John Holland Rose.

The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 2 of 2) online

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and Prussia, in case they should open hostilities; her reward was to
be the rich province of Silesia. As for the rest of Prussia, two
millions of that people were to be assigned to Saxony, Frederick
William being thrust to the east of the lower Vistula, and left with
one million subjects.[290] Such was the glittering prize dangled
before Metternich. But even the prospect of regaining the province
torn away by the great Frederick moved him not. He judged the
establishment of equilibrium in Europe to be preferable to a mean
triumph over Prussia. To her and to the Czar he had secretly held out
hopes of succour in case Napoleon should prove intractable: and to
this course of action he still clung. True, he trampled on _la petite
morale_ in neglecting to aid his nominal ally, Napoleon. But to
abandon him, if he remained obdurate, was, after all, but an act of
treachery to an individual who had slight claims on Austria, and whose
present offer was alike immoral and insulting. Four days later
Metternich notified to Russia and Prussia that the Emperor Francis
would now proceed with his task of armed mediation.[291]

Austria's overtures for a general peace met with no encouragement at
London. Her envoy, Count Wessenberg, was now treated with the same
cold reserve that had been accorded to Lord Walpole at Vienna early in
the year. On April 9th Castlereagh informed him that all hope of peace
had failed since the "Ruler of France" had declared to the Legislative
Body that _the French Dynasty reigned and would continue to reign in
Spain, and that he had already stated all the sacrifices that he could
consent to make for peace_.

"Whilst he [Napoleon] shall continue to declare that none of the
territories arbitrarily incorporated into the French Empire shall
become matter of negotiation, it is in vain to hope that His
Imperial Majesty's beneficent intentions can by negotiation be
accomplished. It is for His Imperial Majesty to consider, after a
declaration in the nature of a defiance from the Ruler of France,
a declaration highly insulting to His Imperial Majesty when his
intervention for peace had been previously accepted, whether the
moment is not arrived for all the Great Powers of Europe to act in
concert for their common interests and honour. To obtain for their
States what may deserve the name of peace they must look again to
establish an Equilibrium in Europe."

Finally, the British Government refused to lend itself to a
negotiation which must weaken and distract the efforts of Russia and
Prussia.[292]

For the present Napoleon indulged the hope that the bribe of Silesia
would range Austria's legions side by side with his own, and with
Poniatowski's Poles. Animated with this hope, he left Paris before the
dawn of April 15th; and, travelling at furious speed, his carriage
rolled within the portals of Mainz in less than forty hours. There he
stayed for a week, feeling every throb of the chief arteries of his
advance. They beat full and fast; the only bad symptom was the refusal
of Saxony to place her cavalry at his disposal. But, at the close of
the week, Austria's attitude gave him concern. It was clear that she
had not swallowed the bait of Silesia, and that her troops could not
be counted on.

At once he takes precautions. His troops in Italy are to be made
ready, the strongholds of the Upper Danube strengthened, and his
German vassals are closely to watch the policy of Vienna.[293] He then
proceeds to Weimar. There, on April 29th, he mounts his war-horse and
gazes with searching eyes into the columns that are winding through
the Thuringian vales towards Leipzig. The auguries seem favourable.
The men are full of ardour: the line of march is itself an
inspiration; and the veterans cheer the young conscripts with tales of
the great day of Jena and Auerstadt.

At the close of April the military situation was as follows. Eugène
Beauharnais, who commanded the relics of the Grand Army, after
suffering a reverse at Mockern, had retired to the line of the Elbe;
and French garrisons were thus left isolated in Danzig, Modlin,
Zamosc, Glogau, Küstrin, and Stettin.[294] Napoleon's first plan of an
advance direct to Stettin and Danzig having miscarried, he now sought
to gather an immense force as secretly as possible near the Main,
speedily to reinforce Eugène, crush the heads of the enemy's columns,
and, rolling them up in disorder, carry the war to the banks of the
Oder, and relieve his beleaguered garrisons by way of Leipzig and
Torgau. The plan would have the further advantage of bringing a
formidable force near to the Austrian frontier, and holding fast the
Hapsburgs and Saxons to the French alliance.

Meanwhile the allied army was pressing westwards with no less
determination. The Czar and King had addressed a menacing summons to
the King of Saxony to join them, but, receiving no response, invaded
his States. Thereupon Frederick Augustus fled into Bohemia, relying on
an offer from Vienna which guaranteed him his German lands if he would
join the Hapsburgs in their armed mediation.[295] For the present,
however, Saxony was to be the battlefield of the two contending
principles of nationality and Napoleonic Imperialism.

They clashed together on the historic ground of Lützen. Not only the
associations of the place, but the reputation of the leaders helped to
kindle the enthusiasm of the rank and file. On the one side was the
great conqueror himself, with faculties and prestige undimmed even by
the greatest disaster recorded in the annals of civilized nations. He
was opposed by men no less determined than himself. The illness and
finally the death of the obstinate old Kutusoff had stopped the
intrigues of the Slav peace party, hitherto strong in the Russian
camp: and the command now devolved on Wittgenstein, a more energetic
man, whose heart was in his work.

But the most inspiring influence was that of Blücher. The staunch
patriot seemed to embody the best qualities of the old _régime_ and of
the new era. The rigour learnt in the school of Frederick the Great
was vivified by the fresh young enthusiasm of the dawning age of
nationality. Not that the old soldier could appreciate the lofty
teachings of Fichte the philosopher and Schleiermacher the preacher.
But his lack of learning - he could never write a despatch without
strange torturings of his mother-tongue - was more than made up by a
quenchless love of the Fatherland, by a robust common sense, which hit
straight at the mark where subtler minds strayed off into side issues,
by a comradeship that endeared him to every private, and by a courage
that never quailed. And all these gifts, homely but invaluable in a
people's war, were wrought to utmost tension by an all-absorbing
passion, hatred of Napoleon. In the dark days after Jena, when,
pressed back to the Baltic, his brave followers succumbed to the
weight of numbers, he began to store up vials of fury against the
insolent conqueror. Often he beguiled the weary hours with lunging at
an imaginary foe, calling out - _Napoleon_. And this almost Satanic
hatred bore the old man through seven years of humiliation; it gave
him at seventy-two years of age the energy of youth; far from being
sated by triumphs in Saxony and Champagne, it nerved him with new
strength after the shocks to mind and body which he sustained at
Ligny; it carried him and his army through the miry lanes of Wavre on
to the sunset radiance of Waterloo.

What he lacked in skill and science was made up by his able
coadjutors, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the former pre-eminent in
organization, the latter in strategy. After organizing Prussia's
citizen army, it was Scharnhorst's fate to be mortally wounded in the
first battle; but his place, as chief of staff, was soon filled by
Gneisenau, in whose nature the sternness of the warrior was happily
blended with the coolness of the scientific thinker. The accord
between him and Blücher was close and cordial; and the latter, on
receiving the degree of doctor of laws from the University of Oxford,
wittily acknowledged his debt to the strategist. "Well," said he, "if
I am to be a doctor, they must make Gneisenau an apothecary; for he
makes up the pills and I then administer them."

On these resolute chiefs and their 33,000 Prussians fell the brunt of
the fighting near Lützen. Wittgenstein, with his 35,000 Russians,
showed less energy; but if a fourth Russian corps under Miloradovitch,
then on the Elster, had arrived in time, the day might have closed
with victory for the allies. Their plan was to cross a stream, called
the Floss Graben, some five miles to the south of Lützen, storm the
villages of Gross Görschen, Rahna, and Starsiedel, held by the French
vanguard, and, cutting into Napoleon's line of march towards Lützen
and Leipzig, throw it into disorder and rout. But their great enemy
had recently joined his array to that of Eugène: he was in force, and
was then planning a turning movement on the north, similar to that
which threatened his south flank. Ney, on whom fell Blücher's first
blows, had observed the preparations, and one of his divisions, that
of Souham, had strengthened the village of Gross Görschen for an
obstinate defence. The French position is thus described by Lord
Cathcart, who was then present at the allied headquarters:

"The country is uncovered and open, but with much variety of hill
and valley, and much intersected by hollow ways and millstreams,
the former not discernible till closely approached. The enemy,
placed behind a long ridge and in a string of villages, with a
hollow way in front, and a stream sufficient to float timber on
the left, waited the near approach of the allies. He had an
immense quantity of ordnance: the batteries in the open country
were supported by masses of infantry in solid squares. The plan of
our operations was to attack Gross Görschen with artillery and
infantry, and meanwhile to pierce the line, to the enemy's right
of the villages, with a strong column of cavalry in order to cut
off the troops in the villages from support.... The cavalry of the
Prussian Reserve, to whose lot this attack fell, made it with
great gallantry; but the showers of grapeshot and musketry to
which they were exposed in reaching the hollow way made it
impracticable for them to penetrate; and, the enemy appearing
determined to hold the villages at any expense, the affair assumed
the most expensive character of attack and defence of a post
repeatedly taken, lost, and retaken. The cavalry made several
attempts to break the enemy's line, and in some of their attacks
succeeded in breaking into the squares and cutting down the
infantry. Late in the evening, Bonaparte, having called in the
troops from [the side of] Leipzig and collected all his reserves,
made an attack on the right of the allies, supported by the fire
of several batteries advancing. The vivacity of this movement made
it expedient to change the front of our nearest brigades on our
right; and, as the whole cavalry from our left was ordered to the
right to turn this attack, I was not without hopes of witnessing
the destruction of Bonaparte and of all his army; but before the
cavalry could arrive, it became so dark that nothing could be seen
but the flashes of the guns."[296]

The desperate fight thus closed with a slight advantage to the French,
due to the timely advance of Eugène with Macdonald's corps against the
right flank of the wearied allies, when it was too late for them to
make any counter-move. These had lost severely, and among the fallen
was Scharnhorst, whose wound proved to be mortal. But Blücher, far
from being daunted by defeat or by a wound, led seven squadrons of
horse against the victors after nightfall, threw them for a brief
space into a panic, and nearly charged up to the square which
sheltered Napoleon. The Saxon Captain von Odeleben, who was at the
French headquarters, states that the Emperor was for a few minutes
quite dazed by the daring of this stroke; and he now had too few
squadrons to venture on any retaliation. Both sides were, in fact,
exhausted. The allies had lost 10,000 men killed and wounded, but no
prisoners or guns: the French losses were nearly as heavy, and five
guns and 800 prisoners fell into Blücher's hands. Both armies camped
on the field of battle; but, as the supplies of ammunition of the
allies had run low, and news came to hand that Lauriston had dislodged
Kleist from Leipzig, it was decided to retreat towards Dresden.

Napoleon cautiously followed them, leaving behind Ney's corps, which
had suffered frightfully at Gross Görschen; and he strove to inspirit
the conscripts, many of whom had shown unsteadiness, by proclaiming to
the army that the victory of Lützen would rank above Austerlitz, Jena,
Friedland, and Borodino.

Far from showing dejection, Alexander renewed to Cathcart his
assurance of persevering in the war. At Dresden our envoy was again
assured (May 7th) that the allies would not give in, but that "Austria
will wear the cloak of mediation till the time her immense force is
ready to act, the 24th instant. Count Stadion is hourly expected here:
he will bring proposals of terms of peace and similar ones will be
sent to the French headquarters. Receiving and refusing these
proposals will occupy most of the time." In fact, Metternich was on
the point of despatching from Vienna two envoys, Stadion to the
allies, Count Bubna to Napoleon, with the offer of Austria's armed
mediation.

It found him in no complaisant mood. He had entered Dresden as a
conqueror: he had bitterly chidden the citizens for their support of
the Prussian volunteers, and ordered them to beg their own King to
return from Bohemia. To that hapless monarch he had sent an imperious
mandate to come back and order the Saxon troops, who obstinately held
Torgau, forthwith to hand it over to the French. On all sides his
behests were obeyed, the Saxon troops grudgingly ranging themselves
under the French eagles. And while he was tearing Saxony away from the
national cause, he was summoned by Austria to halt. The victor met the
request with a flash of defiance. After a reproachful talk with Bubna,
on May 17th, he wrote two letters to the Emperor Francis. In the more
official note he assured him that he desired peace, and that he
assented to the opening of a Congress with that aim in view, in which
England, Russia, Prussia, and even the Spanish insurgents might take
part. He therefore proposed that an armistice should be concluded for
the needful preparations. But in the other letter he assured his
father-in-law that he was ready to die at the head of all the generous
men of France rather than become the sport of England. His resentment
against Austria finds utterance in his despatch of the same day, in
which he bids Caulaincourt seek an interview at once with the Czar:
"The essential thing is to have a talk with him.... My intention is to
build him a golden bridge so as to deliver him from the intrigues of
Metternich. If I must make sacrifices, I prefer to make them to a
straightforward enemy, rather than to the profit of Austria, which
Power has betrayed my alliance, and, under the guise of mediator,
means to claim the right of arranging everything." Caulaincourt is to
remind Alexander how badly Austria behaved to him in 1812, and to
suggest that if he treats at once before losing another battle, he can
retire with honour and _with good terms for Prussia, without any
intervention from Austria_.

His other letters of this time show that it is on the Hapsburgs that
his resentment will most heavily fall. Eugène, who had recently
departed to organize the forces in Italy, is urged to threaten Austria
with not fewer than 80,000 men, and to give out that he will soon have
150,000 men under arms. And, while straining every nerve in Germany,
France, and Italy, Napoleon asserts that there will be an armistice
for the conclusion of a general peace.[297] But the allies were not to
be duped into a peace that was no peace. They had good grounds for
expecting the eventual aid of Austria; and when Caulaincourt craved an
interview, the Czar refused his request, thus bringing affairs once
more to the arbitrament of the sword. The only effect of
Caulaincourt's mission, and of Napoleon's bitter words to Bubna, was
to alarm Austria.

On their side, the allies desired to risk no further check; and they
had therefore taken up a strong position near Bautzen, where they
could receive reinforcements and effectually cover Silesia. Their
extreme left rested on the spurs of the Lusatian mountains, while
their long front of some four miles in extent stretched northwards
along a ridge that rose between the River Spree and an affluent, and
bent a convex threatening brow against that river and town. There they
were joined by Barclay, whose arrival brought their total strength to
82,000 men. But again Napoleon had the advantage in numbers. Suddenly
calling in Ney's and Lauriston's force of 60,000 men, which had been
sent north so as to threaten Berlin, he confronted the allies with at
least 130,000 men.[298]

On the first day of fighting (May 20th) the French seized the town of
Bautzen, but failed to drive the allies from the hilly, wooded ground
on the south. The fighting on the next day was far more serious. At
dawn of a beautiful spring morning, in a country radiant with verdure
and diversified by trim villages, the thunder of cannon and the
sputter of skirmishers' lines presaged a stubborn conflict. The allied
sovereigns from the commanding ridge at their centre could survey all
the enemy's movements on the hills opposite; and our commissary,
Colonel (afterwards Sir Hudson) Lowe, has thus described his view of
Napoleon, who was near the French centre:

"He was about fifty paces in front of the others, accompanied by
one of his marshals, with whom he walked backwards and forwards
for nearly an hour. He was dressed in a plain uniform coat and a
star [_sic_], with a plain hat, different from that of his
marshals and generals, which was feathered. In the rear, and to
the left of the ridge on which he stood, were his reserves. They
were formed in lines of squadrons and battalions, appearing like a
large column of battalions: their number must have been between
15,000 and 20,000.

After he had retired from the eminence, several of the battalions
were observed to be drawn off to his left, and to be replaced by
others from the rear: the masses of his reserves appeared to
suffer scarcely any diminution.... Those troops which were to act
against our right continued their march: the others, opposite our
centre, planted themselves about midway on the slope, which
descended from the ridge towards our position; and, under the
protection of the guns that crowned the ridge, they appeared to
set our cavalry at defiance.... Yet there was no forward movement
in that part. To turn and overthrow our flanks, particularly the
right one, appeared now to be their main object."

This was the case. Napoleon was employing his usual tactics of
assailing the allies everywhere by artillery and musketry fire, so as
to keep them in their already very extended position until he could
deliver a decisive blow. This was dealt, though somewhat tardily, by
Ney with his huge corps at the allied right, where Barclay's 5,000
Russians were outmatched and driven back. The village of Preititz was
lost, and with it the allies' communications were laid bare. It was of
the utmost importance to recover the village; and Blücher, at the
right centre, hard pressed though he was, sent down Kleist's brigade,
which helped to wrench the prize from that Marshal's grasp. But Ney
was too strong to be kept off, even by the streams of cannon-shot
poured upon his dense columns. With the help of Lauriston's corps, he
again slowly pressed on, began to envelop the allies' right, and
threatened to cut off their retreat. Blücher was also furiously
assailed by Marmont and Bertrand. On the left, it is true, the
Russians had beaten back Oudinot with heavy loss; but, as Napoleon had
not yet seriously drawn on his reserves, the allied chiefs decided to
draw off their hard-pressed troops from this unequal contest, where
victory was impossible and delay might place everything in jeopardy.

The retirement began late in the afternoon. Covered by the fire of a
powerful artillery from successive crests, and by the charges of their
dauntless cavalry, the allies beat off every effort of the French to
turn the retreat into a rout. In vain did Napoleon press the pursuit.
As at Lützen, he had cause to mourn the loss in the plains of Russia
of those living waves that had swept his enemies from many a
battlefield. But now their columns refused to melt away. They filed
off, unbroken and defiant, under the covering wings of Uhlans and
Cossacks.[299]

The next day witnessed the same sight, the allies drawing steadily
back, showering shot from every post of vantage, and leaving not a
prisoner or a caisson in the conquerors' hands. "What!" said Napoleon,
"after such a butchery, no results? no prisoners?" Scarcely had he
spoken these words, when a cannon-ball tore through his staff, killing
one general outright, wounding another, and shattering the frame of
Duroc, Duc de Friuli. Napoleon was deeply affected by this occurrence.
He dismounted, went into the cottage where Duroc was taken, and for
some time pressed his hand in silence. Then he uttered the words:
"Duroc, there is another world where we shall meet again." To which
the Grand Marshal made reply: "Yes, sire; but it will be in thirty
years, when you have triumphed over your enemies and realized all the
hopes of your country." After a long pause of painful silence, the
Emperor mournfully left the man for whom he felt, perhaps, the
liveliest sympathy and affection he ever bestowed. Under Duroc's cold,
reserved exterior the Emperor knew that there beat a true heart,
devoted and loyal ever since they had first met at Toulon. He received
no one else for the rest of that night, and a hush of awe fell on the
camp at the unwonted signs of grief of their great leader.

Possibly this loss strengthened the Emperor's desire for a truce, a
feeling not lessened by a mishap befalling one of his divisions, which
fell into an ambush laid by the Prussians at Hainau, and lost 1,500
men and 18 guns.

For their part, the allies equally desired a suspension of arms. Their
forces were in much confusion. Alexander had superseded Wittgenstein
by Barclay, who now insisted on withdrawing the Russians into Poland.
To this the Prussian staff offered the most strenuous resistance. Such
a confession of weakness, urged Müffling, would dishearten the troops
and intimidate the Austrian statesmen who had promised speedy succour.
Let the allies cling to the sheltering rampart of the Riesengebirge,
where they might defy Napoleon's attacks and await the white-coats.
The fortress of Schweidnitz would screen their retreat, and the
Landwehr of Silesia would make good the gaps in their ranks. Towards
Schweidnitz, then, the Czar ordered Barclay to retreat.

There two disappointments awaited them. The fortifications, dismantled
by the French in 1807, were still in disrepair, and the 20,000 muskets
bought in Austria for the Silesian levies were without touch-holes!
Again Barclay declared that he must retreat into Poland, and only the
offer of a truce by Napoleon deterred him from that step, which must
have compromised the whole military and political situation. What
would not Napoleon have given to know the actual state of things at
the allied headquarters?[300] But no spy warned him of the truth; and
as his own instincts prompted him to turn aside, so as to prepare
condign chastisement for Austria, he continued to treat for an
armistice.

"Nothing," he wrote to Eugène on June 2nd, "can be more perfidious
than that Court. If I granted her present demands, she would
afterwards ask for Italy and Germany. Certainly she shall have nothing
from me." Events served to strengthen his resolve. The French entered
Breslau in triumph, and raised the siege of Glogau. The coalition
seemed to be tottering. That the punishment dealt to the allies and
Austria might be severe and final, he only needed a few weeks for the
reorganization of his once formidable cavalry. Then he could vent his



Online LibraryJohn Holland RoseThe Life of Napoleon I (Volume 2 of 2) → online text (page 22 of 51)