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march on Berlin. Bernadotte and Bülow barred their way with double the French force. The consequence was, that Oudinot was obliged to retreat to Wittenberg, and Ney, in resuming the enterprise, was defeated at Dennewitz. The result of these several actions was the French force diminishing from 360,000 to 250,000 men, the confidence of the troops and generals diminishing in proportion. Napoleon had triumphed when he was present, but all his lieutenants had committed faults and succumbed. The allies, too, had made mistakes and suffered defeats, but they were in a situation to repair their loss, whilst Napoleon, far from the French frontier, could not remedy his. A band of Cossacks invaded Westphalia and drove Jerome from his capital, whilst Bavaria, long hesitating, at last joined its troops to the allies.
These were so emboldened by their evident superiority of force and the general defection of the Germans, that they resolved to carry the war behind the Elbe in the rear of Napoleon, and thus force him to abandon Dresden, as well as the other fortresses on that river, which it had been his intention to hold. The Russians and Austrians, under Schwarzenberg, in pursuance of this new plan, emerged in the first days of October from Bohemia westwards of the Elbe, and directed their march upon Leipzig, whilst Blücher and his Silesian army joining that of Bülow and Bernadotte crossed the Elbe towards Wittenberg, and advanced also upon Leipzig from the north. Napoleon, in consequence, withdrew his forces also behind the Elbe, directing a portion of them upon Leipzig, with orders to defend that . town against the Austrians, whilst he himself at the head of 140,000 men marched north against Bernadotte and Blücher. Whilst he hastened to come up with them and fight them, they shrank from the encounter. And when Napoleon proposed following them north, the generals and officers around deprecated his adventuring
so far from Leipzig and the great southern road. Whilst at Dueben, detained by torrents of rain as well as by uncertainty of the enemy's movements, his generals especially dissuaded him from venturing so far north. The Emperor, carried away by the passion of argument and contradiction, sought to show that it would be far better to march on Berlin, become master of the north, and liberate the French garrisons on the Oder and the Vistula, than to make an avowed commencement of retreat by recoiling to Leipzig. That such was not his real intention, his own correspondence and the sagacious Thiers fully prove.
But his words led Fain, Caulaincourt, and others to represent Napoleon personally bent upon so mad a scheme as a march to the Oder, and themselves as compelling him to abandon such a resolution. He evidently never entertained it seriously,* proposing merely to pursue Blücher and Bernadotte till he could find opportunities of bringing them to action, and then, after having won a victory, returning, by the right bank of the Elbe, to fall upon Schwarzenberg. He was unable, however, to reach either Blücher or Bernadotte, and returned to Leipzig, leaving unfortunately St. Cyr and Reynier, as well as Davoust, upon the Elbe, when the reunion of his entire force at Leipzig had become imperatively necessary to his safety.
Schwarzenberg was advancing from the south with 250,000 men, Bernadotte and Blücher from the north with 100,000. Napoleon had not more than 170,000. The first battle of Leipzig took place on the 16th of October; Napoleon commanded against the Austrians and Russians, Ney on the north against Blücher. It was a hard-fought day. The Austrian's advancing behind the Pleisse crossed or sought to cross it at
* At St. Helena, however, Napo- subsequent disaster was occasioned leon spoke as if his proposed march by his being overruled. to Berlin was serious, and as if the
Dölitz and at Connewitz, but were repulsed, and their commander Meerfeldt taken. The Russians, under Witgenstein, were well-nigh defeated. About 3 o'clock in the afternoon Napoleon broke through their centre with large masses of cavalry, and would have routed them, had not the Emperor Alexander sent forward his guards and reserves to restore the day. Still the allies on the 'south had not advanced their position when night fell. But on the north of Leipzig, Blücher had sorely pressed Marmont, and compelled him to abandon a large space of ground. Napoleon had lost between 20,000 and 30,000 men, and although the enemy's loss was equally great, still the gaps in their line were speedily filled, whilst to him could come no succour.
He confessed this situation when he liberated the Austrian general Meerfeldt, and charged him to acquaint the Emperor Francis with his willingness to treat and to make large concessions. *
On the 17th no engagement took place, the allies expecting Bernadotte to join them. Napoleon was strongly advised to order a retreat during the night, but his reluctant pride overcame his sense of its expediency. The
consequence was that another and a bloodier battle around Leipzig was fought on the 18th. At its very commencement the diminished force of the French compelled them to narrow their circle of defence. One of the most important points of this circle was held by General Reynier, a portion of whose force was Saxon. He held the roads which ran eastward from Leipzig, and formed the connecting link between Ney and Marmont on the north, and Napoleon, who was engaged with the Austrians on the south. Bernadotte entered the field by this road, and as he advanced, the Saxon soldiers of Reynier deserted the enemy. The double treason of Bernadotte acting fiercely against them, whilst the
For these concessions, see Sir Robert Wilson's Private Diary, vol. ii. p. 172.
CHAP. Saxons deserted them, animated the French with des
peration. Napoleon took advantage of it to fill up the gap left by the Saxons, and check the advance of Bernadotte upon Reudnitz. But although successful in this, as well as in checking Schwarzenberg, who, after divers assaults, had relaxed his efforts into a distant cannonading, his enemy was still unbroken, whilst the loss of 30,000 men a side was far more wasting to the French than to the allies. At sunset, therefore, Napoleon withdrew into Leipzig, and gave orders for the retreat. This was effected without much interruption from the enemy, until many hours had elapsed, allowing full time for the French to have evacuated Leipzig, had sufficient bridges been prepared over the Elster. There was but one, however, which greatly retarded the passage, and it being prematurely blocked up by a panic, left a large rear guard and a host of camp followers to the mercy of the victorious enemy.
The pursuit of the retreating French was by no means active or distressing. The Austrians alone lost 30,000 men, the Russians and Prussians more. Considerably more than 100,000 men fell in the battles of Leipzig. Napoleon tarried some days at Erfurt to recruit and recollect the shattered remains of his army. Thence pursuing his retreat, he found the Bavarian army, under De Wrede, drawn up at Hanau to intercept him. The French were scarcely one-third of the Bavarian force, which had so lately fought by their side, and whose king had at every peace profited by the victories of Napoleon. To Bavaria, indeed, had been given most of the provinces taken from Austria, the great cause of its discontent and present animosity. The conduct of Bavaria and of its commander, De Wrede, was ignominious. “I made De Wrede a Count,” said Napoleon, “but could not make him a general.” The French with ease walked over the 60,000 Bavarians, and, putting them to rout and flight, crossed the Rhine to Mayence. It is impossible to read
of the conduct of Saxon and Bavarian in those days, brave soldiers, but transferring their allegiance and their courage now to this side, now to that, without severely condemning the useless partition of Germany into a multitude of principalities, ever betraying the interests and honour of their populations. And it is one of the happiest results of our own day (1866), that such a partitionment of sovereignty, under all its absurd and pernicious consequences, should have been put an end to.
The retreat of the French behind the Rhine suggested the time as fit for negotiations. Austria, jealous of the Czar and his abettal of Prussia, and of Bernadotte, was anxious for them, and sent to propose an exchange of prisoners when Napoleon was at Erfurt. Later, M. de St. Aignan, a captured French diplomatist, was sent back (on the 10th of November), with offers to France of the Rhine, the Alps, and the Pyrenees as frontiers. Before his departure he received from Lord Aberdeen the assurance that England did not desire to humiliate France, but that in giving to its empire the frontier of the Rhine, it would seek to preclude any domination, or impose any influence, beyond that barrier. An immediate and frank acceptance of this offer would have established Napoleon firmly on his throne. Instead of this, although St. Aignan reached him on the 14th, it was not till the 26th that an answer was received from the Duke of Bassano, accepting Mannheim as the place of negotiation, but not accepting the basis or the frontier laid down. Although St. Aignan repeated that Austria and England were both favourable to peace, the French reply was framed expressly against England, and insisted that if France left the other nations of continental Europe independent, England must do the same by maritime powers, and abandon her influence and conquests on the sea and its coasts. Nothing could be more fair between rivaland rival, each in the plenitude of power. But Napoleon had been