OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Napoleon Bonaparte page 4

Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5

The policy of the Russians was to retire before the irresistible force of Napoleon, laying waste the country as they went. At an early period in the campaign it became evident that Napoleon had brought into those thinly-peopled wilds a host of men so great that it was beyond his power to feed them. It was impossible to carry supplies for such multitudes, and the wasted country through which their march led yielded nothing adequate to their enormous wants. Almost from the beginning the soldiers were put on half-rations. Water was scanty and bad; the heat of the weather was intense. Large numbers of the hungry soldiers strayed on marauding expeditions, and were lost. The mortality soon became excessive, and the army left ghastly traces of its presence in the carcasses of horses and the unburied bodies of men scattered thickly along the line of march. Before they reached Moscow, one-half of the men had sunk under the hardships of the journey.

Encouraged by the losses of their enemy, the Russians determined to abide the issue of a great battle before yielding Moscow. They took up a strong position at Borodino, and there awaited the French attack. The battle which ensued was distinguished over all the bloody encounters of that time by its enormous slaughter. At its close, one hundred thousand men lay dead or mangled on the field. The result was indecisive, both armies continuing to hold their original positions. But the Russians retreated next day, and left Moscow open to the invaders.

The French army, grievously weakened by battle and by hardship, entered Moscow with the rapturous joy of men whose dangers were over and their triumph assured. But their rejoicing quickly experienced a disastrous eclipse. To their dismay they found Moscow utterly abandoned by its inhabitants -silent as a city of the dead. Still worse remained. The heroic people had resolved to destroy their ancient capital rather than suffer it to be polluted by the occupation of the French army. Arrangements had been made to set fire to buildings in every quarter, and care had been taken to remove every appliance which could aid the extinction of the flames. The invaders, helpless and appalled, watched the unresisted progress of the fire; and even Napoleon admitted that this ushered in a long train of disaster.

The emperor shrank from owning the utter failure of his enterprise. He lingered among the ruins of Moscow during five or six precious weeks, which might almost have sufficed to place his army beyond the perils of a Russian winter. At length the retreat was begun, and the great tide of conquest rolled backward (The army was now reduced to one hundred thousand men). The Russian army, in renewed strength, and amply supplied, hung upon the flanks and rear of their enemy, and inflicted severe loss by their unwearying attacks. Soon the snow began to fall, and a Russian winter of exceptional severity set in. The retreat was henceforth attended by horrors unsurpassed in human history. At one time the unsheltered wretches were subjected to cold thirty degrees under zero. Thousands perished daily of hunger and cold. The river Berezina had to be passed under fire of the Russian artillery. So terrible was the disaster which befell them there, that when thaw came the Russians buried twelve thousand bodies of Frenchmen found in the river. At last the agonies of this awful retreat came to an end. Six hundred thousand fighting men had entered Russia; eighty thousand recrossed the Niemen. Of these, a large - proportion had been late reinforcements. But very few who had been with the expedition from the beginning returned to their homes. Nearly all had perished, or remained prisoners in the hands of the enemy. The miseries of this expedition stand alone in their appalling magnitude.

The political results of the Moscow campaign were necessarily of extreme importance. Napoleon was the abhorred oppressor of Germany; but his power had been such that resistance was hopeless, and Germany had to suffer the humiliation of sending troops to fight under the banner of the tyrant. But with the destruction of the French army hope dawned upon the suffering and degradation of years. Prussia, without loss of time, under the influence of a vehement popular impulse, entered into an engagement with Russia to aid her in the war with France. Austria followed-not inconsiderably strengthened in her disposition by an offer of ten million sterling from England. Sweden sent an army under Napoleon's old marshal, Bernadotte, to join the allies. The emperor was not yet wholly without friends. Denmark adhered to him in his days of adversity, as did several of the smaller German states. But the balance was now hopelessly against him.

Napoleon returned to Paris, and, with a candour unusual in his career, revealed the magnitude of the disaster which had fallen upon him. The confidence with which unparalleled success had inspired the French people was too strong to yield at once even to this unparalleled calamity. When the first paroxysm of dismay had exhausted itself, a belief in the genius and good fortune of the emperor was found to have survived. Napoleon applied himself with his wonted energy to the creation of a fresh army to replace that which had perished amid the Russian snows. The waste of life during these many years of war was now pressing hard upon the population of France. The military age was reduced to seventeen, and the standard of height to five feet one inch. Imperfectly grown boys, unfit to endure the fatigues of war, filled the ranks, and speedily crowded the hospitals. So vigorous, however, were the emperor's measures, and so well did his people support him, that in April he had two hundred thousand men ready to meet the Russians and Prussians on the Elbe.

In the campaign which followed, victory revisited the imperial standard. In the battles of Lutzen and Bautzen, the advantage remained with the French sufficiently to make it desirable for the allies to seek an armistice, which Napoleon granted.

But this gleam of hope was delusive. In the next campaign he sustained, at Leipsic, a defeat which made his retreat to the Rhine indispensable, and Germany was delivered.

And now France had to endure the miseries of invasion, which she had so long and so ruthlessly inflicted upon others. On the south-west, Wellington, with a hundred thousand veteran troops, who had come victorious out of every battle, stood ready to enter French territory. On the north-east, the allies, numbering almost a million of fighting men, were ready to fall upon her. Napoleon, with forces utterly inadequate to quell the storm which his ambition had raised, struggled heroically but vainly to defend his throne against the overwhelming strength of his enemies. The allies forced their way to Paris. With slight resistance the capital yielded to their summons. The fickle Parisians received them with delight. Napoleon was promptly abandoned by the courtiers who had lately lived in his smile. He abdicated the throne after an unsuccessful attempt to commit suicide. The allied sovereigns behaved generously to their fallen foe. He was allowed to retain the title of emperor; the island of Elba was assigned as his residence, and a sum of 100,000 pounds as his yearly income. Four hundred French soldiers were given him as a body-guard. He set out at once for his new home. He had to travel towards the coast in disguise to escape the fury of the people, who were eager now to have the blood of him who had so long been their idol.

Napoleon lived for nine or ten months in his little kingdom, -an islet sixty miles in circumference. He visited every corner of his dominions ', laid out now roads built several new palaces; imposed new taxes, to the discontent of his subjects; had a supply of water brought into his capital; took possession of an adjoining island, still smaller than his own. Soon these pursuits ceased to interest a mind accustomed to a sphere of activity so vastly higher. Then he turned his attention to the recruiting of his little army. It may be supposed that Napoleon would scarcely pause to consider the proportion which his income bore to his expenditure, and he quickly ran himself into pecuniary difficulties. All the while he spoke of his political career as closed. He spoke freely of the public affairs of Europe, but always with the tone of an unconcerned spectator. For him now there were no interests but his family, his house, his cows, his poultry. The disguise was skilfully assumed, for Napoleon, was unequalled as a dissembler. But ordinary credulity could scarcely trust in the permanence of a change so violent.

Meantime Louis XVIII. was on the throne of France, the fickle Parisians having hailed the restoration of the Bourbons with enthusiastic loyalty. At Vienna an august congress of royal and highly distinguished persons sat down to dispose of the enormous territories which had been redeemed from the grasp of Napoleon. The avaricious monarchs wrangled over the distribution of their vast spoils, and at one period there was imminent danger that their differences would fall to be arranged by the sword. But while their debates were in progress, tidings were received which suspended all disputes. Napoleon had left Elba, and was again in France.

The emperor had unostentatiously increased his army to a thousand men, and his fleet to seven small ships. A conspiracy had been formed in France to obtain the support of the soldiers, by whom the reign of peace was regarded unfavourably. When the time was fully ripe, Napoleon invited his principal subjects to a ball, over which his mother and sister presided. Meanwhile his troops were embarked, and Napoleon, quietly disengaging himself from his guests, went on board one of the ships. The little fleet at once put to sea, and steered for the French coast.

The restored government of the Bourbons melted into air before the awful figure of the returning emperor. The king and those who remained faithful to him withdrew in haste from Paris. The army everywhere pronounced for the chief who had so often led them to victory and plunder. Some of those whom Napoleon had raised to eminence, and who had accepted office from the king, hesitated to cancel their new allegiance. But Napoleon's personal ascendeney over the men who had served him was irresistible. Marshal Soult, who was War Minister to King Louis, after some decent hesitation, lent his sword to his old chief. Marshal Ney left Paris to take command against Napoleon, assuring the king that he would bring back the disturber in an iron cage. No sooner had he come within the range of Napoleon's influence than he yielded to the charm, and his army followed him. The civil population of France did not desire the renewal of strife; but the army was wholly with the emperor, and the destinies of France were in the hands of the army. Napoleon returned to the Tuileries, and resumed at once his old occupation of gathering men together to fight his battles and be slain in the interests of his ambition.

The allied monarchs prepared to renew their efforts to crush this destroyer of the peace of Europe. They bound themselves to furnish unitedly about a million of armed men, and never to rest from their efforts while Napoleon was on the throne of France. The troops, but recently arrived at their homes, were at once ordered to retrace their steps towards the French frontier. In a few months an overwhelming force would tread the soil of France. But the only troops immediately available to resist Napoleon were the English and Prussian armies in Belgium, commanded by the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Blucher. In numbers, these forces amounted to nearly two hundred thousand men, scattered over a wide territory, for it was uncertain where the attack of Napoleon would fall. The French army was one hundred and thirty thousand strong,-excellent in material and equipment. Napoleon's plan was to concentrate his own troops, and attack the widely-dispersed allies in detail. He burst upon the Prussians-imperfectly prepared to receive him-at Ligny, and drove them back with a loss nearly double his own. At the same time Marshal Ney attacked the English at Quatre Bras. The English also were caught before they had time to bring up their forces, but they fought with their accustomed courage. Reinforcements arrived during the battle, and, after a desperate conflict, Ney retired baffled. Next day, Wellington drew back his army in such a direction as to approach the Prussians, and took up his position near the village of Waterloo.

It was Napoleon's design to break the English by the attacks of his superior force before the Prussians came up. It was Wellington's design to hold his position till the arrival of the Prussians. The united armies would greatly outnumber their enemies. Napoleon had eighty thousand soldiers present on the field, - veterans on whom he could rely. Wellington had sixty-seven thousand, of whom only twenty-four thousand were British; the rest were Belgians, Hanoverians, and others of doubtful quality. The fate of the campaign depended on Wellington's ability to make good his defence against the superior force which now came against him.

The Prussians were long delayed by the difficulties of their march, and the battle had to be fought by the British army alone. ' Wellington had chosen his position on the crest of a range of gentle heights, with two strongly-held farmhouses in his front. The French occupied a corresponding eminence on the other side of a little valley. For eight hours the battle raged. Napoleon strove to break the English line of defence. In close succession, furious attacks were directed against the outnumbered English. The splendid French cavalry rode round the English squares, and up to the very muzzles of the muskets. A powerful artillery maintained a withering fire. Massive columns of infantry-strong enough, it seemed, to cleave their bloody path through every obstacle-ascended the slope. But it was all in vain. The English held the ridge, and repulsed every assault with terrible slaughter. At length the cannons of the advancing Prussians were heard. Napoleon moved forward, for a last attack, the splendid soldiers of his Guard- every man a veteran who had seen at least twelve campaigns. They too were driven back. And then the whole English line moved from its position, and advanced upon the shattered enemy The Prussians, in great force, appeared on the field, and took up the pursuit. The French army fled in hopeless rout, and now indeed the rod of the oppressor was broken. Napoleon himself had to ply his spurs to escape from capture. He rode on during all the hours of that midsummer night, with such thoughts as may be imagined.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 2 3 <4> 5

Pictures for Napoleon Bonaparte page 4

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About