William O'Connor Morris.

The French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch online

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The French ,.,,;, . , , . ,

driven decided Austria : she threw m her lot with

from Spain. ^^ ^^^-^^ . ^^^ ^^^ ^^^^ formidable Coali-
tion she had ever yet encountered, encircled France,
already worn-out and exhausted.

Napoleon, it is unnecessary to say, made

Europe in . , . , . . . ,

arms against a fatal mistake m rejecting these terms;
Napoleon. -^ ^^ believed that Austria was false, his con-

duct was arrogant and over-confident. Hostilities began
on August 10, on an immense circle from the Oder to
the Elbe, and from the Bohemian range to
and objects the Baltic, the centre of operations being
^^ *^'^^ ^ the plains that form Saxony and the south

contest. -t^ ■'

of Prussia. Napoleon, as we have seen, had
occupied the Elbe, and held its passages in great
strength, throwing out secondary forces as far as the
Elbe and Oder on either side ; and from this position he
hoped to defeat his enemies, and repeat the dazzling



1 8 1 3 . Fciil of Napoleon. 247

strokes by which he had ruined Wiirmser and Alvinzi
in detail. The conditions, however, of the contest had
changed ; it was more difficult to reach divided enemies
in the broad space between the Oder and the Elbe, than
in the narrow area between the Tyrol and the Adige j
the allied commanders had learned the Emperor's
game ; and, above all, the levies of the French were
very inferior to the allied armies,, composed largely of
seasoned troops fired by a sentiment of na-
tional hatred. The general plan of the Allies.
Allies was to avoid Napoleon when he at-
tacked in person, but to fall on his most distant lieute-
nants, and gradually to converge on their dreaded
adversary when his strength had been thoroughly im-
paired ; and as even in numbers they were greatly su-
perior, about 550,000 to 360,000 men, they justly calcu-
lated on success at last. Their first movements, how-
ever, were ill-designed, and gave Napoleon a brilliant
victory which in previous campaigns might have proved
decisive. In the absence of the Emperor, who had set
off against the Prussians in Upper Silesia, the Austrians
and Russians under Schwartzenberg moved through the
Bohemian hills on Dresden ; but their ope-
rations were uncertain and slow ; their great Dresden
antagonist had time to return ; and they ^"S- 27,
were completely defeated in a pitched bat-
tle, in which Moreau, who had joined their ranks, from
animosity to the ruler of Prance, met a death unworthy
of a French commander.

Napoleon thought that he had now the Coalition in
his power, but he was to be taught by a striking example
how firm was the constancy of his present enemies. He
despatched a force through the Bohemian passes to in-
tercept the retreat of the Allies ; and, in the days of



248 Fall of Napoleon. ch. xiv.

Marengo and Rivoli, the manoeuvre would probably
have been successful. Either through his own over-
confidence, however, or from errors in which his lieu-
tenants fell, the detachment was too weak to make vic-
tory certain ; and it was crushed at Culm by an attack

of the Allies, who, instead of surrendering,
AuS!^3o[ is^i™' as had been expected, assailed the French

with determined energy. This victory re-
dressed the balance of fortune, and events followed
which turned the scale. Adhering to their scheme, the
Allies fell on the distant lieutenants of the Emperor ;
one was defeated on the Katzbach in Silesia, another at

Grossbeeren in Prussia, and a third with
KaSbach^t ^ Crushing effect at Dennewitz ; and, instead
^nd^^'^^^"^^"^' of being rent asunder by his blows, the firm

arrays of the allied armies drew in gradu-
ally their immense circle, and gathered upon their
hemmed-in foes. Meanwhile the Grand Army was fear-
fully diminished by losses in the field, disease, and

want ; the Confederate Princes of the Rhine
Aug. 23 to Sept.' grew doubtful, and gradually assumed
^' ^^^^' a menacing attitude ; the auxiliaries de-

serted from the French in thousands, and vast masses
of insurrectionary levies hung on the skirts of the
dwindling host, keeping up a ruinous and unceasing
warfare. The time had come at last for more daring
movements ; and Blucher, the vigorous chief of the
Prussians, with Bernadotte — once a Marshal of France,
but now transformed into a Swedish Prince — crossed the
Elbe in the last days of September while Schwartzen-
berg issued again from Bohemia, the object of the Allies
being to meet at Leipsic and overwhelm their adversary.
Napoleon, had his movements been free, might perhaps
even yet have baffled his foes ; but he could not trust



1813. Fall of Napoleon. 2 49

his vassals in his rear ; and he was slowly but surely
forced upon Leipsic, and compelled to fight at great dis-
advantage. The first encounter took place
on October 16; and though the Allies were oi Ldpsic, Oct.
at least 230,000 strong and the French not ^^ ^'^^ ^s, 1813.
more than 150,000, the terror inspired by the Emperor
was such that the battle had no decisive result. By the
1 8th, however, great reinforcements had poured in to
support the Allies ; the Saxon contingent abandoned
the French on the field of battle, and fiercely attacked
them ; and, after a desperate conflict, the Grand Army,
which fought magnificently when brought to bay, was
gradually compelled to leave Leipsic. The destruction
of the single bridge on the Elster, on the line of retreat,
caused frightful confusion ; a large part of the French
army was cut off ; and the victor of many fields was
driven to the Rhine, leaving his garriso^ns on the Oder
and Vistula to their fate. A gleam of success shone
feebly on the retiring host ; Bavaria had joined the
Coalition, and Napoleon crushed a Bavarian force that
had placed itself recklessly on his path ; but in the first
days of November the allied standards,

1 11 r 1 1 1 -r- x\^^ French

borne by the power of embattled Europe, driven to the
lowered on the imperilled Empire from
across the Rhine.

Such had been the results of the campaign in Saxony ;
and though the defections of the German troops, which
contributed largely to the final issue, might silence those
who have been lately holding up French military honor
to the scorn of Europe, Germany had been set free from
foreign invasion, and her people had shown heroic pa-
triotism. In other parts of the theatre of Defeats of the
war, fortune had also turned against the i^SyJ^^Wel-
French Emperor. Austria had invaded Winston invades

^ r ranee.



250 Fall of Napoleon. ch. xiv.

Italy from the north ; Eugene Beauharnais had
been beaten on the Adige ; and WelHngton, after a
vigorous conflict with Soult, one of the ablest of the Im-
perial lieutenants, had descended on France from the
Pyrenean frontier. Thus war gathered from all sides on
the Empire, and the internal condition of that huge
structure showed ominous signs of collapse and ruin.
The Princes of the Confederation of the Rhine had be-
fore this abandoned their master ; the Kingdom of West-
phalia had already fallen ; and Holland, and even Bel-
, r ^ gium, wasted by the conscription of the

Revolt of the ° . ^ ^

allied and sub- Continental system, had either risen or
' ■ threatened revolt ; while far to the South,

Murat — " a paladin in the field, and a fool in the closet,"
in Napoleon's phrase — was trafficking with Austria, to
save Naples. In France, too, the late mistress of
Europe, the state of affairs was extremely alarming, and
everything portended approaching disaster.

Desperate con- „ ^ ,f . „ ^^ , , ,

ditionofthe 1813, followmg i8i2, and the devourmg
™pii''^- years of the Spanish war, had consumed

the military strength of the Nation ; and only the
shadows remained of the proud legions which had once
trampled on prostrate Europe. Even the material of
war was wanting in old France ; it had been dissipated
on a hundred fields, or transported to the Adige and
the Elbe ; and the finances, once upheld by the spoils
of conquest, had suddenly failed, and were wholly ex-
hausted. Nor was the temper of the Nation such as
could endure invasion or continued defeat ; its ardor
of 1793 had died out ; long wars and de"Spotism had im-
paired its energy ; and it was rather overwhelmed by
the sense of misfortune, than resolved bravely to meet
and subdue it. Though, too, the numerous classes and
interests enriched by the Empire still clung to it, they



1 8 1 3 . ^ciil of Napoleon. 251

secretly felt the general discontent ; and the very ser-
vility of the instruments of power adding to the dangers
arising from the instability of a Revolutionary State, and
the mobility of the national character.

Napoleon did not yield to despair, though JJfP^^^y ^f
ruin seemed on all sides imminent. He a death-strug-
might at this juncture have obtained peace by
ceding part of the frontier of the Rhine ; but he thought
of little but a death-struggle. He gave orders to sum-
mon to the field all Frenchmen who had served in the
army, though he characteristically refused to appeal to
the nation ; and, calculating that the AUies would not
move till spring, he prepared to contend for ^.^ prepara-
the greater part of the Empire. The re- tions.
mains of his forces were distributed along the immense
front, from the Scheldt to the Adige, as he believed that
he would have time to reinforce them ; and though he
finally abandoned Spain, he resolved to strike for the
whole Rhine and Italy. Had he been permitted to ma-
ture his plans, it is difficult to say what the result might
have been ; but the Coalition had been _, .,,, .

' The Allies in-

taught not to repeat the errors of 1793; and vade France,

Dec 20—26.

the allied chiefs were in a very different
mood from the Yorks and Brunswicks of a former day.
Towards the close of December 181 3 they set in motion
their immense hosts ; and Bliicher and Schwartzenberg
crossed the Rhine in two masses from Coblentz to Basle,
while to the North Bernadotte invaded Belgium, and
Welhngton, to the South, advanced to the Adour. This
sudden and overwhelming invasion completely discon-
certed Napoleon's projects, and for several weeks met
no resistance on the theatre where it was most formida-
ble. Driving before them some feeble French detach-
ments, and masking, as it is called, the fortresses on



252 Fall of Napoleon. ch. xiv

their way, Bliicher and Schwartzenberg soon passed the
Vosges ; and by the middle of January, 1814, their con-
verging armies reached the end of the vast plain which,
watered by numerous streams, extends through Cham-
pagne to the capital of France, from the western hills of
Lorraine and Franche Comte.
„, ... The military situation of the French Em-

Ihe military •'

s tuation of peror at this juncture appeared hopeless.
seems hope- He had raised only a small part of the levies
^^^" he had intended to collect; and he had

probably not 250,000 men, including the remains of his
Spanish armies, to oppose to the hosts of the Coalition,
which numbered fully 500,000, supported by enormous
reserves. His troops, too, were in part worn-out and
demoralized, and his lieutenants had lost their wonted
confidence ; while the allied commanders were flushed
with success, and their armies burned with fierce
national passions. France also seemed

JProstration , -^

of France. without hope and prostrate ; and even the
obsequious Bodies of State, and the new noblesse of the
Revolution, had begun at last to show dangerous symp-
toms of open insubordination and anger.

Campaign of

1814. Napoleon, however, did not despair, and

prepared to encounter Bliicher and Schwartzenberg,
though these leaders had more than 200,000 men, within
easy reach of each other in Champagne, and he had
_, , ^ hardly more than 70,000 in hand. His first

Battles of -^ . '

Brienne and Operations were unfortunate ; in a daring

La Rothiere, ,, ,, ..i ait -i.- i

Jan. 29, Feb. attempt to Separate the Allies, he fought an
1, 1814. indecisive battle at Brienne, and was beaten

with heavy loss at La Rothiere ; and had his antagonists
followed up their success, or even acted with ordinary
skill, they could have made the issue of the campaign
certain. But Bliicher and Schwartzenberg had advanced



1 8 1 4- Fall of Napoleon. 253

on divergent lines, and were alienated by mutual dis-
like and jealousy ; and, accordingly, at this critical mo-
ment they divided instead of uniting their forces, and
began to march on Paris by distant roads, one along
the Marne, the other along the Seine. The
opportunity was not lost by the great war- interposes
rior who stood in their path, and whose ^^^^tween the
powers were never, perhaps, more evident
than when in a position of this kind. Availing himself
with consummate art of the obstacles formed by the
double rivers, and leaving a detachment to hold
Schwartzenberg in check. Napoleon, in the first days of
February, marched against Bliicher, who had spread his
forces along the Marne with careless confidence ; and
the result was worthy of the General of 1796. Breaking
in on the side of the Prussian army. Napoleon met its
separate divisions, and multiplying his swift and terrible
strokes, routed them one after the other in

Battles of

detail, at Champaubert, Montmirail, and Champaubert,
Vauchamps ; and in less than a week the Vauchamps
discomfited chief was driven, completely ^"^ "^^is'
beaten, on Chalons, with forces reduced to 1814.
half their numbers. The Emperor now turned against
his second enemy, descending from the Marne to the
Seine ; and in a short time the army of Schwartzenberg,
which had also pressed forward with little caution, was
pierced throu.gh and compelled to retreat, after a double
defeat at Montereau and Nangis. The losses of the
Allies had been so great, that Schwartzenberg actually
sought an armistice ; and at the close of February the
invading host had fallen back to the positions in Cham-
pagne, from which it had moved a month before.

These operations rank justly among the Astonishing
finest specimens of Napoleon's skill, though poS! °



254 Pcitt of Napoleon. ch. xiv.

made possible only by the errors of his foes. Nego-
tiations were now set on foot, and had he abandoned
Belgium and Italy, he might have preserved part of the
revolutionary conquests ; but he refused, either from in-
domitable pride, or confidence in his late extraordinary
success. The Coalition resolved to continue the war;
and events on other parts of the theatre contributed

largely to confirm their purpose. The arms
Allies Soothe? of WcUington progressed in Gascony ; Eu-
Fh3re°^ ^^^ §®^^ Beauharnais was being driven from

Italy ; and Murat, with the disloyalty of a
revolutionary age, was actually preparing to march from
Naples, and make common cause with the allied armies.
It was, therefore, evident that the British commander
would occupy a large part of the Imperial forces — the
Army of Soult at this juncture was in fact superior to that
of his master — and that a fresh attack would be made
from the east ; and it was thought impossible but that
the allied armies would at last crush their still dreaded
antagonist. Hostilities were resumed in the beginning
of March ; and, in order to make success certain, Berna-
dotte was directed to advance to the Meuse, Schwartzen-
berg refusing otherwise to move ; though united to
Bliicher, he was still immensely superior to the French

Emperor in force. Napoleon proceeded to

Fre^h forces *■ ■■ i • i

raised against renew against Bliicher his late manoeuvres ;
apo eon. ^^^ ^^ ^^^ nearly caught his stubborn foe,
who, though daring to a fault, was wanting in skill, when
Bliicher was saved by the surrender of Soissons, and
having joined the vanguard of Bernadotte, was able to
offer battle in preponderating strength. Napoleon was
compelled to recross the Asine, after a bloody and dis-
BattleofLaon, astrous action at Laon; and having thus
March 9-16, ' faiig^j ^Q ^Qi^^x Bliicher, he thought himself



1 8 1 4- Fall of Napoleon. 255

unequal to assail Schwartzenberg ; and threatened
with destruction by their uniting armies, he formed
a resolution which, though fatal in the event, was
worthy of his art as a military scheme ; and, in other
times, might have proved successful. Considerable
forces were locked up in the fortresses on the Meuse and
the Moselle — those on the Oder and Vistula had been
lost^and the Emperor determined to fall Napoleon fails
back on Lorraine, to add these garrisons to K^k on Lm -

' " _ rame, to rally

his army in the field, and then, descending his garrisons,

, ^ , . ^ . , ^ and strike the

on the rear of his foes, with a force stronger rear of the
than he had yet possessed, to oblige them to '^^'■^^^•
fight in a position in which a single defeat might prove
as ruinous as that of Melas had been at Marengo. He
broke up from the Aube towards the end of March, after
a short conflict with the enemy on his way ; and, con-
cealing the movement by a screen of horse, his columns
sought the roads to the Moselle.

This march of Napoleon would have certainly made
the Allies pause, on ordinary occasions, and might have
exposed them to his strokes; but though Bliicher and
Schwartzenberg had suffered heavily, the Coalition held
firmly together, and national passions in-
spired its armies. At a council of war held march on^^

on March 24th, it was resolved to disregard Pans March

25, 1814.

the Emperor's movement, and to make a
great effort to bring the war to a close, by marching
directly on the capital. The condition of France, and
of Paris itself, concurred to favor this bold design. The
Nation, utterly exhausted by war, had become wearied
of the Imperial rule ; the distress of most of the great
towns had caused the royalist and republican parties,
long silent, to raise again their heads ; and in the capital,
the centre of thought and opinion. Napoleon's tottering



256 FaH of Napoleon. ch. xiv.

throne was mined by intrigue. A sentiment had spread
that could peace be obtained, and the interests of the
Revolution be saved, the Emperor ought to be made a
sacrifice ; and it had made way among the aristocracy of
wealth, which had worshipped Napoleon in the day of
State of opinion success, among the Bodies of State, which,
in the capital, ^j^ j-i-^i^ manner, avenged themselves for the
slights of power, and among the masses of a thoughtless
populace demoralized by the events of the last twenty
years. Thus everything led the Allies to believe that the
fate of Piiris would prove decisive ; and their great armies
were set in motion, converging upon the defenceless
capital, which for so long a time had been the ardent
focus of trouble, disturbance, glory, and empire. Driving
before them a few weak bodies of troops which attempted
in vain to retard their advance, they had soon reached
the hills overlooking Paris ; and after a brief but sharp
,, . , . , struggle the city surrendered on March -^o.

C.ipitulation of ** •' -"

Paris, March The hopes of the Allies were soon verified :
^°' ^ ^^' on an assurance that the rights which had

grown up since the Revolution would be guaranteed, the
once humble and flattering Senate declared the Crown
of Napoleon forfeited ; the exariiple was followed by the
different Bodies which represented the Nation or the
State ; and, as in the presence of the hosts
throned,^°he ^' of Europe, no Other choice could have been
'^ored°"^ ^^' accepted, the Bourbon Monarchy was re-
established in the person of the Count of
ProvenQe, the second brother of Louis XVI. Some in-
terested demonstrations of joy were made ; but though the
Nation, on the whole, acquiesced, and changed the Em-
pire with the same suddenness with which it had changed
the extinct Republic, it felt intensely the humiliation of
defeat, and received the Bourbons without sympathy;



1 8 1 4- Fa I C of Napoleon . 257

nor did thousands forget the name of Napoleon, even
when, under the stress of crushing disaster, it was widely
denounced as the symbol of ruin.
While these memorable events were occur-

Napoleon

ring, the Emperor had pursued his march hastily retraces
eastwards ; but on the news of the allied ^ ^^^'
movement, he retraced hastily his steps through Cham-
paigne. He arrived at Fontainebleau, with about 70,000
men, as the capitulation was being signed; and for a
moment he formed the desperate design of falling on the
Allies, who had divided their forces negligently upon the
Seine, in the confidence of assured success. His lieu-
tenants, however, protested against an attempt which
might have destroyed Paris, even though, as he insisted
to the last, it was promising from a military point of view ;
and one of them, Marmont, having, without their know-
ledge, placed his divisions in the power of the Allies, the
conqueror's sword fell broken from his hand, and he was
left defenceless in the midst of his enemies.
In a few days he abdicated the throne ; and April^, Is^^^'
the fallen Lord of five-sixths of Europe, de-
serted by those whom he had raised to greatness, though
his soldiery clung with devotion to their chief, was left to
muse, unheeded and alone, on the instability of human
things, and the punishment of unbridled pride and am-
bition. The small island of Elba had been given him in
exchange for the Empire he had lost ; and, after a touch-
ing farewell to the veterans of his Guard — the Tenth
Legion of the modern Caesar — he set off for his insigni-
ficant realm, the populace of the maritime towns having
more than once beset him, on his way, with execrations
which made him feel the misery caused by the Continental
system. Thus fell from the loftiest height of grandeur
attained by man in the modern world, that mighty pro'



258 Fall of Napoleon. ch. xiv

duct of the French Revolution — the Lucifer, as he has
been called with some truth, of the gigantic strife of the

first part of the century. Those who regard
N^oleon!^^'' ^ Napoleon as a mere tyrant, destructive, cruel,

inhuman, selfish, see only a very small part
of his character, and pervert it by this imperfect estimate.
Many as were his faults and, we may say, his crimes, this
wonderful being conferred benefits on France which she
has not forgotten ; and if his despotism was an evil from
the first, and contained the germs of future disaster, and
if his ambition was always perilous, his government was
able and moderate for a time, and even his blood-stained
career of conquest was not without good results in Eu-
rope. His fall is the old tale of the terrible effects on
the conduct of men of unbounded power ; and the po-
tentate who, after the Treaty of Tilsit, set himself to
oppose the laws of nature, invaded Spain with perfidious
insolence, plunged into the frozen deserts of Russia with
Europe conspiring on his homeward path, and preferred
to challenge the world to arms to the surrender of a
worthless ascendency, seems a different person from the
Bonaparte of Luneville and the author of the Concordat
and the Code. For the rest, if Napoleon had few scruples,
and was pitiless in carrying out his aims, this may be
accounted for, in some measure, by the moral confusion
of the France of his time ; and if he made self the centre
of his hopes, he associated self with national greatness.
As a General he created modern war; and though his
passionate and daring imagination made him over-con-
fident as a military chief, and his strategy of invasion
was not always safe, he stands pre-eminent as a leader
of armies, was a master of his art in all its departments,
and was wholly unrivalled in those great combinations
which form the highest problems of military science.



1814. Fall of Napoleon. 259

His greatest fault as a politician was the contempt of na-
tional feelings and instincts, which led him into innume-
rable mistakes ; nor did he, perhaps, give proof of th^
gifts which distinguish statesmen of the first order ; but
he had good reason to despise and distrust the popular
movements of the France of his youth ; and he possessed
in the very highest degree the faculty of administration,
and even of government. Let it be added, too, that per-
haps his despotism was inevitable in the existing condi-
tion of France, that for years it was the glory of French-
men, and that, to this day, it has been, in part, justified
by the noble institutions and great measures, with which
History will always connect it. The offspring of the
Revolution and yet its controller, Napoleon stands on
tne tracts of the Past, the most prominent figure of a
wonderful age ; and the shadow of the great name along
the path of Time seems to blight the pretensions of rulers


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Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 21 of 26)