The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 09, No. 55, May, 1862 online

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by old and skilful generals. Besides, they were all older than Edward
when they first had independent command. Gaston de Foix approaches
nearest to the Yorkist king, but he gained only one battle, was older at
Ravenna than Edward was at Towton, and perished in the hour of victory.
Clive, perhaps, may be considered as equalling the Plantagenet king in
original genius for war, but the scene of his actions, and the materials
with which he wrought, were so very different from those of other
youthful commanders, that no just comparison can be made between him and
any one of their number.

The English have asserted that they lost the Battle of Falkirk, in 1746,
because of the severity of a snow-storm that took place when they went
into action, a strong wind blowing the snow straight into their faces;
and one of the causes of the defeat of the Highlanders at Culloden,
three months later, was another fall of snow, which was accompanied by
wind that then blew into their faces. Fortune was impartial, and made
the one storm to balance the other.

That the American army was not destroyed soon after the Battle of Long
Island must be attributed to the foggy weather of the 29th of August,
1776. But for the successful retreat of Washington's army from Long
Island, on the night of the 29th-30th, the Declaration of Independence
would have been made waste paper in "sixty days" after its adoption; and
that retreat could not have been made, had there not been a dense fog
under cover of which to make it, and to deter the enemy from action.
Washington and his whole army would have been slain or captured, could
the British forces have had clear weather in which to operate. "The
fog which prevailed all this time," says Irving, "seemed almost
Providential. While it hung over Long Island, and concealed the
movements of the Americans, the atmosphere was clear on the New York
side of the river. The adverse wind, too, died away, the river became
so smooth that the rowboats could be laden almost to the gunwale; and a
favoring breeze sprang up for the sail-boats. The whole embarkation of
troops, ammunition, provisions, cattle, horses, and carts, was happily
effected, and by daybreak the greater part had safely reached the city,
thanks to the aid of Glover's Marblehead men. Scarce anything was
abandoned to the enemy, excepting a few heavy pieces of artillery. At
a proper time, Mifflin with his covering party left the lines, and
effected a silent retreat to the ferry. Washington, though repeatedly
entreated, refused to enter a boat until all the troops were embarked,
and crossed the river with the last." Americans should ever regard a fog
with a certain reverence, for a fog saved their country in 1776.

That Poland was not restored to national rank by Napoleon I. was in some
measure owing to the weather of the latter days of 1806. Those of the
French officers who marched through the better portions of that country
were for its restoration, but others who waded through its terrible
mud took different ground in every sense. Hence there was a serious
difference of opinion in the French councils on this vitally important
subject, which had its influence on Napoleon's mind. The severe
winter-weather of 1806-7, by preventing the Emperor from destroying the
Russians, which he was on the point of doing, was prejudicial to the
interests of Poland; for the ultimate effect was, to compel France to
treat with Russia as equal with equal, notwithstanding the crowning
victory of Friedland. This done, there was no present hope of Polish
restoration, as Alexander frankly told the French Emperor that the world
would not be large enough for them both, if he should seek to renew
Poland's rank as a nation. So far as the failure of the French in 1812
is chargeable upon the weather, the weather must be considered as having
been again the enemy of Poland; for Napoleon would have restored that
country, had he succeeded in his Russian campaign. Such restoration
would then have been a necessity of his position. But it was not the
weather of Russia that caused the French failure of 1812. That failure
was all but complete before the invaders of Russia had experienced any
very severe weather. The two powers that conquered Napoleon were those
which General Von Knesebeck had pointed out to Alexander as sure to
be too much for him, - Space and Time. The cold, frosts, and snows of
Russia simply completed what those powers had so well begun, and so well

In the grand campaign of 1813, the weather had an extraordinary
influence on Napoleon's fortunes, the rains of Germany really doing him
far more mischief than he had experienced from the snows of Russia; and,
oddly enough, a portion of this mischief came to him through the gate
of victory. The war between the French and the Allies was renewed the
middle of August, and Napoleon purposed crushing the Army of Silesia,
under old Blücher, and marched upon it; but he was recalled by the
advance of the Grand Army of the Allies upon Dresden; for, if that city
had fallen into their hands, his communications with the Rhine would
have been lost. Returning to Dresden, he restored affairs there on the
26th of August; and on the 27th, the Battle of Dresden was fought, the
last of his great victories. It was a day of mist and rain, the mist
being thick, and the rain heavy. Under cover of the mist, Murat
surprised a portion of the Austrian infantry, and, as their muskets were
rendered unserviceable by the rain, they fell a prey to his horse, who
were assisted by infantry and artillery, more than sixteen thousand men
being killed, wounded, or captured. The left wing of the Allies was
annihilated. So far all was well for the Child of Destiny; but Nemesis
was preparing to exact her dues very swiftly. A victory can scarcely be
so called, unless it be well followed up; and whether Dresden should be
another Austerlitz depended upon what might be done during the next two
or three days. Napoleon did _not_ act with his usual energy on that
critical occasion, and in seven months he had ceased to reign. Why did
he refrain from reaping the fruits of victory? Because the weather,
which had been so favorable to his fortunes on the 27th, was quite as
unfavorable to his person. On that day he was exposed to the rain for
twelve hours, and when he returned to Dresden, at night, he was wet to
the skin, and covered with mud, while the water was streaming from his
chapeau, which the storm had knocked _out_ of a cocked hat. It was a
peculiarity of Napoleon's constitution, that he could not expose himself
to damp without bringing on a pain in the stomach; and this pain seized
him at noon on the 28th, when he had partaken of a repast at Pirna,
whither he had gone in the course of his operations against the beaten
enemy. This illness caused him to cease his personal exertions, but not
from giving such orders as the work before him required him to issue.
Perhaps it would have had no evil effect, had it not been, that, while
halting at Pirna, news came to him of two great failures of distant
armies, which led him to order the Young Guard to halt at that
place, - an order that cost him his empire. One more march in advance,
and Napoleon would have become greater than ever he had been; but
that march was not made, and so the flying foe was converted into a
victorious army. For General Vandamme, who was at the head of the chief
force of the pursuing French, pressed the Allies with energy, relying on
the support of the Emperor, whose orders he was carrying out in the best
manner. This led to the Battle of Kulm, in which Vandamme was defeated,
and his army destroyed for the time, because of the overwhelming
superiority of the enemy; whereas that action would have been one of the
completest French victories, had the Young Guard been ordered to march
from Pirna, according to the original intention. The roads were in a
most frightful state, in consequence of the wet weather; but, as a
victorious army always finds food, so it always finds roads over which
to advance to the completion of its task, unless its chief has no head.
Vandamme had a head, and thought he was winning the Marshal's staff
which Napoleon had said was awaiting him in the midst of the enemy's
retiring masses. So confident was he that the Emperor would support him,
that he would not retreat while yet it was in his power to do so; and
the consequence was that his _corps d'armée_ was torn to pieces, and
himself captured. Napoleon had the meanness to charge Vandamme with
going too far and seeking to do too much, as he supposed he was slain,
and therefore could not prove that he was simply obeying orders, as
well as acting in exact accordance with sound military principles. That
Vandamme was right is established by the fact that an order came from
Napoleon to Marshal Mortier, who commanded at Pirna, to reinforce him
with two divisions; but the order did not reach Mortier until after
Vandamme had been defeated. Marshal Saint-Cyr, who was bound to aid
Vandamme, was grossly negligent, and failed of his duty; but even he
would have acted well, had he been acting under the eye of the Emperor,
as would have been the case, had not the weather of the 27th broken down
the health of Napoleon, and had not other disasters to the French, all
caused by the same storm that had raged around Dresden, induced Napoleon
to direct his personal attention to points remote from the scene of his
last triumph.[B]

[Footnote B: There was a story current that Napoleon's indisposition on
the 28th of August was caused by his eating heartily of a shoulder of
mutton stuffed with garlic, not the wholesomest food in the world; and
the digestive powers having been reduced by long exposure to damp, this
dish may have been too much for them. Thiers says that the Imperial
illness at Pirna was "a malady invented by flatterers," and yet only a
few pages before he says that "Napoleon proceeded to Pirna, where he
arrived about noon, and where, after having partaken of a slight repast,
he was seized with a pain in the stomach, to which he was subject after
exposure to damp." Napoleon suffered from stomach complaints from an
early period of his career, and one of their effects is greatly to
lessen the powers of the sufferer's mind. His want of energy at Borodino
was attributed to a disordered stomach, and the Russians were simply
beaten, not destroyed, on that field. When he beard of Vandamme's
defeat, Napoleon said, "One should make a bridge of gold for a flying
enemy, where it is impossible, as in Vandamme's case, to oppose to him
a bulwark of steel." He forgot that his own plan was to have opposed to
the enemy a bulwark of steel, and that the non-existence of that bulwark
on the 30th of August was owing to his own negligence. Still, the
reverse at Kulm might not have proved so terribly fatal, had it not been
preceded by the reverses on the Katzbach, which also were owing to the
heavy rains, and news of which was the cause of the halting of so large
a portion of his pursuing force at Pirna, and the march of many of his
best men back to Dresden, his intention being to attempt the restoration
of affairs in that quarter, where they had been so sadly compromised
under Macdonald's direction. He was as much overworked by the necessity
of attending to so many theatres of action as his armies were
overmatched in the field by the superior numbers of the Allies. He is
said to have repeated the following lines, after musing for a while on
the news from Kulm: -

"J'ai servi, commandé, vaincu quarante années;
Du monde entre mes mains j'ai tu les destinées,
Et j'ai toujours connu qu'en chaque événement
Le destin des états dépendait d'un moment."

But he had hours, we might say days, to settle his destiny, and was not
tied down to a moment. Afterward he had the fairness to admit that he
had lost a great opportunity to regain the ascendency in not supporting
Vandamme with the whole of the Young Guard.]

When Napoleon was called from the pursuit of Blücher by Schwarzenberg's
advance upon Dresden, he confided the command of the army that was to
act against that of Silesia to Marshal Macdonald, a brave and honest
man, but a very inferior soldier, yet who might have managed to hold his
own against so unscientific a leader as the fighting old hussar, had it
not been for the terrible rainstorm that began on the night of the 25th
of August. The swelling of the rivers, some of them deep and rapid, led
to the isolation of the French divisions, while the rain was so severe
as to prevent them from using their muskets. Animated by the most ardent
hatred, the new Prussian levies, few of whom had been in service half as
long as our volunteers, and many of whom were but mere boys, rushed upon
their enemies, butchering them with butt and bayonet, and forcing
them into the boiling torrent of the Katzbach. Puthod's division was
prevented from rejoining its comrades by the height of the waters, and
was destroyed, though one of the best bodies in the French army. The
state of the country drove the French divisions together on the same
lines of retreat, creating immense confusion, and leading to the most
serious losses of men and _matériel_. Macdonald's blunder was in
advancing after the storm began, and had lasted for a whole night. His
officers pointed out the danger of his course, but he was one of those
men who think, that, because they are not knaves, they can accomplish
everything; but the laws of Nature no more yield to honest stupidity
than to clever roguery. The Baron Von Müffling, who was present in
Blücher's army, says, that, when the French attempted to protect their
retreat at the Katzbach with artillery, the guns stuck in the mud; and
he adds, - "The field of battle was so saturated by the incessant rain,
that a great portion of our infantry left their shoes sticking in
the mud, and followed the enemy barefoot." Even a brook, called the
Deichsel, was so swollen by the rain that the French could cross it at
only one place, and there they lost wagons and guns. Old Blücher issued
a thundering proclamation for the encouragement of his troops. "In the
battle on the Katzbach," he said to them, "the enemy came to meet you
with defiance. Courageously, and with the rapidity of lightning, you
issued from behind your heights. You scorned to attack them with
musketry-fire: you advanced without a halt; your bayonets drove them
down the steep ridge of the valley of the raging Neisse and Katzbach.
Afterwards you waded through rivers and brooks swollen with rain. You
passed nights in mud. You suffered for want of provisions, as the
impassable roads and want of conveyance hindered the baggage from
following. You struggled with cold, wet, privations, and want of
clothing; nevertheless you did not murmur, - with great exertions you
pursued your routed foe. Receive my thanks for such laudable conduct.
The man alone who unites such qualities is a true soldier. One hundred
and three cannons, two hundred and fifty ammunition-wagons, the enemy's
field-hospitals, their field-forges, their flour-wagons, one general of
division, two generals of brigade, a great number of colonels, staff
and other officers, eighteen thousand prisoners, two eagles, and other
trophies, are in your hands. The terror of your arms has so seized upon
the rest of your opponents, that they will no longer bear the sight of
your bayonets. You have seen the roads and fields between the Katzbach
and the Bober: they bear the signs of the terror and confusion of your
enemy." The bluff old General, who at seventy had more "dash" than all
the rest of the leaders of the Allies combined, and who did most of the
real fighting business of "those who wished and worked" Napoleon's fall,
knew how to talk to soldiers, which is a quality not always possessed
by even eminent commanders. Soldiers love a leader who can take them to
victory, and then talk to them about it. Such a man is "one of them."

Napoleon never recovered from the effects of the losses he experienced
at Kulm and on the Katzbach, - losses due entirely to the wetness of the
weather. He went downward from that time with terrible velocity, and was
in Elba the next spring, seven months after having been on the Elbe. The
winter campaign of 1814, of which so much is said, ought to furnish
some matter for a paper on weather in war; but the truth is, that that
campaign was conducted politically by the Allies. There was never a
time, after the first of February, when, if they had conducted the war
solely on military principles, they could not have been in Paris in a

Napoleon's last campaign owed its lamentable decision to the peculiar
character of the weather on its last two days, though one would not look
for such a thing as severe weather in June, in Flanders. But so it was,
and Waterloo would have been a French victory, and Wellington where
_Henry_ was when he ran against _Eclipse_, - nowhere, - if the rain that
fell so heavily on the 17th of June had been postponed only twenty-four
hours. Up to the afternoon of the 17th, the weather, though very warm,
was dry, and the French were engaged in following their enemies. The
Anglo-Dutch infantry had retreated from Quatre-Bras, and the cavalry was
following, and was itself followed by the French cavalry, who pressed it
with great audacity. "The weather," says Captain Siborne, "during the
morning, had become oppressively hot; it was now a dead calm; not a leaf
was stirring; and the atmosphere was close to an intolerable degree;
while a dark, heavy, dense cloud impended over the combatants. The 18th
[English] Hussars were fully prepared, and awaited but the command to
charge, when the brigade guns on the right commenced firing, for the
purpose of previously disturbing and breaking the order of the enemy's
advance. The concussion seemed instantly to rebound through the still
atmosphere, and communicate, as an electric spark, with the heavily
charged mass above. A most awfully loud thunder-clap burst forth,
immediately succeeded by a rain which has never, probably, been exceeded
in violence even within the tropics. In a very few minutes the ground
became perfectly saturated, - so much so, that it was quite impracticable
for any rapid movement of the cavalry." This storm prevented the French
from pressing with due force upon their retiring foes; but that would
have been but a small evil, if the storm had not settled into a steady
and heavy rain, which converted the fat Flemish soil into a mud that
would have done discredit even to the "sacred soil" of Virginia, and the
latter has the discredit of being the nastiest earth in America. All
through the night the windows of heaven were open, as if weeping over
the spectacle of two hundred thousand men preparing to butcher each
other. Occasionally the rain fell in torrents, greatly distressing the
soldiers, who had no tents. On the morning of the 18th the rain ceased,
but the day continued cloudy, and the sun did not show himself until the
moment before setting, when for an instant he blazed forth in full glory
upon the forward movement of the Allies. One may wonder if Napoleon
then thought of that morning "Sun of Austerlitz," which he had so often
apostrophized in the days of his meridian triumphs. The evening sun of
Waterloo was the practical antithesis to the rising sun of Austerlitz.

The Battle of Waterloo was not begun until about twelve o'clock, because
of the state of the ground, which did not admit of the action of cavalry
and artillery until several hours had been allowed for its hardening.
That inevitable delay was the occasion of the victory of the Allies;
for, if the battle had been opened at seven o'clock, the French would
have defeated Wellington's army before a Prussian regiment could have
arrived on the field. It has been said that the rain was as baneful to
the Allies as to the French, as it prevented the early arrival of the
Prussians; but the remark comes only from persons who are not familiar
with the details of the most momentous of modern pitched battles.
Bülow's Prussian corps, which was the first to reach the field, marched
through Wavre in the forenoon of the 18th; but no sooner had its
advanced guard - an infantry brigade, a cavalry regiment, and one
battery - cleared that town, than a fire broke out there, which greatly
delayed the march of the remainder of the corps. There were many
ammunition-wagons in the streets, and, fearful of losing them, and of
being deprived of the means of fighting, the Prussians halted, and
turned firemen for the occasion. This not only prevented most of the
corps from arriving early on the right flank of the French, but it
prevented the advanced guard from acting, Bülow being too good a soldier
to risk so small a force as that immediately at his command in an attack
on the French army. It was not until about half-past one that the
Prussians were first seen by the Emperor, and then at so great a
distance that even with glasses it was difficult to say whether the
objects looked at were men or trees. But for the bad weather, it is
possible that Bülow's whole corps, supposing there had been no fire at
Wavre, might have arrived within striking distance of the French army
by two o'clock, P.M.; but by that hour the battle between Napoleon and
Wellington would have been decided, and the Prussians would have come
up only to "augment the slaughter," had the ground been hard enough for
operations at an early hour of the day. As the battle was necessarily
fought in the afternoon, because of the softness of the soil consequent
on the heavy rains of the preceding day and night, there was time gained
for the arrival of Bülow's corps by four o'clock of the afternoon of the
18th. Against that corps Napoleon had to send almost twenty thousand of
his men, and sixty-six pieces of cannon, all of which might have been
employed against Wellington's army, had the battle been fought in the
forenoon. As it was, that large force never fired a shot at the English.
The other Prussian corps that reached the field toward the close of the
day, Zieten's and Pirch's, did not leave Wavre until about noon. The
coming up of the advanced guard of Zieten, but a short time before the
close of the battle, enabled Wellington to employ the fresh cavalry of
Vivian and Vandeleur at another part of his line, where they did eminent
service for him at a time which is known as "the crisis" of the day.
Taking all these facts into consideration, it must be admitted that
there never was a more important rain-storm than that which happened on
the 17th of June, 1815. Had it occurred twenty-four hours later, the
destinies of the world might, and most probably would, have been
completely changed; for Waterloo was one of those decisive battles which
dominate the ages through their results, belonging to the same class
of combats as do Marathon, Pharsalia, Lepanto, Blenheim, Yorktown, and
Trafalgar. It was decided by water, and not by fire, though the latter
was hot enough on that fatal field to satisfy the most determined lover
of courage and glory.

If space permitted, we could bring forward many other facts to show the
influence of weather on the operations of war. We could show that it was
owing to changes of wind that the Spaniards failed to take Leyden, the
fall of which into their hands would probably have proved fatal to the
Dutch cause; that a sudden thaw prevented the French from seizing the
Hague in 1672, and compelling the Dutch to acknowledge themselves
subjects of Louis XIV.; that a change of wind enabled William of Orange
to land in England, in 1688, without fighting a battle, when even
victory might have been fatal to his purpose; that Continental
expeditions fitted out for the purpose of restoring the Stuarts to the
British throne were more than once ruined by the occurrence of tempests;
that the defeat of our army at Germantown was in part due to the
existence of a fog; that a severe storm prevented General Howe from
assailing the American position on Dorchester Heights, and so enabled
Washington to make that position too strong to be attacked with hope
of success, whereby Boston was freed from the enemy's presence; that a
heavy fall of rain, by rendering the River Catawba unfordable, put
a stop, for a few days, to those movements by which Lord Cornwallis
intended to destroy the army of General Morgan, and obtain compensation
for Tarleton's defeat at the Cowpens; that an autumnal tempest compelled
the same British commander to abandon a project of retreat from
Yorktown, which good military critics have thought well conceived, and

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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 09, No. 55, May, 1862 → online text (page 12 of 20)