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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 12

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Bragation, prevented by Jerome of Westphalia from pursuing his route towards Drissa, changed his course towards Minsk; but, finding himself outstripped there too, he made for the Beresina, and effected a passage at Bobruisk. He then ascended the Dnieper as far an Mohilev; but, finding himself anticipated by Davoust, he attacked that general in the hope of cutting his way through. In this he failed, after a sharply-contested engagement, and once more he retired down the Dnieper, and crossed at Nevoi-Bikoff, which enabled him to pursue his course for a union with Barclay de Tolly, who was making for Smolensk. Thus Bragation, though running imminent hazard of being cut off, managed to out-manœuvre Napoleon himself - a new event in his campaigns. On his march, his troops had several encounters with the French and Polish cavalry; but Platoff showed great gallantry, and often severely punished the enemy.

On the other hand, Barclay de Tolly, anxious to unite with Bragation and reach Smolensk, abandoned the strong encampment at Drissa, leaving Witgenstein near Drissa to watch the enemy and cover the road to St. Petersburg. The French pursued him with great rapidity, which, though it endangered his immediate union with Bragation at Vitebsk, yet served the Russian policy of drawing the French into the interior. Murat continually rushed forward with his cavalry to attack the rear-guard of De Tolly; but the Russian infantry maintained steady order, and continually withdrew before him. Every evening he was close upon them; every morning he found, himself again distanced. The Russians appeared in full vigour, and well supplied with everything; the French were sinking with famine and fatigue. At Polotsk the emperor Alexander left De Tolly, and hasten ed on to Moscow to prepare the inhabitants for that grand catastrophe which he already foresaw, and had resolved upon.

On the 14th of July, when Barclay de Tolly was close pressed by Napoleon, he learned that though Bragation had been repulsed at Mohilev, he was now advancing on Smolensk; he therefore himself again retreated before the French towards Vitebsk. At that town he had a partial engagement with the French; but he quitted in good order. Here Murat and most of the other general officers entreated Napoleon to close the campaign for this year; but he refused. The soldiers were dispirited by this continual pursuit without result; Murat himself was heartily sick of endeavouring to get a dash at the enemy and being as constantly foiled; king Jerome had been disgraced and sent back to his Westphalian dominions, on the charge of having let Bragation escape by want of sufficient energy; and Witgenstein had, to the great disgust of Napoleon, on the 2nd of July, crossed the river, surprised Sebastiani's vanguard of cavalry in Drissa, and completely routed them. These things had embittered Buonaparte; and if he ever intended to encamp for the winter at Vitebsk, he now abandoned the idea with indignation. It was still midsummer; the enemy had so far eluded him; he had not been able to strike one of his usual great blows, and send terror before him. He was impatient of a pause. " Surrounded," says Ségur, " by disapproving countenances, and opinions contrary to his own, he was moody and irritable. AU the officers of his household opposes him," some with arguments, some with entreaties, some - as Berthier - even with tears; but he exclaimed, ' Did they think he was come so far only to conquer a parcel of wretched huts? that he had enriched his generals too much; that all to which they now aspired was to follow the pleasures of the chase, and to display their splendid equipages in Paris. We must,' he said, ' advance upon Moscow, and strike a blow, in order to obtain peace, or winter-quarters and supplies.' "

Barclay de Tolly halted at Rudnia, half way between Vitebsk and Smolensk, and there was considerable manœuvring between these generals to surprise one another, but this resulted in nothing but the loss of several days. On the 14th of August they arrived at the Dnieper, and Murat dashed across and attacked the rear-guard of the Russians on the opposite bank. Newerowskoi, the general in command, stood his ground well, and then made a good retreat to Smolensk. His retreat was reckoned an advantage on the part of the French; and as it happened to be Buonaparte's birthday, and the anniversary of the canonisation of St. Napoleon - whom Buonaparte had had made a saint - a hundred guns were fired in commemoration. On the 15th Buonaparte pressed after the Russians towards Smolensk. The united Russian army now amounted to one hundred and eighty thousand men, and Buonaparte had already lost or disabled one-third of his active force. Barclay de Tolly, therefore, appeared here to make a stand, much to the delight of Buonaparte, who cried out, exultingly, " Now I have them! "

But De Tolly was only remaining to defend the town whilst the inhabitants carried off with them all their movable property. Whilst on the side of Smolensk, when Buonaparte arrived, all was silent, and the fields empty, on the other side it was one great crowd of the people moving away with their effects. Buonaparte hoped that the Russians would deploy before the gates, and give him battle; but they did nothing of the sort, and Buonaparte determined to storm the place. Its walls were old, but very thick, and it might hold out some time, and the assault must cost many lives; but Buonaparte determined to make it. The French, however, learned that the Russians were already in retreat; and Murat observed that to waste these lives was worse than useless, as the city would be theirs without a blow immediately. Buonaparte replied in an insulting manner to Murat, and ordered the assault the next morning. On this, Murat, driven to fury, spurred his horse to the banks of the Dnieper, in the face of the enemy, betwixt batteries, and stood there as voluntarily courting death. Belliard called out to him not to sacrifice himself - he only pushed on still nearer to the fire of the Russian guns, and was forced from the scene by the soldiers. The storming commenced, and Tolly defended the place vigorously, killing four or five thousand of the French as they advanced to the attack.

But Tolly did not mean to remain longer than was necessary for the inhabitants to have made a safe distance; he was afraid of Napoleon making a flank movement and cutting off his way to Moscow. In the night fires broke out all over Smolensk: they could not be the effect only of the French shells; and Buonaparte sate watching them till morning. Soon bridges, houses church spires, all of wood, were enveloped in roaring flames. The next day, the 18th of August, the French entered the place whilst it was still burning around them. The dead, half consumed, lay around the smoking ruins; and the French army marched through this ghostly scene with military music playing, but with hearts Struck with consternation and despair at this proof of the inveterate determination of the Russians to destroy their whole country rather than suffer it to be conquered. Here they were left without shelter, without provisions, without hospitals for the sick, or dressings for the wounded, without a single bed where a man might he down to die; and all before them was the same. The Cossacks beset the flanks of march, and burnt down all villages, and laid waste all fields ere they could reach them. Again the officers entreated that they might form an encampment and remain; but Buonaparte replied still, " They must make all haste to Moscow."

That the Russians who had destroyed Smolensk would also destroy Moscow, was pretty certain; and his advance thither could only precipitate Buonaparte into the most awful difficulties on the approach of winter. But his spirit, accustomed to surmount all obstacles, could not brook being thus foiled by the Russians, and he rushed on his fate, adding another example to the defeats of Xerxes in Greece, Cambyses in Egypt, of Crassus, and afterwards of Julian, in Parthia. His forces were rapidly sinking from over-exertion and hunger; those of the Russians were well supplied, and were cheered by the news - which at the same time depressed Napoleon, who received it at Vitebsk - of the peace made between Turkey and Russia, at Bucharest, on the 16th of May. Both parties also received news of the English government having supported all Bernadotte's plans, having made peace with Russia, and being actively engaged in supplying her with all the requisites for maintaining the conflict. Alexander, too, had found the most enthusiastic reception at Moscow. The merchants subscribed large sums by voluntary subscription, and voted a general tax. The nobility offered a levy of ten men in the hundred; and many of them armed, equipped, and maintained their own levies. All to a man were resolved to sacrifice everything for the service of the country, and swore never to make peace whilst there was a living Frenchman in it.

From Riga Buonaparte learned that Macdonald maintained the blockade, thus keeping Courland in awe, and alarming St. Petersburg; that St. Cyr, more to the south, had compelled Witgenstein, after a severe battle at Polotsk, to assume the defensive; and that Regnier had defeated Tormasoff at Gorodeczna, in Poland. But Tormasoff fell back on the Moldavian army, commanded by admiral Tchitchigoff; and general Steingel was marching with the army of Finland to join Witgenstein. These distinct successes, therefore, were but of small moment in comparison with the lowering prospects before him.

Napoleon dispatched Murat with his cavalry, Junot, Ney, and Davoust, in pursuit of the Russians, whom they over- took at a place called Valoutina, where a desperate battle was fought, and many men were killed on both sides; but the Russians moved off again without the loss of guns, prisoners, or baggage. Buonaparte, on proceeding to the spot, blamed Junot, imputing to him want of activity in the action, and threatening to deprive him of his command. The whole road betwixt Smolensk and Valoutina was strewn with the dead and wounded; and as lie entered the city on his return, lie met whole tumbrils of amputated limbs going to be thrown away at a distance. The scene is said to have overcome even his senses, so long hardened to human suffering. On the 24th of August he marched forward to Gjatsk, where his advanced guard had halted. There he learned, to his great satisfaction, from a Frenchman long resident in Russia, that the people and the new levies, impatient of continual retreat and the ravage of their country, had demanded that Barclay de Tolly, a German, whom they imagined not sufficiently careful of Russian property and interests, should be superseded by the old general, Koutousoff, and that they should stand and fight. This was precisely what Buonaparte wanted, and the prudent De Tolly knew to be little better than madness, as it must cause a fearful loss of life, and would not rid the country of the invader, who was better left to starvation and the elements. But Alexander, though of De Tolly's opinion, gave way, and the Russians entrenched themselves on the heights of Borodino, De Tolly most magnanimously continuing to serve under Koutousoff. There, after a march of two hundred and eighty versts in seventeen days, the French came up with them; and, after a halt of two days, they attacked the Russian lines.

This most bloody of battles took place on the 5th of September. There were about one hundred and twenty thousand men engaged on each side, and the guns on each side are said to have amounted to one thousand. Before the battle, the priests passed along the ranks of the Russians, reminding them of the wrongs they had suffered, and promising paradise to all that fell. Buonaparte, on his side, issued this proclamation: - " Soldiers! here is the battle you have longed for! It is necessary, for it brings us plenty, good winter quarters, and a safe return to France. Behave yourselves so that posterity may say of you - ' He was in that great battle under the walls of Moscow.' " It was rather a damping circumstance that the day before the battle Buonaparte received the news of Wellington's victory at Salamanca. The battle commenced at seven o'clock in the morning, and continued the greater part of the day, the Russians, even to the newest levies, fighting with the most immovable courage. Buonaparte demanded of Caulaincourt whether the Russians were determined to conquer or die? He replied that they had been fanaticised by their leaders, and would be killed rather than surrender. Buonaparte then ordered up every possible gun, on his plan of battering an army as he would batter a fortress. Still the Russians fought on furiously, and Berthier urged him to call up his " young guard but he replied, " And if there is another battle to-morrow, where is my army?"

At length the firing mutually ceased, but the Russians did not quit their position; it was the French who drew off, and their outposts, during the following night, were alarmed by the Russian cavalry. The Russians had fifteen thousand killed and thirty thousand wounded; the French ten thousand killed and above twenty thousand wounded, and of these latter very few recovered, for they were destitute or almost every hospital necessary, even lint. The Russians made one thousand prisoners and the French about two thousand. The loss of guns on either side was nearly equal. Had the battle been resumed the next day it must have gone hard with the French; but Koutousoff was not Willing to make such another sacrifice of his men, and he resumed the policy of De Tolly and made his retreat, continuing it to Moscow in so masterly a manner, that lie left neither dead, nor dying, nor wounded, nor any article of his camp equipage behind him, so that the French were at a loss to know where he had really gone. On the 12th they learned, however, that lie had retreated to Moscow, and Buonaparte instantly resumed his march. At Krymskoie Murat and Mortier came upon a strong body of Russians, and were repulsed, with the loss of two thousand men. The Russian rear-guard then hastened on again towards Smolensk.

There, a council of war was called, and it was debated whether they should make a stand there or not. The conclusion was that they should not, but should abandon the sacred city - the Jerusalem of Russia - to the enemy, and, there can now be little doubt, to the flames. Rostopchin, the governor of the city, had for some time been preparing for the grand catastrophe. Under pretence of pouring down liquid fire on the French from a monster balloon, he had employed great numbers of women in making such a balloon, and men in preparing fireworks and combustibles - the accumulation of the latter being his real object.

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 12

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