William O'Connor Morris.

The French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch online

. (page 18 of 26)
Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 18 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


1805. The Empire to Tilsit. 207

aid them ; and as soon as he had ascertained that
his hngering fleets could not reach the Channel to
cover the descent, he broke up with his whole army
from Boulogne, and marched with extraordinary speed
to the Rhine, while powerful detachments from Holland
and Hanover descended on the Maine to join in the
movement. By the second week of October these con-
verging masses, directed with admirable precision and
skill, had gathered on the rear of the Austrian army,
which had been imprudently advanced on Ulm; and
within a few days an iron net was thrown round the
doomed and baffled host, and it was forced to surrender
with Mack its chief. The whole vanguard of the Allied
armies had been thus annihilated by a simple ma-
noeuvre resembling that which had destroyed Melas ;
and Europe never witnessed such a scene again until
it was reproduced in our own days by the capitulations
of Metz and Sedan.

This wonderful success was soon, how-
ever, to be chequered by a tremendous Trafalgar
disaster on the element on which all the ^Y^ ^?" ,,

struction of

efforts of France were destined only to end the French

Jind Span-

m failure. We have referred to the com- ish fleets,
binations by which Napoleon endeavored 1805.^^'
to collect a fleet of overwhelming force in
the Channel ; and these became in the highest degree
formidable, when, in the autumn of 1804, Spain placed
her naval forces in his hands. In the spring of the
succeeding year a large French squadron set sail from
Toulon, and, rallying a Spanish squadron at Cadiz, ar-
rived safely in the West Indian seas, its object being to
attract Nelson from European or English waters, and
then, joined by a squadron from Brest, to make as
quickly as possible its way to Boulogne, and so cover



2o8 7 he Empire to Tilsit. ch. xii.

the projected descent. The first part of the scheme
completely succeeded ; Nelson was led away in a ficti-
tious chase ; the French Admiral Villeneuve left the
West Indies with a long start over his dreaded rival ;
and though he was not met by the Brest fleet, he could
have hardly been stopped had he made directly for the
Channel, which, as Napoleon calculated, was but ill-
guarded. But Villeneuve was timid, and inclined south-
ward ; a light vessel detached by Nelson, with admirable
forethought, gave the alarm ; an indecisive action, ofi"
the coast of Spain, induced the Frenchman to bear up
for Ferrol ; and though he had still not a few chances
of success, for he had been strengthened by another
squadron, he shrunk from his foes, and put into Cadiz,
Within a few weeks his whole fleet was destroyed in the
greatest naval battle of modern times ; and this crushing
victory, though dearly bought by the death of the great-
est of English seamen, brought all further attempts of
invasion to an end. Yet the glory of Trafal-

The project i ■,. -i i •

ofthede- gar ought to blmd no one to the immment

hav"e suc?^'^ peril which England escaped ; Napoleon's
ceeded. manoeuvres were nearly successful ; and

had Villeneuve had a ray of the genius of Nelson, he
would, in all probabihty, have made the descent possi-
ble. What saved England was not the defence of the
Channel, which was left too feebly guarded, but the
terror of her fleets, and the demoralization of her foes ;
and though Napoleon ought to have taken these moral
elements more fully into account, he was not far from
accomplishing his design. We believe, however, that he
entirely underrated the resistance which he would have to
encounter had he succeeded in making the descent ; the
English army was of considerable strength ; and on this,
as on other occasions, he unduly disregarded the enor-



i6o5. The Efnpire to Tilsit. 209

mous power of national forces under certain conditions.
He might have captured London, but he would, we think,
have been ultimately imprisoned within his conquest.

Trafalgar, however, was soon forgotten in the exulta-
tion of a career of victories. The disaster

. Napoleon

of Ulm put an end to the scheme of mvasion marches on
formed by the Coalition ; and, having sent
detachments to subdue the Tyrol, Napoleon, with the
mass of his forces, marched down the Danube on the
Austrian capital. The army he commanded was the
finest which France, perhaps, ever sent into the field ;
it had been trained in its camps at Boulogne to the high-
est point of endurance and vigor ; it had been organized
upon the system of co7'ps d'armie, and separate reserves,
since adopted by all Continental armies ; though it num-
bered several German contingents, it was not filled with
unwilling auxiliaries, as became the case in subsequent
campaigns ; and if it had suffered greatly in its late
forced marches, it presented a combination of freedom
of movement, of activity, energy and trustworthy force,
which justified the name of the Grand Army, -p^e Grand
thenceforward given it by its mighty leader. Army.
The conquering host rolled swiftly onwards, a few Aus-
trian divisions and the Russian army, which had
reached the Inn, falling back before it; and after pass-
ing the undefended lines of the feeders of the great
Austrian stream, it was in possession of Vienna at the
middle of November. Meanwhile the Russians, led by
Kutusoff, a captain destined to future re-

Vienna oc-

nown, had judiciously retreated into Mora- cupied Nov.
via, opposing, as obviously was the course ^^' ^ °^'
of prudence, time and distance to the far advancing
enemy ; and before long they were encamped round
Olmutz, supported by several Austrian detachments.



210 TJie Empire to Tilsit. CH. xii.

Napoleon, however, having become master of the
bridges of Vienna by a stratagem, crossed boldly to the
northern bank of the Danube, carrying out his system
of daring movements, and relying on the ascendency
of immense success ; and towards the close of Novem-
ber the Grand Army was collected, apparently in a
disseminated state, but really within the hands of its
chief, in Lower Moravia, around Briinn and Auster-
litz. His position had now become critical, for Prussia,
terrified at recent events, had begun to arm, and was
about to descend through Bohemia on the French
line of retreat, and the Archduke Charles, with his
brother John, was hastening with a considerable force
from Hungary ; and had the Allies simply awaited
events, Napoleon must have retired before them. The
Czar, however, Alexander, against the advice of Kutusoff,
resolved to attack the French Emperor — that great cap-
tain had purposely assumed a timid attitude to deceive
his foe — and in the last days of November, the Allied
forces broke up from Olmutz, and marched on Aus-
terlitz. An ambitious attempt to out-flank

Battle of ^ , . T .

Austerlitz, Napolcon, and mtercept his retreat on
Dec. 2, Vienna, unduly weakened the line of his

Ail'V^*^^ enemy ; he seized an opportunity which he
army. had foreseen ; and, after a fierce and mur-

derous struggle, the Allied army was pierced in the cen-
tre, and became a mass of shattered and ruined frag
ments. The Sun of Austerlitz, to which the conqueror
was wont to refer with just pride, saw the warlike strength
of the Coalition struck down. -'Ci^'T* Jr, '%%'' \%^'^ ^

This great victory— -tKe masterpiece of
burg, Dec. 15, Napoleon's tactics on the field of battle —
^^°^" was followed in a few days by a peace, made

at Presburg. The Czar lost nothing but military fame ;



1805. The Empire to Tilsit. 211

but Austria was compelled to surrender Venice, annexed

to the new Italian kingdom ; and she ceded the Tyrol to

Bavaria, and recognized the Elector as an independent

Sovereign. Baden and Wiirtemburg were also enlarged,

and the Elector of Wiirtemburg made, too,

a King ; and thus Austria, the old rival of fecS'^bf ?t. ^^

France, was reduced to a Power of the second

order, and the policy was carried on of extending the

influence of France among the minor States of Germany.

The King of Naples was soon afterwards dethroned, as

a member of the late Coalition ; and the

Emperor of Austria, with a just sense of tolaVHeaTof

dignity, acknowledged his position, and ^^ German

abandoned his claims to the German Empire,

long an appanage of his House. Bavaria, Baden, and

Wiirtemburg, with some lesser States, were now formed

by Napoleon into what he called the Con-

- . . - , , . The Confede-

federation of the Rhme ; and those German ration of the
Powers which, in the late campaign, had
proved useful and willing allies, became mere vassals of
the French Empire, with their military forces in the hands
of his chief. In this state of things Prussia was left
wholly isolated ; and she was soon to reap
the fruits of a policy which, beginning in pri^^a^*"'"" °^
aggression, had ended in greed. Partly from
alarm, and partly owing to an alleged violation of her
territory by the French, Prussia had, we have seen, pre-
pared to attack Napoleon, when dangerously exposed, in
the rear ; but after Austerlitz, her government recurred
to its former course, and had accepted Han-
over, for some time occupied by the French t^^t powen ^
armies, as the price of a renewed alliance
with France, though this perfidy was justly condemned
by her people, and could only provoke the scorn of Na'



21:2 The Empire to Tilsit. ch. xil.

poleon. The spoliation of the patrimony of the Crown
caused England at once to declare war against Prussia ;
and that Power, having endeavored secretly to form a
new Coalition against France, and a chance of peace
with England having arisen on the accession of Mr. Fox
to power. Napoleon dealt with Prussia after her own
measure, and offered to make over Hanover to Great
Britain. This, and one or two other acts of

It declares war .^^^^ ^ , i r i

against France, the kmd, proved too much for the patience

of the Prussian court; and, in September,
1806, it recklessly drew the sword, amidst the exultation
of an army proud of the great traditions of Leuthen and
Rosbach. A daring offensive movement was begun ; and

by the first days of October the Prussian
i8o6^™^^'^" ° forces had crossed the Elbe, and carelessly

advanced, extended along an immense line,
from the Lower Saale to the Thuringian Forest. The
Grand Army which, since Austerlitz, had remained, for
the most part, in Germany, and had been gradually
directed on the Maine, was now moved through the
Franconian defiles ; and, issuing from the valley of the*

Upper Saale, fell on the rear of its incautious

Battles of Jena ^^ , , , _^ . .

.md Autrstadt, foe, and overwhelmed the Prussians m a
ct. 14, 1 o • great battle at Jena, and another fought on
the same day at Auerstadt. This success proved deci-
sive, though Napoleon's manoeuvres were hardly as
skilful as in previous campaigns ; in a few days the whole
Prussian army, driven across the Elbe, had either dis-
appeared or become a m.ass of demoralized captives;
Berlin had been opened to the conquerors ;
Prussian army and the French standards had advanced to
andmonarchy, ^hg Qder, the military Monarchy of Frede-
rick the Great having been crushed in about three weeks.
This astonishing triumph in its rapid suddenness



1805. The Empire to Tilsit. 213

surpassing all that he had as yet achieved, Napoleon

Hi 3.1 C XicS

impelled Napoleon to fresh efforts. Rus- against the

n 1 1 -I T 1 r 1 . r Russians.

sia had declared war before the rout of
Jena, and had marched an army across her frontier ; a
few thousand defeated Prussian troops had escaped to
the northern verge of the Monarchy ; and, disdaining
the perils of a winter campaign, the victor resolved to
press forward, and to bring the war to a speedy con-
clusion. His legions were soon upon the Vistula; and
having crossed that great barrier stream, he endeavored
to bring his enemy to bay in the vast region of marsh
and forest formed by the Bug, the Narew, the Ukra,
and other rivers of Western Poland. But ,,,.

Winter cam-
here his method of rapid invasions, his troops paign in

living on the territories they entered, re-
ceived a check from the forces of Nature, significant of
'Jts essential dangers ; the Grand Army was arrested in
its march, and exposed to cruel privations and want in
the midst of barren and pathless swamps ; and after a
series of fruitless engagements, it fell back from Pultusk
to the Vistula. The French Emperor now
put his soldiers into winter quarters along i8<^^^'^" °
the line which extends from Warsaw to
Thorn and the Baltic, and made preparations to besiege
Dantzic ; but he was not given the repose he expected.
The Russian commander Benningsen, proud of having
resisted the conqueror with success, attempted to assail
him in his cantonments ; and moving his army behind
the screen of the lakes which fill the distance from the
Narew to the Passarge, fell on the extreme left of the
French divisions along the seaboard of Eastern Prussia.
Napoleon, however, had anticipated the stroke ; and
his antagonist having begun to retreat, he pursued and
attacked the Russians at Eylau on February 8, 1807.



214 The Empire to Tilsit. CH. xii.

Indecisive bat- The battle was terribly and sternly con-
tie of Eylau, •' . • r

Feb. 1807. tested ; and though the Russians retired from

the field, the losses of the French were so heavy
that they were not equal to prolong the contest. Na-
_ , ,^^ poleon was now in real danger, far away

Peril of Na- ^ c

poleon. from France, and with the great Powers of

Germany conquered, but indignant, occupying his re-
treat ; but he stood firm and applied himself with more
than even his wonted energy to restore his forces. Troops
were raised in thousands from all parts of the Empire,
of which its chief wielded the ample resources with ex-
traordinary administrative skill ; and in a

Reorganiza- i , , r • 1

tionofthe few months the havoc of war was repaired,

rmy. ^^^ ^^ Grand Army in greater strength
than before. Hostilities were resumed in June ; and
Benningsen imprudently advanced to attack an antago-
^ . . . nist greatly his superior in force. The Rus-

Decisive vie- .

tory of the sians werc soon repelled from the Passarge ;
Friediand, and Benningsen, in an attempt to get back
June 14, 1807. ^Q ^^ frontier, having crossed the Alle with
extreme incaution, Napoleon fell on him with terrible
effect, compelled him to fight with his back to the
stream, and routed him on the 14th of June, not far
from the little town of Friediand, This stroke was de-
cisive ; before a week had passed the Grand Army was on
the banks of the Niemen ; and, with Dantzic, the whole
remaining provinces of the Prussian Monarchy passed
into the hands of the conquerors. Within less than two
years the imperial eagles, which crowned the standards
of the French armies, had flown from the British seas,
across prostrate Germany, to the distant verge of the
Russian empire ; war had never been seen in such
grandeur before ; though Napoleon's movements had
not been free from hazards which had attracted the atten-



I Soy. The Empire to Tilsit. 215

tion of a few thoughtful minds, though unseen by the
crowd in the glare of victory.

In this series of triumphs we see the stra- ^, . .

■■ Characteristics

tegy of 1796 repeated, on a larger scale, and of these cam-
with greater results. To seize the decisive p^^^"^'
points in the theatre of war, to bring a superior force
upon them, and to interpose between divided enemies
and beat them in detail by rapid manoeuvres, were the
main objects of Napoleon's movements ; and he gene-
rally attained them by daring attacks, and by forced
marches which placed his soldiers on the most vulne-
rable parts of the hostile line. In these campaigns, how-
ever, he had been greatly seconded by the mistakes of
enemies, who had usually contrived to present them-
selves to his crushing blows ; his system, as we have
seen, had shown signs of failing when exposed to the
strain of natural obstacles ; and as the armies he led
were infinitely better than those of the Allies in every
respect, his exploits were not perhaps so wonderful as
those around Mantua and on the Adige. Such exhibi-
tions of military force had, however, never Changes in the
been made before ; and the antiquated
methods of slow advances, of timid movements upon an
immense front, and of never passing an untaken for-
tress, were finally abandoned by European generals.
Thus in war, as in many other particulars, the French
Revolution wrought changes which had m.ade it a new
era in the History of the World ; and the strategy of
Napoleon, in some of its aspects, was an expression of
the increased energy and activity generated by that
event. The scenes which followed the vie- ,, .

Meeting of

tory of Friedland rather bore a likeness to Alexander and

, ^1 ^ .1 T Napoleon on

a Strange romance than to the ordmary the Niemen,
arrangements of affairs of State. Unable to J^"^ ^5' ^^°''-



2i6 The Empire to Tilsit. CH. xii.

resist, the Czar sued for peace ; but Napoleon welcomed
Alexander as a friend, for he wished to make him sub-
serve his policy ; and after interviews between the two
potentates, held chiefly in a floating tent on the Niemen,
in the presence of the French and Russian armies, peace
Treat of Til ^^'"^^ Hiade at Tilsit, on the north Prussian
sit, July 7 and frontier. By this celebrated treaty Prussia
' ^ '^^' was deprived of more than half her former

possessions, and became a mere vassal of the French
Empire ; a kingdom of Westphalia was carved out of
her Elbe Provinces and added to the Confederation of
the Rhine ; and her conquests in Poland were given to
Saxony — she had taken part with France in the late
campaigns — under the curious name of the Grand Duchy
of Warsaw. At the same time France and Russia
united in an alliance of the most intimate kind ; the
Czar recognized the French Empire, and pledged him-
self to uphold its power, and — what was more important
— he undertook to offer his mediation to England, and,
if she refused it, to go to war with that Power, In return
for a co-operation which appeared to set a

Alliance be- ^ ^ '-

tween France seal to his domination in the West, Napo-
anddismeni- Icon promised to second the designs of
PruTsIa^ °^ Russian ambition in the North and East ;
and he consented to the annexation of Fin-
land, and of the provinces of Turkey north of the
Danube, insisting, however, that Constantinople should,
in no contingency, become Russian. The conqueror
justified the dismemberment of Prussia, and her seem-
ing ruin as a State, by a reference to the proclamation
of Brunswick in 1792.

„,, The purpose of Napoleon in making this

poleon in mak- treaty was to obtain a complete and enduring

ing the treaty. ^ r ^i r t-

guarantee for the supremacy 01 r ranee on



1807. The Empire to Tilsit. 217

the European Continent, to divide Germany more tho-
roughly than before, and to subject her everywhere to
French influence, and, finally, to raise a new foe against
England, whoie efforts might lead to important results ;
and it appeared an admirable scheme of state-craft, if
such disturbing elements as national passions and the
jealousies of rulers had no existence. The dangers,
however, that lay hid under the new arrangement of the
map of Europe, and in the results of French conquests,
were as yet withdrawn from almost every eye ; and the
power of Napoleon was now at its height,
though his empire was afterwards somewhat its hdghr^'^^
enlarged. At this period that gigantic rule
extended undisputed from the pillars of Hercules to the
furthest limits of Eastern Germany ; if England still
stood in arms against it, she was without an avowed ally
on the Continent ; and, drawing to itself the great Power
of the North, it appeared to threaten the civilized world
with that universal and settled domination which had not
been seen since the fall of Rome. The

. , _ , , , Extent of the

Sovereign of France from the Scheldt to the French
Pyrenees, and of Italy from the Alps to the "^p^""^-
Tiber, Napoleon held under his immediate sway the
fairest and most favored part of the Continent ; and yet
this was only the seat and centre of that far-spreading
and immense authority. One of his brothers,
Louis, governed the Batavian Republic, con- dom^!^ '"^"
verted into the Kingdom of Holland ;
another, Joseph, wore the old Crown of Naples ; and a
third, Jerome, sat on the new throne of Westphalia; and
he had reduced Spain to a simple dependency, while,
with Austria humbled and Prussia crushed, he was su-
preme in Germany from the Rhine to the Vistula, through
his confederate, subject, or allied States. This enor-



;ii8 The Empire to Tilsit. CH. xiJ.

Allied and sub- mous Empire, with its vassal appendages,
rested on great and victorious armies
in possession of every point of vantage from the
Niemen to the Adige and the Garonne, and proved as
yet to be irresistible; and as Germany, Holland, Poland,
and Italy swelled the forces of France with large con-
tingents, the whole fabric of conquest seemed firmly ce-
mented. Nor was the Empire the mere creation of brute
force and the spoil of the sword ; its author endeavored,
in some measure, to consolidate it through better and
more lasting l-iiiuenc©Se l\apoleon, indeed.

The Empire j ^-u • j -^ o i

promoted civ- Suppressed the ideas o: 1:^89 everywhere,
some respects. ^^^ ^^ introduced his Code and large social

reforms into most of the vassals or allied
States ; he completed the work of destroying Feudalism
which the Revolution had daringly begun ; c '' i he left a
permanent mark on the face of Europe, far beyond the
limit of Republican France, in innumerable monuments
of material splendor. And thus it has happened that
much that he founded has survived his fall and his short-
lived conquests ; the extent of his sway may be still
traced by the reach of institutions established by him ;
and even nations who felt the terrors of his sword and
rose justly against his domination, still acknowledge that
his rule was not without good, and have a kind of sym-
pathy with the modern Caesar.

Nor did the Empire at this time appear more firmly

established abroad, than within the limits
France^^"^ ° o^ the dominant State which had become

mistress of Continental Europe. The pros-
perity of the greater part of France was immense ; the
finances, fed by the contributions of war, seemed over-
flowing and on the increase; and if sounds of discon-
tent were occasionally heard, they were lost in the uni-



1807. The E7npire to Tilsit. 219

versal acclaim which greeted the author of the national
greatness, and the restorer of social order and welfare.
The Jacobin faction had long shrunk out of sight ; the
memory of the Revolution and the Reign of Terror was
felt as a foolish or hideous dream ; the public tranquillity
was undisturbed ; and, in the splendor and success of
the Imperial era, the animosities and divisions of the
past disappeared, and France seemed to form a united
People. If, too, the cost of conquest was great, and
exacted a tribute of French blood, the military power of
the Empire shone with the brightest radiance of martial
renown ; Marengo, Austerlitz, Jena, and Friedland
could in part console even thinned households; a career
of glory opened on soldiers which, if brief, was not sel-
dom brilliant ; and the chiefs of the armies, enriched
with the wealth of vanquished Provinces and subject
Kingdoms, and invested with lofty and sounding titles,
forgot the rivalries of an earlier time, and joined in do-
cile homage to their great master. The
magnificent public works with which Napo- of'NapolIo'n!'^
leon adorned this part of his reign, increased
this sentiment of national grandeur ; it was now that the
Madeleine raised its front, and the Column, moulded
from captured cannon, which afresh outburst of Jacobin
frenzy overthrew, only a few months ago, in the presence
of the mocking enemies of France ; and Paris, decked
out with triumphal arches, with temples of glory, and
with stately streets, put on the aspect of ancient Rome,
gathering into her lap the gorgeous spoils of subjugated
and dependent races. The government of ^,
the Empire had by this time become of a his Govern-
purely monarchic type ; it had abolished all °^^° '
republican forms, even to the calendar of 1793, and had
made dukes, counts and barons by scores, out of the



2 2D The Empire to Tilsit. CH. xii.

leading men of the new age ; but if it showed the defects
of an absolute power, it was still essentially the firm,
national, and equal despotism of the Consulate, recon-


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 18 of 26)