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Title: How The Redoubt Was Taken - 1896
Author: Mérimée, Prosper, 1803-1870
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "How The Redoubt Was Taken - 1896" ***

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HOW THE REDOUBT WAS TAKEN

By Prosper Mérimée

Copyright, 1896, by The Current Literature Publishing Company


A friend of mine, a soldier, who died in Greece of fever some years
since, described to me one day his first engagement. His story so
impressed me that I wrote it down from memory. It was as follows:

I joined my regiment on September 4th. It was evening. I found the
colonel in the camp. He received me rather bruskly, but having read the
general's introductory letter he changed his manner and addressed me
courteously.

By him I was presented to my captain, who had just come in from
reconnoitring. This captain, whose acquaintance I had scarcely time to
make, was a tall, dark man, of harsh, repelling aspect. He had been a
private soldier, and had won his cross and epaulettes upon the field
of battle. His voice, which was hoarse and feeble, contrasted strangely
with his gigantic stature. This voice of his he owed, as I was told, to
a bullet which had passed completely through his body at the battle of
Jena.

On learning that I had just come from college at Fontainebleau, he
remarked, with a wry face: "My lieutenant died last night."

I understood what he implied, "It is for you to take his place, and you
are good for nothing."

A sharp retort was on my tongue, but I restrained it.

The moon was rising behind the redoubt of Cheverino, which stood two
cannon-shots from our encampment. The moon was large and red, as is
common at her rising; but that night she seemed to me of extraordinary
size. For an instant the redoubt stood out coal-black against the
glittering disk. It resembled the cone of a volcano at the moment of
eruption.

An old soldier, at whose side I found myself, observed the color of the
moon.

"She is very red," he said. "It is a sign that it will cost us dear to
win this wonderful redoubt."

I was always superstitious, and this piece of augury, coming at that
moment, troubled me. I sought my couch, but could not sleep. I rose, and
walked about a while, watching the long line of fires upon the heights
beyond the village of Cheverino.

When the sharp night air had thoroughly refreshed my blood I went back
to the fire. I rolled my mantle round me, and I shut my eyes, trusting
not to open them till daybreak. But sleep refused to visit me.
Insensibly my thoughts grew doleful. I told myself that I had not a
friend among the hundred thousand men who filled that plain. If I were
wounded, I should be placed in hospital, in the hands of ignorant and
careless surgeons. I called to mind what I had heard of operations. My
heart beat violently, and I mechanically arranged, as a kind of
rude cuirass, my handkerchief and pocketbook upon my breast. Then,
overpowered with weariness, my eyes closed drowsily, only to open the
next instant with a start at some new thought of horror.

Fatigue, however, at last gained the day. When the drums beat at
daybreak I was fast asleep. We were drawn up in ranks. The roll was
called, then we stacked our arms, and everything announced that we
should pass another uneventful day.

But about three o'clock an aide-de-camp arrived with orders. We were
commanded to take arms.

Our sharpshooters marched into the plain, We followed slowly, and in
twenty minutes we saw the outposts of the Russians falling back and
entering the redoubt. We had a battery of artillery on our right,
another on our left, but both some distance in advance of us. They
opened a sharp fire upon the enemy, who returned it briskly, and the
redoubt of Cheverino was soon concealed by volumes of thick smoke. Our
regiment was almost covered from the Russians' fire by a piece of rising
ground. Their bullets (which besides were rarely aimed at us, for they
preferred to fire upon our cannoneers) whistled over us, or at worst
knocked up a shower of earth and stones.

Just as the order to advance was given, the captain looked at me
intently. I stroked my sprouting mustache with an air of unconcern; in
truth, I was not frightened, and only dreaded lest I might be
thought so. These passing bullets aided my heroic coolness, while my
self-respect assured me that the danger was a real one, since I was
veritably under fire. I was delighted at my self-possession, and already
looked forward to the pleasure of describing in Parisian drawing-rooms
the capture of the redoubt of Cheverino.

The colonel passed before our company. "Well," he said to me, "you are
going to see warm work in your first action."

I gave a martial smile, and brushed my cuff, on which a bullet, which
had struck the earth at thirty paces distant, had cast a little dust.

It appeared that the Russians had discovered that their bullets did no
harm, for they replaced them by a fire of shells, which began to reach
us in the hollows where we lay. One of these, in its explosion, knocked
off my shako and killed a man beside me.

"I congratulate you," said the captain, as I picked up my shako. "You
are safe now for the day."

I knew the military superstition which believes that the axiom "_non
bis in idem_" is as applicable to the battlefield as to the courts of
justice, I replaced my shako with a swagger.

"That's a rude way to make one raise one's hat," I said, as lightly as
I could. And this wretched piece of wit was, in the circumstances,
received as excellent.

"I compliment you," said the captain. "You will command a company
to-night; for I shall not survive the day. Every time I have been
wounded the officer below me has been touched by some spent ball; and,"
he added, in a lower tone, "all the names began with P."

I laughed skeptically; most people would have done the same; but most
would also have been struck, as I was, by these prophetic words. But,
conscript though I was, I felt that I could trust my thoughts to no one,
and that it was my duty to seem always calm and bold.

At the end of half an hour the Russian fire had sensibly diminished. We
left our cover to advance on the redoubt.

Our regiment was composed of three battalions. The second had to take
the enemy in flank; the two others formed a storming party. I was in the
third.

On issuing from behind the cover, we were received by several volleys,
which did but little harm.

The whistling of the balls amazed me. "But after all," I thought, "a
battle is less terrible than I expected."

We advanced at a smart run, our musketeers in front.

All at once the Russians uttered three hurrahs--three distinct
hurrahs--and then stood silent, without firing.

"I don't like that silence," said the captain. "It bodes no good."

I began to think our people were too eager. I could not help comparing,
mentally, their shouts and clamor with the striking silence of the
enemy.

We quickly reached the foot of the redoubt. The palisades were broken
and the earthworks shattered by our balls. With a roar of "Vive
l'Empereur," our soldiers rushed across the ruins.

I raised my eyes. Never shall I forget the sight which met my view.
The smoke had mostly lifted, and remained suspended, like a canopy, at
twenty feet above the redoubt. Through a bluish mist could be perceived,
behind the shattered parapet, the Russian Grenadiers, with rifles
lifted, as motionless as statues. I can see them still,--the left eye of
every soldier glaring at us, the right hidden by his lifted gun. In an
embrasure at a few feet distant, a man with a fuse stood by a cannon.

I shuddered. I believed that my last hour had come.

"Now for the dance to open," cried the captain. These were the last
words I heard him speak.

There came from the redoubts a roll of drums. I saw the muzzles lowered.
I shut my eyes; I heard a most appalling crash of sound, to which
succeeded groans and cries. Then I looked up, amazed to find myself
still living. The redoubt was once more wrapped in smoke. I was
surrounded by the dead and wounded. The captain was extended at my feet;
a ball had carried off his head, and I was covered with his blood. Of
all the company, only six men, except myself, remained erect.

This carnage was succeeded by a kind of stupor. The next instant the
colonel, with his hat on his sword's point, had scaled the parapet
with a cry of "Vive l'Empereur." The survivors followed him. All that
succeeded is to me a kind of dream. We rushed into the redoubt, I know
not how, we fought hand to hand in the midst of smoke so thick that no
man could perceive his enemy. I found my sabre dripping blood; I heard
a shout of "Victory"; and, in the clearing smoke, I saw the earthworks
piled with dead and dying. The cannons were covered with a heap of
corpses. About two hundred men in the French uniform were standing,
without order, loading their muskets or wiping their bayonets. Eleven
Russian prisoners were with them. The colonel was lying, bathed in
blood, upon a broken cannon. A group of soldiers crowded round him. I
approached them.

"Who is the oldest captain?" he was asking of a sergeant.

The sergeant shrugged his shoulders most expressively.

"Who is the oldest lieutenant?"

"This gentleman, who came last night," replied the sergeant calmly.

The colonel smiled bitterly.

"Come, sir," he said to me, "you are now in chief command. Fortify the
gorge of the redoubt at once with wagons, for the enemy is out in force.
But General C------ is coming to support you."

"Colonel," I asked him, "are you badly wounded?"

"Pish, my dear fellow. The redoubt is taken."





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