William O'Connor Morris.

The French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch online

. (page 22 of 26)
Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 22 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

alien to his own race in the land he swayed.
In the readiness of France to throw off

. Reflections

JNapoieon we see a fresh proof of the na- on his fall,
tional character; and the manner in which
French officials of State and dignitaries of every kind
abandoned the master to whom they owed everything,
stands in marked contrast to the steadfast loyalty of
Austrian and Prussian nobles to their Kings after such
calamities as Jena and Austerlitz, and to the constancy
of the Allies in 181 3-14. Before, however, we censure
Frenchmen generally, all the circumstances must be
taken into account, and condemnation must be largely
qualified. After making efforts such as never, perhaps,
have been made by a European State, France was
utterly broken down when the invasion came ; and in
this condition of affairs we can hardly feel surprise that
she deserted a Sovereign who, at the moment, appeared

2 Do Fall of Napoleon. CH. xiv.

the existing cause of her sufferings and whose chief
title to her obedience was success. As for the conduct
of the marshals and ministers who forsook Napoleon in
the hour of misfortune, it was such as has more than
once been seen in the case of a mere nobles, >e of func-
tionaries, the new-made instruments of new-made power,
and without the traditions, and the sense of honor, that
distinguish an aristocracy worthy of the name. Apart,
however, from the national temperament, the inevitable
result of the Revolution was to weaken in France every
tie that binds the State and even society together ; and,
a^icordingly, when it was put to the proof, the authority
of Napoleon suddenly collapsed, and could not bear the
strain of disaster, the truest test of institutions and men.
Still we must not imagine that all classes were indifferent
to the fall of the Empire; the remains of the Army
mourned their chief, and his name retained its spell in
parts of the country. Nor can we ascribe to the Revo-
lution alone the precarious nature of his unstable rule,
for the Monarchy of the Bourbons was overthrown with
greater facility than the Empire, and left, perhaps,
fewer adherents behind. In fact, the corruption of the
old order of things had blighted loyalty and faith in
France before the events of 1789 ; and we must not
ascribe the whole difficulty of establishing power in that
country to the period of disorder that followed, though
this has certainly been a principal cause. We must add,
too, that it was not only those of new origin, and recent
dignity, who betrayed Napoleon or fell away from him ;
his imperial consort shook him off as lightly as she
would have shaken off a disagreeable dream ; his dis-
carded plebeian wife died of a broken heart " at the ruin
of her Cid."

i8i4- The Hundred Days. 261



France, after the capitulation of Paris, was Peace of Paris,

. . . May 30, 1814.

at the mercy of the victorious Coahtion.
Owing, however, to the interposition of England, the
conditions of peace were less onerous than the van-
quished Nation might have expected ; though stripped
of all her revolutionary conquests, she was left with her
ancient boundaries intact, and if her influence was rela-
tively lessened by the tendency of large to absorb small
States, which had been one effect of the late disorder of
Europe, she remained the France of Louis congress of
XVI. The Peace of Paris, as it was called, Vienna, Sept.,

' ' 1 814, March,

was followed by a Congress, to resettle the 1815.
Continent, held at Vienna in the autumn of 1814; and
at this great Council the Northern Powers exhibited an
ambitious lust for dominion not unworthy of Napoleon
himself. Russia threatened to swallow the whole of
Poland ; and Prussia, not contented with the enormous
spoil she had acquired by taking part alternately with
France and the allied Power, aspired to annex a large
part of Germany ; and their pretensions became so into-
lerable that a fresh general war seemed for a while immi-
nent. Meantime Louis XVIII. , the new King of France,
had endeavored to consolidate his power ; but the diffi-
culties in his way were, perhaps, invincible. ,,


The Bourbon Monarchy was soon felt to of the Gov-
represent national disaster and disgrace ; if Louis XVIII
France had eagerly grasped at peace, she


262 The Hundred Days. CH. xv.

quickly learned to dislike her position as a conquered
Power not of the first class, and she charged on her
rulers the bitter consequences of humiliation, subjuga-
tion, and defeat. The government of the King, too,
made several mistakes, and the associations which
gathered round it contributed to excite alarm and suspi-
cion. The old Imperial army was broken up, and de-
prived of the far-famed Tricolor ; many of the new
revolutionary interests were menaced, if not openly at-
tacked ; invidious distinctions were drawn which dis-
turbed the civil equality won in 1789 ; and plans were
formed for changes which seemed to shake the in-
numerable titles founded on the immense confiscations
of bygone years. The general feeling of
emigres. ill-will was increased by the attitude and

conduct of the surviving iinigres who had
returned with Louis from exile ; these representatives
of a detested past, who, it was bitterly said, " could
neither forget nor learn," talked loudly of restoring the
feudal abuses, and of taking their own in due time ;
and, high placed and caressed at court, they delighted
to display towards the upstart noblesse of the " Corsican
monster," as he was called, the refined insolence of an
exclusive caste. The fine ladies of this worthy order
of men were singularly skilful, as may be supposed, in
this exhibition of the breeding of Versailles.

The general result of this state of things was that,
within a few months after his elevation to the throne,
France became hostile to her new monarch, and, filled
with sullen jealousy and discontent, began to hope wist-
fully for some unknown change. The sentiment of irri-
tation soon proved intense in the army still true to its
mighty chief; and it was shared by the whole class of
younger officers, though the ennobled marshals of the

t8i4- The Hundred Days. 263

fallen Emperor felt or feigned respect for the restored
dynasty. All this was not lost on the extraordinary man
who, from his island speck in the Mediterranean, kept
his eyes fixed on the state of Europe ; and by degrees
Napoleon conceived the design of escaping
from the kind of royal captivity in which he ieaves°f1ba.
had been lately placed. His preparations ^^- ^^> ^^y>
were not long in being made, and on Feb-
ruary 26, 181 5, he set off on the most daring enterprise
which even his sanguine mind had formed — that of re-
covering his lost Empire in the face, as it seemed, of all
Europe against him. A few hundred men of the Im-
perial Guard, left about him incautiously by the Allies,
accompanied the adventurer in a flotilla ; and it is but
just to say that if his atternpt was a breach of faith as
regards Europe, it was hardly so as regards Louis
XVIII., who had been intriguing against a still feared
rival. On the ist of March the little expe-

T • r /- T-w -"^ lands in

dition set foot on the shores of Provence, France, March
not far from the spot where years before the ' ^ ^^'
youthful Bonaparte had returned from Egypt ; and the
strange apparition was soon welcomed with sentiments
of exultation and joy, for the neighboring peasantry had
not forgotten how Marengo had freed them from foreign
invasion. In a few hours the exile was
threading his way through the defiles of SlrchrPaJS!
Dauphiny, issuing on his path proclama-
tions appealing to French patriotism ; and his march
before long began to resemble the rapid spread of some
mighty influence which, for the moment, nothing can
resist. Regiment after regiment, sent to check his pro-
gress, threw down their arms at the well-known sight of
their loved and unforgotten commander; and in a short
time his insignificant band had gathered into a con-

264 The Hundred Days. ch. xv.

siderable force, which multiphed at every stage of his
advance. He was at Grenoble on March 9, and by the
loth had taken possession of Lyons ; and, as he moved
onwards, hostile authority seemed to disappear and
perish before him. The whole army was now in revolt ;
and Ney, one of his most brilhant lieutenants, having
been swept away in the general torrent, the Bourbon
cause soon became desperate, and Louis XVIIL, fled
across the frontier. On March 20 the restored exile was
once more in his place at the Tuileries ; and, before a
fortnight had passed, a faint show of royalist opposition
had been quietly put down. Yet though in Napoleon's
expressive phrase, " his eagle had flown from steeple to
steeple with the Tricolor to the towers of Notre Dame,"
the Revolution which had reseated him on the throne
was in the main the work of the army ; and if France,
fascinated, as it were, at the sight, seemed to welcome
her returning master again, she rather rejoiced that the
Bourbons were gone than believed or even hoped that
the Empire could live.

Napoleon, upon regaining the throne, as-
tures of Napo- sured the Great Powers of his desire for
peace, and soon afterwards proceeded to
offer a more liberal Constitution to France than she had
possessed at any previous time, with a double Assem-
bly, and guarantees for freedom. It is useless to inquire
whether the Emperor was sincere ; but it is not surprising
that he was not believed, and he was quickly undeceived
even if he imagined that he could play the part of a
The Allied " Napoleon of Peace." At the intelhgence
Powers declare ^f j^jg rctum from Elba, the discords of the

war, March 25,

1815. Coalition ceased ; and after proclaiming Na-

poleon an outlaw, the Great Powers set their armies in
motion to crush the usurper and invade France again.

i8i5- The Hundred Days. 265

Left thus to contend against Europe in arms, Napoleon
tried to confront the approaching tempest ; and notwith-
standing all that detractors have said, his efforts were
great and worthy of him. He did not indeed, appeal to
the Nation, true to the last to his despotic instincts, or
revive the memories of 1793, and France was still much
too worn-out to display the enthusiasm of that time ; but
he effected all that ability could effect ; and if he ulti-
mately failed, it was because the nature of the present
contest had nothing in common with that in which the
Convention triumphed. One fortunate cir- ^

_ '■ _ Great efforts

cumstance was in his favor; many thou- of Napoleon
sands of prisoners had returned home, and the French
by making use of these old soldiers and ^^"^y-
turning to the best account the resources of France, h^
raised the French army from a state of im- Campaign
potence to a force of not less than 600,000 ° ^ ^^'
men, of whom 200,000 were ready for the field. Two
strategetic combinations were now before -^vfo plans
him: he might either await the attack of of-^pera-

° tions open

the Allies around Paris, which he had has- to Napo-
tily fortified, or he might suddenly assume
the offensive, and, falling upon one of their separate
masses, endeavor to divide and beat them in detail.
Adhering to his usual system of war, he resolved to
adopt the second plan ; and if possibly it was the lesi
prudent, it was in some particulars extremely tempting.
On the extreme end of the front of invasion on which
the hosts of the Coalition would move, the ^^

He resolves

two armies of Bliicher and Wellmgton lay to attack
encamped in Belgium from the Scheldt to and'^Wel-
the Meuse ; and they were exposed to a '^"p?" '°
fierce and sudden attack, as they were ex-
tended along the French frontier, and their supports were

266 The Hundred Days. ch. xv,

still on the Elbe and the Oder. It might be possible,
thus, to assail and divide this detached wing of the hos-
tile arrays, and to destroy successively its isolated parts ;
and if a decisive victory were won, who could tell what
the results would be ? And if the Emperor should be
inferior in force, many a field of fame could attest that
his genius had been able to turn the scales of fortune
when placed in a position of this kind.
^ In the second week of June the movement


tion of the began on which the Emperor had staked
army on his destiny. The French divisions, their

the frontier. movements concealed by false demonstra-
tions with exquisite skill, drew together rapidly from
Lille to Metz, while the Imperial Guard pressed forward
from Paris, the Emperor's object being to combine his
forces secretly and swoop on Belgium. Napoleon left
the capital on June 12; and by the evening of the 14th
his whole army, concentrated with extraordinary art, was
collected on the edge of the French frontier, imme-
diately around the banks of the Sambre. It numbered
about 130,000 men; but though a sudden rising in La
Vendee had deprived its chief of 20,000 more, and the
united armies of Bliicher and Wellington were fully
220,000 strong. Napoleon drew, from what he had al-
It advances ready achieved, a hopeful augury of bril-

on June 15, Hant succcss. On the morning of the i i;th
1815. ^ •'

the march began, but though skilfully de-
layed by a Prussian detachment, the French columns
advanced rapidly ; and having passed the Sambre and
seized Charleroi, made straight for the centre of the
allied line, the great road from Namur to Brussels,
which, as Napoleon calculated, was but weakly defended.
The French army, before night had closed, lay between
Gosselies, Frasne, and Fleurus ; and if it had not got

1815. The Hundred Days. 267

quite so far as its leader had wished, it was even now in
a most formidable position, within easy reach of the ad-
vanced posts of its foes, not as yet concentrated in ade-
quate strength. On the i6th the French advanced
again ; and Bliicher, who, with his wonted

1 • . r -K. • Battle of

darmg, was eager to fight as soon as possi- Ligny,
ble, offered battle to Napoleon near Ligny, J^^"^® ^^>
though his forces were not nearly collected,
and Wellington had urged him not to run the risk. The
engagement was one of the fiercest on record, each side
contending with a national hatred ; but the skill of Na-
poleon at last triumphed ; and the Prussian army, pierced
through the centre, was driven with heavy loss from the
field. Meanwhile Ney had attacked Wellington at
Quatre Bras, a few miles to the left : but
though the British chief could send no aid Qua^re^ °

to Bliicher, he held Ney in check, and pre- ^I'^h ■^"'^^
' -' ' ^ 16, 1815.

served the Prussians from an attack on the
flank designed by the Emperor, which would have made
Ligny a second Jena. An accident, however, alone
prevented this consummation from being otherwise
attained. Ney had left a part of his forces in his rear ;
and Napoleon having perceived from Ligny that his
lieutenant was making but little progress, he ordered
this division to advance and accomplish the task of Ney,
and complete the defeat of Bliicher. Ney, however,
severely pressed by Wellington, called this detachment
to him at the critical moment ; and this misadventure
probably had a decisive influence on the result of the

These operations had given the French a

, .... . , , ^ . , Result of

brilliant triumph over the Prussians, had the opera-
brought them upon the allied centre, and ju^?6.
had prevented Bliicher and Wellington

268 The Hundred Days. ch. xv.

joining on what was their proper line of junction, the
before-named road from Namur to Brussels. Still the
Prussian army had not been routed as the Emperor had
had good reason to hope ; and the allied chiefs might
yet find the means of uniting by activity and zeal, an
event which might lead to Napoleon's ruin. The Em-
peror, however, after Ligny, appears to have thought
that, for some days at least, he had got rid of the de-
feated Prussians, and that he would have ample time to
turn against Wellington ; and this conclusion would
probably have been entirely correct in his earlier cam-
paigns. Events, however, were soon to show what th^-
energy of the allied chiefs and the passions which sus
tained the Prussians could effect. The Prussian army^
though beaten at Ligny, had not been in the least
„, ^ cowed ; Bliicher had rallied it with heroic


r Hies the vigor ; and he had soon concentrated his

and moves whole forccs, and made them ready for a

wiuington ^^^ effort, in position only a few miles
from Wellington. The British commander
prepared to approach his colleague by a corresponding
^ movement ; and thus, though forced from

On a sec- . . °

ondline. the first line, the allied generals were not

really divided, and were beginning to approach each
other on a second. The French, meanwhile, had been
allowed to halt, worn-out by continued marches and
fighting, nor had the movement of the retiring Prussians
been watched and followed with sufficient care; and,
accordingly, when about mid-day on the 17th, Napoleon
broke up to assail Wellington, he had no conception
that the Prussian army was not far off, and was drawing
towards the British. He left Ouatre Bras with about
72,000 men, having- detached Grouchy with

Movements ' ' o ^ j

of Napo- 34,000 to " observe the Prussians and com-

1815. The Hundred Days, 269

plete their defeat;" but Wellington was {tP",P<^,

r ' ° _ Wellington on

already falling back ; and by the evening June 17, 1815-
he had taken a position beyond the little village of
Waterloo, resolved to accept battle on a pledge from
Bliicher — who, at this time, had his whole army at
Wavre, twelve miles away— that he would come up and
assist the British. Meanwhile Grouchy, who had com-
pletely lost sight of the Prussians, and even ,^. , ,

r J o Miscalcula-

of the line of their march, and who, besides, tions of Na-
like the Emperor, thought they could not ^° ^°"'
yet venture to join Wellington, had advanced only a
short way from Ligny ; and, ignorant what dispositions
to make, had halted in the neighborhood of Gembloux,
at a considerable distance in the rear of Napoleon, and
separated from Bliicher by no small interval.
By these arrangements it had been made _ ,

,,,,., . Results of the

all but certam that the allied armies would operations of
unite at Waterloo in sufficient time to over- ^^^^ ^^'
power the French ; and the chances were faint that
Grouchy at Gembloux would be able to arrest the march
of Bliicher. The Emperor, however, either still con-
vinced that the Prussians were far away from the field,
or that Grouchy possessed the means to stop them,
thought only of bringing Wellington to bay ; and as
Wellington had only 69,000 men, composed in part of
second-rate troops, and was very inferior in horse and
guns, his adversary felt assured of victory. Napoleon
wished to attack at daybreak on the i8th ; but the night
and morning had been dense with rain, and he delayed
the attack for several hours, in order to allow the ground
to harden, and to give his manoeuvres more effect — a
sure proof that he had no conception that Bliicher was
already gathering on his flank. The battle began by
an assault on Hougoumont, an advanced post on

2 yo The Hundj^ed Days. ch xv.

Gr^at battle the British right ; but this was intended

of Waterloo, '^ ' .

June i8, 1815. to be a feint ; and it was succeeded by a
tremendous onslaught on WelHngton's left and left
centre, which met a brilliant and decisive repulse.
Meanwhile Napoleon had been informed that about
30,000 men of Bliicher's forces had advanced from
Wavre, and were close at hand ; and, accordingly, at
about mid-day he sent part of his reserve against this un-
expected foe, though he still hoped it was a stray column
which he would be able to hold in check. The plan of
Napoleon's battle was thus much disturbed ; but he
turned fiercely against the British centre ; and, after a
series of furious attacks, the French became masters
of La Haye Sainte, a farm-house in front of Welling-
ton's line. The violence of their efforts now became
intense ; the French calvary streamed up the slopes of
Mont St. Jean, and fell desperately on the British po-
sition ; but nothing could break the infantry of the de-
fence, which in solid squares " seemed rooted to the
earth ;" and after a succession of fruitless charges, the
horsemen, who were unsupported by foot, were obliged,
cruelly mutilated, to retreat. During all this time the
Prussian detachment had been striking hardly at Na-
poleon's right ; and this had given Wellington relief
not sufficiently acknowledged by English writers ; but
about seven this attack seemed spent ; and Napoleon
seized the opportunity to make a last attempt against the
British centre. The greater part of the Imperial Guard,
the veterans of a hundred fields, marched resolutely to
this fresh encounter ; but Wellington had skilfully
strengthened his line ; and, after a short but terrible
struggle, the Guard was repulsed and swayed slowly
backward. It was now the turn of the British to advance ;
and just at this moment the remaining masses of Bliichef

1 815. 'The Hundred Days. 2 71

appeared upon the field, and rending asunder the French
rio^ht, converted defeat into a frightful rout. ^ ^

^ ' * Defeat and

Except the Guard, which fought to the last, rout of the

» T 1 , 1 ^ r French army.

Napoleon s army became a mere chaos of
despairing fugitives pursued by the Prussians ; and
only a fragment of the ruined host was ever seen in
arms again. Grouchy, who had broken up from Gem-
bloux late, and had refused, when urged, to approach
Waterloo, only reached Wavre to find Bliicher gone,
and merely detained 15,000 Prussians from the scene
where the Empire had succumbed.

Volumes have been written on this mem-
orable struggle, yet the general facts are the campaign"!
sufficiently plain. The first operations of
the French Emperor were a masterpiece of military
skill ; and the result was that, in spite of a very great
preponderance of force, Bliicher and Wellington were
in peril on June 16, and probably, but for a mere acci-
dent, Ligny would have been an overwhelming defeat.
The Emperor's movements after the i6th have been
condemned by the worshippers of success ; but all that
can be fairly said is that he sanctioned certain errors of
detail, for which a commander-in-chief can be scarcely
blamed, and that he made a single false calculation,
fatal in the event, but extremely natural. The delays
of the French on the 17th should be ascribed to the
fatigues of the troops ; if the Prussians were not suffi-
ciently watched, surely the fault lies mainly with the
French staff; and as for the supposition that Bliicher
could not join Wellington for some days, Napoleon's
views were warranted by his earlier campaigns, and had
proved correct on similar occasions. It was in fact most
unlikely that the defeated Prussians would be able to
make a critical march and fight at Waterloo on June

272 The ITundred Days. CH. xv

18 ; and that such a movement became possible was
largely caused by a moral element — the passions that
stirred the army of Bliicher. Nor did Napoleon neglect
the Prussians ; he detached Grouchy to hold them in
check ; and the conduct of his lieutenant was wretched,
even if we may doubt that with 34,000 men he could
have stopped Bliicher with 90,000. Napoleon was not
a "mere shadow of his former self" in 181 5; and if
he met ruin on the field of Waterloo, it was not because
his powers had declined, but that — apart from the over-
confidence which we see in this as in other campaigns —
his antagonists supported each other better than any al-
lied chiefs had ever done before, and especially that the
Prussian army, sustained by a principle he undervalued,
baffled reasoning, founded on experience, indeed, but
fatally untrue in the actual contest. If this view be
right, the defeat of Napoleon was largely due to his cha-
racteristic contempt of some of the strongest feelings
that animate man ; and the frequent errors of the politi-
cian confounded the schemes of the military chief. As
for the conduct of the allied commanders, it exposed
them to danger at the outset ; and as Bliicher ought not
to have fought at Ligny, it revealed at first the divided
councils so often disastrous to allies. But all this was
nobly repaired ; and the constancy of Wellington on the
field of Waterloo, and the heroism of Bliicher in over-
coming defeat, are fine specimens of great qualities.
Yet though Waterloo was a splendid triumph, the fame

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 22 24 25 26

Online LibraryWilliam O'Connor MorrisThe French revolution and first empire : an historical sketch → online text (page 22 of 26)