« PreviousContinue »
they did not hesitate to inflict upon their fellow-subjects many of those severities, which soldiery in general confine to the country of an enemy; and, to judge from the accounts of the peasantry, the subsequent march of the allies inflicted upon them fewer, or at least less wilsul, evils, than those which they had experienced at the hands of their own countrymen. These excesses were rarely checked by the officers; some of whom indulged their own rapacity under cover of that of the troops, while the recent events which invited soldiers to judge and act for themselves, had deprived others, who, doubtless, viewed this license with grief and resentment, of the authority necessary to enforce a wholesome restraint upon their followers.
This looseness of discipline was naturally and necessarily followed by dissensions and quarrels among the troops themselves. The guards, proud of their fame in arms, and of their title and privileges, were objects of the jealousy of the other corps of the army, and this they repaid by contumely and arrogance, which led, in many cases, to bloody affrays. The cavalry and infantry had dissensions of old standing, which occasioned much mutiny and confusion. Above all, the license of pillage led to perpetual quarrels, where one regiment or body of troops, who were employed in plundering a village or district, were interrupted by others who desired to share with them in the gainful task of oppression.
These feuds, and the laxity of discipline in which chiefly they originated, may be traced to Bonaparte's total disuse in this, as in his more fortunate campaigns, of the ordinary precautions for maintaining an army by the previous institution of magazines. By neglecting to make such provision, he no doubt greatly simplified his own task as a general, and accelerated, in the same degree, his preparations for a campaign, and the march of an army unencumbered with forage-carts. But he injured, in a much greater proportion, the discipline and moral qualities of his soldiery, thus turned loose upon the country to shift for their own subsistence; and, -had such a motive weighed with him,he aggravated, in a lenfold degree, the horrors of warfare.
The evils arising from the presence of his army were now to be removed into the territories of an enemy. The marches and combination of the various corps d’armée were marked in a distinguished manner by that high military talent which planned Bonaparte's most fortunate campaigns. In the same day, and almost at the same hour, three large armies: that from Laon, headed by the emperor himself; that of the Ardennes, commanded by the notorious Vandamme; and that of the Moselle, under the orders of General Girard, having broken up from their different cantonments, attained, by a simultaneous movement, a united alignement upon the extreme frontiers of Belgium. The good order and combination with which the grand and complicated movements of these large armies were executed, was much admired among the French officers, and received as the happy augury of future success.
To his army thus assembled, Bonaparte, upon the 14th of June, 1815, made one of those inflated and bombastic addresses, half riddle, half prophecy, which he had taught the French armies to admire as masterpieces of eloquence. He had not neglected his system of forlunate days; for that upon which he issued his last proclamation was the anniversary of the Marengo and Friedland victories; on which, as well as after those of Austerlitz and Wagram, he assured his troops he had fallen into the generous error of using his conquests with too much lenity. He reminded his soldiers of his victory over Prussia at Jena; and having no such advantage to boast over the English, he could only appeal to those among his ranks who had been prisoners in Britain, whether their situation had not been very uncomfortable. He assured them they had the private good wishes of the Belgians, Hanoverian and soldiers of the Confederation of the Rhine, although for the present forced into the enemy's ranks; and concluded by asserting, that the moment was arrived for every courageous Frenchman to conquer or die.
This speech was received with infinite applause (comme de raison), and on the morning of the subsequent day (15th June) his army was in motion to enter Belgium.
But my exhausted paper reminds me that this must be the boundary of my present epistle.-Yours, affectionately,
PAUL TO THE MAJOR-IN CONTINUATION.
Campaign opens-British and Prussian Positions—Treachery of Fouché-Bona
parte's advance--Occupation of: Charleroi-Crossing of the Sambre-Ney commands the Left Wing-Bonaparte the Centre and the Right-Advance of the Allied Troops-Cameron's Gathering-Black Brunswickers--Brussels Action at Quatre Bras-French occupy Le Bois du Bossu-Are repulsed by General Maitland-- Post at Quatre Bras-Charge by French Cavalry-Gallant defence of the 42d --Loss of the British--Confidence inspired by their success.
I GAVE you, in my last, some account of the auspices under which Bonaparte opened the last of his fields. The bloody game was now egin; but, to understand its progress, it is necessary to mark the position of the opposite party.
Notwithstanding the fertility of Belgium, the maintenance of the nu
merous troops which were marched into that kingdom from Prussia, and transported thither from England, was attended with great burdens to the inhabitants. They were therefore considerably dispersed, in order to secure their being properly supplied with provisions. The British cavalry, in parlicular, were cantoned upon the Dender, for the convenience of forage. The Prussians held the line upon the Sambre, which might be considered as the advanced posts of the united armies.
Another obvious motive contributed to the dislocation of the allied force. The enemy having to choose his point of attack along an extended frontier, it was impossible to concentrate their army upon any one point, leaving the other parts of the boundary exposed to the inroads of the foe; and this is an advantage which the assailant must, in war, always possess over his antagonist, who holds a defensive position. Yet the British and Prussian divisions were so posted, with reference to each other, as to afford the means of sudden combination and mutual support; and, indeed, without such an arrangement, they could not have ultimately sustained the attack of the French, and Bonaparte's scheme of invasion must have been successful on all points.
But though these precautions were taken, it was generally thought they would not be necessary. A strong belief prevailed among the British officers, that the campaign was to be conducted defensively on the part of the French; and when the certain tidings of the concentration of the enemy's forces, upon the extreme frontier of Belgium, threatened an immediate irruption into that kingdom, it was generally supposed, that, as upon former occasions, the road adopted by the invaders would be that of Namur, which, celebrated for the sieges it had formerly undergone, had been dismantled, like the other fortified places in Flanders, by the impolicy of Joseph II., and is now an open lown. And I have heard it warmly maintained by officers of great judgment and experience, that Bonaparte would have had considerable advantages by adopting that line of march in preference to crossing at Charleroi. Probably, however, these were compensated by the superior advantage of appearing on the point where he was least expected. In fact, his first movements seem to have partaken of a surprise.
It is not to be supposed that the Duke of Wellington bad neglected, upon this important occasion, the necessary means to procure intelligence,--for skill in obtaining which, as well as for talent in availing himself of the information when gained, he was preeminently distinguished on the Peninsula. But it has been supposed, either that the persons whom he employed as his sources of intelligence, were, upon this occasion, seduced by Bonaparte, or that false information was conveyed to the English general, leading him to believe that such had been the case, and of course inducing him to doubt the reports of his own spies. The story is told both ways; and I need hardly add, that very possibly neither may be true. But I have understood from good authority, that a person, bearing, for Lord Wellington's information, a detailed and authentic account of Bonaparte's plan for the campaign, was actually despatched from Paris in time to have reached Brussels before the commencement of hostilities. This communication was intrusted to a female, who was furnished with a pass from Fouché himself, and who travelled with all despatch in order to accomplish her mission; but, being stopped for two days on the frontiers of France, did not arrive till after the battle of the 16th. This fact, for such I believe it to be, seems to countenance the opinion, that Fouché maintained a correspondence with the allies, and may lead, on the other hand, to suspicion, that though he despatched the intelligence in question, he contrived so to manage, that its arrival should be too late for the purpose which it was calculated to serve. At all events, the appearance of the French upon the Sambre was at Brussels an unexpected piece of intelligence.
The advance of Bonaparte was as bold as it was sudden. The second corps of the French attacked the outposts of the Prussians, drove them in, and continued the pursuit to Marchienne-du-pont, carried that village, secured the bridge, and there crossing the Sambre, advanced towards a large village, called Gosselies, in order to intercept the Prussian garrison of Charleroi, should it retreat in that direction. The light cavalry of the French, following the movement of the second corps as far as Marchienne, turned to their right after crossing that river, swept its left bank as far as Charleroi, which they occupied without giving the Prussians time to destroy the bridge. The third corps d'armée occupied the road to Namur, and the rest of the troops were quartered between Charleroi and Gosselies, in the numerous villages which everywhere occur in that rich and populous country. The Prussian garrison of Charleroi, with the other troops which had sustained this sudden attack, retired in good order upon Fleurus, on which point the army of Blucher was now concentrating itself.
The advantages which the French reaped by this first success, were some magazines taken at Charleroi, and a few prisoners; but, above all, it contributed to raise the spirits and confirm the confidence of their armies.
Upon the 16th, at three in the morning, the troops which had hitherto remained on the right of the Sambre, crossed that river; and now Bonaparte began to develop the daring plan which he had formed, of attacking, upon one and the same day, two such opponents as Wellington and Blucher.
The left wing of the French army, consisting of the 1st and 2d corps, and of four divisions of cavalry, was intrusted to Ney, who had been suddenly called from a sort of disgraceful retirement to receive this mark of the emperor's confidence. He was commanded to march upon Brussels by Gosselies and Frasnes, overpowering such opposition as might be offered to him in his progress by the Belgian troops, and by the British who might advance to their support.
The centre and right wing of the army, with the imperial guards ( who were kept in reserve), marched to the right towards Fleurus against Blucher and the Prussians. They were under the immediate command of Bonaparte himself.
The news of Napoleon's movements in advance, and of the preliminary actions between the French and Prussians, reached Brussels upon the evening of the 15th. The Duke of Wellington, the Prince of Orange, and most other officers of distinction, were attending a ball given on that evening by the Duchess of Richmond. This festivity was soon overclouded. * Instant orders were issued that the garrison of Brussels, the nearest disposable force, should move out to meet the approaching enemy; similar orders were issued to the cavalry, artillery, and the guards, who were quartered at Enghien; other troops, cantoned at greater distances, received orders to move to their support.
Our two distinguished Highland corps, the A2d and 92d, were among the first to muster. They had lain in garrison in Brussels during the winter and spring, and their good behaviour had attracted the affection of the inhabitants in an unusual degree. Even while I was there, Les petits Ecossais, as they called them, were still the theme of affectionate praise among the Flemings. They were so domesticated in the houses where they were quartered, that it was no uncommon thing to see the Highland soldier taking care of the children, or keeping the shop, of his host. They were now to exhibit themselves in a different character. They assembled with the ulmost alacrity to the sound of the Cameron's Gathering, a well-known pibroch, the corresponding words of which are, “ Come to me, and I will give you flesh,” an invitation to the wolf and the raven, for which the next day did, in fact, spread an ample banquet, at the expense of our brave countrymen as well as of their enemies. They composed part of Sir Thomas Picton's division, and early in the morning of the 16th (marched out together with the other troops, under the command of that distinguished and lamented officer. The Duke of Brunswick, also, marched out at the head of his "black Brunswickers," so termed from the mourning
[The popular error of the Duke of Wellington having been surprised, on the eve of the battle of Waterloo, at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond at Brussels, was first corrected, on authority, in the History of Napoleon Bonaparte,” which forms a portion of the “ Family Library.” The Duke had, before one o'clock of that day, received intelligence of Napoleon's decisive operations, and it was intended to put off the ball ; but, on reflection, it seemed highly important that the people of Brussels should be kept in ignorance as to the course of events, and the Duke not only desired that the ball should proceed, but the general officers received bis commands to appear at it, each taking care to quit the apartment as quietly as possible at ten o'clock, and proceed to join his respective divisjon en route.).