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The Life of Napoleon Bonaparte - Vol. III. (of IV.)
by William Milligan Sloane
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French diplomacy, triumphant elsewhere, was utterly unsuccessful with Sweden. Alexander offered Norway as the price of alliance, with hints of the crown of France for Bernadotte somewhere in the dim future. Napoleon temptingly offered Finland for forty thousand Swedish soldiers. But the new crown prince was seemingly coy, and dallied with both. This temporizing was brought to a sudden end in January, 1812, when Davout occupied Swedish Pomerania. On April twelfth the alliance between Sweden and Russia was sealed. It carried with it an armistice between Russia and Great Britain. This was essential to the Czar, for he would be compelled to withdraw his troops from the Danube for service in the North, and to that end must make some arrangement with Turkey. He offered the most favorable terms; Napoleon, on the other hand, demanded a hundred thousand men if he were to restore to the Sublime Porte all it had lost. England threatened to bombard Constantinople if there should be too much hesitancy, and on May twenty-eighth, 1812, the Sultan closed a bargain with Russia which gave him the Pruth as a frontier.

In spite of Turkey's submission, Great Britain was not to be left passive. The neutrality of the United States had, on the whole, been successfully maintained, but their commerce suffered. On May first, 1810, Congress enacted that trade with Great Britain should be forbidden if France revoked her decrees, and vice versa. Madison and the Republicans believed that this would relieve the strain under which farmers as well as merchants were now suffering. This enabled Napoleon, in those days of slow communication, to make a pretense of relaxing the Berlin and Milan decrees, while continuing to seize American ships as before. England was not for a moment deceived, and enforced the orders in council with added indignities. This conduct so exasperated the American people that they demanded war with the oppressor, and on June nineteenth the war of 1812 began. Napoleon's diplomatic juggling had been entirely successful.

A year earlier the princes of the Rhenish Confederation had received their orders. Their peoples were unresponsive, but the zeal of the rulers overcame all opposition. The King of Saxony was grateful in a lively sense of favors to come, and his grand duchy of Warsaw became an armed camp, the Poles themselves expecting their national resurrection. The prince primate's realm was erected into a grand duchy for Eugene, whose viceroyalty was destined for the little King of Rome, and under the stimulus of a fresh nationality the people gave more than was demanded. Wuertemberg and Baden learned that Napoleon "preferred enemies to uncertain friends," and both found means to supply their respective quotas. Jerome, true to the fraternal instincts of the Bonapartes, hesitated; but his queen was a woman of sound sense, and both were alive to the uncertainties of tenure in royal office, so that, receiving a peremptory summons, Westphalia fell into line. Bavaria and Switzerland furnished their contingents as a matter of course. Among the Germans, some hated Napoleon for his dealings with the papacy, some as the destroyer of their petty nationalities; some devout Protestants even thought him the antichrist. But the great majority were in a state of expectancy, many realizing that even the dynastic politics of Europe had been vitalized by his advent; others, liberals like Goethe, Wieland, and Dalberg, hoped for the complete extinction of feudalism and dynasticism before his march.

This had already been accomplished in France, and for that reason the peasantry and the townsfolk upheld the Empire. In Paris the upper classes had never forgotten the Terror, and were ready for monarchy in any form if only it brought a settled order and peace. There were still a few radicals and many royalists, but the masses cared only for two things, glory and security. They enjoyed the temporary repose under a rule which protected the family, property, and in a certain sense even religion. Family life at the Tuileries was a model, the Emperor finding his greatest pleasure in domestic amusements, playing billiards, riding, driving, and even romping, with his young wife, while his tenderness for the babe was phenomenal. Still he was no puritan, and the lapsed classes could indulge themselves in vice if only they paid; from their purses fabulous sums were turned into the Emperor's secret funds. Under the Continental System industry was at a standstill, and every household felt the privation of abstaining from the free use of sugar and other colonial wares. There was, however, general confidence in speedy relief, and there were worse things than waiting. The peasantry were weary of seeing their soldier sons return from hard campaigning with neither glory nor booty, and began to resent the conscription law, which tore the rising generation from home while yet boys. Desertions became so frequent that a terrible law was passed, making, first the family, then the commune, and lastly the district, responsible for the missing men. It was enforced mercilessly by bodies of riders known as "flying columns." Finally, every able-bodied male was enrolled for military service in three classes—ban, second ban, and rear ban, the last including all between forty and sixty. Nevertheless, and in spite of all other hardships, there was much enthusiasm at the prospect of a speedy change for the better. In March, 1812, Napoleon could count not far from four hundred and seventy-five thousand men ready for the field. Berthier was retained as chief of staff. In the guard were forty-seven thousand picked men, the old guard under Lefebvre, the young guard under Bessieres. Davout's corps numbered seventy-two thousand, all French; Oudinot's thirty-seven thousand, French and Swiss; Ney's thirty-nine thousand, French and Wuertembergers; Prince Eugene's forty-five thousand, French and Italians; Poniatowski's thirty-six thousand, all Poles; Gouvion Saint-Cyr's twenty-five thousand, all Bavarians; Regnier's seventeen thousand, all Saxons; Vandamme's eighteen thousand, Hessians and Westphalians; Macdonald's thirty-two thousand, Prussians and Poles. Murat commanded the cavalry reserve of four corps under Nansouty, Montbrun, Grouchy, and Latour-Maubourg respectively, and numbering in all forty thousand. In addition to this majestic array there were thirty thousand Austrians under Schwarzenberg, and the ninth corps of thirty-three thousand French and Germans under Victor was to follow. "I have never made greater preparations," the Emperor wrote to Davout.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE CONGRESS OF KINGS[41]

[Footnote 41: References: Bittard des Portes: Les preliminaires de l'entrevue d'Erfurt (1808). In Revue d'histoire diplomatique, tom. IV, pp. 95-144. Sklower: Entrevue de Napoleon Ier et de Goethe suivie de notes et commentaires.]

Forebodings — Napoleon and Maria Louisa — The Czar's Ultimatum and the Emperor's Choice — Napoleon's Last Diplomatic Move — The Imperial Court at Dresden — Napoleon and Poland — The Health of Napoleon — His Strategic Powers Undiminished.

[Sidenote: 1812]

Ready—at least to outward appearance, Napoleon was in truth ready as far as equipment, organization, commissariat, strategic plan, and every nice detail of official forethought could go. But how about the efficiency and zeal of men and officers? There had been murmurings for some years past. It was remarked that Napoleon's studies in 1808 were the campaigns of Rome against the Parthians from the days of Crassus onward; from his death-bed Lannes had warned his chief in 1809 how ready many of his most trusted servants were to betray him if he continued his career of conquest; Decres, another true friend, expressed his anxiety in 1810 lest they should all be thrown into a final horrid elemental crash; and in 1811 Regnault de Saint-Jean-d'Angely exclaimed, "The unhappy man will undo himself, undo us all, undo everything." The Emperor heard neither of these last forebodings, but is doubtfully reported to have himself declared, "I am driven onward to a goal which I know not." Caulaincourt made no secret of how his anxiety increased as he knew Russia better. He was recalled because, having learned Russia's pride and Russia's resources, he made no attempt to conceal his aversion to the final arbitrament of bloodshed. Poniatowski believed Lithuania would refuse to rise against her despot; Segur and Duroc foresaw that France, if degraded to be but one province of a great empire, would lose her enthusiasm; even Fouche, having been permitted, on the plea of ill-health, to return from his exile in Italy, ventured to draw up a vigorous and comprehensive memorial against war, and instanced the fate of Charles XII. The contents of Fouche's paper were divulged to Napoleon by a spy, and when the author presented it he was met by contemptuous sarcasm. The Emperor believed Prussia to be helpless, chiding Davout for his doleful reports of the new temper which had been developed. Jomini declared, but long afterward, that the great captain had avowed to a confidential friend his eagerness for the excitement of battle.

But in spite of the anxiety felt by a few leading Frenchmen, there was general confidence, and it was not until after the catastrophe that details like those enumerated were recalled. It is customary to attribute Napoleon's zeal for war to the fiery counsels of Maret. But there is no necessity to seek any scapegoat. In reality the outlook in 1812 was better than in 1809. Napoleon's spirits were higher, his conscripts were not visibly worse than any drafted since the beginning of the Consulate, and the veteran Coignet's remark concerning the march to Russia is that "Providence and courage never abandon the good soldier." As to the commander-in-chief, he had largely forsaken his licentious courses, partly from reasons of policy, partly because of his sincere attachment to wife and child. Throughout the years of youth and early manhood he had indulged his amorous passions, but until his second marriage not a single woman had been preferred to power, not even Josephine. Maria Louisa, however, was an imperial consort, for whom no attention, no elevation, was too great. Pliant while an Austrian archduchess, she remained so as empress, apparently without will or enterprise. Men felt, nevertheless, that, remaining an Austrian externally, she was probably still one at heart, perhaps a mere lure thrown out to keep the hawk from other quarry. There was much in her subsequent conduct to justify such suspicions, but the utter shamelessness of her later years argues rather the self-abandonment of one in revolt against the rigid social restraints and personal annihilation of early life. The hours which Napoleon spent with her were so many that he laid himself open to the charge of uxoriousness. The physician attendant at the birth of the infant King of Rome declared that the mother would succumb to a second confinement, and the father exercised a self-restraint consonant with the consideration he had displayed at the birth of his heir. He was the squire and constant attendant of his spouse, her riding-master even, and often her playfellow in the romps of which she was still fond. Scenes of idyllic bliss were daily observed by the keen eyes of the attendants. The choice of governesses, tutors, and servants for the little prince was personally superintended by his sire, and every detail of the feeding, dressing, and airing of the prospective emperor was the subject of minute inquiry and regulation. When it was clear that war was imminent, Napoleon seemed for the first time ready to abandon his abhorrence for female governance. Certainly his domestic happiness had not sapped his moral power; possibly it rendered him over-anxious at times, and, perhaps in revulsion from anxiety, over-confident.

During two years of diplomatic fencing the initiative had been Russian, the instigation French. For the war which followed no single cause can be assigned. Some blamed Napoleon, claiming that with his scheme of universal empire it was inevitable; Metternich said Russia had brought on war in an unpardonable manner. The Tilsit alliance was personal; the separation of the contracting parties inevitably weakened it. The affiliations of the Russian aristocracy with the Austrian; the smart of both under the Continental System, which rendered their agriculture unprofitable; England's stand under Castlereagh; the Oldenburg question—all these were cumulative in their effect. With Alexander, Poland and the Continental System were the real difficulties; the marriage question was only secondary. On January twelfth, 1812, the Czar with mournful and solemn mien declared his hands clean of blood-guiltiness and laid down his ultimatum. To the concentration of Russian troops Napoleon had replied by sending his own to Erfurt and Magdeburg. Alexander formally stated his readiness to take back his own move if the Emperor would withdraw the French soldiers; he would even accept Erfurt for Oldenburg, and permit Warsaw to be capital of a Saxon province. But he said not a word about the Continental System, being fully determined not to yield one jot, and for Napoleon this was the primary matter. Alexander's ultimatum by its clever form compelled his ally either to abandon the scheme of Western empire or to fight. Both parties to the Tilsit alliance understood that with European harbors shut to English trade, Great Britain must cease to support the Spanish insurrection, which in that case a few thousand troops could hold in check. Then the great scheme of revolutionary extension which had been inaugurated by the Convention and logically developed by Napoleon step by step in every war and treaty since Campo Formio would in a few short years be complete. But two real powers would thus remain in continental Europe—France and Russia. They could by united action crush British power both by land and by sea. To dash this brimming cup from his lips was for Napoleon an insupportable thought. With the hope, apparently, of securing from the Czar the last essential concession, he set his troops in motion toward the Vistula on the very day after his treaty with Prussia was signed.

The natural counter-move to Napoleon's advance would be the invasion of Warsaw; although the new Poland was fortified for defense, yet it might be overwhelmed before assistance could reach the garrisons. Moreover, there were ominous signs in France at the opening of 1812. Food supplies were scarce, and speculators were buying such as there were. Napoleon felt he must remain yet a little while to check such an outrage and to strengthen public confidence. Ostensibly to avoid a final rupture, but really to prevent the premature opening of war, he therefore summoned Czernicheff, the Czar's aide-de-camp, who, as a kind of licensed spy, had been hovering near him for three years past, and offered to accept every item of the Russian ultimatum, if only an equitable treaty of commerce could be substituted for the ukase of December, 1810; in other words, if Alexander would agree to observe the letter and spirit of the Continental System. During the two months intervening before the Czar's reply not a Cossack set foot on Polish soil, while day by day Napoleon's armies flowed onward across Europe toward the plains of Russia, and a temporary remedy for the economic troubles of France was found. When, late in April, the answer came, it was, as expected, a declaration that without the neutral trade Russia could not live; she would modify the ukase somewhat, but, as a condition antecedent to peace, France must evacuate Prussia and make better terms with Sweden. On May first the French army reached the Vistula; on May ninth Napoleon and his consort started for Dresden, whither all the allied sovereigns had been summoned to pay their court as vassals to the second Charles the Great.

The surge of German patriotism had nearly drowned Napoleon in 1809, but for manifest reasons it had again receded. The Austrian marriage had withdrawn the house of Hapsburg from the leadership of Germany; the imperial progress to Dresden and the high imperial court held there were intended to dazzle the masses of Europe, possibly to intimidate the Czar. The French were genuinely enthusiastic; the Germans displayed no spite; princes, potentates, and powers swelled the train; all the monarchs of the coalition, under Francis as dean of the corps, stood in array to receive the august Emperor. From the spectacular standpoint Dresden is the climax of the Napoleonic drama. Surrounded by men who at least bore the style of sovereigns, the Corsican victor stood alone in the focus of monarchical splendor. At his side, and resplendent, not in her own but in his glory, was the daughter of the Caesars, the child of a royal house second to none in antiquity or majesty, his wife, his consort, his defiance to a passing system. Maria Louisa was as haughty as the Western Empress should be, patronizing her father and stepmother, and boasting how superior the civilization of Paris was to that of Vienna. It was during these days that she first saw Neipperg, the Austrian chamberlain, who was later her morganatic husband. Napoleon appeared better: self-possessed, moderate, and genial. His vassals and his relatives, his marshals and his generals, all seemed content, and even merry. The King of Prussia had lost his beautiful and unfortunate queen; he alone wore a sad countenance. Yet it was rumored that the Prussian crown prince was a suitor for one of Napoleon's nieces. Beneath the gay exterior were many sad, bitter, perplexed hearts. The Emperor was seldom seen except as a lavish host at public entertainments; most of the time he spent behind closed doors with the busy diplomats. As a last resort, Narbonne was sent to Russia, ostensibly to invite Alexander's presence in the interest of peace; actually, of course, to get a final glimpse of his preparations. The Abbe de Pradt was despatched into Poland to fan the enthusiasm for France.

This unparalleled court was dismissed on May twenty-eighth, the Empress returning by way of Prague to Paris, Napoleon hastening by Posen and Warsaw to Thorn. The Poles were exuberant in their delight; they little knew that their supposed liberator had bargained away Galicia to Francis in return for Austrian support. For this betrayal, and his general contempt of the Poles, he was to pay dearly. Had he labored sincerely to organize a strong nucleus of Polish nationality, a coalition of Russia, Prussia, and Austria such as finally overwhelmed him would have been difficult, perhaps impossible. But the founder of an imperial dynasty could not trust a Polish democracy. When the Diet, sitting at Warsaw, besought him to declare the existence of Poland, he criticized the taste which made them compose their address in French instead of Polish, and gave a further inkling of his temper by sending his Austrian contingent to serve in Volhynia, so that neither French nor Polish enthusiasm might rouse the Russian Poles. When he reached Vilna he found that the impassive Lithuanians had no intention of rising against Russia, and no attempt was made to rouse them. If, as appears, his first intention had been to wage a frontier campaign, that plan was quickly changed. Retaining Venice and Triest for use against the Orient, with Austria virtually a member of his system, he determined to force Russia back on to the confines of Europe, perhaps into Asia, and then—Who can say? It seems as if Poland was to have been divided into French departments instead of being erected into another troublesome nation, vassal state, or semi-autonomous power.

At the opening of the Russian campaign the gradual change which had been steadily going on in Napoleon's physique was complete. He was now plethoric, and slow in all his movements. Occasionally there were exhibitions of quickened sensibility, which have been interpreted as symptoms of an irregular epilepsy; but in general his senses, like his expression, were dull. He had premonitions of a painful disease (dysuria), which soon developed fully. His lassitude was noticeable, and when he roused himself it was often for trivialities. In other campaigns he had stolen away from Paris in military simplicity; this time he had brought the pomp of a court. He planned, too, to bring theater companies and opera troupes to the very seat of war. Above all, he was deeply concerned with his imperial state, having in his trunks the baubles and dress he had worn at his coronation in Notre Dame. His bearing was proud, but there was no sparkle in his eye; he seemed spiritless and ailing; he showed no confidence in his magnificent army.

The haughty, exacting mien of 1812 was very different from the half-jocular, half-sarcastic curl of the lip and sparkle of the eye which had inspired his followers in former days quite as much as his stirring, incisive harangues. Yet careful study will prove that his sagacity as a great captain was in no way dimmed; his military combinations were greater than any he had ever formed. As no parallel to the numbers engaged in this enterprise can be found in European story, nothing comparable to its organization can be found in the history of any land or age. Every corps had its ammunition-train, and great reserves of supplies were stored in Modlin, Thorn, Pillau, Dantzic, and Magdeburg. In the two last-named arsenals were siege-trains for beleaguering Duenaburg and Riga. There were pontoons and bridge material in abundance; one thousand three hundred and fifty field-pieces, and eighteen thousand horses to draw them. The commissary stores were prodigious, and there were thousands of ox-wagons to transport them. The cattle were eventually to be slaughtered and eaten. In various convenient strongholds there were, besides, stores for four hundred thousand men for fifty days. Knowing Russia, he had prepared to conquer streams and morasses, to feed the army without fear of a devastating population, and to trust the seat of war for nothing except forage. His strategic plan was amazing, containing, as it did, the old elements of unexpected concentration, of breaking through the opposing line, of conclusive victory, and occupation of the enemy's capital. It was carried also to successful completion, and in one respect the execution was fine. The obstacles to be surmounted made every movement slow, and while a vast, complicated military organization may be reliable for weeks, to make it work for months requires qualities of greatness which increase in geometrical ratio according to the extension of time. Twice Napoleon bared his inmost thought, once to Metternich in Dresden, once to Jomini at a dinner company in Vilna. The first season he intended to seize Minsk and Smolensk, winter there, and organize his conquests. If this should not produce a peace, he would advance in the following season into the heart of the country, and there await the Czar's surrender. To his army he issued an address as direct and ringing as that which had echoed sixteen years before across the plains of Lombardy. Its substance is that the second Polish war would bring the same renown to French arms as the first, but the peace would be such as should end forever the haughty interference of Russia in European affairs. It seemed to those who heard it as if Russia's hour had struck.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE INVASION OF RUSSIA—BORODINO[42]

[Footnote 42: References: Tatistcheff: Alexandre Ier et Napoleon. Czartoryski: Memoirs. De Chambray: Oeuvres. Segur: La campagne de Russie. Labaume: Relation circonstanciee de la campagne de Russie. Wilson: A Narrative of the Campaign in Russia during the Year 1812. Du Casse: Memoires et Correspondance du Prince Eugene. Rapp: Memoires. Bausset: Memoires. Davout: Correspondance (ed. Mazade, 1885), Vol. III. Lossberg, V., Briefe in die Heimat geschrieben waehrend d. Feldzugs 1812 in Russland. Yorck von Wartenburg: Napoleon als Feldherr. Stoltyk: Napoleon en Russie.]

Success and Failure — The Struggle with Summer Heat — Napoleon at Vitebsk — The Russians Over-confident — The Fight at Smolensk — Technical Victory and Real Defeat — Napoleon's Fatal Decision — The Russians at Borodino — The Battle Array — Napoleon's Victory — Russian Efforts to Burn Moscow.

When Napoleon left Dresden his force was so disposed that the Russians could not tell whether he meant to strike from north or south, and accordingly they divided theirs, Barclay de Tolly, with a hundred and twenty-seven thousand men, standing before Vilna; Bagration, with sixty-six thousand, ensconcing himself behind the swamps of the upper Pripet in Volhynia. Barclay, hoping to strike a sharp, swift blow, and open the campaign with a moral victory, was soon convinced of the danger, and called in Bagration, who was to be replaced by an auxiliary force. But before the long Russian line could be drawn together Napoleon struck the first decisive blow. Disposing his army in echelon, with beautiful precision he suddenly turned against the enemy's right, crossed the Niemen, and seized Vilna. This turned the Russian flank, and Barclay fell back to the fortified camp which had been established at Drissa in order to cover St. Petersburg. If, then, Jerome's division had promptly advanced from Grodno, Bagration would have been cut off and annihilated. The plan failed, partly because Napoleon did not superintend its operation in person, partly because Davout did not cooeperate with sufficient alertness, but chiefly through Jerome's ignorance, slowness, and self-assertion. Bagration turned back, and, descending the Dnieper, placed himself beyond pursuit. For a moment Napoleon contemplated a junction of Ney and Eugene against Barclay, but the former had pushed on to seize Duenaburg, and was out of reach. This scheme, like the other, came to naught; Bagration, by a long, painful detour, was able to establish communication with Drissa, and seemed likely to effect a junction with Barclay on the road to Smolensk. As in these movements both the Russian commanders had lost many men, there would be only a hundred and twenty thousand in their united force, a beggarly showing in view of the two years' preparation necessary to bring it together. Consternation reigned in the Russian camp. The Czar could raise no money, Drissa was painfully inadequate as a bulwark, and the people grew desperate. The nation attributed its sorry plight to the bad advice of the Czar's German counselors, and such was the demoralization at the capital that Alexander was compelled to hasten thither in order to avert complete disaster. In spite of his personal unpopularity, he met with considerable success. The nobility and burghers of both St. Petersburg and Moscow caught the war fever, opened their coffers, equipped a numerous militia, and by the end of July all Russia was hopeful and eager for battle.

This, too, was the earnest desire of Napoleon. The advance from the Vistula to the Niemen and from the Niemen to the Dwina had been successfully carried forward—but at what a cost! "Since we have crossed the Niemen," wrote the artist Adam, who was at the viceroy's headquarters, "the Emperor and his entire army are occupied by a single thought, a single hope, a single wish—the thought of a great battle." Men talked of a great battle as of a great festival. If the Russian army in its own territory shriveled as it did before the summer heat by sickness and desertion, it may be imagined how that of the French dwindled. Their terrible sufferings could be ended only by a battle. Heat, dust, and drought wrought havoc in their columns; the pitiless northern sun left men and animals with little resisting power; the flying inhabitants devastated their fields, the horses and oxen gorged themselves on the half-rotten thatch of the abandoned huts, and died by the wayside; the gasping soldiery had no food but flesh. Dysentery raged, and soldiers died like flies. For a time Saint-Cyr's Bavarian corps lost from eight to nine hundred men a day, and it was by no means a solitary exception. Such facts account for the dilatoriness of Napoleon's movements in part; for the rest, his imperial plans demanded that he should organize all the territories in his rear, and he gave himself the utmost pains to do so. Besides, he had never before had a task so heroic in all its dimensions, and every detail of military and political procedure required time and care in fullest measure, the more so when preparing for a decisive, uncommon battle.

Vitebsk and Smolensk occupy analogous positions on the rivers Dwina and Dnieper, the former of which is to the westward and flows north; the latter, farther inland, flows in the opposite direction into the very heart of Russia. Barclay had planned to await Bagration at Vitebsk, and Napoleon, arriving on July twenty-seventh, hoped for a decisive battle there. But Davout's movements drove Bagration farther eastward, and Barclay, instead of waiting, hurried to Smolensk, where the junction was effected. This compulsory pursuit had, as communications then were, thrown the extreme wings of Napoleon's army virtually out of reach, the Prussians being near Riga, and the Austrians in Volhynia. The long, thin line of his center must be, therefore, drawn in for safety; and since the character of the country had improved, he determined to concentrate near Vitebsk, and recuperate his troops in the comparatively pleasant land which environs that city. Both commander and officers were at first so disheartened that they contemplated remaining for the season, Murat alone remonstrating; but Napoleon said three years were necessary for the Russian war. Such counsels did not long prevail; with new strength came the old daring, and orders were sent both to Macdonald and the Prussians on the left, and to the Austrians under Schwarzenberg on the right, which were indicative of a great project. Napoleon's prestige among the Poles had in fact shrunk along with his army. The latter he could not recruit, but the former he must repair at any hazard; this could be done only by what he designated to Jomini as a "good battle." The success of the minor engagements to right and left, incident to concentration, was encouraging for such a speedy and overwhelming triumph.

The Russians at Smolensk were vainglorious at having outwitted Napoleon, and longed to fight. Barclay alone was uneasy, but, in deference to the prevalent sentiment, he advanced to offer battle, and on August ninth there was a skirmish between pickets. Napoleon at once set his army in motion, but as neither general was really well informed or prepared, Barclay pushed on to the right, and the two armies lost touch. Once aroused, the French spirit brooked no further delay, and it was determined to seek the "good battle" before Smolensk, which, lying on the right, or north, bank of the Dnieper, could be reached only by crossing the stream. This manoeuver was brilliantly executed. Barclay was a day's march distant on the south bank when Ney and Murat deployed on the other side for action on August sixteenth. Bagration, nearer at hand, threw one corps across the river into the town, and then hurried his main force down-stream to oppose its passage by the French.

Smolensk, called from its site the Key of Russia, and designated, from its importance as a shrine, "The Sacred," was then a town of about thirteen thousand inhabitants. Around the inner city was a line of thick but dilapidated walls, and these were surrounded outside by densely built faubourgs. The first attempt of Ney to storm the walls failed, and a bombardment was ordered. By evening of the seventeenth the French army were all drawn up on the north bank between the city and the river; the Russians were opposite on the heights. During the night of the seventeenth the Russian army began to cross the Dnieper by the permanent bridge, which they held; a fresh garrison was thrown into Smolensk, and at four in the morning of the eighteenth the van began to retreat toward Moscow. Napoleon, foiled in his attempt to carry Smolensk by storm, had hoped that Barclay would offer battle under the walls of the town. He, therefore, waited until afternoon for the expected appearance of his foe, but in vain. Puzzled and uneasy, he then determined to force the fighting by a fresh assault. The suburbs were captured late in the evening, but the walls were impregnable. Barclay then set fire to the quarter opposite that attacked by the French, and in the resulting confusion safely drew out his garrison; the next morning saw his rear well beyond Napoleon's reach, with the bridges destroyed behind it. On the twenty-third he halted and drew up for battle behind the Uscha.



Technically Napoleon had won, since an important frontier fortress was captured; but he had not fought his great battle, nor had he cut off his enemy's retreat. Ney and Murat were despatched in pursuit, but it is charged on good authority that they acted recklessly, without concert, and gave the first exhibition of a demoralization destined later to be disastrous. In another land and under ordinary circumstances the fight at Smolensk would have been, if not a decisive victory, at least an effective one. But while Russia is despotic politically, socially she is the least centralized of all lands, and a wound in one portion of her loose organism does not necessarily reach a vital point nor affect the seat of life and action. This Napoleon perfectly understood. He could either summon back the patience he had vaunted first at Dresden, then at Vitebsk, or he could yield to his impulse for swift action and go on to Moscow in the hope, before entering the capital, of fighting the "good battle" for which he so longed. The older officers with long memories compared the Russian Smolensk with the Syrian Acre. Murat had foreseen that an affair at Smolensk would amount to nothing, and had begged Napoleon to avoid a conflict. Rapp came in after the victory, and recalled the scenes of distress which had marked every step of his long journey from the Niemen: the numerous victims of dysentery and typhus who lay dying along the roadsides, the desperate bands of marauders and deserters who were eking out a doubtful existence by ravaging the villages, the maddened hordes of peasants and tradespeople who were shooting or striking down the enfeebled stragglers from the army like bullocks in the shambles. Recounting all these horrors, he pleaded with the Emperor to desist. But Napoleon remembered that his transport barges had been wrecked on the river bars, and that his wagon-trains were without horses or oxen to draw them. The counterfeit paper money he had brought from Paris would no longer pass; where was he to find sustenance for his still numerous force of a hundred and eighty-five thousand men at least? Only by pressing on to some populous city; and on the twenty-fourth his army was in motion eastward. If Alexander could be brought to terms, he would yield more quickly with one of his capitals in the enemy's grasp. In the attempt to form a calm judgment concerning this conclusion it must be remembered that the French base was secure; there were garrisons of about fourteen thousand men each in Vitebsk, Orscha, and Mohileff; another was left at Smolensk. The line from the Niemen to Moscow was very long, yet Schwarzenberg was on the right to prevent Tormassoff from breaking through, and Napoleon felt sure that Wittgenstein on the left was too weak to be a menace. If the great captain had halted at Smolensk and strengthened himself on the double line of the Dwina and Dnieper, as was perhaps possible in spite of all difficulties, he would have been quite as strong in a military way as before Austerlitz or Eylau. But had Russia learned nothing from these two experiences, and would she come on again a third time as on those two occasions to certain defeat? To have acted on the affirmative hypothesis would have been to expect much. The Czar would rather take time to raise the whole nation; if need be, to organize, discipline, and drill his numerous levies; to wear out the patience of the invaders and strike when the advantage was his, not theirs. Making all allowance for troops to be left in garrison, Napoleon would still have a hundred and fifty-seven thousand men, hardened veterans who, though murmuring and grumbling after the soldier's manner, were nevertheless altogether trustworthy, and would turn sulky if compelled to retreat.

If this were Napoleon's reasoning, it proved to be fallacious, because the Russians were constantly increasing their strength, while that of the French, both on the base of operations and on the line of march, was diminishing. The Austrian troops, moreover, behaved toward Russia as the Russian soldiers had behaved toward Austria in the last campaign; that is, as a friendly exploring guard, and not as hostile invaders. It is now easy to say that to lengthen the French line of operation was a military blunder. It was certainly wrong. The reasons are, however, not altogether strategic; they are chiefly moral, and were not so clearly discernible then. In the face of national feeling, before the march of national regeneration, a single man, world-conqueror though he may have been during a period of national disorganization, is an object of microscopic size. The French emperor did not know the strength of Russian feeling, the great revolutionist was ignorant of the Europe he had unconsciously regenerated. If he blundered as a strategist in not confessing defeat at Smolensk, he behaved like a tyro in statesmanship when he courted an overthrow at Moscow.

Barclay was charged by the old Russians with being too German in feeling, with manoeuvering timidly when he ought to fight, and—sacrilege of sacrileges!—with leaving the sacred image of the Virgin at Smolensk to fall into hostile hands. Yielding to the storm of popular feeling, Alexander appointed in his stead Kutusoff, the darling of the conservative Slavonic party; but Barclay was persuaded to remain as adviser, and his policy was sustained. The Russians withdrew before the French advance, until, on September third, their van halted on the right bank of the Kalatscha, opposite Borodino, to strike the decisive blow in defense of Moscow. On the fourth Napoleon's van attacked and drove before it the Russian rear, which was just closing in. He had a hundred and twenty-eight thousand men at hand, and six thousand more within reach. That night he issued a ringing address: recalling Austerlitz, he summoned the soldiers to behave so that future generations would say of each, "He was in that great battle under the walls of Moscow." Next morning a courier arrived, bringing a portrait of the little King of Rome. The Emperor hung it before his tent, and invited his officers to admire it. But at night the sinister news of Marmont's defeat at Salamanca arrived. Napoleon said nothing, but was heard in self-communing to deplore the barbarity of war. All night he seemed restless, fearing lest the Russians should elude him as they had in other crises; but, rising at five, and discerning their lines, he called aloud: "They are ours at last! March on; let us open the gates of Moscow."

The Russians, roused by religious fervor, and elevated by a fatalistic premonition of success, had thrown up trenches and redoubts at advantageous points on their chosen battle-fields. In their first onset they advanced like devotees, with the cry, "God have mercy upon us!" and, as each forward rank went down before the relentless invaders, those behind pressed onward over the bodies of their comrades. But it was all in vain; throughout the fourth and fifth of September one outpost after another was taken, until at ten in the evening of the latter day the whole Russian force was thrown back on its main position, stretching from the bank of the Moskwa on the north, behind the Kalatscha, as far as Utizy on the south, such portions as were not naturally sheltered being protected by strong redoubts. There were a hundred and twenty thousand in all, of which about seventeen thousand were ununiformed peasantry. Opposite stood the French, Poniatowski on the right, Davout, with the guard, in the rear, then Eugene; behind Davout, to the left, Ney; and farther behind, in the same line, Junot. The orders were for an opening cannonade, Poniatowski to surround the Russian left, Eugene to cross the Kalatscha by three bridges thrown over during the night, and attack the Russian right, while Morand and Gerard, his auxiliaries, should move on the center, and storm the defenses erected there.

The battle was conducted almost to the letter of these orders, but such was Russian valor that, instead of being a brilliant manoeuver, it developed into a bloody face-to-face conflict, determined by sheer force. At six in the morning the artillery opened. Poniatowski advanced, was checked, but, supported by Ney, stood firm until Junot came in; they two then stood together, while Ney and Davout dashed at the enemy's center. Eugene having acted in perfect concert, Poniatowski then advanced alone, and his task was completed by nine. But he was so weakened by his terrific exertions that he could only hold what he had gained. At ten Ney and Davout, reinforced by Friant, seized the central redoubts; but they, too, were exhausted, and could only hold the Russian line, which bent inward and stood without breaking. Eugene then massed his whole division, and charged. The resistance was stubborn, and the fighting terrific, but by three his opponents yielded, his artillery opened, and he held his gains. About the same time Junot reached Poniatowski, and their combined efforts finally overpowered the Russian left. So superhuman had been the exertions of both armies that they rested on their arms in these relative positions all night, the Russians too exhausted to flee, the French too weary to pursue. But early on the seventh the flight of Kutusoff began, and the French started in pursuit.

Between the generals of the Russian rear and those of Napoleon's van an agreement was made that if the former were left to pass through Moscow unmolested, the latter should gain the city without a blow. The contracting parties kept their pact; but the governor of Moscow rendered the agreement void. Great crowds of the inhabitants joined the Russian columns as, six days later, they marched between the rows of inflammable wooden houses of which the suburbs were composed; and, while they tramped sullenly onward, thin pillars of ascending smoke began to appear here and there on the outer lines. But when, two hours after the last Russian soldier had disappeared, the cavalry of Murat clattered through the streets, the fires attracted little attention, nor at the moment was Napoleon's contentment diminished by them, as, from the "mount of salutation," whence pious pilgrims were wont to greet the holy city, he ordered his guard to advance and occupy the Kremlin, that fortress which enshrines all that is holiest in Russian faith. Kutusoff, boasting that he had held his ground overnight, had persuaded the inhabitants of Moscow, and even the Czar, that he had been the victor, and that he was withdrawing merely to await the arrival of the victorious and veteran legions from the Danube, when he would choose his field and annihilate the invaders.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE EVACUATION OF MOSCOW[43]

[Footnote 43: References: Marguerou: Campagne de Russie, specially part III. Bertin: La campagne de 1812 d'apres des temoins oculaires. Mosbach: Der Uebergang ueber die Beresina aus ungedruckten Denkw. d. polnischen Obersten Bialkowski, Streffleur's "Oesterr. militaer. Zeitschrift," 1875. Clausewitz: "Ueber die Schlacht a.d. Beresina," letter to Stein, published in the "Hist. Zeitschrift" for 1888. George: Napoleon's Invasion of Russia. Fabry: Campagne de Russie,1812, Operations Militaires.]

The Reasons for Napoleon's Advance — The Importance of Moscow — The Burning of the City — The French Occupation — The Military Situation — Alexander's Steadfastness — Napoleon's Impatience — The Strategic Problem — The Exaggeration of the Factors — The Plan of Retreat — Malojaroslavetz — Napoleon's Vacillation.

Some insight into the state of Napoleon's mind may be secured by contemplating his conduct during and after the battle of Borodino. That conflict was, on the whole, the bloodiest and most fiercely contested of all so far fought by him. The French losses were computed by the Emperor at twenty thousand men, those of the Russians were not less than double the number. Yet the day was not decisive. Napoleon, suffering from a severe cold and loss of voice, displayed an unwonted lassitude. Setting a high value on his personal safety, he did not intervene at crucial moments, as he was wont to do and as he asserted was essential in the new science of war, for the purpose of electrifying officers and men. His scheme of rolling up Kutusoff's line by a double attack on left and center consequently failed, in the opinion of the greatest experts, because he did not throw in the guard on the center at the decisive moment. This failure was due to a disregard of his own maxim that "generals who save troops for the next day are always beaten"; not divining a complete cessation of hostilities by Kutusoff, he thought his reserve might be required on the morrow. It seems, too, as if he were gradually becoming aware of the dangers attendant on the prolongation of his base to Moscow. At Mozhaisk he halted three days, doubtless with the hope that Alexander would open negotiations to prevent the sack of his sacred capital. During this pause careful orders were issued for the concentration of a strong French reserve at Smolensk. Victor was summoned to bring in his thirty thousand men from the Niemen so as to be ready in an emergency to advance even as far as Moscow. It seems like a case of wilful self-deception that on the tenth Napoleon wrote to Maret as if convinced that the exposure of his flanks would escape Kutusoff's notice, saying that the enemy struck in the heart was occupied only with the heart, and not with the extremities. This would have been a justifiable confidence had Borodino been decisive. But it was not decisive, since the Russian army, far from being annihilated, drew off with its files, companies, and regiments so far intact as to be easily available for the quick incorporation of new recruits. This it was which gave verisimilitude to Kutusoff's boast and made the French occupation of Moscow a matter of doubtful expediency.

Yet the temptation was irresistible. Mother Moscow, as runs the caressing Russian phrase, is indeed the source of all Muscovite inspiration. Watered by the winding stream of the same name, its heart is the Kremlin, its citadel of Russian architecture, Russian orthodoxy, Russian authority, and Russian learning. From its churches are promulgated the authoritative utterances of the Greek Metropolitan, within its triangular walls is found the most characteristic Muscovite architecture, behind its portals stand the largest bell ever cast and the largest cannon ever founded until the most recent times; statues of Russian heroes adorn its open spaces, the splendors of its palaces are lavished with Muscovite profuseness, the edicts of the White Czar thunder over his many million subjects from its walls. Clustered about the Kremlin are the various quarters of the town, which cover a space equal to the area of Paris, and contain about one fourth as many inhabitants. The epithet of "holy city" is amply justified by the sanctuary-citadel, but its aptness is further sustained by the three hundred and sixty churches, each with its tower and onion-shaped cupola, which are scattered through all the districts. In the beginning of this century Moscow from within appeared like a congeries of villages surrounded with groves and gardens, each with its manor-house and parochial church. Around the whole was a girdle of country-seats, and the beauty of the scene as viewed by the approaching traveler was such as to kindle enthusiasm in the coldest breast. The inhabitants had hoped that the "victory" of Borodino would spare their home the shame of foreign occupation. When the governor announced that in a council of war it had been decided to abandon the city, there was first dismay, then fury, then despair. The long trains of departing citizens wailed their church hymns with sullen mien and joyless voices.

The surrender was marked by barbarous conduct on the part of the civil authorities. It has been recounted that by a military convention the Russian rear-guard had been permitted to withdraw unmolested after Borodino, in return for a promise not to destroy Moscow. Yet on September fourteenth, the day of the French occupation, as has also been told, fires had been kindled in the suburbs, whether by accident or design cannot be determined. Besides this, on receipt of the notice to evacuate, such stores as in the short interval could be reached were destroyed; the prison doors were opened, and a horde of maddened criminals was set free in the streets. Nevertheless, there was fair order throughout the fifteenth. Next day a raging conflagration burst forth. At the time, and long afterwards, this was attributed as a deed of dastardly incendiarism to the invaders; with the growth of modern ideas about ruthlessness in warfare, Russian historians have begun to attribute it to the inhabitants as a heroic measure. It is now asserted that the governor cast the first brand into his own country-seat. More probably, the fanaticism of the populace, heightened by the criminal rage of the escaped prisoners, led to the almost simultaneous firing of many buildings in various quarters. A possibility of method in the destruction of the city begins to dawn, however, when it is remembered that the devastation of the surrounding country by the fleeing Russians was equally thorough, and was carried out according to a carefully devised plan.

The entry of the French into Moscow has been compared to the appearance of great actors before an empty house. When the conflagration broke out, every effort was made to stop it, and eight hundred fire fiends were summarily punished. But as the burning walls of the storehouses fell, the rabble seized the barrels of spirits thus revealed, and drank themselves into blind fury; the French soldiery pillaged with little restraint, not sparing even the Kremlin. Finally, the flames were checked and order was restored, but not until three quarters of the city proper were destroyed; the Kremlin and the remaining fourth were saved. On the evening of the fourth day the French army was disposed in rude comfort within or about the site of Moscow, and Murat's riders began to bring in reports concerning Kutusoff's army. To soothe the peasantry of the neighboring districts, one of the old insidious proclamations was issued, appealing to their manhood against the tyranny of their rulers. "Die for your faith and the Czar!" was the answering cry, as they seized the French stragglers, surprised the garrison of Wereja, and beset the Smolensk road. Day by day the people labored, the townsfolk helping to gather the peasants' goods, both classes waylaying the French supply-trains, and hiding every article of use in vast underground chambers constructed for the purpose. Consternation filled the invaders, and their plight became desperate when they learned of the Russian military dispositions, and understood how Kutusoff already menaced their safety.

Instigated by Castlereagh, Bernadotte had released the Russian corps placed at his disposal for conquering Norway, and Wittgenstein, on the Russian right, thus suddenly acquired a force of forty thousand wherewith to menace Napoleon's outlying left on the north. By English mediation, also, a peace was arranged between Turkey and Russia, thus releasing Tchitchagoff, who promptly joined Tormassoff, and opposed Schwarzenberg on the extreme French right with nearly two to one. Meanwhile Kutusoff had taken a position at Tarutino, where he commanded the left flank of the main French army, and daily received new recruits, who flocked to fill his depleted ranks. Napoleon had, since Borodino, been in daily expectation of some communication from the Czar. His critical situation made him impatient, and on the twentieth he wrote, informing his strangely silent foe that Moscow was burned, a misfortune which might have been averted had negotiations been opened after Borodino. There was no response. On October fifth Lauriston was despatched to Kutusoff's camp, nominally to secure an exchange of prisoners. The latter said that the affair must be referred to St. Petersburg; but the French general learned that the Russians had extended their line south toward Kaluga to secure the fertile base behind, and further threaten the long, weak French flank.

Alexander's silent steadfastness was, indeed, remarkable. Hitherto in every crisis—as, for example, after Austerlitz and Friedland—he had yielded. Why was he now so firm? Stein, the Prussian patriot, was at his side; but so was the trusted Rumianzoff, leader of the French party, which was for peace. The Old Russian party, demoralized by Napoleon's advance to the heart of the empire, was also clamorous for peace negotiations. An English embassy, composed of Lord Cathcart and the body of English officers under Sir Robert Wilson sent to reorganize the Russian army, had so far been able to accomplish little, for by all accounts their influence was slight. The improved military situation no doubt accounts for much, but the best information goes to show that Alexander moved and talked like one dazed, feeling himself to be a storm-tossed child of fate. Destitute of self-reliance, he appears to have been drawn toward Galitzin, whose piety was eminent, and verged upon mysticism. It is certain that in those days the Czar for the first time became an ardent Bible reader, and frequently exclaimed, "The hand of God hath done this!" On leaving St. Petersburg at last for the seat of war, his parting act was to found the Russian Bible Society. It was with but small reliance on the military situation, and with a feeling of providential guidance, that he determined to renew the conflict.

Thus passed five weeks. Interminable they seemed to the anxious conqueror at Moscow, who yawned even at the theater; who forgot the stern abstemiousness of his table habits, and, like a gourmet, spent hours at his meals merely to kill time; who threw himself into vicious ways, and contracted a loathsome disease; who lost all interest even in his troops, and finally, unkempt, preoccupied, and feverish, seemed indifferent to everything. The crown, scepter, and robe wherewith he had hoped to be invested as Emperor of the West were not unpacked from the camp chests. The pompous ceremonies of military occupation were scrupulously performed; drills, parades, and concerts followed in due succession; but the Emperor's interest was languid. At last the dreary waiting became intolerable, the season, although neither early nor severe, was rapidly advancing, the predatory excursions of the soldiers into the surrounding country were growing longer, more difficult, and less fruitful of results with every day. The elements of danger were hourly increasing in an appalling ratio. Daru advised turning Moscow into an armed camp and wintering there. "A lion's advice," said Napoleon, but he put it aside. The question of retreat would soon be imperative, and that he sometimes discussed, but only languidly, until, on October eighteenth, without warning, a truce made by Murat was broken, and his command driven in. Then at last the captain in Napoleon awakened, the emperor vanished, the retreat was ordered, and universal empire, a dependent Czar, the march from Tiflis to the Ganges, England humiliated, and the ocean liberated—all were forgotten in the presence of reality. Robe, scepter, and crown were never seen again.

Political considerations prompted a movement of withdrawal toward the northwest, as if against St. Petersburg, but military considerations prevailed, and between the two alternatives—a direct retreat to Smolensk through a devastated land, or a circuit south-westward, through fertile districts, toward Kaluga, as if to attack Kutusoff—the choice fell on the latter. The reason is clear. The seat of war was within a triangle marked by Riga, Brest-Litovski, and Moscow; from Riga to Moscow, the left flank, is five hundred and fifty miles; from Riga to Brest, the base, is three hundred and seventy-five miles; from Brest to Moscow, the right flank, is six hundred and fifty miles; the perpendicular from Moscow to the base, which was the shortest line of retreat, is therefore about five hundred and seventy-five miles. These distances are all enormous; on the left were only forty-two thousand men, on the right, about thirty-four thousand; along the line, forty-two thousand. The diagram, if drawn, will display all the peculiarities of Napoleonic formation in mass, abstractly considered, but it will likewise display the fact that with the highest and most perfect army organization then known, it would have been well-nigh impossible to work the combination. Neither of the monstrous flanks could be held by the comparatively scanty forces available; the line of operation was equally weak. What safety was there for the army in retreat? None.

There will never be complete agreement as to the causes of Napoleon's disaster in Russia. A comparison of the relative values of mass-formation, tactics, and organization in modern warfare, which uses railroads and telegraphs, with the distances practicable in present-day operations, must nevertheless reveal the chief cause—that the Napoleonic organization had not kept pace with the development of Napoleonic strategy. The emperor had overweighted the general, the former having soared into an ether which would not sustain the pinions of the latter. The well-used plea of an "act of God" will not stand. The autumn of 1812 was mild, the winter late in opening. Neither cheerless steppes, nor phenomenal cold, nor unheard-of snows, nor any reversal of nature's laws,—not even the motley nationalities of the grand army, or an unhistoric migration from south to north,—none of these was the chief cause of failure, which is to be found in the attempt monstrously to exaggerate the factors of a strategic system evolved for national, but not for continental, proportions.

The first and natural thought of a direct retreat to Smolensk was momentarily entertained; but it had to be abandoned because, with weak flanks and a bare country, the distance was too far. The same was true in regard to the move toward St. Petersburg—the distance was too great for the conditions. The circuit toward Kaluga was first considered as a feint to throw the Russians off the scent; it became a necessity when they assumed the offensive in the unforeseen and unexpected attack on Murat. The Emperor did not dare to expose his flank and rear to an advancing foe, and accordingly his army was assembled on the road toward Kaluga. Should he advance or await a further movement of the enemy? Evidently the former, otherwise the entire moral effect of the first offensive would be lost. A long march had to be extended still farther, partly for strategic reasons, but chiefly in order to secure an additional advantage of the first importance; to wit, sustenance from the country when the distances were too great for the workings of any feasible commissariat department. If the Russians should even momentarily be deceived into believing that the French had resumed the offensive, a line from Kaluga direct to Smolensk would still be open for retreat while the enemy was preparing for action.

The report was spread in Moscow that Napoleon was going out to overwhelm Kutusoff and then return. Mortier, with eight thousand of the young guard, remained behind, his orders being to blow up the Kremlin before leaving. The main army advanced across the river Pachra and moved toward the Lusha. There was as yet no word of the enemy; possibly he had been misled and was advancing directly on Moscow. Napoleon, therefore, turned westward in the hope that he might reach Kaluga without opposition. On the twenty-fourth the Russian van appeared. Had Kutusoff acted on his correct information and thrown forward his whole army, a decisive battle might have ended the invasion. As it was, Eugene, after a bloody conflict at Malojaroslavetz, remained master of the field, and the timid Kutusoff drew back his force. Meantime the truth leaked out in Moscow. Suspicion was excited, as the resident French observed not merely the immense booty packed in the officers' baggage, but also the loads of Muscovite art treasures under which the government wagons groaned. They were quick to act, and soon, accompanied by women and children, they joined the march with all the paraphernalia of their household goods. From the first this throng, uniting with the usual horde of stragglers and camp-followers, prevented all rapid movements by the army; in fact, but for them the half-senile Kutusoff would not have been able to show even his van to the French line. Mortier's effort to destroy the Kremlin failed, and served no purpose except to exhibit the thirst for revenge of a savage nature brought to bay.

In short, every plan of Napoleon's seemed ineffectual, and indecision marked his every act. Eugene's terrible struggle had resulted in a list of wounded numbering four thousand. The old Napoleon would have abandoned them and then have attacked Kutusoff even in the forest defiles where he was ensconced; or else he would have pressed on past Kaluga, or would have swiftly wheeled to regain the northern road toward Smolensk. The harried, sick, exhausted man of 1812 did none of these things, but called a council of war, and weighed the arguments there presented for nearly a week, when, finally, he decided, and with forced marches drove his columns toward the northern road to Smolensk. He wrote to Junot that his motive for delay was to provide for the suffering from his depot at Mozhaisk, but, in fact, he had not waited long enough materially to assist the wounded, and had secured no advantage from the bloody battle. In the absence of trustworthy information he took (when once he did move) a long, circuitous road. As yet there was no cold except the usual sharpness of autumn nights; but the summer uniforms of the troops were tattered and their shoes worn. Germans, Italians, and Illyrians began to straggle, and the horrors of the approaching cold, as depicted by Russian prisoners, sank deep into the minds of the dispirited French, so far away from their pleasant homes.



CHAPTER XXIX

THE RETREAT FROM RUSSIA[44]

[Footnote 44: References as in the preceding chapter. Also: Cathcart: Commentaries on the War in Russia and Germany, 1812 to 1813. Clausewitz: Der Feldzug von 1812 in Russland, der Feldzug von 1813 bis zum Waffenstillstand und der Feldzug von 1814 in Frankreich. Combe: Memoires sur les campagnes de Russie 1812, de Saxe 1813, de France 1814 et 1815. Jomini: Precis politique et militaire des campagnes de 1812 a 1814. Labaume: Relation circonstanciee de la campagne de Russie. Gentz: Oesterreichs Theilnahme an den Befreiungskriegen. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Jahre 1813-1815, nach Aufzeichnungen von F. von Gentz, nebst einem Anhang: "Briefwechsel zwischen dem Fuersten Schwarzenberg und Metternich." Porter: A Narrative of the Campaign in Russia in 1812. Segur: Histoire de Napoleon et de la grande armee pendant l'annee 1812. Gourgaud: Napoleon et la grande armee en Russie, ou examen critique de l'ouvrage de M. le C^te Ph. de Segur. Vandal: Napoleon et Alexandre Ier. Wilson: Private diary of travels, personal services and public events during mission and employment with the European armies in the campaigns of 1812, 1813 and 1814; ed. by his nephew, H. Murray. Wolseley: The Decline and Fall of Napoleon.]

State of Napoleon's Mind — Destruction Imminent — The Affair at Wiazma — Kutusoff's Timidity — Napoleon's Despair — Arrival at Smolensk — The Army Reorganized — Napoleon's Daring at Krasnoi — Ney's Great Feat — Sufferings of the Army — The Russian Plan — Tchitchagoff's Capture of Borrissoff.

For nine days the retreat went steadily on. Mortier came in on October twenty-seventh; Davout was assigned to keep the rear. Napoleon was no longer seen on horseback; sometimes he drove, but generally he trudged among the men, to all outward appearance as spiritless as any one. To Junot he wrote that he had taken his decision in consequence of the cold and in order to provide for his wounded from the depot at Mozhaisk. There was as yet no severe cold, and there was a far shorter road to Smolensk. The writer's mind was chaotic, confusing what he knew soon would be with present realities. His maps were worthless, and clinging to experience, he showed none of his accustomed venturesomeness. The well-worn summer uniforms of his men were no protection even against the coolness of autumn nights. What a prospect when winter's cold should come! It was enough to stun even a Napoleon.

But the present was bad enough, and momentarily grew worse. The road was lined with charred ruins and devastated fields, and the waysides were dotted with groups of listless, desperate soldiers who fell out and sank on the ground as the straggling ranks of their comrades tramped on. Skirting the battle-field of Borodino, the marching battalions looked askance on the ghastly heaps of unburied corpses; but the wounded survivors were dragged from field hospitals and other cavernous shelters to be carried onward with the departing army. They were a sight which in some cases turned melancholy into madness. In order to transport them the wagons were lightened by throwing the spoils of Moscow into the pond at Semlino. On the thirtieth despatches of grave import reached the Emperor informing him that Schwarzenberg had retreated behind the Bug, leaving an open road from Brest for Tchitchagoff's veterans to attack the right flank of the columns flying from Moscow. Victor, learning of Napoleon's straits, had left fifteen thousand men in Smolensk, and was advancing to join Saint-Cyr on the Dwina in order to assure the safety of the main army from that side. To him came the dismal news that Wittgenstein had resumed the offensive against Saint-Cyr, and that the line of attack on the French left was as open from the north as was that on the other side from the south. Davout's rear-guard was steadily disintegrating under hardships and before the harassing attacks of the Russian riders under Platoff. Partizan warfare was assuming alarming dimensions. In a single swoop two thousand French recruits under Baraguey d'Hilliers had been made prisoners, and similar events were growing all too frequent. In consequence of these crushing discouragements the whole army was rearrayed. "We must march as we did in Egypt," ran the order: "the baggage in the middle, as densely surrounded as the road will permit, with a half battalion in front, a half battalion behind, battalions right and left, so that when we face we can fire in every direction." Ney's corps was then assigned to the place of danger in the rear—a place he kept with desperate gallantry until he earned the title "bravest of the brave."

The early promise of substantially reinforcing Kutusoff's army had not been fulfilled. The fanatic zeal at first displayed soon effervesced, the new levies were untrustworthy, and the long marches of the Russians told almost as terribly upon them as the retreat did upon their enemies. Kutusoff's army therefore, though available for defense, was a poor weapon for attack, especially when the object was a French army under the dreaded Napoleon. The Russian commander was only half-hearted in his pursuit; and when, having taken the short cut which was unknown to his enemy, his van came in contact with the French line at Wiazma on November third, the Russian soldiers had little heart to fight. The circumstances offered every chance for a powerful if not a decisive blow on the flying column from flank and rear; but the onset was feeble, the commander-in-chief held back his main force in anxious timidity, and a second time the opportunity was lost for annihilating the retreating foe, now reduced in number to about sixty thousand. Napoleon was far away on the front when Kutusoff attacked, and the battle was conducted on the French side by the marshals in consultation with Eugene and Poniatowski. The rear-guard was momentarily severed from the line, but these two generals wheeled and fiercely attacked the advancing Russians, engaging all within reach until Davout was able to evade the melee and rejoin the main army.

The French lost about four thousand, the Russians about half as many. Neither of the two armies had any courage to renew the struggle next morning, and each kept its way as best it could, both of them exhausted, both shrinking hourly in vigor and numbers. Kutusoff's conduct both at Malojaroslavetz and at Wiazma has been explained by his fixed resolution to leave the destruction of the invaders to his gaunt allies, want and winter. If, however, as was possible at either place, he had annihilated the retreating army, this might have been the last Napoleonic war, since it was not for a new army that the Emperor of the French appealed to his people, but for something quite different; namely, men to recruit the old one. As it was, Napoleon first learned of the conflict at Wiazma on the fourth, and contemplated a movement which might lead his pursuers into an ambush. But he found the three columns which had been engaged so pitifully disintegrated that he gave up in despair—a feeling heightened when, for the first time, snowflakes came ominously fluttering through the frosty air.

The weary march was therefore resumed, and there was some semblance of order in it, although Ney wrote Berthier that already on the fourth there were without exaggeration four thousand men of the grand army who refused to march in rank. The number was increasing daily. On the sixth Napoleon was informed that Victor, having effected a junction with Saint-Cyr, had checked Wittgenstein in a series of gallant struggles, but that step by step the two divisions had been driven back until now they were only thirty miles distant, having abandoned the line of the Dwina, including the depot of Vitebsk. "Seize the offensive; the safety of the army depends on it," was Napoleon's desperate reply. Terrible as this news was to the general, it was eclipsed in horror for the Emperor by the accounts he received at the same time from Paris describing Malet's conspiracy, a movement to overthrow the Empire based on the false rumor of his own death. "And Napoleon II, did no one think of him?" he cried in anguish. Grand army, reputation, personal prestige—all these he might lose and survive; but to lose France, that were ruin indeed.

That night a heavy frost fell; then, and no sooner, did the relentless severity of the Russian winter begin. This is proved by Napoleon's famous twenty-ninth bulletin, and by the journal of Castellane, the aide-de-camp who made the final copy of it; in spite of assertions put forth later to sustain the legend of an army conquered by the elements, the autumn had dallied far beyond its time. Next day the weary march began again; scarcely a word escaped the Emperor. He was pale, but his countenance gave no sign of panic; there was merely a grim, persistent silence. The enemy hung on flank and rear, harassing the demoralized column until it was more like a horde than an army. With numbed limbs and in the gnawing misery of bitter cold, the French straggled on. Men and horses died by the score; the survivors cut strips of carrion wherewith to sustain life, and desperately pressed forward, for all who left the highway fell into the enemy's hands. In some bivouacs three hundred died overnight; there are statements in the papers of officials which seem to indicate that in the struggle for life the weaker often perished at the hands of their own comrades. The half-crazed, frost-bitten, disorderly soldiers of the French van reached Smolensk on the ninth, and on the thirteenth the remnants of the rear, with many stragglers, came up and encamped. The heroes of the hour were Eugene and Ney. Ney's division had well-nigh vanished in their glory. Fighting without fear, and dying undaunted, they had saved the moiety of the grand army which reached Smolensk; the other half had perished by the way. Eugene had taken a long circuit, but his division had lost fewer and was less demoralized than those of his colleagues. Murat's recklessness in fighting the Cossacks had resulted in the loss of nearly all his horses; his men arrived on foot.

The scenes in Smolensk were shameful. At first the garrison shut the gates in the very faces of the human wolves who clamored for food and shelter. Discipline having been restored, the guard was admitted. The stores were ample for a fortnight's rations to all survivors; but the ravening mob could not be restrained, and the distribution was so irregular that precious supplies were tumbled into the streets; in the end it was discovered that the guard had secured sustenance for a fortnight, while the line had scarcely sufficient for a week. The sick and wounded were, however, housed and made fairly comfortable. These nauseating tumults over, the Emperor seemed to regain much of his bodily vigor, and with it returned his skill and ingenuity: stragglers were reincorporated into regiments; supply-wagons were destroyed in large numbers and the horses assigned to the artillery, many of the guns being abandoned so that the service of the remainder might be more efficient; the army was rearrayed in four divisions, under the Emperor, Eugene, Davout, and Ney respectively; and the French made ready to leave Smolensk with a bold front. Napoleon's contempt for his enemy was matched only by their palpitating fear of him. Most men would have abandoned hope in such a crisis. Napoleon was fertile not merely in strategic expedients, but in devices for realizing his plans. Accordingly he arranged that the four columns should move on parallel lines toward Lithuania, a day's march distant from each other, he with six thousand of the guard in the van; Ney, taking the other four thousand to strengthen his own line, was to keep the rear. The movement began on the twelfth, that is, before the last stragglers had come in; on the fourteenth Napoleon took his departure; and three days later, on the seventeenth, the towers of the ramparts having been blown up, the last of the newly ordered ranks marched out. The sick and wounded had found shelter in houses adjacent to the walls; many were killed by the explosions, the rest were abandoned to the foe and found humane treatment. Disorderly and mutinous French soldiers remained in considerable numbers to plunder; these were for the most part caught by the entering Russians, and inhumanly done to death. In all these days the cold had not abated, and at times the thermometer marked fifteen degrees below zero.

The further line of retreat was through Krasnoi, Borrissoff, and Minsk, the Emperor expecting Schwarzenberg, reinforced by fourteen thousand German recruits, to cover the crossing of the Beresina at Borrissoff. The Russians followed doggedly on their parallel line of pursuit, harassing the French rear and flanks. On the fifteenth their van came in touch with Napoleon's division near Krasnoi almost as he himself passed, and their artillery opened fire. The balls yelled as they sped by, and there was great excitement. Lebrun called attention to the fact as if it were remarkable. "Bah!" said Napoleon, as he pressed forward; "bullets have been flying about our legs these twenty years." He well knew that his anxious foe would not seriously attack him and his guard; but, justly considering that the case would be different in regard to his rear, he halted to await their arrival. Early on the morning of the seventeenth he sent out a reconnoitering party, as if about to wheel and give battle; Kutusoff, who for the moment was considerably inferior in numbers, fell instantly into the snare, and drawing back his van, as Napoleon had foreseen and desired, made ready for battle.

Eugene and Davout were within reach, but Ney's position was terrible: he was only then leaving Smolensk. Was he to be left to his fate? Around and behind his six thousand troops were swarming almost as many stragglers; and on the eighteenth the Russians, in spite of their momentary halt, threw forward their van with the hope of cutting off his hampered and sore-pressed division. But the short delay had been precious: Ney rose to the occasion, and on the nineteenth crossed the Dnieper over the ice, hoping to follow the right bank westward and rejoin the main army at Orcha. This was one of his most daring feats, perhaps his most brilliant deed of arms. Summoned by a flag of truce to surrender, he replied: "A marshal of the Empire has never surrendered!" Platoff and the Cossacks were hard on his heels; but fighting and marching throughout the weary, bitter day, at night the undaunted marshal found himself in touch with Eugene, who had turned out on the highway from Vitebsk to Orcha to meet him. When, on the twentieth, they effected a junction, Ney had only eight hundred men in the ranks with him; perhaps two thousand more were trudging behind in disorder.

On the eighteenth a thaw had set in; it had begun to rain, the crust broke under the men's feet, and the roads were lines of icy clods. The soldiers had no foot-gear but rags; every step was an agony, and thousands who had so far endured now gave up, and flung away their guns and equipments. There were not more than twenty-five thousand regularly marching. Already on the previous day the guard had shown signs of demoralization. The Emperor alone seemed impassive. For days he had shared the common hardships; clad in a long Polish coat of marten fur, a stout birch staff in his hand, without a sign of either physical or nervous exhaustion he had marched silently for long distances among his suffering men. If we picture him standing at Krasnoi, weighing how long he dared to brave an enemy which if consolidated and hurled upon his lines would have annihilated them, we must feel that collapse was prevented then only by his nerve and by the terror of his name. Once more he threw the influence of his presence into the scale, and, stepping before the guard on this dreadful day, he said simply: "You see the disorganization of my army. In unhappy infatuation most of the soldiers have thrown away their guns. If you follow this dangerous example no hope remains." The state of the men was, if possible, worse than ever; in fact, it was indescribable. Night after night they had bivouacked in the snow. What with the wet, the dazzling glitter, and the insufficient food,—for at best they had only a broth of horse-flesh thickened with flour,—some were attacked with blindness, some with acute mania, and some with a prostrating insensibility. Those who now remained in the ranks were clad in rags and scarcely recognizable as soldiers. It seemed, therefore, as if such an appeal could only awaken an echo in an empty vault; but such was the French character that, desperate as were the circumstances, the cry was heard. The response was grim and sullen, but the call was not in vain; and reaching Orcha on the nineteenth, there was still an army. As yet, however, there was no news of Ney.

The sky seemed dark and the prospect blank when it was learned that both Victor and Schwarzenberg had been steadily thrown back. The Russian plan was for Wittgenstein and Tchitchagoff to drive in the extreme left and right divisions respectively of Napoleon's attenuated line, and then to concentrate at Borrissoff and attack the main French army retreating before Kutusoff. So far the various parts of this scheme had been successfully executed. Borrissoff and its bridge were still in possession of a Polish regiment; but the garrison was very small, and could not repulse the attack of the converging Russian columns or of any portion of them. It behooved Napoleon, therefore, to move swiftly if his few remaining troops were to cross the Beresina in safety. It was in this frightful dilemma that Ney at last appeared. Said Napoleon, when the news was brought to him: "If an hour ago I had been asked for the three millions I have in the Tuileries vaults as the price of this event, I would have handed them over." The marshal's presence was in itself a splendid encouragement.

Purchasing such stores as Jewish contractors offered, abandoning the heavy pontoons, and hitching the horses to a few field-pieces found in the park, the undaunted Emperor sent orders to both Victor and Oudinot, enjoining them to make forced marches and meet him at Borrissoff. On the twenty-first, amid the slush, mud, and broken cakes of crust, he started his own army on a swift despairing rush for that crucial point. It was too late; that very day Tchitchagoffs van, after a stubborn and bloody struggle, occupied the town and captured the all-important bridge. The thaw had opened the river, and its overflowing stream, more than sixty yards in width, was full of floating ice. To the Russians it seemed as if Napoleon were already taken in their snare, and Tchitchagoff issued a general order that all captives below medium stature should be brought to him. "He is short, stout, pale; has a short, thick neck, and black hair," ran his description of the "author of Europe's miseries." By a special decree of the Czar, all the French prisoners of war were kindly treated, each being furnished with warm clothing at an expense of about twenty dollars.



CHAPTER XXX

THE HORRORS OF THE BERESINA[45]

[Footnote 45: References: Bertin, La campagne de 1812, d'apres des temoins oculaires. Du Casse, Memoires a l'histoire de la campagne de 1812 en Russie. Exner, Der Antheil der Koenigl. Saechsischen Armee am Feldzuge gegen Russland, 1812. Lafon, Histoire de la conjuration du Gen. Malet, avec des details officiels sur cette affaire. Labaume, Relation circonstanciee de la campagne de Russie. Lecointe de Laveau, Moscou avant et apres l'incendie, ou notice contenant une description de cette capitale, des moeurs de ses habitants, des evenements qui se passerent pendant l'incendie, et des malheurs qui accablerent l'armee francaise pendant la retraite de 1812. Mikhailowsky-Danilewsky, Le passage de la Beresina. von Pfuel, E., Der Ruckzug der Franzosen aus Russland. de Puibusque, Lettres sur la guerre de Russie, en 1812, sur la ville de Saint-Petersbourg, les moeurs et les usages des habitants de la Russie et de la Pologne.]

Napoleon at Bay — The Enemy at Fault — The Crossing of the Beresina — The Carnage — End of the Tragedy — Napoleon's Departure — The Remnants of the Army at Vilna — The Russian Generals — Napoleon's Journey — Malet's Conspiracy — The Emperor's Anxiety — The State of France — Affairs in Spain.

The situation of the French was desperate indeed. With a relentless foe behind, and on each side, and now in front protected by the rampart of a swollen river, which was overflowing its banks and was bordered on both sides by dense forests, the army seemed doomed. A single overmastering thought began to take possession of Napoleon's mind—that of his personal safety. He appeared to take a momentous decision—the determination to sacrifice his army bit by bit that he might save its head. This resolution once formed, he became strong and courageous, his head was clear, and his invention active. Oudinot was summoned, with his eight thousand men, to drive out Tchitchagoff; and orders were sent to Victor, commanding him to take the eleven thousand which he had, and at any hazard cut off Wittgenstein from the Beresina. Schwarzenberg had been temporarily checked by a division of Russians under Sacken, and was no longer a factor in the problem. Oudinot accomplished his task, but the Russians fired the bridge as they fled.

Napoleon was scarcely consoled by news that his cavalry had found a ford at Studjenka. Early on the twenty-third the French bridge-builders, with all available assistants and material, were on their way up the river. The remnants of the army were reorganized, and the baggage-train was reduced to the smallest possible dimensions. Unfortunately, Victor had not received his orders in time, and, ignorant of the Emperor's plans, had changed his line of march to one more southerly, thus leaving the road to Studjenka open for Wittgenstein, who abandoned the pursuit and marched direct to the spot. The latter's advance was, however, slow; Tchitchagoff was completely deceived, as many of the French believe, by a feint of Oudinot's, but, as he himself declared, both by false information concerning the movements of Schwarzenberg, and by misrepresentations concerning Napoleon's march as communicated through both Kutusoff and Wittgenstein. Be this as it may, the veterans from the Danube marched a whole day down the stream to guard against an imaginary danger. The French therefore worked at Studjenka without disturbance, and, as the frost set in once more, the swampy shores were hardened enough to make easy the approach to their works. By the twenty-sixth two bridges were completed—a light one for infantry early in the morning, and late in the afternoon another considered strong enough for artillery and wagons. At one o'clock Oudinot's foot-soldiers began to cross, and a body of cavalry successfully swam their horses over the stream, which owing to the freshet was now in places five feet deep instead of three and a half as when the ford was first discovered; a few hours later artillery followed, and the opposite shore was cleared of the enemy sufficiently to open the bridge-head entirely, and control the direct road to Vilna, which leaves Minsk to the south. This great success was due partly to unparalleled good fortune, but chiefly to the gallant fellows who worked for hours without a murmur in the freezing water, amid cakes of grinding ice.

With two short interruptions, of three and four hours respectively, due to the breaking of the heavier bridge, the crossing went forward irregularly, at times almost intermitting, until the morning of the twenty-eighth. About noon on the twenty-seventh the Emperor passed; having superintended certain repairs to the bridge, he started next morning for Zembin. The same afternoon, Victor's van reached Borrissoff somewhat in advance of Wittgenstein, who came up a few hours later, and attacking the former's rear, captured two thousand men. Tchitchagoff, having finally learned the truth, appeared that night opposite Borrissoff; communication with the opposite shore was quickly established, and after a conference the two belated Russian generals agreed to march up-stream, on the right and left banks respectively. At eight next morning Tchitchagoff attacked Oudinot and Ney—twenty-six thousand men against seventeen thousand; two hours later Wittgenstein, with twenty-five thousand, fell upon Victor, who now had about seven thousand. Yet the French kept the bridges.

Throughout the day a bloody fight went on; it was rendered uncertain and disorderly by the thousands of stragglers present, and by the intensity of the steadily increasing cold. Behind the two heroic combats scenes were occurring which beggar description. Incredible numbers of stragglers cumbered the roadways and approaches; the vast mob of camp-followers held stubbornly to their possessions, and, with loud imprecations, lashed their tired horses while they put their own shoulders to the wagon wheels. Hundreds were trampled under foot; families were torn asunder amid wails and shrieks that filled the air; the weak were pushed from the bridges into the dark flood now thickening under the fierce cold. Toward midday a cutting wind began to blow, and by three it was a hurricane. At that instant the heavier bridge gave way, and all upon it were engulfed. An onlooker declared that above storm and battle a yell of mortal agony rose which rang in his ears for weeks.

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