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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 13


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On the 14th of September the French army came in sight of Moscow, and the soldiers, worn down and miserable with their long and severe march, shouted with joy, " Moscow! Moscow! " They rushed up the hill called the Mount of Salvation, because there the natives coming in full view of the city kneel and cross themselves. There the splendid spectacle of the widely-spread ancient capital lay before their eyes, with its spires of thirty churches, its palaces of Eastern architecture, and its copper domes glittering in the sun. Interspersed were beautiful gardens, and masses of noble trees, and the gigantic palace of the Kremlin rising above in colossal bulk. All were Struck with admiration of the place which had so long been the goal of their wishes. Napoleon himself sat on his horse surveying it, and ex- claimed, "Behold at last that celebrated city!" But he immediately added, in an under tone, " It was full time!" He expected to see trains of nobles come out to throw themselves at his feet and offer submission; but no one appeared, and not a sign of life presented itself, not a smoke from a single chimney, not a man on the walls. It looked like a city of the dead. The mystery was soon solved by Murat, who had pushed forward, sending word that the whole population had abandoned Moscow! Two hundred and fifty thousand people had forsaken their home in a mass! The tidings Struck the invader with wonder and foreboding; but he added, smiling grimly, " The Russians will soon learn better the value of their capital." He appointed Mortier governor of the place, with strict orders that any man who plundered should be shot; he calculated on Moscow as their home for the winter - the pledge of peace with Alexander - the salvation of his whole army. But the troops poured into the vast, deserted city, and began everywhere helping themselves, whilst the officers selected palaces and gardens for residences at pleasure.

Buonaparte took up his residence at a palace in the suburbs. In the night there was an alarm of fire; it broke out in the quarter full of bazaars and coachmakers' factories. Napoleon rushed to the spot, and the flames were extinguished by the exertions of the soldiers. The next day all was quiet, and such French as lived in Moscow came out of their hiding-places and joined their countrymen. The folio wing night the fires burst forth again. At first the conflagration had been attributed to accident; now it was felt to be the result of design, and Russians were seen fanatically hurrying from place to place with combustibles in their hands - the preparations of Rostopchin. Buonaparte during the day had taken possession of the Kremlin, and it was in imminent danger. When the fire was discovered near it it came with the wind; it was extinguished, but the wind changed, and fire rose on that side, and again blew towards the palace. This occurred several times during the night; it was clear that there was a determined resolve to burn down the Kremlin. The flames defied all the efforts of the soldiers; they hunted down, according to Napoleon's twenty- first bulletin, no less than three hundred incendiaries, and shot them on the spot. These were armed with fusses six inches long, and inflammables, which they threw on the roofs.

Buonaparte, who that day had dispatched a letter to Alexander proposing peace, was in the utmost agitation. He walked to and fro in distraction. " These are indeed Scythians! " he exclaimed. The equinoctial gales rose in all their wild fury. Providence commenced its Nemesis. The Kremlin was on fire! and all was raging fire around it; churches, palaces, streets, mostly of wood, were roaring in the storm. It was with difficulty that Buonaparte could be induced to leave the Kremlin, and as he did so he said gloomily, " This bodes us great misfortunes." He began to foresee all the horrors which followed. He had to traverse streets and squares blazing and falling around him. " I saw him," says Labaume, " pass by, and could not without abhorrence behold the chief of a barbarous expedition evidently endeavouring g to escape the decided testimony of public indignation by seeking the darkest road. He sought it, however, in vain. On every side the flames pursued him, and their horrible and mournful glare, flashing on his guilty head, reminded me of the torches of the Eumenides pursuing the destined victim of the Furies."

The fire raged with unabating fury from the 14th till the 19th - five days. Then the city lay a heap of burning ashes. All the wealth which was left behind was burnt or melted down. " The palaces and temples," according to Karamsin, the Russian historian, " monuments of art, and miracles of luxury, the remains of ages passed away," were gone. The Kremlin still remained, and Buonaparte returned into it, though it contained great quantities of gunpowder. " A few scattered houses," says Segur, " amongst the ruins, were all that was left of the mighty Moscow. The suburbs were sprinkled with Russians of both sexes covered with garments nearly burnt; they flitted about like spectres amongst the ruins. Squatted in the gardens, some of them were scratching up the earth in quest of vegetables, while others were disputing with the crows for the relics of the dead animals which the army had left behind." Yet, amid all this misery, and the prospects of his own famishing troops, Buonaparte busied himself with arranging a theatre in the Kremlin, and passed whole days in discussing the merits of plays, and of players whom he had brought with him from Paris. During this time the soldiers lived on their dead horses, which they salted down, and on sugar and spirits, which they discovered in some unconsumed warehouses, and they employed themselves in digging for melted gold and silver, and such valuables as the falling ruins had saved from the fire. Some of them had collected costly shawls, and furs, and jewels; others had found tea, coffee, and other luxuries; but the main part of them lived on flesh little better than carrion, and muddy water. It was an infernal scene of mingled riot and starvation, " beginning," as Labaume observes, " in a masquerade, and ending in a tragedy."

But there could be no stay at Moscow, for all their provisions had to be brought from distant districts by water carriage in summer, and on sledges in winter. But, as the Russian population had fled, the Russians were only too glad to starve out the French. Not a single article of food came near the place. Alexander returned no answer to Buonaparte's letter. The pledge which he might have made some concessions to redeem had been destroyed by his own orders, and Buonaparte had now nothing to offer worthy of his attention. He and his army were awaiting the" attack of the wintry elements to join them in the extermination of the invaders. Buonaparte dispatched general Lauriston to Alexander with fresh offers; but Alexander refused to see him, and turned him over to Koutousoff, who flattered him with hopes and professions of desire for peace, in order to put on the time, for every day nearer to winter was a day gained of incalculable importance. But he said that he must send Napoleon's letter to St. Petersburg, to the czar, and await his reply. This was on the 6th of October, and the reply could not be received before the 26th; there was nothing for it but to wait, and Lauriston waited - a fatal delay for the French!

Meantime, Buonaparte and his marshals spent this precious time in attending plays, and in discussing the best route for a retreat. Had they decamped at once they might have saved a good part of the army; but his ambition had surely infatuated the once clear-headed Corsican, and held him to his fate.

Koutousoff had made a dexterous march and encamped at Taroutino, a strong position near Kaluga, between Moscow and Poland, so as to be able to cut off the retreat of the French into the fertile plains of Poland, and to cover Kaluga and Tula, the great Russian manufactory of arms and artillery. Buonaparte sent Murat with the cavalry to watch the camp of Koutousoff, and the king of Naples established himself in front of the Russian lines. As he marched to that position he arrived at a splendid estate belonging to prince Rostopchin; it was, both house and fields, consumed with fire, and a letter was left for Murat, to tell him that it was done that it might afford no atom of comfort to the detested French. The peasantry also burnt their villages and corn-stacks as he approached. In order to compel the serfs to labour in throwing up entrenchments, the French branded some of them in the hand with the letter N., as a mark that they were now serfs of Napoleon; but one man immediately laid his branded hand on a block of wood, and chopped it off with his axe, to show his contempt of the claim. Murat entered into a sort of armistice with Koutousoff whilst waiting for the reply from Alexander, in the hope that thus they should obtain supplies from the peasants; but neither food nor firing was obtainable except by fighting for it, nor was the armistice at all observed, except just in the centre, where Murat lay. From every quarter Cossacks continued to collect to the Russian army - strange, wild figures, on small, wild-looking horses with long manes and tails, evidently drawn from the very extremities of the empire. All Russia was assembling to the grand destruction of the invaders. Behind the camp the French could hear the continued platoon-firing, indicating the perpetual drilling of the peasantry that was going on. Other bodies of peasants formed themselves into bodies of guerrillas, under the chiefs of their neighbourhood. The whole of the Russian population since the burning of Moscow had become grimly embittered, and had taken arms, to have a share in the mighty revenge coming. And now, as the sudden descent of winter was at hand, the same men who had pretended to admire the soldier-like figure and gallantry of Murat - who galloped about in all his military finery in front of the Russian camp - began to ask the officers if they had made, a paction with winter. " Stay another fortnight," they said, " and your nails will drop off, and your fingers from your hands, like rotten boughs from a tree." Others asked if they had no food, nor water, nor wood, nor ground to bury them in France, that they had come so far?

Murat sent continual intelligence of these things to Napoleon, and urged him to commence his retreat without another day's delay. But, as if deprived of sense and spirit, Buonaparte continued to linger on in Moscow, vainly hoping for the answer from Alexander, which never came, for the czar not only refused to read the letter of the French emperor, but snubbed Koutousoff for sending it to him, or receiving Lauriston for a moment. Sometimes Napoleon resolved to make an entrenched camp of Moscow, and pass the winter there, but then came the recollection that lie could procure no provisions. Then, when he resolved upon retreat, he could not renounce his old habit of plundering the country that he invaded, collecting all the pictures, images, and ornaments of the churches which had escaped the fire, and loading them on wains. He had the gigantic cross on the tower of Ivan the Great, the tallest steeple of Moscow, taken down, vainly hoping to display these memorials of his visit to Moscow with the other spoils of the nations in Paris. He determined to drag away all his artillery with him, and ordered twenty thousand horses to be bought for the purpose of trailing all this incumbrance on a vast marsh, where all the Cossacks and fierce tribes of Russia would dog his heels, and where winter was sure to prostrate his hosts. But no horses were there, and the command was sheer madness.

But at length the thunder of the Russian cannon roused him from this delirious dreaming. Koutousoff, inducing Murat, by a stratagem, to declare the armistice at an end, attacked his position, and defeated him, with a loss of two thousand men killed, and one thousand five hundred taken prisoners. He took his cannon and baggage, and drove him from his entrenchments. The only food found in the French camp was horseflesh and flayed cats; the king of Naples had no better for his table - thus showing the miserable straits to which they were reduced. On the 19th of October Buonaparte marched out of Moscow, leaving, however, a strong garrison in the Kremlin, under Mortier, for it would appear that he still intended to return thither. The army which followed him still consisted of nearly one hundred and twenty thousand men, accompanied by five hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, and two thousand artillery wagons. Buonaparte spoke with affected cheerfulness to his generals, saying that he would march by Kaluga to the frontiers of Poland, where they would go into comfortable winter quarters. After the army came another host of camp followers of French who had been resident at Moscow but dared not remain behind, and a vast train of carriages loaded with baggage and the spoils of Moscow.

Buonaparte endeavoured to manoeuvre so as to get into Koutousoff's rear, and thus to have the way into the fertile provinces beyond him open. He sent forward Delzon to occupy Malo-Jarowslavitz, a very strong position; but Koutousoff penetrated his design, made a rapid march, and encountered Delzon in the very streets of Malo-Jarowslavitz. A severe battle took place, and the French finally recovered Malo-Jarowslavitz,. but only to find it, like Moscow, in flames, and to lose Delzon and his brother, as well as some thousands of men. Beyond the burning town they also saw Koutousoff and one hundred thousand men drawn up in a position which the French generals declared impregnable. Buonaparte received this information with expressions of consternation unusual to him. He determined the next morning to examine this position for himself, and in so doing was very nearly captured by a band of Cossack cavalry. A council of war was held in a wretched weaver's hut, and he reluctantly concluded to forego this route, and take that by Vereiva and Viasma, the same by which he had advanced on Moscow. This was, in fact, to doom his army to perdition; for all the way by Borodino, Smolensk, and Vitebsk, the country had been ravaged and desolated in coming; there was nothing in it to keep alive an army. Had he waited only a few hours, he would have found Koutousoff himself retreating from his strong defiles from fear of being out-flanked by the French, and their making their way beyond him to the fertile provinces. Thus the two armies were each in retreat at the same moment, but Buonaparte's was a retreat upon death and horror.

At Vereiva, where Buonaparte halted on the 27th of October, Mortier arrived from Moscow, having blown up the Kremlin with gunpowder, and with it a crowd of Russians who had rushed in at the moment of his evacuation. Mortier on his march had also surprised and captured general Winzengerode. From this place Buonaparte issued a bulletin, announcing that not only Moscow, but the Kremlin was destroyed; that the two hundred thousand inhabitants of Moscow were wandering in the woods existing on roots; and that the French army was advancing towards St. Petersburg with every means of success. Such was the audacity of lying by which lie hoped to conceal the real truth from Paris. At this moment he was exasperated almost to frenzy by his prospects, and since the defeat of Malo-Jarowslavitz he was gloomy and unapproachable from the violence of his temper. On the march the army passed with horror the field of Borodino. "The ground," says Segur, " was covered with fragments of helmets and cuirasses, broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms, and standards steeped in blood. On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half devoured corses. A number of skeletons, left on the summit of one of the hills, overlooked the whole. It seemed as if here death had fixed his empire. The cry ' It is the field of the great battle!' found a long and doleful murmur. Napoleon passed quickly; no one stopped; cold, hunger, and the enemy urged us on. We merely turned our faces as we proceeded to take a last melancholy look at our late companions in arms."

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Pictures for The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 13

Prince of Wales
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Travelling in Catalonia
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City of Murcia
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The Battle of Albuera
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Lucca
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Venta
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Cathedral of Tarragona
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Marshal Ney
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Storming of the Fortress Ciudad Rodrigo
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Palermo
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Arsenal
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Emperor Alexander I
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View of the city of Moscow.
View of the city of Moscow. >>>>
Destruction of Moscow
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Travelling in Russia.
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Grille of the Kremlin
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Grand Square of the Kremlin
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Return of the French army
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