies to spring up as if from the ground, and early June found him once more in the field. Defeated on June 4, he fled once more to the hills, but in the beginning of July was facing his foes again at the head of twenty-two thousand men.
Only the cruelty shown by himself and his followers, and his ruthlessness in permitting the plunder and burning of churches and convents, kept back the much greater hosts who would otherwise have flocked to his ranks. And at this critical moment in his career he committed the signal error of failing to march on Moscow, the principal seat of the old Russian faith which he proposed to restore, and where he would have found an army of partisans. He marched upon Kasan instead, took the city, but failed to capture the citadel. Here he was making havoc with fire and sword, when Michelson came up and defeated him in a long and obstinate fight.
He now fled to the Volga, wasting the land as he went, burning the crops and villages, and leaving desolation in his track. Men came in numbers to replace those he had lost, and an army of twenty thousand was soon again under his command. With these he surprised and routed a Russian force and took several forts on the Volga, while the German colonies of Moravians which had been established upon that stream, and were among the most industrious inhabitants of the empire, suffered severely at his hands. In the town of Saratof he murdered all whom he met.
As an example of the character of this monster in human form, it is related that hearing that an astronomer from the Imperial Academy of Sciences of St. Petersburg was near by, engaged in laying out the route of a canal from the Volga to the Don, he ordered him to be brought before him. When the peaceful astronomer appeared, the brutal ruffian bade his men to lift him on their pikes "so that he might be nearer the stars." Then he ordered him to be cut to pieces.
The end of this carnival of murder came at the siege of Zaritzin. Here Michelson came up on the 22d of August and forced him to raise the siege. On the 24th the insurgents were attacked when in the intricate passes of the mountains and encumbered with baggage-wagons, women, and camp-followers. Though thus taken at a disadvantage, they defended themselves vigorously, the mass of them falling in the mountain passes or being driven over the cliffs and precipices. Pugatchef continued to fight till his army was destroyed, then made his escape, as so often before, swimming the Volga and vanishing in the desert. Only about sixty of his most faithful partisans accompanied him in his flight.
Michelson, failing to reach him in his retreat, took care that he should not emerge into the cultivated districts. But in the end the Russians were able to capture him only by treachery. They won over some of their Cossack prisoners, among them Antizof, the nearest friend of the fugitive. These were then set free, and sought the desert retreat of their late leader, where they awaited an opportunity to take him by surprise.
This they were not able to do until November. Pugatchef was gnawing the bone of a horse for food when his false friends ran up to him, saying, "Come, you have long enough been emperor."
Perceiving that treachery was intended, he drew his pistol and fired at his foes, shattering the arm of the foremost. The others seized and bound him and conveyed him to Goroduk in the Ural, the locality of Antizof's tribe. Michelson was still seeking him in the desert when word came to him that the fugitive had been delivered into Russian hands at Simbirsk, and was being conveyed to Moscow in an iron cage, like the beast of prey which he resembled in character.
On the way he sought to starve himself, but was forced to eat by the soldiers. On reaching Moscow he counterfeited madness. His trial was conducted without the torture which had formerly been so common a feature of Russian tribunals. The sentence of the court was that he should be exhibited to the people with his hands and feet cut off, and then quartered alive. With unyielding resolution Pugatchef awaited this cruel death, but the sentence, for some reason, was not executed, he being first beheaded and then quartered. Four of his principal followers suffered the same fate, and thus ended one of the most determined efforts on the part of an impostor to seize the Russian throne that had ever been known. The undoubted courage of the man was enough to prove that he was not Peter III. Had he combined military capacity with his daring he could readily have won the throne.
THE FLIGHT OF THE KALMUCKS.
On the 5th of January, 1771, began one of the most remarkable events in the history of the world, the migration of an entire nation, more than half a million strong, with its women and children, flocks and herds, and all that it possessed, to a new home four thousand miles away. More than once—many times, apparently—in the history of the past such migrations have taken place. But those were warlike movements, with conquest as their aim. This was a peaceful migration, the only desire of those concerned being to be let alone. This desire was not granted, and death and terror marked every step of their frightful journey.
A century and a half earlier the fathers of these people, the Kalmuck Tartars, had left their homes in the Chinese empire and wandered west, finding a resting-place at last on the Volga River, in the Russian realm. Here they would have been well content to remain but for the arts and designs of one man, Zebek-Dorchi by name, who, ambitious to be made khan of the tribe, and not being favored in his desires by the Russian court, determined to remove the whole Kalmuck nation beyond the reach of Russian control.
This was no easy matter to do. Russia had spread to the east until the whole width of Asia lay within its broad expanse and its boundary touched the Pacific waves. To reach China, the mighty Mongolian plain had to be crossed, largely a desert, swarming with hostile tribes; death and disaster were likely to haunt every mile of the way; and a general tomb in the wilderness, rather than a home in a new land, was the most probable destiny of the migrating horde.
Zebek-Dorchi was confronted with a difficult task. He had to induce the tribesmen to consent to the new movement, and that so quickly that a start could be made before the Russians became aware of the scheme. Otherwise the path would be lined with armies and the movement checked.
Oubacha, the khan of the Kalmucks, was a brave but weak man. The conspirator controlled him, and through him the people. On a fixed day, through a false alarm that the Kirghises and Bashkirs had made an inroad upon the Kalmuck lands, he succeeded in gathering a great Kalmuck horde, eighty thousand in all, at a point out of reach of Russian ears. Here, with subtle eloquence, he told them of the oppressions of Russia, of her insults to the Kalmucks, her contempt for their religion, and her design to reduce them to slavery, and declared that a plan had been devised to rob them of their eldest sons. By a skilful mixture of truth and falsehood he roused their fears and their anger, and at length he proposed that they should leave their fields and make a rapid march to the Temba or some other great river, from behind which they could speak in bolder language to the Russian empress and claim better terms. He did not venture as yet to hint at his startling plan of a migration to far-off China.
The simple minded Tartars, made furious by his skilful oratory, accepted his plan by acclamation, and returned home to push with the utmost haste the preparations for their stupendous task. The idea of a migration en masse did not frighten them. They were nomads and the descendants of nomads, who for ages had been used to fold their tents and flit away.
The Kalmuck villages extended on both sides of the Volga. A large section of the horde would have to cross that great stream, and this could be done with sufficient speed only when its surface was bridged with ice. For this reason midwinter was chosen for the flight, despite the sufferings which must arise from the bitter Russian cold, and the 5th of January was appointed for religious reasons by the leading Lama of the tribe. The year had been selected by the Great Lama of Thibet, the head of the Buddhist faith, to which the Kalmucks belonged, and to whom the conspirator had appealed.
Despite the secrecy and rapidity of the movement, tidings of it reached the Russian court. But the Russian envoy who dwelt among the Kalmucks was quite deceived by their wiles, and sent word to the imperial court that the rumors were false and nothing resembling an outbreak was in view. The governor of Astrachan, a man of more sense and discernment, sent courier after courier, but his warnings were ignored, and the fatal 5th of January came without a preventive step being taken by the government. Then the governor, learning that the migration had actually begun, sprang into his sleigh and drove over the Russian snows at the furious speed of three hundred miles a day, finally rushing into the imperial presence-chamber at St. Petersburg to announce to the empress that all his warnings had been true and that the Kalmucks were in full flight. Other couriers quickly confirmed his words, and the envoy paid for his blindness by death in a dungeon-cell.
Meanwhile the banks of the Volga had been the locality of a remarkable event. At early dawn of the selected day the Kalmucks east of the stream began to assemble in troops and squadrons, gathering in tens of thousands, a great body of the tribe setting out every half-hour on its march. Women and children, several hundred thousand in number, were placed on wagons and camels, and moved off in masses of twenty thousand at once, with escorts of mounted men. As the march proceeded, outlying bodies of the horde kept falling in during that and the following day.
From sixty to eighty thousand of the best mounted warriors stayed behind for work of ruin and revenge. Their first purpose was to destroy their own dwellings, lest some of the weak-minded might be tempted to return. Oubacha, the khan, set the example by applying the torch to his own palace. Before the day was over the villages throughout a district of ten thousand square miles were in a simultaneous blaze. Nothing was saved except the portable utensils and such of the wood-work as might be used in making the long Tartar lances.
This was but part of the destruction proposed. Zebek-Dorchi had it in view to pillage and destroy all the Russian towns, churches, and buildings of every kind within the surrounding district, with outrage and death to their inhabitants,—a frightful scheme, which was providentially checked. The day of flight had been selected, as has been said, in the worst season of the year, in order that the tribes west of the Volga might be able to cross its surface on a thick bridge of ice. Yet for some reason—possibly because of the weakness of the ice—the western Kalmucks failed to join their eastern brethren, and fully one hundred thousand of the Tartars were left behind. It was this that saved the Russian towns, it being feared by the leaders that such a vengeance would be repaid upon their brethren left to Russian reprisal. These western Kalmucks little guessed what horrors they were escaping by being prevented from joining in the flight.
The migrating horde was not less than six hundred thousand strong, while a vast number of horses, camels, cattle, goats, and sheep added to the multitude of living forms. The march was a forced one. Every day gained was of prime importance, for it was well known that Russian armies would soon be in hot pursuit, while the tribes on their line of march, hereditary foes of the Kalmucks, would gather from all sides to oppose their passage as the news of the flight reached their ears.
The river Jaik, three hundred miles away, must be reached before a day's rest could be had. The weather was not severely cold, and the journey might have been accomplished with little distress but for the forced pace. As it was, the cattle suffered greatly, the sheep died in multitudes, milk began to fail, and only the great number of camels saved the children and the infirm.
The first of the subjects of Russia with whom the Kalmucks came into collision were the Cossacks of the Jaik. At this season most of these were absent at the fisheries on the Caspian, and the others fled in crowds to the fortress of Koulagina, which was quickly summoned to surrender by the Kalmuck khan. The Russian commandant, numerous as were his foes, refused, knowing that they must soon resume their flight. He had not long to wait. On the fifth day of the siege, from the walls of the fort a number of Tartar couriers, mounted on the swift Bactrian camels, were seen to cross the plains and ride into the Kalmuck camp at their highest speed.
Immediately a great agitation was visible in the camp, the siege was raised, and the signal for flight resounded through the host. The news brought was that an entire Kalmuck division, numbering nine thousand fighting-men, stationed on a distant flank of the line of march, and between whom and the Cossacks there was an ancient feud, had been attacked and virtually exterminated. The exhaustion of their horses and camels had prevented flight, quarter was not asked or given, and the battle continued until not a fighting-man was left alive.
The utmost speed was now necessary, for a sufficient reason. The next safe halting-place of the Kalmucks was on the east bank of the Toorgai River. Between it and them rose a hilly country, a narrow defile through which offered the nearest and best route. This lost, the need of pasturage would require a further sweep of five hundred miles. The Cossack light horsemen were only about fifty miles more distant from the pass. If it were to be won, the most rapid march possible must be made.
For a day and a night the flight went on, with renewed suffering and loss of animals. Then a snowfall, soon too deep to journey through, checked all progress, and for ten days they had a season of rest, comfort, and plenty. The cows and oxen had perished in such numbers that it was resolved to slaughter what remained, feast to their hearts' content, and salt the remainder for future stores.
At length clear, frosty weather came: the snow ceased to drift, and its surface froze. It would bear the camels, and the flight was resumed. But already seventy thousand persons of all ages had perished, in addition to those slain in battle, and new suffering and death impended, for word came that the troops of the empire were converging from all parts of Central Asia upon the fords of the Toorgai, as the best place to cut off the flight of the tribes, while a powerful army was marching rapidly upon their rear, though delayed by its artillery.
On the 2d of February Ouchim, the much-desired defile, was reached. The Cossacks had been out-marched. A considerable body of them, it is true, had reached the pass some hours before, but they were attacked and so fiercely dealt with that few of them escaped. The Kalmucks here obtained revenge for the slaughter of their fellows twenty days before.
The road was now open. How long it would continue open was in doubt. Word came that a large Russian army, led by General Traubenberg, was advancing upon the Toorgai. He was to be met on his route by ten thousand Bashkirs and as many Kirghises, implacable enemies of the Kalmucks, from whom they had suffered in past years. The only hope now lay in speed, and onward the Kalmucks pressed, their line of march marked by the bodies of the dead. The weak, the sick, had to be left behind; nothing was suffered to impede the rapidity of their flight.
From the starting-point on the Volga to the halting-ground on the Toorgai, counting the circuits that had to be made, was full two thousand miles, much of it traversed in the dead of winter, the cold, for seven weeks of the journey, being excessively severe. Napoleon's army in its retreat from Moscow suffered no more from the winter chill than did this migrating nation. On many a morning the dawning light shone on a circle that had gathered the night before around a sparse fire (made from the lading of the camels or from broken-up baggage-wagons), now dead and frozen stiff as they sat.
But at length the snows ceased to fall, the frost to chill. Spring came. March and April passed away. May arrived with its balmy airs. Vernal sights and sounds cheered them on every side. During all these months they continued their march, and towards the end of May the Toorgai was reached and crossed, and the weary wanderers, having left their enemies far in the rear, hoped to find comfort and security during weeks of rest, and to complete their journey with less of ruin and suffering. They little dreamed that the worst of their task had yet to be endured.
During the five months of their wanderings their losses had been frightfully severe. Not less than two hundred and fifty thousand members of the horde had perished, while their herds and flocks—oxen, cows, sheep, goats, horses, mules, and asses—had perished, only the camels surviving. These hardy creatures had come through the terrible journey unharmed, and on them rested all their hopes for the remainder of their flight.
But another two thousand miles lay before them, with hostility in front and in rear. Should they still go on, or should they return and throw themselves on the mercy of the empress? Oubacha, the khan, advised return, offering to take all the guilt of the flight upon himself. Zebek-Dorchi earnestly urged them to proceed, and not lose the fruit of all their suffering. But the people, worn out with the hardships and perils of their route, favored a return and a trust in the imperial mercy, and this would probably have been determined upon but for an untoward event.
This was the arrival of two envoys from Traubenberg, the Russian general, who, after a long and painful march, had approached within a few days' journey of the fugitives about the 1st of June. On his way he had been joined by large bodies of the Kirghis and Bashkir nomads. The harsh tone and peremptory demands of the envoys aroused hostile feelings among the Kalmuck chiefs. But the main check to negotiations was the action of the Bashkirs, who, finding that Traubenberg would not advance, left his camp in a body and set off for the Kalmuck halting-place.
In six days they reached the Toorgai, swam their horses across it, and fell in fury upon the Kalmucks, who were dispersed over leagues of ground in search of pasture and food. Peace at once changed to war. Over a field from thirty to forty miles wide, fighting, flight and pursuit, rescue and death, went on at all points. More than once were the khan and Zebek-Dorchi in peril of death. At one time both were made prisoners. But at length, concentrating their strength, they forced the Bashkirs to retreat. For two days more the wild Bashkir and Kirghis cavalry continued their attacks, and the Kalmuck chiefs, looking upon these as the advance parties of the Russian army, felt themselves obliged to order a renewal of the flight. Thus suddenly ended their hoped-for season of repose.
One event took place during this period of which it is important to speak. A Russian gentleman, Weseloff by name, was held prisoner in the Kalmuck camp, and had been brought that far on their route. The khan Oubacha, who saw no object in holding him, now gave him leave to attempt his escape, and also asked him to accompany him during a private interview which he was to hold on the next night with the hetman of the Bashkirs. Weseloff declined to do so, and bade the khan to beware, as he feared the scheme meant treachery.
About ten that night Weseloff, with three Kalmucks who had offered to join in his flight, they having strong reasons for a return to Russia, sought a number of the half-wild horses of that district which they had caught and hidden in the thickets on the river's side. They were in the act of mounting, when the silence of the night was broken by a sudden clash of arms, and a voice, which sounded like that of the khan, was heard calling for aid.
The Russian, remembering what Oubacha had told him, rode off hastily towards the sound, bidding his companions follow. Reaching an open glade in the wood, he saw four men fighting with nine or ten, one, who looked like the khan, contending on foot against two horsemen. Weseloff fired at once, bringing down one of the assailants. His companions followed with their fire, and then all rode into the glade, whereupon the assailants, thinking that a troop of cavalry was upon them, hastily fled. The dead man, when examined, proved to be a confidential servant of Zebek-Dorchi. The secret was out: this ambitious conspirator had sought the murder of the khan.
Accompanying the khan until he had reached a place of safety, Weseloff and his companions, at the suggestion of the grateful Oubacha, rode off at the utmost speed, fearing pursuit. Their return was made along the route the Kalmucks had traversed, every step of which could be traced by skeletons and other memorials of the flight. Among these were heaps of money which had been abandoned in the desert, and of which they took as much as they could conveniently carry. Weseloff at length reached home, rushed precipitately into the house where his loving mother had long mourned his loss, and so shocked her by the sudden revulsion of joy after her long sorrow that she fell dead on the spot. It was a sad ending to his happy return.
To return to the Kalmuck flight. Two thousand miles still remained to be traversed before the borders of China would be reached. All that took place in the dreary interval is too much to tell. It must suffice to say that the Bashkirs pursued them through the whole long route, while the choice of two evils lay in front. Now they made their way through desert regions. Now, pressed by want of food, they traversed rich and inhabited lands, through which they had to win a passage with the sword. Every day the Bashkirs attacked them, drawing off into the desert when too sharply resisted. Thus, with endless alternations of hunger and bloodshed, the borders of China at length were approached.
And now we have another scene in this remarkable drama to describe. Keen Lung, the emperor of China, had been long apprised of the flight of the Kalmucks, and had prepared a place of residence for these erring children of his nation, as he considered them, on their return to their native land. But he did not expect their arrival until the approach of winter, having been advised that they proposed to dwell during the summer heats on the Toorgai's fertile banks.
One fine morning in September, 1771, this fatherly monarch was enjoying himself in hunting in a wild district north of the Great Wall. Here, for hundreds of square leagues, the country was overgrown with forest, filled with game. Centrally in this district rose a gorgeous hunting-lodge, to which the emperor retired annually for a season of escape from the cares of government. Leaving his lodge, he had pursued the game through some two hundred miles of forest, every night pitching his tent in a different locality. A military escort followed at no great distance in the rear.
On the morning in question the emperor found himself on the margin of the vast deserts of Asia, which stretched interminably away. As he stood in his tent door, gazing across the extended plain, he saw with surprise, far to the west, a vast dun cloud arise, which mounted and spread until it covered that whole quarter of the sky. It thickened as it rose, and began to roll in billowy volumes towards his camp.
This singular phenomenon aroused general attention. The suite of the emperor hastened to behold it. In the rear the silver trumpets sounded, and from the forest avenues rode the imperial cavalry escort. All eyes were fixed upon the rolling cloud, the sentiment of curiosity being gradually replaced by a dread of possible danger. At first the dust-cloud was imagined to be due to a vast troop of deer or other wild animals, driven into the plain by the hunting train or by beasts of prey. This conception vanished as it came nearer, until, seemingly, it was but a few miles away.
And now, as the breeze freshened a little, the vapory curtain rolled and eddied, until it assumed the appearance of vast aerial draperies depending from the heavens to the earth; sometimes, where rent by the eddying breeze, it resembled portals and archways, through which, at intervals, were seen the gleam of weapons and the dim forms of camels and human beings. At times, again, the cloud thickened, shutting all from view; but through it broke the din of battle, the shouts of combatants, the roar of infuriated hordes in mortal conflict.
It was, in fact, the Kalmuck host, now in the last stage of misery and exhaustion, yet still pursued by their unrelenting foes. Of the six hundred thousand who had begun the journey scarcely a third remained, cold, heat, famine, and warfare having swept away nearly half a million of the fleeing host, while of their myriad animals only the camels and the horses brought from the Toorgai remained. For the past ten days their suffering had reached a climax. They had been traversing a frightful desert, destitute alike of water and of vegetation. Two days before their small allowance of water had failed, and to the fatigue of flight had been added the horrors of insupportable thirst.
On came the flying and fighting mass. It was soon evident that it was not moving towards the imperial train, and those who knew the country judged that it was speeding towards a large freshwater lake about seven or eight miles away. Thither the imperial cavalry, of which a strong body, attended with artillery, lay some miles in the rear, was ordered in all haste to ride; and there, at noon of September 8, the great migration of the Kalmucks came to an end, amid the most ferocious and bloodthirsty scene of its whole frightful course.
The lake of Tengis lies in a hollow among low mountains, on the verge of the great desert of Gobi. The Chinese cavalry reached the summit of a road that led down to the lake at about eleven o'clock. The descent was a winding and difficult one, and took them an hour and a half, during the whole of which they were spectators of an extraordinary scene below, the last and most fiendish spectacle in eight months of almost constant warfare.
The sight of the distant hills and forests on that morning, and the announcement of the guides that the lake of Tengis was near at hand, had excited the suffering host into a state of frenzy, and a wild rush was made for the water, in which all discipline was lost, and the heat of the day and the exhaustion of the people were ignored. The rear-guard joined in the mad flight. In among the people rode the savage Bashkirs, suffering as much as themselves, yet still eager for blood, and slaughtering them by wholesale, almost without resistance. Screams and shouts filled the air, but none heeded or halted, all rushing madly on, spurred forward by the intolerable agonies of thirst.
At length the lake was reached. Into its waters dashed the whole suffering mass, forgetful of everything but the wild instinct to quench their thirst. But hardly had the water moistened their lips when the carnival of bloodshed was resumed, and the waters became crimsoned with gore. The savage Bashkirs rode fiercely through the host, striking off heads with unappeased fury. The mortal foes joined in a death-grapple in the waters, often sinking together beneath the ruffled surface. Even the camels were made to take part in the fight, striking down the foe with their lashing forelegs. The waters grew more and more polluted; but new myriads came up momentarily and plunged in, heedless of everything but thirst. Such a spectacle of revengeful passion, ghastly fear, the frenzy of hatred, mortal conflict, convulsion and despair as fell on the eyes of the approaching horsemen has rarely been seen, and that quiet mountain lake, which perhaps had never before vibrated with the sounds of battle, was on that fatal day converted into an encrimsoned sea of blood.
At length the Bashkirs, alarmed by the near approach of the Chinese cavalry, began to draw off and gather into groups, in preparation to meet the onset of a new foe. As they did so, the commandant of a small Chinese fort, built on an eminence above the lake, poured an artillery fire into their midst. Each group was thus dispersed as rapidly as it formed, the Chinese cavalry reached the foot of the hills and joined in the attack, and soon a new scene of war and bloodshed was in full process of enactment.
But the savage horsemen, convinced that the contest was growing hopeless, now began to retire, and were quickly in full flight into the desert, pursued as far as it was deemed wise. No pursuit was needed, even to satisfy the Kalmuck spirit of revenge. The fact that their enemies had again to cross that inhospitable desert, with its horrors of hunger and thirst, was as full of retribution as the most vindictive could have asked.
Here ends our tale. The exhausted Kalmucks were abundantly provided for by their new lord and master, who supplied them with the food necessary, established them in a fertile region of his empire, furnished them with clothing, tools, a year's subsistence, grain for their fields, animals for their pastures, and money to aid them in their other needs, displaying towards his new subjects the most kindly and munificent generosity. They were placed under better conditions than they had enjoyed in Russia, though changed from a pastoral and nomadic people to an agricultural one.
As for Zebek-Dorchi, his attempt on the life of the khan had produced a feud between the two, which grew until it attracted the attention of the emperor. Inquiring into the circumstances of the enmity, he espoused the cause of Oubacha, which so infuriated the foe of the khan that he wove nets of conspiracy even against the emperor himself. In the end Zebek-Dorchi, with his accomplices, was invited to the imperial lodge, and there, at a great banquet, his arts and plots were exposed, and he and all his followers were assassinated at the feast.
As a durable monument to the mighty exodus of the Kalmucks, the most remarkable circumstance of the kind in the whole history of nations, the emperor Keen Lung ordered to be erected on the banks of the Ily, at the margin of the steppes, a great monument of granite and brass, bearing an inscription to the following effect:
By the Will of God, Here, upon the brink of these Deserts, Which from this Point begin and stretch away, Pathless, treeless, waterless, For thousands of miles, and along the margins of many mighty Nations, Rested from their labors and from great afflictions Under the shadow of the Chinese Wall, And by the favor of KEEN LUNG, God's Lieutenant upon Earth, The Ancient Children of the Wilderness, the Torgote Tartars, Flying before the wrath of the Grecian Czar, Wandering sheep who had strayed away from the Celestial Empire in the year 1616, But are now mercifully gathered again, after infinite sorrow, Into the fold of their forgiving Shepherd. Hallowed be the spot forever, and Hallowed be the day,—September 8, 1771. Amen.
A MAGICAL TRANSFORMATION SCENE.
Catharine the Great earned her title cheaply, her patent of greatness being due to the fact that she had the judgment to select great generals and a great minister and the wisdom to cling to them. Russia grew powerful during her reign, largely through the able work of her generals, and she forgave Potemkin a thousand insults and unblushing robberies in view of his successful statesmanship. Potemkin possessed, in addition to his ability as a statesman, the faculty of a spectacular artist, and arranged a show for the empress which stands unrivalled amid the triumphs of the stage. It is the tale of this spectacle which we propose to tell.
Catharine had literary aspirations, one of her admirations being Voltaire, with whom she corresponded, and on whom she depended to chronicle the glory of her reign. The poet had his dreams, in which the woman shared, and between them they contrived a scheme of a modern Utopia, a Russo-Grecian city of whose civilization the empress was to be the source, and which a decree was to raise from the desert and an idea make great. This fancy Potemkin, who stood ready to flatter the empress at any price, undertook to realize, and he built her a city in the fashion in which cities were built in the times of the Arabian Nights, and made it flourish in the same unsubstantial fashion. The magnificent Potemkin never hesitated before any question of cost. Russia was rich, and could bleed freely to please the empress's whim. He therefore ordered a city to be built, with dwellings and edifices of every description common to the cities of that date,—stores, palaces, public halls, private residences in profusion. The buildings ready, he sought for citizens, and forcibly drove the people from all quarters to take up a temporary residence within its walls. It was his one purpose to make a spectacle of this theatrical city to enchant the eyes of the empress. So that it had an appearance of prosperity during her visit, he cared not a fig if it fell to pieces and its inhabitants vanished as soon as his supporting hand was removed. He only required that the scenes should be set and the actors in place when the curtain rose.
And the city grew, on the banks of the Dnieper, eighteen million rubles being granted by the empress for its cost,—though much of this clung to the bird-lime of avarice on Potemkin's fingers. It was named Kherson. The desert around it was erected into a province, entitled by the wily minister Catharine's Glory (Slava Ekatarina). Another province, farther north, he named after his imperial mistress Ekatarinoslaf. And thus, by fraud and violence, a city to order was brought into existence. The stage was ready. The next thing to be done was to raise the curtain which hid it from Catharine's eyes.
It was early in the year 1787 that the empress began her journey towards her Utopian city, to receive the homage of its citizens and to exhibit to the world the magnificence of her reign. Great projects were in the air. Poland had just been cut into fragments and distributed among the hungry kingdoms around. The same was to be done with Turkey. Joseph II. of Austria was to meet the empress in Kherson to consult upon this partition of the Turkish empire; while Constantine, grand duke of Russia and grandson of the empress, was to reign at Byzantium, or Constantinople, over the new empire carved from the Turkish realm. Such was the paper programme prepared by Potemkin and the empress, the minister doubtless smiling behind his sleeve, his mistress in solid earnest.
And now we have the story to tell of one of the most marvellous journeys ever undertaken. It was made through a thinly inhabited wilderness, which to the belief of the empress was to be converted into a populous and thriving realm. That the journey might proceed by night as well as by day, great piles of wood were prepared at intervals of fifty perches, whose leaping flames gave to the high-road a brightness like that of day. In six days Smolensk was reached, and in twenty days the old Russian capital of Kief, where the procession halted for a season before proceeding towards its goal.
As it went on, the whole country became transformed. The deserts were suddenly peopled, palaces awaited the train in the trackless wild, temporary villages hid the nakedness of the plain, and fireworks at night testified to the seeming joy of the populace. Wide roads were opened by the army in advance of the cortege, the mountains were illuminated as it passed, howling wildernesses were made to appear like fertile gardens, and great flocks and herds, gathered from distant pastures, delighted the eyes of the empress with the appearance of thrift and prosperity as her vehicle drove rapidly along the roads. To the charmed eyes of those not "to the manner born" the whole country seemed populous and prosperous, the people joyous, the soil fertile, the land smiling with abundance. There was no hint to indicate that it was a desert covered for the time being by an enamelled carpet.
The Dnieper reached, the empress and her train passed down that river in fifteen splendid galleys, with the pomp of a triumphal procession. It was now the month of May, and the banks of the river showed the same signs of prosperity as had the sides of the road. At Kaidack the emperor Joseph met the empress, having reached Kherson in advance and gone north to anticipate her coming. He accompanied her down the stream, looking with her on the show of prosperity and populousness which delighted her inexperienced eyes, and smiling covertly at the delusion which Potemkin's magic had raised, well assured that as soon as she had passed silence and desertion would succeed these busy scenes. At a new projected town on the way, of which Catharine had, with much ceremony, laid the first stone, Joseph was asked to lay the second. He did so, afterwards saying of the farcical proceeding, "The Empress of Russia and I have finished a very important business in a single day: she has laid the first stone of a city, and I have laid the last." He had no doubt that, when they had gone, the buildings in which they had slept, the villages which they had seen, the wayside herders and flocks, would vanish like theatrical scenery, and the country present the dismal aspect of a deserted stage.
At length the new city was reached, the magical Kherson. Catharine entered it in grand state, under a noble triumphal arch inscribed in Greek with the words "The Way to Byzantium." It was a busy city in which she found herself. The houses were all inhabited; shops, filled with goods, lined the principal streets; people thronged the sidewalks, spectators of the entry; luxury of every kind awaited the empress in the capital which had arisen for her as by the rubbing of Aladdin's ring, and entertainments of the most lavish character were prepared by the potent genius to whom all she saw was due. Potemkin hesitated at no expense. The journey had cost the empire no less than seven millions of rubles, fourteen thousand of which were expended on the throne built for the empress in what was named the admiralty of Kherson.
Such was the scenery prepared for one of the most theatrical events the world has ever witnessed. It cost the empire dearly, but Potemkin's purpose was achieved. He had charmed the empress by causing the desert to "blossom like the rose," and after the spectators had passed all sank again into silence and emptiness. The new empire of Byzantium remained a dream. Turkey had not been consulted in the project, and was not quite ready to consent to be dismembered to gratify the whim of empress and emperor.
As for the city of Kherson, its site was badly chosen, and its seeming prosperity and populousness during the empress's presence quickly passed away. The city has remained, but its actual growth has been gradual, and it has been thrown into the shade by Odessa, a port founded some years later without a single flourish of trumpets, but which has now grown to be the fourth city of Russia in size and importance. Of late years Kherson has shown some signs of increase, but all we need say further of it here is that it has the honor of being the burial-place of the shrewd Potemkin, under whose fostering hand it burst into such premature bloom in its early days.
KOSCIUSKO AND THE FALL OF POLAND.
Of the several nations that made up the Europe of the eighteenth century, one, the kingdom of Poland, vanished before the nineteenth century began. Destitute of a strong central government, the scene of continual anarchy among the turbulent nobles, possessing no national frontiers and no national middle class, its population being made up of nobles, serfs, and foreigners, it lay at the mercy of the ambitious surrounding kingdoms, by which it was finally absorbed. On three successive occasions was the territory of the feeble nation divided between its foes, the first partition being made in 1772, between Russia, Prussia, and Austria; the second in 1793, between Russia and Prussia; and the third and final in 1795, in which Russia, Prussia, and Austria again took part, all that remained of the country being now distributed and the ancient kingdom of Poland effaced from the map of Europe.
Only one vigorous attempt was made to save the imperilled realm, that of the illustrious Kosciusko, who, though he failed in his patriotic purpose, made his name famous as the noblest of the Poles. When he appeared at the head of its armies, Poland was in a desperate strait. Some of its own nobles had been bought by Russian gold, Russian armies had overrun the land, and a Prussian force was marching to their aid. At Grodno the Russian general proudly took his seat on that throne which he was striving to overthrow. The defenders of Poland had been dispersed, their property confiscated, their families reduced to poverty. The Russians, swarming through the kingdom, committed the greatest excesses, while Warsaw, which had fallen into their hands, was governed with arrogant barbarity. Such was the state of affairs when some of the most patriotic of the nobles assembled and sent to Kosciusko, asking him to put himself at their head.
As a young man this valiant Pole had aided in the war for American independence. In 1792 he took part in the war for the defence of his native land. But he declared that there could be no hope of success unless the peasants were given their liberty. Hitherto they had been treated in Poland like slaves. It was with these despised serfs that this effort was made.
In 1794 the insurrection broke out. Kosciusko, finding that the country was ripe for revolt against its oppressors, hastened from Italy, whither he had retired, and appeared at Cracow, where he was hailed as the coming deliverer of the land. The only troops in arms were a small force of about four thousand in all, who were joined by about three hundred peasants armed with scythes. These were soon met by an army of seven thousand Russians, whom they put to flight after a sharp engagement.
The news of this battle stirred the Russian general in command at Warsaw to active measures. All whom he suspected of favoring the insurrection were arrested. The result was different from what he had expected. The city blazed into insurrection, two thousand Russians fell before the onslaught of the incensed patriots, and their general saved himself only by flight.
The outbreak at Warsaw was followed by one at Vilna, the capital of Lithuania, the Russians here being all taken prisoners. Three Polish regiments mustered into the Russian service deserted to the army of their compatriots, and far and wide over the country the flames of insurrection spread.
Kosciusko rapidly increased his forces by recruiting the peasantry, whose dress he wore and whose food he shared in. But these men distrusted the nobles, who had so long oppressed them, while many of the latter, eager to retain their valued prerogatives, worked against the patriot cause, in which they were aided by King Stanislaus, who had been subsidized by Russian gold.
To put down this effort of despair on the part of the Poles, Catharine of Russia sent fresh armies to Poland, led by her ablest generals. Prussians and Austrians also joined in the movement for enslavement, Frederick William of Prussia fighting at the head of his troops against the Polish patriot. Kosciusko had established a provisional government, and faced his foes boldly in the field. Defeated, he fell back on Warsaw, where he valiantly maintained himself until threatened by two new Russian armies, whom he marched out to meet, in the hope of preventing their junction.
The decisive battle took place at Maciejowice, in October, 1794. Kosciusko, though pressed by superior forces, fought with the greatest valor and desperation. His men at length, overpowered by numbers, were in great part cut to pieces or obliged to yield, while their leader, covered with wounds, fell into the hands of his foes. It is said that he exclaimed, on seeing all hopes at an end, "Finis Poloniae!" In the words of the poet Byron, "Freedom shrieked when Kosciusko fell."
Warsaw still held out. Here all who had escaped from the field took refuge, occupying Praga, the eastern suburb of the city, where twenty-six thousand Poles, with over one hundred cannon and mortars, defended the bridges over the Vistula. Suwarrow, the greatest of the Russian generals, was quickly at the city gates. He was weaker, both in men and in guns, than the defenders of the city; but with his wonted impetuosity he resolved to employ the same tactics which he had more than once used against the Turks, and seek to carry the Polish lines at the bayonet's point.
After a two days' cannonade, he ordered the assault at daybreak of November 4. A desperate conflict continued during the five succeeding hours, ending in the carrying of the trenches and the defeat of the garrison. The Russians now poured into the suburb, where a scene of frightful carnage began. Not only men in arms, but old men, women, and children were ruthlessly slaughtered, the wooden houses set on fire, the bridges broken down, and the throng of helpless people who sought to escape into the city driven ruthlessly into the waters of the Vistula. In this butchery not only ten thousand soldiers, but twelve thousand citizens of every age and sex were remorselessly slain.
On the following day the city capitulated, and on the 6th the Russian victors marched into its streets. It was, as Kosciusko had said, "the end of Poland." The troops were disarmed, the officers were seized as prisoners, and the feeble king was nominally raised again to the head of the kingdom, so soon to be swept from existence. For a year Suwarrow held a military court in Warsaw, far eclipsing the king in the splendor of his surroundings. By the close of 1795 all was at an end. The small remnant left of the kingdom was parted between the greedy aspirants, and on the 1st of January, 1796, Warsaw was handed over to Prussia, to whose share of the spoils it appertained.
In this arbitrary manner was a kingdom which had an area of nearly three hundred thousand square miles and a population of twelve millions, and whose history dated back to the tenth century, removed from the map of the world, while the heavy hand of oppression fell upon all who dared to speak or act in its behalf. One bold stroke for freedom was afterwards made, but it ended as before, and Poland is now but a name.
SUWARROW THE UNCONQUERABLE.
Of men born for battle, to whose ears the roar of cannon and the clash of sabres are the only music, the smoke of conflict their native atmosphere, Suwarrow (Suvarof, to give him his Russian name) stands among the foremost. A little, wrinkled, stooping man, five feet four inches in height and sickly in appearance, he was the last to whom one would have looked for great deeds in war or mighty exploits in the embattled field. Yet he had the soul of a hero in his diminutive frame, and even as a boy the passion for military glory fired his heart, Caesar and Charles XII. of Sweden (from which country his ancestors came) being the heroes worshipped by his youthful imagination. Born in 1729, he entered the army as a private at seventeen, but rapidly rose from the ranks, made himself famous in the Seven Years' War and in the Polish war of 1768-71, and from that time until death put an end to his career was almost constantly in the field. Napoleon, against whose armies he fought in his later days, was not more enraptured with the breath of battle than was this war-dog of the Russian army.
Diminutive and sickly as he looked, Suwarrow was strong and hardy, and so inured to hardship that the severity of the Russian climate failed to affect his vigorous frame. Disdaining luxury, and ignoring comfort, he lived like the soldiers under his command, preferring to sleep on a truss of hay, and accepting every privation which his men might be called on to endure. He was a man of high intelligence, a clever linguist, and a diligent reader even when on campaign, and religiously seems to have been very devout, being ready to kneel and pray before every wayside image, even when the roads were deep with mud.
In his ordinary manners he carried eccentricity to an extravagant extent, was brusque and curt in speech, often to the verge of insult, laconic in his despatches, and—a soldier in grain—treated with stinging sarcasm all whose lack of activity or of courage invited his contempt. It was by this spirit that he incurred the enmity of the Emperor Paul, when, in his half-mad thirst for change, the latter attempted to change the native dress of the Russian soldier for the ancient attire of Germany. His fair locks, which the Russian was used to wash every morning, he was now bidden to bedaub with grease and flour, while he energetically cursed the black spatterdashes which it took him an hour to button every morning. Orders to establish these novelties among his men were sent to Suwarrow, then in Italy with the army, the directions being accompanied with little sticks for models of the tails and side curls in which the soldiers' hair was to be arranged. The old warrior's lips curled contemptuously on seeing these absurd devices, and he growled out in his curt fashion, "Hair-powder is not gunpowder; curls are not cannon; and tails are not bayonets."
This sarcastic utterance, which forms a sort of rhyming verse in the Russian tongue, got abroad, and spread from mouth to mouth through the army like a choice morsel of wit. The czar, to whose ears it came, heard it with deep offence. Soon after Suwarrow was recalled from the army, on another plea, and on his return to St. Petersburg was not permitted to see the emperor's face. This injustice may have been a cause of his death, which occurred shortly after his return, on May 18, 1800. No courtier of the Russian court, and no diplomatist, except the English ambassador, followed the war-worn veteran to the grave.
Suwarrow was the idol of his men, whose favorite title for him was "Father Suvarof," and who were ready at command to follow him to the cannon's mouth. In all his long career he never lost a battle, and only once in his life of war acted on the defensive. With a superb faith in his own star, the inspiration of the moment served him for counsel, and rapidity of movement and boldness and dash in the onset brought him many a victory where deliberation might have led to defeat.
A striking instance of this, and of his usual brusque eccentricity, took place in 1799 in Italy, where Suwarrow was placed in command of all the allied troops. This raising of a Russian to the supreme command excited the jealousy of the Austrian generals, and they called a council of war to examine his plans for the campaign. The members of the council, the youngest first, gave their views as to the conduct of the war. Suwarrow listened in grim silence until they had all spoken, and had turned to him for his comment on their views. The wrinkled veteran drew to himself a slate, and made on it two lines.
"Here, gentlemen," he said, pointing to one line, "are the French, and here are the Russians. The latter will march against the former and beat them." This said, he rubbed out the French line. Then, looking up at his surprised auditors, he curtly remarked, "This is all my plan. The council is ended."
In war he is said to have been averse to the shedding of blood, and to have been at heart humane and merciful. Yet this hardly accords with the story of his exploits, it being said that twenty-six thousand Turks were killed in the storming of Ismail, while in that of Praga at Warsaw more than twenty thousand Poles were massacred.
Such was the character of one of the men who aided to make glorious the reign of Catharine of Russia, and whose merit she—unlike her weak son Paul—was fully competent to appreciate. With this estimate of the greatest soldier Russia has ever produced, and one of the ablest generals of modern times, we may briefly describe some of the most striking exploits of Suwarrow's career.
In 1789, during one of the interminable wars against Turkey, in which on this occasion the Austrians took part with the Russians, the Prince of Coburg was at the head of an Austrian force, which he was strikingly incapable of commanding. The prince, advancing with sublime deliberation, found himself suddenly threatened by a considerable Turkish army. Filled with alarm at the sight of the enemy, he sent a hasty appeal to Suwarrow to come to his aid.
The Russian general had just rejoined his army after recovering from a wound. The news of Coburg's peril reached him at Belat, in Moldavia, between forty and fifty miles away, and these miles of mountains, ravines, and almost impassable wilds. Suwarrow at once broke camp, and with his usual impetuosity led his army over its difficult route, reaching the Austrians in less than thirty-six hours after receiving the news.
It was five o'clock in the evening when he arrived. At eleven he sent his plan of attack to the prince. An assault on the enemy was to be made at two in the morning. Coburg, who had never dreamed of such rapidity of movement and such impetuosity in action, was utterly astounded. In complete bewilderment, he sought Suwarrow at his quarters, going there three times without finding him. The supreme command belonged to him as the older general, but he had the sense not to claim it, and to act as a subordinate to his abler ally. In an hour after the advance began the allied armies were in the Turkish camp, and the Turks, though much outnumbering their assailants, were in full flight. All their stores, a hundred standards, and seventy pieces of artillery fell into the hands of the victors.
Suwarrow returned to Moldavia, and Coburg looked quietly on while the Turks collected a new army. In less than two months he found himself confronted by a hundred thousand men. In new alarm, he hastily sent again to Suwarrow for aid.
In two days the Russian army had reached the Austrian camp, which the enemy was just about to attack. The Turks had neglected to fortify their camp before offering battle. Of this oversight the keen-eyed Russian took instant advantage, attacked them in their unfinished trenches, and, as before, took their camp by storm,—though after a more stubborn defence than in the previous instance. The Turkish army was again dispersed, immense booty was taken, and Suwarrow received for his valor the title of a count of the Austrian empire, while the empress Catharine gave him in reward the honorable surname of Rimniksky, from the name of the river on which the battle had been fought.
The next great exploit of Suwarrow was performed at Ismail, a Turkish town which Potemkin had been besieging for seven months. The prime minister at length grew impatient at the delay, and determined on more effective measures. Living in a luxury in his camp that contrasted strangely with the sparse conditions of Suwarrow, Potemkin was surrounded by courtiers and ladies, who made strenuous efforts to furnish the great man with amusement. One of the ladies, handling a pack of cards, from which she laughingly pretended to be able to read the secrets of destiny, proclaimed that he would be in possession of the town at the end of three weeks.
"You are not bad at prediction," said Potemkin, with a smile, "but I have a method of divination far more infallible. My prediction is that I will have the town in three days."
He at once sent orders to Suwarrow, who was at Galatz, to come and take the town.
The obedient warrior, who seemed to be always at somebody's beck and call, quickly appeared and surveyed the situation. His first steps seemed to indicate that he proposed to continue the siege, the troops being formed into a besieging army of about forty thousand men, while the Russian fleet was ordered up to the town. But the deliberation of a siege never accorded with Suwarrow's ardent humor. His real purpose was to take the place by storm. He had taken Otchakof in this way the previous year with heavy loss, and with the slaughter of twenty thousand Turks. He now, on the 21st of September, twice summoned the city to surrender, threatening the people with the fate of Otchakof. They refused to yield, and the assault began at four o'clock of the following morning.
Battalion after battalion was hurled against the walls: the slaughter from the Turkish fire was frightful, but the stern commander hurled ever new hosts into the pit of death, and about eight o'clock the summit of the walls was reached. But the work was yet only begun. The city was defended street by street, house by house. It was noon before the Russians, fighting their way through a desperate resistance, reached the market-place, where were gathered a body of the Tartars of the Crimea. For two hours these fought fiercely for their lives, and after they had all fallen the Turks kept up the conflict with equal desperation in the streets. At length the gates were thrown open and Suwarrow sent his cavalry into the city, who charged through the streets, cutting down all whom they met. It was four o'clock in the afternoon when the butchery ended, after which the city was given up for three days to the mercy of the troops. According to the official report, the Turks lost forty-three thousand in killed and prisoners, the Russians forty-five hundred in all; the one estimate probably as much too large as the other was too small.
We may conclude with the story of Suwarrow's career in Italy and Switzerland against the armies of the French republic. The plan which the Russian conqueror had marked out on the slate for the Austrian generals was literally fulfilled. In less than three months he had cleared Lombardy and Piedmont of the troops of France. He forced the passage of the Adda against Moreau and his army, compelling the French to abandon Milan, which he entered in triumph. His next success was at Turin, a depot of French supplies, towards which Moreau was hastily advancing. The Russians took the city by surprise, driving the French garrison into the citadel, and capturing three hundred cannons and enormous quantities of muskets, ammunition, and military stores. The French army was saved from ruin only by the great ability of its commander, who led it to Genoa in four days over a mountain path.
The czar Paul rewarded his victorious general with the honorable designation of Italienski, or the Italian, and, in his grandiloquent fashion, issued a ukase commanding all people to regard Suwarrow as the greatest commander the world had ever known.
We cannot describe the whole course of events. Other victories were won in Italy, but finally Suwarrow was weakened by the jealousy of the Austrians, who withdrew their troops, and subsequently was obliged to go to the relief of his fellow-commander, Korsakof, who, with twenty thousand men, had imprudently allowed himself to be hemmed in by a French army at Zurich. He finally forced his way through the enemy, losing all his artillery and half his host.
Of this Suwarrow knew nothing, as he made his way across the Alps to the aid of the beleaguered general. He attempted to force his way over the St. Gothard pass, meeting with fierce opposition at every point. There was a sharp fight at the Devil's Bridge, which the French blew up, but failed to keep back Suwarrow and his men, who crossed the rocky gorge of the Unerloch, dashed through the foaming Reuss, and drove the French from their post of vantage.
At length, with his men barefoot, his provisions almost exhausted, the Russian general reached Muotta, to find to his chagrin that Korsakof had been defeated and put to flight. He at once began his retreat, followed in force by Massena, who was driven off by the rear-guard. On October 1 Suwarrow reached Glarus. Here he rested till the 4th, then crossed the Panixer Mountains through snow two feet deep to the valley of the Rhine, which he reached on the 10th, having lost two hundred of his men and all his beasts of burden over the precipices. Thus ended this extraordinary march, which had cost Suwarrow all his artillery, nearly all his horses, and a third of his men.
These losses in the Russian armies stirred the czar to immeasurable rage. All the missing officers—who were prisoners in France—were branded as deserters, and Suwarrow was deprived of his command, ostensibly for his failure, but largely for the sarcasm already mentioned. He returned home to die, having experienced what a misfortune it is for a great man to be at the mercy of a fool in authority.
THE RETREAT OF NAPOLEON'S GRAND ARMY.
In the spring of 1812 Napoleon reached the frontiers of Russia at the head of the greatest army that had ever been under his command, it embracing half a million of men. It was not an army of Frenchmen, however, since much more than half the total force was made up of Germans and soldiers of other nationalities. In addition to the soldiery was a multitude of non-combatants and other incumbrances, which Napoleon, deviating from his usual custom, allowed to follow the troops. These were made up of useless aids to the pomp and luxury of the emperor and his officers, and an incredible number of private vehicles, women, servants, and others, who served but to create confusion, and to consume the army stores, of which provision had been made for only a short campaign.
Thus, dragging its slow length along, the army, on June 24, 1812, crossed the Niemen River and entered upon Russian soil. From emperor to private, all were inspired with exaggerated hopes of victory, and looked soon to see the mighty empire of the north prostrate before the genius of all-conquering France. Had the vision of that army, as it was to recross the Niemen within six months, risen upon their minds, it would have been dismissed as a nightmare of false and monstrous mien.
Onward into Russia wound the vast and hopeful mass, without a battle and without sight of a foe. The Russians were retreating and drawing their foes deeper and deeper into the heart of their desolate land. Battles were not necessary; the country itself fought for Russia. Food was not to be had from the land, which was devastated in their track. Burning cities and villages lit up their path. The carriages and wagons, even many of the cannon, had to be left behind. The forced marches which Napoleon made in the hope of overtaking the Russians forced him to abandon much of his supplies, while men and horses sank from fatigue and hunger. The decaying carcasses of ten thousand horses already poisoned the air.
At length Moscow was approached. Here the Russian leaders were forced by the sentiment of the army and the people to strike one blow in defence of their ancient capital. A desperate encounter took place at Borodino, two days' march from the city, in which Napoleon triumphed, but at a fearful price. Forty thousand men had fallen, of whom the wounded nearly all died through want and neglect. When Moscow was reached, it proved to be deserted. Napoleon had won the empty shell of a city, and was as far as ever from the conquest of Russia.
It is not our purpose here to give the startling story of the burning of Moscow, the sacrifice of a city to the god of war. Though this is one of the most thrilling events in the history of Russia, it has already been told in this series. We are concerned at present solely with the retreat of the grand army from the ashes of the Muscovite capital, the most dreadful retreat in the annals of war.
Napoleon lingered amid the ruins of the ancient city until winter was near at hand, hoping still that the emperor Alexander would sue for peace. No suit came. He offered terms himself, and they were not even honored with a reply. A deeply disappointed man, the autocrat of Europe marched out of Moscow on October 19 and began his frightful homeward march. He had waited much too long. The Russian armies, largely increased in numbers, shut him out from every path but the wasted one by which he had come, a highway marked by the ashes of burnt towns and the decaying corpses of men and animals.
On November 6, winter suddenly set in. The supplies had largely been consumed, the land was empty of food, famine alternated with cold to crush the retreating host, and death in frightful forms hovered over their path. The horses, half fed and worn out, died by thousands. Most of the cavalry had to go afoot; the booty brought from Moscow was abandoned as valueless; even much of the artillery was left behind. The cold grew more intense. A deep snow covered the plain, through whose white peril they had to drag their weary feet. Arms were flung away as useless weights, flight was the only thought, and but a tithe of the army remained in condition to defend the rest.
The retreat of the grand army became one of incredible distress and suffering. Over the seemingly endless Russian steppes, from whose snow-clad level only rose here and there the ruins of a deserted village, the freezing and starving soldiers made their miserable way. Wan, hollow-eyed, gaunt, clad in garments through which the biting cold pierced their flesh, they dragged wearily onward, fighting with one another for the flesh of a dead horse, ready to commit murder for the shadow of food, and finally sinking in death in the snows of that interminable plain. Each morning, some of those who had stretched their limbs round the bivouac fires failed to rise. The victims of the night were often revealed only by the small mounds of fallen snow which had buried them as they slept.
That this picture may not be thought overdrawn, we shall relate an anecdote told of Prince Emilius of Darmstadt. He had fallen asleep in the snow, and in order to protect him from the keen north wind four of his Hessian dragoons screened him during the night with their cloaks. The prince arose from his cold couch in the morning to find his faithful guardians still in the position they had occupied during the night,—frozen to death.
Maddened with famine and frost, men were seen to spring, with wildly exulting cries, into the flames of burning houses. Of those that fell into the hands of the Russian boors, many were stripped of their clothing and chased to death through the snow. Smolensk, which the army had passed in its glory, it now reached in its gloom. The city was deserted and half burned. Most of the cannon had been abandoned, food and ammunition were lacking, and no halt was possible. The despairing army pushed on.
Death followed the fugitives in other forms than those of frost and hunger. The Russians, who had avoided the army in its advance, harassed it continually in its retreat. From all directions Russian troops marched upon the worn-out fugitives, grimly determined that not a man of them should leave Russia if they could prevent. The intrepid Ney, with the men still capable of fight, formed the rear-guard, and kept at bay their foes. This service was one of imminent peril. Cut off at Smolensk from the main body, only Ney's vigilance saved his men from destruction. During the night he led them rapidly along the banks of the Dnieper, repulsing the Russian corps that sought to cut off his retreat, and joined the army again.
The Beresina at length was reached. This river must be crossed. But the frightful chill, which hitherto had pursued the fleeing host, now inopportunely decreased, a thaw broke the frozen surface of the stream, and the fugitives gazed with horror on masses of floating ice where they had dreamed of a solid pathway for their feet. The slippery state of the banks added to the difficulty, while on the opposite side a Russian army commanded the passage with its artillery, and in the rear the roar of cannon signalled the approach of another army. All seemed lost, and only the good fortune which had so often befriended him now saved Napoleon and his host.
For at this critical moment a fresh army corps, which had been left behind in his advance, came to the emperor's aid, and the Russian general who disputed the passage, deceived by the French movements, withdrew to another point on the stream. Taking instant advantage of the opportunity, Napoleon threw two bridges across the river, over which the able-bodied men of the army safely made their way.
After them came the vast host of non-combatants that formed the rear, choking the bridges with their multitude. As they struggled to cross, the pursuing Russian army appeared and opened with artillery upon the helpless mass, ploughing long red lanes of carnage through its midst. One bridge broke down, and all rushed to the other. Multitudes were forced into the stream, while the Russian cannon played remorselessly upon the struggling and drowning mass. For two days the passage had continued, and on the morning of the third a considerable number of sick and wounded soldiers, sutlers, women, and children still remained behind, when word reached them that the bridges were to be burned. A fearful rush now took place. Some succeeded in crossing, but the fire ran rapidly along the timbers, and the despairing multitude leaped into the icy river or sought to plunge through the mounting flames. When the ice thawed in the spring twelve thousand dead bodies were found on the shores of the stream. Sixteen thousand of the fugitives remained prisoners in Russian hands.
This day of disaster was the climax of the frightful retreat. But as the army pressed onward the temperature again fell, until it reached twenty-seven degrees below zero, and the old story of "frozen to death" was resumed. Napoleon, fearing to be taken prisoner in Germany if the truth should become known, left his army on December 5, and hurried towards Paris with all speed, leaving the news of the disaster behind in his flight. Wilna was soon after reached by the army, but could not be held by the exhausted troops, and, with its crowded magazines and the wealth in its treasury, fell into the hands of the Russians.
During this season of disaster the Austrian and Prussian commanders left behind to guard the route contrived to spare their troops. Schwarzenberg, the Austrian commander, retreated towards Warsaw and left the Russian armies free to act against the French. The Prussians, who had been engaged in the siege of Riga, might have covered the fleeing host; but York, their commander, entered into a truce with the Russians and remained stationary. They had been forced to join the French, and took the first opportunity to abandon their hated allies.
A place of safety was at length reached, but the grand army was represented by a miserable fragment of its mighty host. Of the half-million who crossed the Russian frontier, but eighty thousand returned. Of those who had reached Moscow, the meagre remnant numbered scarcely twenty thousand in all.
THE DEATH-STRUGGLE OF POLAND.
The French revolution of 1830 precipitated a similar one in Poland. The rule of Russia in that country had been one of outrage and oppression. In the words of the Poles, "personal liberty, which had been solemnly guaranteed, was violated; the prisons were crowded; courts-martial were appointed to decide in civil cases, and imposed infamous punishments upon citizens whose only crime was that of having attempted to save from corruption the spirit and the character of the nation."
On the 29th of November the people sprang to arms in Warsaw and the Russians were driven out. Soon after a dictator was chosen, an army collected, and Russian Poland everywhere rose in revolt.
It was a hopeless struggle into which the Polish patriots had entered. In all Europe there was not a hand lifted in their aid. Prussia and Austria stood in a threatening attitude, each with an army of sixty thousand men upon the frontiers, ready to march to the aid of Russia if any disturbance took place in their Polish provinces. Russia invaded the country with an army of one hundred and twenty thousand men, a force more than double that which Poland was able to raise. And the Polish army was commanded by a titled incapable, Prince Radzivil, chosen because he had a great name, regardless of his lack of ability as a soldier. Chlopicki, his aide, was a skilled commander, but he fought with his hands tied.
On the 19th of February, 1831, the two armies met in battle, and began a desperate struggle which lasted with little cessation for six days. Warsaw lay in the rear of the Polish army. Behind it flowed the Vistula, with but a single bridge for escape in case of defeat. Victory or death seemed the alternatives of the patriot force.
The struggle was for the Alder Wood, the key of the position. For the possession of this forest the fight was hand to hand. Again and again it was lost and retaken. On the 25th, the final day of battle, it was held by the Poles. Forty-five thousand in number, they were confronted by a Russian army of one hundred thousand men. Diebitsch, the Russian commander, determined to win the Alder Wood at any cost. Chlopicki gave orders to defend it to the last extremity.
The struggle that succeeded was desperate. By sheer force of numbers the Russians made themselves masters of the wood. Then Chlopicki, putting himself at the head of his grenadiers, charged into the forest depths, driving out its holders at the bayonet's point. Their retreat threw the whole Russian line into confusion. Now was the critical moment for a cavalry charge. Chlopicki sent orders to the cavalry chief, but he refused to move. This loss of an opportunity for victory maddened the valiant leader. "Go and ask Radzivil," he said to the aides who asked for orders; "for me, I seek only death." Plunging into the ranks of the enemy, he was wounded by a shell, and borne secretly from the field. But the news of this disaster ran through the ranks and threw the whole army into consternation.
The fall of the gallant Chlopicki changed the tide of battle. Fiercely struggling still, the Poles were driven from the wood and hurled back upon the Vistula. A battalion of recruits crossed the river on the ice and carried terror into Warsaw. Crowds of peasants, heaps of dead and dying, choked the approach to Praga, the outlying suburb. Night fell upon the scene of disorder. The houses of Praga were fired, and flames lit up the frightful scene. Groans of agony and shrieks of despair filled the air. The streets were choked with debris, but workmen from Warsaw rushed out with axes, cleared away the ruin, and left the passages free.
Inspirited by this, the infantry formed in line and checked the charge of the Russian horse. The Albert cuirassiers rode through the first Polish line, but soon found their horses floundering in mud, and themselves attacked by lancers and pikemen on all sides. Of the brilliant and daring corps scarce a man escaped.
That day cost the Poles five thousand men. Of the Russians more than ten thousand fell. Radzivil, fearing that the single bridge would be carried away by the broken ice, gave orders to retreat across the stream. Diebitsch withdrew into the wood. And thus the first phase of the struggle for the freedom of Poland came to an end.
This affair was followed by a striking series of Polish victories. The ice in the Vistula was running free, the river overflowed its banks, and for a month the main bodies of the armies were at rest. But General Dwernicki, at the head of three thousand Polish cavalry, signalized the remainder of February by a series of brilliant exploits, attacking and dispersing with his small force twenty thousand of the enemy.
Radzivil, whose incompetency had grown evident, was now removed, and Skrzynecki, a much abler leader, was chosen in his place. He was not long in showing his skill and daring. On the night of March 30 the Praga bridge was covered with straw and the army marched noiselessly across. At daybreak, in the midst of a thick fog, it fell on a body of sleeping Russians, who had not dreamed of such a movement. Hurled back in disorder and dismay, they were met by a division which had been posted to cut off their retreat. The rout was complete. Half the corps was destroyed or taken, and the remainder fled in terror through the forest depths.
Before the day ended the Poles came upon Rosen's division, fifteen thousand in number, and strongly posted. Yet the impetuous onslaught of the Poles swept the field. The Russians were driven back in utter rout, with the loss of two thousand men, six thousand prisoners, and large quantities of cannon and arms. The Poles lost but three hundred men in this brilliant success. During the next day the pursuit continued, and five thousand more prisoners were taken. So disheartened were the Russian troops by these reverses that when attacked on April 10 at the village of Iganie they scarcely attempted to defend themselves. The flower of the Russian infantry, the lions of Varna, as they had been called since the Turkish war, laid down their arms, tore the eagles from their shakos, and gave themselves up as prisoners of war. Twenty-five hundred were taken.
What immediately followed may be told in a few words. Skrzynecki failed to follow up his remarkable success, and lost valuable time, in which the Russians recovered from their dismay. The brave Dwernicki, after routing a force of nine thousand with two thousand men, crossed the frontier and was taken prisoner by the Austrians, who had made no objection to its being crossed by the Russians. And, as if nature were fighting against Poland, the cholera, which had crossed from India to Russia and infected the Russian troops, was communicated to the Poles at Iganie, and soon spread throughout their ranks.
The climax in this suicidal war came on the 26th of May, when the whole Russian army, led by General Diebitsch, advanced upon the Poles. During the preceding night the Polish army had retreated across the river Narew, but, by some unexplained error, had left Lubienski's corps behind. On this gallant corps, drawn up in front of the town of Ostrolenka, the host of Russians fell. Flanked by the Cossacks, who spread out in clouds of horsemen on each wing, the cavalry retreated through the town, followed by the infantry, the 4th regiment of the line, which formed the rear-guard, fighting step by step as it slowly fell back.
Across the bridges poured the retreating Poles. The Russians followed the rear-guard hotly into the town. Soon the houses were in flames. Disorder reigned in the streets. The fight continued in the midst of the conflagration. Russian infantry took possession of the houses adjoining the river and fired on the retreating mass. Artillery corps rushed to the river bank and planted their batteries to sweep the bridges. All the avenues of escape were choked by the columns of the invading force.
The 4th regiment, which had been left alone in the town, was in imminent peril of capture, but at this moment of danger it displayed an indomitable spirit. With closed ranks it charged with the bayonet on the crowded mass before it, rent a crimson avenue through its midst, and cleared a passage to the bridges over heaps of the dead. Over the quaking timbers rushed the gallant Poles, followed closely by the Russian grenadiers. The Polish cannon swept the bridge, but the gunners were picked off by sharp-shooters and stretched in death beside their guns. On the curving left bank eighty Russian cannon were planted, whose fire protected the crossing troops.
Meanwhile the bulk of the Polish army lay unsuspecting in its camp. Skrzynecki, the commander, resting easy in the belief that all his men were across, heard the distant firing with unconcern. Suddenly the imminence of the peril was brought to his attention. Rushing from his tent, and springing upon his horse, he galloped madly through the ranks, shouting wildly, as he passed from column to column, "Ho! Rybinski! Ho! Malachowski! Forward! forward, all!"
The troops sprang to their feet; the forming battalions rushed forward in disorder; from end to end of the line rushed the generalissimo, the other officers hurrying to his aid. Charge after charge was made on the Russians who had crossed the stream. As if driven by frenzy, the Poles fell on their foes with swords and pikes. Singing the Warsaw hymn, the officers rushed to the front. The lancers charged boldly, but their horses sank in the marshy soil, and they fell helpless before the Russian fire.
The day passed; night fell; the field of battle was strewn thick with the dead and dying. Only a part of the Russian army had succeeded in crossing. Skrzynecki held the field, but he had lost seven thousand men. The Russians, of whom more than ten thousand had fallen, recrossed the river during the night. But they commanded the passage of the stream, and the Polish commander gave orders for a retreat on Warsaw, sadly repeating, as he entered his carriage, Kosciusko's famous words, "Finis Poloniae."
The end indeed was approaching. The resources of Poland were limited, those of Russia were immense. New armies trebly replaced all Russian losses. Field-Marshal Paskievitch, the new commander, at the head of new forces, determined to cross the Vistula and assail Warsaw on the left bank of the stream, instead of attacking its suburb of Praga and seeking to force a passage across the river at that point, as on former occasions.
The march of the Russians was a difficult and dangerous one. Heavy rains had made the roads almost impassable, while streams everywhere intersected the country. To transport a heavy park of artillery and the immense supply and baggage train for an army of seventy thousand men, through such a country, was an almost impossible task, particularly in view of the fact that the cholera pursued it on its march, and the sick and dying proved an almost fatal encumbrance.
Had it been attacked under such circumstances by the Polish army, it might have been annihilated. But Skrzynecki remained immovable, although his troops cried hotly for "battle! battle!" whenever he appeared. The favorable moment was lost. The Russians crossed the Vistula on floating bridges, and marched in compact array upon the Polish capital.
And now clamor broke out everywhere. Riots in Warsaw proclaimed the popular discontent. A dictator was appointed, and preparations to defend the city to the last extremity were made. But at the last moment twenty thousand men were sent out to collect supplies for the threatened city, leaving only thirty-five thousand for its defence. The Russians, meanwhile, had been reinforced by thirty thousand men, making their army one hundred and twenty thousand strong, while in cannon they outnumbered the Poles three to one.
Such was the state of affairs in beleaguered Warsaw on that fatal 6th of September when the Russian general, taking advantage of the weakening of the patriot army, ordered a general assault.
At daybreak the attack began with a concentrated fire from two hundred guns. The troops, who had been well plied with brandy, rushed in a torrent upon the battered walls, and swarmed into the suburb of Wola, driving its garrison into the church, where the carnage continued until none were left to resist.
From Wola the attack was directed, about noon, upon the suburb of Czyste. This was defended by forty guns, which made havoc in the Russian ranks, while two battalions of the 4th regiment, rushing upon them in their disorder, strove to drive them back and wrest Wola from their hands. The effort was fruitless, strong reinforcements coming to the Russian aid.
Through the blood-strewn streets of the city the struggle continued, success favoring now the Poles, now the Russians. About five in the afternoon the tide of battle turned decisively in favor of the Russians. A shower of shells from the Russian batteries had fired the houses of Czyste, within whose flame-lit streets a hand-to-hand struggle went on. The famous 4th regiment, intrenched in the cemetery, defended itself valiantly, but was driven back by the spread of the flames. Night fell, but the conflict continued. The dawn of the following day saw the city at the mercy of the Russian host. The twenty thousand men sent out to forage were still absent. Nothing remained but surrender, and at nine in the evening the news of the capitulation was brought to the army, to whom orders to retire on Praga were given.
Thus ended the final struggle for the freedom of Poland. The story of what followed it is not our purpose to tell. The mild Alexander was no longer on the Russian throne. The stern Nicholas had replaced him, and fearful was his revenge. For the crime of patriotism Poland was decimated, thousands of its noblest citizens being transported to the Caucasus and Siberia. The remnant of separate existence possessed by Poland was overthrown, and it was made a province of the Russian empire. Even the teaching of the Polish language was forbidden, the youth of the nation being commanded to learn and speak the Russian tongue. As for the persecution and suffering which fell upon the Poles as a nation, it is too sad a story to be here told. There is still a Polish people, but a Poland no more.
SCHAMYL THE HERO OF CIRCASSIA.
In the region lying between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea rise the rugged Caucasian Mountains, a mighty wall of rock which there divides the continents of Europe and Asia. Monarch of those lofty hills towers the tall peak of Elbrus, called by the natives "the great spirit of the mountains." Farther east Kasbek lifts its lofty summit, and at a lower level the whole jagged line, "the thousand-peaked Caucasus," rises into view. Below these a lower range, dark with forests, marks its outline on the snowy summits beyond. Fruitful clearings appear to the height of five thousand feet on the western slopes; garden terraces mount the eastward face, and the valleys, green with meadows or golden with grain, are dotted with clusters of cottages. Sheep and goats browse in great numbers on the hill-sides; lower down the camel and buffalo feed; herds of horses roam half wild through the glades, and from the higher rocks the chamois looks boldly down on the inhabited realms below.
In these mountain fastnesses dwells a race of bold and liberty-loving mountaineers who have preserved their freedom through all the historic eras, yielding only at last, after years of valiant resistance, when the whole power of the Russian empire was brought to bear upon them in their wilds. For years the heroic Schamyl, their unconquerable chief, braved his foes, again and again he escaped from their toils or hurled them back in defeat, and for a quarter of a century he defied all the power of Russia, yielding only when driven to his final lair.
In the aoul or village of Himri, perched like an eagle's nest high on a projecting rock, this famous chief was born in the year 1797. The only access to this high-seated stronghold was by a narrow path winding several hundred feet up the slope, while a triple wall, flanked by high towers, further defended it, and the overhanging brow of the mountain guarded it above. Such is the character of one of the strongholds of this mountain land, and such an example of the difficulties its foes had to overcome.
There are no finer horsemen than the daring Circassian mountaineers, who are ready to dash at full speed up or down precipitous steeps, to leap chasms, or to swim raging torrents. In an instant, also, they can discharge their weapons, unslinging the gun when at full gallop, firing upon the foe, and as quickly returning it to its place. They can rest suspended on the side of the horse, leap to the ground to pick up a fallen weapon, and bound into the saddle again without a halt. And such is the precision of their aim that they are able to strike the smallest mark while riding at full speed.
Such were some of the arts in which Schamyl was trained, and in which he became signally expert. In the hunt, the trial of skill, all the labors and sports of the youthful mountaineers, he was an adept, and so valiant and resourceful that his admiring countrymen at length chose him as their Iman, or governor, during the defence of their country against the Russian invaders.
The first battle in which Schamyl engaged was behind the walls of his native village. Himri, well situated as it was, was hurled into ruin by the artillery of the foe, and among its prostrate defenders lay Schamyl, with two balls through his body. He was left by the enemy as dead, and in after-years the mountaineers looked upon his escape and recovery as due to miracle.
Schamyl was thirty-seven years of age when he became leader of the tribes. Of middle stature, with fair hair, gray eyes shadowed with thick brows, a Grecian nose, small mouth, and unusually fair complexion, he was one of the handsomest and most distinguished in appearance of the mountaineers. He was erect in carriage, light and active in tread, and had a natural nobility of air and aspect. His manner was calmly commanding, while his eloquence was at once fiery and persuasive. "Flames sparkle from his eyes," says one, "and flowers are scattered from his lips."
In 1839 the Russians made one of their most determined efforts to crush the resistance of the mountaineers. Schamyl's head-quarters were then at Akhulgo, a stronghold perched upon the top of an isolated conical peak around whose foot a river wound. Strong by nature, it was well fortified, trenches, earthworks, and covered ways now taking the place of those stone walls which the Russian cannon had so easily overturned at Himri.
Other fortified works were built on the road to Akhulgo, which was retained as a last resort, behind whose defences the mountaineers were resolved to conquer or die. Its garrison was composed of the flower of the Circassian warriors, while some fifteen thousand men beside stood ready to take part in the fight.
In the month of May the Russians advanced, with such energy and in such force that the anterior works were soon taken, and the mountaineers found themselves obliged to take refuge in their final fortress of defence. The fight here was fierce and persistent. Step by step the Russians made their way, pushing their parallels against the intrenched works of their foes. Point after point was gained, and at length, in late August, the crisis came. A sudden charge carried them into the fort, and the defenders died where they stood, leaving only women and children to fall as prisoners into the Russians' hands.
But Schamyl had disappeared. Seek as they would, the chief was not to be found. The fortress, the approaches, every nook and corner, were explored, but the famous warrior, for whom his foes would have given half their wealth, had utterly vanished, no one knew how. To make sure of his death they had scarcely left a fighting man alive, yet to their chagrin the redoubtable Schamyl was soon again in the field.
How the brave mountaineer escaped is not known. Of the stories afloat, one is that he lay concealed until night in a rock refuge, and then managed to swim the river while some of his friends attracted the attention and drew the fire of the guards. All that can be said is that in September he reappeared, ready for new feats of arms, and was seen again at the head of a gallant body of mountain warriors.
His head-quarters were now fixed at Dargo, a village in the heart of the mountains and in the midst of the primeval forest. But the chief had learned a lesson from his late experience. The Circassians were no match for the Russians behind fortifications. He resolved in the future to fight in a manner better suited to the habits of his followers, and to wear out the foe by a guerilla warfare.
Three years passed before the Russians again sought to penetrate the mountains in force. Then General Grabbe, the victor at Akhulgo, attempted to repeat his success at Dargo. But the experience he gained proved to be of a less agreeable type. At the close of the first day's march, when the soldiers had eaten their evening meal and stretched their limbs to rest after a hard day's march, they were suddenly brought to their feet by a rattling volley of musketry from the surrounding woods. All night long the firing continued, no great damage being done in the darkness, but the soldiers being effectually deprived of their rest. When day dawned there was not a Circassian to be seen.
Near noon, as the column wound through a ravine in the forest, the firing sharply recommenced, a murderous volley pouring upon the vanguard from behind the trees. The number of wounded became so great that there were not wagons enough for their transportation. Still General Grab be kept on, despite the advice of his officers, only to be attacked again at night as his weary men lay in a small open meadow among the hills. All night long the whiz of bullets drove away repose, and at every step of the next day's march the woods belched forth the leaden messengers of death.
The goal of the march was near at hand. The little village of Dargo could be seen on a distant hill-top. But it was to be reached only by a path of death, and the Russian commander was at length forced to give the order to retreat. On seeing the column wheel and begin its backward march the Circassians grew wild with excitement and triumph. Slinging their rifles behind their backs, they rushed, sabre in hand, upon the enemy's centre, breaking through it again and again, while a deadly hail of rifle-shots still came from the woods. In the end, of the column of six thousand, two thousand were left dead, the remainder reaching the fortress from which they had set out in sorry plight.
For several years Schamyl made Dargo his head-quarters. Not until 1845 did the Russians succeed in taking it, their army now being ten thousand strong. But it was a village in flames they captured. Schamyl had fired it before leaving, and the Russians were so beset in coming and going that their empty conquest was made at the cost of three thousand of their men.