Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Malo-Zaroslavietz. Doctorow (October 24), however, CHAP

XLIII. came up in time to dispute the passage. A sanguinary action ensued between him and the Prince Eugene, whose Italians fought with desperate valour.

The result of the battle was the loss of some 10,000 men on either side, and it was followed by councils of war held simultaneously by Napoleon with his marshals, and by Kutusoff with his generals. French narrators tell the one; Sir Robert Wilson, then at Kutusoff's head quarters, depicts the other. Notwithstanding his loss, and the dreadful duty which it imposed of dragging along thousands of wounded, Napoleon was for persevering, risking another battle and penetrating to Kalouga. His marshals deprecated the attempt, and were all of them for falling back upon the Smolensko road, by which they had advanced. Napoleon was no longer master. Misfortune compelled him to bow to the opinion of his generals. Yet had he persevered, “ had the slightest demonstration of an offensive movement been made, Napoleon would have obtained a free passage for his army on the Kalouga or Medynsk roads, through a fertile and rich country, to the Dnieper, since Kutusoff, resolved on falling back behind the Oka, had actually issued the order to retire there in case of the enemy's approach to his new position.”

Kutusoff frankly gave his reasons for not pressing the French too closely, reasons which did not cease to influence him during the whole of the French retreat.† This now may be said to have fully commenced, and not by Medynsk, the shortest way to Smolensko, which

* Sir Robert Wilson's Narrative. no means sure that the total destruc

† The English general enforcing tion of the Emperor Napoleon and these considerations was told by the his army would be such a benefit to Marshal: "I don't care for your the world ; his succession would not objections, I prefer a pont d'or, as fall to Russia or any other continenyou call it, to receiving a 'coup de tal power, but to that wbich already collier :' besides, I will say again, as commands the sea, and whose doI have told you before, that I am by mination would then be intolerable.”

XLIII.

CHAP. Davoust strongly recommended, but by Mojaisk and

Borodino. The reflections of the French army, repassing that field on the 29th of October, may be imagined. Kutusoff had not renewed the pursuit, notwithstanding which the retreating army was obliged to abandon its sick and wounded and a great portion of the baggage and artillery for want of the means of transport. At Wiasma on the 3rd of November took place the first attempt of the Russians to cut off at least part of their retreating enemies. But Ney, Davoust and Eugène beat off their assailants. The next day a more forinidable enemy appeared in a fall of snow, premature for the season, followed by cold, which rendered the night bivouacs of the French fatal resting-places. It was but a fortnight since they had evacuated Moscow, and already the army was reduced by half its numbers. On the 9th of November Prince Eugène lost all his baggage, and left behind all his camp followers at the passage of the Vop. The scene was a fit prelude to that of the Beresina, where Wittgenstein from the north and Tchichagoff from the south were tending to a junction, and threatening to intercept the Emperor and his army.

At Krasnoi the Russians repeated the attempt of Wiasma, and succeeded in cutting the French army in three. Napoleon in front escaped; Davoust fought his way through. Ney, commanding the rear, was completely cut off, and no resource seemed left him but to surrender. The gallant soldier would not submit to such an extremity. With some three thousand of his division he crossed in the night the half-frozen surface of the Dnieper, and forcing his way along the further bank, reached Eugène at Orcha.

It was on the 22nd of November at Toloczin that Napoleon learned the terrible fact of the Russians having got before him to the Beresina, and burned the only bridge, that of Borisow, by which he could

pass.

His own captivity, with that of the remains of his army, stared him in the face. But he soon shook off the effects of

CHAP.
XLIII.

the stunning intelligence, and determined to march on to the Beresina, in order to force anyhow a passage. Fortunately General Corbineau had discovered a ford over the Beresina some miles above Borisow. And thither Napoleon directed at once his steps and his preparations. At the ford opposite Studenki, the Beresina being only some feet deep, bridges could be laid on trestles, and so did not demand much labour and time. Two were prepared, one for carriages and artillery, the other for horse and foot. The Russians not discovering the work at first allowed the French two full days to pass the greater part of their army. The enemies who made their appearance on the side of the river to which the army had crossed were easily repelled. But Wittgenstein pressed upon the other ere the passage had been effected, and whilst indeed it was intercepted by frequent accidents and breaches. At one time during the passage of the bridge by the followers of the army, Wittgenstein was able to open fire upon it, smashing the waggons and sweeping away whole files of suttlers and women, whose shrieks rent the air. But the disorder and despair of these stragglers scarcely required the enemy's shot to make it worse. In their distress they frequently blocked the bridge, rushed upon that reserved for the artillery, and were often crushed beneath the wheels, or flung into the river by the advancing troops. The entrance to the bridge was defended most gallantly by Victor and his division, who were sorely pressed. And such was their weakness and diminished numbers, that Napoleon gave orders that they should cross by a certain hour, and burn the bridge behind them. A great portion of the stragglers and women had not passed. They were aroused from their frozen slumbers in the night to do so, before the bridge was destroyed, but the greater part refused to move till daylight, and then it was too late. Fire was at last set

[merged small][ocr errors]

CHAP.
XLIII.

to the bridge, whilst thousands upon the Russian side saw that they were left to their fate.

The barbarity of the Russians indeed passed belief. In the midst of a cold of thirty degrees, they stripped such of the prisoners as they did not kill, and drove them along by thousands. As most dropped upon the road, their numbers were filled up by the gathering of other fugitives, and columns of wretches were thus driven to death by the spears of the Cossacks. Those who escaped such fatal driving suffered no less from the bands of peasants, who as mercilessly massacred every captive. The Russian women vied with the men in such barbarity. Great as had been the provocation, one cannot but be disgusted at the total absence of anything like a Christian feeling in the population.' We do not hear of any general or authority in any town who made the least effort to stop the barbarity of the peasants. The Emperor Alexander issued a proclamation giving a reward for the captives brought in alive. But the love of slaughter was greater than that of money, and the Cossacks' lance was never stayed by pity. *

* All prisoners were immediately General, with various others, were and invariably stripped stark naked proceeding on the high road, about and marched in columns in that a mile from the town, where they state, or turned adrift to be the sport found a crowd of peasant women, and the victims of the peasantry,

with sticks in their hands, hopping who would not always let them, as round a felled pine tree, on each they sought to, point and hold the side of which lay about sixty naked muzzles of the guns against their prisoners, prostrate, but with their own heads or hearts, to terminate heads on the tree, which those furies their sufferings in the most certain were striking in accompaniment to a and expeditious manner; for the national air or song which they were peasantry thought that this mitiga yelling in concert; while several tion of torture “would be an of. hundred armed peasants were quietly fence against the avenging God of looking on as guardians of the direRussia,” and deprive them of His ful orgies. When the cavalcade further protection. A remarkable approached, the sufferers uttered instance of this cruel spirit of re piercing shrieks, and kept incestaliation was exhibited on the pur santly crying, ‘La mort! La mort ! suit to Wiazma. Milaradowitch, -Wilson's Narrative. Beningsen, Korf, and the English

CHAP
XLIII.

In the first days of December there were not more than 10,000 French under arms, seeking to make their way to Wilna. Napoleon, strong as was his duty to share their sufferings, and do the best for their defence, felt that both were beyond his power, and that to save the empire itself his presence in France was necessary. On the 5th therefore, at Smorgoni, he summoned Murat, Eugène, Berthier, Ney, Davoust, Lefebvre, Mortier, and Bessières, and informed them of his intention to hasten back at once without making himself known upon his journey. His fears were, that the Germans, already in effervescence and almost in insurrection, would stop him. Those he left behind blamed his defection, especially Berthier. And even Murat, to whom he entrusted the command, was more chagrined than flattered by the offer. The Emperor, with Duroc, Caulaincourt, and Lobau entered a sledge, and fortunately reached Wilna without being intercepted by the Russians. From Wilna he proceeded to Warsaw, summoned there his few followers, and let fall to his envoy De Pradt the remarkable observation, that there was but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous. Dresden was his next resting-place, and he reached Paris on the 19th of December two months after his leaving Moscow. As for Murat and Ney they could enter Wilna, but to retreat forthwith from it. The fresh troops, that the Duke de Bassano had collected there, and sent towards them, were stricken down by a cold of thirty degrees even more speedily and suddenly than the legions of Murat. Scarcely more than a third of the French crossed the Niemen. Murat attained Konigsberg, Eugène Warsaw, but with merely their staffs. The 600,000 soldiers of the Grand Expedition had perished.

The most striking event which had occurred in France, during the absence of the Emperor in Russia, was the perpetration of an attempt, for it could not be called a conspiracy, hatched in the brain of one man. A general

« AnteriorContinuar »