Page images
PDF
EPUB

Frere assured that the nnmerous battalions of the enemy wêre not able to arrest their progress, or make any impression on them. In the mean time their army had considerably diminished, while the useless multitude, styled followers of the camp, had increased in proportion, in as much as many of their soldiers, either through disease or want of courage, had quitted their ranks, and mingled with the crowd. This description of persous was unhappily very numerous, principally among the cavalry, which was almost entirely dismoumted. They were in truth, become more than useless to the army. In the perilous situation in which it then found itself they constituted its greatest danger. They not only impeded all its manoeuvres, but they spread alarm and disorder on all sides, by flying with precipitation before an enemy with which their cowardice would not permit them to fight. The cossacks likewise seeing this feeble and unarmed multitude flying before them, acquired fresh courage, and attacked the French with redoubled ardour, beleving that these columns of fugitives were the only troops with which they had to contend.

$ (November 6th). We marched towards Smolensko with an ardour which redoubled our strength; and approaching Doroghobouï, distant from that city only about twenty leagues, they thought that in three days we should reach the end of all our misfortunes, filled us with the most intoxicating joy; when suddenly the atmos. phere, which had hitherto been so brilliant, was clouded by cold and dense vapours. The sun, enveloped by the thickest mists, disappeared from our sight, and the snow falling in large flakes, in an instant obscured the day, and confounded the earth with the sky. The wind, furiously blowing, howled dreadfully through the forests, and overwhelmed the firs already bent down with the ice; while the country around, as far as the eye could reach, presented unbroken one white and savage appearance.

"The soldiers, vainly struggling with the snow and the wind, that rushed upon them with tempestuous violence, could no longer distinguish the road; and falling into the ditches which bordered it, there found a grave.

Others pressed on towards the end of their journey, scarcely able to drag themselves along. They were badly mounted, badly clothed, with nothing to eat, nothing to drink, shivering with the cold, and groaning with pain. Becom, ing selfish through despair, they afforded neither suceow, nor even one glance of pity to those who, exhausted by fatigue and disease, expired around them. On that dreadful day, how many unfortunate beings, perishing by cold and famine, struggled hard with the agonies of death! We heard some of them faintly bido ding theịr last adieu to their friends and comrades. Others, as they drew their last breath, pronounced the name of their mothers, their wives, their native country, which they were never more to The rigour of the frost soon seized on their benumbed limbs, and penetrated through their whole frame. Stretched on the road, we could distinguish only the heaps of snow that covered ther, and which, at almost every step, formed little undulations, like so many graves. At the same time vast flights of ravens, abandoning the plain to take refuge in the neighbouring forests, croaked mournfully as they passed over our heads : and troops of dogs, whích had followed us from Moscow, and lived solely on our mangled remains, howled around us, as if they would hasten the period when we were to become their

prey. " From that day the army lost its courage and its military attí. tude. The soldier no longer obeyed his officer. The officer separated himself from his general. The disbanded regiments marched in disorder. Searching for food, they spread themselves over the plain, burning and pillaging whatever fell in their way. No sooner had the soldiers separated from the ranks, than they were assailed by a population eager to avenge the horrors of which it had been the victim. The cossacks came to the succour of the peasants, and drove back to the great road, already filled with the dying and the dead, those of the followers who had escaped from the carnage made among them.

» Such was the situation of the army, when we arrived at Doroghoboui. This little town would have given new life to our unfortunate troops, if Napoleon had not been so far blinded by rage, as to forget that his soldiers would be the first to suffer by the dea vastation which he caused to be made. Doroghobouï had been burnt, its magazines pillaged, and the brandy with which they were filled had been poured into the streets, while the rest of the army was perishing for want of it. The few houses which red mained were occupied exclusively hy a small number of generals and staff-officers. The few soldiers who yet dared to face the enemy, had little shelter from the rigours of the season, while the others, who had wandered from their proper corps, were repulsed on every side, and found no asylum in any part of the camp: How deplorable was then the situation of these poor wretches Tormented by hunger, we saw them run after every horse the moment it fell. They devoured it raw, like dogs, and fought among themselves for the mangled limbs. Worn out by want of sleep and long marches, they saw nothing around them but the snow; not one spot appeared on which they could sit or lie. Pea netrated with the cold, they wandered on every side to find wood, but the snow had caused it entirely to disappear. If perchance they found a little, they knew not where to light it. Did they dise' cover a spot less exposed than others, it afforded them but a mó. mentary shelter, for scarcely had their fire kindled, when the vio. lence of the wind, and the moisture of the atmosphere, suddenly extinguished it, and deprived them of the only consolation which remained in their extreme distress. In one place we saw a multitude of them huddled together like beasts at the root of a beech,

or

or pinė, or under a waggon. Others were employed in tearing huge branches from the trees, or pulling down by main force, and burning the houses at which the officers lodged. Although they were exhausted by fatigué, they stood erect. They wandered like spectres through the livelong night, or stood immoveable around some enormous fire." P. 292.

During this and the following day Napoleon lost the third part of his army, and it was during that cruel night that the soldiers, no longer under control, began to pillage tbe baggage Nothing, however, seems to have broken the spirit of the troops more than the disappointment they met with in reaching Smolensko. During the whole of their terrible retreat they had looked upon this town as the end of their sufferings. The reader therefore may imagine their despair when they heard that they were not allowed to stop, and that the provisions were all con: sumed.

* A thunder-bolt falling at our feet could have confounded os less than did this news. We could not believe the fact; but our eyes soon gave us a sad confirmation of this truth, when we saw the garrison eagerly rushing out, and immediately devouring the houses, which every moment dropped, exhausted with fatigue and hunger." P.314.

The motive, which induced Napoleon to change his plan, was the news which he received that Wittgenstein had forced kle Dwina, that Witepsk had been taken with its garrison, and that the army of Moldavia, united to that of Yolhynia, having driven before it the corps of Prince Schwartzenbeng, was taking

position on the Beresina, with the design of joining Wittgen. stein, and effectually cutting off the retreat of the French army.

“ Marching from Smolensko, a spectacle the most horrible was presented to our view." We saw under the ramparts an immense quantity of artillery, once the trophies of our victories, but what we were now obliged to abandon to the enemy. From that point till we arrived at the wretched ruined hamlet of Loubna, at the distance of about three leagues, the road was entirely covered with cannon and ammunition-waggons, which they had scarcely time to spike, or to blow up. Whole teams of cattle, sinking under . their labours, fell together. The carcasses of the horses covered and blocked up the way. More than 30,000 of them perished in a few days *. Ad the defiles which the carriages could not pass,

filled with musketz, helmets, and breast-plates. Trunks broken apen, and portmanteaus torn to pieces, and garments of every kinda were scattered over the yalley. At every distance, we met with trees at the foot of which the soldiers had attempted to light a fire, but the poor wretches had perished ere they could accomplish their object. We saw them stretched around the green branches which they had vainly endeavoured to kindle; and so numerous were, the bodies, that they would have obstructed the road had not the soldiers been often employed in throwing them into the ditches and ruts.

were

* 29th Bulletin.

". These horrors, far from exciting our sensibility, only hardened our hearts. Our cruelty, which could no more be exercised on the evemy, was extended to our companions. The best friends no longer recognised each other. Whoever discovered the least sickness, if he had not good horses and faithful servants, 'was sure never to see his country again. Every one preferred to save the plunder of Moscow, rather than the life of his comrade. On all sides we heard the groans of the dying, and the lamentable cries of those whom we had abandoned. But all were deaf to their supplications, or, if any one approached those who were on the point of expiring, it was to plunder, not to assist them ; it was to search whether they had any remains of food, and not to afford them relief.

“ Being arrived at Laubna, we were able to save only two mi, serable barns from destruction, one for the Viceroy, and the other for his staff. We had scarcely established ourselves there, when we heard a loud cannonade in our front. As the noise appeared to come from our right, some thought that it was an engagement with the ninth corps, which, not having been able to relieve Witepsk, was obliged to retreat before a superior force ; but they who were best acquainted with the country, believed that it was The Emperor and his guard, who had been attacked before his ar. rival at Krasnoë, by Millorađowitch and Count Orloff Denisoff", who coming from Elnia, had cut off the retreat of our army, during our stay at Smolensko.

We can scarcely imagine a picture more deplorable than the bivouack of the staff. Twenty-one officers confounded with as many servants, had crept together round a little fire, under an execrable cart-house scarcely covered. Behind them were the horses ranged in a circle, that they might be some defence against the wind, which blew with great violence. The smoke was so thick that we could scarcely see the figures of those who were close to the fire, and who were employed in blowing the coals on which they cooked their food. The rest, wrapped in their pelisses or their cloaks, lay one upon another, as some protection from the cold; nor did they stir, except to abuse those who trod upon them as they passed, or to trail at the horses, which furiously plunged whenever ia spark fell upon them.” P. 338.

a

** These generals commanded the advanced-guard of the army of Kutusoff."

From

From this moment the whole French army marched fast to destruction. As the horses could no longer draw, they were obliged to abandon their cannon at the foot of the slightest hill, and the only duty which then remained to the artillery-men was to scatter the powder of the cartridges, and to spike the pieces, lest the Russians should turn them against their enemy; and Kutusoff having crossed the line of their march, both Napoleon and the Viceroy were obliged to cut their way through the Russian battalions, and when they both joined their corps they had no more than thirty thousand men, including the imperial guard, of whom eight thousand combatants only survived. In the mean time the army of Volhynia, joined to that of Moldavia had seized on the bridge of Borisov, to cut the French off from the passage of the Beresina, while Wittgenstein was also advancing to form a junction with Admiral Tschikacoff, and Prince Kutusoff. This movement rendered the position of Napoleon truly desperate, but he having found the means of being joined by the corps of reserve, attacked the Russians and forced them to retreat to the other bank of the river, after having lost two thousand men, six cannon, and a quantity of baggage.

Arrived at the Beresina, on the very spot where Charles XII. had crossed that river on his march to Moscow, the French found that the Russiaus, in their flight, having destroyed the great bridge of Borisov, had lined all the right bank with numerous battalions, and defended the principal points whence the French could possibly attempt to pass. In this critical situation, Napoleon, always ready in resources, obtained possession of a commanding place, and in the presence of the Russians, and notwithstanding their utmost opposition, he constructed two bridges, and the corps under the Duke of Reggio put them to flight.

" What a frightful picture did this multitude of men present; overwhelmed with misfortunes of every kind, and hemmed in by a morass; that very multitude whiclı, two months before, had.ex. ultingly spread itself over half the surface of a vast empire! . Our soldiers, pale, emaciated, dying with hunger and cold, having po, thing to defend them from the inclemency of the season but tattered pelisses, and sheep-skins half burnt, and uttering the most mournful lamentations, crowded the banks of this unfortunate river. Germans, Polanders, Italians, Spaniards, Croats, Portu. guese, and French, were all mingled together, disputing and quarrelling with each other in their different languages :-finally, the officers and even the generals, wrapped in pelisses covered with dirt and filth, mingling with the soldiers, and abusing those who pressed upon them, or braved their authority, formed a scene of

strange

a

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »