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The Reign of George III. - (Continued.) page 15

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But whilst Tchitchagoff attacked the French on the right bank, Witgenstein attacked them on the left, separated Partouneaux's division from the main body, and, assisted by Platoff, compelled him and two other generals to surrender with seven thousand men, including eight hundred cavalry - a serious loss to Napoleon, who had very few horse left. The Russians then threw a bridge of pontoons over the river at Borissov, and, being in communication, attacked the French vehemently on both sides of the river at once. Buonaparte and the troops who were over the river forced their way across some marshes over wooden bridges, which the Russians had neglected to destroy, and reached Brelowa, a little above Borissov, on the other side. But terrible now was the condition of the forces and the camp followers who had not crossed. Witgenstein, and Victor, and Oudinot were engaged in mortal fight on the left bank at the approach of the bridge, the French generals endeavouring to beat off the Russians as the troops and people pressed in a confused crowd over the bridges. Every moment the Russians drove the French nearer to the bridges, and the scene of horror became indescribable. The throngs rushed to make their way over the bridge; the soldiers, forgetting their discipline, added to the confusion. The weak and helpless were trampled down; thousands were forced over the sides of the bridge, and perished in the freezing waters. In the midst of the struggle a fierce tempest arose, and deluges of rain fell; and, to carry the horror to the highest pitch, the bridge over which the baggage was passing broke down, plunging numbers of sick, and women and children into the flood, amid the most fearful cries and screams. But all night the distracted multitude continued to press over the sole remaining bridge under the fire of the Russian artillery, and amongst them passed the troops of Victor, who gave up the contest on the left bank, and left those who had not crossed to their fate. Thousands of poor wretches were seen, as morning dawned, huddled on the bank of the river, amid baggage-wagons and artillery, surrounded by the infuriated Russians, and in dumb despair awaiting their fate. To prevent the crossing of the Russians, the French set fire to the bridge, and left those behind to the mercy of the enemy.

No scene in history ever was fraught with such multiplied horrors. Thirty thousand French perished in that fatal passage of the Beresina; and had Koutousoff done what he might, not a man, not Napoleon himself, could have escaped, But this cautions old general was contented that winter should finish the work. In the first few days after Napoleon had quitted Smolensk the Russians had taken twenty-six thousand prisoners, including three hundred officers, and two hundred and twenty-eight guns, with numerous standards. They had killed ten thousand French- men, and now thirty thousand more had perished. That was enough for Koutousoff.

On assembling his remnant of an army in Brelowa, Buonaparte beheld a state of general disorganisation prevailing. Perishing with cold and hunger, every man was only mindful to take care of himself. In a short time the whole village was pulled down to make camp-fires of the timber, for the weather was fiercely cold. He could scarcely prevent them Stripping off the roof under which he had taken shelter. He set out on his march for Wilna on the 29th of November. The army hurried along without order or discipline, their only care being to outstrip the Russians, who were, like famished wolves, at their heels; the Cossacks continually cutting down numbers of their benumbed and ragged comrades, who went along more like spectres than actual men. The thermometer was at twenty degrees below zero.

At Malodeczno, on the 3rd of December, Buonaparte announced to his officers his intention to leave them and make the best of his way to Paris. He pleaded the state of affairs there, and especially the conspiracy of Mallet; but he was now approaching the frontiers of Prussia, and as he knew that he had declared that, if he returned successful, he would deprive Frederick altogether of his crown, he was as apprehensive of that monarch as of the Russians themselves.

But he went on to Smorgony, and there, the remains of the army having come up, he called a council of war on the 5th of December. He told his generals that he had ordered Ney to reorganise the army at Wilna, and had appointed Murat, king oŁ Naples, generalissimo in his absence. He assumed a tone of great confidence, promised his army good winter-quarters beyond the Niemen, and assured them that he was hasting away to present himself directly at the head of one hundred and twenty thousand men to keep the Austrians and Prussians firm to their alliance, and thus to make those he left behind more secure than he could do by staying with them. He then passed through the crowd of his officers, who were drawn up in an avenue as he passed, bidding them adieu by forced and melancholy smiles. He then stepped into a sledge with Caulaincourt and shut themselves in; his Mameluke and Wakasowitch, captain of his guard, occupied the box, and Duroc and Lobau followed in another sledge; and thus the man who entered Russia with nearly half a million of men, stole away, leaving the miserable remnant of his vast army to the elements and the Russians!

Napoleon reached Warsaw on the 10th of December, after a narrow escape of being taken at a village named Youpranoui. The astonishment of his minister there, the quondam abbé de Pradt, now duke of Vicenza, was beyond bounds at his appearance, wrapped in furs and tricked off in lace, to appear a Russian or a Pole; still more when he heard that he was on his way to Paris. " But where is the army? " said De Pradt. " It exists no longer! " replied Caulaincourt, to whom the question was addressed. " But the victory at the Beresina, and the six thousand prisoners? " he asked, still quoting the famous twenty-ninth bulletin. " We got across; that is all," said Caulaincourt, looking upwards. This was before they entered the room of the poor inn where Buonaparte was stopping incognito. There they found a servant-girl endeavouring to blow into life a fire of green sticks that refused to burn, and filled the apartment with choking smoke. Buonaparte accosted De Pradt with affected gaiety. The abbé, or duke, put on an air of sympathy; but Buonaparte's pride resented that. "The poor man," says the abbé, "did not understand me." In fact, Buonaparte, after having sent to Paris twenty-eight bulletins in succession, filled with the most astonishing fictions of his victories and successes, knowing now that the truth would soon be all over Europe, prepared France for the loss of its army by attributing the loss of it to the sudden, unexpected, and extraordinarily severe winter, and to the Russians having burnt Moscow, which, he said, was a sacrifice on their parts worthy of Romans: the truth being that he had never beaten the Russians, not even at the sanguinary battle of Borodino; but they had inveigled him, and completely out-generaled him by drawing him into the interior, and leaving him without shelter on the approach of winter. That winter, according to Russian authorities, was neither premature nor of unusual severity, and only the madness of Buonaparte could have led him to remain amid the ruins of Moscow for nearly five weeks, when the Russians themselves had repeatedly warned him by their taunts that the winter would be down upon him and paralyse his army in one night. But his pride refused to believe that Alexander of Russia, even after his most unprovoked invasion of his territory, would treat his offers of peace with contempt, and he lingered on in the vain hope of a reply. Such was the unbending character of his vanity, that, notwithstanding he knew very well of his daily losses, he pretended to know nothing of it, and severely snubbed any of his officers who told him any such news, asking if they wished to deprive him of his tranquillity. All the time that he continued with the army, even during the terrible retreat, he issued his Orders as if the whole mighty host continued intact. The truth is, that before his entrance into Russia his head was completely turned by his unparalleled successes, and there it was further turned by his reverses. He continued to talk more like a maniac than a sane man; and such was the enormity of his pride, that to the hour of his death he continued to regard himself, and compelled every one around him to regard him still, as rightful master of the world. The audacity of his lying was equal to the enormity of his egotism, and the inconsistencies of his talk were there- fore most pitiful.

When De Pradt congratulated him on the escape from such dangers, " Dangers! " he exclaimed, " there were none! The army is in a superb condition; I have one hundred and twenty thousand men; I have beat the Russians in every action. The army will recruit at Wilna, and I shall speedily return thither with three hundred thousand men! " And yet, in the same breath, he confessed that he had been informed every morning that he had lost ten thousand horses in the night; and that the " successes of the Russians had made them fool- hardy," and so, on his return, he would beat them twice or thrice on the Oder, then again on the Niemen, and after that would be speedily in St. Petersburg. He continued to talk for some hours in a continuous and excited strain, interspersed with bursts of laughter, and with every now and then exclaiming, in the language of Tom Paine, " From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a step!" - which was a confession that he had made that step - and then adding, with fresh laughter, " But it was written in heaven that I should marry an archduchess! " Half a dozen times ho bade De Pradt and two Polish ministers who came in "good-bye," and then went on again repeating the same melodramatic expressions, when he suddenly entered his sledge, and drove off furiously through the midnight darkness, saying, in answer to the wishes of De Pradt and the Poles, that " he could not be in better health were the very devil in him " - which undoubtedly he was, in all his strength.

On the 14th of December he was in Dresden, and had a long conversation with his satrap king there; and, after escaping some endeavours of the Prussians to seize him, he arrived safe in Paris at midnight of the 18th, where the Parisians, who had with some indifference suppressed the conspiracy got up by the republicans under general Mallet, hastened to overwhelm him with the most fulsome flatteries. The story of his rubbing his hands over the fire on his arrival at the Tuileries, and saying, " This is pleasanter than Moscow," which was perfectly true, shows an intensity of selfishness which no history on earth can equal. In this one campaign, that magnificent army, the very flower of French, German, and Polish soldiery - perhaps the finest army ever assembled - had perished to a mere fraction, and that amid the most unheard of, the most hitherto unconcealed horrors. The remnant of these soldiers was still struggling on in their deserted march, through these horrors even still more intensified. Numbers were falling every day all along the frozen desert tracks, exhausted by famine and cold, and the snows immediately buried them. When they approached any place of rest or refreshment, they fought furiously for fragments of firewood or pieces of horse-flesh. When a horse fell under the burdens they had piled upon him, he was torn by them limb from limb, while yet palpitating with life, and devoured raw. Nay, these gaunt and famishing troops, by the testimony of Segur, their own companion and historian, devoured one another - cannibalism was raging, like other furies, amongst them. When thus gorged, they lay down to sleep at their bivouac fires; then thrust their feet so close to the embers that they were burnt off, whilst their heads were frozen to the ground; and happy were they, in comparison, when the ruthless Cossacks came up, and thrust their spears through them. Such was the weariness of these miserable fugitives over immeasurable deserts of frost and snow, and cutting, scythe-edged winds, that nothing but the sound of the Cossack drum, and if'. e howls of the Cossack avengers could induce them to rise and pursue their desolate march. And the man who had brought all these terrible calamities upon nearly half a million of men - and more than half a million by far, including women, children, and other camp followers, to say nothing of the invaded Russians - felt not a pang for these vast human sufferings, but only for his own detestable pride. Yet there are men and, what is worse, women, and those of our own country, who have not been ashamed to worship this monster of carnage - this wholesale perpetrator of human misery - as something great and admirable. What a perversion of all heart and intellect. For if the talent and the power for mischief be worshipable, then Satan himself has far greater claims on the depraved homage of such minds.

We need not follow the track of the deserted army with much minuteness. The moment Buonaparte was gone, all discipline and command ceased. The chief officers quarrelled vehemently; and Murat denounced his imperial brother-in-law in the bitterest terms, and escaped away into Italy on the first opportunity. The Austrians and Prussians marched away, and the French, pursued by the Russians till they crossed the Niemen, were continually assailed, and dispersed or killed; so that Macdonald at length reached Köningsberg with nine thousand men, the body of French presenting anything but the appearance of an army! In this fatal campaign, Boutourlin states that, of this splendid army, one hundred and twenty-five thousand were killed; one hundred and thirty-two thousand died from fatigue, hunger, and the severity of the climate; and one hundred and ninety-three thousand, including forty-eight generals and three thousand officers, were taken prisoners - an awful comment on the assertions of Buonaparte that he had beaten the Russians everywhere. The nine thousand soldiers who returned with Macdonald leave only eleven thousand to be accounted for of the whole four hundred and seventy thousand, besides women, children, and camp servitors, who entered Russia. These eleven thousand were, no doubt, dispersed fugitives, some of whom might eventually reach France. Such a destruction of human life in one campaign, so utterly unfelt for by the man who occasioned it, stands alone in the history of this world's miserable wars. The crime of it, as it rests on the head of that guilty soul, is beyond mortal calculation.

During this momentous struggle, Russia was munificently supported by England. The peace which Mr. Stratford Canning, now lord de Redcliffe, our ambassador at Constantinople, had been the means of effecting between Turkey and Russia, released admiral Tchitchagoff and his army of thirty thousand men to march against Buonaparte; and had not that stupid personage suffered himself to be so grossly deceived by the French emperor at the Beresina, neither Buonaparte nor a man of his army had ever got across that river. At the same time peace was made with Russia by England, and Russia sent her fleet, for security, to an English port during the invasion. Peace also was ratified betwixt England and Sweden, and Bernadotte was at liberty to pursue his plans for aiding in the general movement of the north for the final extinction of the Buonaparte rule. England also bountifully supplied the Russians with money, and arms, and other necessaries, so that a French officer who accompanied general Lauriston to the head-quarters of the Russian army was astonished to find abundance of English money circulating and in the highest esteem, though Buonaparte had represented England as on the verge of bankruptcy. " When I saw English banknotes passing," he said, " as if they were gold, I trembled for our daring enterprise."

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