Графични страници
PDF файл

more difficult matter when our army is assailed both in front and in rear at the same time, and the river to be crossed is guarded by imposing forces, as occurred in the pursuit of the French by the Russians in 1812.

The crossing of the Beresina by the French is one of the most remarkable examples of such a hazardous operation. Never was an army placed in so desperate a position; and never was such a position more gloriously and skilfully escaped.

Pressed with famine, perishing with cold, five hundred leagues away from its base of operations, assailed in front and in rear, upon the banks of a muddy river, and in the midst of vast forests, there seemed no hope of escape. The talent of the Emperor, the firmness of the soldiers were never more strikingly displayed, but it completed the ruin of the grand army, amid horrors of burning and drowning such as had never before been known in the memory of men. Twenty-five pieces of cannon, sixteen thousand prisoners, and above twelve thousand dead were the price at which the passage was purchased. Napoleon's moral courage and transcendant genius had never been more strikingly displayed; he had extricated himself with glory from a situation all but desperate. Chance favoured him in presenting a place favourable for the passage,

and in the removal of resistance from the opposite bank at the decisive moment, but it was his eagle eye which seized the advantage, and his iron mind which, in such awful circumstances, disdained all thoughts of compromise. His mighty fame seemed to precede him, and prevent every adversary from obstructing his path. You see," he exclaimed, when the passage was effected, “how one can pass under the beard of the enemy !” We know not which to admire most, the plan of operations which led the Russian armies from the depths of Moldavia, from Moscow and Polotsk to the Beresina, as to a peace rendezvous—a plan which nearly effected the capture of their redoubtable enemy—or the wonderful firmness and fortitude of the lion thus pursued, and yet who could contrive a passage !

Napoleon's escape on that occasion was an appropriate counterpart to the magnificent plan of pursuit upon which he operated in 1806, against the retreating Prussians, after the memorable battles of Auerstadt and Jena, which in a single day utterly prostrated the strength of the Prussian monarchy, and did in a few hours what the combined might of Austria, Russia, and France, in the Seven Years' War, had been unable to accomplish. If there was any one thing more than another in wbich the genius of Napoleon shone pre-eminent, it was in the vigour and ability with which he followed up a beaten enemy on all occasions; the present was not an opportunity to be lost of displaying this essential quality of a great general.

Without an instant's hesitation or delay, therefore, he prepared to pursue the extraordinary advantages he had gained. From all



[ocr errors]

parts of Germany bis forces had been assembled to one point, in order to strike the decisive blow. That done, the next object was to disperse them like a fan over the conquered territory, to carry everywhere the impression of their victory and the terrors of his arms.

On the night after the battle, instead of retiring to rest, Napoleon sat up dictating orders to all the corps of bis army for the directions they were to follow in pursuing the enemy. His general plan was as follows: On the extreme right, Bernadotte received orders to advance from Apolda to Neustadt, to cut off the line of retreat from Weimar to Naumburg, and so shut out the army from the great road to Magdeburg. Davoust was to return to Naumburg, to hold that important post and keep himself in readiness to debouche on the Elbe before the enemy could arrive there. Soult was to move on Buttelstadt, the point in rear of the field of battle, where the greatest number of fugitives had assembled. Murat and Ney bad to march direct upon Erfurth, and reduce that important place; while Lannes and Augereau were directed to take a position in advance of Weimar; and the Imperial Guard and Napoleon's head-quarters were transferred to that town.

Napoleon's general object in these movements was, that while the corps of Soult, Murat, and Ney pursued the broken remains of the Prussian army to Magdeburg, those of Bernadotte, Lannes, Davoust, Augereau, and the Guard, under his immediate orders, should cross the Elbe at Barby, Dessau, and Wittenberg, and moving upon Berlin and Spandau, intercept the line of retreat of the Prussians to Stettin and the Oder, This was the more easy as the French held the chord of the arc along which the Prussians had to move.

Soult, who first came up with the enemy, made quick work with Kalkreuth's division, which he twice defeated with heavy loss, and finally dispersed, within three days after the battle. Collecting prisoners at every step, Soult continued rapidly to advance, and planted his victorious standards around the walls of Magdeburg.

Prince Eugene, of Würtemberg, who commanded the Prussian Reserve, fourteen thousand strong, stunned by the intelligence of the disasters of the army at Jena, was preparing to make the best of his way back to Magdeburg and the Elbe, when he found himself beset on all sides at Halle by the corps of Bernadotte.

Notwithstanding the great superiority of force on the part of the French, the Prussians made a brave resistance, but they were compelled to give way, finally dispersing after the loss of four thousand prisoners and thirty pieces of cannon left in the hands of the victors, whose loss did not exceed twelve hundred men. Thus was the last regular corps of the Prussian army dissipated, and the broken remains of the vanquished crossed the Elbe at Dessau in such haste that they were unable completely to burn

U.S. Mag. No. 416, Jan. 1866.

the bridge behind them, which was speedily restored by the French, who established themselves in force on the right bank, and drew their posts round Magdeburg. Such was the decisive pursuit of the two army corps wbich Napoleon directed upon that important point of his comprehensive scheme.

The other corps of the pursuing army continued their triumphant progress, almost without opposition through Saxony. Within four days after the Battle of Auerstadt, Davoust marched into Leipsic.* Two days afterwards, he reached Wittenberg, just as the retiring Prussians were preparing to blow up its great bridge over the Elbe, when the French grenadiers suddenly pounced upon them, prevented the firing of the train, and secured that important passage.

The master-stroke of the pursuit was then delivered by Napoleon. The French had advanced so rapidly that they arrived in the vicinity of Magdeburg before a large portion of the broken Prussians had taken refuge within its walls. He at once perceived the importance of shutting up as large a number as possible of the enemy in a situation where it was evident they would ere long become his prisoners. He therefore gave orders to leave the entrance to the place open; and in order to expedite his plan, he dispersed his cavalry in all directions to drive the stragglers into that devoted fortress.

This work was consigned to Murat and his terrible horsemen. They soon scoured the adjacent plains and drove multitudes into the town, already ill-provided with the means of subsistence. Hohenlohe, despairing of preventing the investment of the place with the disorganized forces within the walls, and with famine impending, quitted the city on the following day with such forces as still maintained the appearance of order, and made for the fortresses on the Oder. His object was to avoid by a circuit the towns in the possession of the enemy, and to reach, if possible, before them, the defile of Löcknitz, near Stettin, which would have secured his retreat to that important fortress. Napoleon instantly took his measures, to anticipate the Prussian general in these movements. He sent Murat forward with his cavalry to get before him at the delile, whilst Lannes advanced as rapidly as possible in the same direction with his indefatigable infantry. By forced marches Murat got the start even of the horsemen of Hohenlobe's corps, whom he attacked at the head of Lasalle's dragoons, and utterly confounded with the suddenneas of his appearance at a place where they expected a leisurely retreat. The

* By a strange coincidence the French entered Leipsic on the very day on which seven years afterwards, they there experienced such a frightful overthrow ! There, als on that occasion, Napoleon fulminated that severe edict of his, designed to ruin the commerce of Great Britain and her merchants, the “damages” for which France had to pay” some nine years afterwards-with these very Prussians aiding in enforcing the retribution ! Napoleon may well be called “the man of destiny," since almost every grand incident of his wonderful career, had its appropriate disaster or humiliation to match it.


Prussian cavalry were forced to fall back, whilst the main body of the troops had to renounce all hope of continuing on the direct road to Stettin, as originally intended.

Hohenlohe then changed his direction, hoping to reach Stettin by the circuitous route of Boitzenberg; but in vain was the attempt, the unhappy prince found himself again beset by his indefatigable pursuers, who assailed the Prussian horse at once in front and flank with their terrible dragoons. The shock of these victorious squadrons was irresistible, the Prussian cavalry was speedily broken, and fell back in disorder to the suburbs of Pentzlow, already encumbered with infantry and artillery, and, at this critical moment, Lannes, who had marched all night on the direct road, suddenly appeared on their right flank.

Murat then summoned Hohenlohe to surrender; be refused, and made a gallant resistance; but all in vain, overwhelmed by such a multitude of calamities, and seeing no chance of escape, whilst every hour increased the forces coming up against him, Prince Hohenlohe, after vainly endeavouring to obtain a capitulation, was obliged to lay down his arms, with the only favourable condition that the officers should be dismissed on their parole. Murat's trophy on that occasion consisted of 14,000 men, prisoners of war, together with their general and including the flower of the Prussian Army, the Guards, six chosen regiments of cavalry, forty standards, and fifty pieces of field artillery.

In consequence of these and other disasters, the city of Magdeburg surrendered, and Napoleon, with his victorious armies, continued his progress towards Berlin, where he terminated this ever memorable pursuit, every incident of which has all the interest of the most impassioned and exciting drama. On the march he passed the field of Rosbach, that famous field where a handful of Prussians in former times had defeated an entire French army, and which Napoleon called "a burning shame.” Auerstadt and Jena had now avenged the horrible disaster. Prussia no longer existed as a nation. The French soldiers had thrown down the column erected in commemoration of the Prussian triumph at Rosbach, but Napoleon ordered it to be preserved from further injury, and had it transported as a trophy to Paris.

Strange viscissitude of human affairs ! Some nine years afterwards, the same Prussians were in possession of Napoleon's capital, and but for the determined resistance of the Duke of Wellington, they might have demolished every monument of the great Anak, recording his triumphs over them, or even razed Paris to the ground, in the excusable rancour and glut of revenge which possessed them, fathers and brothers, who might well forget even their national calamities in the private wrongs, humiliations, and outrages, which they had endured from their ruthless conquerors at the epoch of Auerstadt and Jena.


Army Ordnance




The Foundling. One fine morning of the year 1800, two gendarmes were just entering a little town in the South of France, where they were quartered, when their attention was attracted by cries issuing from a pit at the side of the highway.

The two soldiers, one of whoin was a corporal, were on horseback. They pulled up. It would be an unpardonable libel to say that these French soldiers were frightened by the sound in question; they were startled, however, as was quite natural; but they soon concluded that assistance was needed rather than danger to be feared. In fact the cries—at first like those of a waking babysoon changed into piercing shrieks, the significant tone of which was instantly recognised by the attentive ears that heard them. Undoubtedly there was, in the pit beside the highway, an infantan infant with vigorous lungs, but dying with thirst and hunger.

One of the soldiers alighted; and advancing to the pit he beheld a fine child about six months old, covered with rags. In an instant the soldier seized the child, handed it to his comrade, remounted, and both of them set spurs to their horses, to get to the town as quickly as possible in such a conjuncture.

Whence came that child thus found in a pit beside the highway? Who had left it there? It was impossible to say or conjecture, Those who had deserted it had taken care to leave no token of recognition on the poor infant, except the wretched rags in which it was enveloped. Providence, however, had cared for it; and it fell

into good hands.

The corporal's name was Jean, that of the gendarme under him, was Raymond. As in duty bound, in the case of foundlings, they proceeded at once to the Mayor of the town, after having agreed to stand godfathers to the infant.

Arriving at the mayoralty they instantly proceded to business.

“Mr. Mayor,” said Jean, after alighting and taking the screaming baby into his hands, “Mr. Mayor, here's a little creature that only begs for life-you understand—and a nurse must be found as quickly as possible. My old wife won't do, your honour !"

Well, well,” interposed Raymond, “isn't my wife at home? If she has enough milk for one-"

“Has the child any papers upon it?” bluntly interrupted the Mayor, who was too anxious about other matters of his own to fcel interested in the tender allusion.

“ Papers ?” exclaimed Jean, thrusting the little body under the nose of the vacant mayor.

« ПредишнаНапред »