« EdellinenJatka »
New-Troki. These four divisions, together with the guards, formed the first army of the west, under the command of Tolly. The second army comprised the fifth corps, amounting to forty thousand men; and the sixth, which was called that of Doctorow, consisted of eighteen thousand men. The second army was encamped throughout Wolhynia. These forces, which amounted to one hundred and fifty thousand men, were soon augmented by the army of Moldavia, under Prince Kutusoff, who, having concluded a peace with the Turks, hastened to the relief of his country; by four thousand Cossacks, under the Hetman Platow; and by the seventh corps, organized by General Markoff, and which afterwards acted against Warsaw, under General Tormasow. - As soon as the pontoons, under the orders of General Eblé, arrived on the Niemen, Napoleon, disguised as a private Polish soldier, accompanied by Haxo, the general of the engineers, visited the lines, and discovered the most advantageous point close to Koano. Here, it is said, that the Emperor Alexander had made every preparation to dispute the passage of the Niemen; but that at the moment in which the attack was to be made, General Barclay, throwing himself at the feet of his master, entreated him not to combat a formidable enemy, which nothing could then resist; adding that Napoleon should be suffered to pass like a torrent, whilst the Russians should keep their forces urbroken, to be employed against him when
famine and the inclemency of the season had thinned his ranks.
M. Labaume is not incimed to vouch for the authenticity of
this anecdote, and though we have heard of it before, we are
not much inclined to believe it, Our readers will soon have our rea SO1)S: x * Although the French, in their march, met with almost incredible difficulties, yet the soldiers, inflamed by a spirit of conquest, submitted without murmuring to all hardships, and cherished illusions which were but too soon destroyed.
“ In effect our short stay at Pilony, during which the rain beat tempestuously, was marked by such extraordinary disasters, that any man, without being superstitious, would have regarded them as presages of our future misfortunes. In this wretched village, the Viceroy himself had no house to shelter him; we were heaped upon one another under some wretched sheds, or exposed to all the inclemencies of the weather. An extreme scarcity made us anticipate the horrors of famine. The rain fell in torrents, and overwhelmed both men and horses. The first escaped, but the badness of the roads completed the destruction of the latter. They were soon dropping by hundreds in the environs of Pilony. The road was covered with dead horses, overturned waggons and
- o - . scattered
* * * * 4.
scattered baggage. It was in the month of July that we suffered thus from cold, and rain, and hunger. The effects of the storm were widely felt. It was said that a thunderbolt fell on the bivouac of the grenadiers of the guard at Zismori, and destroyed many ersons. So many calamities excited within us sad forebodings of the future, and every one began to dread the event of an enterprise, the commencement of which was so disastrous; but the sun re-appeared on the horizon, the clouds dispersed, our fears were scattered with them, and from that moment we thought that the fine season would last for ever.” P. 31.
The very same happened at Troki, a delightful village, where the troops had hoped for some refreshment, but were sadly disappointed in their hopes. In their flight the Russians had deprived their houses of furniture, and the dwellings of the Jews, which were disgustingly dirty, had been pillaged by the soldiers. They had not even straw to sleep upon, aud the forage for the horses was procured from a distance of nearly four leagues. In passing through Wilna, Napoleon did not fail to employ all the resources he had to secure his conquest. He excited the enthusiasm of the people by the most magnificent promises, and obtained from them the greatest sacrifices. The nobles also exerted themselves to the utmost of their power, in promoting the views of the conqueror. They hoped to ensure the independence of Poland, and the sight of the Polish standard floating on the walls of the ancient capital of the Dukes of Lithuania, by reminding them of their former greatness, made them all wish to march under the same banners. In this way the projects of Napoleon caused a considerable sensation in the city where he commanded, and in order to impose on the country
at large, he endeavoured to astonish the vulgar.
“He spoke,” observes our author “with equal fluency, and at the same audience, of the public spectacles, and of religion, of war, and of the arts. He was seen on horseback, at all hours of the day; and after having superintended the erection of some new bridge, or fortification, he immediately entered his cabinet, and shewed himself perfectly, master of the complicated schemes of politics and finance; and often he affected to assist at a ball or a concert, on the eve of the most important battle.”
On their march from the Niemen to the Beresina, the French found the roads so impracticable, that the cavalry of the royal guard was obliged to pursue a different route. It is impossible, says M. Labaume, to form an idea of the difficulties which presented themselves on this road, which was entirely formed of the trunks of fir trees, placed on the marshy ground. The horses, in passing over these pieces of wood, frequently
trod between them, and falling, in this situation, inevitably broke
and sarcastic manner he blamed its construction,” which, our "
author observes, “ was certainly very defective;” and having
joined the Bavarians, he went with them in search of the Rus
sians. This brought on the affair of PPitepsk, where the Russians, though they fought most desperately, were equally beaten; and on account of deep ravines and impenetrable thickets, their detachments had time to rejoin the corps from which they had been detached.
** The success of the combat was certain; but we dared not venture to cross the extensive forest before us, on the other side of which were the hills of Witepsk, where we knew the whole Russian forces were encamped. While we were deliberating on the means of effecting that important passage, we heard a great tumult behind us. No one could guess the cause, and uneasiness was added to our curiosity; but when we perceived Napoleon surrounded by a brilliant suite, our fears were dissipated; and the enthusiasm which his presence always excited, made us hope that he would add to the glory of that eventful day. The King of Naples and the Prince hastened to meet him, and informed him of the event of the engagement, and the measures which they had since adopted. But Napoleon, desirous to become more intimately acquainted with every circumstance, quickly proceeded to the most advanced posts of our line, and ascending an eminence, attentively viewed the position of the enemy, and the nature of the ground. His
His eye penetrated into the Russian camp. He guessed their plans, and immediately ordered new dispositions, which being executed with precision and rapidity, the army was soon in the middle of the forest. We followed at a quick pace, and reached the hills of Witepsk as the day began to close.” P. 68.
Another engagement, with the same success, took place at .
Veliz, and the Count de Tolly was obliged, in the night, to evacuate again his position.
“The cavalry had been ordered to continue their march, and we soon heard that they had overtaken the Russian army. The rest of the troops immediately followed, and speedily came in sight of and overtook the enemy. The cossacks, who formed the rear-guard, retreated on the advance of our artillery, and only halted to fire a few cannon-shot, whenever they found a favourable opportunity. They continued manoeuvring till they were beyond Aghaponovchtchina, where our corps and the cavalry were encamped. Near this village, on an eminence towards the left, was a wretched chateau built of wood, where the Emperor (who, being informed that we had overtaken the Russians, immediately left Witepsk to join us) established his quarters.
“Never did a bivouac present a more military appearance than ours at Aghaponovchtchina. Napoleon, the King of Naples, and the Prince were in one tent. The generals, placed in miserable huts which their soldiers had hastily constructed, were encamped with their officers by the side of a rivulet, the miry water of which was preserved with the greatest care. During the three days that
we had been on the field of battle, water and roots had
constituted our only nourishment. But victory inspired us with spirits and with strength, and rendered us insensible to every privation. Our divisions were encamped on the eminences which surrounded the chateau, and the enemy could see our numerous fires,
the brilliant light of which dissipated the obscurity of the night.”
In all these affairs the loss of the Russians was immense; the Duke of Reggio alone having obtained over the Prince Wittgenstein a victory, near Drissa, where he lost three thousand men, and fourteen pieces of cannon. “ Pursuing the scattered troops, on the road to Sebei,” observes M. Labaume, “we counted two thousand dead.”
This was but a prelude to the battle of Smolensko, where the Russians maintained themselves with the greatest obstimacy, as Alexander, when he quitted the army, had recommended them to give battle in order to save Smolensko. This town is surrounded by an ancient wall, with battlements of eight thousand yards in circumference, ten feet thick, and twenty-five high, and at certain distances is flanked with enormous towers, - lin
in the form of bastions, the greater part of which were mounted with heavy pieces of cannon. The garrison consisted of thirty thousand men, and the rest of the army was in reserve on the right bank of the river, communicating by means of bridges
constructed below the town. Napoleon having made the Rus
sians believe that he should attack the town by the right bank of the Borysthenes, drew the attentiou of the enemy to that point, while, by an unexpected manoeuvre, he caused on a sudden the whole army to pass to the opposite side. After three days fighting, Davoust haviug taken possession of the covered-way, and Ney having forced the intrenchment of the Russians, General de Tolly, fearing an assault, reinforced the town with two new divisions, and two more regiments of infantry of the guard, The battle continued the whole of the night, but soon after the excuing had commenced thick columns of smoke were seen to rise from different quarters, “and the Russians having set fire to the town abandoned its ruins at one o'clock in the morning.” At two the French grenadiers mounted the breach, and to their great surprise found the place evacuated, and every street and every square covered with the bodies of the Russian
dead or dying.
* The next day (Aug. 19) we entered Smolensko by the suburb that is built along the bank of the river. In every direction we marched over scattered ruins and dead bodies. Palaces yet burning offered to our sight only walls half destroyed by the flames, and, thick among the fragments were the blackened carcasses of the wretched inhabitants whom the fire had consumed. The few houses that remained were completely filled by the soldiery, while at the door stood the miserable proprietor without an asylum, deploring the death of his children, and the loss of his fortune. The churches alone afforded some consolation to the unhappy victims who had no other shelter. The cathedral, celebrated through Europe, and held in great veneration by the Russians, became the refuge of the unfortunate beings who had escaped the flames. In this church and round its altars, were seen whole families extended on the ground. In one place was an old man just expiring, and casting a look on the image of the saint whom he had all his life invoked; in another an infant whose feeble cries the mother, worn down with grief, was endeavouring to hush: and while she pre
sented it with the breast, her tears dropped fast upon it.