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Victor had gained at Talavera, that is, a severe repulse. CHAP.
XLIII. After the action, Sir Arthur Wellesley retreated to the line of fortified redoubts which he had caused to be thrown up at Torres Vedras, for protecting Lisbon, whither Massena followed with some 80,000 men. But when he reconnoitred the lines, and the mode in which every point of attack was fortified and flanked, he gave up the idea of forcing them. To tarry without attack was however, impossible, the country offering no provisions; and no means being provided for the maintenance of the French thousands, Massena abandoned the enterprise, and retired in mid November, leaving the English inexpugnable in Lisbon.
The year 1811 did not much advance either the Spanish or the French cause. The latter chiefly directed their efforts to the south-eastern provinces, where there was no efficient force to oppose them. Nor could the English, though they fought at Albuera, and had besieged Badajos, take as yet a permanent footing on the Spanish soil.
The same year, in the north, produced a kind of sparring between the two emperors. By the spring of 1812, Napoleon had collected an army of 450,000 men in Poland and the adjoining provinces of Prussia, besides a large reserve.
Not more indeed than one-half of these were French. But all the troops that Alexander could muster to oppose them scarcely exceeded the number of French in Napoleon's army. The Czar, however, concentrated his efforts to resist the formidable enemy before him, and succeeded at the very outset in winning the neutrality, if not co-operation, of natural enemies north and south of him. Sweden might have been expected to join eagerly in the French expedition. A Frenchman governed it, and its first aim would naturally have been the recovery of Finland. But Napoleon had deserted Sweden and outraged Bernadotte; the latter made offers, if the French emperor could have
considered them. * But he scorned to treat Bernadotte as other than a mere subordinate. To show his contempt the French troops took possession of Swedish Pomerania. Bernadotte in consequence concluded an offensive and defensive alliance with Russia. Alexander at the same time conciliated Turkey by waiving the chief pretensions with which he had begun the war.
It had been conducted with varying fortune, latterly to the advantage of the Russians. But Alexander had need of his troops in the north, and recalled the greater part of them in consequence from the Danube, and was obliged to abandon his hold of Moldo-Wallachia, on the basis of the Treaty of Bucharest. Peace was thus concluded between Russia and the Porte towards the end of May.
Napoleon had mustered around him at Dresden all the sovereigns and princes dependent on his will. Amongst these were the King of Prussia, anxious to preserve what remained of his patrimony by obsequiousness to the great conqueror. Far other were the thoughts of his followers and ministers. They encouraged without interruption the secret societies which were forming throughout Germany, with the avowed purpose of imitating the Spaniards and ridding Germany of the French. Jerome, indeed, warned his imperial brother in January 1812, that the entire population of the country between the Rhine and Oder were ready for insurrection, so great was their despair and destitution from the military oppression under which they suffered.† Napoleon saw the great remedy that could cover all in victory, and advanced from Dresden to achieve it. In the middle of June he was on the Niemen, and issued his proclamation announcing what he styled the second Polish war. Russia, at Tilsit, he said had vowed eternal friendship with France, eternal war with England.
Bernadotte required Finland, certainly not moderate. -Segur. Norway, and a subsidy-demands † Letters of Jerome.
These vows it had broken, and France had come with half a million of bayonets to demand their fulfilment.
It cannot be said that the Russians showed either foresight or skill. An able plan had been laid before the Czar for imitating the defensive strategy of Lord Wellington, avoiding battle, retreating behind strongly fortified walls, and inflicting repeated loss rather than defeat upon the enemy, enticing him at the same time from his basis of operations. * Although Alexander approved of this plan, and gave the command to Barclay de Tolly, who adopted it, still neither could confess to the Russians their intention to refuse battle and retreat continually. It seemed dishonourable and discouraging. And as if to contradict it, the two Russian corps d'armée were advanced to a short distance from the frontier, one on the road to St. Petersburg, the other on that to Moscow. Alexander spoke of defending Wilna, yet when the French crossed the Niemen, it was abandoned without a blow, and both Russian armies fell back, the French divisions frequently getting before and between them, and forcing them to great circuits, disorders, and loss in their precipitate retreat. As to the strongholds behind which they might rally, they were not completed. One was an entrenched camp at Drissa : it was abandoned without a struggle. It was not till reaching Smolensko that Napoleon met with serious resistance, the two Russian armies having united notwithstanding all Napoleon's efforts to fight them separately. Even then the Russians were not half the force of the French, and it was more to satisfy their own people than with any hope of victory, that the Russian commanders gave battle to the invader.
Although they had met with such slight resistance, the French had taken nearly two months (from June the 24th to August the 17th ) to march from the Niemen
* M. Thiers attributes the plan Hardenburg gives Armfeld and to Phuhl, a Prussian general. Servia Capriola as its originators.
to Smolensko. The summer was splendid; its heat oppressive and destructive to the invading host, which found no more the homesteads and farms of Germany, or even of Poland. Russia was in comparison a waste, and its inhabitants had made it still more so by carrying away and destroying everything at the approach of the French. All the necessaries of life were wanting except meat, confined to which the French, who live on bread, experienced loathing. Illness invaded every division. It was impossible to regulate the commissariat of such a host, accustomed to live almost altogether upon the country which they traversed. Napoleon detested contractors, and would have all supplies furnished by the intendants of the army; but at last, and too late, was obliged to have recourse to the only capitalists of the country, the Jews.* Russia, in fact, was another Spain to the French. But in Spain there was fruit and bread at least, in Russia neither. In two months' march, Napoleon left well-nigh half his force behind in hospitals, when there were such, but more generally on the roads.
This state of things fully accounts for the days and weeks during which Napoleon delayed his march, first at Wilna and then at Witepsk or Smolensk. At Wilna, indeed, he had been delayed by the demands of the Poles, who, under the protection of the Abbé de Pradt, had formed an Assembly at Warsaw, and who sent to demand a declaration from Napoleon restoring their ancient monarchy. Unfortunately for his reputation, as for his fortune, Napoleon hesitated. A resuscitated Poland would have given him devoted soldiers and enthusiastic support, not only from the Duchy of Warsaw but in Lithuania and Volhynia. The Emperor's evasive answer damped this ardour. If the Poles would all rise, and arm for their independence, they would obtain it, Napoleon said. But he could not deprive
Austria of Gallicia, nor deprive himself, he hinted, of all hope of an accord with Russia, by resuscitating an independent Poland. He accordingly established a provisional government in Lithuania to collect its revenues for his own army, not to reconstitute it as a part of Poland.
At Witepsk the cause of the delay was other; the necessity of putting a stop to disturbance and desertion, of giving stragglers time to rejoin their corps, and to devise more efficient modes of provisioning the army. The Russian generals Barclay and Bagration had united their forces. And such was the impatience of their soldiers at the unbroken retreat, that it became necessary to adopt a bolder system. Whilst the Russian generals and high officers were thus clamouring to be led to the combat, those of a similar rank in the French army deprecated its further advance, at least for that
At one moment Napoleon himself was of the same sentiment. Unbuckling his sword and flinging it on his maps he declared that the campaign of 1812 was over. *
He proposed maintaining his position, fortifying himself there, restoring order in his rear, and wearing out Russian enthusiasm by a prolonged occupation of the country. But what would the French at home say to a campaign without a victory? It was worse indeed than that, for Lord Wellington had defeated Marmont towards the end of July in the battle of Salamanca. To pause on the Dwina in August, implied the necessity of remaining there till April, seven or eight months of inaction, during which there was too much at stake to allow of the Emperor's absenting himself.
Instead, therefore, of halting at Witepsk, Napoleon conceived a plan of passing the Dnieper without the enemy being aware, and surprising Smolensko ere they could arrive to its succour.
As usual in this war, he only came in sight of the city to find Barclay and