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Title: History of the Expedition to Russia - Undertaken by the Emperor Napoleon in the Year 1812
Author: Ségur, Philippe-Paul, comte de, 1780-1873
Language: English
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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 "History of the Expedition to Russia - Undertaken by the Emperor Napoleon in the Year 1812" ***

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  Quamquam animus meminisse horret, luctuque refugit,









[Illustration: Portrait of Napoleon]




I have undertaken the task of tracing the History of the Grand Army and
its Leader during the year 1812. I address it to such of you as the ices
of the North have disarmed, and who can no longer serve their country,
but by the recollections of their misfortunes and their glory. Stopped
short in your noble career, your existence is much more in the past than
in the present; but when the recollections are so great, it is allowable
to live solely on them. I am not afraid, therefore, of troubling that
repose which you have so dearly purchased, by placing before you the
most fatal of your deeds of arms. Who is there of us but knows, that
from the depth of his obscurity the looks of the fallen man are
involuntarily directed towards the splendor of his past existence--even
when its light illuminates the shoal on which the bark of his fortune
struck, and when it displays the fragments of the greatest of

       *       *       *       *       *

For myself, I will own, that an irresistible feeling carries me back
incessantly to that disastrous epoch of our public and private
calamities. My memory feels a sort of melancholy pleasure in
contemplating and renewing the painful traces which so many horrors have
left in it. Is the soul, also, proud of her deep and numerous wounds?
Does she delight in displaying them? Are they a property of which she
has reason to be proud? Is it rather, that after the desire of knowing
them, her first wish is to impart her sensations? To feel, and to excite
feeling, are not these the most powerful springs of our soul?

       *       *       *       *       *

But in short, whatever may be the cause of the sentiment which actuates
me, I have yielded to the desire of retracing the various sensations
which I experienced during that fatal war. I have employed my leisure
hours in separating, arranging, and combining with method my scattered
and confused recollections. Comrades! I also invoke yours! Suffer not
such great remembrances, which have been so dearly purchased, to be
lost; for us they are the only property which the past leaves to the
future. Single, against so many enemies, ye fell with greater glory than
they rose. Learn, then, that there was no shame in being vanquished!
Raise once more those noble fronts, which have been furrowed with all
the thunders of Europe! Cast not down those eyes, which have seen so
many subject capitals, so many vanquished kings! Fortune, doubtless,
owed you a more glorious repose; but, such as it is, it depends on
yourselves to make a noble use of it. Let history inscribe your
recollections. The solitude and silence of misfortune are propitious to
her labours; and let truth, which is always present in the long nights
of adversity, at last enlighten labours that may not prove unproductive.

As for me, I will avail myself of the privilege, sometimes painful,
sometimes glorious, of telling what I have seen, and of retracing,
perhaps with too scrupulous attention, its most minute details; feeling
that nothing was too minute in that prodigious Genius and those gigantic
feats, without which we should never have known the extent to which
human strength, glory, and misfortune, may be carried.




CHAP. I.--Political relations of France and Russia since 1807       1

II.--Prussia.--Frederick William                                    6

III.--Turkey.--Sultans Selim--Mustapha--Mahmoud                    18

IV.--Sweden.--Bernadotte                                           32


CHAP. I.--Feelings of Napoleon's grandees at the approaching
contest--their objections, with Napoleon's replies--real motives which
urged him to the struggle                                          49

II.--Arguments against the war by the Dukes of Frioul and Vicenza and
the Count de Segur.--Napoleon's replies                            56

III.--His manner of gaining proselytes to his opinions--his avowals to
his own family--his discussions with Cardinal Fesch--his declaration to
Prince Kourakin                                                    67

IV.--Circumstances inclining him to delay the contest--his proposals to
England and to Russia--Russian ultimatum                           75

V.--Preparations for commencement--Talleyrand--opinions of the
military--of Napoleon's ministers and generals--fresh obstacles to his
departure                                                          80


CHAP. I.--Napoleon's departure from Paris--dispositions of the
east of France--of the Germans--assemblage of sovereigns at
Dresden                                                            86

II.--Arrival in Poland--complaints by the inhabitants of the disorders
of his troops--his ineffectual attempts to check them--meeting with
Davoust--quarrel between that officer and Berthier--unfavourable
impression of Napoleon against the former--arrival at Königsberg   97

III.--March from the Vistula to the Niemen--Napoleon's manners with
the soldiers--positions of the different corps--dispositions of the
army                                                              105


CHAP. I.--Addresses of Napoleon and Alexander to their
respective armies--Position of the Russian forces--Napoleon's plans in
consequence--Sketch of the operations of his left and right wings during
the campaign                                                      115

II.--Passage of the Niemen--Dreadful storm and its fatal
effects--Melancholy catastrophe--Napoleon's arrival at Wilna--Political
arrangements                                                      121

III.--Feelings of the Lithuanians--Napoleon's answer to the address of
the Polish confederation--Coolness of the Lithuanians, and discussion of
its causes                                                        131

IV.--Distress of the army and its excesses--Manner in which Napoleon was
affected by them                                                  143

V.--Arrival of Balachoff from Alexander--Quarrel between Napoleon and
Caulaincourt--Progress of the invading army to the 10th of July   149

VI.--Operations of the King of Westphalia's and of Davoust's
divisions--Perilous situation and narrow escape of Bagration      157

VII.--Napoleon's departure from Wilna--Retreat of the Russian army from
Drissa to Witepsk--Arrival of the different French corps at
Beszenkowiczi--Different partial actions near Witepsk             166

VIII.--General engagement before Witepsk--French attack ordered to
cease in expectation of a decisive battle on the following day--Retreat
of the Russians--Napoleon's disappointment--Position of his different
corps                                                             177


CHAP. I.--Napoleon's first plans for halting at Witepsk--afterwards
abandoned, and his determination to proceed to Smolensk           188

II.--Discussions with the officers of his household--their reasons for
dissuading him from advancing further, and his replies--Feelings of the
army in general                                                   199

III.--Operations of Oudinot's corps against that of Wittgenstein--partial
successes on both sides--Napoleon determines to change his line of
operation                                                         210


CHAP. I.--Manner in which this manoeuvre was effected--The
army crosses the Boristhenes--Character of the Jewish and native
population                                                        216

II.--Surprise of Newerowskoi's corps beyond Krasnoë--Bold retreat of
that officer                                                      222

III.--Movements of the main Russian army--Plans of Barclay--his
dissension with Bagration--hastens to the relief of Smolensk--about to
be surprised by Napoleon--Unsuccessful attack of the French on Smolensk

IV.--Retreat of the Russian army, and fresh disappointment of
Napoleon--Ineffectual attempts of Murat to dissuade his farther
advance--Capture of Smolensk                                      234

V.--Napoleon's reflections on the conduct of the Russians--Intelligence
of Regnier's victory over Tormasof--Opinions of the Emperor's principal
officers as to the impolicy of proceeding farther                 240

VI.--State of the allied army--its immense losses from various causes,
independent of the enemy--Napoleon's professed intention to stop, but
real determination to proceed                                     248

VII.--Final evacuation of Smolensk by the Russians after setting it on
fire--their army overtaken by Murat and Ney--Death of General
Gudin--Battle of Valoutina--Narrow escape of the Russians in consequence
of Junot's irresolution                                           254

VIII.--Results of the battle--Recompenses and rewards conferred by
Napoleon--Enthusiasm of the army--Melancholy state of the
wounded--Animosity of the Russian population                      264

IX.--Napoleon's plans of moving the Russian peasantry to
insurrection--Conduct of their nobles to ward off the danger--Napoleon's
hesitation as to the plan he should pursue                        271

X.--Saint Cyr's victory over Wittgenstein on the 18th of
August--Dissension between Murat and Davoust--Discord in the Russian
camp in consequence of Barclay's continued retreat--Napoleon's advance
to Dorogobouje                                                    276


CHAP. I.--Manner in which the allied army was supplied on its
march--Details of the organization of Davoust's corps             285

II.--Napoleon's bulletin and decrees at Slawkowo--Fresh quarrels
between Murat and Davoust--Description of the Russian mode of retreat
and of Murat's method of pursuit                                  290

III.--Advance to Wiazma and to Gjatz--Refusal of Davoust to obey
Murat--Full development of the Russian plan of destroying their cities
and towns                                                         297

IV.--Clamours of the Russians against Barclay--Kutusof sent to supersede
him--Great merit of Barclay's plan of retreat                     304

V.--Near prospect of a battle--Character of Kutusof--Sanguinary and
partial action on the 4th of September--Anecdote of Murat--Napoleon's
survey of the ground                                              309

VI.--Disposition of the Russian army on the field of Borodino--Napoleon's
plan of battle                                                    317

VII.--Plan proposed by Davoust rejected by Napoleon--Feelings of the
French army--Proclamation of Napoleon                             322

VIII.--Preparations of the Russians--Feelings of their
soldiery--Napoleon's anxiety--his indisposition on the night before the
battle                                                            328

IX. X. XI.--Battle of Borodino on the 7th of September            334

XII.--Results of the battle--immense loss on both sides--faults
committed by Napoleon--how accounted for--incompleteness of his victory

XIII.--Advance to, and skirmish before Mojaisk--Gallantry of fifty
voltigeurs of the 33d--Surprising order in the Russian retreat--Napoleon's
distress                                                          364



CHAP. I.--The Emperor Alexander's arrival at Moscow after his
retreat from Drissa--Description of that city--Sacrifices voted by the
nobility and the merchants to meet the threatened danger            1

II.--Alarm in consequence of the advance of the French
army--Determination of the Governor, Count Rostopchin, and his
preparations for destroying the capital--Evacuation of Moscow by the
principal part of the inhabitants on the 3d of September           10

III.--State of that city just before and after the battle of
Borodino--The Governor's departure                                 18

IV.--Napoleon advances to Moscow on the 14th of September--Feelings of
the army on approaching it--Disappointment at finding it deserted  27

V.--Murat's entrance into the city                                 34

VI.--Napoleon's entrance into the Kremlin--Discovery of the
conflagration of the city                                          38

VII.--Danger which he ran in escaping through the flames to
Petrowsky--Hesitation as to his future plans                       47

VIII.--His return to the Kremlin--Description of the camps outside the
city--System of general plunder--Reproaches made to the army, and
vindication of it                                                  52

IX.--Conduct of Kutusof after abandoning Moscow--Rostopchin sets fire to
his seat at Woronowo--Partial actions at Czerikowo and Vinkowo--Anxiety
and uneasiness of Napoleon--consultation with his chief officers--Sends
Lauriston to the Emperor                                           60

X.--Conference of Lauriston with Kutusof--Artful conduct of the
latter--Armistice--Infatuation of Murat--Distress of the French
army--Warnings of the impending danger--Napoleon's obstinacy in
remaining                                                          71

XI.--Illusions by which he kept up his own and his army's
hopes--Count Daru's advice--Rupture of the armistice--Incapacity
of Berthier--Disastrous engagement at Vinkowo--Napoleon determines
to leave Moscow                                                    82


CHAP. I.--Departure from Moscow--Composition of the army           94

II.--Battle of Malo-Yaroslawetz                                    98

III.--Distress of the Emperor--Danger which he ran from a sudden attack
of the Cossacks                                                   107

IV.--Field of Malo-Yaroslawetz--Council held by the Emperor--Opinions of
Murat, Bessières, and Davoust--Napoleon determines to retreat     113

V.--Kutusoff's similar determination to retreat from Malo-Yaroslawetz,
ineffectually opposed by Sir Robert Wilson--Napoleon's projected plan of
retreat                                                           118

VI.--Mortier's proceedings at Moscow after the departure of the main
army--Blowing up of the Kremlin--Devastations committed by both
armies--Capture of General Winzingerode--Napoleon's behaviour to him 126

VII.--Arrival at Mojaisk--Alarming news of the Russian army--View of
the field of Borodino                                             134

VIII.--Abandonment of the wounded in the Abbey of Kolotskoi--Horrible
conduct of the suttlers--Massacre of 2000 Russian prisoners--Arrival at
Gjatz                                                             139

IX.--Napoleon's arrival at Wiazma--Reproaches to Davoust for his tardy
mode of retreat, and that officer's vindication--Danger of the latter
and Eugene--Arrival of Miloradowitch                              144

X.--Battle between Eugene and Davoust and Miloradowitch, near Wiazma, on
the 3d November--heavy loss of the French                         149

XI.--Dreadful snow-storm on the 6th of November--its effects upon the
troops                                                            155

XII.--Arrival of the intelligence of Mallet's conspiracy--impression
produced by it upon Napoleon and his officers--Message from
Ney--Perilous situation of that marshal                           160

XIII.--Defeat and entire dissolution of the Viceroy's corps at the
passage of the Wop                                                167

XIV.--Arrival at Smolensk--Dreadful sufferings of the troops--Bad
arrangements of the administrators--Reasons assigned by the latter in
their vindication                                                 175


CHAP. I.--Wittgenstein's attack upon Saint Cyr at Polotsk--Retreat of
the latter--Want of concert in the movements of the Russian generals

II.--Junction of the corps of Saint Cyr and Victor at Smoliantzy on the
31st October--Opportunity lost by the latter of defeating the
enemy--General view of the state of the army--Errors committed by
Napoleon and his commanders                                       192

III.--Napoleon's departure from Smolensk--Dispositions of the Russian
army to interrupt his farther retreat--Bravery of Excelmans--Arrival at
Krasnoë                                                           205

IV.--March of Eugene from Smolensk to Krasnoë with the remains of his
corps--his narrow escape                                          211

V.--Successful nocturnal attack by Roguet on the Russian camp at
Chickowa--Desperate situation of Napoleon--Wilson's fruitless efforts to
induce Kutusof to surround and destroy him--Battle of Krasnoë--Bravery
of the guard under Mortier                                        219

VI.--Napoleon's arrival at Dombrowna--Nocturnal false alarm--General
disorganization of the army--Davoust's ineffectual efforts to check it

VII.--Council held at Orcha to determine the farther course of
retreat--Opinion of Jomini--Napoleon decides on Borizof--Quits Orcha on
the 20th of November without hearing any thing of Ney--Re-appearance of
that Marshal after his departure                                  239

VIII. IX.--Details of Ney's retreat from Smolensk until his arrival at
Orcha                                                             248


CHAP. I.--Capture of Minsk by the Russians--Different opinions
in the army as to the causes of their disasters--Rumoured treachery of
Schwartzenberg--Napoleon's reproaches to him and Schwartzenberg's reply

II.--Details of the loss of Minsk--Movements of Dombrowski, Oudinot, and
Victor--Distress and malady of Napoleon--Remarkable conversation with
Count Daru                                                        278

III.--Passage through the Forest of Minsk--Junction of the remains of
the grand army with Victor and Oudinot's corps--State of the former

IV. V.--Preparations for crossing the Berezina                    289

VI.--Circumstances which led the Russian general, Tchaplitz, into error
as to the point where Napoleon was to cross the Berezina, and
consequences of that error--Napoleon crosses that river at Studzianka on
the 27th November                                                 299

VII.--Capture and destruction of Partouneaux's division           304

VIII.--Attack made by the Russians under Wittgenstein and Platof on the
left side, and by Tchitchakof on the right side of the Berezina, and
repelled by the French                                            308

IX.--The burning of the bridge over the Berezina                  315

X.--Napoleon's situation during the preceding actions--Passage over the
morasses--His manners to his officers                             321

XI.--Napoleon's arrival at Malodeczno--Announcement on the 3d of
December of his intention to set out for France                   325

XII.--Increased severity of the winter--Partial actions of Ney and
Maison with the Russians between Pleszezenitzy and Malodeczno--Quarrel
between Ney and Victor                                            330

XIII.--Napoleon's arrival at Smorgony--his parting interview with his
marshals                                                          335


CHAP. I.--Napoleon's journey from Smorgony to Paris--Impression
produced in the army by his departure--Dreadful effects of the increased
cold                                                             339

II.--Picture of the sufferings of the army from the cold and the climate

III.--Arrival at Wilna--Consternation of the inhabitants--Fatal effects
of not distributing the provisions collected among the troops--State of
the wounded in the hospitals--Arrival of the Russians--Flight of
Murat--Evacuation of Wilna--Immense losses which that occasioned--Disaster
at Ponari                                                        353

IV.--Details of Ney's mode of retreat--Losses occasioned to the Russians
by the severity of the winter--Arrival at Kowno--Ney's defence and
evacuation of that place                                         364

V.--First symptoms of Murat's defection--Arrival at Königsberg   372

VI. VII. VIII. IX.--Marshal Macdonald's retreat from Riga--Details of
the defection of the Prussian Army under Yorck                   377

X.--Conduct of Schwartzenberg and defection of the Austrians--Atrocities
committed on the French prisoners at Wilna and Königsberg        396

XI.--Defection of Murat                                          401

XII.--Conclusion                                                 403


I. Portrait of Napoleon                  to face Title, Vol. I.

II. Map of the countries between Paris and Moscow        page 1

III. Passage of the Niemen                                  124

IV. Portrait of Murat, King of Naples                       311

V. Portrait of the Emperor Alexander    to face Title, Vol. II.

VI. Conflagration of Moscow                                  48

VII. Portrait of Marshal Ney                                268

VIII. Passage of the Berezina                               315

[Illustration: Map of the countries between Paris and Moscow]








Ever since 1807, when the space between the Rhine and the Niemen had
been overrun, the two great empires of which these rivers were the
boundaries had become rivals. By his concessions at Tilsit, at the
expense of Prussia, Sweden, and Turkey, Napoleon had only satisfied
Alexander. That treaty was the result of the defeat of Russia, and the
date of her submission to the continental system. Among the Russians, it
was regarded by some as attacking their honour; and by all it was felt
to be ruinous to their interests.

By the continental system Napoleon had declared eternal war against the
English; to that system he attached his honour, his political existence,
and that of the nation under his sway. That system banished from the
Continent all merchandise which was English, or had paid duty in any
shape to England. He could not succeed in establishing it but by the
unanimous consent of the continental nations, and that consent could not
be hoped for but under a single and universal dominion.

France had besides alienated the nations of Europe from her by her
conquests, and the monarchs by her revolution and her new dynasty.
Henceforward she could no longer look forward to have either friends or
rivals, but merely subjects; for the first would have been false, and
the second implacable: it followed that all must be subject to her, or
she to all.

With feelings of this kind, her leader, influenced by his position, and
urged on by his enterprising character, filled his imagination with the
vast project of becoming the sole master of Europe, by overwhelming
Russia, and wresting Poland from her dominion. He had so much difficulty
in concealing this project, that hints of it began to escape him in all
directions. The immense preparations which so distant an enterprise
required, the enormous quantities of provisions and ammunition
collecting, the noise of arms, of carriages, and the march of such
numbers of soldiers--the universal movement the majestic and terrible
course of all the forces of the West against the East--every thing
announced to Europe that her two colossuses were about to measure their
strength with each other.

But, to get within reach of Russia, it was necessary to go beyond
Austria, to cross Prussia, and to march between Sweden and Turkey; an
offensive alliance with these four powers was therefore indispensable.
Austria was as much subject to the influence of Napoleon as Prussia was
to his arms: to them he had only to declare his intentions; Austria
voluntarily and eagerly entered into his plans, and Prussia he easily
prevailed on to join him.

Austria, however, did not act blindly. Situated between the two great
colossuses of the North and the West, she was not displeased to see them
at war: she looked to their mutually weakening each other, and to the
increase of her own strength by their exhaustion. On the 14th of March,
1812, she promised France 30,000 men; but she prepared prudent secret
instructions for them. She obtained a vague promise of an increase of
territory, as an indemnity for her share of the expenses of the war, and
the possession of Gallicia was guaranteed to her. She admitted, however,
the future possibility of a cession of part of that province to the
kingdom of Poland; but in exchange for that she would have received the
Illyrian provinces. The sixth article of the secret treaty establishes
that fact.

The success of the war, therefore, in no degree depended on the cession
of Gallicia, or the difficulties arising from the Austrian jealousy of
that possession. Napoleon, consequently, might on his entrance into
Wilna, have publicly proclaimed the liberation of the whole of Poland,
instead of betraying the expectations of her people, astonishing and
rendering them indifferent by expressions of wavering import.

This, however, was one of those prominent points, which in politics as
well as in war are decisive, with which every thing is connected, and
from which nothing ought to have made him swerve. But whether it was
that Napoleon reckoned too much on the ascendancy of his genius, or the
strength of his army, and the weakness of Alexander; or that,
considering what he left behind him, he felt it too dangerous to carry
on so distant a war slowly and methodically; or whether, as we shall
presently be told by himself, he had doubts of the success of his
undertaking; certain it is, that he either neglected, or could not yet
determine to proclaim the liberation of that country whose freedom he
had come to restore.

And yet he had sent an ambassador to her Diet. When this inconsistency
was remarked to him, he replied, that "that nomination was an act of
war, which only bound him during the war, while by his words he would be
bound both in war and peace." Thus it was, that he made no other reply
to the enthusiasm of the Lithuanians than evasive expressions, at the
very time he was following up his attack on Alexander to the very
capital of his empire.

He even neglected to clear the southern Polish provinces of the feeble
hostile armies which kept the patriotism of their inhabitants in check,
and to secure, by strongly organizing their insurrection, a solid basis
of operation. Accustomed to short methods, and to rapid attacks, he
wished to imitate himself, in spite of the difference of places and
circumstances; for such is the weakness of man, that he is always led
by imitation, either of others, or of himself, which in the latter case,
that of great men, is habit; for habit is nothing more than the
imitation of one's self. So true it is, that by their strongest side
these extraordinary men are undone!

The one in question committed himself to the fortune of battles. Having
prepared an army of six hundred and fifty thousand men, he fancied that
that was doing sufficient to secure victory, from which he expected
every thing. Instead of sacrificing every thing to obtain victory, it
was by that he looked to obtain every thing; he made use of it as a
_means_, when it ought to have been his _end_. In this manner he made it
too necessary; it was already rather too much so. But he confided so
much of futurity to it, he overloaded it with so much responsibility,
that it became urgent and indispensable to him. Hence his precipitation
to get within reach of it, in order to extricate himself from so
critical a position.

But we must not be too hasty in condemning a genius so great and
universal; we shall shortly hear from himself by what urgent necessity
he was hurried on; and even admitting that the rapidity of his
expedition was only equalled by its rashness, success would have
probably crowned it, if the premature decline of his health had left the
physical constitution of this great man all the vigour which his mind
still retained.


As to Prussia, of which Napoleon was completely master, it is not known
whether it was from his uncertainty as to the fate which he reserved for
her, or as to the period at which he should commence the war, that he
refused, in 1811, to contract the alliance which she herself proposed to
him, and of which he dictated the conditions, in 1812.

His aversion to Frederick William was remarkable. Napoleon had been
frequently heard to speak reproachfully of the cabinet of Prussia for
its treaties with the French republic. He said, "It was a desertion of
the cause of kings; that the negotiations of the court of Berlin with
the Directory displayed a timid, selfish, and ignoble policy, which
sacrificed its dignity, and the general cause of monarchs, to petty
aggrandizements." Whenever he followed with his finger the traces of the
Prussian frontiers upon the map, he seemed to be angry at seeing them
still so extensive, and exclaimed, "Is it possible that I have left this
man so large a territory?"

This dislike to a mild and pacific monarch was surprising. As there is
nothing in the character of Napoleon unworthy of historical remembrance,
it is worth while to examine the cause of it. Some persons trace back
the origin of it to the rejection which he experienced, when First
Consul, from Louis XVIII. of the propositions which he made to him
through the medium of the king of Prussia; and they suppose that
Napoleon laid the blame of this refusal upon the mediator. Others
attribute it to the seizure of Rumbold, the English agent at Hamburgh,
by the orders of Napoleon, and to his being compelled to give him up by
Frederick, as protector of the neutrality of the north of Germany.
Before that time, Frederick and Napoleon had carried on a secret
correspondence, which was of so intimate a nature, that they used to
confide to each other even the details of their household; that
circumstance, it is said, put an end to it.

At the beginning of 1805, however, Russia, Austria, and England, made
ineffectual attempts to engage Frederick in their third coalition
against France. The court of Berlin, the queen, the princes, the
minister Hardenberg, and all the young Prussian military, excited by the
ardour of displaying the inheritance of glory which had been left them
by the great Frederick, or by the wish of blotting out the disgrace of
the campaign of 1792, entered heartily into the views of the allied
powers; but the pacific policy of the king, and of his minister
Haugwitz, resisted them, until the violation of the Prussian territory,
near Anspach, by the march of a corps of French troops, exasperated the
passions of the Prussians to such a degree, that their cry for immediate
war prevailed.

Alexander was then in Poland; he was invited to Potsdam, and repaired
thither immediately; and on the 3d of November, 1805, he engaged
Frederick in the third coalition. The Prussian array was immediately
withdrawn from the Russian frontiers, and M. de Haugwitz repaired to
Brünn to threaten Napoleon with it. But the battle of Austerlitz shut
his mouth; and within a fortnight after, the wily minister, having
quickly turned round to the side of the conqueror, signed with him the
participation of the fruits of victory.

Napoleon, however, dissembled his displeasure; for he had his army to
re-organize, to give the grand duchy of Berg to Murat, his
brother-in-law, Neufchatel to Berthier, to conquer Naples for his
brother Joseph, to mediatize Switzerland, to dissolve the Germanic body,
and to create the Rhenish confederation, of which he declared himself
protector; to change the republic of Holland into a kingdom, and to give
it to his brother Louis. These were the reasons which induced him, on
the 15th of December, to cede Hanover to Prussia, in exchange for
Anspach, Cleves, and Neufchatel.

The possession of Hanover at first tempted Frederick, but when the
treaty was to be signed, he appeared to feel ashamed, and to hesitate;
he wished only to accept it by halves, and to retain it merely as a
deposit. Napoleon had no idea of such timid policy. "What!" said he,
"does this monarch dare neither to make peace nor war? Does he prefer
the English to me? Is there another coalition preparing? Does he despise
my alliance?" Indignant at the idea, by a fresh treaty, on the 8th of
March, 1806, he compelled Frederick to declare war against England, to
take possession of Hanover, and to admit French garrisons into _Wesel_
and _Hameln_.

The king of Prussia alone submitted; his court and his subjects were
exasperated; they reproached him with allowing himself to be vanquished
without attempting to fight; and elevating themselves on the remembrance
of their past glory, they fancied that for them alone was reserved the
honour of triumphing over the conqueror of Europe. In their impatience
they insulted the minister of Napoleon; they sharpened their swords on
the threshold of his gate. Napoleon himself they loaded with abuse. Even
the queen, so distinguished by her graces and attractions, put on a
warlike attitude. Their princes, one of them particularly (whose
carriage and features, spirit and intrepidity, seemed to promise them a
hero), offered to be their leaders. A chivalrous ardour and fury
animated the minds of all.

It is asserted, that at the same time there were persons, either
treacherous or deceived, who persuaded Frederick that Napoleon was
obliged to show himself pacific, that that warrior was averse to war;
they added, that he was perfidiously treating for peace with England, on
the terms of restoring Hanover, which he was to take back from Prussia.
Drawn in at last by the general feeling, the king allowed all these
passions to burst forth. His army advanced, and threatened Napoleon;
fifteen days afterwards he had neither army nor kingdom; he fled alone;
and Napoleon dated from Berlin his decrees against England.

Humbled and conquered as Prussia thus was, it was impossible for
Napoleon to abandon his hold of her; she would have immediately rallied,
under the cannon of the Russians. Finding it impossible to gain her to
his interests, like Saxony, by a great act of generosity, the next plan
was to divide her; and yet, either from compassion, or the effect of
Alexander's presence, he could not resolve to dismember her. This was a
mistaken policy, like most of those where we stop half-way; and Napoleon
was not long before he became sensible of it. When he exclaimed,
therefore, "Is it possible that I have left this man so large a
territory?" it is probable that he did not forgive Prussia the
protection of Alexander; he hated her, because he felt that she hated

In fact, the sparks of a jealous and impatient hatred escaped from the
youth of Prussia, whose ideas were exalted by a system of education,
national, liberal, and mystical. It was among them that a formidable
power arose in opposition to that of Napoleon. It included all whom his
victories had humbled or offended; it had all the strength of the weak
and the oppressed, the law of nature, mystery, fanaticism, and revenge!
Wanting support on earth, it looked up for aid to Heaven, and its moral
forces were wholly out of the reach of the material power of Napoleon.
Animated by the devoted and indefatigable spirit of an ardent sect, it
watched the slightest movements and weakest points of its enemy,
insinuated itself into all the interstices of his power, and holding
itself ready to strike at every opportunity, it waited quietly with the
patience and phlegm which are the peculiar characteristics of the
Germans, which were the causes of their defeat, and against which our
victory wore itself out.

This vast conspiracy was that of the _Tugendbund_[1], or _Friends of
Virtue_. Its head, in other words, the person who first gave a precise
and definite direction to its views, was _Stein_. Napoleon perhaps might
have gained him over to his interests, but preferred punishing him. His
plan happened to be discovered by one of those chances to which the
police owes the best part of its miracles; but when conspiracies enter
into the interests, passions, and even the consciences of men, it is
impossible to seize their ramifications: every one understands without
communicating; or rather, all is communication--a general and
simultaneous sympathy.

[Footnote 1: In 1808, several literary men at Königsberg, afflicted with
the evils which desolated their country, ascribed it to the general
corruption of manners. According to these philosophers, it had stifled
true patriotism in the citizens, discipline in the army, and courage in
the people. Good men therefore were bound to unite to regenerate the
nation, by setting the example of every sacrifice. An association was in
consequence formed by them, which took the title of _Moral and
Scientific Union_. The government approved of it, merely interdicting it
from political discussions. This resolution, noble as it was, would
probably have been lost, like many others, in the vagueness of German
metaphysics; but about that time William, Duke of Brunswick, who had
been stripped of his duchy, had retired to his principality of Oels in
Silesia. In the bosom of this retreat he is said to have observed the
first progress of the _Moral Union_ among the Prussians. He became a
member of it; and his heart swelling with hatred and revenge, he formed
the idea of another association, which was to consist of men resolved to
overthrow the confederation of the Rhine, and to drive the French
entirely out of Germany. This society, whose object was more real and
positive than that of the first, soon swallowed up the other; and from
these two was formed that of the _Tugendbund_, or _Friends of Virtue_.

About the end of May, 1809, three enterprises--those of Katt, Dörnberg,
and Schill--had already given proofs of its existence. That of Duke
William began on the 14th of May. He was at first supported by the
Austrians. After a variety of adventures, this leader, abandoned to his
own resources in the midst of subjugated Europe, and left with only 2000
men to combat with the whole power of Napoleon, refused to yield: he
stood his ground, and threw himself into Saxony and Hanover; but finding
it impossible to raise them into insurrection, he cut his way through
several French corps, which he defeated, to Elsfleth, where he found an
English vessel waiting to receive and to convey him to England, with the
laurels he had acquired.]

This focus spread its fires and gained new partizans every day; it
attacked the power of Napoleon in the opinion of all Germany, extended
itself into Italy, and threatened its complete overthrow. It was already
easy to see that, if circumstances became unfavourable to us, there
would be no want of men to take advantage of them. In 1809, even before
the disaster of Esslingen, the first who had ventured to raise the
standard of independence against Napoleon were Prussians. He sent them
to the galleys; so important did he feel it to smother that cry of
revolt, which seemed to echo that of the Spaniards, and might become

Independently of all these causes of hatred, the position of Prussia,
between France and Russia, compelled Napoleon to remain her master; he
could not reign there but by force--he could not be strong there but by
her weakness.

He ruined the country, although he must have known well that poverty
creates audacity; that the hope of gain becomes the moving principle of
those who have nothing more to lose; and finally, that in leaving them
nothing but the sword, he in a manner obliged them to turn it against
himself. In consequence, on the approach of the year 1812, and of the
terrible struggle which it was to produce, Frederick, uneasy and tired
of his subservient position, was determined to extricate himself from
it, either by an alliance or by war. In March, 1811, he offered himself
to Napoleon as an auxiliary in the expedition which he was preparing. In
the month of May, and again in the month of August, he repeated that
offer; and as he received no satisfactory answer, he declared, that as
the great military movements which surrounded, crossed, or drained his
kingdom, were such as to excite his apprehension that his entire
destruction was meditated, "he took up arms, because circumstances
imperiously called upon him to do so, deeming it far preferable to die
sword in hand than to fall with disgrace."

It was said at the same time, that Frederick secretly offered to
Alexander to give him possession of Graudentz, and his magazines, and
to put himself at the head of his insurgent subjects, if the Russian
army should advance into Silesia. If the same authorities are to be
believed, Alexander received this proposition, very favourably. He
immediately sent to Bagration and Wittgenstein sealed marching orders.
They were instructed not to open them until they received another letter
from their sovereign, which he never wrote, having changed his
resolution. A variety of causes might have dictated that change; 1st, a
wish not to be the first to commence so great a war, and his anxiety to
have divine justice and the opinion of mankind on his side, by not
appearing the aggressor; 2d, that Frederick, becoming less uneasy as to
the plans of Napoleon, had resolved to follow his fortunes. It is
probable, after all, that the noble sentiments which Alexander expressed
in his reply to the king were his only motives: we are assured that he
wrote to him, "That in a war which might begin by reverses, and in which
perseverance was required, he only felt courageous for himself, and that
the misfortunes of an ally might shake his resolution; that it would
grieve him to chain Prussia to his fortune if it was bad; that if it was
good he should always be ready to share it with her, whatever line of
conduct necessity might oblige her to pursue."

These details have been certified to us by a witness, although an
inferior one. However, whether this counsel proceeded from the
generosity or the policy of Alexander, or Frederick was determined
solely by the necessity of the case, it is certain that it was high
time for him to come to a decision; for in February, 1812, these
communications with Alexander, _if there were such_, or the hope of
obtaining better terms from France having made him hesitate in replying
to the definitive propositions of Napoleon, the latter, becoming
impatient, sent additional forces to Dantzic, and made Davoust enter
Pomerania. His orders for this invasion of a Swedish province were
repeated and pressing; they were grounded on the illicit commerce
carried on by the Pomeranians with the English, and subsequently on the
necessity of compelling Prussia to accede to his terms. The Prince of
Eckmühl even received orders to hold himself in readiness to take
immediate possession of that kingdom, and to seize the person of her
sovereign, if within eight days from the date of these orders the latter
had not concluded the offensive alliance dictated to him by France; but
while the marshal was tracing the few marches necessary for this
operation, he received intelligence that the treaty of the 21st of
February, 1812, had been ratified.

This submission did not altogether satisfy Napoleon. To his strength he
added artifice; his suspicions still led him to covet the occupation of
the fortresses, which he was ashamed not to leave in Frederick's hands;
he required the king to keep only 50 or 80 invalids in some, and desired
that some French officers should be admitted into others; all of whom
were to send their reports to him, and to follow his orders. His
solicitude extended to every thing. "Spandau," said he, in his letters
to Davoust, "is the citadel of Berlin, as Pillau is that of Königsberg;"
and French troops had orders to be ready to introduce themselves at the
first signal: the manner he himself pointed out. At Potsdam, which the
king had reserved for himself, and which our troops were interdicted
from entering, his orders were, that the French officers should
frequently show themselves, in order to observe, and to accustom the
people to the sight of them. He recommended every degree of respect to
be shown, both to the king and his subjects; but at the same time he
required that every sort of arms should be taken from the latter, which
might be of use to them in an insurrection; and he pointed out every
thing of the kind, even to the smallest weapon. Anticipating the
possibility of the loss of a battle, and the chances of Prussian
_vespers_, he ordered that his troops should be either put into barracks
or encampments, with a thousand other precautions of the minutest
description. As a final security, in case of the English making a
descent between the Elbe and the Vistula, although Victor, and
subsequently Augereau, were to occupy Prussia with 50,000 men, he
engaged by treaty the assistance of 10,000 Danes.

All these precautions were still insufficient to remove his distrust;
when the Prince of Hatzfeld came to require of him a subsidy of 25
millions of francs to meet the expenses of the war which was preparing,
his reply to Daru was, "that he would take especial care not to furnish
an enemy with arms against himself." In this manner did Frederick,
entangled as it were in a net of iron, which surrounded and held him
tight in every part, put between 20 and 30,000 of his troops, and his
principal fortresses and magazines, at the disposal of Napoleon[2].

[Footnote 2: By this treaty, Prussia agreed to furnish two hundred
thousand quintals of rye, twenty-four thousand of rice, two million
bottles of beer, four hundred thousand quintals of wheat, six hundred
and fifty thousand of straw, three hundred and fifty thousand of hay,
six million bushels of oats, forty-four thousand oxen, fifteen thousand
horses, three thousand six hundred waggons, with harness and drivers,
each carrying a load of fifteen hundred weight; and finally, hospitals
provided with every thing necessary for twenty thousand sick. It is
true, that all these supplies were to be allowed in deduction of the
remainder of the taxes imposed by the conquest.]


These two treaties opened the road to Russia to Napoleon; but in order
to penetrate into the interior of that empire, it was necessary to make
sure of Sweden and Turkey.

Military combinations were then so much aggrandized, that in order to
sketch a plan of warfare, it was no longer necessary to study the
configuration of a province, or of a chain of mountains, or the course
of a river. When monarchs, such as Alexander and Napoleon, were
contending for the dominion of Europe, it was necessary to regard the
general and relative position of every state with a universal _coup
d'oeil_; it was no longer on single maps, but on that of the whole
globe, that their policy had to trace its plans of hostility.

Russia is mistress of the heights of Europe; her flanks are supported by
the seas of the north and south. Her government can only with great
difficulty be driven into a straight, and forced to submit, in a space
almost beyond the imagination to conceive: the conquest of which would
require long campaigns, to which her climate is completely opposed. From
this, it follows, that without the concurrence of Turkey and Sweden,
Russia is less vulnerable. The assistance of these two powers was
therefore requisite in order to surprise her, to strike her to the heart
in her modern capital, and to turn at a distance, in the rear of its
left, her grand army of the Niemen,--and not merely to precipitate
attacks on a part of her front, in plains where the extent of space
prevented confusion, and left a thousand roads open to the retreat of
that army.

The meanest soldier in our ranks, therefore, expected to hear of the
combined march of the Grand Vizir towards Kief, and of Bernadotte
against Finland. Eight sovereigns were already enlisted under the
banners of Napoleon; but the two who had the greatest interest in the
quarrel were still deaf to his call. It was an idea worthy of the great
emperor to put all the governments and all the religions of Europe in
motion for the accomplishment of his great designs: their triumph would
have been then secured; and if the voice of another Homer had been
wanting to this king of so many kings, the voice of the nineteenth
century, the great century, would have supplied it; and the cry of
astonishment of a whole age, penetrating and piercing through futurity,
would have echoed from generation to generation, to the latest

So much glory was not in reserve for us.

Which of us, in the French army, can ever forget his astonishment, in
the midst of the Russian plains, on hearing the news of the fatal
treaties of the Turks and Swedes with Alexander; and how anxiously our
looks were turned towards our right uncovered, towards our left
enfeebled, and upon our retreat menaced? _Then_ we only looked at the
fatal effects of the peace between our allies and our enemy; _now_ we
feel desirous of knowing the causes of it.

The treaties concluded about the end of the last century, had subjected
the weak sultan of the Turks to Russia; the Egyptian expedition had
armed him against us. But ever since Napoleon had assumed the reins of
power, a well-understood common interest, and the intimacy of a
mysterious correspondence, had reconciled Selim with the first consul: a
close connexion was established between these two princes, and they had
exchanged portraits with each other. Selim attempted to effect a great
revolution in the Turkish customs. Napoleon encouraged him, and was
assisting him in introducing the European discipline into the Ottoman
army, when the victory of Jena, the war of Poland, and the influence of
Sebastiani, determined the sultan to throw off the yoke of Alexander.
The English made hasty attempts to oppose this, but they were driven
from the sea of Constantinople. Then it was that Napoleon wrote the
following letter to Selim.

"_Osterode, April_ 3, 1807.

"My ambassador informs me of the bravery and good conduct of the
Mussulmans against our common enemies. Thou hast shown thyself the
worthy descendant of the Selims and the Solimans. Thou hast asked me for
some officers; I send them to thee. I regretted that thou hadst not
required of me some thousand men,--thou hast only asked for five
hundred; I have given orders for their immediate departure. It is my
intention that they shall be paid and clothed at my expense, and that
thou shalt be reimbursed the expenses which they may occasion thee. I
have given orders to the commander of my troops in Dalmatia to send thee
the arms, ammunition, and every thing thou shalt require of me. I have
given the same orders at Naples; and artillery has been already placed
at the disposal of the pasha of Janina. Generals, officers, arms of
every description, even money--I place all at thy disposal. Thou hast
only to ask: do so in a distinct manner, and all which thou shalt
require I will send thee on the instant. Arrange matters with the shah
of Persia, who is also the enemy of the Russians; encourage him to stand
fast, and to attack warmly the common enemy. I have beaten the Russians
in a great battle; I have taken from them seventy-five pieces of cannon,
sixteen standards, and a great number of prisoners. I am at the distance
of eighty leagues beyond Warsaw, and am about to take advantage of the
fifteen days' repose which I have given to my army, to repair thither,
and there to receive thy ambassador. I am sensible of the want thou hast
of artillerymen and troops; I have offered both to thy ambassador; but
he has declined them, from a fear of alarming the delicacy of the
Mussulmans. Confide to me all thy wants; I am sufficiently powerful, and
sufficiently interested in thy prosperity, both from friendship and
policy, to have nothing to refuse thee. Peace has been proposed to me
here. I have been offered all the advantages which I could desire; but
they wished that I should ratify the state of things established
between the Porte and Russia by the treaty of Sistowa, and I refused. My
answer was, _that it was necessary that the Porte should be secured in
complete independence; and that all the treaties extorted from her,
during the time that France was asleep, should be revoked_."

This letter of Napoleon had been preceded and followed by verbal but
formal assurances, that he would not sheath the sword, until the Crimea
was restored to the dominion of the crescent. He had even authorized
Sebastiani to give the divan a copy of his instructions, which contained
these promises.

Such were his words, with which his actions at first corresponded.
Sebastiani demanded a passage through Turkey for an army of 25,000
French, which he was to command, and which was to join the Ottoman army.
An unforeseen circumstance, it is true, deranged this plan; but Napoleon
then made Selim the promise of an auxiliary force of 9000 French,
including 5000 artillerymen, who were to be conveyed in eleven vessels
of the line to Constantinople. The Turkish ambassador was at the same
time treated with the greatest distinction in the French camp; he
accompanied Napoleon in all his reviews: the most flattering attentions
were paid to him, and the grand-equerry (Caulaincourt,) was already
treating with him for an alliance, offensive and defensive, when a
sudden attack by the Russians interrupted the negotiation.

The ambassador returned to Warsaw, where the same respect continued to
be shown him, up to the day of the decisive victory of Friedland. But
on the following day his illusion was dissipated; he saw himself
neglected; for it was no longer Selim whom he represented. A revolution
had just hurled from the throne the monarch who had been the friend of
Napoleon, and with him all hope of giving the Turks a regular army, upon
which he could depend. Napoleon, therefore, judging that he could no
longer reckon upon the assistance of these barbarians, changed his
system. Henceforward it was Alexander whom he wished to gain; and as his
was a genius which never hesitated, he was already prepared to abandon
the empire of the East to that monarch, in order that he might be left
at liberty to possess himself of that of the West.

As his great object was the extension of the continental system, and to
make it surround Europe, the co-operation of Russia would complete its
development. Alexander would shut out the English from the North, and
compel Sweden to go to war with them; the French would expel them from
the centre, from the south, and from the west of Europe. Napoleon was
already meditating the expedition to Portugal, if that kingdom would not
join his coalition. With these ideas floating in his brain, Turkey was
now only an accessary in his plans, and he agreed to the armistice, and
to the conferences at Tilsit.

But a deputation had just come from Wilna, soliciting the restoration of
their national independence, and professing the same devotion to his
cause as had been shown by Warsaw; Berthier, whose ambition was
satisfied, and who began to be tired of war, dismissed these envoys
rudely, styling them traitors to their sovereign. The Prince of Eckmühl,
on the contrary, favoured their object, and presented them to Napoleon,
who was irritated with Berthier for his treatment of these Lithuanians,
and received them graciously, without, however, promising them his
support. In vain did Davoust represent to him that the opportunity was
favourable, owing to the destruction of the Russian army; Napoleon's
reply was, "that Sweden had just declared her armistice to him; that
Austria offered her mediation between France and Russia, which he looked
upon as a hostile step; that the Prussians, seeing him at such a
distance from France, might recover from their intimidation; and
finally, that Selim, his faithful ally, had just been dethroned, and his
place filled by Mustapha IV., of whose dispositions he knew nothing."

The emperor of France continued, therefore, to negotiate with Russia;
and the Turkish ambassador, neglected and forgotten, wandered about our
camp, without being summoned to take any part in the negotiations which
terminated the war; he returned to Constantinople soon after, in great
displeasure. Neither the Crimea, nor even Moldavia and Wallachia, were
restored to that barbarous court by the treaty of Tilsit; the
restitution of the two latter provinces was only stipulated by an
armistice, the conditions of which were never meant to be executed. But
as Napoleon professed to be the mediator between Mustapha and Alexander,
the ministers of the two powers repaired to Paris. But there, during
the long continuance of that feigned mediation, the Turkish
plenipotentiaries were never admitted to his presence.

If we must even tell the whole truth, it is asserted, that at the
interview at Tilsit, and subsequently, a treaty for the partition of
Turkey was under discussion. It was proposed to Russia to take
possession of Wallachia, Moldavia, Bulgaria, and a part of Mount Hemus.
Austria was to have Servia and a part of Bosnia; France the other part
of that province, Albania, Macedonia, and all Greece as far as
Thessalonica: Constantinople, Adrianople, and Thrace, were to be left to
the Turks.

Whether the conferences respecting this partition were really of a
serious nature, or merely the communication of a great idea, is
uncertain; so much is certain, that shortly after the interview at
Tilsit, Alexander's ambition was very sensibly moderated. The
suggestions of prudence had shown him the danger of substituting for the
ignorant, infatuated, and feeble Turkey, an active, powerful, and
unaccommodating neighbour. In his conversations on the subject at that
time, he remarked, "that he had already too much desert country; that he
knew too well, by the occupation of the Crimea, which was still
depopulated, the value of conquest over foreign and hostile religions
and manners; that besides, France and Russia were too strong to become
such near neighbours; that two such powerful bodies coming into
immediate contact, would be sure to jostle; and that it was much better
to leave intermediate powers between them."

On the other side, the French emperor urged the matter no further; the
Spanish insurrection diverted his attention, and imperiously required
his presence with all his forces. Even previous to the interview at
Erfurt, after Sebastiani's return from Constantinople, although Napoleon
still seemed to adhere to the idea of dismembering Turkey in Europe, he
had admitted the correctness of his ambassador's reasoning: "That in
this partition, the advantages would be all against him; that Russia and
Austria would acquire contiguous provinces, which would make their
dominions more complete, while we should be obliged to keep 80,000 men
continually in Greece to retain it in subjection; that such an army,
from the distance and losses it would sustain from long marches, and the
novelty and unhealthiness of the climate, would require 30,000 recruits
annually, a number which would quite drain France: that a line of
operation extending from Athens to Paris, was out of all proportion;
that besides, it was strangled in its passage at Trieste, at which point
only two marches would enable the Austrians to place themselves across
it, and thereby cut off our army of observation in Greece from all
communication with Italy and France."

Here Napoleon exclaimed, "that Austria certainly complicated every
thing; that she was there like a dead weight; that she must be got rid
off; and Europe must be divided into two empires: that the Danube, from
the Black Sea to Passau, the mountains of Bohemia to Königsgratz, and
the Elbe to the Baltic, should be their lines of demarcation. Alexander
should become the emperor of the north, and he of the south of Europe."
Abandoning, subsequently, these lofty ideas, and reverting to
Sebastiani's observations on the partition of European Turkey, he
terminated the conferences, which had lasted three days, with these
words: "You are right, and no answer can be given to that! I give it up.
Besides, that accords with my views on Spain, which I am going to unite
to France."--"What do I hear?" exclaimed Sebastiani, astonished, "unite
it! And your brother!"--"What signifies my brother?" retorted Napoleon;
"does one give away a kingdom like Spain? I am determined to unite it to
France. I will give that nation a great national representation. I will
make the emperor Alexander consent to it, by allowing him to take
possession of Turkey to the Danube, and I will evacuate Berlin. As to
Joseph, I will indemnify him."

The congress at Erfurt took place just after this. He could have no
motive at that time for supporting the rights of the Turks. The French
army, which had advanced imprudently into the very heart of Spain, had
met with reverses. The presence of its leader, and that of his armies of
the Rhine and the Elbe, became there every day more and more necessary,
and Austria had availed herself of the opportunity to take up arms.
Uneasy respecting the state of Germany, Napoleon was therefore anxious
to make sure of the dispositions of Alexander, to conclude an alliance
offensive and defensive with him, and even to engage him in a war. Such
were the reasons which induced him to abandon Turkey as far as the
Danube to that emperor.

The Porte therefore had very soon reason to reproach us for the war
which was renewed between it and Russia. Notwithstanding, in July, 1808,
when Mustapha was dethroned, and succeeded by Mahmoud, the latter
announced his accession to the French emperor; but Napoleon had then to
keep upon terms with Alexander, and felt too much regret at the death of
Selim, detestation of the barbarity of the Mussulmans, and contempt for
their unstable government, to allow him to notice the communication. For
three years he had returned no reply to the sultan, and his silence
might be interpreted into a refusal to acknowledge him.

He was in this ambiguous position with the Turks, when all of a sudden,
on the 21st of March, 1812, only six weeks before the war with Russia
commenced, he solicited an alliance with Mahmoud: he demanded that,
within five days from the period of the communication, all negotiation
between the Turks and Russians should be broken off; and that an army of
100,000 men, commanded by the sultan himself, should march to the Danube
within nine days. The return which he proposed to make for this
assistance was, to put the Porte in possession of the very same Moldavia
and Wallachia, which, under the circumstances, the Russians were but too
happy to restore as the price of a speedy peace; and the promise of
procuring the restoration of the Crimea, which he had made six years
before to Selim, was again renewed.

We know not whether the time which this despatch would take to arrive at
Constantinople had been badly calculated, whether Napoleon believed the
Turkish army to be stronger than it really was, or whether he had
flattered himself with surprising and captivating the determination of
the divan by so sudden and advantageous a proposition. It can hardly be
supposed that he was ignorant of the long invariable custom of the
Mussulmans, which prevented the grand signor from ever appearing in
person at the head of his army.

It appears as if the genius of Napoleon could not stoop so low as to
impute to the divan the brutish ignorance which it exhibited of its real
interests. After the manner in which he had abandoned the interests of
Turkey in 1807, perhaps he did not make sufficient allowance for the
distrust which the Mussulmans were likely to entertain of his new
promises; he forgot that they were too ignorant to appreciate the change
which recent circumstances had effected in his political views; and that
barbarians like them could still less comprehend the feelings of dislike
with which they had inspired him, by their deposition and murder of
Selim, to whom he was attached, and in conjunction with whom he had
hoped to make European Turkey a military power capable of coping with

Perhaps he might still have gained over Mahmoud to his cause, if he had
sooner made use of more potent arguments; but, as he has since expressed
himself, it revolted his pride to make use of corruption. We shall
besides shortly see him hesitating about beginning a war with Alexander,
or laying too much stress on the alarm with which his immense
preparations would inspire that monarch. It is also possible, that the
last propositions which he made to the Turks, being tantamount to a
declaration of war against the Russians, were delayed for the express
purpose of deceiving the Czar as to the period of his invasion. Finally,
whether it was from all these causes, from a confidence founded on the
mutual hatred of the two nations, and on his treaty of alliance with
Austria, which had just guaranteed Moldavia and Wallachia to the Turks,
he detained the ambassador whom he sent to them on his road, and waited,
as we have just seen, to the very last moment.

But the divan was surrounded by the Russian, English, Austrian, and
Swedish envoys, who with one voice represented to it, "that the Turks
were indebted for their existence in Europe solely to the divisions
which existed among the Christian monarchs; that the moment these were
united under one influence, the Mahometans in Europe would be
overwhelmed; and that as the French emperor was advancing rapidly to the
attainment of universal empire, it was him whom the Turks had most
reason to dread."

To these representations were added the intrigues of the two Greek
princes Morozi. They were of the same religion with Alexander, and they
looked to him for the possession of Moldavia and Wallachia. Grown rich
by his favours and by the gold of England, these dragomans enlightened
the unsuspecting ignorance of the Turks, as to the occupation and
military surveys of the Ottoman frontiers by the French. They did a
great deal more; the first of them influenced the dispositions of the
divan and the capital, and the second those of the grand vizir and the
army; and as the proud Mahmoud resisted, and would only accept an
honourable peace, these treacherous Greeks contrived to disband his
army, and compelled him, by insurrections, to sign the degrading treaty
of Bucharest with the Russians.

Such is the power of intrigue in the seraglio; two Greeks whom the Turks
despised, there decided the fate of Turkey, in spite of the sultan
himself. As the latter depended for his existence on the intrigues of
his palace, he was, like all despots who shut themselves up in them,
obliged to yield: the Morozi carried the day; but afterwards he had them
both beheaded.


In this manner did we lose the support of Turkey; but Sweden still
remained to us; her monarch had sprung from our ranks; a soldier of our
army, it was to that he owed his glory and his throne: was it likely
that he would desert our cause on the first opportunity he had of
showing his gratitude? It was impossible to anticipate such ingratitude;
still less, that he would sacrifice the real and permanent interests of
Sweden to his former jealousy of Napoleon, and perhaps to a weakness too
common among the upstart favourites of fortune; unless it be that the
submission of men who have newly attained to greatness to those who
boast of a transmitted rank, is a necessity of their position rather
than an error of their self-love.

In this great contest between aristocracy and democracy, the ranks of
the former had been joined by one of its most determined enemies.
Bernadotte being thrown almost singly among the ancient courts and
nobility, did every thing to merit his adoption by them, and succeeded.
But his success must have cost him dear, as in order to obtain it, he
was first obliged to abandon his old companions, and the authors of his
glory, in the hour of peril. At a later period he did more; he was seen
marching over their bleeding corses, joining with all their, and
formerly his, enemies, to overwhelm the country of his birth, and
thereby lay that of his adoption at the mercy of the first czar who
should be ambitious of reigning over the Baltic.

On the other hand, it would appear that the character of Bernadotte, and
the importance of Sweden in the decisive struggle which was about to
commence, were not sufficiently weighed in the political balance of
Napoleon. His ardent and exclusive genius hazarded too much; he
overloaded a solid foundation so much that he sank it. Thus it was, that
after justly appreciating the Swedish interests as naturally bound up
with his, the moment he wished to weaken the power of Russia, he fancied
that he could exact every thing from the Swedes without promising them
any thing in return: his pride did not make any allowance for theirs,
judging that they were too much interested in the success of his cause,
for them ever to think of separating themselves from it.

We must, however, take up the history a little earlier; facts will prove
that the defection of Sweden was as much attributable to the jealous
ambition of Bernadotte as to the unbending pride of Napoleon. It will be
seen that her new monarch assumed to himself a great part of the
responsibility of the rupture, by offering his alliance at the price of
an act of treachery.

When Napoleon returned from Egypt, he did not become the chief of his
equals with all their concurrence. Such of them as were already jealous
of his glory then became still more envious of his power. As they could
not dispute the first, they attempted to refuse obedience to the second.
Moreau, and several other generals, either by persuasion or surprise,
had co-operated in the revolution of the 18th Brumaire: they afterwards
repented having done so. Bernadotte had refused all participation in it.
Alone, during the night, in Napoleon's own residence, amidst a thousand
devoted officers, waiting only for the conqueror's orders, Bernadotte,
then a strenuous republican, was daring enough to oppose his arguments,
to refuse the second place in the republic, and to retort upon his anger
by threats. Napoleon saw him depart, bearing himself proudly, and pass
through the midst of his partizans, carrying with him his secrets, and
declaring himself his enemy, and even his denouncer. Either from respect
to his brother, to whom Bernadotte was allied by marriage, from
moderation, the usual companion of strength, or from astonishment, he
suffered him to depart quietly.

In the course of the same night, a conventicle, consisting of ten
deputies of the Council of Five Hundred, met at the house of S----;
thither Bernadotte repaired. They settled, that at nine o'clock next
morning the Council should hold a sitting, to which those only should be
invited who were of the same way of thinking; that there a decree should
be passed, that in imitation of the Council of Ancients, which had
prudently named Bonaparte general of its guard, the Council of Five
Hundred had appointed Bernadotte to command theirs; and that the latter,
properly armed, should be in readiness to be summoned to it. It was at
S----'s house that this plan was formed. S---- himself immediately
afterwards ran to Napoleon, and disclosed the whole to him. A threat
from the latter was quite sufficient to keep the conspirators in order;
not one of them dared show his face at the Council, and the next day the
revolution of the 18th Brumaire was completed.

Bernadotte was prudent enough afterwards to feign submission, but
Napoleon had not forgotten his opposition. He kept a watchful eye on all
his movements. Not long after, he suspected his being at the head of a
republican conspiracy which had been forming against him in the west. A
premature proclamation discovered it; an officer who had been arrested
for other causes, and an accomplice of Bernadotte, denounced the
authors. On that occasion Bernadotte's ruin would have been sealed, if
Napoleon had been able to convict him of it.

He was satisfied with banishing him to America, under the title of
minister of the Republic. But fortune favoured Bernadotte, who was
already at Rochefort, by delaying his embarkation until the war with
England was renewed. He then refused to go, and Napoleon could no longer
compel him.

All the relations between them had thus been those of hatred; and this
check only served to aggravate them. Soon after, Napoleon was heard
reproaching Bernadotte with his envious and treacherous inaction during
the battle of Auerstadt, and his order of the day at Wagram, in which
he had assumed the honour of that victory. He also spoke reproachfully
of his character, as being much more ambitious than patriotic; and
perhaps of the fascination of his manners,--all of them things
considered dangerous to a recently established government; and yet he
had showered rank, titles, and distinctions upon him, while Bernadotte,
always ungrateful, seemed to accept them merely as in justice due to his
merits, or to the want which was felt of him. These complaints of
Napoleon were not without foundation.

Bernadotte, on his side, abusing the emperor's moderation and desire to
keep on terms with him, gradually incurred an increase of his
displeasure, which his ambition was pleased to call enmity. He demanded
why Napoleon had placed him in such a dangerous and false position at
Wagram? why the report of that victory had been so unfavourable to him?
to what was he to attribute the jealous anxiety to weaken his eulogium
in the journals by artful notes? Up to that time, however, the obscure
and underhand opposition of this general to his emperor had been of no
importance; but a much wider field was then opened to their

By the treaty of Tilsit, Sweden, as well as Turkey, had been sacrificed
to Russia and the continental system. The mistaken or mad politics of
Gustavus IV. had been the cause of this. Ever since 1804 that monarch
appeared to have enlisted himself in the pay of England; it was he also
who had been the first to break the ancient alliance between France and
Sweden. He had obstinately persevered in that false policy to such an
extent at first, as to contend against France when she was victorious
over Russia, and afterwards with Russia and France united. The loss of
Pomerania, in 1807, and even that of Finland and the islands of Aland,
which were united to Russia in 1808, were not sufficient to shake his

It was then that his irritated subjects resumed that power which had
been wrested from them, in 1772 and 1788, by Gustavus III., and of which
his successor made so bad a use. Gustavus Adolphus IV. was imprisoned
and dethroned; his lineal descendants were excluded from the throne; his
uncle was put in his place, and the prince of Holstein-Augustenburg
elected hereditary prince of Sweden. As the war had been the cause of
this revolution peace was the result of it; it was concluded with Russia
in 1809; but the newly-elected hereditary prince then died suddenly.

In the beginning of 1810, France restored Pomerania and the Island of
Rugen to Sweden, as the price of her accession to the continental
system. The Swedes, worn out, impoverished, and become almost islanders,
in consequence of the loss of Finland, were very loath to break with
England, and yet they had no remedy; on the other side they stood in awe
of the neighbouring and powerful government of Russia. Finding
themselves weak and isolated, they looked round for support.

Bernadotte had just been appointed to the command of the French army
which took possession of Pomerania; his military reputation, and still
more that of his nation and its sovereign, his fascinating mildness, his
generosity, and his flattering attentions to the Swedes, with whom he
had to treat, induced several of them to cast their eyes upon him. They
appeared to know nothing of the misunderstanding between this marshal
and the emperor; they fancied that by electing him for their prince,
they should not only obtain an able and experienced general, but also a
powerful mediator between France and Sweden, and a certain protector in
the emperor: it happened quite the contrary.

During the intrigues to which this circumstance gave rise, Bernadotte
fancied that to his previous complaints against Napoleon he had to add
others. When, in opposition to the king, and the majority of the members
of the diet, he was proposed as successor to the crown of Sweden; when
his pretensions were supported by Charles's prime minister, (a man of no
family, who owed, like him, all his illustration to himself,) and the
count de Wrede, the only member of the diet who had reserved his vote
for him; when he came to solicit Napoleon's interference, why did he,
when Charles XIII. desired to know his wishes, exhibit so much
indifference? Why did he prefer the union of the three northern crowns
on the head of a prince of Denmark? If he, Bernadotte, succeeded in the
enterprise, he was not at all indebted for it to the emperor of France;
he owed it to the pretensions of the king of Denmark, which
counteracted those of the duke of Augustenburg[3], his most dangerous
rival; to the grateful audacity of the baron de Moerner, who was the
first to come to him, and offer to put him on the lists, and to the
aversion of the Swedes to the Danes; above all he owed it to a passport
which had been adroitly obtained by his agent from Napoleon's minister.
It was said that this document was audaciously produced by Bernadotte's
secret emissary, as a proof of an autograph mission with which he
pretended to be charged, and of the formal desire of the French emperor
to see one of his lieutenants, and the relation of his brother, placed
upon the throne of Sweden.

[Footnote 3: Brother of the deceased prince of that name.]

Bernadotte also felt that he owed this crown to the chance, which
brought him in communication with the Swedes, and made them acquainted
with his characteristic qualities; to the birth of his son, which
secured the heredity succession; to the address of his agents, who,
either with or without his authority, dazzled the poverty of the
Scandinavians with the promise of fourteen millions with which his
election was to enrich their treasury; and finally to his flattering
attentions, which had gained him the voices of several Swedish officers
who had been his prisoners. But as to Napoleon, what did he owe to him?
What was his reply to the news of the offer of several Swedes, when he
himself waited upon him to inform him of it? "I am at too great a
distance from Sweden, to mix myself up in her affairs. You must not
reckon upon my support." At the same time it is true, that either from
necessity, from his dreading the election of the duke of Oldenburg; or
finally from respect for the wishes of fortune, Napoleon declared that
he would leave it to her to decide: and Bernadotte was in consequence
elected crown prince of Sweden.

The newly-elected prince immediately paid his respects to the emperor,
who received him frankly. "As you are offered the crown of Sweden, I
permit you to accept it. I had another wish, as you know; but, in short,
it is your sword which has made you a king, and you are sensible that it
is not for me to stand in the way of your good fortune." He then entered
very fully with him into the whole plan of his policy, in which
Bernadotte appeared entirely to concur; every day he attended the
emperor's levee together with his son, mixing with the other courtiers.
By such marks of deference, he completely gained the heart of Napoleon.
He was about to depart, poor. Unwilling that he should present himself
to the Swedish throne in that necessitous state, like a mere adventurer,
the emperor generously gave him two millions out of his own treasury; he
even granted to his family the dotations which as a foreign prince he
could no longer retain himself; and they parted on apparent terms of
mutual satisfaction.

It was natural that the expectations of Napoleon as to the alliance with
Sweden should be heightened by this election, and by the favours which
he had bestowed. At first Bernadotte's correspondence with him was that
of a grateful inferior, but the very moment he was fairly out of France,
feeling himself as it were relieved from a state of long and painful
constraint, it is said that his hatred to Napoleon vented itself in
threatening expressions, which, whether true or false, were reported to
the emperor.

On his side, that monarch, forced to be absolute in his continental
system, cramped the commerce of Sweden; he wished her even to exclude
American vessels from her ports; and at last he declared that he would
only regard as friends the enemies of Great Britain. Bernadotte was
obliged to make his election; the winter and the sea separated him from
the assistance, or protected him from the attacks, of the English; the
French were close to his ports; a war with France therefore would be
real and effective; a war with England would be merely on paper. The
prince of Sweden adopted the latter alternative.

Napoleon, however, being as much a conqueror in peace as in war, and
suspecting the intentions of Bernadotte, had demanded from Sweden
several supplies of rigging for his Brest fleet, and the despatch of a
body of troops, which were to be in his pay; in this manner weakening
his allies to subdue his enemies, so as to allow him to be the master of
both. He also required that colonial produce should be subjected in
Sweden, the same as in France, to a duty of five per cent. It is even
affirmed that he applied to Bernadotte to allow French custom-house
officers to be placed at Gottenburg. These demands were eluded.

Soon after, Napoleon proposed an alliance between Sweden, Denmark, and
the grand duchy of Warsaw; a northern confederation, of which he would
have declared himself protector, like that of the Rhine. The answer of
Bernadotte, without being absolutely negative, had the same effect; it
was the same with the offensive and defensive treaty which Napoleon
again proposed to him. Bernadotte has since declared, that in four
successive letters written with his own hand, he had frankly stated the
impossibility he was under of complying with his wishes, and repeated
his protestations of attachment to his former sovereign, but that the
latter never deigned to give him any reply. This impolitic silence (if
the fact be true,) can only be attributed to the pride of Napoleon,
which was piqued at Bernadotte's refusals. No doubt he considered his
protestations as too false to deserve any answer.

The irritation increased; the communications became disagreeable; they
were interrupted by the recall of Alquier, the French minister in
Sweden. As the pretended declaration of war by Bernadotte against
England remained a dead letter, Napoleon, who was not to be denied or
deceived with impunity, carried on a sharp war against the Swedish
commerce by means of his privateers. By them, and the invasion of
Swedish Pomerania on the 27th of January, 1812, he punished Bernadotte
for his deviations from the continental system, and obtained as
prisoners several thousand Swedish soldiers and sailors, whom he had in
vain demanded as auxiliaries.

Then also our communications with Russia were broken off. Napoleon
immediately addressed himself to the prince of Sweden; his notes were
couched in the style of a lord paramount who fancies he speaks in the
interest of his vassal, who feels the claims he has upon his gratitude
or submission, and who calculates upon his obedience. He demanded that
Bernadotte should declare a real war against England, shut her out from
the Baltic, and send an army of 40,000 Swedes against Russia. In return
for this, he promised him his protection, the restoration of Finland,
and twenty millions, in return for an equal amount of colonial produce,
which the Swedes were first to deliver. Austria undertook to support
this proposition; but Bernadotte, already feeling himself settled on the
throne, answered like an independent monarch. Ostensibly he declared
himself neutral, opened his ports to all nations, proclaimed his rights
and his grievances, appealed to humanity, recommended peace, and offered
himself as a mediator; secretly, he offered himself to Napoleon at the
price of Norway, Finland, and a subsidy.

At the reading of a letter conceived in this new and unexpected style,
Bonaparte was seized with rage and astonishment. He saw in it, and not
without reason, a premeditated defection on the part of Bernadotte, a
secret agreement with his enemies! He was filled with indignation; he
exclaimed, striking violently on the letter, and the table on which it
lay open: "He! the rascal! he presume to give me advice! to dictate the
law to me! to dare propose such an infamous act[4] to me! And this from
a man who owes every thing to my bounty! What ingratitude!" Then, pacing
the room with rapid strides, at intervals he gave vent to such
expressions as these: "I ought to have expected it! he has always
sacrificed every thing to his interests! This is the same man, who,
during his short ministry, attempted the resurrection of the infamous
Jacobins! When he looked only to gain by disorder, he opposed the 18th
Brumaire! He it was who was conspiring in the west against the
re-establishment of law and religion! Has not his envious and perfidious
inaction already betrayed the French army at Auerstadt? How many times,
from regard to Joseph, have I pardoned his intrigues and concealed his
faults! And yet I have made him general-in-chief, marshal, duke, prince,
and finally king! But see how all these favours and the pardon of so
many injuries, are thrown away on a man like this! If Sweden, half
devoured by Russia, for a century past, has retained her independence,
she owes it to the support of France. But it matters not; Bernadotte
requires the baptism of the ancient aristocracy! a baptism of blood, and
of French blood! and you will soon see, that to satisfy his envy and
ambition, he will betray both his native and adopted country."

[Footnote 4: Napoleon no doubt spoke of the proposal which Bernadotte
made to him to take Norway from Denmark, his faithful ally, in order by
this act of treachery to purchase the assistance of Sweden.]

In vain did they attempt to calm him. They represented the difficulties
which Bernadotte's new situation had imposed on him; that the cession of
Finland to Russia had separated Sweden from the continent, almost made
an island of that country, and thereby enlisted her in the English
system.--In such critical circumstances, all the need which he had of
this ally was unable to vanquish his pride, which revolted at a
proposition which he regarded as insulting; perhaps also in the new
prince of Sweden he still saw the same Bernadotte who was lately his
subject, and his military inferior, and who at last affected to have cut
out for himself a destiny independent of his. From that moment his
instructions to his minister bore the impress of that disposition; the
latter, it is true, softened the bitterness of them, but a rupture
became inevitable.

It is uncertain which contributed most to it, the pride of Napoleon, or
the ancient jealousy of Bernadotte; it is certain that on the part of
the former the motives of it were honourable. "Denmark" he said, "was
his most faithful ally; her attachment to France had cost her the loss
of her fleet and the burning of her capital. Must he repay a fidelity
which had been so cruelly tried, by an act of treachery such as that of
taking Norway from her to give to Sweden?"

As to the subsidy which Sweden required of him, he answered, as he had
done to Turkey, "that if the war was to be carried on with money,
England would always be sure to outbid him;" and above all, "that there
was weakness and baseness in triumphing by corruption." Reverting by
this to his wounded pride, he terminated the conference by exclaiming,
"Bernadotte impose conditions on me! Does he fancy then that I have need
of him? I will soon bind him to my victorious career, and compel him to
follow my sovereign impulse."

But the active and speculative English, who were out of his reach, made
a judicious estimate of the weak points of his system, and found the
Russians ready to act upon their suggestions. They it was who had been
endeavouring for the last three years to draw the forces of Napoleon
into the defiles of Spain, and to exhaust them; it was they also who
were on the watch to take advantage of the vindictive enmity of the
prince of Sweden.

Knowing that the active and restless vanity of men newly risen from
obscurity is always uneasy and susceptible, in the presence of ancient
_parvenus_, George and Alexander were lavish of their promises and
flattery, in order to cajole Bernadotte. It was thus that they caressed
him, at the time that the irritated Napoleon was threatening him; they
promised him Norway and a subsidy, when the other, forced to refuse him
that province of a faithful ally, took possession of Pomerania. While
Napoleon, a monarch deriving his elevation from himself, relying on the
faith of treaties, on the remembrance of past benefits, and on the real
interests of Sweden, required succours from Bernadotte, the hereditary
monarchs of London and Petersburgh required his opinion with deference,
and submitted themselves by anticipation to the counsels of his
experience. Finally, while the genius of Napoleon, the grandeur of his
elevation, the importance of his enterprise, and the habit of their
former relations, still classed Bernadotte as his lieutenant, these
monarchs appeared already to treat him as their general. How was it
possible for him not to seek to escape on the one hand from this sense
of inferiority, and on the other to resist a mode of treatment, and
promises so seductive? Thus the future prospects of Sweden were
sacrificed, and her independence for ever laid at the mercy of Russian
faith by the treaty of Petersburgh, which Bernadotte signed on the 24th
of March, 1812. That of Bucharest, between Alexander and Mahmoud, was
concluded on the 28th of May.--Thus did we lose the support of our two

Nevertheless, the emperor of the French, at the head of more than six
hundred thousand men, and already too far advanced to think of
retreating, flattered himself that his strength would decide every
thing; that a victory on the Niemen would cut the knot of all these
diplomatic difficulties, which he despised, probably too much; that
then all the monarchs of Europe, compelled to acknowledge his
ascendancy, would be eager to return into his system, and that all those
satellites would be drawn into its vortex.



Napoleon meanwhile was still at Paris, in the midst of his great
officers, who were alarmed by the terrible encounter which was
preparing. The latter had nothing more to acquire, but much to preserve;
their personal interest, therefore, was united with the general desire
of nations, which were fatigued with war; and without disputing the
utility of this expedition, they dreaded its approach. But they only
confessed this to each other in secret, either from fear of giving
umbrage, of impairing the confidence of nations, or of being proved
wrong by the result. For that reason, in Napoleon's presence they
remained silent, and even appeared to be uninformed as to a war, which
for a considerable time had furnished a subject of conversation to the
whole of Europe.

But at length this respectful taciturnity, which he himself had taken
pains to impose, became disagreeable; he suspected that it proceeded
more from disapprobation than reserve. Obedience was not sufficient for
him; it was his wish to combine it with conviction: that was like
another conquest. Besides, no one was more convinced than himself of
the power of public opinion, which, according to him, _created or
destroyed sovereigns_. In short, whether through policy or self-love, it
was his desire to persuade.

Such were the dispositions of Napoleon and of the grandees who
surrounded him, when the veil being about to be rent, and war evident,
their silence towards him assumed a greater appearance of indiscretion
than hazarding a few timely words. Some of them, therefore, commenced
the task, and the emperor anticipated the others.

A show was made[5] at first of comprehending all the emergencies of his
position. "It was necessary to complete what had been begun; it was
impossible to stop in the midst of so rapid an acclivity, and so near
the summit. The empire of Europe was adapted to his genius; France would
become its centre and its base; great and entire, she would perceive
around her none but states so feeble and so divided, that all coalition
among them would become contemptible or impossible; but with such an
object why did he not commence the task by subjecting and partitioning
the states immediately around him?"

[Footnote 5: The arch-chancellor.]

To this objection Napoleon replied, "That such had been his project in
1809, in the war with Austria, but that the misfortune of Esslingen had
deranged his plan; that that event, and the doubtful dispositions which
Russia had since exhibited, had led him to marry an Austrian princess,
and strengthen himself by an alliance with the Austrian against the
Russian emperor.

"That he did not create circumstances, but that he would not allow them
to escape him; that he comprehended them all, and held himself in as
much readiness as possible for their appearance; that in order to
accomplish his designs, he was fully aware that twelve years were
necessary, but that he could not afford to wait so long.

"That besides, he had not provoked this war; that he had been faithful
to his engagements with Alexander; proofs of which were to be found in
the coldness of his relations with Turkey and Sweden, which had been
delivered up to Russia, one almost entirely, the other shorn of Finland,
and even of the Isle of Aland, which was so near Stockholm. That he had
only replied to the distressed appeal of the Swedes, by advising them to
make the cession.

"That, nevertheless, since 1809, the Russian army destined to act in
concert with Poniatowski in Austrian Gallicia had come forward too late,
was too weak, and had acted perfidiously; that since that time,
Alexander, by his ukase of the 31st of December, 1810, had abandoned the
continental system, and by his prohibitions declared an actual war
against French commerce; that he was quite aware that the interest and
national spirit of the Russians might have compelled him to that, but
that he had then communicated to their emperor that he was aware of his
position, and would enter into every kind of arrangement which his
repose required; in spite of which, Alexander, instead of modifying his
ukase, had assembled 80,000 men, under pretence of supporting his
custom-house officers; that he had suffered himself to be seduced by
England; that, lastly, he even now refused to recognize the
thirty-second military division, and demanded the evacuation of Prussia
by the French; which was equivalent to a declaration of war."

Through all these complaints, some persons thought they perceived that
the pride of Napoleon was wounded by the independent attitude which
Russia was daily resuming. The dispossession of the Russian Princess of
Oldenburg of her duchy led to other conjectures; it was said that hints
had been given both at Tilsit and Erfurt about a divorce, after which a
closer alliance might be contracted with Russia; that these hints had
not been encouraged, and that Napoleon retained a resentful remembrance
of it. This fact is affirmed by some, and denied by others.

But all those passions which so despotically govern other men, possessed
but a feeble influence over a genius so firm and vast as his: at the
utmost, they may have imparted the first momentum which impelled him
into action earlier than he would have wished; but without penetrating
so deeply beneath the folds of his great mind, a single idea, an obvious
fact, was enough to hurry him, sooner or later, into that decisive
struggle,--that was, the existence of an empire, which rivalled his own
in greatness, but was still young, like its prince, and growing every
day; while the French empire, already mature, like its emperor, could
scarcely anticipate any thing but its decrease.

Whatever was the height to which Napoleon had raised the throne of the
south and west of Europe, he perceived the northern throne of Alexander
ever ready to overshadow him by its eternally menacing position. On
those icy summits of Europe, whence, in former times, so many floods of
barbarians had rushed forth, he perceived all the elements of a new
inundation collecting and maturing. Till then, Austria and Prussia had
opposed sufficient barriers; but these he himself had humbled and
overthrown: he stood, therefore, single, front to front with what he
feared; he alone remained the champion of the civilization, the riches,
and the enjoyments of the nations of the south, against the rude
ignorance, and the fierce cupidity, of the poorer people of the north,
and against the ambition of their emperor and his nobility.

It was obvious, that war alone could decide this great
arbitrament,--this great and eternal struggle between the poor and the
rich; and, nevertheless, this war, with reference to us, was neither
European, nor even national. Europe entered into it against her
inclination, because the object of the expedition was to add to the
strength of her conqueror. France was exhausted, and anxious for repose;
her grandees, who formed the court of Napoleon, were alarmed at the
double-headed character of the war, at the dispersion of our armies from
Cadiz to Moscow; and even when admitting the _eventual_ necessity of the
struggle, its _immediate_ urgency did not appear to them so
legitimately proved.

They knew that it was more especially by an appeal to his political
interest that they had any chance of shaking the resolution of a prince,
whose principle was, "that there exist individuals whose conduct can but
rarely be regulated by their private sentiments, but always by
surrounding circumstances." In this persuasion, one of his ministers[6]
said to him, "that his finances required tranquillity;" but he replied,
"On the contrary, they are embarrassed, and require war." Another[7]
added, "that the state of his revenues never, in fact, had been more
flourishing; that, independent of a furnished account of from three to
four millions, it was really wonderful to find France unencumbered with
any urgent debts; but that this prosperous condition was approaching its
termination, since it appeared that with the year 1812 a ruinous
campaign was to commence; that hitherto, war had been made to support
the expense of war; that we had every where found the table laid out;
but that, in future, we could no longer live at the expense of Germany,
since she had become our ally; but, on the contrary, it would be
necessary to support her contingents, and that without any hope of
remuneration, whatever the result might be; that we should have to pay
at Paris for every ration of bread which would be consumed at Moscow, as
the new scenes of action offered us no harvest to reap, independent of
glory, but cordage, pitch, and shipping-tackle, which would certainly go
but a small way towards the discharge of the expenses of a continental
war. That France was not in a condition to subsidize all Europe in this
manner, especially at a moment when her resources were drained by the
war in Spain; that it was like lighting a fire at both ends at once,
which, gaining ground upon the centre, exhausted by so many
efforts,--would probably end in consuming ourselves."

[Footnote 6: Count Mollien.]

[Footnote 7: The Duke of Gaeta.]

This minister was listened to; the emperor surveyed him with a smiling
air, accompanied with one of his familiar caresses. He imagined that he
had secured conviction, but Napoleon said to him,--"So you think that I
shall not be able to find a paymaster to discharge the expenses of the
war?" The duke endeavoured to learn upon whom the burden was to fall,
when the emperor, by a single word, disclosing all the grandeur of his
designs, closed the lips of his astonished minister.

He estimated, however, but too accurately all the difficulties of his
enterprise. It was that, perhaps, which drew upon him the reproach of
availing himself of a method which he had rejected in the Austrian war,
and of which the celebrated Pitt had set the example in 1793.

Towards the end of 1811, the prefect of police at Paris learnt, it was
said, that a printer was secretly counterfeiting Russian bank-bills; he
ordered him to be arrested; the printer resisted; but in the result his
house was broken into, and himself taken before the magistrate, whom he
astonished by his assurance, and still more by his appeal from the
minister of police. This printer was instantly released: it has even
been added, that he continued his counterfeiting employment; and that,
from the moment of our first advance into Lithuania, we propagated the
report that we had gained possession at Wilna of several millions of
Russian bank-bills in the military chests of the hostile army.

Whatever may have been the origin of this counterfeit money, Napoleon
contemplated it with extreme repugnance; it is even unknown whether he
resolved on making any use of it; at least, it is certain that during
the period of our retreat, and when we abandoned Wilna, the greater part
of these bills were found there untouched, and burnt by his orders.


Prince Poniatowski, however, to whom this expedition appeared to hold
out the prospect of a throne, generously united his exertions with those
of the emperor's ministers in the attempt to demonstrate its danger.
Love of country was in this Polish prince a great and noble passion; his
life and death have proved it; but it never infatuated him. He depicted
Lithuania as an impracticable desert; its nobility as already become
half Russian; the character of its inhabitants as cold and backward:
but the impatient emperor interrupted him; he required information for
the sake of conducting the enterprise, and not to be deterred from it.

It is true that the greater part of these objections were but a feeble
repetition of all those which, for a long time past, had presented
themselves to his own mind. People were not aware of the extent to which
he had appreciated the danger; of his multiplied exertions, from the
30th of December 1810, to ascertain the nature of the territory which,
sooner or later, was destined to become the theatre of a decisive war;
how many emissaries he had despatched for the purpose of survey; the
multitude of memorials which he caused to be prepared for him respecting
the roads to Petersburgh and Moscow; respecting the dispositions of the
inhabitants, especially of the mercantile class; and, finally, the
resources of every kind which the country was enabled to supply. If he
persevered, it was because, far from deceiving himself as to the extent
of his force, he did not share in that confidence which, perhaps,
precluded others from perceiving of how much consequence the humiliation
of Russia was to the future existence of the great French empire.

In this spirit, he once more addressed himself to three[8] of his great
officers, whose well-known services and attachment authorized a tone of
frankness. All three, in the capacity of ministers, envoys, and
ambassadors, had become acquainted with Russia at different epochs. He
exerted himself to convince them of the utility, justice, and necessity
of this war; but one[9] of them, in particular, often interrupted him
with impatience; for when a discussion had once commenced, Napoleon
submitted to all its little breaches of decorum.

[Footnote 8: The Duke of Frioul, the Count de Segur, (the author's
father,) the Duke of Vicenza.]

[Footnote 9: The Duke of Vicenza.]

That great officer, yielding to the inflexible and impetuous frankness
which he derived from his character, from his military education, and,
perhaps, from the province which gave him birth, exclaimed, "That it was
useless to deceive himself, or pretend to deceive others; that after
possessing himself of the Continent, and even of the states belonging to
the family of his ally, that ally could not be accused of abandoning the
continental system. While the French armies covered all Europe, how
could the Russians be reproached for increasing their army? Did it
become the ambition of Napoleon to denounce the ambition of Alexander?

"That, in addition to this, the determination of that prince was made
up; that, Russia once invaded, no peace could be expected, while a
single Frenchman remained upon her soil; that, in that respect, the
national and obstinate pride of the Russians was in perfect harmony with
that of their emperor.

"That, it was true, his subjects accused Alexander of weakness, but very
erroneously; that he was not to be judged of by the complacency which,
at Tilsit and at Erfurt, his admiration, his inexperience, and some
tincture of ambition, had extorted from him. That this prince loved
justice; that he was anxious to have right on his side, and he might,
indeed, hesitate till he thought it was so, but then he became
inflexible; that, finally, looking to his position with reference to his
subjects, he incurred more danger by making a disgraceful peace, than by
sustaining an unfortunate war.

"How was it possible, moreover, to avoid seeing that in this war every
thing was to be feared, even our allies? Did not Napoleon hear their
discontented kings murmuring that they were only his prefects? When
they, all of them, only waited a suitable occasion in order to turn
against him, why run the risk of giving that occasion birth?"

At the same time, supported by his two colleagues, the duke added, "that
since 1805 a system of war which compelled the most disciplined soldier
to plunder, had sown the seeds of hatred throughout the whole of that
Germany, which the emperor now designed to traverse. Was he then going
to precipitate himself and his army beyond all those nations whose
wounds, for which they were indebted to us, were not yet healed? What an
accumulation of enmity and revenge would he not, by so doing, interpose
between himself and France!

"And upon whom did he call, to be his _points d'appui_?--on Prussia,
whom for five years we had been devouring, and whose alliance was hollow
and compulsive? He was about, therefore, to trace the longest line of
military operations ever drawn, through countries whose fear was
taciturn, supple, and perfidious, and which, like the ashes of
volcanoes, hid terrific flames, the eruption of which might be provoked
by the smallest collision[10].

[Footnote 10: The Duke of Vicenza, the Count de Segur.]

"To sum up all[11], what would be the result of so many conquests? To
substitute lieutenants for kings, who, more ambitious than those of
Alexander, would, perhaps, imitate their example, without, like them,
waiting for the death of their sovereign,--a death, moreover, which he
would inevitably meet among so many fields of battle; and that, before
the consolidation of his labours, each war reviving in the interior of
France the hopes of all kinds of parties, and reviving discussions which
had been regarded as at an end.

[Footnote 11: The Count de Segur.]

"Did he wish to know the opinion of the army? That opinion pronounced
that his best soldiers were then in Spain; that the regiments, being too
often recruited, wanted unity; that they were not reciprocally
acquainted; that each was uncertain whether, in case of danger, it could
depend upon the other; that the front rank vainly concealed the weakness
of the two others; that already, from youth and weakness, many of them
sank in their first march beneath the single burden of their knapsacks
and their arms.

"And, nevertheless, in this expedition, it was not so much the war
which was disliked, as the country where it was to be carried on[12].
The Lithuanians, it was said, desired our presence; but on what a soil?
in what a climate? in the midst of what peculiar manners? The campaign
of 1806 had made those circumstances too well known! Where could they
ever halt, in the midst of these level plains, divested of every species
of position fortified by nature or by art?

[Footnote 12: The Duke of Frioul, the Count de Segur, the Duke of

"Was it not notorious, that all the elements protected these countries
from the first of October to the first of June? that, at any other time
than the short interval comprised between these two epochs, an army
engaged in those deserts of mud and ice might perish there entirely, and
ingloriously?" And, they added, "that Lithuania was much more Asiatic
than Spain was African; and that the French army, already all but
banished from France by a perpetual war, wished at least to preserve its
European character.

"Finally, when face to face with the enemy in these deserts, what
different motives must actuate the different armies! On the side of the
Russians were country, independence, every description of interest,
private and public, even to the secret good wishes of our allies! On our
side, and in the teeth of so many obstacles, glory alone, unassociated
even with that desire of gain, to which the frightful poverty of these
countries offered no attraction.

"And what is the end of so many exertions? The French already no longer
recognized each other, in the midst of a country now uncircumscribed by
any natural frontier; and in which the diversity was so great in
manners, persons, and languages." On this particular point, the
eldest[13] of these great officers added, "That such an extension was
never made without proportionate exhaustion; that it was blotting out
France to merge it in Europe; for, in fact, when France should become
Europe, it would be France no longer. Would not the meditated departure
leave her solitary, deserted, without a ruler, without an army,
accessible to every diversion? Who then was there to defend her?" "_My
renown!_" exclaimed the emperor: "_I leave my name behind me, and the
fear inspired by a nation in arms._"

[Footnote 13: M. de Segur.]

And, without appearing in the least shaken by so many objections, he
announced "that he was about to organize the empire into cohorts of
_Ban_ and _Arrière Ban_; and without mistrust to leave to Frenchmen the
protection of France, of his crown, and of his glory.

"That as to Prussia, he had secured her tranquillity by the
impossibility in which he had placed her of moving, even in case of his
defeat, or of a descent of the English on the coasts of the North Sea,
and in our rear; that he held in his hands the civil and military power
of that kingdom; that he was master of Stettin, Custrin, Glogau, Torgau,
Spandau, and Magdeburg; that he would post some clear-sighted officers
at Colberg, and an army at Berlin; and that with these means, and
supported by the fidelity of Saxony, he had nothing to fear from
Prussian hatred.

"That as for the rest of Germany, an ancient system of policy, as well
as the recent intermarriages with Baden, Bavaria, and Austria, attached
her to the interest of France; that he made sure of such of her kings as
were indebted to him for their new titles: that after having suppressed
anarchy, and ranged himself on the side of kings, strong as he was, the
latter could not attack him without inciting their people by the
principles of democracy; but that it was scarcely probable that
sovereigns would ally themselves with that natural enemy of thrones--an
enemy, which, had it not been for him, would have overthrown them, and
against which he alone was capable of defending them.

"That, besides, the Germans were a tardy and methodical people, and that
in dealing with them he should always have time on his side; that he
commanded all the fortresses of Prussia; that Dantzic was a second
Gibraltar." This was incorrect, especially in winter. "That Russia ought
to excite the apprehension of all Europe, by her military and conquering
government, as well as by her savage population, already so numerous,
and which augmented annually in the proportion of half a million. Had
not her armies been seen in all parts of Italy, in Germany, and even on
the Rhine? That by demanding the evacuation of Prussia, she required an
impossible concession; since to abandon Prussia, morally ulcerated as
she was, was to surrender her into the hands of Russia, in order to be
turned against ourselves."

Proceeding afterwards with more animation, he exclaimed, "Why menace my
absence with the different parties still alleged to exist in the
interior of the empire? Where are they? I see but a single one against
me; that of a few royalists, the principal part of the ancient
_noblesse_, superannuated and inexperienced. But they dread my downfall
more than they desire it. This is what I told them in Normandy. I am
cried up as a great captain, as an able politician, but I am scarcely
mentioned as an administrator: that which I have, however, accomplished,
of the most difficult and most beneficial description, is the stemming
the revolutionary torrent; it would have swallowed up every thing,
Europe and yourselves. I have united the most opposite parties,
amalgamated rival classes, and yet there exist among you some obstinate
nobles who resist; they refuse my places! Very well! what is that to me?
It is for your advantage, for your security, that I offer them to you.
What would you do singly by yourselves, and without me? You are a mere
handful opposed to masses. Do you not see that it is necessary to put an
end to the struggle between the _tiers-état_ and the _noblesse_, by a
complete fusion of all that is best worth preservation in the two
classes? I offer you the hand of amity, and you reject it! but what need
have I of you? While I support you, I do myself an injury in the eyes of
the people; for what am I but the king of the _tiers-état_: is not that

Passing more calmly to another question: "He was quite aware," he said,
"of the ambition of his generals; but it was diverted by war, and would
never be sanctioned in its excesses by French soldiers, who were too
proud of, and too much attached to their country. That if war was
dangerous, peace had also its dangers: that in bringing back his armies
into the interior, it would enclose and concentrate there too many
daring interests and passions, which repose and their association would
tend to ferment, and which he should no longer be able to keep within
bounds: that it was necessary to give free vent to all such aspirations;
and that, after all, he dreaded them less without the empire than within

He concluded thus: "Do you dread the war, as endangering my life? It was
thus that, in the times of conspiracy, attempts were made to frighten me
about Georges; he was said to be every where upon my track: that
wretched being was to fire at me. Well! suppose he had! He would at the
utmost have killed my _aide-de-camp_: but to kill me was impossible! Had
I at that time accomplished the decrees of fate? I feel myself impelled
towards a goal of which I am ignorant. As soon as I shall have reached
it, so soon shall I no longer be of service,--an atom will then suffice
to put me down; but till then, all human efforts can avail nothing
against me. Whether I am in Paris, or with the army, is, therefore,
quite indifferent. When my hour comes, a fever, or a fall from my horse
in hunting, will kill me as effectually as a bullet: our days are

This opinion, useful as it may be in the moment of danger, is too apt to
blind conquerors to the price at which the great results which they
obtain are purchased. They indulge a belief in pre-destination, either
because they have experienced, more than other men, whatever is most
unexpected in human destiny, or because it relieves their consciences of
too heavy a load of responsibility. It was like a return to the times of
the crusades, when these words, _it is the will of God_, were considered
a sufficient answer to all the objections of a prudent and pacific

Indeed, the expedition of Napoleon into Russia bears a mournful
resemblance to that of St. Louis into Egypt and Africa. These invasions,
the one undertaken for the interests of Heaven, the other for those of
the earth, terminated in a similar manner; and these two great examples
admonish the world, that the vast and profound calculations of this age
of intelligence may be followed by the same results as the irregular
impulses of religious frenzy in ages of ignorance and superstition.

In these two expeditions, however, there can be no comparison between
their opportunities or their chances of success. The last was
indispensable to the completion of a great design on the point of being
accomplished: its object was not out of reach; the means for reaching it
were not inadequate. It may be, that the moment for its execution was
ill chosen; that the progress of it was sometimes too precipitate, at
other times unsteady; but on these points facts will speak sufficiently:
it is for them to decide.


In this manner did Napoleon reply to all objections. His skilful hand
was able to comprehend and turn to his purpose every disposition; and,
in fact, when he wanted to persuade, there was a kind of charm in his
deportment which it was impossible to resist. One felt overpowered by
his superior strength, and compelled, as it were, to submit to his
influence. It was, if it may be so expressed, a kind of magnetic
influence; for his ardent and variable genius infused itself entirely
into all his desires, the least as well as the greatest: whatever he
willed, all his energies and all his faculties united to effect: they
appeared at his beck; they hastened forward; and, obedient to his
dictation, simultaneously assumed the forms which he desired.

It was thus that the greater part of those whom he wished to gain over
found themselves, as it were, fascinated by him in spite of themselves.
It was flattering to your vanity to see the master of Europe appearing
to have no other ambition, no other desire than that of convincing you;
to behold those features, so formidable to multitudes, expressing
towards you no other feeling but a mild and affecting benevolence; to
hear that mysterious man, whose every word was historical, yielding, as
if for your sake alone, to the irresistible impulse of the most frank
and confiding disclosure; and that voice, so caressing while it
addressed you, was it not the same, whose lowest whisper rang throughout
all Europe, announced wars, decided battles, settled the fate of
empires, raised or destroyed reputations? What vanity could resist a
charm of so great potency? Any defensive position was forced on all
points; his eloquence was so much more persuasive, as he himself
appeared to be persuaded.

On this occasion, there was no variety of tints with which his brilliant
and fertile imagination did not adorn his project, in order to convince
and allure. The same text supplied him with a thousand different
commentaries, with which the character and position of each of his
interlocutors inspired him; he enlisted each in his undertaking, by
presenting it to him under the form and colour, and point of view, most
likely to gratify him.

We have just seen in what way he silenced the one who felt alarmed at
the expenses of the conquest of Russia, which he wished him to approve,
by holding out the perspective, that another would be made to defray

He told the military man, who was astonished by the hazard of the
expedition, but likely to be easily seduced by the grandeur of ambitious
ideas, that peace was to be conquered at Constantinople; that is to say,
at the extremity of Europe; the individual was thus free to anticipate,
that it was not merely to the staff of a marshal, but to a royal
sceptre, that he might elevate his pretensions.

To a minister[14] of high rank under the ancient _régime_, whom the idea
of shedding so much blood, to gratify ambition, filled with dismay, he
declared "that it was a war of policy exclusively; that it was the
English alone whom he meant to attack through Russia; that the campaign
would be short; that afterwards France would be at rest; that it was the
fifth act of the drama--the _dénouement_."

[Footnote 14: Count Molé.]

To others, he pleaded the ambition of Russia, and the force of
circumstances, which dragged him into the war in spite of himself. With
superficial and inexperienced individuals, to whom he neither wished to
explain nor dissemble, he cut matters short, by saying, "You understand
nothing of all this; you are ignorant of its antecedents and its

But to the princes of his own family he had long revealed the state of
his thoughts; he complained that they did not sufficiently appreciate
his position. "Can you not see," said he to them, "that as I was not
born upon a throne, I must support myself on it, as I ascended it, by
my renown? that it is necessary for it to go on increasing; that a
private individual, become a sovereign like myself, can no longer stop;
that he must be continually ascending, and that to remain stationary
will be his ruin?"

He then depicted to them all the ancient dynasties armed against his,
devising plots, preparing wars, and seeking to destroy, in his person,
the dangerous example of a _roi parvenu_. It was on that account that
every peace appeared in his eyes a conspiracy of the weak against the
strong, of the vanquished against the victor; and especially of the
great by birth against the great by their own exertions. So many
successive coalitions had confirmed him in that apprehension! Indeed, he
often thought of no longer tolerating an ancient power in Europe, of
constituting himself into an epoch, of becoming a new era for thrones;
in short, of making every thing take its date from him.

It was in this manner that he disclosed his inmost thoughts to his
family by those vivid pictures of his political position, which, at the
present day, will probably appear neither false nor over-coloured: and
yet the gentle Josephine, always occupied with the task of restraining
and calming him, often gave him to understand "that, along with the
consciousness of his superior genius, he never seemed to possess
sufficient consciousness of his own power: that, like all jealous
characters, he incessantly required fresh proofs of its existence. How
came it, amidst the noisy acclamations of Europe, that his anxious ear
could hear the few solitary voices which disputed his legitimacy? that
in this manner his troubled spirit was always seeking agitation as its
element: that strong as he was to desire, but feeble to enjoy, he
himself, therefore, would be the only one whom he could never conquer."

But in 1811 Josephine was separated from Napoleon, and although he still
continued to visit her in her seclusion, the voice of that empress had
lost the influence which continual intercourse, familiar habits of
affection, and the desire of mutual confidence, impart.

Meanwhile, fresh disagreements with the pope complicated the relations
of France. Napoleon then addressed himself to cardinal Fesch. Fesch was
a zealous churchman, and overflowing with Italian vivacity: he defended
the papal pretensions with obstinate ardour; and such was the warmth of
his discussions with the emperor, on a former occasion, that the latter
got into a passion, and told him, "that he would compel him to obey."
"And who contests your power?" returned the cardinal: "but force is not
argument; for if I am right, not all your power can make me wrong.
Besides, your majesty knows that I do not fear martyrdom."--"Martyrdom!"
replied Buonaparte, with a transition from violence to laughter; "do not
reckon on that, I beseech you, M. le Cardinal: martyrdom is an affair in
which there must be two persons concerned; and as to myself, I have no
desire to make a martyr of any individual."

It is said that these discussions assumed a more serious character
towards the end of 1811. An eye-witness asserts that the cardinal, till
that time a stranger to politics, then began to mix them up with his
religious controversies; that he conjured Napoleon not thus to fly in
the face of men, the elements, religion, earth and heaven, at the same
time; and that, at last, he expressed his apprehension of seeing him
sink under such a weight of enmity.

The only reply which the emperor made to this vehement attack was to
take him by the hand, and leading him to the window, to open it, and
inquire, "Do you see that star above us?"--"No, sire."--"Look
again."--"Sire, I do not see it."--"Very well! _I_ see it!" replied
Napoleon. The cardinal, seized with astonishment, remained silent,
concluding that there was no human voice sufficiently loud to make
itself heard by an ambition so gigantic, that it already reached the

As to the witness of this singular scene, he understood in quite a
different sense these words of his sovereign. They did not appear to him
like the expression of an overweening confidence in his destiny, but
rather of the great distinction which Napoleon meant to infer as
existing between the grasp of his genius and that of the cardinal's

But granting even that Napoleon's soul was not exempt from a tendency to
superstition, his intellect was both too strong and too enlightened to
permit such vast events to depend upon a weakness. One great inquietude
possessed him; it was the idea of that same death, which he appeared so
much to brave. He felt his strength decaying; and he dreaded that when
he should be no more, the French empire, that sublime trophy of so many
labours and victories, would fall a prey to dismemberment.

"The Russian emperor," he said, "was the only sovereign who pressed upon
the summit of that colossal edifice. Replete with youth and animation,
the strength of his rival was constantly augmenting, while his was
already on the decline." It seemed to him that Alexander, on the banks
of the Niemen, only waited the intelligence of his death, to possess
himself of the sceptre of Europe, and snatch it from the hands of his
feeble successor. "While all Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Prussia, and
the whole of Germany, were marching under his banners, why should he
delay to anticipate the danger, and consolidate the fabric of the great
empire, by driving back Alexander and the Russian power, enfeebled as
they would be by the loss of all Poland, beyond the Boristhenes?"

Such were his sentiments, pronounced in secret confidence; they,
doubtless, comprised the true motives of that terrible war. As to his
precipitation in commencing it, he was, it would seem, hurried on by the
instinct of his approaching death. An acrid humour diffused through his
blood, and to which he imputed his irascibility, ("but without which,"
added he, "battles are not to be gained,") undermined his constitution.

A profound knowledge of the organization and mysteries of the human
frame would probably enable us to decide whether this concealed malady
was not one of the causes of that restless activity which hurried on the
course of events, and in which originated both his elevation and his

This internal enemy testified its presence, more and more, by an
internal pain, and by the violent spasms of the stomach which it
inflicted. Even in 1806, at Warsaw, during one of its agonizing crises,
Napoleon was[15] heard to exclaim, "that he carried about with him the
germ of premature dissolution; and that he should die of the same malady
as his father."

[Footnote 15: By the count Lobau.]

Short rides in hunting, even the most gentle gallop of his horse,
already began to fatigue him: how then was he to support the long
journeys, and the rapid and violent movements preparatory to battles?
Thus it was, that while the greater part of those who surrounded him
concluded him to be impelled into Russia by his vast ambition, by his
restless spirit and his love of war, he in solitude, and almost
unobserved, was poising the fearful responsibilities of the enterprise,
and urged by necessity, he only made up his mind to it after a course of
painful hesitation.

At length, on the 3d of August, 1811, at an audience in the midst of all
the ambassadors of Europe, he declared himself; but the burst of
indignation which was the presage of war, was an additional proof of his
repugnance to commence it. It might be that the defeat which the
Russians had just sustained at Routschouk had inflated his hopes;
perhaps he imagined that he might, by menace, arrest the preparations of

It was prince Kourakin whom he addressed. That ambassador having just
made protestations of the pacific intentions of his master, he
interrupted him: "No," exclaimed he, "your master desires war; I know,
through my generals, that the Russian army is hurrying towards the
Niemen! The emperor Alexander deludes, and gains all my envoys!" Then,
perceiving Caulaincourt, he rapidly traversed the hall, and violently
appealing to him, said: "Yes, and you too have become a Russian: you
have been seduced by the emperor Alexander." The duke firmly replied,
"Yes, sire; because, in this question, I consider him to be a
Frenchman." Napoleon was silent; but from that moment, he treated that
great dignitary coldly, without, however, absolutely repelling him:
several times he even essayed, by fresh arguments, intermixed with
familiar caresses, to win him over to his opinion, but ineffectually; he
always found him inflexible; ready to serve him, but without approving
the nature of the service.


While Napoleon, prompted by his natural character, by his position, and
by circumstances, thus appeared to wish for, and to accelerate the
period of conflict, he preserved the secret of his embarrassment. The
year 1811 was wasted in parleys about peace, and preparations for war.
1812 had just begun, and the horizon was already obscured. Our armies in
Spain had given way; Ciudad Rodrigo was taken by the English (on the
19th of January, 1812); the discussions of Napoleon with the Pope
increased in bitterness; Kutusof had destroyed the Turkish army on the
Danube (on the 8th of December, 1811); France even became alarmed about
her means of subsistence; every thing, in short, appeared to divert the
attention of Napoleon from Russia; to recall it to France, and fix it
there; while he, far from blinding his judgment, recognized in these
contrarieties the indications of his ever-faithful fortune.

It was, especially in the midst of those long winter nights, when
individuals are left more than usually to their own reflections, that
his star seemed to enlighten him with its most brilliant illumination:
it exhibited to him the different ruling genii of the vanquished
nations, in silence awaiting the moment for avenging their wrongs; the
dangers which he was about to confront, those which he left behind him,
even in his own family: it showed him, that like the returns of his
army, the census of the population of his empire was delusive, not so
much in respect to its numerical as to its real strength; scarcely any
men were included in it but those who were old in years, or worn out in
the service, and children--few men in the prime of life. Where were
they? The tears of wives, the cries of mothers answered! bowed in
sadness to the earth, which, but for them, would remain uncultivated,
they cursed the scourge of war as identified in his person.

Nevertheless, he was about to attack Russia, without having subjected
Spain; forgetting the principle of which he himself so often supplied
both the precept and example, "never to strike at two points at once;
but on one only, and always in mass." Wherefore, in fact, should he
abandon a brilliant, though uncertain position, in order to throw
himself into so critical a situation, that the slightest check might
ruin every thing; and where every reverse would be decisive?

At that moment, no necessity of position, no sentiment of self-love,
could prompt Napoleon to combat his own arguments, and prevent him from
listening to himself. Hence he became thoughtful and agitated. He
collected accounts of the actual condition of the different powers of
Europe; he ordered an exact and complete summary of them to be made; and
buried himself in the perusal: his anxiety increased; to him of all men,
irresolution was a punishment.

Frequently was he discovered half reclined on a sofa, where he remained
for hours, plunged in profound meditation; then he would start up,
convulsively, and with an ejaculation, fancying he heard his name, he
would exclaim, "Who calls me?" Then rising, and walking about with
hurried steps, he at length added, "No! beyond a doubt, nothing is yet
sufficiently matured round me, even in my own family, to admit of so
distant a war. It must be delayed for three years!" And he gave orders
that the summary which reminded him of the dangers of his position
should be constantly left on his table. It was his frequent subject of
consultation, and every time he did so, he approved and repeated his
first conclusions.

It is not known what dictated so salutary an inspiration; but it is
certain, that about that epoch (the 25th of March, 1812), Czernicheff
was the bearer of new proposals to his sovereign. Napoleon offered to
make a declaration that he would contribute, neither directly nor
indirectly, to the re-establishment of the kingdom of Poland; and to
come to an understanding about the other subjects in dispute.

At a later period, (on the 17th of April,) the Duke of Bassano proposed
to Lord Castlereagh an arrangement relative to the Peninsula, and the
kingdom of the Two Sicilies; and in other respects offered to negotiate
on the basis, that each of the two powers should keep all that war could
not wrest from it. But Castlereagh replied, that the engagements of good
faith would not permit England to treat without making the recognition
of Ferdinand VII. as king of Spain a preliminary of the negotiation.

On the 25th of April, Maret, in apprising Count Romanzoff of this
communication, recapitulated a portion of the complaints which Napoleon
made against Russia;--firstly, the ukase of the 31st of December, 1810,
which prohibited the entry into Russia of the greater part of French
productions, and destroyed the continental system; secondly, the protest
of Alexander against the union of the duchy of Oldenburg; and thirdly,
the armaments of Russia.

This minister referred to the fact of Napoleon having offered to grant
an indemnity to the Duke of Oldenburg, and to enter into a formal
engagement not to concur in any undertaking for the re-establishment of
Poland; that, in 1811, he had proposed to Alexander, to give Prince
Kourakin the requisite powers to treat with the duke of Bassano
respecting all matters in dispute; but that the Russian emperor had
eluded the overture, by promising to send Nesselrode to Paris; a promise
which was never fulfilled.

The Russian ambassador, almost at the same time, transmitted the emperor
Alexander's ultimatum, which required the entire evacuation of Prussia;
that of Swedish Pomerania; a reduction of the garrison of Dantzic. On
the other hand, he offered to accept an indemnity for the duchy of
Oldenburg; he was willing to enter into commercial arrangements with
France; and finally promised empty modifications of the ukase of the
31st December, 1810.

But it was too late: besides, at the point to which both parties were
now arrived, that ultimatum necessarily led to war. Napoleon was too
proud, both of himself and of France, he was too much overruled by his
position, to yield to a menacing negotiator, to leave Prussia at liberty
to throw herself into the open arms of Russia, and thus to abandon
Poland. He was too far advanced; he would be obliged to retrograde, in
order to find a resting point; and in his situation, Napoleon considered
every retrograde step as the incipient point of a complete downfall.


His wishes for delay being thus frustrated, he surveyed the enormous
volume of his military strength; the recollections of Tilsit and Erfurt
were revived; he received with complacency delusive information
respecting the character of his rival. At one time, he hoped that
Alexander would give way at the approach of so menacing an invasion; at
another, he gave the reins to his conquering imagination; he indulgently
allowed it to deploy its masses from Cadiz to Cazan, and to cover the
whole of Europe. In the next moment his fancy rioted in the pleasure of
being at Moscow. That city was eight hundred leagues from him, and
already he was collecting information with respect to it, as if he was
on the eve of occupying it. A French physician having recently arrived
from that capital, he sent for, and interrogated him as to the diseases
there prevalent; he even went back to the plague which had formerly
desolated it; he was anxious to learn its origin, progress, and
termination. The answers of this physician were so satisfactory, that
he immediately attached him to his service.

Fully impressed, however, with a sense of the peril in which he was
about to embark, he sought to surround himself with all his friends.
Even Talleyrand was recalled; he was to have been sent to Warsaw, but
the jealousy of a rival and an intrigue again involved him in disgrace;
Napoleon, deluded by a calumny, adroitly circulated, believed that he
had been betrayed by him. His anger was extreme; its expression
terrible. Savary made vain efforts to undeceive him, which were
prolonged up to the epoch of our entry into Wilna; there that minister
again sent a letter of Talleyrand to the emperor; it depicted the
influence of Turkey and Sweden on the Russian war, and made an offer of
employing his most zealous efforts in negotiating with those two powers.

But Napoleon only replied to it by an exclamation of contempt: "Does
that man believe himself to be so necessary? Does he expect to teach
me?" He then compelled his secretary to send that letter to the very
minister who stood most in dread of Talleyrand's influence.

It would not be correct to say, that all those about Napoleon beheld the
war with an anxious eye. Inside the palace, as well as without it, many
military men were found who entered with ardour into the policy of their
chief. The greater part agreed as to the possibility of the conquest of
Russia, either because their hopes discerned in it a means of acquiring
something, according to their position, from the lowest distinction up
to a throne; or that they suffered themselves to participate in the
enthusiasm of the Poles; or that the expedition, if conducted with
prudence, might fairly look to success; or, to sum up all, because they
conceived every thing possible to Napoleon.

Among the ministers of the emperor, several disapproved it; the greater
number preserved silence: one alone was accused of flattery, and that
without any ground. It is true he was heard to repeat, "That the emperor
was not sufficiently great; that it was necessary for him to become
greater still, in order to be able to stop." But that minister was, in
reality, what so many courtiers wished to appear; he had a real and
absolute faith in the genius and fortune of his sovereign.

In other respects, it is wrong to impute to his counsels a large portion
of our misfortunes. Napoleon was not a man to be influenced. So soon as
his object was marked out, and he had made advances towards its
acquisition, he admitted of no farther contradiction. He then appeared
as if he would hear nothing but what flattered his determination; he
repelled with ill-humour, and even with apparent incredulity, all
disagreeable intelligence, as if he feared to be shaken by it. This mode
of acting changed its name according to his fortune; when fortunate, it
was called force of character; when unfortunate, it was designated as

The knowledge of such a disposition induced some subalterns to make
false reports to him. Even a minister himself felt occasionally
compelled to maintain a dangerous silence. The former inflated his hopes
of success, in order to imitate the proud confidence of their chief, and
in order, by their countenance, to stamp upon his mind the impression of
a happy omen; the second sometimes declined communicating bad news, in
order, as he said, to avoid the harsh rebuffs which he had then to

But this fear, which did not restrain Caulaincourt and several others,
had as little influence upon Duroc, Daru, Lobau, Rapp, Lauriston, and
sometimes even Berthier. These ministers and generals, each in his
sphere, did not spare the emperor when the truth was to be told. If it
so happened that he was enraged by it, Duroc, without yielding, assumed
an air of indifference; Lobau resisted with roughness; Berthier sighed,
and retired with tears in his eyes; Caulaincourt and Daru, the one
turning pale, the other reddening with anger, repelled the vehement
contradictions of the emperor; the first with impetuous obstinacy, and
the second with short and dry determination.

It should, however, be added here, that these warm discussions were
never productive of bad consequences; good temper was restored
immediately after, apparently without leaving any other impression than
redoubled esteem on the part of Napoleon, for the noble frankness which
they had displayed.

I have entered into these details, because they are either not known, or
imperfectly known; because Napoleon in his closet was quite different
from the emperor in public; and because this portion of the palace has
hitherto remained secret; for, in that new and serious court, there was
little conversation: all were rigorously classed, so that one _salon_
knew not what passed in another; finally, because it is difficult to
comprehend the great events of history, without a perfect knowledge of
the character and manners of the principal personages.

Meantime a famine threatened France. The universal panic quickly
aggravated the evil, by the precautions which it suggested. Avarice,
always prompt in seizing the means of enriching itself, monopolized the
corn while at a low price, and waited till hunger should repurchase it
at an exorbitant rate. The alarm then became general. Napoleon was
compelled to suspend his departure; he impatiently urged his council;
but the steps to be taken were important, his presence necessary; and
that war, in which the loss of every hour was irreparable, was delayed
for two months longer.

The emperor did not give way to this obstacle; the delay, besides, gave
the new harvests of the Russians time to grow. These would supply his
cavalry; his army would require fewer transports in its train: its
progress being lightened, would be more rapid; he would sooner reach the
enemy; and this great expedition, like so many others, would be
terminated by a battle.

Such were his anticipations; for, without deceiving himself as to his
good fortune, he reckoned on its influence upon others; it entered into
his estimate of his forces. It was for this reason that he always
pushed it forward where other things failed, making up by that whatever
was deficient in his means, without fearing to wear it out by constant
use, in the conviction that his enemies would place even more faith in
it than himself. However, it will be seen in the sequel of this
expedition, that he placed too much reliance on its power, and that
Alexander was able to evade it.

Such was Napoleon! Superior to the passions of men by his native
greatness, and also by the circumstance of being controlled by a still
greater passion! for when, indeed, are these masters of the world ever
entirely masters of themselves? Meantime blood was again about to flow;
and thus, in their great career, the founders of empires press forward
to their object, like Fate, whose ministers they seem, (and whose march
neither wars nor earthquakes, nor all the scourges which Providence
permits, ever arrest,) without deigning to make the utility of their
purposes comprehensible to their victims.



The time for deliberation had passed, and that for action at last
arrived. On the 9th of May, 1812, Napoleon, hitherto always triumphant,
quitted a palace which he was destined never again to enter victorious.

From Paris to Dresden his march was a continued triumph. The east of
France, which he first traversed, was a part of the empire entirely
devoted to him; very different from the west and the south, she was only
acquainted with him by means of benefits and victories. Numerous and
brilliant armies, attracted by the fertility of Germany, and which
imagined themselves marching to a prompt and certain glory, proudly
traversed those countries, scattering their money among them, and
consuming their productions. War, in that quarter, always bore the
semblance of justice.

At a later period, when our victorious bulletins reached them, the
imagination, astonished to see itself surpassed by the reality, caught
fire; enthusiasm possessed these people, as in the times of Austerlitz
and Jena; numerous groups collected round the couriers, whose tidings
were listened to with avidity; and the inhabitants, in a transport of
joy, never separated without exclamations of "Long live the emperor!
Long live our brave army!"

It is, besides, well known, that this portion of France has been warlike
from time immemorial. It is frontier ground; its inhabitants are nursed
amidst the din of arms; and arms are, consequently, held there in
honour. It was the common conversation in that quarter, that this war
would liberate Poland, so much attached to France; that the barbarians
of Asia, with whom Europe was threatened, would be driven back into
their native deserts; that Napoleon would once more return, loaded with
all the fruits of victory. Would not the eastern departments profit most
by that event? Up to that time, were they not indebted for their wealth
to war, which caused all the commerce of France with Europe to pass
through their hands? Blockaded, in fact, in every other quarter, the
empire only breathed and received its supplies through its eastern

For ten years, their roads had been covered with travellers of all
ranks, hastening to admire the great nation, its daily embellished
metropolis, the _chefs-d'oeuvre_ of all the arts, and of all ages,
which victory had there assembled; and especially that extraordinary man
who seemed destined to carry the national glory beyond every degree of
glory hitherto known. Gratified in their interests, flattered in their
vanity, the people of the east of France owed every thing to victory.
Neither were they ungrateful; they followed the emperor with their
warmest wishes: on all sides were acclamations and triumphal arches; on
all sides the same intensity of devotion.

In Germany, there was less affection, but, perhaps, more homage.
Conquered and subjected, the Germans, either as soothing to their
vanity, or from habitual inclination for the marvellous, were tempted to
consider Napoleon as a supernatural being. Astonished, beside
themselves, and carried along by the universal impulse, these worthy
people exerted themselves to _be_, sincerely, all that it was requisite
to _seem_.

They hurried forward to line both sides of the long road by which the
emperor passed. Their princes quitted their capitals, and thronged the
towns, where the great arbiter of their destiny was to pass a few short
moments of his journey. The empress, and a numerous court, followed
Napoleon; he proceeded to confront the terrible risks of a distant and
perilous war, as if he were returning victorious and triumphant. This
was not the mode in which he was formerly accustomed to meet a conflict.

He had expressed a wish that the Emperor of Austria, several kings, and
a crowd of princes, should meet him at Dresden on his way: his desire
was fulfilled; all thronged to meet him--some led by hope, others
prompted by fear: for himself, his motives were to make sure of his
power, to exhibit and to enjoy it.

In this approximation with the ancient house of Austria, his ambition
delighted in exhibiting to Germany a family meeting. He imagined that
so brilliant an assemblage of sovereigns would advantageously contrast
with the isolated state of the Russian monarch; and that he would
probably be alarmed by so general a desertion. In fact, this assembly of
coalesced monarchs seemed to announce that this war with Russia was

He was then in the centre of Germany, exhibiting to it his consort, the
daughter of its emperors, sitting by his side. Whole nations had quitted
their homes to throng his path; rich and poor, nobles and plebeians,
friends and enemies, all hurried to the scene. Their curious and anxious
groups were seen crowding together in the streets, the roads, and the
public places; they passed whole days and nights with their eyes fixed
on the door and windows of his palace. It was not his crown, his rank,
the luxury of his court, but him only, on whom they desired to feast
their eyes; it was a memento of his features which they were anxious to
obtain: they wished to be able to tell their less fortunate countrymen
and posterity, that they had seen Napoleon.

On the stage, poets so far degraded themselves as to make him a
divinity. It was in this manner that whole nations became his

There was, in fact, little difference between kings and people in the
homage of admiration; no one waited for the example of imitation; the
agreement was unanimous. Nevertheless, the inward sentiments were very

At this important interview, we were attentive in observing the
different degrees of zeal which these princes exhibited, and the various
shades of our chieftain's pride. We had hoped that his prudence, or the
worn-out feeling of displaying his power, would prevent him from abusing
it; but was it to be expected that he, who, while yet an inferior, never
spoke, even to his superiors, but in the language of command, now that
he was the conqueror and master of them all, could submit to tedious and
minute details of ceremony? He, however, displayed moderation, and even
tried to make himself agreeable; but it was obviously an effort, and not
without allowing the fatigue it gave him to be perceived. Among these
princes, he had rather the air of receiving them, than of being by them

As to them, it might be said, that, knowing his pride, and become
hopeless of subduing him, except by means of himself, these monarchs and
their people only humbled themselves before him, in order to aggravate
the disproportion of his elevation, and by so doing, to dazzle his moral
vision. In their assemblies, their attitude, their words, even the tone
of their voice, attested his ascendancy over them. All were assembled
there for his sake alone! They scarcely hazarded an objection, so
impressed were they with the full conviction of that superiority, of
which he was himself too well aware. A feudal lord could not have
exacted more of his vassal chiefs.

His levee presented a still more remarkable spectacle! Sovereign princes
came to it in order to wait for an audience of the conqueror of Europe.
They were so intermingled with his officers, that the latter were
frequently warning each other to take care, and not to crowd upon these
new courtiers, who were confounded with them. It was thus that the
presence of Napoleon made distinctions disappear; he was as much their
chief as ours. This common dependency appeared to put all around him on
a level. It is probable that, even then, the ill-disguised military
pride of several French generals gave offence to these princes, with
whom they conceived themselves raised to an equality; and, in fact,
whatever may be the noble blood and rank of the vanquished, his victor
becomes his equal.

The more prudent among us, however, began to be alarmed; they said, but
in an under-tone, that a man must fancy himself more than human to
denaturalize and displace every thing in this manner, without fearing to
involve himself in the universal confusion. They saw these monarchs
quitting the palace of Napoleon with their eyes inflamed, and their
bosoms swoln with the most poignant resentment. They pictured them,
during the night, when alone with their ministers, giving vent to the
heartfelt chagrin by which they were devoured. Every thing was
calculated to render their suffering more acute! How importunate was the
crowd which it was necessary to pass through, in order to reach the gate
of their proud master, while their own remained deserted! Indeed, all
things, even their own people, appeared to betray them. While boasting
of his good fortune, was it not evident that he was insulting their
misfortunes? They had, therefore, come to Dresden in order to swell the
pomp of Napoleon's triumph--for it was over them that he thus triumphed:
each cry of admiration offered to him was a cry of reproach to them; his
grandeur was their humiliation, his victory their defeat.

Doubtless they, in this manner, gave vent to their bitter feelings; and
hatred, day after day, sank more deeply into their hearts. One prince
was first observed to withdraw precipitately from this painful position.
The Empress of Austria, whose ancestors General Buonaparte had
dispossessed in Italy, made herself remarked by her aversion, which she
vainly endeavoured to disguise; it escaped from her by an involuntary
impulse, which Napoleon instantly detected, and subdued by a smile: but
she employed her understanding and attraction in gently winning hearts
to her opinion, in order to sow them afterwards with the seeds of her

The Empress of France unintentionally aggravated this fatal disposition.
She was observed to eclipse her mother-in-law by the superior
magnificence of her costume: if Napoleon required more reserve, she
resisted, and even wept, till the emperor, either through affection,
fatigue, or absence of mind, was induced to give way. It is also
asserted that notwithstanding her origin, remarks calculated to wound
German pride escaped that princess, in extravagant comparisons between
her native and her adopted country. Napoleon rebuked her for this, but
gently; he was pleased with a patriotism which he had himself inspired;
and he fancied he repaired her imprudent language by the munificence of
his presents.

This assemblage, therefore, could not fail of irritating a variety of
feelings: the vanity of many was wounded by the collision. Napoleon,
however, having exerted himself to please, thought that he had given
general satisfaction: while waiting at Dresden the result of the marches
of his army, the numerous columns of which were still traversing the
territories of his allies, he more especially occupied himself with his
political arrangements.

General Lauriston, ambassador from France at Petersburgh, received
orders to apply for the Russian emperor's permission to proceed to
Wilna, in order to communicate definitive proposals to him. General
Narbonne, aid-de-camp of Napoleon, departed for the imperial
head-quarters of Alexander, in order to assure that prince of the
pacific intentions of France, and to invite him to Dresden. The
archbishop of Malines was despatched in order to direct the impulses of
Polish patriotism. The King of Saxony made up his mind to the loss of
the grand duchy; but he was flattered with the hope of a more
substantial indemnity.

Meantime, ever since the first days of meeting, surprise was expressed
at the absence of the King of Prussia from the imperial court; but it
was soon understood that he was prohibited from coming. This prince was
the more alarmed in proportion as he had less deserved such treatment.
His presence would have been embarrassing. Nevertheless, encouraged by
Narbonne, he resolved on making his appearance. When his arrival was
announced to the emperor, the latter grew angry, and at first refused to
see him:--"What did this prince want of him? Was not the constant
importunity of his letters, and his continual solicitations sufficient?
Why did he come again to persecute him with his presence? What need had
he of him?" But Duroc insisted; he reminded Napoleon of the want that he
would experience of Prussia, in a war with Russia; and the doors of the
emperor were opened to the monarch. He was received with the respect due
to his superior rank. His renewed assurances of fidelity, of which he
gave numerous proofs, were accepted.

It was reported at that time, that this monarch was led to expect the
possession of the Russo-German provinces, which his troops were to be
commissioned to invade. It is even affirmed that, after their conquest,
he demanded their investiture from Napoleon. It has been added, but in
vague terms, that Napoleon allowed the Prince-Royal of Prussia to aspire
to the hand of one of his nieces. This was to be the remuneration for
the services which Prussia was to render him in this new war. He
promised, so he expressed himself, that he would go and sound her. It
was thus that Frederick, by becoming the relation of Napoleon, would be
enabled to preserve his diminished power; but proofs are wanting, to
show that the idea of this marriage seduced the King of Prussia, as the
hope of a similar alliance had seduced the Prince of Spain.

Such at that time was the submission of sovereigns to the power of
Napoleon. It offers a striking example of the empire of necessity over
all persons, and shows to what lengths the prospect of gain and the fear
of loss will lead princes as well as private persons.

Meanwhile, Napoleon still waited the result of the negotiations of
Lauriston and of Narbonne. He hoped to vanquish Alexander by the mere
aspect of his united army, and, above all, by the menacing splendour of
his residence at Dresden. He himself expressed this opinion, when, some
days after, at Posen, he said to General Dessolles, "The assemblage at
Dresden not having persuaded Alexander to make peace, it was now solely
to be expected from war."

On that day he talked of nothing but his former victories. It seemed as
if, doubtful of the future, he recurred to the past, and that he found
it necessary to arm himself with all his most glorious recollections, in
order to confront a peril of so great a magnitude. In fact, then, as
since, he felt the necessity of deluding himself with the alleged
weakness of his rival's character. As the period of so great an invasion
approached, he hesitated in considering it as certain; for he no longer
possessed the consciousness of his infallibility, nor that warlike
assurance which the fire and energy of youth impart, nor that feeling of
success which makes it certain.

In other respects, these parleys were not only attempts to preserve
peace, but an additional _ruse de guerre_. By them he hoped to render
the Russians either sufficiently negligent, to let themselves be
surprised, dispersed, or, if united, sufficiently presumptuous to
venture to wait his approach. In either case, the war would be finished
by a _coup-de-main_, or by a victory. But Lauriston was not received.
Narbonne, when he returned, stated, "that he had found the Russians in a
state of mind as remote from dejection as from boasting. From their
emperor's reply to him, it appeared that they preferred war to a
dishonourable peace; that they would take care not to expose themselves
to the hazards of a battle against too formidable an enemy; and that, in
short, they were resolved on making every sacrifice, in order to spin
out the war, and to baffle Napoleon."

This answer, which reached the emperor in the midst of the greatest
display of his glory, was treated with contempt. To say the truth, I
must add, that a great Russian nobleman had contributed to deceive him:
either from mistaken views, or from artifice, this Muscovite had
persuaded him, that his own sovereign would recede at the sight of
difficulties, and be easily discouraged by reverses. Unfortunately, the
remembrance of Alexander's obsequiousness to him at Tilsit and at Erfurt
confirmed the French emperor in that fallacious opinion.

He remained till the 29th of May at Dresden, proud of the homage which
he knew how to appreciate, exhibiting to Europe princes and kings,
sprung from the most ancient families of Germany, forming a numerous
court round a prince deriving all distinction from himself. He appeared
to take a pleasure in multiplying the chances of the great game of
fortune, as if to encircle with them, and render less extraordinary,
that which placed him on the throne, and thus to accustom others as well
as himself to them.


At length, impatient to conquer the Russians, and escape from the homage
of the Germans, Napoleon quitted Dresden. He only remained at Posen long
enough to satisfy the Poles. He neglected Warsaw, whither the war did
not imperiously call him, and where he would have again been involved in
politics. He stopped at Thorn, in order to inspect his fortifications,
his magazines, and his troops. There the complaints of the Poles, whom
our allies pillaged without mercy, and insulted, reached him. Napoleon
addressed severe reproaches, and even threats, to the King of
Westphalia: but it is well known that these were thrown away; that their
effect was lost in the midst of too rapid a movement; that, besides, his
fits of anger, like all other fits, were followed by exhaustion; that
then, with the return of his natural good humour, he regretted, and
frequently tried, to soften the pain he had occasioned; that, finally,
he might reproach himself as the cause of the disorders which provoked
him; for, from the Oder to the Vistula, and even to the Niemen, if
provisions were abundant and properly stationed, the less portable
foraging supplies were deficient. Our cavalry were already forced to cut
the green rye, and to strip the houses of their thatch, in order to feed
their horses. It is true, that all did not stop at that; but when one
disorder is authorized, how can others be forbidden?

The evil augmented on the other side of the Niemen. The emperor had
calculated upon a multitude of light cars and heavy waggons, each
destined to carry several thousand pounds weight, through a sandy
region, which carts, with no greater weight than some quintals, with
difficulty traversed. These conveyances were organized in battalions and
squadrons. Each battalion of light cars, called _comtoises_, consisted
of six hundred, and might carry six thousand quintals of flour. The
battalion of heavy vehicles, drawn by oxen, carried four thousand eight
hundred quintals. There were besides twenty-six squadrons of waggons,
loaded with military equipages; a great quantity of waggons with tools
of all kinds, as well as thousands of artillery and hospital waggons,
one siege and six bridge equipages.

The provision-waggons were to take in their loading at the magazines
established on the Vistula. When the army passed that river, it was
ordered to provide itself, without halting, with provisions for
twenty-five days, but not to use them till they were beyond the Niemen.
In conclusion, the greater part of these means of transport failed,
either because the organization of soldiers, to act as conductors of
military convoys, was essentially vicious, the motives of honour and
ambition not being called into action to maintain proper discipline; or
chiefly because these vehicles were too heavy for the soil, the
distances too considerable, and the privations and fatigues too great;
certain it is that the greater number of them scarcely reached the

The army, therefore, provisioned itself on its match. The country being
fertile, waggons, cattle, and provisions of all kinds, were swept off;
every thing was taken, even to such of the inhabitants as were necessary
to conduct these convoys. Some days after, at the Niemen, the
embarrassment of the passage, and the celerity of the first hostile
marches, caused all the fruits of these requisitions to be abandoned
with an indifference only equalled by the violence with which they had
been seized.

The importance of the object, however, was such as might excuse the
irregularity of these proceedings. That object was to surprise the
Russian army, either collected or dispersed; in short, to make a
_coup-de-main_ with 400,000 men. War, the worst of all scourges, would
thus have been shortened in its duration. Our long and heavy
baggage-waggons would have encumbered our march. It was much more
convenient to live on the supplies of the country, as we should be able
to indemnify the loss afterwards. But superfluous wrong was committed as
well as necessary wrong, for who can stop midway in the commission of
evil? What chief could be responsible for the crowd of officers and
soldiers who were scattered through the country in order to collect its
resources? To whom were complaints to be addressed? Who was to punish?
All was done in the course of a rapid march; there was neither time to
try, nor even to find out the guilty. Between the affair of the day
before, and that of the following day, how many others had sprung up!
for at that time the business of a month was crowded into a single day.

Moreover, some of the leaders set the example; there was a positive
emulation in evil. In that respect, many of our allies surpassed the
French. We were their teachers in every thing; but in copying our
qualities, they caricatured our defects. Their gross and brutal plunder
was perfectly revolting.

But the emperor was desirous to have order kept in the middle of
disorder. Pressed by the accusing reproaches of two allied nations, two
names were more especially distinguished by his indignation. In his
letters are found these words; "I have suspended generals ---- and ----. I
have suppressed the brigade ----; I have cashiered it in the face of the
army, that is to say, of Europe.--I have written to ----, informing him
that he ran great risks of being broke, if he did not take care." Some
days after he met this ----, at the head of his troops, and still
indignant, he called to him, "You disgrace yourself; you set the example
of plunder. Be silent, or go back to your father; I do not want your
services any further."

From Thorn, Napoleon descended the Vistula. Graudentz belonged to
Prussia; he avoided passing it; but as that fortress was important to
the safety of the army, an officer of artillery and some fireworkers
were sent thither, with the ostensible motive of making cartridges; the
real motive remained a secret; the Prussian garrison, however, was
numerous, and stood on its guard, and the emperor, who had proceeded
onward, thought no more of it.

It was at Marienburg that the emperor again met Davoust. That marshal,
whether through pride, natural or acquired, was not well pleased to
recognize as his leader any other individual than the master of Europe.
His character, besides, was despotic, obstinate, and tenacious; and as
little inclined to yield to circumstances as to men. In 1809, Berthier
was his commander for some days, during which Davoust gained a battle,
and saved the army, by disobeying him. Hence arose a terrible hatred
between them: during the peace it augmented, but secretly; for they
lived at a wide distance from each other, Berthier at Paris, Davoust at
Hamburgh; but this Russian war again brought them together.

Berthier was getting enfeebled. Ever since 1805, war had become
completely odious to him. His talent especially lay in his activity and
his memory. He could receive and transmit, at all hours of the day and
night, the most multiplied intelligence and orders; but on this occasion
he had conceived himself entitled to give orders himself. These orders
displeased Davoust. Their first interview was a scene of violent
altercation; it occurred at Marienburg, where the emperor had just
arrived, and in his presence.

Davoust expressed himself harshly, and even went so far as to accuse
Berthier of incapacity or treachery. They both threatened each other,
and when Berthier was gone, Napoleon, influenced by the naturally
suspicious character of the marshal, exclaimed, "It sometimes happens
that I entertain doubts of the fidelity of my oldest companions in arms;
but at such times my head turns round with chagrin, and I do my utmost
to banish so heart-rending a suspicion."

While Davoust was probably enjoying the dangerous pleasure of having
humbled his enemy, the emperor proceeded to Dantzic, and Berthier, stung
by resentment, followed him there. From that time, the zeal, the glory
of Davoust, the exertions he had made for this new expedition, all that
ought to have availed him, began to be looked upon unfavourably. The
emperor had written to him "that as the war was about to be carried into
a barren territory, where the enemy would destroy every thing, it was
requisite to prepare for such a state of things, by providing every
thing within ourselves:" Davoust had replied to this by an enumeration
of his preparations--"He had 70,000 men, who were completely organized;
they carried with them twenty-five days' provisions. Each company
comprised swimmers, masons, bakers, tailors, shoemakers, armourers, and
workmen of every class. They carried every thing they required with
them; his army was like a colony; hand-mills followed. He had
anticipated every want; all means of supplying them were ready."

Such great exertions ought to have pleased; they, however, displeased;
they were misrepresented. Insidious observations were overheard by the
emperor. "This marshal," said they to him, "wishes to have it thought
that he has foreseen, arranged, and executed every thing. Is the
emperor, then, to be no more than a spectator of this expedition? Must
the glory of it devolve on Davoust?"--"In fact," exclaimed the emperor,
"one would think it was he that commanded the army."

They even went further, and awakened some of his dormant fears: "Was it
not Davoust who, after the victory of Jena, drew the emperor into
Poland? Is it not he who is now anxious for this new Polish war?--He who
already possesses such large property in that country, whose accurate
and severe probity has won over the Poles, and who is suspected of
aspiring to their throne?"

It is not easy to say whether the pride of Napoleon was shocked by
seeing that of his lieutenants encroaching so much on his own; or
whether, in the course of this irregular war, he felt himself thwarted
more and more by the methodical genius of Davoust; certain it is, the
unfavourable impression against him struck deeper; it was productive of
fatal consequences; it removed from his confidence a bold, tenacious and
prudent warrior, and favoured his predilection for Murat, whose rashness
was much more flattering to his ambitious hopes. In other respects,
these dissensions between his great officers did not displease Napoleon;
they gave him information; their harmony would have made him uneasy.

From Dantzic the emperor proceeded, on the 12th of June, to Königsberg.
At that place ended the inspection of his immense magazines, and of the
second resting-point and pivot of his line of operations. Immense
quantities of provisions, adequate to the immensity of the undertaking,
were there accumulated. No detail had been neglected. The active and
impassioned genius of Napoleon was then entirely directed towards that
most important and difficult department of his expedition. In that he
was profuse of exhortations, orders, and even money, of which his
letters are a proof. His days were occupied in dictating instructions on
that subject; at night he frequently rose to repeat them again. One
general received, on a single day, six despatches from him, all
distinguished by the same solicitude.

In one, these words were remarked, "For masses like these, if
precautions be not taken, the grain of no country can suffice." In
another, "It will be requisite for all the provision-waggons to be
loaded with flour, bread, rice, vegetables, and brandy, besides what is
necessary for the hospital service. The result of all my movements will
assemble 400,000 men on a single point. There will be nothing then to
expect from the country, and it will be necessary to have every thing
within ourselves." But, on the one hand, the means of transport were
badly calculated; and, on the other, he allowed himself to be hurried on
as soon as he was put in motion.


From Königsberg to Gumbinnen, he reviewed several of his armies;
conversing with the soldiers in a gay, frank, and often abrupt style;
well aware that, with such unsophisticated and hardy characters,
abruptness is looked upon as frankness, rudeness as force, haughtiness
as true nobility; and that the delicacy and graces which some officers
bring with them from the salons are in their eyes no better than
weakness and pusillanimity; that these appear to them like a foreign
language, which they do not understand, and the accents of which strike
them as ridiculous.

According to his usual custom, he promenaded before the ranks. Knowing
in which of his wars each regiment had been with him, at the sight of
the oldest soldiers he occasionally halted; to one he recalled the
battle of the Pyramids; another he reminded of Marengo, Austerlitz,
Jena, or Friedland, and always by a single word, accompanied by a
familiar caress. The veteran who believed himself personally recognized
by his emperor, rose in consequence in the estimation of his junior
companions, who regarded him as an object of envy.

Napoleon, in this manner, continued his inspection; he overlooked not
even the youngest soldiers: it seemed as if every thing which concerned
them was to him matter of deep interest; their least wants seemed known
to him. He interrogated them: Did their captains take care of them? had
they received their pay? were they in want of any requisite? he wished
to see their knapsacks.

At length he stopped at the centre of the regiment; there being apprised
of the places that were vacant, he required aloud the names of the most
meritorious in the ranks; he called those who were so designated before
him, and questioned them. How many years' service? how many campaigns?
what wounds? what exploits? He then appointed them officers, and caused
them to be immediately installed, himself prescribing the forms;--all
particularities which delighted the soldier! They told each other how
this great emperor, the judge of nations in the mass, occupied himself
with them in their minutest details; that they composed his oldest and
his real family! Thus it was that he instilled into them the love of
war, of glory and himself.

The army, meantime, marched from the Vistula to the Niemen. This last
river, from Grodno as far as Kowno, runs parallel with the Vistula. The
river Pregel, which unites the two, was loaded with provisions: 220,000
men repaired thither from four different points; there they found bread
and some foraging provisions. These provisions ascended that river with
them, as far as its direction would allow.

When the army was obliged to quit the flotilla, its select corps took
with them sufficient provisions to reach and cross the Niemen, to
prepare for a victory, and to arrive at Wilna. There, the emperor
calculated on the magazines of the inhabitants, on those of the enemy
and on his own, which he had ordered to be brought from Dantzic, by the
Frischhaff, the Pregel, the Deine, the canal Frederic, and the Vilia.

We were upon the verge of the Russian frontier; from right to left, or
from south to north, the army was disposed in the following manner, in
front of the Niemen. In the first place, on the extreme right, and
issuing from Gallicia, on Drogiczin, Prince Schwartzenberg and 34,000
Austrians; on their left, coming from Warsaw, and marching on Bialystok
and Grodno, the King of Westphalia, at the head of 79,200 Westphalians,
Saxons, and Poles; by the side of them was the Viceroy of Italy, who had
just effected the junction, near Marienpol and Pilony, of 79,500
Bavarians, Italians and French; next, the emperor, with 220,000 men,
commanded by the King of Naples, the Prince of Eckmühl, the Dukes of
Dantzic, Istria, Reggio, and Elchingen. They advanced from Thorn,
Marienwerder, and Elbing, and, on the 23d of June, had assembled in a
single mass near Nogarisky, a league above Kowno. Finally, in front of
Tilsit, was Macdonald, and 32,500 Prussians, Bavarians, and Poles,
composing the extreme left of the grand army.

Every thing was now ready. From the banks of the Guadalquivir, and the
shores of the Calabrian sea, to the Vistula, were assembled 617,000 men,
of whom 480,000 were already present; one siege and six bridge
equipages, thousands of provision-waggons, innumerable herds of oxen,
1372 pieces of cannon, and thousands of artillery and hospital-waggons,
had been directed, assembled, and stationed at a short distance from the
Russian frontier river. The greatest part of the provision-waggons were
alone behind.

Sixty thousand Austrians, Prussians, and Spaniards, were preparing to
shed their blood for the conqueror of Wagram, of Jena, and of Madrid;
for the man who had four times beaten down the power of Austria, who had
humbled Prussia, and invaded Spain. And yet all were faithful to him.
When it was considered that one-third of the army of Napoleon was either
foreign to him or hostile, one hardly knew at which most to be
astonished,--the audacity of one party, or the resignation of the other.
It was in this manner that Rome made her conquests contribute to her
future means for conquering.

As to us Frenchmen, he found us all full of ardour. Habit, curiosity,
and the pleasure of exhibiting themselves in the character of masters in
new countries, actuated the soldiers; vanity was the great stimulant of
the younger ones, who thirsted to acquire some glory which they might
recount, with the attractive quackery peculiar to soldiers; these
inflated and pompous narratives of their exploits being moreover
indispensable to their relaxation when no longer under arms. To this
must certainly be added, the hope of plunder; for the exacting ambition
of Napoleon had as often disgusted his soldiers, as the disorders of the
latter tarnished his glory. A compromise was necessary: ever since 1805,
there was a sort of mutual understanding, on his part to wink at their
plunder--on theirs, to suffer his ambition.

This plunder, however, or rather, this marauding system, was generally
confined to provisions, which, in default of supplies, were exacted of
the inhabitants, but often too extravagantly. The most culpable
plunderers were the stragglers, who are always numerous in frequent
forced marches. These disorders, indeed, were never tolerated. In order
to repress them, Napoleon left _gendarmes_ and flying columns on the
track of the army; and when these stragglers subsequently rejoined their
corps, their knapsacks were examined by their officers; or, as was the
case at Austerlitz, by their comrades; and strict justice was then
executed among themselves.

The last levies were certainly too young and too feeble; but the army
had still a stock of brave and experienced men, used to critical
situations, and whom nothing could intimidate. They were recognizable at
the first glance by their martial countenances, and by their
conversation; they had no other past nor future but war; and they could
talk of nothing else. Their officers were worthy of them, or at least
were becoming so; for, in order to preserve the due authority of their
rank over such men, it was necessary for them to have wounds to show,
and to be able to appeal to their own exploits.

Such was, at that period, the life of those men; all was action within
its sphere, even to words. They often boasted too much, but even that
had its advantage; for as they were incessantly put to the proof, it was
then necessary for them to be what they wished to appear. Such
especially is the character of the Poles; they boast in the first
instance of being more than they have been, but not more than they are
capable of being. Poland in fact is a nation of heroes! pawning their
words for exploits beyond the truth, but subsequently redeeming them
with honour, in order to verify what at first was neither true nor even

As to the old generals, some of them were no longer the hardy and simple
warriors of the republic; honours, hard service, age, and the emperor
particularly, had contributed to soften many of them down. Napoleon
compelled them to adopt a luxurious style of living by his example and
his orders; according to him, it was a means of influencing the
multitude. It might be also, that such habits prevented them from
accumulating property, which might have made them independent; for,
being himself the source of riches, he was glad to to keep up the
necessity of repairing to it, and in this manner to bring them back
within his influence. He had, therefore, pushed his generals into a
circle from which it was difficult to escape; forcing them to pass
incessantly from want to prodigality, and from prodigality to want,
which he alone was able to relieve.

Several had nothing but their appointments, which accustomed them to an
ease of living with which they could no longer dispense. If he made them
grants of land, it was out of his conquests, which were exposed to
insecurity by war, and which war only could preserve.

But in order to retain them in dependence, glory, which with some was a
habit, with others a passion, with all a want, was the all-sufficient
stimulant; and Napoleon, absolute master as he was of his own century,
and even dictating to history, was the distributor of that glory. Though
he fixed it at a high price, there was no rejecting his conditions; one
would have felt ashamed to confess one's weakness in presence of his
strength, and to stop short before a man whose ambition was still
mounting, great as was the elevation which he had already attained.

Besides, the renown of so great an expedition was full of charm; its
success seemed certain; it promised to be nothing but a military march
to Petersburgh and Moscow. With this last effort his wars would probably
be terminated. It was a last opportunity, which one would repent to have
let escape; one would be annoyed by the glorious narratives which others
would give of it. The victory of to-day would make that of yesterday so
old! And who would wish to grow old with it?

And then, when war was kindled in all quarters, how was it possible to
avoid it? The scenes of action were not indifferent; here Napoleon would
command in person; elsewhere, though the cause might be the same, the
contest would be carried on under a different commander. The renown
shared with the latter would be foreign to Napoleon, on whom,
nevertheless, depended glory, fortune, every thing; and it was well
known, whether from preference or policy, that he was only profuse in
his favours to those whose glory was identified with his glory; and that
he rewarded less generously such exploits as were not his. It was
requisite, therefore, to serve in the army which he commanded; hence the
anxiety of young and old to fill its ranks. What chief had ever before
so many means of power? There was no hope which he could not flatter,
excite, or satiate.

Finally, we loved him as the companion of our labours; as the chief who
had conducted us to renown. The astonishment and admiration which he
inspired flattered our self-love; for all these we shared in common with

With respect to that youthful _élite_, which in those times of glory
filled our camps, its enthusiasm was natural. Who is there amongst us
who, in his early years, has not been fired by the perusal of the
warlike exploits of the ancients and of our ancestors? Should we not
have all desired, at that time, to be the heroes whose real or
fictitious history we were perusing? During that state of enthusiasm, if
those recollections had been suddenly realized before us; if our eyes,
instead of reading, had witnessed the performance of those wonders; if
we had felt their sphere of action within our reach, and if employments
had been offered to us by the side of those brave paladins, whose
adventurous lives and brilliant renown our young and vivid imaginations
had so much envied; which of us would have hesitated? Who is there that
would not have rushed forward, replete with joy and hope, and disdaining
an odious and scandalous repose?

Such were the rising generations of that day. At that period every one
was free to be ambitious! a period of intoxication and prosperity,
during which the French soldier, lord of all things by victory,
considered himself greater than the nobleman, or even the sovereign,
whose states he traversed! To him it appeared as if the kings of Europe
only reigned by permission of his chief and of his arms.

Thus it was that habit attracted some, disgust at camp service others;
novelty prompted the greater part, and especially the thirst of glory:
but all were stimulated by emulation. In fine, confidence in a chief who
had been always fortunate, and hope of an early victory, which would
terminate the war at a blow, and restore us to our firesides; for a war,
to the entire army of Napoleon (as it was to some volunteers of the
court of Louis XIV.) was often no more than a single battle, or a short
and brilliant journey.

We were now about to reach the extremity of Europe, where never European
army had been before! We were about to erect new columns of Hercules.
The grandeur of the enterprise; the agitation of co-operating Europe;
the imposing spectacle of an army of 400,000 foot and 80,000 horse: so
many warlike reports and martial clamours, kindled the minds of veterans
themselves. It was impossible for the coldest to remain unmoved amid the
general impulse; to escape from the universal attraction.

In conclusion;--independent of all these motives for animation, the
composition of the army was good, and every good army is desirous of



Napoleon, satisfied with his preparations, at length declared himself.
"Soldiers," said he, "the second Polish war is commenced. The first was
concluded at Friedland and at Tilsit. At Tilsit, Russia swore eternal
alliance with France, and war with England. She now violates her oaths.
She will give no explanation of her capricious conduct, until the French
eagles have repassed the Rhine; by that means leaving our allies at her
mercy. Russia is hurried away by fatality; her destiny must be
accomplished. Does she then believe us to be degenerated? Are we not
still the soldiers of Austerlitz? She places us between war and
dishonour; the choice cannot be doubtful. Let us advance, then; let us
pass the Niemen, and carry the war into her territory! The second Polish
war will be as glorious for the French arms as the first; but the peace
we shall this time conclude will carry with it its own guarantee; it
will put an end to the fatal influence which Russia for the last fifty
years has exercised over the affairs of Europe."

This tone, which was at that time deemed prophetic, befitted an
expedition of an almost fabulous character. It was quite necessary to
invoke Destiny, and give credit to its empire, when the fate of so many
human beings, and so much glory, were about to be consigned to its

The Emperor Alexander also harangued his army, but in a very different
manner. The difference between the two nations, the two sovereigns, and
their reciprocal position, were remarked in these proclamations. In
fact, the one which was defensive was unadorned and moderate; the other,
offensive, was replete with audacity and the confidence of victory. The
first sought support in religion, the other in fatality; the one in love
of country, the other in love of glory; but neither of them referred to
the liberation of Poland, which was the real cause of contention.

We marched towards the east, with our left towards the north, and our
right towards the south. On our right, Volhynia invoked us with all her
prayers; in the centre, were Wilna, Minsk, and the whole of Lithuania,
and Samogitia; in front of our left, Courland and Livonia awaited their
fate in silence.

The army of Alexander, composed of 300,000 men, kept those provinces in
awe. From the banks of the Vistula, from Dresden, from Paris itself,
Napoleon had critically surveyed it. He had ascertained that its centre,
commanded by Barclay, extended from Wilna and Kowno to Lida and Grodno,
resting its right on Vilia, and its left on the Niemen.

That river protected the Russian front by the deviation which it makes
from Grodno to Kowno; for it was only in the interval between these two
cities, that the Niemen, running toward the north, intersected the line
of our attack, and served as a frontier to Lithuania. Before reaching
Grodno, and on quitting Kowno, it flows westward.

To the south of Grodno was Bagration, with 65,000 men, in the direction
of Wolkowisk; to the north of Kowno, at Rossiana and Keydani,
Wittgenstein, with 26,000 men, substituted their bayonets for that
natural frontier.

At the same time, another army of 50,000 men, called the reserve, was
assembled at Lutsk, in Volhynia, in order to keep that province in
check, and observe Schwartzenberg; it was confided to Tormasof, till the
treaty about to be signed at Bucharest permitted Tchitchakof, and the
greater part of the army in Moldavia, to unite with it.

Alexander, and, under him, his minister of war, Barclay de Tolly,
directed all these forces. They were divided into three armies, called,
the first western army, under Barclay; the second western army, under
Bagration; and the army of reserve, under Tormasof. Two other corps were
forming; one at Mozyr, in the environs of Bobruisk; and the other at
Riga and Dünabourg. The reserves were at Wilna and Swentziany. In
conclusion, a vast entrenched camp was erected before Drissa, within an
elbow of the Düna.

The French emperor's opinion was, that this position behind the Niemen
was neither offensive nor defensive, and that the Russian army was no
better off for the purpose of effecting a retreat; that this army, being
so much scattered over a line of sixty leagues, might be surprised and
dispersed, as actually happened to it; that, with still more certainty,
the left of Barclay, and the entire army of Bagration, being stationed
at Lida and at Wolkowisk, in front of the marshes of the Berezina, which
they covered, instead of being covered by them, might be thrown back on
them and taken; or, at least, that an abrupt and direct attack on Kowno
and Wilna would cut them off from their line of operation, indicated by
Swentziany and the entrenched camp at Drissa.

In fact, Doctorof and Bagration were already separated from that line;
for, instead of remaining in mass with Alexander, in front of the roads
leading to the Düna, to defend them and profit by them, they were
stationed forty leagues to the right.

For this reason it was that Napoleon separated his forces into five
armies. While Schwartzenberg, advancing from Gallicia with his 30,000
Austrians, (whose numbers he had orders to exaggerate,) would keep
Tormasof in check, and draw the attention of Bagration towards the
south; while the King of Westphalia, with his 80,000 men, would employ
that general in front, towards Grodno, without pressing him too
vehemently at first; and while the Viceroy of Italy, in the direction of
Pilony, would be in readiness to interpose between the same Bagration
and Barclay; in fine, while at the extreme left, Macdonald, debouching
from Tilsit, would invade the north of Lithuania, and fall on the right
of Wittgenstein; Napoleon himself, with his 200,000 men, was to
precipitate himself on Kowno, on Wilna, and on his rival, and destroy
him at the first shock.

Should the Emperor of Russia give way, he would press him hard, and
throw him back upon Drissa, and as far as the commencement of his line
of operations; then, all at once, propelling his detachments to the
right, he would surround Bagration, and the whole of the corps of the
Russian left, which, by this rapid irruption, would be separated from
their right.

I will shortly sketch a brief and rapid summary of the history of our
two wings, being anxious to return to the centre, and to be enabled
uninterruptedly to exhibit the great scenes which were enacted there.
Macdonald commanded the left wing; his invasion, supported by the
Baltic, overcame the right wing of the Russians; it threatened Revel
first, next Riga, and even Petersburgh. He soon reached Riga. The war
became stationary under its walls; although of little importance, it was
conducted by Macdonald with prudence, science, and glory, even in his
retreat, to which he was neither compelled by the winter nor by the
enemy, but solely by Napoleon's orders.

With regard to his right wing, the emperor had counted on the support of
Turkey, which failed him. He had inferred that the Russian army of
Volhynia would follow the general movement of Alexander's retreat; but,
on the contrary, Tormasof advanced upon our rear. The French army was
thus uncovered, and menaced with being turned on those vast plains.
Nature not supplying it in that quarter with any support, as she did on
the left wing, it was necessarily compelled to rely entirely on itself.
Forty thousand Saxons, Austrians, and Poles, remained there in

Tormasof was beaten; but another army, rendered available by the treaty
of Bucharest, arrived and formed a junction with the remnant of the
first. From that moment, the war upon that point became defensive. It
was carried on feebly, as was to be expected, notwithstanding some
Polish troops and a French general were left with the Austrian army.
That general had been long and strenuously cried up for ability,
although he had met with reverses, and his reputation was not

No decisive advantage was gained on either side. But the position of
this corps, almost entirely Austrian, became more and more important, as
the grand army retreated upon it. It will be seen whether Schwartzenberg
deceived its confidence,--whether he left us to be surrounded on the
Berezina,--and whether it be true, that he seemed on that occasion to
aspire to no other character than that of an armed witness to the great


Between these two wings, the grand army marched to the Niemen, in three
separate masses. The king of Westphalia, with 80,000 men, moved upon
Grodno; the viceroy of Italy, with 75,000 men, upon Pilony; Napoleon,
with 220,000 men, upon Nogaraiski, a farm situated three leagues beyond
Kowno. The 23d of June, before daylight, the imperial column reached the
Niemen, but without seeing it. The borders of the great Prussian forest
of Pilwisky, and the hills which line the river, concealed the great
army, which was about to cross it.

Napoleon, who had travelled in a carriage as far as that, mounted his
horse at two o'clock in the morning. He reconnoitred the Russian river,
without disguising himself, as has been falsely asserted, but under
cover of the night crossing this frontier, which five months afterwards
he was only enabled to repass under cover of the same obscurity. When he
came up to the bank, his horse suddenly stumbled, and threw him on the
sand. A voice exclaimed, "This is a bad omen; a Roman would recoil!" It
is not known whether it was himself, or one of his retinue, who
pronounced these words.

His task of reconnoitring concluded, he gave orders that, at the close
of the following day, three bridges should be thrown over the river,
near the village of Poniémen; he then retired to his head-quarters,
where he passed the whole day, sometimes in his tent, sometimes in a
Polish house, listlessly reclined, in the midst of a breathless
atmosphere, and a suffocating heat, vainly courting repose.

On the return of night, he again made his approaches to the river. The
first who crossed it were a few sappers in a small boat. They approached
the Russian side with some degree of apprehension, but found no obstacle
to oppose their landing. There they found peace; the war was entirely on
their own side; all was tranquil on that foreign soil, which had been
described to them as so menacing. A single officer of cossacks, however,
on patrole, presented himself to their view. He was alone, and appeared
to consider himself in full peace, and to be ignorant that the whole of
Europe in arms was at hand. He inquired of the strangers who they
were?--"Frenchmen!" they replied.--"What do you want?" rejoined the
officer; "and wherefore do you come into Russia?"--A sapper briskly
replied, "To make war upon you; to take Wilna; to deliver Poland."--The
cossack then withdrew; he disappeared in the woods, into which three of
our soldiers, giving vent to their ardour, and with a view to sound the
forest, discharged their fire-arms.

Thus it was, that the feeble report of three muskets, to which there was
no reply, apprised us of the opening of a new campaign, and the
commencement of a great invasion.

Either from a feeling of prudence, or from presentiment, this first
signal of war threw the emperor into a state of violent irritation.
Three hundred voltigeurs immediately passed the river, in order to cover
the erection of the bridges.

The whole of the French columns then began to issue from the valleys and
the forest. They advanced in silence to the river, under cover of thick
darkness. It was necessary to touch them in order to recognize their
presence. Fires, even to sparks, were forbidden; they slept with arms in
their hands, as if in the presence of an enemy. The crops of green rye,
moistened with a profuse dew, served as beds to the men, and provender
to the horses.

The night, its coolness preventing sleep, its obscurity prolonging the
hours, and augmenting wants; finally, the dangers of the following day,
every thing combined to give solemnity to this position. But the
expectation of a great battle supported our spirits. The proclamation of
Napoleon had just been read; the most remarkable passages of it were
repeated in a whisper, and the genius of conquest kindled our

Before us was the Russian frontier. Our ardent gaze already sought to
invade the promised land of our glory athwart the shades of night. We
seemed to hear the joyful acclamations of the Lithuanians, at the
approach of their deliverers. We pictured to ourselves the banks of the
river lined with their supplicating hands. Here, we were in want of
every thing; there, every thing would be lavished upon us! The
Lithuanians would hasten to supply our wants; we were about to be
encircled by love and gratitude. What signified one unpleasant night?
The day would shortly appear, and with it its warmth and all its
illusions. The day did appear! and it revealed to us dry and desert
sands, and dark and gloomy forests. Our eyes then reverted sadly upon
ourselves, and we were again inspired by pride and hope, on observing
the imposing spectacle of our united army.

[Illustration: Passage of the Niemen]

Three hundred yards from the river, on the most elevated height, the
tent of the emperor was visible. Around it the hills, their slopes, and
the subjacent valleys, were covered with men and horses. As soon as the
earth exhibited to the sun those moving masses, clothed with glittering
arms, the signal was given, and instantly the multitude began to defile
off in three columns, towards the three bridges. They were observed to
take a winding direction, as they descended the narrow plain which
separated them from the Niemen, to approach it, to reach the three
passages, to compress and prolong their columns, in order to traverse
them, and at last reach that foreign soil, which they were about to
devastate, and which they were soon destined to cover with their own
enormous fragments.

So great was their ardour, that two divisions of the advanced guard
disputed for the honour of being the first to pass, and were near coming
to blows; and some exertions were necessary to quiet them. Napoleon
hastened to plant his foot on the Russian territory. He took this first
step towards his ruin without hesitation. At first, he stationed
himself near the bridge, encouraging the soldiers with his looks. The
latter all saluted him with their accustomed acclamations. They
appeared, indeed, more animated than he was; whether it was that he felt
oppressed by the weight of so great an aggression, or that his enfeebled
frame could not support the effect of the excessive heat, or that he was
already intimidated by finding nothing to conquer.

At length he became impatient; all at once he dashed across the country
into the forest which girt the sides of the river. He put his horse to
the extremity of his speed; he appeared on fire to come singly in
contact with the enemy. He rode more than a league in the same
direction, surrounded throughout by the same solitude; upon which he
found it necessary to return in the vicinity of the bridges, whence he
re-descended the river with his guard towards Kowno.

Some thought they heard the distant report of cannon. As we marched, we
endeavoured to distinguish on which side the battle was going on. But,
with the exception of some troops of cossacks on that, as well as the
ensuing days, the atmosphere alone displayed itself in the character of
an enemy. In fact, the emperor had scarcely passed the river, when a
rumbling sound began to agitate the air. In a short time the day became
overcast, the wind rose, and brought with it the inauspicious mutterings
of a thunder-storm. That menacing sky and unsheltered country filled us
with melancholy impressions. There were even some amongst us, who,
enthusiastic as they had lately been, were terrified at what they
conceived to be a fatal presage. To them it appeared that those
combustible vapours were collecting over our heads, and that they would
descend upon the territory we approached, in order to prevent us from
entering it.

It is quite certain, that the storm in question was as great as the
enterprise in which we were engaged. During several hours, its black and
heavy masses accumulated and hung upon the whole army: from right to
left, over a space of fifty leagues, it was completely threatened by its
lightnings, and overwhelmed by its torrents: the roads and fields were
inundated; the insupportable heat of the atmosphere was suddenly changed
to a disagreeable chillness. Ten thousand horses perished on the march,
and more especially in the bivouacs which followed. A large quantity of
equipages remained abandoned on the sands; and great numbers of men
subsequently died.

A convent served to shelter the emperor against the first fury of the
tempest. From hence he shortly departed for Kowno, where the greatest
disorder prevailed. The claps of thunder were no longer noticed; those
menacing reports, which still murmured over our heads, appeared
forgotten. For, though this common phenomenon of the season might have
shaken the firmness of some few minds, with the majority the time of
omens had passed away. A scepticism, ingenious on the part of some,
thoughtless or coarse on the part of others, earth-born passions and
imperious wants, have diverted the souls of men from that heaven whence
they are derived, and to which they should return. The army, therefore,
recognized nothing but a natural and unseasonable accident in this
disaster; and far from interpreting it as the voice of reprobation
against so great an aggression, for which, moreover, it was not
responsible, found in it nothing but a motive of indignation against
fortune or the skies, which whether by chance, or otherwise, offered it
so terrible a presage.

That very day, a particular calamity was added to this general disaster.
At Kowno, Napoleon was exasperated, because the bridge over the Vilia
had been thrown down by the cossacks, and opposed the passage of
Oudinot. He affected to despise it, like every thing else that opposed
him, and ordered a squadron of his Polish guard to swim the river. These
fine fellows threw themselves into it without hesitation. At first, they
proceeded in good order, and when out of their depth redoubled their
exertions. They soon reached the middle of the river by swimming. But
there, the increased rapidity of the current broke their order. Their
horses then became frightened, quitted their ranks, and were carried
away by the violence of the waves. They no longer swam, but floated
about in scattered groups. Their riders struggled, and made vain
efforts; their strength gave way, and they, at last, resigned themselves
to their fate. Their destruction was certain; but it was for their
country; it was in her presence, and for the sake of their deliverer,
that they had devoted themselves; and even when on the point of being
engulphed for ever, they suspended their unavailing struggles, turned
their faces toward Napoleon, and exclaimed, "_Vive l'Empereur!_" Three
of them were especially remarked, who, with their heads still above the
billows, repeated this cry and perished instantly. The army was struck
with mingled horror and admiration.

As to Napoleon, he prescribed with anxiety and precision the measures
necessary to save the greater number, but without appearing affected:
either from the habit of subduing his feelings; from considering the
ordinary emotions of the heart as weaknesses in times of war, of which
it was not for him to set the example, and therefore necessary to
suppress; or finally, that he anticipated much greater misfortunes,
compared with which the present was a mere trifle.

A bridge thrown over this river conveyed Marshal Oudinot and the second
corps to Keydani. During that time, the rest of the army was still
passing the Niemen. The passage took up three entire days. The army of
Italy did not pass it till the 29th, in front of Pilony. The army of the
king of Westphalia did not enter Grodno till the 30th.

From Kowno Napoleon proceeded in two days as far as the defiles which
defend the plain of Wilna. He waited, in order to make his appearance
there, for news from his advanced posts. He was in hopes that Alexander
would contest with him the possession of that capital. The report,
indeed, of some musketry, encouraged him in that hope; when intelligence
was brought him that the city was undefended. Thither he advanced,
ruminating and dissatisfied. He accused his generals of the advanced
guard of suffering the Russian army to escape. It was the most active of
them, Montbrun, whom he reproached, and against whom his anger rose to
the point of menace. A menace without effect, a violence without result!
and less blameable than remarkable, in a warrior, because they
contributed to prove all the importance which he attached to an
immediate victory.

In the midst of his anger, he displayed address in his dispositions for
entering Wilna. He caused himself to be preceded and followed by Polish
regiments. But more occupied by the retreat of the Russians than the
grateful and admiring acclamations of the Lithuanians, he rapidly passed
through the city, and hurried to the advanced posts. Several of the best
hussars of the 8th, having ventured themselves in a wood, without proper
support, had just perished in an action with the Russian guard;
Segur[16], who commanded them, after a desperate defence, had fallen,
covered with wounds.

[Footnote 16: Brother of the Author.]

The enemy had burnt his bridges and his magazines, and was flying by
different roads, but all in the direction of Drissa. Napoleon ordered
all which the fire had spared to be collected, and restored the
communications. He sent forward Murat and his cavalry, to follow the
track of Alexander: and after throwing Ney upon his left, in order to
support Oudinot, who had that day driven back the lines of
Wittgenstein, from Deweltowo as far as Wilkomir, he returned to occupy
the place of Alexander at Wilna. There, his unfolded maps, military
reports, and a crowd of officers requiring his orders, awaited his
arrival. He was now on the theatre of war, and at the moment of its most
animated operations; he had prompt and urgent decisions to make; orders
of march to give; hospitals, magazines, and lines of operations, to

It was necessary to interrogate, to read, and then compare; and at last
to discover and grasp the truth, which always appeared to fly and
conceal itself in the midst of a thousand contradictory answers and

This was not all: Napoleon, at Wilna, had a new empire to organize; the
politics of Europe, the war of Spain, and the government of France, to
direct. His political, military, and administrative correspondence,
which he had suffered to accumulate for some days, imperiously demanded
his attention. Such, indeed, was his custom, on the eve of a great
event, as that would necessarily decide the character of many of his
replies, and impart a colouring to all. He therefore established himself
at his quarters, and in the first instance threw himself on a bed, less
for the sake of sleep than of quiet meditation; whence, abruptly
starting up shortly after, he rapidly dictated the orders which he had

Intelligence was just then brought him from Warsaw and the Austrian
army. The discourse at the opening of the Polish diet displeased the
emperor; and he exclaimed, as he threw it from him, "This is French! It
ought to be Polish!" As to the Austrians, it was never dissembled to him
that, in their whole army, there was no one on whom he could depend but
its commander. The certainty of that seemed sufficient for him.


Meantime, every thing was rekindling at the bottom of the hearts of the
Lithuanians a patriotism which was still burning, though almost
extinguished. On one side, the precipitate retreat of the Russians, and
the presence of Napoleon; on the other, the cry of independence emitted
by Warsaw, and more especially the sight of those Polish heroes, who
returned with liberty to the soil whence they had been expelled along
with her. The first days, therefore, were entirely devoted to joy: the
happiness appeared general--the display of feeling universal.

The same sentiments were thought to be traceable everywhere; in the
interior of the houses, as well as at the windows, and in the public
places. The people congratulated and embraced each other on the
high-roads; the old men once more resumed their ancient costume,
reviving ideas of glory and independence. They wept with joy at the
sight of the national banners which had been just re-erected; an
immense crowd followed them, rending the air with their acclamations.
But this enthusiasm, unreflecting in some, and the mere effect of
excitement in others, was but of short duration.

On their side, the Poles of the grand duchy were always animated by the
noblest enthusiasm: they were worthy of liberty, and sacrificed to it
that property for which liberty is sacrificed by the greater part of
mankind. Nor did they belie themselves on this occasion: the diet of
Warsaw constituted itself into a general confederation, and declared the
kingdom of Poland restored; it convened the dietins; invited all Poland
to unite; summoned all the Poles in the Russian army to quit Russia;
caused itself to be represented by a general council; maintained the
established order; and, finally, sent a deputation to the king of
Saxony, and an address to Napoleon.

The senator Wibicki presented this address to him at Wilna. He told him
"that the Poles had neither been subjected by peace nor by war, but by
treason; that they were therefore free _de jure_, before God and man;
that being so now _de facto_, that right became a duty; that they
claimed the independence of their brethren, the Lithuanians, who were
still slaves; that they offered themselves to the entire Polish nation
as the centre of a general union; but that it was to him who dictated
his history to the age, in whom resided the force of Providence, they
looked to support the efforts which he could not but approve; that on
that account they came to solicit Napoleon the Great to pronounce these
few words, "_Let the kingdom of Poland exist!_" and that it then would
exist; that all the Poles would devote themselves to the orders of the
founder of the fourth French dynasty, to whom ages were but as a moment,
and space no more than a point."

Napoleon replied: "Gentlemen deputies of the confederation of Poland, I
have listened with deep interest to what you have just told me. Were I a
Pole, I should think and act like you; I should have voted with you in
the assembly of Warsaw: the love of his country is the first duty of
civilized man.

"In my position, I have many interests to reconcile, and many duties to
fulfil. Had I reigned during the first, second, or third partition of
Poland, I would have armed my people in her defence. When victory
supplied me with the means of re-establishing your ancient laws, in your
capital, and a portion of your provinces, I did so without seeking to
prolong the war, which might have continued to waste the blood of my

"I love your nation! For sixteen years I have found your soldiers by my
side on the plains of Italy and Spain. I applaud what you have done; I
authorize your future efforts; I will do all which depends on me to
second your resolutions. If your efforts be unanimous, you may cherish
the hope of compelling your enemies to recognize your rights; but in
countries so distant and extensive, it must be entirely on the exertions
of the population which inhabits them, that you can justly ground hopes
of success.

"From the first moment of my entering Poland, I have used the same
language to you. To this it is my duty to add, that I have guaranteed to
the emperor of Austria the integrity of his dominions, and that I cannot
sanction any manoeuvre, or the least movement, tending to disturb the
peaceable possession of what remains to him of the Polish provinces.

"Only provide that Lithuania, Samogitia, Witepsk, Polotsk, Mohilef,
Volhynia, the Ukraine, Podolia, be animated by the same spirit which I
have witnessed in the Greater Poland; and Providence will crown your
good cause with success. I will recompense that devotion of your
provinces which renders you so interesting, and has acquired you so many
claims to my esteem and protection, by every means that can, under the
circumstances, depend upon me."

The Poles had imagined that they were addressing the sovereign arbiter
of the world, whose every word was a law, and whom no political
compromise was capable of arresting. They were unable to comprehend the
cause of the circumspection of this reply. They began to doubt the
intentions of Napoleon; the zeal of some was cooled; the lukewarmness of
others confirmed; all were intimidated. Even those around him asked each
other what could be the motives of a prudence which appeared so
unseasonable, and with him so unusual. "What, then, was the object of
this war? Was he afraid of Austria? Had the retreat of the Russians
disconcerted him? Did he doubt his good fortune, or was he unwilling to
contract, in the face of Europe, engagements which he was not sure of
being able to fulfil?

"Had the coldness of the Lithuanians infected him? or rather, did he
dread the explosion of a patriotism which he might not be able to
master? Was he still undecided as to the destiny he should bestow upon

Whatever were his motives, it was obviously his wish that the
Lithuanians should appear to liberate themselves; but as, at the same
time, he created a government for them, and gave a direction to their
public feeling, that circumstance placed him, as well as them, in a
false position, wherein every thing terminated in errors,
contradictions, and half measures. There was no reciprocal understanding
between the parties; a mutual distrust was the result. The Poles desired
some positive guarantees in return for the many sacrifices they were
called upon to make. But their union in a single kingdom not having been
pronounced, the alarm which is common at the moment of great decisions
increased, and the confidence which they had just lost in him, they also
lost in themselves. It was then that he nominated seven Lithuanians to
the task of composing the new government. This choice was unlucky in
some points; it displeased the jealous pride of an aristocracy at all
times difficult to satisfy.

The four Lithuanian provinces of Wilna, Minsk, Grodno, and Bialystok,
had each a government commission and national sub-prefects. Each commune
was to have its municipality; but Lithuania was, in reality, governed by
an imperial commissioner, and by four French auditors, with the title of

In short, from these, perhaps inevitable, faults, and from the disorders
of an army placed between the alternative of famishing, or plundering
its allies, there resulted a universal coolness. The emperor could not
remain blind to it; he had calculated on four millions of Lithuanians; a
few thousands were all that joined him! Their pospolite, which he had
estimated at more than 100,000 men, had decreed him a guard of honour;
only three horsemen attended him! The population of Volhynia remained
immoveable, and Napoleon again appealed from them to victory. When
fortunate, this coolness did not disturb him sufficiently; when
unfortunate, whether through pride or justice, he did not complain of

As for us, ever confident in him and in ourselves, the disposition of
the Lithuanians at first affected us very little; but when our forces
diminished, we looked about us, and our attention was awakened by our
danger. Three Lithuanian generals, distinguished by their names, their
property, and their sentiments, followed the emperor. The French
generals at last reproached them with the coolness of their countrymen.
The ardour of the people of Warsaw, in 1806, was held out to them as an
example. The warm discussion which ensued, passed, like several others
similar, which it is necessary to record, at Napoleon's quarters, near
the spot where he was employed; and as there was truth on both sides;
as, in these conversations, the opposite allegations contended without
destroying each other; and as the first and last causes of the coolness
of the Lithuanians were therein revealed, it is impossible to omit them.

These generals then replied, "That they considered they had received
becomingly the liberty which we brought them; that, moreover, every one
expressed regard according to his habitual character; that the
Lithuanians were more cold in their manner than the Poles, and
consequently less communicative; that, after all, the sentiment might be
the same, though the expression was different.

"That, besides, there was no similarity in the cases; that in 1806, it
was after having conquered the Prussians, that the French had delivered
Poland; that now, on the contrary, if they delivered Lithuania from the
Russian yoke, it was before they had subjugated Russia. That, in this
manner, it was natural for the first to receive a victorious and certain
freedom with transport; and equally natural for the last to receive an
uncertain and dangerous liberty with gravity; that a benefit was not
purchased with the same air as if it were gratuitously accepted; that
six years back, at Warsaw, there was nothing to be done but to prepare
festivals; while at Wilna, where the whole power of Russia had just been
exhibited, where its army was known to be untouched, and the motives of
its retreat understood, it was for battles that preparation was to be

"And with what means? Why was not that liberty offered to them in 1807?
Lithuania was then rich and populous. Since that time the continental
system, by sealing up the only vent for its productions, had
impoverished it, while Russian foresight had depopulated it of recruits,
and more recently of a multitude of nobles, peasants, waggons, and
cattle, which the Russian army had carried away with it."

To these causes they added "the famine resulting from the severity of
the season in 1811, and the damage to which the over-rich wheats of
those countries are subject. But why not make an appeal to the provinces
of the south? In that quarter there were men, horses, and provisions of
all kinds. They had nothing to do but to drive away Tormasof and his
army from them. Schwartzenberg was, perhaps, marching in that direction;
but was it to the Austrians, the uneasy usurpers of Gallicia, that they
ought to confide the liberation of Volhynia? Would they station liberty
so near slavery? Why did not they send Frenchmen and Poles there? But
then it would be necessary to halt, to carry on a more methodical war,
and allow time for organization; while Napoleon, doubtless urged by his
distance from his own territory, by the daily expense of provisioning
his immense army, depending on that alone, and hurrying after victory,
sacrificed every thing to the hope of finishing the war at a single

Here the speakers were interrupted: these reasons, though true,
appeared insufficient excuses. "They concealed the most powerful cause
of the immobility of their countrymen; it was to be discovered in the
interested attachment of their grandees to the crafty policy of Russia,
which flattered their self-love, respected their customs, and secured
their right over the peasants, whom the French came to set free.
Doubtless, national independence appeared too dear a purchase at such a

This reproach was well founded, and although it was not personal, the
Lithuanian generals became irritated at it. One of them exclaimed, "You
talk of our independence; but it must be in great peril, since you, at
the head of 400,000 men, are afraid to commit yourselves by its
recognition; indeed, you have not recognized it either by your words or
actions. You have placed auditors, men quite new, at the head of an
administration equally new, to govern our provinces. They levy heavy
contributions, but they forget to inform us for whom it is that we make
such sacrifices, as are only made for our country. They exhibit to us
the emperor everywhere, but the republic hitherto nowhere. You have held
out no object to set us in motion, and you complain of our being
unsteady. Persons whom we do not respect as our countrymen, you set over
us as our chiefs. Notwithstanding our entreaties, Wilna remains
separated from Warsaw; disunited as we thus are, you require of us that
confidence in our strength which union alone can give. The soldiers you
expect from us are offered you; 30,000 would be now ready; but you have
refused them arms, clothing, and the money in which we are deficient."

All these imputations might still have been combated; but he added:
"True, we do not market for liberty, but we find that in fact it is not
disinterestedly offered. Wherever you go, the report of your disorders
precedes your march; nor are they partial, since your army marches upon
a line of fifty leagues in front. Even at Wilna, notwithstanding the
multiplied orders of your emperor, the suburbs have been pillaged, and
it is natural that a liberty which brings such licence with it should be

"What then do you expect from our zeal? A happy countenance,
acclamations of joy, accents of gratitude?--when every day each of us is
apprised that his villages and granaries are devastated; for the little
which the Russians did not carry away with them, your famishing columns
have devoured. In their rapid marches, a multitude of marauders of all
nations, against whom it is necessary to keep on the watch, detach
themselves from their wings.

"What do you require more? that our countrymen should throng your
passage; bring you their grain and cattle; that they should offer
themselves completely armed and ready to follow you? Alas! what have
they to give you? Your pillagers take all; there is not even time for
them to make you the offer. Turn your eyes round towards the entrance of
the imperial head-quarters. Do you see that man? He is all but naked; he
groans and extends towards you a hand of supplication. That unhappy man
who excites your pity, is one of those very nobles whose assistance you
look for: yesterday, he was hurrying to meet you, full of ardour, with
his daughter, his vassals, and his wealth; he was coming to present
himself to your emperor; but he met with some Wurtemberg pillagers on
his way, and was robbed of every thing; he is no longer a father,--he is
scarcely a man."

Every one shuddered, and hurried to assist him; Frenchmen, Germans,
Lithuanians, all agreed in deploring those disorders, for which no one
could suggest a remedy. How, in fact, was it possible to restore
discipline among such immense masses, so precipitately propelled,
conducted by so many leaders of different manners, characters, and
countries, and forced to resort to plunder for subsistence?

In Prussia, the emperor had only caused the army to supply itself with
provisions for twenty days. This was as much as was necessary for the
purpose of gaining Wilna by a battle. Victory was to have done the rest,
but that victory was postponed by the retreat of the enemy. The emperor
might have waited for his convoys; but as by surprising the Russians he
had separated them, he did not wish to forego his grasp and lose his
advantage. He, therefore, pushed forward on their track 400,000 men,
with twenty days' provisions, into a country which was incapable of
feeding the 20,000 Swedes of Charles XII.

It was not for want of foresight; for immense convoys of oxen followed
the army, either in herds, or attached to the provision cars. Their
drivers had been organized into battalions. It is true that the latter,
wearied with the slow pace of these heavy animals, either slaughtered
them, or suffered them to die of want. A great number, however, got as
far as Wilna and Minsk; some reached Smolensk, but too late; they could
only be of service to the recruits and reinforcements which followed us.

On the other hand, Dantzic contained so much corn, that she alone might
have fed the whole army; she also supplied Königsberg. Its provisions
had ascended the Pregel in large barges up to Vehlau, and in lighter
craft as far as Insterburg. The other convoys went by land-carriage from
Königsberg to Labiau, and from thence, by means of the Niemen and the
Vilia, to Kowno and Wilna. But the water of the Vilia having shrunk so
much through drought as to be incapable of floating these transports, it
became necessary to find other means of conveyance.

Napoleon hated jobbers. It was his wish that the administration of the
army should organize the Lithuanian waggons; 500 were assembled, but the
appearance of them disgusted him. He then permitted contracts to be made
with the Jews, who are the only traders in the country; and the
provisions stopped at Kowno at last arrived at Wilna, but the army had
already left it.


It was the largest column, that of the centre, which suffered most; it
followed the road which the Russians had ruined, and of which the French
advanced guard had just completed the spoliation. The columns which
proceeded by lateral routes found necessaries there, but were not
sufficiently careful in collecting and in economizing them.

The responsibility of the calamities which this rapid march occasioned
ought not, therefore, to be laid entirely on Napoleon, for order and
discipline were maintained in the army of Davoust; it suffered less from
dearth: it was nearly the same with that of Prince Eugene. When pillage
was resorted to in these two corps, it was always with method, and
nothing but necessary injury was inflicted; the soldiers were obliged to
carry several days' provisions, and prevented from wasting them. The
same precautions should have been taken elsewhere; but, whether it was
owing to the habit of making war in fertile countries, or to habitual
ardour of constitution, many of the other chiefs thought much less of
administering than of fighting.

On that account, Napoleon was frequently compelled to shut his eyes to a
system of plunder which he vainly prohibited: too well aware, also, of
the attraction which that mode of subsistence had for the soldier; that
it made him love war, because it enriched him; that it pleased him, in
consequence of the authority which it frequently gave him over classes
superior to his own; that in his eyes it had all the charm of a war of
the poor against the rich; finally, that the pleasure of being, and
proving that he was the strongest, was under such circumstances
incessantly repeated and brought home to him.

Napoleon, however, grew indignant at the intelligence of these excesses.
He issued a threatening proclamation, and he directed moveable columns
of French and Lithuanians to see to its execution. We, who were
irritated at the sight of the pillagers, were eager to pursue and punish
them; but when we had stripped them of the bread, or of the cattle which
they had been robbing, and when we saw them, slowly retiring, sometimes
eyeing us with a look of condensed despair, sometimes bursting into
tears; and when we heard them murmuring, that, "not content with giving
them nothing, we wrested every thing from them, and that, consequently,
our intention must be to let them perish of hunger;" We, then, in our
turn, accusing ourselves of barbarity to our own people, called them
back, and restored their prey to them. Indeed, it was imperious
necessity which impelled to plunder. The officers themselves had no
other means of subsistence than the share which the soldiers allowed

A position of so much excess engendered fresh excesses. These rude men,
with arms in their hands, when assailed by so many immoderate wants,
could not remain moderate. When they arrived near any habitations, they
were famished; at first they asked, but, either for want of being
understood, or from the refusal or impossibility of the inhabitants to
satisfy their demands, and of their inability to wait, altercations
generally arose; then, as they became more and more exasperated with
hunger, they became furious, and after tumbling either cottage or palace
topsy-turvy, without finding the subsistence they were in quest of,
they, in the violence of their despair, accused the inhabitants of being
their enemies, and revenged themselves on the proprietors by destroying
their property.

There were some who actually destroyed themselves, rather than proceed
to such extremities; others did the same after having done so: these
were the youngest. They placed their foreheads on their muskets, and
blew out their brains in the middle of the high-road. But many became
hardened; one excess led them to another, as people often grow angry
with the blows which they inflict. Among the latter, some vagabonds took
vengeance of their distresses upon persons; in the midst of so
inauspicious an aspect of nature, they became denaturalized; abandoned
to themselves at so great a distance from home, they imagined that every
thing was allowed them, and that their own sufferings authorized them in
making others suffer.

In an army so numerous, and composed of so many nations, it was natural
also to find more malefactors than in smaller ones: the causes of so
many evils induced fresh ones; already enfeebled by famine, it was
necessary to make forced marches in order to escape from it, and to
reach the enemy. At night when they halted, the soldiers thronged into
the houses; there, worn out with fatigue and want, they threw themselves
upon the first dirty straw they met with.

The most robust had barely spirits left to knead the flour which they
found, and to light the ovens with which all those wooden houses were
supplied; others had scarcely strength to go a few paces in order to
make the fires necessary to cook some food; their officers, exhausted
like themselves, feebly gave orders to take more care, and neglected to
see that their orders were obeyed. A piece of burnt wood, at such times
escaping from an oven, or a spark from the fire of the bivouacs, was
sufficient to set fire to a castle or a whole village, and to cause the
deaths of many unfortunate soldiers who had taken refuge in them. In
other respects, these disorders were very rare in Lithuania.

The emperor was not ignorant of these details, but he had committed
himself too far. Even at Wilna, all these disorders had taken place; the
Duke of Treviso, among others, informed him, "that he had seen, from the
Niemen to the Vilia, nothing but ruined habitations, and baggage and
provision-waggons abandoned; they were found dispersed on the highways
and in the fields, overturned, broke open, and their contents scattered
here and there, and pillaged, as if they had been taken by the enemy: he
should have imagined himself following a defeated army. Ten thousand
horses had been killed by the cold rains of the great storm, and by the
unripe rye, which had become their new and only food. Their carcases
were lying encumbering the road: they sent forth a mephitic smell
impossible to breathe: it was a new scourge, which some compared to
famine, but much more terrible: several soldiers of the young guard had
already perished of hunger."

Up to that point Napoleon listened with calmness, but here he abruptly
interrupted the speaker. Wishing to escape from distress by incredulity,
he exclaimed, "It is impossible! where are their twenty days' provisions?
Soldiers well commanded never die of hunger."

A general, the author of this last report, was present. Napoleon turned
towards him; appealed to him, and pressed him with questions; and that
general, either from weakness or uncertainty, replied, "that the
individuals referred to had not died of hunger, but of intoxication."

The emperor then remained convinced that the privations of the soldiers
had been exaggerated to him. As to the rest, he exclaimed, "The loss of
the horses must be borne with; of some equipages, and even some
habitations; it was a torrent that rolled away: it was the worst side of
the picture of war; an evil exchanged for a good; to misery her share
must be given; his treasures, his benefits would repair the loss: one
great result would make amends for all; he only required a single
victory; if sufficient means remained for accomplishing that, he should
be satisfied."

The duke remarked, that a victory might be overtaken by a more
methodical march, followed by the magazines; but he was not listened to.
Those to whom this marshal (who had just returned from Spain,)
complained, replied to him, "That, in fact the emperor grew angry at the
account of evils, which he considered irremediable, his policy imposing
on him the necessity of a prompt and decisive victory."

They added, "that they saw too clearly that the health of their leader
was impaired; and that being compelled, notwithstanding, to throw
himself into positions more and more critical, he could not survey,
without ill temper, the difficulties which he passed by, and suffered to
accumulate behind him; difficulties which he then affected to treat with
contempt, in order to disguise their importance, and preserve the energy
of mind which he himself required to surmount them. This was the reason
that, being already disturbed and fatigued by the new and critical
situation into which he had thrown himself, and impatient to escape from
it, he kept marching on, always pushing his army forward, in order to
bring matters sooner to a termination."

Thus it was that Napoleon was constrained to shut his eyes to facts. It
is well known that the greater part of his ministers were not
flatterers. Both facts and men spoke sufficiently; but what could they
teach him? Of what was he ignorant? Had not all his preparations been
dictated by the most clear-sighted foresight? What could be said to him,
which he had not himself said and written a hundred times? It was after
having anticipated the minutest details; having prepared for every
inconvenience, having provided every thing for a slow and methodical
war, that he divested himself of all these precautions, that he
abandoned all these preparations, and suffered himself to be hurried
away by habit, by the necessity of short wars, of rapid victories, and
sudden treaties of peace.


It was in the midst of these grave circumstances that Balachoff, a
minister of the Russian emperor, presented himself with a flag of truce
at the French advanced posts. He was received, and the army, now become
less ardent, indulged anticipations of peace.

He brought this message from Alexander to Napoleon, "That it was not yet
too late to negotiate; a war which the soil, the climate, and the
character of Russia, rendered interminable, was begun; but all
reconciliation was not become impossible, and from one bank of the
Niemen to the other they might yet come to an understanding." He,
moreover, added, "that his master declared, in the face of Europe, that
he was not the aggressor; that his ambassador at Paris, in demanding his
passports, did not consider himself as having broken the peace; that
thus, the French had entered Russia without a declaration of war." There
were, however, no fresh overtures, either verbal or written, presented
by Balachoff.

The choice of this flag of truce had been remarked; he was the minister
of the Russian police; that office required an observant spirit, and it
was thought that he was sent to exercise it amongst us. What rendered us
more mistrustful of the character of the negotiator was, that the
negotiation appeared to have no character, unless it were that of great
moderation, which, under the actual circumstances, was taken for

Napoleon did not hesitate. He would not stop at Paris; how could he then
retreat at Wilna? What would Europe think? What result could he exhibit
to the French and allied armies as a motive for so many fatigues; for
such vast movements; for such enormous individual and national
expenditure: it would be confessing himself vanquished. Besides, his
language before so many princes, since his departure from Paris, had
pledged him as much as his actions; so that, in fact, he found himself
as much compromised on the score of his allies as of his enemies. Even
then, it is said, the warmth of conversation with Balachoff hurried him
away. "What had brought him to Wilna? What did the Emperor of Russia
want with him? Did he pretend to resist him? He was only a parade
general. As to himself, his head was his counsellor; from that every
thing proceeded. But as to Alexander,--who was there to counsel him?
Whom had he to oppose to him? He had only three generals,--Kutusof, whom
he did not like, because he was a Russian; Beningsen, superannuated six
years ago, and now in his second childhood; and Barclay: the last could
certainly manoeuvre; he was brave; he understood war; but he was a
general only good for a retreat." And he added, "You all believe
yourselves to understand the art of war, because you have read Jomini;
but if his book could have taught it you, do you think that I should
have allowed it to be published?" In this conversation, of which the
above is the Russian version, it is certain that he added, "that,
however, the Emperor Alexander had friends even in the imperial
head-quarters." Then, pointing out Caulaincourt to the Russian minister,
"There," said he, "is a knight of your emperor; he is a Russian in the
French camp."

Probably Caulaincourt did not sufficiently comprehend, that by that
expression Napoleon only wished to point him out as a negotiator who
would be agreeable to Alexander; for as soon as Balachoff was gone, he
advanced towards the emperor, and in an angry tone, asked him why he had
insulted him? exclaiming, "that he was a Frenchman! a true Frenchman!
that he had proved it already; and would prove it again by repeating,
that this war was impolitic and dangerous; that it would destroy his
army, France, and himself. That, as to the rest, as he had just insulted
him, he should quit him; that all that he asked of him was a division in
Spain, where nobody wished to serve, and the furthest from his presence
possible." The emperor attempted to appease him; but not being able to
obtain a hearing, he withdrew, Caulaincourt still pursuing him with his
reproaches. Berthier, who was present at this scene, interposed without
effect. Bessières, more in the back-ground, had vainly tried to detain
Caulaincourt by holding him by the coat.

The next day, Napoleon was unable to bring his grand equerry into his
presence, without formal and repeated orders. At length he appeased him
by caresses, and by the expression of an esteem and attachment which
Caulaincourt well deserved. But he dismissed Balachoff with verbal and
inadmissible proposals.

Alexander made no reply to them; the full importance of the step he had
just taken was not at the time properly comprehended. It was his
determination neither to address nor even answer Napoleon any more. It
was a last word before an irreparable breach; and that circumstance
rendered it remarkable.

Meantime, Murat pursued the flying steps of that victory which was so
much coveted; he commanded the cavalry of the advanced guard; he at last
reached the enemy on the road to Swentziani, and drove him in the
direction of Druïa. Every morning, the Russian rear-guard appeared to
have escaped him; every evening he overtook it again, and attacked it,
but always in a strong position, after a long march, too late, and
before his men had taken any refreshment; there were, consequently,
every day fresh combats, producing no important results.

Other chiefs, by other routes, followed the same direction. Oudinot had
passed the Vilia beyond Kowno, and already in Samogitia, to the north of
Wilna, at Deweltowo, and at Vilkomir, had fallen in with the enemy, whom
he drove before him towards Dünabourg. In this manner he marched on, to
the left of Ney and the King of Naples, whose right was flanked by
Nansouty. From the 15th of July, the river Düna, from Disna to
Dünabourg, had been approached by Murat, Montbrun, Sebastiani, and
Nansouty, by Oudinot and Ney, and by three divisions of the 1st corps,
placed under the orders of the Count de Lobau.

It was Oudinot who presented himself before Dünabourg: he made an
attempt on that town, which the Russians had vainly attempted to
fortify. This too eccentric march of Oudinot displeased Napoleon. The
river separated the two armies. Oudinot re-ascended it in order to put
himself in communication with Murat; and Wittgenstein, in order to form
a junction with Barclay. Dünabourg remained without assailants and
without defenders.

On his march, Wittgenstein had a view, from the right bank, of Druïa,
and a vanguard of French cavalry, which occupied that town with too
negligent a security. Encouraged by the approach of night, he made one
of his corps pass the river, and on the 15th, in the morning, the
advanced posts of one of our brigades were surprised, sabred, and
carried off. After this, Wittgenstein recalled his people to the right
bank, and pursued his way with his prisoners, among whom was a French
general. This _coup-de-main_ gave Napoleon reason to hope for a battle:
believing that Barclay was resuming the offensive, he suspended, for a
short time, his march upon Witepsk, in order to concentrate his troops
and direct them according to circumstances. This hope, however, was of
short duration.

During these events, Davoust, at Osmiana, to the south of Wilna, had got
sight of some scouts of Bagration, who was already anxiously seeking an
outlet towards the north. Up to that time, short of a victory, the plan
of the campaign adopted at Paris had completely succeeded. Aware that
the enemy was extended over too long a defensive line, Napoleon had
broken it by briskly attacking it in one direction, and by so doing had
thrown it back and pursued its largest mass upon the Düna; while
Bagration, whom he had not brought into contact till five days later,
was still upon the Niemen. During an interval of several days, and over
a front of eighty leagues, the manoeuvre was the same as that which
Frederic the Second had often employed upon a line of two leagues, and
during an interval of some few hours.

Already Doctorof, and several scattered divisions of each of these two
separated masses had only escaped by favour of the extent of the
country, of chance, and of the usual causes of that ignorance, which
always exists during war, as to what passes close at hand in the ranks
of an enemy.

Several persons have pretended that there was too much circumspection or
too much negligence in the first operations of the invasion; that from
the Vistula, the assailing army had received orders to march with all
the precaution of one attacked; that the aggression once commenced, and
Alexander having fled, the advanced guard of Napoleon ought to have
re-ascended the two banks of the Vilia with more celerity and more in
advance, and that the army of Italy should have followed this movement
more closely. Perhaps Doctorof, who commanded the left wing of Barclay,
being forced to cross our line of attack, in order to fly from Lida
toward Swentziany, might then have been made prisoner. Pajol repulsed
him at Osmiana; but he escaped by Smorgony. Nothing but his baggage was
taken; and Napoleon laid the blame of his escape on Prince Eugene,
although he had himself prescribed to him every one of his movements.

But the army of Italy, the Bavarian army, the 1st corps and the guard,
very soon occupied and surrounded Wilna. There it was that, stretched
out over his maps (which he was obliged to examine in that manner, on
account of his short sight, which he shared with Alexander the Great and
Frederic the Second), Napoleon followed the course of the Russian army;
it was divided into two unequal masses: one with its emperor towards
Drissa, the other with Bagration, who was still in the direction of Myr.

Eighty leagues in front of Wilna, the Düna and the Boristhenes separate
Lithuania from old Russia. At first, these two rivers run parallel to
each other from east to west, leaving between them an interval of about
twenty-five leagues of an unequal, woody, and marshy soil. They arrive
in that manner from the interior of Russia, on its frontiers; at this
point, at the same time, and as if in concert, they turn off; the one
abruptly at Orcha towards the south; the other, near Witepsk, towards
the north-west. It is in that new direction that their course traces the
frontiers of Lithuania and old Russia.

The narrow space which these two rivers leave between them before taking
this opposite direction seems to constitute the entrance, and as it were
the gates of Muscovy. It is the focus of the roads which lead to the two
capitals of that empire.

Napoleon's whole attention was directed to that point. By the retreat of
Alexander upon Drissa, he foresaw that which Bagration would attempt to
make from Grodno towards Witepsk, through Osmiana, Minsk, and
Docktzitzy, or by Borizof; he determined to prevent it, and instantly
pushed forward Davoust towards Minsk, between these two hostile bodies,
with two divisions of infantry, the cuirassiers of Valence, and several
brigades of light cavalry.

On his right, the king of Westphalia was to drive Bagration on Davoust,
who would cut off his communication with Alexander, make him surrender,
and get possession of the course of the Boristhenes; on his left, Murat,
Oudinot, and Ney, already before Drissa, were directed to keep Barclay
and his emperor in their front; he himself with the _élite_ of his army,
the army of Italy, the Bavarian army, and three divisions detached from
Davoust, was to march upon Witepsk between Davoust and Murat, ready to
join one or the other of them; in this manner penetrating and
interposing between the two hostile armies, forcing himself between them
and beyond them; finally, keeping them separate, not only by that
central position, but by the uncertainty which it would create in
Alexander as to which of his two capitals it would be requisite for him
to defend. Circumstances would decide the rest.

Such was Napoleon's plan on the 10th of July at Wilna; it was written in
this form on that very day under his dictation, and corrected by his own
hand, for one of his chiefs, the individual who was most concerned in
its execution. Immediately, the movement, which was already begun,
became general.


The king of Westphalia then went along the Niemen at Grodno, with a view
to repass it at Bielitza, to overpower the right of Bagration, put it to
the rout, and pursue it.

This Saxon, Westphalian, and Polish army had in front of it a general
and a country both difficult to conquer. It fell to its lot to invade
the elevated plain of Lithuania: there are the sources of the rivers
which empty their waters into the Black and Baltic seas. But the soil
there is slow in determining their inclination and their current, so
that the waters stagnate and overflow the country to a great extent.
Some narrow causeways had been thrown over those woody and marshy
plains; they formed there long defiles, which Bagration was easily
enabled to defend against the king of Westphalia. The latter attacked
him carelessly; his advanced guard only three times encountered the
enemy, at Nowogrodeck, at Myr, and at Romanof. The first rencontre was
entirely to the advantage of the Russians; in the two others,
Latour-Maubourg remained master of a sanguinary and contested field of

At the same time, Davoust, proceeding from Osmiana, extended his force
towards Minsk and Ygumen, behind the Russian general, and made himself
master of the outlet of the defiles, in which the king of Westphalia was
compelling Bagration to engage himself.

Between this general and his retreat was a river which takes its source
in an infectious marsh; its uncertain, slow, and languid current, across
a rotten soil, does not belie its origin; its muddy waters flow towards
the south-east; its name possesses a fatal celebrity, for which it is
indebted to our misfortunes.

The wooden bridges, and long causeways, which, in order to approach it,
had been thrown over the adjacent marshes, abut upon a town named
Borizof, situated on its left bank, on the Russian side. This bank is
generally higher than the right; a remark applicable to all the rivers
which in this country run in the direction of one pole to the other,
their eastern bank commanding their western bank, as Asia does Europe.

This passage was important; Davoust anticipated Bagration there by
taking possession of Minsk on the 8th of July, as well as the entire
country from the Vilia to the Berezina; accordingly when the Russian
prince and his army, summoned by Alexander, to the north, pushed forward
their piquets, in the first instance upon Lida, and afterwards
successively upon Olzania, Vieznowo, Troki, Bolzoï, and Sobsnicki, they
came in contact with Davoust, and were forced to fall back upon their
main body. They then bent their course a little more in the rear and to
the right, and made a new attempt on Minsk, but there again they found
Davoust. A scanty platoon of that marshal's vanguard was entering by one
gate, when the advanced guard of Bagration presented itself at another;
on which, the Russian retreated once more into his marshes, towards the

At this intelligence, observing Bagration and 40,000 Russians cut off
from the army of Alexander, and enveloped by two rivers and two armies,
Napoleon exclaimed, "I have them!" In fact, it only required three
marches more to have hemmed in Bagration completely. But Napoleon, who
since accused Davoust of suffering the escape of the left wing of the
Russians by remaining four days in Minsk, and afterwards, with more
justice, the king of Westphalia, had just then placed that monarch under
the orders of the marshal. It was this change, which was made too late,
and in the midst of an operation, which destroyed the unity of it.

This order arrived at the very moment when Bagration, repulsed from
Minsk, had no other retreat open to him than a long and narrow causeway.
It occurs on the marshes of Nieswig, Shlutz, Glusck, and Bobruisk.
Davoust wrote to the king to push the Russians briskly into this defile,
the outlet of which at Glusck he was about to occupy. Bagration would
never have been able to get out of it. But the king, already irritated
by the reproaches which the uncertainty and dilatoriness of his first
operations had brought upon him, could not suffer a subject to be his
commander; he quitted his army, without leaving any one to replace him,
or without even communicating, if we are to credit Davoust, to any of
his generals, the order which he had just received. He was permitted to
retire into Westphalia without his guard; which he accordingly did.

Meanwhile Davoust vainly waited for Bagration at Glusck. That general,
not being sufficiently pressed by the Westphalian army, had the option
of making a new _detour_ towards the south, to get to Bobruisk, and
there cross the Berezina, and reach the Boristhenes near Bickof. There
again, if the Westphalian army had had a commander, if that commander
had pressed the Russian leader more closely, if he had replaced him at
Bickof, when he came in collision with Davoust at Mohilef, it is certain
that in that case Bagration, enclosed between the Westphalians, Davoust,
the Boristhenes, and the Berezina, would have been compelled to conquer
or to surrender We have seen that the Russian prince could not pass the
Berezina but at Bobruisk, nor reach the Boristhenes, except in the
direction of Novoï-Bikof, forty leagues to the south of Orcha, and sixty
leagues from Witepsk, which it was his object to reach.

Finding himself driven so far out of his track, he hastened to regain it
by reascending the Boristhenes, to Mohilef. But there again he found
Davoust, who had anticipated him at Lida by passing the Berezina at the
very point at which Charles XII. had formerly done so.

This marshal, however, had not expected to find the Russian prince on
the road to Mohilef. He believed him to be already on the left bank of
the Boristhenes. Their mutual surprise turned in the first instance to
the advantage of Bagration, who cut off a whole regiment of his light
cavalry. At that time Bagration had with him 35,000 men, Davoust 12,000.
On the 23d of July, the latter chose an elevated ground, defended by a
ravine, and flanked by two woods. The Russians had no means of extending
themselves on this field of battle; they, nevertheless, accepted the
challenge. Their numbers were there useless; they attacked like men sure
of victory; they did not even think of profiting by the woods, in order
to turn Davoust's right.

The Muscovites say that, in the middle of the contest they were seized
with a panic at the idea of finding themselves in the presence of
Napoleon; for each of the enemy's generals imagined him to be opposed
to them, Bagration at Mohilef; and Barclay at Drissa. He was believed to
be in all places at once: so greatly does renown magnify the man of
genius! so strangely does it fill the world with its fame! and convert
him into an omnipresent and supernatural being!

The attack was violent and obstinate on the part of the Russians, but
without scientific combination. Bagration was roughly repulsed, and
again compelled to retrace his steps. He finally crossed the Boristhenes
at Novoï-Bikof, where he re-entered the Russian interior, in order
finally to unite with Barclay, beyond Smolensk.

Napoleon disdained to attribute this disappointment to the ability of
the enemy's general; he referred it to the incapacity of his own. He
already discovered that his presence was necessary every where, which
rendered it every where impossible. The circle of his operations was so
much enlarged, that, being compelled to remain in the centre, his
presence was wanting on the whole of the circumference. His generals,
exhausted like himself, too independent of each other, too much
separated, and at the same time too dependent upon him, ventured to do
less of themselves, and frequently waited for his orders. His influence
was weakened over so great an extent. It required too great a soul for
so great a body; his, vast as it was, was not sufficient for the

But at length, on the 16th of July, the whole army was in motion. While
all were hurrying and exerting themselves in this manner, he was still
at Wilna, which he caused to be fortified. He there ordered a levy of
eleven Lithuanian regiments. He established the duke of Bassano as
governor of Lithuania, and as the centre of administrative, political,
and even military communication between him, Europe, and the generals
commanding the _corps de armée_ which were not to follow him to Moscow.

This ostensible inactivity of Napoleon at Wilna lasted twenty days. Some
thought that, finding himself in the centre of his operations with a
strong reserve, he awaited the event, in readiness to direct his motions
either towards Davoust, Murat, or Macdonald; others thought that the
organization of Lithuania, and the politics of Europe, to which he was
more proximate at Wilna, retained him in that city; or that he did not
anticipate any obstacles worthy of him till he reached the Düna; a
circumstance in which he was not deceived, but by which he was too much
flattered. The precipitate evacuation of Lithuania by the Russians
seemed to dazzle his judgment; of this Europe will be the best judge;
his bulletins repeated his words.

"Here then is that Russian empire, so formidable at a distance! It is a
desert, for which its scattered population is wholly insufficient. They
will be vanquished by its very extent, which ought to defend them. They
are barbarians. They are scarcely possessed of arms. They have no
recruits in readiness. Alexander will require more time to collect them
than he will take to reach Moscow. It is true that, from the moment of
the passage of the Niemen, the atmosphere has been incessantly deluging
or drying up the unsheltered soil; but this calamity is less an obstacle
to the rapidity of our advance, than an impediment to the flight of the
Russians. They are conquered without a combat by their weakness alone;
by the memory of our victories; by the remorse which dictates the
restitution of that Lithuania, which they have acquired neither by peace
nor war, but solely by treachery."

To these motives of the stay, perhaps too protracted, which Napoleon
made at Wilna, those who were nearest to his person have added another.
They remarked to each other, "that a genius so vast as his, and always
increasing in activity and audacity, was not now seconded as it had been
formerly by a vigorous constitution. They were alarmed at finding their
chief no longer insensible to the heat of a burning atmosphere; and they
remarked to each other with melancholy forebodings, the tendency to
corpulence by which his frame was now distinguished; the sure sign of a
premature debility of system."

Some of them attributed this to his frequent use of the bath. They were
ignorant, that, far from being a habit of luxury, this had become to him
an indispensable relief from a bodily ailment of a serious and alarming
character[17], which his policy carefully concealed, in order not to
excite cruel expectations in his adversaries.

[Footnote 17: The _dysuria_, or retention of urine.]

Such is the inevitable and unhappy influence of the most trivial causes
over the destiny of nations. It will be shortly seen, when the
profoundest combinations, which ought to have secured the success of the
boldest, and perhaps the most useful enterprise in a European point of
view, come to be developed;--how, at the decisive moment, on the plains
of the Moskwa, nature paralysed the genius, and the man was wanting to
the hero. The numerous battalions of Russia could not have defended her;
a stormy day, a sudden attack of fever, were her salvation.

It will be only just and proper to revert to this observation, when, in
examining the picture which I shall be forced to trace of the battle of
the Moskwa, I shall be found repeating all the complaints, and even the
reproaches, which an unusual inactivity and languor extorted from the
most devoted friends and constant admirers of this great man. Most of
them, as well as those who have subsequently given an account of the
battle, were unaware of the bodily sufferings of a chief, who, in the
midst of his depression, exerted himself to conceal their cause. That
which was eminently a misfortune, these narrators have designated as a

Besides, at 800 leagues' distance from one's home, after so many
fatigues and sacrifices, at the instant when they saw the victory escape
from their grasp, and a frightful prospect revealed itself, it was
natural for them to be severe; and they had suffered too much, to be
quite impartial.

As for myself, I shall not conceal what I witnessed, in the persuasion
that truth is of all tributes that which is alone worthy of a great
man; of that illustrious captain, who had so often contrived to extract
prodigious advantages from every occurrence, not excepting his reverses;
of that man who raised himself to so great an eminence, that posterity
will scarcely be enabled to distinguish the clouds scattered over a
glory so brilliant.


Meantime, he was apprised that his orders were fulfilled, his army
united, and that a battle claimed his presence. He at length departed
from Wilna on the 16th of July, at half-past eleven at night; he stopped
at Swentziani, while the heat of the 17th was most oppressive; on the
18th he was at Klubokoe: taking up his residence at a monastery, whence
he observed that the village which it commanded bore more resemblance to
an assemblage of savage huts than to European habitations.

An address of the Russians to the French soldiers had just been
dispersed throughout his army. He found in it some idle abuse, coupled
with a nugatory and unskilful invitation to desert. His anger was
excited at its perusal; in his first agitation, he dictated a reply,
which he tore; then a second, which experienced the same fate; at length
a third, with which he expressed himself satisfied. It was that which
was, at the time, read in the journals, under the signature of a French
grenadier. In this manner he dictated even the most trivial letters,
which issued from his cabinet or from his staff; he perpetually reduced
his ministers and Berthier to the condition of being mere secretaries;
his mind still retained its activity, notwithstanding his sinking frame;
their union, however, began to fail; and this was one cause of our

In the midst of this occupation, he learned that Barclay had, on the
18th, abandoned his camp at Drissa, and that he was marching towards
Witepsk. This movement opened his eyes. Detained by the check which
Sebastiani had received near Druïa, and more especially by the rains and
bad state of the roads, he found (though perhaps too late) that the
occupation of Witepsk was urgent and decisive; that that city alone was
eminently aggressive, inasmuch as it separated the two hostile rivers
and armies. From that position, he would be enabled to turn the broken
army of his rival, cut him off from his southern provinces, and crush
his weakness with superior force. He concluded that, if Barclay had
anticipated him in reaching that capital, he would doubtless defend it:
and there, perhaps, he was to expect that so-much-coveted victory which
had escaped him on the Vilia. He, therefore, instantly directed all his
corps on Beszenkowiczi; thither he summoned Murat and Ney, who were then
near Polotsk, where he left Oudinot. For himself, he proceeded from
Klubokoe (where he was surrounded by his guard, the Italian army, and
three divisions detached from Davoust), to Kamen, always in a carriage,
except during the night, either from necessity, or, perhaps, with a view
to keep his soldiers in ignorance of the inability of their chief to
share their fatigues.

Till that time, the greater part of the army had proceeded with
astonishment, at finding no enemy; they had now become habituated to the
circumstance. By day the novelty of the places, and impatience to get to
their journey's end, occupied their attention; at night the necessity of
choosing or making for themselves a place of shelter; of finding food,
and dressing it. The soldiers were so much engaged by so many cares,
that they considered themselves less employed in making war than a
troublesome journey; but if the war and the enemy were to fall back
always thus, how much farther should they have to go in search of them?
At length, on the 25th, the report of cannon was heard, and the army, as
well as the emperor, indulged their hopes of a victory and peace.

This was in the direction of Beszenkowiczi, Prince Eugene had there
encountered Doctorof, who commanded Barclay's rear-guard. In following
his leader from Polotsk to Witepsk, he cleared his way on the left bank
of the Düna to Beszenkowiczi, the bridge of which he burnt as he
retired. The viceroy, on capturing this town, came in sight of the Düna,
and re-established the passage; the few Russian troops left in
observation on the other side feebly opposed the operation. When
Napoleon contemplated, for the first time, this river, his new
conquest, he censured sharply, and not unjustly, the defective
construction of the bridge which made him master of the two banks.

It was no puerile vanity which induced him then to cross that river, but
anxiety to see with his own eyes how far the Russian army had proceeded
on its march from Drissa to Witepsk, and whether he might not attack it
on its passage, or anticipate its arrival at the latter city. But the
direction taken by the enemy's rear-guard, and the information obtained
from some prisoners, convinced him that Barclay had been beforehand with
him; that he had left Wittgenstein in front of Oudinot, and that the
Russian general-in-chief was in Witepsk. He was, indeed, already
prepared to dispute the possession of the defiles which cover that
capital with Napoleon.

Napoleon having observed on the right bank of the river nothing but the
remains of a rear-guard, returned to Beszenkowiczi. His various
divisions arrived there at the same time by the northern and western
roads. His orders of march had been executed with so much precision,
that all the corps which had left the Niemen, at different epochs, and
by different routes, notwithstanding obstacles of every description,
after a month of separation, and at a hundred leagues' distance from the
point of their departure, found themselves all reunited at
Beszenkowiczi, where they arrived on the same day, and nearly at the
same hour.

Great disorder was naturally the result; numerous columns of cavalry,
infantry, and artillery presented themselves on all sides; contests
took place for precedence; and each corps, exasperated with fatigue and
hunger, was impatient to get to its destination. Meanwhile, the streets
were blocked up with a crowd of orderlies, staff-officers, valets,
saddle-horses, and baggage. They ran through the city in tumultuous
groups; some looking for provisions, others for forage, and a few for
lodgings; there was a constant crossing and jostling; and as the influx
augmented every instant, chaos in a short time reigned throughout.

In one quarter, _aides-de-camp_, the bearers of urgent orders, vainly
sought to force a passage; the soldiers were deaf to their
remonstrances, and even to their orders: hence arose quarrels and
outcries; the noise of which, united with the beating of drums, the
oaths of the waggoners, the rumbling of the baggage-carts and cannon,
the commands of the officers, and, finally, with the tumult of the
regular contests which took place in the houses, the entrances of which,
while one party attempted to force, others, already established there,
prepared to defend.

At length, towards midnight, all these masses, which were nearly
confounded together, got disentangled; the accumulation of troops
gradually moved off in the direction of Ostrowno, or were distributed in
Beszenkowiczi; and the most profound silence succeeded the most
frightful tumult.

This great concentration, the multiplied orders which came from all
parts, the rapidity with which the various corps were pushed forward,
even during the night--all announced the expectation of a battle on the
following day. In fact, Napoleon not having been able to anticipate the
Russians in the possession of Witepsk, was determined to force them from
that position; but the latter, after having entered by the right bank of
the Düna, had passed through that city, and were now come to meet him,
in order to defend the long defiles which protect it.

On the 25th of July, Murat proceeded towards Ostrowno with his cavalry.
At the distance of two leagues from that village, Domon, Du Coëtlosquet,
Carignan, and the 8th hussars, were advancing in column upon a broad
road, lined by a double row of large birch trees. These hussars were
near reaching the summit of a hill, on which they could only get a
glimpse of the weakest portion of a corps, composed of three regiments
of cavalry of the Russian guard, and six pieces of cannon. There was not
a single rifleman to cover their line.

The colonels of the 8th imagined themselves preceded by two regiments of
their division, which had marched across the fields on the right and
left of the road, and from the view of which they were precluded by the
bordering trees. But these corps had halted; and the 8th, already
considerably in advance of them, still kept marching on, persuaded that
what it perceived through the trees, at 150 paces' distance, in its
front, were these two regiments, of which, without being aware of it, it
had got the start.

The immobility of the Russians completed the error into which the
chiefs of the 8th had fallen. The order to charge seemed to them to be a
mistake; they sent an officer to reconnoitre the troop which was before
them, and still marched on without any distrust. Suddenly they beheld
their officer sabred, knocked down, made prisoner, and the enemy's
cannon bringing down their hussars. They now hesitated no longer, and
without losing time to extend their line under the enemy's fire, they
dashed through the trees, and rushed forward to extinguish it. At the
first onset they seized the cannon, dispersed the regiment that was in
the centre of the enemy's line, and destroyed it. During the disorder of
this first success, they observed the Russian regiment on the right,
which they had passed, remaining motionless with astonishment; upon this
they returned, and attacking it in the rear dispersed it. In the midst
of this second victory, they perceived the third regiment on the enemy's
left, which was giving way in confusion, and seeking to retreat; towards
this third enemy they briskly returned, with all the men they could
muster, and attacked and dispersed it in the midst of its retreat.

Animated by this success, Murat drove the enemy into the wood of
Ostrowno, where he seemed to conceal himself. That monarch endeavoured
to penetrate the wood, but a strong resistance obstructed the attempt.

The position of Ostrowno was well chosen and commanding; those posted
there could see without being seen; it intersected the main road; it had
the Düna on the right, a ravine in front, and thick woods on its
surface and on the left. It was, moreover, in communication with
magazines; it covered them, as well as Witepsk, the capital of these
regions, which Ostermann had hurried to defend.

On his side, Murat, always as prodigal of his life, which was now that
of a victorious king, as he had formerly been when only an obscure
soldier, persisted in attacks upon these woods, notwithstanding the
heavy fire which proceeded from them. But he was soon made sensible that
a furious onset was fruitless here. The ground carried by the hussars of
the 8th was disputed with him, and his advance-column, composed of the
divisions Bruyères and Saint Germain, and of the 8th corps of infantry,
was compelled to maintain itself there against an army.

They defended themselves as victors always do, by attacking. Each
hostile corps, as it presented itself to assail our flanks, was in turn
assaulted. Their cavalry were driven back into the woods, and their
infantry broken at the point of the sabre. Our troops, nevertheless,
were getting fatigued with victory, when the division Delzons arrived;
the king promptly pushed it forward on the right, toward the line of the
enemy's retreat, who now became uneasy, and no longer disputed the

These defiles are several leagues in length. The same evening the
viceroy rejoined Murat, and the next day they found the Russians in a
new position. Pahlen and Konownitzin had united with Ostermann. After
having repulsed the Russian left, the two French princes were pointing
out to the troops of their right wing the position which was to serve
them as a _point d'appui_, from which they were to make the attack, when
suddenly a great clamour arose on their left: their eyes were instantly
turned that way; the cavalry and infantry of that wing had twice
attacked the enemy, and been twice repulsed; the Russians, emboldened by
this success, were issuing in multitudes, and with frightful cries, from
their woods. The audacity and fervour of attack had passed over to them,
while the French exhibited the uncertainty and timidity of defence.

A battalion of Croats, and the 84th regiment, vainly attempted to make a
stand; their line gradually decreased; the ground in front of them was
strewed with their dead; behind them, the plain was covered with their
wounded, who had retired from the battle, with those who carried them,
and with many others, who, under the plea of supporting the wounded, or
being wounded themselves, successively abandoned their ranks. A rout
accordingly began. Already the artillery corps, who are always picked
men, perceiving themselves no longer supported, began retiring with
their pieces; a few minutes longer, and the troops of all arms, in their
flight towards the same defile, would have there met each other; thence
would have resulted a confusion, in which the voices and the efforts of
their officers would have been lost, where all the elements of
resistance would have been confounded and rendered useless.

It is said that Murat, on seeing this, darted forward in front of a
regiment of Polish lancers; and that the latter, excited by the presence
of the king, animated by his words, and, moreover, transported with rage
at the sight of the Russians, followed him precipitately. Murat had only
wished to stimulate them and impel them against the enemy; he had no
intention of throwing himself with them into the midst of a conflict, in
which he would neither be able to see nor to command; but the Polish
lances were ready couched and condensed behind him; they covered the
whole width of the ground; and they pushed him before them with all the
rapidity of their steeds; he could neither detach himself from them nor
stop; he had no resource but to charge in front of the regiment, just
where he had stationed himself in order to harangue it; a resource to
which, like a true soldier, he submitted with the best possible grace.

At the same time, general Anthouard ran to his artillerymen, and general
Girardin to the 106th regiment, which he halted, rallied, and led back
against the Russian right wing, whose position he carried, as well as
two pieces of cannon and the victory; on his side, general Piré
encountered and turned the left of the enemy. Fortune having again
changed sides, the Russians withdrew into their forests.

Meanwhile, they persevered on the left in defending a thick wood, the
advanced position of which broke our line. The 92d regiment,
intimidated by the heavy fire which issued from it, and bewildered by a
shower of balls, remained immoveable, neither daring to advance nor
retreat, restrained by two opposite fears--the dread of danger and the
dread of shame--and escaping neither; but general Belliard hastened to
reanimate them by his words, and general Roussel by his example; and the
wood was carried.

By this success, a strong column which had advanced on our right, in
order to turn it, was itself turned; Murat perceived this, and instantly
drawing his sword, exclaimed, "Let the bravest follow me!" But this
territory is intersected with ravines which protected the retreat of the
Russians, who all plunged into a forest of two leagues in depth, which
was the last natural curtain which concealed Witepsk from our view.

After so warm a contest, the king of Naples and the viceroy were
hesitating about committing themselves to so covered a country, when the
emperor came up: both hastened to his presence, in order to show him
what had been done, and what still remained to be done. Napoleon
immediately ascended the highest rising ground, which was nearest to the
enemy. From thence his genius, soaring over every obstacle, soon
penetrated the mystery of the forests, and the depths of the mountains
before him; he gave his orders without hesitation; and the same woods
which had arrested the audacity of the two princes, were traversed from
end to end. In short, that very evening, Witepsk might have discerned
from the summit of her double eminence our light troops emerging into
the plain by which she is surrounded.

Here, every thing contributed to stop the emperor; the night, the
multitude of hostile fires which covered the plain, an unknown country,
which it was necessary to reconnoitre, in order to direct his divisions
across it, and especially the time requisite to enable the crowd of
soldiers to disengage themselves from the long and narrow defile through
which they had to pass. A halt was therefore ordered, for the purpose of
taking breath, reconnoitring, rallying, refreshing, and getting their
arms ready for the next day. Napoleon slept in his tent, on an eminence
to the left of the main road, and behind the village of Kukowiaczi.


On the 27th, the emperor appeared at the advanced posts before daylight;
its first rays exhibited to him at last the Russian army encamped on an
elevated plain, which commands all the avenues of Witepsk. The river
Luczissa, which has worn itself a deep channel, marked the foot of this
position. In advance of it 10,000 horse and some infantry made a show of
defending its approaches; the infantry was in the centre, on the main
road; its left in woody uplands; all the cavalry to the right in double
lines, supported by the Düna.

The front of the Russians was no longer opposite to our column, but upon
our left; it had changed its direction with that of the river, which a
winding had removed from us. The French column, after having crossed, by
means of a narrow bridge, the ravine which divided it from the new field
of battle, was obliged to deploy by a change of front to the left, with
the right wing foremost, in order to preserve the support of the river
on that side, and so confront the enemy: on the banks of this ravine,
near the bridge, and to the left of the main-road, there was an isolated
hillock which had already attracted the notice of the emperor. From that
point he could see both armies, being stationed on the flank of the
field of battle, like the second in a duel.

Two hundred Parisian _voltigeurs_ of the 9th regiment of the line were
the first to debouch; they were immediately pushed forward to the left,
in front of the whole Russian cavalry, like them supporting themselves
by the Düna, and marking the left of the new line; the 16th horse
chasseurs followed, and then some light pieces. The Russians coolly
allowed us to defile before them, and mature our attack.

Their inactivity was favourable to us; but the king of Naples, whose
brain was intoxicated by the general notice he attracted, yielding to
his usual impetuosity, urged the chasseurs of the 16th on the whole body
of the Russian cavalry. All eyes beheld with terror that feeble French
line, broken on its march by the deep ravines which intersected the
ground, advance to attack the enemy's masses. These unfortunate men,
feeling themselves sacrificed, proceeded with hesitating steps to
certain destruction. In consequence, at the first movement made by the
lancers of the Russian guard, they took to flight; but the ravine, which
it was necessary to pass, obstructed their flight; they were overtaken,
and precipitated into these shoals, where many of them perished.

At sight of this, Murat, grieved beyond measure, precipitated himself,
sabre in hand, in the midst of this medley, with the sixty officers and
horsemen surrounding him. His audacity so astonished the Russian
lancers, that they halted. While this prince was engaged, and the
_piqueur_ who followed him saved his life by striking down an enemy
whose arm was raised over his head, the remains of the 16th rallied, and
went to seek shelter close to the 53d regiment, which protected them.

This successful charge of the lancers of the Russian guard had carried
them as far as the foot of the hillock from which Napoleon was directing
the different corps. Some chasseurs of the French guard had just
dismounted from their horses, according to custom, in order to form a
circle around him; a few discharges from their carabines drove off the
assailant lancers. The latter, being thus repulsed, encountered on their
return the two hundred Parisian _voltigeurs_, whom the flight of the
16th horse chasseurs had left alone between the two armies. These they
attacked, and all eyes were instantly fixed on the engagement.

Both armies concluded these foot soldiers to be lost; but though
single-handed, they did not despair of themselves. In the first
instance, their captains, by dint of hard fighting, obtained possession
of a ground intersected by cavities and thickets which bordered on the
Düna; there the whole party instantly united, urged by their warlike
habits, by the desire of mutual support, and by the danger which stared
them in the face. In this emergency, as always happens in imminent
dangers, each looked to his neighbour; the young to their elders, and
all of them to their chiefs, in order to read in their countenances what
they had to hope, to fear, or to perform; each aspect was replete with
confidence, and all, relying on their comrades, relied at the same time
more upon themselves.

The ground was skilfully turned to account. The Russian lancers,
entangled in the bushes, and obstructed by the crevices, couched their
long lances in vain; they were struck by our people's balls while they
were endeavouring to penetrate their ranks, and fell, wounded, to the
earth; their bodies, and those of their horses, added to the
difficulties of the ground. At length they became discouraged, and took
to flight. The joyful shouts of our army, the crosses of honour, which
the emperor instantly sent to the bravest of the group, his words,
afterwards perused by all Europe,--all taught these valiant soldiers the
extent of a glory, which they had not yet estimated; noble actions
generally appearing quite ordinary to those who perform them. They
imagined themselves on the point of being killed or taken; and found
themselves almost at the same instant victorious and rewarded.

Meanwhile, the army of Italy and the cavalry of Murat, followed by three
divisions of the first corps, which had been confided, since they left
Wilna, to count Lobau, attacked the main-road and the woods which formed
the support of the enemy's left. The engagement was, in the first
instance, very animated; but it terminated abruptly. The Russian
vanguard retreated precipitately behind the ravine of the Luczissa, to
escape being thrown into it. The enemy's army was then entirely
collected on the opposite bank, and presented a united body of 80,000

Their determined countenance, in a strong position, and in front of a
capital, deceived Napoleon; he conceived that they would regard it as a
point of honour to maintain their ground. It was only eleven o'clock; he
ordered the attack to cease, in order to have an opportunity of
exploring the whole front of the line, and preparing for a decisive
battle on the following day. In the first instance, he proceeded to post
himself on a rising ground among the light troops, in the midst of whom
he breakfasted. Thence he observed the enemy's army, a ball from which
wounded an officer very near him. The subsequent hours he spent in
reconnoitring the ground, and in waiting for the arrival of the other

Napoleon announced a battle for the following day. His parting words to
Murat were these:--"To-morrow at five o'clock, the sun of Austerlitz!"
They explain the cause of that suspension of hostilities in the middle
of the day, in the midst of a success which filled the army with
enthusiasm. They were astonished at this inactivity at the moment of
overtaking an army, the pursuit of which had completely exhausted them.
Murat, who had been daily deluded by a similar expectation, remarked to
the emperor that Barclay only made a demonstration of boldness at that
hour, in order to be enabled more tranquilly to effect his retreat
during the night. Finding himself unable to convince his chief, he
rashly proceeded to pitch his tent on the banks of the Luczissa, almost
in the midst of the enemy. It was a position which gratified his desire
of hearing the first symptoms of their retreat, his hope of disturbing
it, and his adventurous character.

Murat was deceived, and yet he appeared to have been most clear-sighted;
Napoleon was in the right, and yet, the event placed him in the wrong;
such are the freaks of fortune! The emperor of the French had correctly
appreciated the designs of Barclay. The Russian general, believing
Bagration to be still near Orcha, had resolved upon fighting, in order
to give him time to rejoin him. It was the intelligence which he
received that very evening, of the retreat of Bagration by Novoï-Bikof
towards Smolensk, which suddenly changed his determination.

In fact, by daybreak on the 28th, Murat sent word to the emperor that he
was about to pursue the Russians, who had already disappeared. Napoleon
still persisted in his opinion, obstinately affirming that the whole
enemy's army was in front of him, and that it was necessary to advance
with circumspection; this occasioned a considerable delay. At length he
mounted his horse; every step he took destroyed his illusion; and he
soon found himself in the midst of the camp which Barclay had just

Every thing about it exhibited the science of war; its advantageous
site; the symmetry of all its parts; the exact and exclusive nicety in
the use to which each of them had been destined; the order and neatness
which thence resulted; in fine, nothing left behind, not one weapon, nor
a single valuable; no trace, nothing in short, in this sudden nocturnal
march, which could demonstrate, beyond the bounds of the camp, the route
which the Russians had taken; there appeared more order in their defeat,
than in our victory! Though conquered, their flight left us lessons by
which conquerors never profit; whether it be that good fortune is
contemptuous, or that it waits for misfortune to correct it.

A Russian soldier, who was surprised asleep under a bush, was the
solitary result of that day, which was expected to be so decisive. We
entered Witepsk, which was found equally deserted with the camp of the
Russians. Some filthy Jews, and some Jesuits, were all that remained;
they were interrogated, but without effect. All the roads were
abortively reconnoitred. Were the Russians gone to Smolensk? Had they
re-ascended the Düna? At length, a band of irregular cossacks attracted
us in the latter direction, while Ney explored the former. We marched
six leagues over a deep sand, through a thick dust, and a suffocating
heat. Night arrested our march in the neighbourhood of Aghaponovcht-china.

While parched, fevered, and exhausted by fatigue and hunger, the army
met with nothing there but muddy water. Napoleon, the King of Naples,
the Viceroy, and the Prince of Neufchatel, held a council in the
imperial tents, which were pitched in the court-yard of a castle,
situated upon an eminence to the left of the main road.

"That victory which was so fervently desired, so rapidly pursued, and
rendered more necessary by the lapse of every succeeding day, had, it
seemed, just escaped from our grasp, as it had at Wilna. True, we had
come up with the Russian rear-guard; but was it that of their army? Was
it not more likely that Barclay had fled towards Smolensk by way of
Rudnia? Whither, then, must we pursue the Russians, in order to compel
them to fight? Did not the necessity of organizing reconquered
Lithuania, of establishing magazines and hospitals, of fixing a new
centre of repose, of defence, and departure for a line of operations
which prolonged itself in so alarming a manner;--did not every thing,
in short, decidedly prove the necessity of halting on the borders of old

An affray had just happened, not far from that, respecting which Murat
was silent. Our vanguard had been repulsed; some of the cavalry had been
obliged to dismount, in order to effect their retreat; others had been
unable to bring off their extenuated horses, otherwise than by dragging
them by the bridle. The emperor having interrogated Belliard on the
subject, that general frankly declared, that the regiments were already
very much weakened, that they were harassed to death, and stood in
absolute need of rest; and that if they continued to march for six days
longer, there would be no cavalry remaining, and that it was high time
to halt.

To these motives were added, the effects of a consuming sun reflected
from burning sands. Exhausted as he was, the emperor now decided; the
course of the Düna and of the Boristhenes marked out the French line.
The army was thus quartered on the banks of these two rivers, and in the
interval between them; Poniatowski and his Poles at Mohilef; Davoust and
the first corps at Orcha, Dubrowna, and Luibowiczi; Murat, Ney, the army
of Italy and the guard, from Orcha and Dubrowna to Witepsk and Suraij.
The advanced posts at Lyadi, Vinkowo, and Velij, opposite to those of
Barclay and Bagration; for these two hostile armies, the one flying from
Napoleon, across the Düna, by Drissa and Witepsk, the other, escaping
Davoust across the Berezina and the Boristhenes, by way of Bobruisk,
Bickof, and Smolensk, succeeded in forming a junction in the interval
bounded by these two rivers.

The great divisions of the army detached from the central body were then
stationed as follows: To the right, Dombrowski, in front of Bobruisk and
opposed to the corps of 12,000 men commanded by the Russian general

To the left, the Duke of Reggio, and St. Cyr, at Polotsk and at Bieloé,
on the Petersburgh road, which was defended by Wittgenstein and 30,000

At the extreme left were Macdonald and 38,000 Prussians and Poles,
before Riga. They extended their line towards the right upon the Aa, and
in the direction of Dünabourg.

At the same time, Schwartzenberg and Regnier, at the head of the Saxon
and Austrian corps, occupied, towards Slonim, the interval between the
Niemen and the Bug, covering Warsaw and the rear of the grand army,
which was menaced by Tormasof. The Duke of Belluno was on the Vistula
with a reserve of 40,000 men; while Augereau assembled an eleventh army
at Stettin.

As to Wilna, the Duke of Bassano remained there, surrounded by the
envoys of several courts. That minister governed Lithuania, communicated
with all the chiefs, sent them the instructions which he received from
Napoleon, and forwarded the provisions, recruits, and stragglers, as
fast as they arrived.

As soon as the emperor had made up his mind, he returned to Witepsk
with his guard: there, on the 28th of July, in entering the imperial
head-quarters, he laid down his sword, and abruptly depositing it on his
maps, with which his tables were covered, he exclaimed; "Here I stop!
here I must look round me; rally; refresh my army, and organize Poland.
The campaign of 1812 is finished; that of 1813 will do the rest."



With the conquest of Lithuania, the object of the war was attained, and,
yet, the war appeared scarcely to have commenced; for places only had
been vanquished, and not men. The Russian army was unbroken; its two
wings, which had been separated by the vivacity of the first onset, had
now united. We were in the finest season of the year. It was in this
situation that Napoleon believed himself irrevocably decided to halt on
the banks of the Boristhenes and the Düna. At that time, he could much
more easily deceive others as to his intentions, as he actually deceived

His line of defence was already traced upon his maps; the siege-equipage
was proceeding towards Riga; the left of the army would rest on that
strong place; hence, proceeding to Dünabourg and Polotsk, it would
maintain a menacing defensive. Witepsk, so easy to fortify, and its
woody heights, would serve as an entrenched camp for the centre. Thence,
towards the south, the Berezina and its marshes, covered by the
Boristhenes, supply no other passage but a few defiles; a very few
troops would be sufficient to guard them. Further on, Bobruisk marked
out the right of this great line, and orders were given to obtain
possession of that fortress. In addition, an insurrection of the
populous provinces of the south was calculated on; they would assist
Schwartzenberg in expelling Tormasof, and the army would be increased by
their numerous cossacks. One of the greatest proprietors of these
provinces, a nobleman in whom every thing was distinguished, even to his
external appearance, hastened to join the liberators of his country. He
it was whom the emperor intended for the leader of this insurrection.

In this position nothing would be wanting. Courland would support
Macdonald; Samogitia, Oudinot; the fertile plains of Klubokoe, the
emperor; the southern provinces would effect the rest. In addition, the
grand magazine of the army was at Dantzic; its intermediate ones at
Wilna and Minsk. In this manner the army would be connected with the
country which it had just set free; and all things appertaining to that
country--its rivers, marshes, productions, and inhabitants, would be
united with us: all things would be agreed for the purposes of defence.

Such was Napoleon's plan. He was at that time seen exploring Witepsk and
its environs, as if to reconnoitre places where he was likely to make a
long residence. Establishments of all kinds were formed there.
Thirty-six ovens, capable of baking at once 29,000 pounds of bread, were
constructed. Neither was utility alone attended to; embellishment was
also considered. Some stone houses spoiled the appearance of the square
of the palace; the emperor ordered his guard to pull them down, and to
clear away the rubbish. Indeed, he was already anticipating the
pleasures of winter; Parisian actors must come to Witepsk; and as that
city was abandoned, fair spectators must be attracted from Warsaw and

His star at that time enlightened his path: happy had it been for him,
if he had not afterwards mistaken the movements of his impatience for
the inspirations of genius. But, whatever may be said, it was by himself
alone that he suffered himself to be hurried on; for in him every thing
proceeded from himself; and it was a vain attempt to seduce his
prudence. In vain did one of his marshals then promise him an
insurrection of the Russians, in consequence of the proclamations which
the officers of his advanced guard had been instructed to disseminate.
Some Poles had intoxicated that general with inconsiderate promises,
dictated by the delusive hope common to all exiles, with which they
flatter the ambition of the leaders who rely upon them.

But Murat was the individual whose incitements were most frequent and
animated. Tired of repose, and insatiable of glory, that monarch, who
considered the enemy to be within his grasp, was unable to repress his
emotions. He quitted the advanced guard, went to Witepsk, and in a
private interview with the emperor, gave way to his impetuosity. "He
accused the Russian army of cowardice; according to him it had failed
in the _rendezvous_ before Witepsk, as if it had been an affair of a
duel. It was a panic-struck army, which his light cavalry alone was
sufficient to put to flight." This ebullition extorted a smile from
Napoleon; but in order to moderate his fervour, he said to him, "Murat!
the first campaign in Russia is finished; let us here plant our eagles.
Two great rivers mark out our position; let us raise block-houses on
that line; let our fires cross each other on all sides; let us form in
square battalion; cannons at the angles and the exterior; let the
interior contain our quarters and our magazines: 1813 will see us at
Moscow--1814 at Petersburgh. The Russian war is a war of three years!"

It was thus that his genius conceived every thing in masses, and his eye
expatiated over an army of 400,000 men as if it were a regiment.

That very day he loudly addressed an administrator in the following
words: "As for you, sir, you must take care to provide subsistence for
us in these quarters; for," added he, in a loud voice, and addressing
himself to some of his officers, "we shall not repeat the folly of
Charles the Twelfth." But his actions in a short time belied his words;
and there was a general astonishment at his indifference to giving the
necessary orders for so great an establishment. To the left no
instructions were sent to Macdonald, nor was he supplied with the means
of obtaining possession of Riga. To the right, it was Bobruisk which it
was necessary to capture; this fortress stands in the midst of an
extensive and deep marsh; and it was to a body of cavalry that the task
of besieging it was committed.

Napoleon, in former times, scarcely ever gave orders without the
possibility of being obeyed; but the prodigies of the war of Prussia had
since occurred, and from that time the idea of impossibility was not
admitted. His orders were always, that every thing must be attempted,
because up to that time every thing had succeeded. This at first gave
birth to great exertions, all of which, however, were not equally
fortunate. Persons got discouraged; but their chief persevered; he had
become accustomed to command every thing; those whom he commanded got
accustomed not to execute every thing.

Meantime Dombrowski was left before that fortress with his Polish
division, which Napoleon stated at 8000 men, although he knew very well
that it did not at that time amount to more than 1200; but such was his
custom; either because he calculated on his words being repeated, and
that they would deceive the enemy; or that he wished, by this
exaggerated estimate, to make his generals feel all that he expected
from them.

Witepsk remained for survey. From the windows of its houses the eye
looked down perpendicularly into the Düna, or to the very bottom of the
precipices by which its walls are surrounded. In these countries the
snow remains long upon the ground; it filters through its least solid
parts, which it penetrates to a great depth, and which it dilutes and
breaks down. Hence those deep and unexpected ravines, which no
declination of the soil gives reason to foresee, which are imperceptible
at some paces from their edge, and which on those vast plains surprised
and suddenly arrested the charges of cavalry.

The French would not have required more than a month to render that city
sufficiently strong as even to stand a regular siege: the natural
strength of the place was such as to require little assistance from art,
but that little was denied it. At the same time a few millions, which
were indispensable to effect the levy of the Lithuanian troops, were
refused to them. Prince Sangutsko was to have gone and commanded the
insurrection in the South, but he was retained in the imperial

But the moderation of the first discourses of Napoleon had not deceived
the members of his household. They recollected that, at the first view
of the deserted camp of Barclay, and of Witepsk abandoned, when he heard
them congratulating each other on this conquest, he turned sharply round
to them and exclaimed, "Do you think then that I have come so far to
conquer these huts?" They also knew perfectly, that when he had a great
object in view, he never devised any other than a vague plan, preferring
to take counsel of opportunity; a system more conformable to the
promptitude of his genius.

In other respects, the whole army was loaded with the favours of its
commander. If he happened to meet with convoys of wounded, he stopped
them, informed himself of their condition, of their sufferings, of the
actions in which they had been wounded, and never quitted them without
consoling them by his words, or making them partakers of his bounty.

He bestowed particular attention on his guard; he himself daily reviewed
some part of them, lavishing commendation, and sometimes blame; but the
latter seldom fell on any but the administrators; which pleased the
soldiers, and diverted their complaints.

Every day he went and visited the ovens, tasted the bread, and satisfied
himself of the regularity of all the distributions. He frequently sent
wine from his table to the sentinel who was nearest to him. One day he
assembled the _élite_ of his guards for the purpose of giving them a new
leader; he made them a speech, and with his own hand and sword
introduced him to them; afterwards he embraced him in their presence. So
many attentions were ascribed by some, to his gratitude for the past; by
others, to his exigency for the future.

The latter saw clearly that Napoleon had at first flattered himself with
the hope of receiving fresh overtures of peace from Alexander, and that
the misery and debility of his army had occupied his attention. It was
requisite to allow the long train of stragglers and sick sufficient
time, the one for joining their corps, and the latter for reaching the
hospitals. Finally, to establish these hospitals, to collect provisions,
recruit the horses, and wait for the hospital-waggons, the artillery,
and the pontoons, which were still laboriously dragging after us across
the Lithuanian sands. His correspondence with Europe must also have
been a source of occupation to him. To conclude, a destructive
atmosphere stopped his progress! Such, in fact, is that climate; the
atmosphere is always in the extreme--always excessive; it either parches
or inundates, burns up or freezes, the soil and its inhabitants, for
whose protection it appears expressly framed; a perfidious climate, the
heat of which debilitated our bodies, in order to render them more
accessible to the frosts by which they were shortly to be pierced.

The emperor was not the least sensible of its effects; but when he found
himself somewhat refreshed by repose, when no envoy from Alexander made
his appearance, and his first dispositions were completed, he was seized
with impatience. He was observed to grow restless; whether it was that
inactivity annoyed him, as it does all men of active habits, and that he
preferred danger to the weariness of expectation, or that he was
agitated by that desire of acquisition, which, with the greater part of
mankind, has stronger efficacy than the pleasure of preserving, or the
fear of losing.

It was then especially that the image of captive Moscow besieged him; it
was the boundary of his fears, the object of his hopes: possessed of
that, he would possess every thing. From that time it was foreseen that
an ardent and restless genius, like his, and accustomed to short cuts,
would not wait eight months, when he felt his object within his reach,
and when twenty days were sufficient to attain it.

We must not, however, be too hasty in judging this extraordinary man by
the weaknesses common to all men. We shall presently hear from
himself;--we shall see how much his political position tended to
complicate his military position. At a later period, we shall be less
tempted to blame the resolution he was now about to take, when it is
seen that the fate of Russia depended upon only one more day's health,
which failed Napoleon, even on the very field of the Moskwa.

Meantime, he at first appeared hardly bold enough to confess to himself
a project of such great temerity. But by degrees, he assumed courage to
look it in the face. He then began to deliberate, and the state of great
irresolution which tormented his mind affected his whole frame. He was
observed to wander about his apartments, as if pursued by some dangerous
temptation. Nothing could rivet his attention; he every moment began,
quitted, and resumed his labour; he walked about without any object;
inquired the hour, and looked at his watch; completely absorbed, he
stopped, hummed a tune with an absent air, and again began walking

In the midst of his perplexity, he occasionally addressed the persons
whom he met with such half sentences as "Well! what shall we do? Shall
we stay where we are, or advance? How is it possible to stop short in
the midst of so glorious a career?" He did not wait for their reply; but
still kept wandering about, as if he was looking for something or
somebody to terminate his indecision.

At length, quite overwhelmed with the weight of such an important
consideration, and oppressed with so great an uncertainty, he would
throw himself on one of the beds which he had caused to be laid on the
floor of his apartments. His frame, exhausted by the heat, and the
struggles of his mind, could only bear a covering of the slightest
texture; it was in that state that he passed a portion of his days at

But when his body was at rest, his spirit was only the more active. "How
many motives urged him towards Moscow! How support at Witepsk the
_ennui_ of seven winter months?--he, who till then had always been the
assailant, was about to be reduced to a defensive position; a part
unworthy of him, of which he had no experience, and adverse to his

"Moreover, at Witepsk, nothing had been decided, and yet, at what a
distance was he already from France! Europe, then, would at length
behold him stopped, whom nothing had been able to stop. Would not the
duration of the enterprise augment its danger? Ought he to allow Russia
time to arm herself entirely? How long could he protract this uncertain
condition without impairing the charm of his infallibility, (which the
resistance of Spain had already enfeebled) and without engendering
dangerous hopes in Europe? What would be thought, if it were known that
a third of his army, dispersed or sick, were no longer in the ranks? It
was indispensable, therefore, to dazzle the world speedily by the éclat
of a great victory, and hide so many sacrifices under a heap of

Then, if he remained at Witepsk, he considered that he should have the
_ennui_, the whole expense, all the inconveniences and anxieties of a
defensive position to bear; while at Moscow there would be peace,
abundance, a reimbursement of the expenses of the war, and immortal
glory. He persuaded himself that audacity for him was henceforth the
greatest prudence; that it is the same with all hazardous undertakings,
as with faults, in which there is always risk at the beginning, but
frequently gain at the conclusion; that the more inexcusable they are,
the more they require to be successful. That it was indispensable,
therefore, to consummate this undertaking, to push it to the utmost,
astonish the universe, beat down Alexander by his audacity, and carry
off a prize which should be a compensation for so many losses.

Thus it was, that the same danger which perhaps ought to have recalled
him to the Niemen, or kept him stationary on the Düna, urged him towards
Moscow! Such is the nature of false positions; every thing in them is
perilous; temerity is prudence; there is no choice left but of errors;
there is no hope but in the errors of the enemy, and in chance.

Having at last determined, he hastily arose, as if not to allow time to
his own reflections to renew so painful a state of uncertainty; and
already quite full of the plan which was to secure his conquest, he
hastened to his maps; they presented to his view the cities of Smolensk
and Moscow; "the great Moscow, the holy city;" names which he repeated
with complacency, and which served to add new fuel to his ambitious
flame. Fired with this prospect, his spirit, replete with the energy of
his mighty conception, appears possessed by the genius of war. His voice
deepens; his eye flashes fire; and his countenance darkens; his
attendants retreat from his presence, struck with mingled awe and
respect; but at length his plan is fixed; his determination taken; his
order of march traced out. Instantly, the internal struggle by which he
had been agitated subsided; and no sooner was he delivered of his
terrible conception, than his countenance resumed its usual mild and
tranquil character.


His resolution once taken, he was anxious that it should satisfy his
friends; he conceived that by persuading them, they would be actuated by
greater zeal, than by commanding their obedience. It was, moreover, by
their sentiments that he was enabled to judge of those of the rest of
his army; in short, like all other men, the silent discontent of his
household disturbed him. Surrounded by disapproving countenances, and
opinions contrary to his own, he felt himself uncomfortable. And,
besides, to obtain their assent to his plan, was in some degree to make
them share the responsibility which possibly weighed upon his mind.

But all the officers of his household opposed his plan, each in the way
that marked his peculiar character; Berthier, by a melancholy
countenance, by lamentations, and even tears; Lobau and Caulaincourt, by
a frankness, which in the first was stamped by a cold and haughty
roughness, excusable in so brave a warrior; and which in the second was
persevering even to obstinacy, and impetuous even to violence. The
emperor repelled their observations with some ill-humour; he exclaimed,
addressing himself more especially to his aid-de-camp, as well as to
Berthier, "that he had enriched his generals too much; that all they now
aspired to was to follow the pleasures of the chase, and to display
their brilliant equipages in Paris: and that, doubtless, they had become
disgusted with war." When their honour was thus attacked, there was no
longer any reply to be made; they merely bowed and remained silent.
During one of his impatient fits, he told one of the generals of his
guard, "you were born in a _bivouac_, and in a _bivouac_ you will die."

As to Duroc, he first signified his disapprobation by a chilling
silence, and afterwards by terse replies, reference to accurate reports,
and brief remarks. To him the emperor replied, "that he saw clearly
enough that the Russians wanted to draw him on; but that, nevertheless,
he must proceed as far as Smolensk; that there he would establish his
head-quarters; and that in the spring of 1813, if Russia did not
previously make peace, she would be ruined; that Smolensk was the key
of the two roads to Petersburgh and Moscow; that he must get possession
of it; and that he would then be able to march on both those capitals at
the same time, in order to destroy every thing in the one, and preserve
every thing in the other."

Here the grand marshal observed to him, that he was not more likely to
make peace at Smolensk, or even at Moscow, than he was at Witepsk; and
that in removing to such a distance from France, the Prussians
constituted an intermediate body, on whom little reliance could be
placed. But the emperor replied, that on that supposition, as the
Russian war no longer offered him any advantageous result, he ought to
renounce it; and if so, he must turn his arms against Prussia, and
compel her to pay the expenses of the war.

It was now Daru's turn. This minister is straightforward even to
stiffness, and possesses immoveable firmness. The great question of the
march upon Moscow produced a discussion which lasted during eight
successive hours, and at which only Berthier was present. The emperor
having desired his minister's opinion of the war, "It is not a national
war," replied Daru; "the introduction of some English merchandize into
Russia, and even the restoration of the kingdom of Poland, are not
sufficient reasons for engaging in so distant a war; neither your troops
nor ourselves understand its necessity or its objects, and to say the
least, all things recommend the policy of stopping where we now are."

The emperor rejoined, "Did they take him for a madman? Did they imagine
he made war from inclination? Had they not heard him say that the wars
of Spain and Russia were two ulcers which ate into the vitals of France,
and that she could not bear them both at once?

"He was anxious for peace; but in order to negotiate, two persons were
necessary, and he was only one. Had a single letter from Alexander yet
reached him?

"What, then, should he wait for at Witepsk? Two rivers, it was true,
traced out the line of position; but, during the winter, there were no
longer any rivers in this country. It was, therefore, a visionary line
which they traced out; it was rather a line of demarcation than of
separation. It was requisite, therefore, to constitute an artificial
line; to construct towns and fortresses capable of defying the elements,
and every species of scourge; to create every thing, land and
atmosphere; for every thing was deficient, even provisions, unless,
indeed, he chose to drain Lithuania, and render her hostile, or ruin
ourselves; that if they were at Moscow, they might take what they
pleased; here it was necessary to purchase every thing. Consequently,"
continued he, "you cannot enable me to live at Witepsk, nor shall I be
able to defend you here: both of us, therefore, are here out of our
proper element.

"That if he returned to Wilna, he might there indeed, be more easily
supplied, but that he should not be in a better condition to defend
himself; that in that case it would be necessary for him to fall back to
the Vistula, and lose Lithuania. Whereas at Smolensk, he would be sure
to gain either a decisive battle, or at least, a fortress and a position
on the Dnieper.

"That he perceived clearly that their thoughts were dwelling on Charles
the Twelfth; but that if the expedition to Moscow wanted a fortunate
precedent, it was because it was deficient in a man capable of making it
succeed; that in war, fortune went for one-half in every thing; that if
people always waited for a complete assemblage of favourable
circumstances, nothing would ever be undertaken; that we must begin, in
order to finish; that there was no enterprise in which every thing
concurred, and that, in all human projects, chance had its share; that,
in short, it was not the rule which created the success, but the success
the rule; and that, if he succeeded by new means, that success would
create new principles.

"Blood has not yet been spilled," he added, "and Russia is too great to
yield without fighting. Alexander can only negotiate after a great
battle. If it is necessary, I will even proceed to the holy city in
search of that battle, and I will gain it. Peace waits for me at the
gates of Moscow. But with his honour thus saved, if Alexander still
persists, I will negotiate with the Boyards, or even with the population
of that capital; it is numerous, united, and consequently enlightened.
It will understand its own interests, and comprehend the value of
liberty." He concluded by saying, that "Moscow hated Petersburgh; that
he would take advantage of their rivalry; that the results of such a
jealousy were incalculable."

It was in this manner that the emperor, when animated by conversation
and the banquet, revealed the nature of his hopes. Daru replied, "That
war was a game which he played well, in which he was always the winner,
and that it was natural to infer, that he took a pleasure in playing it.
But that, in this case, it was not so much men as nature which it was
necessary to conquer; that already the army was diminished one-third by
desertion, sickness, or famine.

"If provisions failed at Witepsk, what would be the case farther on? The
officers whom he had sent to procure them, either never re-appeared, or
returned with empty hands. That the small quantity of flour, or the few
cattle which they had succeeded in collecting, were immediately consumed
by the imperial guard; that the other divisions of the army were heard
to murmur, that it exacted and absorbed every thing, that it
constituted, as it were, a privileged class. The hospital and
provision-waggons, as well as the droves of cattle, were not able to
come up. The hospitals were insufficient for the sick; provisions, room,
and medicines, were all wanting in them.

"All things consequently admonished them to halt, and with so much the
more effect, as they could not calculate on the favourable disposition
of the inhabitants beyond Witepsk. In conformity with his secret orders,
they had been sounded, but without effect. How could men be roused to
insurrection, for the sake of a liberty whose very name they did not
understand? What influence could be obtained over a people almost
savages, without property, and without wants? What could be taken from
them? With what could they be tempted? Their only property was their
life, which they carried with them into regions of almost infinite

Berthier added, "That if we were to proceed forward, the Russians would
have in their favour our too-much elongated flanks, famine, and
especially their formidable winter; while in staying where he was, the
emperor would enlist the latter on his side, and render himself master
of the war; that he would fix it within his reach, instead of following
its deceitful, wandering, and undecided flight."

Such were the replies of Berthier and Daru. The emperor mildly listened
to their observations, but oftener interrupted them by subtile
arguments; begging the question, according to his wishes, or shifting
it, when it became too pressing. But however disagreeable might be the
truths which he was obliged to hear, he listened to them patiently, and
replied with equal patience. Throughout this discussion, his
conversation and whole deportment were remarkable for affability,
simplicity, and good-humour, which, indeed, he almost always preserved
in his own family; a circumstance which sufficiently explains why,
notwithstanding so many misfortunes, he was so much beloved by those who
lived on terms of intimacy with him.

Still dissatisfied, the emperor summoned successively several of the
generals of his army; but his questions were such as indicated their
answers; and many of these chiefs, born in the capacity of soldiers, and
accustomed to obey his voice, were as submissive in these conversations
as upon the field of battle.

Others waited the issue, in order to give their opinion; concealing
their dread of a reverse, in the presence of a man who had always been
fortunate, as well as their opinion, lest success might on some future
day reproach them for it.

The greater part signified their approbation, being perfectly convinced
that were they even to incur his displeasure by recommending him to
stop, he would not be the less certain to advance. As it was necessary
to incur fresh dangers, they preferred meeting them with an appearance
of good-will. They found it more convenient to be wrong with him, than
right against him.

But there was one individual, who, not content with approving his
design, encouraged it. Prompted by a culpable ambition, he increased
Napoleon's confidence, by exaggerating the force of his division. For
after incurring so many fatigues, unaccompanied by danger, it was a
great merit in those chiefs who preserved the greatest number of men
around their eagles. The emperor was thus gratified on his weak side,
and the time for rewards was approaching. In order to make himself more
agreeable, the individual in question boldly took upon himself to vouch
for the ardour of his soldiers, whose emaciated countenances but ill
accorded with the flattery of their leader. The emperor gave credit to
this ardour, because it pleased him, and because he only saw the
soldiers at reviews; occasions when his presence, the military pomp, the
mutual excitation produced by great assemblages, imparted fervor to the
mind; when, in short, all things, even to the secret orders of the
chiefs, dictated an appearance of enthusiasm.

But in fact it was only with his guard that he thus occupied his
attention. In the army, the soldiers complained of his non-appearance.
"They no longer saw him," they said, "except in days of battle, when
they had to die for him, but never to supply them with the means of
existence. They were all there to serve him, but he seemed no longer
there to serve them."

In this manner did they suffer and complain, but without sufficiently
considering that what they complained of was one of the inseparable
evils of the campaign. The dispersion of the various corps d'armée being
indispensable for the sake of procuring subsistence in these deserts,
that necessity kept Napoleon at a distance from his soldiers. His guard
could hardly find subsistence and shelter in his immediate
neighbourhood; the rest were out of his sight. It is true that many
imprudent acts had recently been committed; several convoys of
provisions belonging to other corps were on their passage daringly
retained at the imperial head-quarters, for the use of the guard, by
whose order is not known. This violence, added to the jealousy which
such bodies of men always inspire, created discontent in the army.

The emperor was ignorant of these complaints; but another cause of
anxiety had occurred to torment him. He knew that at Witepsk alone,
there were 3000 of his soldiers attacked by the dysentery, which was
extending its ravages over his whole army. The rye which they were
eating in soup was its principal cause. Their stomachs, accustomed to
bread, rejected this cold and indigestible food, and the emperor was
urging his physicians to find a remedy for its effects. One day he
appeared less anxious. "Davoust," said he, "has found out what the
medical men could not discover; he has just sent to inform me of it; all
that is required is to roast the rye before preparing it;" and his eyes
sparkled with hope as he questioned his physician, who declined giving
any opinion until the experiment was tried. The emperor instantly called
two grenadiers of his guard; he seated them at table, close to him, and
made them begin the trial of this nourishment so prepared. It did not
succeed with them, although he added to it some of his own wine, which
he himself poured out for them.

Respect, however, for the conqueror of Europe, and the necessity of
circumstances, supported them in the midst of their numerous privations.
They saw that they were too deeply embarked; that a victory was
necessary for their speedy deliverance; and that he alone could give it
them. Misfortune, moreover, had purified the army; all that remained of
it could not fail to be its _élite_ both in mind and body. In order to
have got so far as they had done, what trials had they not withstood!
Suspense, and disgust with miserable cantonments, were sufficient to
agitate such men. To remain, appeared to them insupportable; to retreat,
impossible; it was, therefore, imperative to advance.

The great names of Smolensk and Moscow inspired no alarm. In ordinary
times, and with ordinary men, that unknown region, that unvisited
people, and the distance which magnifies all things, would have been
sufficient to discourage. But these were the very circumstances which,
in this case, were most attractive. The soldiers' chief pleasure was in
hazardous situations, which were rendered more interesting by the
greater proportion of danger they involved, and on which new dangers
conferred a more striking air of singularity; emotions full of charm for
active spirits, which had exhausted their taste for old things, and
which, therefore, required new.

Ambition was, at that time, completely unshackled; every thing inspired
the passion for glory; they had been launched into a boundless career.
How was it possible to measure the ascendancy, which a powerful emperor
must have acquired, or the strong impulse which he had given them?--an
emperor, capable of telling his soldiers after the victory of
Austerlitz, "I will allow you to name your children after me; and if
among them there should prove one worthy of us, I will leave him every
thing I possess, and name him my successor."


The junction of the two wings of the Russian army, in the direction of
Smolensk, had compelled Napoleon also to approximate his various
divisions. No signal of attack had yet been given, but the war involved
him on all sides; it seemed to tempt his genius by success, and to
stimulate it by reverses. On his left, Wittgenstein, equally in dread of
Oudinot and Macdonald, remained between the two roads from Polotsk and
Dünabourg, which meet at Sebez. The Duke of Reggio's orders had been to
keep on the defensive. But neither at Polotsk nor at Witepsk was there
any thing found in the country, which disclosed the position of the
Russians. Tired of feeling nothing of them on any side, the marshal
determined to go in quest of them himself. On the 1st of August,
therefore, he left general Merle and his division on the Drissa, to
protect his baggage, his great park of artillery, and his retreat; he
pushed Verdier towards Sebez, and made him take a position on the
high-road, in order to mask the movement which he was meditating. He
himself, turning to the left with Legrand's infantry, Castex's cavalry,
and Aubrey's light artillery, advanced as far as Yakoubowo, on the road
to Osweïa.

As chance would have it, Wittgenstein, at the same moment, was marching
from Osweïa to Yakoubowo; the hostile armies unexpectedly met each
other in front of that village. It was late in the day; the shock was
violent, but of short duration: night put an end to the combat, and
postponed its decision.

The marshal found himself engaged, with a single division, in a deep and
narrow pass, surrounded with woods and hills, all the declivities of
which were opposed to us. He was hesitating, however, whether he should
quit that contracted position, on which all the enemy's fire was about
to be concentrated, when a young Russian staff-officer, scarcely emerged
from boyhood, came dashing heedlessly into our posts, and allowed
himself to be taken, with the despatches of which he was the bearer. We
learned from them, that Wittgenstein was marching with all his forces to
attack and destroy our bridges over the Düna. Oudinot felt it necessary
to retreat, in order to rally and concentrate his forces in a less
unfavourable position; in consequence, as frequently happens in
retrograde marches, some stragglers and baggage fell into the hands of
the Russians.

Wittgenstein, elated by this easy success, pushed it beyond all bounds.
In the first transport of what he regarded as a victory, he ordered
Koulnief, and 12,000 men, to pass the Drissa, in order to pursue
d'Albert and Legrand. The latter had made a halt; Albert hastened to
inform the marshal. They covered their detachment by a rising ground,
watched all the movements of the Russian general, and observing him
rashly venturing himself into a defile between them and the river, they
rushed suddenly upon him, overthrew and killed him; taking from him also
eight pieces of cannon, and 2000 men.

Koulnief, it was said, died like a hero; a cannon ball broke both his
legs, and threw him prostrate on his own cannon; where, observing the
French approaching, he tore off his decorations, and, in a transport of
anger at his own temerity, condemned himself to die on the very spot
where his error was committed, commanding his soldiers to leave him to
his fate. The whole Russian army regretted him; it imputed this
misfortune to one of those individuals whom the caprice of Paul had made
into generals, at the period when that emperor was quite new to power,
and conceived the idea of entering his peaceable inheritance in the
character of a triumphant conqueror.

Rashness passed over with the victory from the Russian to the French
camp; this unexpected success elated Casa-Bianca and his Corsican
battalions; they forgot the error to which they were indebted for it,
they neglected the recommendation of their general, and without
reflecting that they were imitating the imprudence by which they had
just profited, they precipitated themselves upon the flying footsteps of
the Russians. They proceeded, headlong, in this manner for two leagues,
and were only reminded of their temerity by finding themselves alone in
presence of the Russian army. Verdier, forced to engage in order to
support them, was already compromising the rest of his division, when
the Duke of Reggio hurried up, relieved his troops from this peril, led
them back behind the Drissa, and on the following day resumed his first
position under the walls of Polotsk. There he found Saint-Cyr and the
Bavarians, who increased the force of his corps to 35,000 men. As to
Wittgenstein, he tranquilly took up his first position at Osweïa. The
result of these four days was very unsatisfactory to the emperor.

Nearly about the same time intelligence was brought to Witepsk that the
advanced guard of the viceroy had gained some advantages near Suraij;
but that, in the centre, near the Dnieper, at Inkowo, Sebastiani had
been surprised by superior numbers, and defeated.

Napoleon was then writing to the Duke of Bassano to announce daily fresh
victories to the Turks. True or false was of no consequence, provided
the communications produced the effect of suspending their treaty with
Russia. He was still engaged in this task, when deputies from Red Russia
arrived at Witepsk, and informed Duroc, that they had heard the report
of the Russian cannon announcing the peace of Bucharest. That treaty,
signed by Kutusof, had just been ratified.

At this intelligence, which Duroc transmitted to Napoleon, the latter
was deeply mortified. He was now no longer astonished at Alexander's
silence. At first, it was the tardiness of Maret's negotiations to which
he imputed this result; then, to the blind stupidity of the Turks, to
whom their treaties of peace were always more fatal than their wars;
lastly, the perfidious policy of his allies, all of whom, taking
advantage of the distance, and in the obscurity of the seraglio, had,
doubtless, dared to unite against their common dictator.

This event rendered a prompt victory still more necessary to him. All
hope of peace was now at an end. He had just read the proclamations of
Alexander. Being addressed to a rude people, they were necessarily
unrefined: the following are some passages of them: "The enemy, with
unexampled perfidy, has announced the destruction of our country. Our
brave soldiers burn to throw themselves on his battalions, and to
destroy them; but it is not our intention to allow them to be sacrificed
on the altars of this Moloch. A general insurrection is necessary
against the universal tyrant. He comes, with treachery in his heart, and
loyalty on his lips, to chain us with his legions of slaves. Let us
drive away this race of locusts. Let us carry the cross in our hearts,
and the sword in our hands. Let us pluck his fangs from this lion's
mouth, and overthrow the tyrant, whose object is to overthrow the

The emperor was incensed. These reproaches, these successes, and these
reverses, all contributed to stimulate his mind. The forward movement of
Barclay, in three columns, towards Rudnia, which the check at Inkowo had
disclosed, and the vigorous defensive operations of Wittgenstein,
promised the approach of a battle. He had to choose between that, and a
long and sanguinary defensive war, to which he was unaccustomed, which
was difficult to maintain at such a distance from his reinforcements,
and encouraging to his enemies.

Napoleon accordingly decided; but his decision, without being rash, was
grand and bold, like the enterprise itself. Having determined to detach
himself from Oudinot, he first caused him to be reinforced by
Saint-Cyr's corps, and ordered him to connect himself with the Duke of
Tarentum; having resolved also to march against the enemy, he did it by
changing in front of him, and within his reach, but without his
knowledge, the line of his operations at Witepsk for that of Minsk. His
manoeuvre was so well combined; he had accustomed his lieutenants to
so much punctuality, secrecy, and precision, that in four days, while
the surprised hostile army could find no traces of the French army
before it, the latter would by this plan find itself in a mass of
185,000 men on the left flank and rear of that enemy, which but just
before had presumed to think of surprising him.

Meantime, the extent and the multiplicity of the operations, which on
all sides claimed Napoleon's presence, still detained him at Witepsk. It
was only by his letters, that he could make his presence universally
felt. His head alone laboured for the whole, and he indulged himself in
the thought that his urgent and repeated orders would suffice to make
nature herself obedient to him.

The army only subsisted by its exertions, and from day to day; it had
not provisions for twenty-four hours: Napoleon ordered that it should
provide itself for fifteen days. He was incessantly dictating letters.
On the 10th of August he addressed eight to the prince of Eckmühl, and
almost as many to each of his other lieutenants. In the first, he
concentrates every thing round himself, in conformity with his leading
principle, "that war is nothing else than the art of assembling on a
given point, a larger number of men than your enemy." It was in this
spirit that he wrote to Davoust: "Send for Latour-Maubourg. If the enemy
remain at Smolensk, as I have reason to suppose, it will be a decisive
affair, and we cannot have too much numerical strength. Orcha will
become the pivot of the army. Every thing leads me to believe that there
will be a great battle at Smolensk; hospitals will, therefore, be
requisite; they will be necessary at Orcha, Dombrowna, Mohilef,
Kochanowo, Bobr, Borizof, and Minsk."

It was then particularly that he manifested extreme anxiety about the
provisioning of Orcha. It was on the 10th of August, at the very moment
when he was dictating this letter, that he gave his order of march. In
four days, all his army would be assembled on the left bank of the
Boristhenes, and in the direction of Liady. He departed from Witepsk on
the 13th, after having remained there a fortnight.



It was the check at Inkowo which decided Napoleon; ten thousand Russian
horse, in an affair with the advanced guard, had overthrown Sebastiani
and his cavalry. The intrepidity and reputation of the defeated general,
his report, the boldness of the attack, the hope, nay the urgent
necessity, of a decisive engagement, all led the emperor to believe,
that their numbers alone had carried the day, that the Russian army was
between the Düna and the Dnieper, and that it was marching against the
centre of his cantonments: this was actually the fact.

The grand army being dispersed, it was necessary to collect it together.
Napoleon had resolved to defile with his guard, the army of Italy, and
three of Davoust's divisions, before the front of attack of the
Russians; to abandon his Witepsk line of operation, and take that of
Orcha, and, lastly, to throw himself with 185,000 men on the left of the
Dnieper and of the enemy's army. Covered by the river, his plan was to
get beyond it, for the purpose of reaching Smolensk before it; if
successful, he should have separated the Russian army not only from
Moscow, but from the whole centre and south of the empire; it would be
confined to the north; and he would have accomplished at Smolensk
against Bagration and Barclay united, what he had in vain attempted at
Witepsk against the army of Barclay alone.

Thus the line of operation of so large an army was about to be suddenly
changed; 200,000 men, spread over a tract of more than fifty leagues,
were to be all at once brought together, without the knowledge of the
enemy, within reach of him, and on his left flank. This was,
undoubtedly, one of those grand determinations which, executed with the
unity and rapidity of their conception, change instantaneously the face
of war, decide the fate of empires, and display the genius of

As we marched from Orcha to Liady, the French army formed a long column
on the left bank of the Dnieper. In this mass, the first corps, that of
Davoust, was distinguished by the order and harmony which prevailed in
its divisions. The fine appearance of the troops, the care with which
they were supplied, and the attention that was paid to make them careful
of their provisions, which the improvident soldier is apt to waste;
lastly, the strength of these divisions, the happy result of this severe
discipline, all caused them to be acknowledged as the model of the whole

Gudin's division was the only one wanting; owing to an ill-written
order, it had been wandering for twenty-four hours in marshy woods; it
arrived, however, but diminished by three hundred combatants; for such
errors are not to be repaired but by forced marches, under which the
weakest are sure to sink.

The emperor traversed in a day the hilly and woody tract which separates
the Düna from the Boristhenes; it was in front of Rassasna that he
crossed the latter river. Its distance from our home, the very antiquity
of its name, every thing connected with it, excited our curiosity. For
the first time, the waters of this Muscovite river were about to bear a
French army, and to reflect our victorious arms. The Romans had known it
only by their defeats: it was down this same stream that the savages of
the North, the children of Odin and Rurik, descended to plunder
Constantinople. Long before we could perceive it, our eyes sought it
with ambitious impatience; we came to a narrow river, straitened between
woody and uncultivated banks; it was the Boristhenes which presented
itself to our view in this humble form. At this sight all our proud
thoughts were lowered, and they were soon totally banished by the
necessity of providing for our most urgent wants.

The emperor slept in his tent in advance of Rassasna; next day the army
marched together, ready to draw up in order of battle, with the emperor
on horseback in the midst of it. The advanced guard drove before it two
pulks of cossacks, who resisted only till they had gained time to
destroy some bridges and some trusses of forage. The villages deserted
by the enemy were plundered as soon as we entered them: we passed them
in all possible haste and in disorder.

The streams were crossed by fords which were soon spoiled; the regiments
which came afterwards passed over in other places, wherever they could.
No one gave himself much concern about such details, which were
neglected by the general staff: no person was left to point out the
danger, where there was any, or the road, if there were several. Each
_corps d'armée_ seemed to be there for itself alone, each division, each
individual to be unconnected with the rest; as if the fate of one had
not depended on that of the other.

The army every where left stragglers behind it, and men who had lost
their way, whom the officers passed without noticing; there would have
been too many to find fault with; and besides, each was too much
occupied with himself to attend to others. Many of these men were
marauders, who feigned illness or a wound, to separate from the rest,
which there was not time to prevent, and which will always be the case
in large armies, that are urged forward with such precipitation, as
individual order cannot exist in the midst of general disorder.

As far as Liady the villages appeared to us to be more Jewish than
Polish; the Lithuanians sometimes fled at our approach; the Jews always
remained; nothing could have induced them to forsake their wretched
habitations; they might be known by their thick pronunciation, their
voluble and hasty way of speaking, the vivacity of their motions, and
their complexion, animated by the base passion of lucre. We noticed in
particular their eager and piercing looks, their faces and features
lengthened out into acute points, which a malicious and perfidious smile
cannot widen; their tall, slim, and supple form; the earnestness of
their demeanour, and lastly, their beards, usually red, and their long
black robes, tightened round their loins by a leather girdle; for every
thing but their filthiness distinguishes them from the Lithuanian
peasants; every thing about them bespeaks a degraded people.

They seem to have conquered Poland, where they swarm, and the whole
substance of which they extract. Formerly their religion, at present the
sense of a reprobation too long universal, have made them the enemies of
mankind; of old they attacked with arms, at present by cunning. This
race is abhorred by the Russians, perhaps on account of its enmity to
image-worship, while the Muscovites carry their adoration of images to
idolatry. Finally, whether from superstition or rivalry of interests,
they have forbidden them their country: the Jews were obliged to put up
with their contempt, which their impotence repaid with hatred; but they
detested our pillage still more. Enemies of all, spies to both armies,
they sold one to the other from resentment or fear, according to
occasion, and because there is nothing that they would not sell.

At Liady the Jews ended, and Russia proper commenced; our eyes were
therefore relieved from their disgusting presence, but other wants made
us regret them; we missed their active and officious services, which
money could command, and their German jargon, the only language which we
understood in these deserts, and which they all speak, because they
require it in their traffic.


On the 15th of August, at three o'clock, we came in sight of Krasnoë, a
town constructed of wood, which a Russian regiment made a show of
defending; but it detained Marshal Ney no longer than the time necessary
to come up with and overthrow it. The town being taken, there were seen
beyond it 6000 Russian infantry in two columns, while several squadrons
covered the retreat. This was the corps of Newerowskoi.

The ground was unequal, but bare, and suitable for cavalry. Murat took
possession of it; but the bridges of Krasnoë were broken down, and the
French cavalry was obliged to move off to the left, and to defile to a
great distance in bad fords, in order to come up with the enemy. When
our troops were in presence of the latter, the difficulty of the passage
which they had just left behind them, and the bold countenance of the
Russians, made them hesitate; they lost time in waiting for one another
and deploying, but still the first effort dispersed the enemy's cavalry.

Newerowskoi finding himself uncovered, drew together his columns, and
formed them into a full square so thick, that Murat's cavalry penetrated
several times into it, without being able to break through or to
disperse it.

It is even true that our first charges stopped short at the distance of
20 paces from the front of the Russians: whenever the latter found
themselves too hard pressed, they faced about, steadily waited for us,
and drove us back with their small arms; after which, profiting by our
disorder, they immediately continued their retreat.

The cossacks were seen striking with the shafts of their pikes such of
their foot-soldiers as lengthened the line of march, or stepped out of
their ranks; for our squadrons harassed them incessantly, watched all
their movements, threw themselves into the smallest intervals, and
instantly carried off all that separated from the main body; they even
penetrated into it twice, but a little way, the horses remaining, as it
were, stuck fast in that thick and obstinate mass.

Newerowskoi had one very critical moment: his column was marching on the
left of the high-road through rye not yet cut, when all at once it was
stopped by a long fence, formed of a stout palisade; his soldiers,
pressed by our movements, had not time to make a gap in it, and Murat
sent the Wurtembergers against them to make them lay down their arms;
but while the head of the Russian column was surmounting the obstacle,
their rearmost ranks faced about and stood firm. They fired ill, it is
true, most of them into the air, like persons who are frightened; but so
near, that the smoke, the flash of the reports of so many shot,
frightened the Wurtemberg horses, and threw them into confusion.

The Russians embraced that moment to place between them and us that
barrier which was expected to prove fatal to them. Their column profited
by it to rally and gain ground. At length some French cannon came up,
and they alone were capable of making a breach in this living fortress.

Newerowskoi hastened to reach a defile, where Grouchy was ordered to
anticipate him; but Murat, deceived by a false report, had diverted the
greatest part of that general's cavalry in the direction of Elnia;
Grouchy had only 600 horse remaining. He made the 8th chasseurs dash
forward to the defile, but it found itself too weak to stand against so
strong a column. The vigorous and repeated charges made by that
regiment, by the 6th hussars, and the 6th lancers, on the left flank of
that dense mass, which was protected by the double row of birch-trees
that lined the road on each side, were wholly insufficient, and
Grouchy's applications for assistance were not attended to; either
because the general who followed him was kept back by the difficulties
of the ground, or that he was not sufficiently sensible of the
importance of the combat. It was nevertheless great, since there was
between Smolensk and Murat but this one Russian corps, and had that been
defeated, Smolensk might have been surprised without defenders, taken
without a battle, and the enemy's army cut off from his capital. But
this Russian division at length gained a woody ground where its flanks
were covered.

Newerowskoi retreated like a lion; still he left on the field of battle
1200 killed, 1000 prisoners, and eight pieces of cannon. The French
cavalry had the honour of that day. The attack was as furious as the
defence was obstinate; it had the more merit, having only the sword to
employ against both sword and fire: the enlightened courage of the
French soldier being besides of a more exalted nature than that of the
Russian troops, mere docile slaves, who expose a less happy life, and
bodies in which cold has extinguished sensibility.

As chance would have it, the day of this success was the emperor's
birth-day. The army had no idea of celebrating it. In the disposition of
the men and of the place, there was nothing that harmonized with such a
celebration; empty acclamations would have been lost amid those vast
deserts. In our situation, there was no other festival than the day of a
complete victory.

Murat and Ney, however, in reporting their success to the emperor, paid
homage to that anniversary. They caused a salute of 100 guns to be
fired. The emperor remarked, with displeasure, that in Russia it was
necessary to be more sparing of French powder; the answer was, that it
was Russian powder which had been taken the preceding day. The idea of
having his birth-day celebrated at the expense of the enemy drew a smile
from Napoleon. It was admitted that this very rare species of flattery
became such men.

Prince Eugene also considered it his duty to carry him his good wishes.
The emperor said to him, "Every thing is preparing for a battle; I shall
gain it, and we shall see Moscow." The prince kept silence, but as he
retired, he returned for answer to the questions of Marshal Mortier,
"Moscow will be our ruin!" Thus did disapprobation begin to be
expressed. Duroc, the most reserved of all, the friend and confidant of
the emperor, loudly declared, that he could not foresee the period of
our return. Still it was only among themselves that the great officers
indulged in such remarks, for they were aware that the decision being
once taken, all would have to concur in its execution; that the more
dangerous their situation became, the more need there was of courage;
and that a word, calculated to abate zeal, would be treasonable; hence
we saw those who by silence, nay even by words, opposed the emperor in
his tent, appear out of it full of confidence and hope. This attitude
was dictated by honour; the multitude has imputed it to flattery.

Newerowskoi, almost crushed, hastened to shut himself up in Smolensk. He
left behind him some cossacks to burn the forage; the houses were


While the grand army was thus ascending the Dnieper, along its left
bank, Barclay and Bagration, placed between that river and the lake of
Kasplia, towards Inkowo, believed themselves to be still in presence of
the French army. They hesitated; twice hurried on by the counsel of
quarter-master-general Toll, they resolved to force the line of our
cantonments, and twice dismayed at so bold a determination, they stopped
short in the midst of the movement they had commenced for that purpose.
At length, too timid to take any other counsel than their own, they
appeared to have left their decision to circumstances, and to await our
attack, in order to regulate their defence by it.

It might also be perceived, from the unsteadiness of their movements,
that there was not a good understanding between these two chiefs. In
fact, their situation, their disposition, their very origin, every thing
about them was at variance. On the one hand the cool valour, the
scientific, methodical, and tenacious genius of Barclay, whose mind,
German like his birth, was for calculating every thing, even the chances
of the hazard, bent on owing all to his tactics, and nothing to fortune;
on the other the martial, bold, and vehement instinct of Bagration, an
old Russian of the school of Suwarrow, dissatisfied at being under a
general who was his junior in the service--terrible in battle, but
acquainted with no other book than nature, no other instructor than
memory, no other counsels than his own inspirations.

This old Russian, on the frontiers of Russia proper, trembled with shame
at the idea of retreating without fighting. In the army all shared his
ardour; it was supported on the one hand by the patriotic pride of the
nobles, by the success at Inkowo, by the inactivity of Napoleon at
Witepsk, and by the severe remarks of those who were not responsible; on
the other hand, by a nation of peasants, merchants, and soldiers, who
saw us on the point of treading their sacred soil, with all the horror
that such profanation could excite. All, in short, demanded a battle.

Barclay alone was against fighting. His plan, erroneously attributed
to England, had been formed in his mind so far back as the year 1807;
but he had to combat his own army as well as ours; and though
commander-in-chief and minister, he was neither Russian enough, nor
victorious enough, to win the confidence of the Russians. He possessed
that of Alexander alone.

Bagration and his officers hesitated to obey him. The point was to
defend their native land, to devote themselves for the salvation of all:
it was the affair of each, and all imagined that they had a right to
examine. Thus their ill fortune distrusted the prudence of their
general; whilst, with the exception of a few chiefs, our good fortune
trusted implicitly to the boldness, hitherto always prosperous of ours;
for in success to command is easy; no one inquires whether it is
prudence or fortune that guides. Such is the situation of military
chiefs; when successful, they are blindly obeyed by all; when
unfortunate, they are criticized by all.

Hurried away notwithstanding, by the general impulse, Barclay had just
yielded to it for a moment, collected his forces near Rudnia, and
attempted to surprise the French army, dispersed as it was. But the
feeble blow which his advanced guard had just struck at Inkowo had
alarmed him. He trembled, paused, and imagining every moment that he saw
Napoleon approaching in front of him, on his right and every where
excepting on his left, which was covered as he thought by the Dnieper,
he lost several days in marches and counter-marches. He was thus
hesitating, when all at once Newerowskoi's cries of distress resounded
in his camp. To attack was now entirely out of the question: his troops
ran to arms, and hurried towards Smolensk for the purpose of defending

Murat and Ney were already attacking that city: the former with his
cavalry, at the place where the Boristhenes enters its walls; the
latter, with his infantry, where it issues from them, and on woody
ground intersected by deep ravines. The marshal's left was supported by
the river, and his right by Murat, whom Poniatowski, coming direct from
Mohilef, arrived to reinforce.

In this place two steep hills contract the channel of the Boristhenes;
on these hills Smolensk is built. That city has the appearance of two
towns, separated by the river and connected by two bridges. That on the
right bank, the most modern, is wholly occupied by traders; it is open,
but overlooks the other, of which it is nevertheless but a dependency.

The old town, occupying the plateau and slopes of the left bank, is
surrounded by a wall twenty-five feet high, eighteen thick, three
thousand fathoms in length, and defended by twenty-nine massive towers,
a miserable earthen citadel of five bastions, which commands the Orcha
road, and a wide ditch, which serves as a covered way. Some outworks and
the suburbs intercept the view of the approaches to the Mohilef and
Dnieper gates; they are defended by a ravine, which, after encompassing
a great part of the town, becomes deeper and steeper as it approaches
the Dnieper, on the side next to the citadel.

The deluded inhabitants were quitting the temples, where they had been
praising God for the victories of their troops, when they saw them
hastening up, bloody, vanquished, and flying before the victorious
French army. Their disaster was unexpected, and their consternation so
much the greater.

Meanwhile, the sight of Smolensk inflamed the impatient ardour of
Marshal Ney: we know not whether he unseasonably called to mind the
wonders of the Prussian war, when citadels fell before the sabres of our
cavalry, or whether he at first designed only to reconnoitre this first
Russian fortress: at any rate he approached too near; a ball struck him
on the neck; incensed, he despatched a battalion against the citadel,
through a shower of balls, which swept away two-thirds of his men; the
remainder proceeded; nothing could stop them but the Russian walls; a
few only returned. Little notice was taken of the heroic attempt which
they had made, because it was a fault of their general's, and useless
into the bargain.

Cooled by this check, Marshal Ney retired to a sandy and wooded height
bordering the river. He was surveying the city and its environs, when he
imagined that he could discern troops in motion on the other side of the
river: he ran to fetch the emperor, and conducted him through coppices
and dingles to avoid the fire of the place.

Napoleon, on reaching the height, beheld a cloud of dust enveloping long
black columns, glistening with a multitude of arms: these masses
approached so rapidly that they seemed to run. It was Barclay,
Bagration, nearly 120,000 men: in short, the whole Russian army.

Transported with joy at this sight, Napoleon clapped his hands,
exclaiming, "At last I have them!" There could be no doubt of it; this
surprised army was hastening up to throw itself into Smolensk, to pass
through it, to deploy under its walls, and at length to offer us that
battle which was so ardently desired. The moment that was to decide the
fate of Russia had at last arrived.

The emperor immediately went through the whole line, and allotted to
each his place. Davoust, and next to him Count Lobau, were to deploy on
the right of Ney: the guard in the centre, as a reserve, and farther
off the army of Italy. The place of Junot and the Westphalians was
indicated; but a false movement had carried them out of the way. Murat
and Poniatowski formed the right of the army; those two chiefs already
threatened the city: he made them draw back to the margin of a coppice,
and leave vacant before them a spacious plain, extending from this wood
as far as the Dnieper. It was a field of battle which he offered to the
enemy. The French army, thus posted, had defiles and precipices at its
back; but Napoleon concerned himself little about retreat; he thought
only of victory.

Bagration and Barclay were meanwhile returning at full speed towards
Smolensk; the first to save it by a battle, the other to cover the
flight of its inhabitants and the evacuation of its magazines: he was
determined to leave us nothing but its ashes. The two Russian generals
arrived panting on the heights on the right bank; nor did they again
take breath till they saw that they were still masters of the bridges
which connect the two towns.

Napoleon then caused the enemy to be harassed by a host of riflemen, for
the purpose of drawing him to the left bank of the river, and ensuring a
battle for the following day. It is asserted that Bagration would have
fallen in with his views, but that Barclay did not expose him to the
temptation. He despatched him to Elnia, and took upon himself the
defence of Smolensk.

Barclay had imagined that the greatest part of our army was marching
upon Elnia, to get between Moscow and the Russian army. He deceived
himself by the disposition, so common in war, of imputing to one's enemy
designs contrary to those which he demonstrates. For the defensive,
being uneasy in its nature, frequently magnifies the offensive, and
fear, heating the imagination, causes it to attribute to the enemy a
thousand projects of which he never dreamt. It is possible too that
Barclay, having to cope with a colossal foe, felt authorized to expect
from him gigantic movements.

The Russians themselves have since reproached Napoleon with not having
adopted that manoeuvre; but have they considered, that to proceed thus
to place himself beyond a river, a fortified town and a hostile army, to
cut off the Russians from the road to their capital, would have been
cutting off himself from all communication with his reinforcements, his
other armies, and Europe? Those are not capable of appreciating the
difficulties of such a movement who are astonished that it was not made,
without preparation, in two days, across a river and a country both
unknown, with such masses, and amidst another combination the execution
of which was not yet completed.

Be that as it may, in the evening of the 16th, Bagration commenced his
march for Elnia. Napoleon had just had his tent pitched in the middle of
his first line, almost within reach of the guns of Smolensk, and on the
brink of the ravine which encircles the city. He called Murat and
Davoust: the former had just observed among the Russians movements
indicative of a retreat. Every day since the passage of the Niemen, he
had been accustomed to see them thus escape him; he did not therefore
believe that there would be any battle the following day. Davoust was of
a contrary opinion. As for the emperor, he had no hesitation in
believing what he wished.


On the 17th, by daybreak, the hope of seeing the Russian army drawn up
before him awoke Napoleon; but the field which he had prepared for it
remained empty: he persisted, nevertheless, in his illusion, in which
Davoust participated; it was to his side that he proceeded. Dalton, one
of the generals of that marshal, had seen some hostile battalions quit
the city and range themselves in order of battle. The emperor seized
this hope, which Ney, jointly with Murat, combated in vain.

But while he was still full of hopes and expectations, Belliard, tired
of this uncertainty, ordered a few horse to follow him; he drove a band
of Cossacks into the Dnieper, above the town, and saw on the opposite
bank the road from Smolensk to Moscow covered with artillery, and troops
on the march. There was no longer any doubt that the Russians were in
full retreat. The emperor was apprised that he must renounce all hopes
of a battle, but that his cannon might, from the opposite bank, annoy
the retrograde march of the enemy.

Belliard even proposed to send part of the army across the river, to cut
off the retreat of the Russian rear-guard, which was entrusted with the
defence of Smolensk; but the party of cavalry sent to discover a ford
went two leagues without finding one, and drowned several horses. There
was nevertheless a wide and commodious crossing about a league above the
city. Napoleon himself, in his agitation, turned his horse that way. He
proceeded several wersts in that direction, tired himself, and returned.

From that moment he seemed to consider Smolensk as a mere place of
passage, of which it was absolutely necessary to gain possession by main
force, and without loss of time. But Murat, prudent when not heated by
the presence of the enemy, and who, with his cavalry, had nothing to do
in an assault, disapproved of this resolution.

To him so violent an effort appeared useless, when the Russians were
retiring of their own accord; and in regard to the plan of overtaking
them, he observed that, "since they would not fight, we had followed
them far enough, and it was high time to stop."

The emperor replied: but the rest of their conversation was not
overheard. As, however, the king afterwards declared that "he had thrown
himself at the knees of his brother, and conjured him to stop, but that
Napoleon saw nothing but Moscow; that honour, glory, rest, every thing
for him was there; that this Moscow would be our ruin!"--it was obvious
what had been the cause of their disagreement.

So much is certain, that when Murat quitted his brother-in-law, his face
wore the expression of deep chagrin; his motions were abrupt; a gloomy
and concentrated vehemence agitated him; and the name of Moscow several
times escaped his lips.

Not far off, on the left bank of the Dnieper, a formidable battery had
been placed, at the spot whence Belliard had perceived the retreat of
the enemy. The Russians had opposed to us two still more formidable.
Every moment our guns were shattered, and our ammunition-waggons blown
up. It was into the midst of this volcano that the king urged his horse:
there he stopped, alighted, and remained motionless. Belliard warned him
that he was sacrificing his life to no purpose, and without glory. The
king answered only by pushing on still farther. Those around him no
longer doubted, that despairing of the issue of the war, and foreseeing
future disasters, he was seeking death in order to escape them.
Belliard, however, insisted, and observed to him, that his temerity
would be the destruction of those about him. "Well then," replied Murat,
"do you retire, and leave me here by myself." All refused to leave him;
when the king angrily turning about, tore himself from this scene of
carnage, like a man who is suffering violence.

Meanwhile a general assault had been ordered. Ney had to attack the
citadel, and Davoust and Lobau the suburbs, which cover the walls of
the city. Poniatowski, already on the banks of the Dnieper, with sixty
pieces of cannon, was again to descend that river to the suburb which
borders it, to destroy the enemy's bridges, and to intercept the retreat
of the garrison. Napoleon gave orders, that, at the same time, the
artillery of the guard should batter the great wall with its
twelve-pounders, which were ineffective against so thick a mass. It
disobeyed, and directed its fire into the covered way, which it cleared.

Every manoeuvre succeeded at once, excepting Ney's attack, the only
one which ought to have been decisive, but which was neglected. The
enemy was driven back precipitately within his walls; all who had not
time to regain them perished; but, in mounting to the assault, our
attacking columns left a long and wide track of blood, of wounded and

It was remarked, that one battalion, which presented itself in flank to
the Russian batteries, lost a whole rank of one of its platoons by a
single bullet; twenty-two men were felled by the same blow.

Meanwhile the army, from an amphitheatre of heights, contemplated with
silent anxiety the conduct of its brave comrades; but when it saw them
darting through a shower of balls and grape shot, and persisting with an
ardour, a firmness, and a regularity, quite admirable; then it was that
the soldiers, warmed with enthusiasm, began clapping their hands. The
noise of this glorious applause was such as even to reach the attacking
columns. It rewarded the devotion of those warriors; and although in
Dalton's single brigade, and in the artillery of Reindre, five chiefs of
battalion, 1500 men, and the general himself fell, the survivors still
say, that the enthusiastic homage which they excited, was a sufficient
compensation to them for all their sufferings.

On reaching the walls of the place, they screened themselves from its
fire, by means of the outworks and buildings, of which they had gained
possession. The fire of musketry continued; and from the report,
redoubled by the echo of the walls, it seemed to become more and more
brisk. The emperor grew tired of this; he would have withdrawn his
troops. Thus, the same blunder which Ney had made a battalion commit the
preceding day, was repeated by the whole army; the one had cost 300 or
400 men, the other 5000 or 6000; but Davoust persuaded the emperor to
persevere in his attack.

Night came on. Napoleon retired to his tent, which had been placed more
prudently than the day before; and the Count Lobau, who had made himself
master of the ditch, but could no longer maintain his ground there,
ordered shells to be thrown into the city to dislodge the enemy. Thick
black columns of smoke were presently seen rising from several points;
these were soon lighted at intervals by flickering flashes, then by
sparks, and at last, long spires of flame burst from all parts. It was
like a great number of distinct fires. It was not long before they
united and formed but one vast blaze, which whirling about as it rose,
covered Smolensk, and entirely consumed it, with a dismal roaring.

Count Lobau was dismayed by so great a disaster, which he believed to be
his own work. The emperor, seated in front of his tent, contemplated in
silence this awful spectacle. It was as yet impossible to ascertain
either the cause or the result, and the night was passed under arms.

About three in the morning, one of Davoust's subalterns ventured to the
foot of the wall, which he scaled without noise. Emboldened by the
silence which reigned around him, he penetrated into the city; all at
once several voices and the Sclavonian accent were heard, and the
Frenchman, surprised and surrounded, thought that he had nothing to do
but to sell his life dearly, or surrender. The first rays of the dawn,
however, showed him, in those whom he mistook for enemies, some of
Poniatowski's Poles. They had been the first to enter the city, which
Barclay had just evacuated.

After Smolensk had been reconnoitred and its approaches cleared, the
army entered the walls: it traversed the reeking and blood-stained ruins
with its accustomed order, pomp, and martial music, triumphing over the
deserted wreck, and having no other witness of its glory but itself. A
show without spectators, an almost fruitless victory, a sanguinary
glory, of which the smoke that surrounded us, and seemed to be our only
conquest, was but too faithful an emblem.


When the emperor knew that Smolensk was entirely occupied, and its fires
almost extinguished, and when day and the different reports had
sufficiently instructed him; when, in short, he saw that there, as at
the Niemen, at Wilna, at Witepsk, the phantom of victory, which allured
him forward, and which he always imagined himself to be on the point of
seizing, had once more eluded his grasp, he proceeded slowly towards his
barren conquest. He inspected the field of battle, according to his
custom, in order to appreciate the value of the attack, the merit of the
resistance, and the loss on both sides.

He found it strewed with a great number of Russian dead, and very few of
ours. Most of them, especially the French, had been stripped; they might
be known by the whiteness of their skin, and by their forms less bony
and muscular than those of the Russians. Melancholy review of the dead
and dying! dismal account to make up and to render! The pain felt by the
emperor might be inferred from the contraction of his features and his
irritation; but in him policy was a second nature, which soon imposed
silence on the first.

For the rest, this calculation of the dead the day after an engagement
was as delusive as it was disagreeable; for most of ours had been
previously removed, but those of the enemy left in sight; an expedient
adopted with a view to prevent unpleasant impressions being made on our
own troops, as well as from that natural impulse, which causes us to
collect and assist our own dying, and to pay the last duties to our own
dead, before we think of those belonging to the enemy.

The emperor, nevertheless, asserted in his bulletin, that his loss on
the preceding day was much smaller than that of the Muscovites; that the
conquest of Smolensk made him master of the Russian salt works, and that
his minister of finance might reckon upon twenty-four additional
millions. It is neither probable nor true, that he suffered himself to
be the dupe of such illusions: yet it was believed, that he was then
turning against himself that faculty of imposing upon others, of which
he knew how to make so important a use.

Continuing his reconnoissance, he came to one of the gates of the
citadel, near the Boristhenes, facing the suburb on the right bank,
which was still occupied by the Russians. There, surrounded by Marshals
Ney, Davoust, Mortier, the Grand-marshal Duroc, Count Lobau, and another
general, he sat down on some mats before a hut, not so much to observe
the enemy, as to relieve his heart from the load which oppressed it, and
to seek, in the flattery or in the ardour of his generals, encouragement
against facts and against his own reflections.

He talked long, vehemently, and without interruption. "What a disgrace
for Barclay, to have given up, without fighting, the key of old Russia!
and yet what a field of honour he had offered to him! how advantageous
it was for him! a fortified town to support and take part in his efforts!
the same town and a river to receive and cover the wreck of his
army, if defeated!

"And what would he have had to fight? an army, numerous indeed, but
straitened for want of room, and having nothing but precipices for its
retreat. It had given itself up, in a manner, to his blows. Barclay had
wanted nothing but resolution. It was therefore, all over with Russia.
She had no army but to witness the fall of her cities, and not to defend
them. For, in fact, on what more favourable ground could Barclay make a
stand? what position would he determine to dispute? he, who had forsaken
that Smolensk, called by him Smolensk the holy, Smolensk the strong, the
key of Moscow, the Bulwark of Russia, which, as it had been given out,
was to prove the grave of the French! We should presently see the effect
of this loss on the Russians; we should see their Lithuanian soldiers,
nay even those of Smolensk, deserting their ranks, indignant at the
surrender of their capital without a struggle."

Napoleon added, that "authentic reports had made him acquainted with the
weakness of the Russian divisions; that most of them were already much
reduced; that they suffered themselves to be destroyed in detail, and
that Alexander would soon cease to have an army. The rabble of peasants
armed with pikes, whom we had just seen in the train of their battalions,
sufficiently demonstrated to what shifts their generals were reduced."

While the emperor was thus talking, the balls of the Russian riflemen
were whizzing about his ears; but he was worked up by his subject. He
launched out against the enemy's general and army, as if he could have
destroyed it by his reasoning, because he could not by victory. No one
answered him; it was evident that he was not asking advice, but that he
had been talking all this time to himself; that he was contending
against his own reflections, and that, by this torrent of conjectures,
he was seeking to impose upon himself, and endeavouring to make others
participators in the same illusions.

Indeed, he did not give any one time to interrupt him. As to the
weakness and disorganization of the Russian army, nobody believed it;
but what could be urged in reply? He appealed to positive documents,
those which had been sent to him by Lauriston; they had been altered,
under the idea of correcting them: for the estimate of the Russian
forces by Lauriston, the French minister in Russia, was correct; but,
according to accounts less deserving of credit, though more flattering,
this estimate had been diminished one-third.

After talking to himself for an hour, the emperor, looking at the
heights on the right bank, which were nearly abandoned by the enemy,
concluded with exclaiming, that "the Russians were women, and that they
acknowledged themselves vanquished!" He strove to persuade himself that
these people had, from their contact with Europe, lost their rude and
savage valour. But their preceding wars had instructed them, and they
had arrived at that point, at which nations still possess all their
primitive virtues, in addition to those they have acquired.

At length, he again mounted his horse. It was then the Grand-marshal
observed to one of us, that "if Barclay had committed so very great a
blunder in refusing battle, the emperor would not have been so extremely
anxious to convince us of it." A few paces farther, an officer, sent not
long before to Prince Schwartzenberg, presented himself: he reported
that Tormasof and his army had appeared in the north, between Minsk and
Warsaw, and that they had marched upon our line of operation. A Saxon
brigade taken at Kobrynn, the grand-duchy overrun, and Warsaw alarmed,
had been the first results of this aggression; but Regnier had summoned
Schwartzenberg to his aid. Tormasof had then retreated to Gorodeczna,
where he halted on the 12th of August, between two defiles, in a plain
surrounded by woods and marshes, but accessible in the rear of his left

Regnier, skilful before an action, and an excellent judge of ground,
knew how to prepare battles; but when the field became animated, when it
was covered with men and horses, he lost his self-possession, and rapid
movements seemed to dazzle him. At first, therefore, that general
perceived at a glance the weak side of the Russians; he bore down upon
it, but instead of breaking into it by masses and with impetuosity, he
merely made successive attacks.

Tormasof, forewarned by these, had time to oppose, at first, regiments
to regiments, then brigades to brigades, and lastly divisions to
divisions. By favour of this prolonged contest, he gained the night, and
withdrew his army from the field of battle, where a rapid and
simultaneous effort might have destroyed it. Still, he lost some pieces
of cannon, a great quantity of baggage, and four thousand men, and
retired behind the Styr, where he was joined by Tchitchakof, who was
hastening with the army of the Danube to his succour.

This battle, though far from decisive, preserved the grand-duchy: it
confined the Russians, in this quarter, to the defensive, and gave the
emperor time to win a battle.

During this recital, the tenacious genius of Napoleon was less struck
with these advantages in themselves, than with the support they gave to
the illusion which he had just been holding forth to us: accordingly,
still adhering to his original idea, and without questioning the
aid-de-camp, he turned round to his auditory, and, as if continuing his
former conversation, he exclaimed: "There you see, the poltroons! they
allow themselves to be beaten even by Austrians!" Then, casting around
him a look of apprehension, "I hope," added he, "that none but Frenchmen
hear me." He then asked if he might rely on the good faith of Prince
Schwartzenberg, for which the aid-de-camp pledged himself; nor was he
mistaken, though the event seemed to belie his confidence.

Every word which the emperor had uttered merely proved his
disappointment, and that a great hesitation had again taken possession
of his mind; for in him success was less communicative, and decision
less verbose. At length he entered Smolensk. In the passage through its
massive walls, Count Lobau exclaimed, "What a fine head for
cantonments!" This was the same thing as advising him to stop there; but
the emperor returned no other answer to this counsel than a stern look.

This look, however, soon changed its expression, when it had nothing to
rest upon but ruins, among which our wounded were crawling, and heaps of
smoking ashes, where lay human skeletons, dried and blackened by the
fire. This great destruction confounded him. What a harvest of victory!
That city where his troops were at length to find shelter, provisions, a
rich booty, the promised reward for so many hardships, was but a ruin on
which he should be obliged to bivouac! No doubt his influence over his
men was great, but could it extend beyond nature? What would they think?

Here, it is right to observe, that the sufferings of the army did not
want for an interpreter. He knew that his soldiers asked one another
"for what purpose they had been marched eight hundred leagues, to find
nothing but muddy water, famine, and bivouacs on heaps of ashes: for
such were all their conquests; they possessed nothing but what they had
brought with them. If it was necessary to drag every thing along with
them, to transport France into Russia, wherefore had they been required
to quit France?"

Several of the generals themselves began to tire: some stopped on
account of illness, others murmured: "What better were they for his
having enriched them, if they could not enjoy their wealth? for his
having given them wives, if he made them widowers by a continual
absence? for his having bestowed on them palaces, if he forced them to
lie abroad incessantly on the bare ground, amidst frost and snow?--for
every year the hardships of war increased; fresh conquests compelling
them to go farther in quest of fresh enemies. Europe would soon be
insufficient: he would want Asia too."

Several, especially of our allies, ventured to think, that we should
lose less by a defeat than by a victory: a reverse would perhaps disgust
the emperor with the war; at least it would place him more upon a level
with us.

The generals who were nearest to Napoleon were astonished at his
confidence. "Had he not already in some measure quitted Europe? and if
Europe were to rise against him, he would have no subjects but his
soldiers, no empire but his camp: even then, one-third of them, being
foreigners, would become his enemies." Such was the language of Murat
and Berthier. Napoleon, irritated at finding in his two chief
lieutenants, and at the very moment of action, the same uneasiness with
which he was himself struggling, vented his ill-humour against them: he
overwhelmed them with it, as frequently happens in the household of
princes, who are least sparing of those of whose attachment they are
most sure; an inconvenience attending favour, which counterbalances its

After his spleen had vented itself in a torrent of words, he summoned
them back; but this time, dissatisfied with such treatment, they kept
aloof. The emperor then made amends for his hastiness by caresses,
calling Berthier "his wife," and his fits of passion, "domestic

Murat and Ney left him with minds full of sinister presentiments
relative to this war, which at the first sight of the Russians they were
themselves for carrying on with fury. For in them, whose character was
entirely made up of action, inspiration, and first movements, there was
no consistency: every thing was unexpected; the occasion hurried them
away; impetuous, they varied in language, plans, and dispositions, at
every step, just as the ground is incessantly varying in appearance.


About the same time, Rapp and Lauriston presented themselves: the latter
came from Petersburgh. Napoleon did not ask a single question of this
officer on his arrival from the capital of his enemy. Aware, no doubt,
of the frankness of his former aid-de-camp, and of his opinion
respecting this war, he was apprehensive of receiving from him
unsatisfactory intelligence.

But Rapp, who had followed our track, could not keep silence. "The army
had advanced but a hundred leagues from the Niemen, and already it was
completely altered. The officers who travelled post from the interior of
France to join it, arrived dismayed. They could not conceive how it
happened that a victorious army, without fighting, should leave behind
it more wrecks than a defeated one.

"They had met with all who were marching to join the masses, and all who
had separated from them; lastly, all who were not excited either by the
presence of the chiefs, or by example, or by the war. The appearance of
each troop, according to its distance from home, excited hope, anxiety,
or pity.

"In Germany, as far as the Oder, where a thousand objects were
incessantly reminding them of France, these recruits imagined themselves
not wholly cut off from it; they were ardent and jovial; but beyond the
Oder, in Poland, where the soil, productions, inhabitants, costumes,
manners, in short every thing, to the very habitations, wore a foreign
aspect; where nothing, in short, resembled a country which they
regretted; they began to be dismayed at the distance they had traversed,
and their faces already bore the stamp of fatigue and lassitude.

"By what an extraordinary distance must they then be separated from
France, since they had already reached unknown regions, where every
thing presented to them an aspect of such gloomy novelty! how many steps
they had taken, and how many more they had yet to take! The very idea of
return was disheartening; and yet they were obliged to march on, to keep
constantly marching! and they complained that ever since they left
France, their fatigues had been gradually increasing, and the means of
supporting them continually diminishing."

The truth is, that wine first failed them, then beer, even spirits; and,
lastly, they were reduced to water, which in its turn was frequently
wanting. The same was the case with dry provisions, and also with every
necessary of life; and in this gradual destitution, depression of mind
kept pace with the successive debilitation of the body. Agitated by a
vague inquietude, they marched on amid the dull uniformity of the vast
and silent forests of dark pines. They crept along these large trees,
bare and stripped to their very tops, and were affrighted at their
weakness amid this immensity. They then conceived gloomy and absurd
notions respecting the geography of these unknown regions; and, overcome
by a secret horror, they hesitated to penetrate farther into such vast

From these sufferings, physical and moral, from these privations, from
these continual bivouacs, as dangerous near the pole as under the
equator, and from the infection of the air by the putrified carcases of
men and horses that strewed the roads, sprang two dreadful
epidemics--the dysentery and the typhus fever. The Germans first felt
their ravages; they are less nervous and less sober than the French; and
they were less interested in a cause which they regarded as foreign to
them. Out of 22,000 Bavarians who had crossed the Oder, 11,000 only
reached the Düna; and yet they had never been in action. This military
march cost the French one-fourth, and the allies half of their army.

Every morning the regiments started in order from their bivouacs; but
scarcely had they proceeded a few steps, before their widening ranks
became lengthened out into small and broken files; the weakest, being
unable to follow, dropped behind: these unfortunate wretches beheld
their comrades and their eagles getting farther and farther from them:
they still strove to overtake, but at length lost sight of them, and
then sank disheartened. The roads and the margins of the woods were
studded with them: some were seen plucking the ears of rye to devour the
grain; and they would then attempt, frequently in vain, to reach the
hospital, or the nearest village. Great numbers thus perished.

But it was not the sick only that separated from the army: many
soldiers, disgusted and dispirited on the one hand, and impelled by a
love of independence and plunder on the other, voluntarily deserted
their colours; and these were not the least resolute: their numbers soon
increased, as evil begets evil by example. They formed bands, and fixed
their quarters in the mansions and villages adjacent to the military
road. There they lived in abundance. Among them there were fewer French
than Germans; but it was remarked, that the leader of each of these
little independent bodies, composed of men of several nations, was
invariably a Frenchman.

Rapp had witnessed all these disorders: on his arrival, his blunt
honesty kept back none of these details from his chief; but the emperor
merely replied, "I am going to strike a great blow, and all the
stragglers will then rally."

With Sebastiani he was more explicit. The latter reminded him of his own
words, when he had declared to him, at Wilna, that "he would not cross
the Düna, for to proceed farther this year, would be hurrying to
infallible destruction."

Sebastiani, like the others, laid great stress on the state of the army.
"It is dreadful, I know," replied the emperor: "from Wilna, half of it
consisted of stragglers; now they form two-thirds; there is, therefore,
no time to be lost: we must extort peace; it is at Moscow. Besides, this
army cannot now stop: with its composition, and in its disorganization,
motion alone keeps it together. One may advance at the head of it, but
not stop or go back. It is an army of attack, not of defence; an army of
operation, not of position."

It was thus that he spoke to those immediately about him; but to the
generals commanding his divisions, he held a different language. Before
the former, he manifested the motives which urged him forward, from the
latter he carefully concealed them, and seemed to agree with them as to
the necessity of stopping. This may serve to explain the contradictions
which were remarked in his own language.

Thus, the very same day, in the streets of Smolensk, surrounded by
Davoust and his generals, whose corps had suffered most in the assault
of the preceding day, he said, that in the capture of Smolensk he was
indebted to them for an important success, and that he considered that
city as an excellent head of cantonments.

"Now," continued he, "my line is well covered; we will stop here: behind
this rampart, I can rally my troops, let them rest, receive
reinforcements, and our supplies from Dantzic. Thus the whole of Poland
is conquered and defended; this is a sufficient result; it is gathering,
in two months, the fruit that might be expected only from two years of
war: it is therefore sufficient. Betwixt this and the spring, we must
organize Lithuania, and recompose an invincible army; then, if peace
should not come to seek us in our winter quarters, we will go and
conquer it at Moscow."

He then told the marshal in confidence, that his motive for ordering him
to proceed beyond Smolensk, was only to drive off the Russians to the
distance of a few marches; but he strictly forbade him to involve
himself in any serious affair. At the same time, it is true, he
committed the vanguard to Murat and to Ney, the two rashest of his
officers; and, unknown to Davoust, he placed that prudent and
methodical marshal under the command of the impetuous king of Naples.
Thus his mind seemed to be wavering between two great resolutions, and
the contradictions in his words were communicated to his actions. In
this internal conflict, however, it was remarked, what an ascendence his
enterprising genius had over his prudence, and how the former so
disposed matters as to give birth to circumstances which must
necessarily hurry him away.


Meanwhile the Russians still defended the suburb on the right bank of
the Dnieper. On our side, the 18th, and the night of the 19th, were
employed in rebuilding the bridges. On the 19th of August, before day,
Ney crossed the river by the light of the suburb, which was on fire. At
first, he saw there no enemies but the flames, and he began to climb the
long and rugged declivity on which it stands. His troops proceeded
slowly and with caution, making a thousand circuits to avoid the fire.
The Russians had managed it with skill: it met our men at every point,
and obstructed the principal avenues.

Ney, and the foremost of his soldiers, advanced in silence into this
labyrinth of flames, with anxious eye and attentive ear, not knowing but
that the Russians might be waiting on the summit of the steep, to pour
suddenly upon them, to overthrow and drive them back into the flames and
the river. But they breathed more freely, relieved from the weight of a
great apprehension, when they perceived on the crest of the ravine, at
the branching-off of the roads to Petersburgh and Moscow, nothing but a
band of cossacks, who immediately fled by those two roads. Having
neither prisoners nor inhabitants, nor spies, the ground was, as at
Witepsk, the only thing they could interrogate. But the enemy had left
as many traces in one direction as in the other, so that the marshal
paused in uncertainty between the two until mid-day.

During this interval, a passage had been effected across the Boristhenes
at several points; the roads to the two hostile capitals were
reconnoitred to the distance of a league, and the Russian infantry was
discovered in that leading to Moscow. Ney would soon have overtaken it;
but as that road skirted the Dnieper, he had to cross the streams which
fall into it. Each of them having scooped out its own bed, marked the
bottom of a valley, the opposite side of which was a position where the
enemy posted himself, and which it was necessary to carry: the first,
that of the Stubna, did not detain him long; but the hill of Valoutina,
at the foot of which runs the Kolowdnia, became the scene of an
obstinate conflict.

The cause of this resistance has been attributed to an ancient tradition
of national glory, which represented this field of battle as ground
consecrated by victory. But this superstition, worthy even still of the
Russian soldier, is far from the more enlightened patriotism of their
generals. It was necessity that here compelled them to fight: we have
seen that the Moscow road, on leaving Smolensk, skirted the Dnieper, and
that the French artillery, on the other bank, traversed it with its
fire. Barclay durst not take this road at night, for fear of risking his
artillery, baggage, and the waggons with the wounded, the rolling of
which would have betrayed his retreat.

The Petersburgh road quitted the river more abruptly: two marshy
cross-roads branched off from it on the right, one at the distance of
two leagues from Smolensk, the other at four; they ran through woods,
and rejoined the high-road to Moscow, after a long circuit; the one at
Bredichino, two leagues beyond Valoutina, the other farther off at

Into these defiles Barclay was bold enough to commit himself with so
many horses and vehicles; so that this long and heavy column had thus to
traverse two large arcs of a circle, of which the high-road from
Smolensk to Moscow, which Ney soon attacked, was the chord. Every
moment, as always happens in such cases, the overturning of a carriage,
the sticking fast of a wheel, or of a single horse, in the mud, or the
breaking of a trace, stopped the whole. The sound of the French cannon,
meanwhile, drew nearer, and seemed to have already got before the
Russian column, and to be on the point of reaching and closing the
outlet which it was striving to gain.

At length, after an arduous march, the head of the enemy's convoy came
in sight of the high-road at the moment when the French had only to
force the height of Valoutina and the passage of Kolowdnia, in order to
reach that outlet. Ney had furiously carried that of the Stubna; but
Korf, driven back upon Valoutina, had summoned to his aid the column
which preceded him. It is asserted that the latter, without order, and
badly officered, hesitated to comply; but that Woronzof, aware of the
importance of that position, prevailed upon its commander to turn back.

The Russians defended themselves to defend every thing, cannon, wounded,
baggage: the French attacked in order to take every thing. Napoleon had
halted a league and a half behind Ney. Conceiving that it was but an
affair between his advanced guard and the rear of the enemy, he sent
Gudin to the assistance of the marshal, rallied the other divisions, and
returned to Smolensk. But this fight became a serious battle; 30,000 men
were successively engaged in it on both sides: soldiers, officers,
generals, encountered each other; the action was long, the struggle
terrible; even night did not suspend it. At length, in possession of the
plateau, exhausted by the loss of strength and blood, Ney finding
himself surrounded only by dead, dying, and obscurity, became fatigued;
he ordered his troops to cease firing, to keep silence, and present
bayonets. The Russians hearing nothing more, were silent also, and
availed themselves of the darkness to effect their retreat.

There was almost as much glory in their defeat as in our victory: the
two chiefs carried their point, the one in conquering, the other in not
being conquered till he had saved the Russian artillery, baggage, and
wounded. One of the enemy's generals, the only one left unhurt on this
field of carnage, endeavoured to escape from among our soldiers, by
repeating the French word of command; he was recognized by the flashes
of their fire-arms, and secured. Other Russian generals had perished,
but the grand army sustained a still greater loss.

At the passage of the bridge over the Kolowdnia, which had been badly
repaired, General Gudin, whose well-regulated valour loved to confront
none but useful dangers, and who besides was not a bold rider, had
alighted from his horse to cross the stream, when, at that moment, a
cannon-ball skimming the surface of the ground, broke both his legs.
When the tidings of this misfortune reached the emperor, they put a stop
to every thing--to discussion and action. Every one was thunderstruck;
the victory of Valoutina seemed no longer to be a success.

Gudin was conveyed to Smolensk, and there received the unavailing
attentions of the emperor; but he soon expired. His remains were
interred in the citadel of the city, which they honour: a worthy tomb
for a soldier, who was a good citizen, a good husband, a good father, an
intrepid general, just and mild, a man both of principle and talent; a
rare assemblage of qualities in an age when virtuous men are too
frequently devoid of abilities, and men of abilities without virtue. It
was a fortunate chance that he was worthily replaced; Gérard, the oldest
general of brigade of the division, took the command of it, and the
enemy, who knew nothing of our loss, gained nothing by the dreadful blow
he had dealt us.

The Russians, astonished at having been attacked only in front,
conceived that all the military combinations of Murat were confined to
following them on the high-road. They therefore styled him in derision,
"_the general of the high roads_," characterizing him thus from the
event, which tends more commonly to deceive than to enlighten.

In fact, while Ney was attacking, Murat scoured his flanks with his
cavalry, without being able to bring it into action; woods on the left,
and morasses on the right, obstructed his movements. But while they were
fighting in front, both were anticipating the effect of a flanking march
of the Westphalians, commanded by Junot.

From the Stubna, the high-road, in order to avoid the marshes formed by
the various tributary streams of the Dnieper, turned off to the left,
ascended the heights, and went farther from the basin of the river, to
which it afterwards returned in a more favourable situation. It had been
remarked that a by-road, bolder and shorter, as they all are, ran
straight across these low marshy grounds, between the Dnieper and the
high-road, which it rejoined behind the plateau of Valoutina.

It was this cross-road which Junot pursued after crossing the river at
Prudiszy. It soon led him into the rear of the left of the Russians,
upon the flank of the columns which were returning to the assistance of
their rear-guard. His attack was all that was wanted to render the
victory decisive. Those who were engaged in front with Marshal Ney would
have been daunted at hearing an attack in their rear; while the
uncertainty and disorder into which, in the midst of an action, it would
have thrown the multitude of men, horses, and carriages, crowded
together in one road, would have been irreparable; but Junot, though
personally brave, was irresolute as a general. His responsibility
alarmed him.

Meanwhile Murat, judging that he must have come up, was astonished at
not hearing his attack. The firmness of the Russians opposed to Ney led
him to suspect the truth. He left his cavalry, and crossing the woods
and marshes almost alone, he hastened to Junot, and upbraided him with
his inaction. Junot alleged in excuse, that "He had no orders to attack;
his Wurtemberg cavalry was shy, its efforts feigned, and it would never
be brought to charge the enemy's battalions."

These words Murat answered by actions. He rushed on at the head of that
cavalry, which, with a different leader, were quite different troops; he
urged them on, launched them against the Russians, overthrew their
tirailleurs, returned to Junot and said to him, "Now finish the
business: your glory and your marshal's staff are still before you!" He
then left him to rejoin his own troops, and Junot, confounded, remained
motionless. Too long about Napoleon, whose active genius directed every
thing, both the plan and the details, he had learned only to obey: he
wanted experience in command; besides, fatigue and wounds had made him
an old man before his time.

That such a general should have been selected for so important a
movement, was not at all surprising; it was well known that the emperor
was attached to him both from habit, (for he was his oldest aid-de-camp)
and from a secret foible, for as the presence of that officer was mixed
up with all the recollections of his victories and his glory, he
disliked to part from him. It is also reasonable to suppose that it
flattered his vanity, to see men who were his pupils commanding his
armies; and it was moreover natural that he should have a firmer
alliance on their attachment, than on that of any others.

When, however, on the following day he inspected the places themselves,
and, at the sight of the bridge where Gudin fell, made the remark, that
it was not there he ought to have debouched; when afterwards gazing,
with an angry look, on the position which Junot had occupied, he
exclaimed: "It was there, no doubt, that the Westphalians should have
attacked! all the battle was there! what was Junot about?" his
irritation became so violent, that nothing could at first allay it. He
called Rapp, and told him to take the command from the Duke of
Abrantes:--he would dismiss him from the army! he had lost his
marshal's staff without retrieve! this blunder would probably block the
road to Moscow against them; that to him, Rapp, he should intrust the
Westphalians; that he would speak to them in their own language, and he
would know how to make them fight. But Rapp refused the place of his
old companion in arms; he appeased the emperor, whose anger always
subsided quickly, as soon as it had vented itself in words.

But it was not merely on his left that the enemy had a narrow escape
from being conquered; on his right he had run a still greater risk.
Morand, one of Davoust's generals, had been despatched from that side
through the forests; he marched along woody heights, and was, from the
commencement of the action, on the flank of the Russians. A few paces
more, and he would have debouched in the rear of their right. His sudden
appearance would have infallibly decided the victory, and rendered it
complete; but Napoleon, unacquainted with the localities, ordered him to
be recalled to the spot where Davoust and himself had stopped.

In the army, we could not help asking ourselves, why the emperor, in
making three officers, independent of one another, combine for the same
object, had not made a point of being on the spot, to give their
movements the unity indispensable, and without him impossible. He, on
the contrary, had returned to Smolensk, either from fatigue, or chiefly
from not expecting so serious an affair; or finally, because, from the
necessity of attending to every thing at once, he could not be in time,
or completely any where. In fact, the business of his empire and of
Europe, having been suspended by the preceding days of activity, had
accumulated. It was necessary to clear out his portfolios, and to give
circulation to both civil and political affairs, which began to clog; it
was, besides, urgent and glorious to date from Smolensk.

When, therefore, Borelli, second in command of Murat's staff, came to
inform him of the battle of Valoutina, he hesitated about receiving him;
and so deeply was he engaged in the business before him, that a minister
had to interfere to procure that officer admittance. The report of this
officer agitated Napoleon. "What say you?" he exclaimed: "what! you are
not enough! the enemy shows 60,000 men! Then it is a battle!" and he
began storming at the disobedience and inactivity of Junot. When Borelli
informed him of Gudin's mortal wound, Napoleon's grief was violent; he
gave vent to it in repeated questions and expressions of regret; then
with that strength of mind which was peculiar to him, he subdued his
uneasiness, postponed his anger, suspended his chagrin, and giving
himself up wholly to his occupation, he deferred until the morrow the
charge of battles, for night had come on; but afterwards the hopes of a
battle roused him, and he appeared next morning with the day on the
fields of Valoutina.


Ney's troops, and those of Gudin's division, deprived of their general,
had drawn up there on the corses of their companions and of the
Russians, amidst the stumps of broken trees, on ground trampled by the
feet of the combatants, furrowed with balls, strewed with the fragments
of weapons, tattered garments, military utensils, carriages overthrown,
and scattered limbs; for such are the trophies of war, such the beauties
of a field of victory!

Gudin's battalions appeared to be melted down to platoons; the more they
were reduced, the prouder they seemed to be: close to them, one still
breathed the smell of burnt cartridges and gunpowder, with which the
ground and their apparel were impregnated, and their faces yet quite
begrimed. The emperor could not pass along their front without having to
avoid, to step over, or to tread upon carcases, and bayonets twisted by
the violence of the shock. But over all these horrors he threw a veil of
glory. His gratitude transformed this field of death into a field of
triumph, where, for some hours, satisfied honour and ambition held
exclusive sway.

He was sensible that it was high time to encourage his soldiers by
commendations and rewards. Never, therefore, were his looks more kind;
and as to his language, "this battle was the most glorious achievement
in our military history; the soldiers who heard him were men with whom
one might conquer the world; the slain, warriors who had died an
immortal death." He spoke thus, well aware that it is more especially
amid such destruction that men think of immortality.

He was profuse in his rewards; on the 12th, 21st, 127th of the line, and
the 17th light, he conferred eighty-seven decorations and promotions;
these were Gudin's regiments. The 127th had, before this, marched
without an eagle; for at that time it was necessary for a regiment to
earn its colours in a field of battle, to prove, that in the sequel it
would know how to preserve them there.

The emperor delivered the eagle to it with his own hands; he also
satisfied Ney's corps. His favours were as great in themselves as they
were in their form. The value of the gift was enhanced by the manner in
which he bestowed it. He was successively surrounded by each regiment as
by a family. There he appealed in a loud voice to the officers,
subalterns, and privates, inquiring who were the bravest of all those
brave men, or the most successful, and recompensing them on the spot.
The officers named, the soldiers confirmed, the emperor approved: thus,
as he himself observed, the elections were made instantaneously, in a
circle, in his presence, and confirmed with acclamations by the troops.

These paternal manners, which made the private soldier the military
comrade of the ruler of Europe; these forms, which revived the
still-regretted usages of the republic, delighted the troops. He was a
monarch, but the monarch of the Revolution; and they could not but love
a fortunate sovereign who led them on to fortune; in him there was every
thing to excite, and nothing to reproach them.

Never did field of victory exhibit a spectacle more capable of exalting;
the presentation of that eagle so richly merited, the pomp of these
promotions, the shouts of joy, the glory of those warriors, recompensed
on the very spot where it had just been acquired; their valour
proclaimed by a voice, every accent of which rung throughout attentive
Europe; by that great captain whose bulletins would carry their names
over the whole world, and more especially among their countrymen, and
into the bosoms of their families, which they would at once cheer and
make proud: how many favours at once! they were absolutely intoxicated
with them: he himself seemed at first to allow himself to share their

But when he was out of sight of his troops, the attitude of Ney and
Murat, and the words of Poniatowski, who was as frank and judicious in
council as he was intrepid in the field, tranquillized him; and when the
close heat of the day began to overpower him, and he learned from the
reports that his men had proceeded eight leagues without overtaking the
enemy, the spell was entirely dissolved. On his return to Smolensk, the
jolting of his carriage over the relics of the fight, the stoppages
caused on the road by the long file of the wounded who were crawling or
being carried back, and in Smolensk itself by the tumbrels of amputated
limbs about to be thrown away at a distance; in a word, all that is
horrible and odious out of fields of battle, completely disarmed him.
Smolensk was but one vast hospital, and the loud groans which issued
from it drowned the shout of glory which had just been raised on the
fields of Valoutina.

The reports of the surgeons were frightful: in that country a spirit
distilled from grain is used instead of wine and brandy made from
grapes. Narcotic plants are mixed with it. Our young soldiers, exhausted
with hunger and fatigue, conceived that this liquor would cheer them;
but its perfidious heat caused them to throw out at once all the fire
that was yet left in them, after which they sank exhausted, and became
the victims of disease.

Others, less sober, or more debilitated, were seized with dizziness,
stupefaction, and torpor; they squatted into the ditches and on the
roads. Their half-open, watery, and lack-lustre eyes seemed to watch,
with insensibility, death gradually seizing their whole frame; they
expired sullenly and without a groan.

At Wilna, it had not been possible to establish hospitals for more than
six thousand sick: convents, churches, synagogues, and barns, served to
receive the suffering multitude. In these dismal places, which were
sometimes unhealthy, but still too few, and too crowded, the sick were
frequently without food, without beds, without covering, and without
even straw and medicines. The surgeons were inadequate to the duty, so
that every thing, even to the very hospitals, contributed to create
disease, and nothing to cure.

At Witepsk, 400 wounded Russians were left on the field of battle: 300
more were abandoned in the town by their army; and as the inhabitants
had been taken away, these unfortunate wretches remained three days
before they were discovered, without assistance, huddled together
pell-mell, dead and dying, amidst the most horrible filth and infection:
they were at length collected together and mixed with our own wounded,
who, like those of the Russians, amounted to 700. Our surgeons tore up
their very shirts, and those of these poor creatures, to dress them; for
there already began to be a scarcity of linen.

When at length the wounds of these unfortunate men were healed, and they
required nothing but wholesome food to complete their cure, they
perished for want of sustenance: few either of the French or Russians
escaped. Those who were prevented from going in quest of food by the
loss of a limb, or by debility, were the first to sink. These disasters
occurred wherever the emperor was not in person; his presence bringing,
and his departure carrying, every thing along with it; and his orders,
in fact, not being scrupulously obeyed but within the circle of his own

At Smolensk, there was no want of hospitals; fifteen spacious brick
buildings were rescued from the flames: there were even found some wine,
brandy, and a few medical stores; and our reserve waggons for the
wounded at length rejoined us: but every thing ran short. The surgeons
were at work night and day, but the very second night, all the materials
for dressing the wounded were exhausted: there was no more linen, and
they were forced to use paper, found in the archives, in its stead.
Parchment served for splinters, and coarse cloth for compresses; and
they had no other substitute for lint than tow and birch down (_coton du

Our surgeons were overwhelmed with dismay: for three days an hospital of
a hundred wounded had been forgotten; an accident led to its discovery:
Rapp penetrated into that abode of despair. I will spare my reader the
horror of a description. Wherefore communicate those terrible
impressions which harrow up the soul? Rapp did not spare them to
Napoleon, who instantly caused his own wine, and a sum of money, to be
distributed among such of those unfortunate men as a tenacious life
still animated, or whom a disgusting food had supported.

But to the vehement emotion which these reports excited in the bosom of
the emperor, was superadded an alarming consideration. The conflagration
of Smolensk was no longer, he saw, the effect of a fatal and unforeseen
accident of war, nor even the result of an act of despair: it was the
result of cool determination. The Russians had studied the time and
means, and taken as great pains to destroy, as are usually taken to

The same day the courageous answers of one of their popes (the only one
found in Smolensk,) enlightened him still more in regard to the blind
fury which had been excited in the whole Russian nation. His
interpreter, alarmed by this animosity, conducted the pope to the
emperor. The venerable priest first reproached him, with firmness, for
his alleged sacrilegious acts: he knew not that it was the Russian
general himself who had caused the storehouses and churches to be set on
fire, and who had accused us of these outrages, in order that the
mercantile class and the peasantry might not separate their cause from
that of the nobility.

The emperor listened attentively. "But," said he to him at last, "has
your church been burned?"--"No, sire," replied the pope; "God will be
more powerful than you; he will protect it, for I have opened it to all
the unfortunate people whom the destruction of the city has deprived of
a home!"--"You are right," rejoined Napoleon, with emotion, "yes, God
will watch over the innocent victims of war; he will reward you for your
courage. Go, worthy priest, return to your post. Had all your popes
followed your example, they had not basely betrayed the mission of peace
which they received from heaven; if they had not abandoned the temples
which their presence alone renders sacred, my soldiers would have spared
your holy edifices; for we are all Christians, and your God is our God."

With these words, Napoleon sent back the priest to his temple with an
escort and some succours. A heart-rending shriek arose at the sight of
the soldiers penetrating into this asylum. A crowd of terrified women
and children thronged about the altar; but the pope, raising his voice,
cried; "be of good cheer: I have seen Napoleon; I have spoken to him.
Oh! how have we been deceived, my children! the emperor of France is not
the man that he has been represented to you. Learn that he and his
soldiers worship the same God as we do. The war which he wages is not
religious, it is a political quarrel with our emperor. His soldiers
fight only our soldiers. They do not slaughter, as we have been assured,
old men, women, and children. Cheer up, then, and let us thank God for
being relieved from the painful duty of hating them as heathen, impious
wretches, and incendiaries!" The pope then commenced a hymn of thanks,
in which they all joined with tearful eyes.

But these very words demonstrated how much the nation had been deceived.
The rest of the inhabitants had fled. Henceforward, then, it was not
their army alone, it was the population, it was all Russia, that fled
before us. The emperor felt that, with this population, one of his most
powerful engines of conquest was escaping from his hands.


Ever since our arrival at Witepsk, Napoleon had in fact employed two of
his officers to sound the sentiments of these people. The object was,
to instil into them notions of liberty, and to compromise them in our
cause by an insurrection more or less general. But there had been
nothing to work upon excepting a few straggling savage boors, whom the
Russians had perhaps left as spies amongst us. This attempt had only
served to betray his plan, and to put the Russians on their guard
against it.

This expedient, moreover, was repugnant to Napoleon, whose nature
inclined him much more to the cause of kings than to that of nations. He
employed it but carelessly. Subsequently, at Moscow, he received several
addresses from different heads of families. They complained that they
were treated by the nobility like herds of cattle, which they might sell
or barter away at pleasure. They solicited Napoleon to proclaim the
abolition of slavery, and in the event of his doing so, they offered to
head partial insurrections, which they promised speedily to render

These offers were rejected. We should have seen, among a barbarous
people, a barbarous liberty, an ungovernable, a horrible licentiousness:
a few partial revolts had formerly furnished the standard of them. The
Russian nobles, like the planters of St. Domingo, would have been
ruined. The fear of this prevailed in the mind of Napoleon, and was
confessed by him; it induced him to give up, for a time, all attempts to
excite a movement which he could not have regulated.

Besides, these masters had conceived a distrust of their slaves. Amidst
so many dangers, they distinguished this as the most urgent. They first
wrought upon the minds of their unfortunate serfs, debased by all sorts
of servitude. Their priests, whom they are accustomed to believe,
imposed upon them by delusive language; they persuaded these peasants
that we were legions of devils, commanded by Antichrist, infernal
spirits, whose very look would excite horror, and whose touch would
contaminate. Such of our prisoners as fell into their hands, remarked
that these poor creatures would not again make use of the vessels which
they had used, and that they reserved them for the most filthy animals.

As we advanced, however, our presence would have refuted all these
clumsy fables. But behold! these nobles fell back with their serfs into
the interior of the country, as at the approach of a dire contagion.
Property, habitations, all that could detain them, and be serviceable to
us, were sacrificed. They interposed famine, fire, and the desert,
between them and us; for it was as much against their serfs as against
Napoleon that this mighty resolution was executed. It was no longer,
therefore, a war of kings that was to be prosecuted, but a war of class,
a war of party, a war of religion, a national war, a combination of all
sorts of war.

The emperor then first perceived the enormous magnitude of his
enterprise; the farther he advanced, the more it became magnified. So
long as he only encountered kings, to him, who was greater than all of
them, their defeats were but sport; but the kings being conquered, he
had now to do with people; and it was another Spain, but remote, barren,
infinite, that he had found at the opposite extremity of Europe. He was
daunted, hesitated, and paused.

At Witepsk, whatever resolution he might have taken, he wanted Smolensk,
and till he should be at Smolensk, he seemed to have deferred coming to
any determination. For this reason he was again seized with the same
perplexity: it was now more embarrassing, as the flames, the prevalent
epidemic, and the victims which surrounded him, had aggravated every
thing; a fever of hesitation attacked him; his eyes turned towards Kief,
Petersburgh, and Moscow.

At Kief he should envelop Tchitchakof and his army; he should rid the
right flank and the rear of the grand army, of annoyance; he should
cover the Polish provinces most productive of men, provisions, and
horses; while fortified cantonments at Mohilef, Smolensk, Witepsk,
Polotsk, Dünabourg, and Riga, would defend the rest. Behind this line,
and during the winter, he might raise and organize all ancient Poland,
and hurl it in the spring upon Russia, oppose nation to nation, and
render the war equal.

At Smolensk, however, he was at the point where the Petersburgh and
Moscow roads meet, 29 marches from the first of these capitals, and 15
from the other. In Petersburgh, the centre of the government, the knot
to which all the threads of the administration were united, the brain of
Russia, were her military and naval arsenals; in short, it was the only
point of communication between Russia and England, of which he should
possess himself. The victory of Polotsk, of which he had just received
intelligence, seemed to urge him in that direction. By marching in
concert with Saint-Cyr upon Petersburgh, he should envelop Wittgenstein,
and cause Riga to fall before Macdonald.

On the other hand, in Moscow, it was the nobility, as well as the
nation, that he should attack in its property, in its ancient honour;
the road to that capital was shorter; it presented fewer obstacles and
more resources; the Russian main army, which he could not neglect, and
which he must destroy, was there, together with the chances of a battle,
and the hope of giving a shock to the nation, by striking at its heart
in this national war.

Of these three plans the latter appeared to him the only one
practicable, in spite of the advancing season. The history of Charles
XII. was, nevertheless, before his eyes; not that of Voltaire, which he
had just thrown aside with impatience, judging it to be romantic and
inaccurate, but the journal of Adlerfield, which he read, but which did
not stop him. On comparing that expedition with his own, he found a
thousand differences between them, on which he laid great stress; for
who can be a judge in his own cause? and of what use is the example of
the past, in a world where there never were two men, two things, or two
situations exactly alike?

At any rate, about this period the name of Charles XII. was frequently
heard to drop from his lips.


But the news which arrived from all quarters excited his ardour quite as
much as it had been at Witepsk. His lieutenants seemed to have done more
than himself: the actions of Mohilef, Molodeczna, and Valoutina, were
regular battles, in which Davoust, Schwartzenberg, and Ney, were
conquerors; on his right, his line of operation seemed to be covered;
the enemy's army was flying before him; on his left, the Duke of Reggio,
after drawing Wittgenstein upon Polotsk, was attacked at Slowna, on the
17th of August. The attack of Wittgenstein was furious and obstinate; it
failed; but he retained his offensive position, and Marshal Oudinot had
been wounded. Saint-Cyr succeeded him in the command of that army,
composed of about 30,000 French, Swiss, and Bavarians. The very next day
this general, who disliked any command unless when he exercised it alone
and in chief, availed himself of it, to give his measure to his own
troops and to the enemy; but coolly, according to his character, and
combining every thing.

From daybreak till five in the evening, he contrived to amuse the enemy
by the proposal of an agreement to withdraw the wounded, and more
especially by demonstrations of retreat. At the same time he silently
rallied all his combatants, drew them up into three columns of attack,
and concealed them behind the village of Spas and rising grounds.

At five o'clock, all being ready, and Wittgenstein's vigilance asleep,
Saint-Cyr gave the signal: his artillery immediately began firing, and
his columns rushed forward. The Russians, being taken by surprise,
resisted in vain; their right was first broken, and their centre soon
fled in disorder: they abandoned 1000 prisoners, 20 pieces of cannon, a
field of battle covered with slain, and the offensive, which Saint-Cyr,
being too weak, could only affect to resume, for the purpose of better
defending himself.

In this short but severe and sanguinary conflict, the right wing of the
Russians, which was supported by the Düna, made an obstinate resistance.
It was necessary to charge it with the bayonet, amidst a thick fire of
grape-shot; every thing succeeded, but when it was supposed that there
was no more to do but to pursue, all was nearly lost; some Russian
dragoons, according to some, and horse-guards, according to others,
risked a charge on a battery of Saint-Cyr's; a French brigade placed to
support it advanced, then suddenly turned its back and fled through the
midst of our cannon, which it prevented from being fired. The Russians
reached them pell-mell with our men; they sabred the gunners, upset the
pieces, and pursued our horse so closely, that the latter, more and more
terrified, ran in disorder upon their commander-in-chief and his staff,
whom they overthrew. General Saint-Cyr was obliged to fly on foot. He
threw himself into the bottom of a ravine, which sheltered him from the
squall. The Russian dragoons were already close to Polotsk, when a
prompt and skilful manoeuvre of Berkheim and the 4th French
cuirassiers put an end to this warm affair. The Russians betook
themselves to the woods.

The following day Saint-Cyr sent a body of men in pursuit of them, but
merely to observe their retreat, to mark the victory, and to reap some
more of its fruits. During the two succeeding months, up to the 18th of
October, Wittgenstein kept at a respectful distance. The French general,
on his part, confined his attention to observing the enemy, keeping up
his communications with Macdonald, with Witepsk, and Smolensk,
fortifying himself in his position of Polotsk, and, above all, finding
there means of subsistence.

In this action of the 18th, four generals, four colonels, and many
officers, were wounded. Among them the army remarked the Bavarian
Generals Deroy and Liben. They expired on the 22d of August. These
generals were of the same age; they had belonged to the same regiment,
had made the same campaigns, proceeded at nearly an equal pace in their
perilous career, which was gloriously terminated by the same death, and
in the same battle. It was thought right not to separate in the tomb
these warriors, whom neither life nor death had been able to part; one
grave received the remains of both.

On the news of this victory, the emperor sent to General Saint-Cyr the
staff of Marshal of the empire. He placed a great number of crosses at
his disposal, and subsequently approved most of the promotions which
were applied for.

Notwithstanding this success, the determination to proceed beyond
Smolensk was too perilous for Napoleon to decide on it alone: it was
requisite that he should contrive to be drawn into it. Beyond Valoutina,
Ney's corps, which was fatigued, had been replaced by that of Davoust.
Murat as king, as brother-in-law to the emperor, and agreeably to his
order, was to command it. Ney had submitted to this, less from
condescension than from conformity of disposition. They agreed in their

But Davoust, whose methodical and tenacious genius was a complete
contrast to the fiery impetuosity of Murat, and who was rendered proud
by the remembrance of, and the titles derived from two great victories,
was piqued at being placed in this dependence. These haughty chiefs, who
were about the same age, had been companions in war, and had mutually
witnessed each other's elevation; they were both spoiled by the habit of
having obeyed only a great man, and were by no means fit to command one
another; Murat, in particular, who was too often unable to command

Davoust nevertheless obeyed, but with an ill grace, and imperfectly, as
wounded pride generally does. He affected immediately to break off all
direct correspondence with the emperor. The latter, surprised at this,
ordered him to renew it, alleging his distrust of the reports of Murat.
Davoust made a handle of this avowal, and again asserted his
independence. Henceforward the vanguard had two leaders. Thus the
emperor, fatigued, distressed, overloaded with business of every kind,
and forced to show indulgence to his lieutenants, divided his power as
well as his armies, in spite of his precepts and his former examples.
Circumstances, which he had so often controlled, became stronger than
him, and controlled him in their turn.

Meanwhile Barclay, having fallen back without resistance nearly as far
as Dorogobouje, Murat had no need of Davoust, and no occasion presented
itself for misunderstanding; but about eleven in the forenoon of the 23d
of August, a thick wood, a few wersts from that town, which the king
wished to reconnoitre, was warmly disputed with him: he was obliged to
carry it twice.

Murat, surprised at such a resistance at that early hour, pushed on, and
piercing through this curtain, beheld the whole Russian army drawn up in
order of battle. The narrow ravine of the Luja separated him from it: it
was noon; the extent of the Russian lines, especially towards our right,
the preparations, the hour, the place, which was that where Barclay had
just rejoined Bagration; the choice of the ground, well suited for a
general engagement; all gave him reason to anticipate a battle; and he
sent a dispatch to the emperor to apprise him of it.

At the same time he ordered Montbrun to pass the ravine on his right
with his cavalry, in order to reconnoitre and get upon the left of the
enemy. Davoust, and his five divisions of infantry, extended themselves
on that side; he protected Montbrun: the king recalled them to his left,
on the high-road, designing, it is said, to support Montbrun's flank
movement by some demonstrations in front.

Davoust replied, that "This would be sacrificing our right wing, through
which the enemy would get behind us on the high-road, our only means of
retreat; that thus he would force us to a battle, which he, Davoust, had
orders to avoid, and which he would avoid, his force being insufficient,
the position bad, and he being moreover under the command of a leader in
whom he had but little confidence." He then wrote immediately to
Napoleon, urging him to come up without loss of time, if he would not
have Murat engage without him.

On this intelligence, which he received in the night of the 24th of
August, Napoleon joyfully threw aside his indecision, which to this
enterprising and decisive genius was absolute torture: he hurried
forward with his guard, and proceeded twelve leagues without halting;
but on the evening of the preceding day, the enemy's army had again

On our side, his retreat was attributed to the movement of Montbrun; on
the part of the Russians to Barclay, and to a bad position chosen by the
chief of his staff, who had taken up ground in his own disfavour,
instead of making it serve to his advantage. Bagration was the first who
perceived it; his rage knew no bounds, and he proclaimed it treason.

Discord reigned in the Russian camp as well as in our advanced guard.
Confidence in their commander, that strength of armies, was wanting; his
every step seemed a blunder; each resolution that was taken the very
worst. The loss of Smolensk had soured all; the junction of the two
_corps d'armée_ increased the evil; the stronger the Russian force felt
itself, the weaker did its general seem to it. The outcry became
general; another leader was loudly called for. A few prudent men,
however, interposed: Kutusof was announced, and the humbled pride of the
Russians awaited him in order to fight.

The emperor, on his part, already at Dorogobouje, no longer hesitated;
he knew that he carried every where with him the fate of Europe; that
wherever he might be, that would always be the place where the destiny
of nations would be decided; that he might therefore advance, fearless
of the threatening consequences of the defection of the Swedes and
Turks. Thus he neglected the hostile armies of Essen at Riga, of
Wittgenstein before Polotsk, of Ertell before Bobruisk, and of
Tchitchakof in Volhynia. They consisted of 120,000 men, whose number
could not but keep gradually augmenting; he passed them, and suffered
himself to be surrounded by them with indifference, assured that all
these vain obstacles of war and policy would be swept away by the very
first thunderbolt which he should launch.

And yet, his column of attack, which was 185,000 strong at his departure
from Witepsk, was already reduced to 157,000; it was diminished by
28,000 men, half of whom occupied Witepsk, Orcha, Mohilef, and Smolensk.
The rest had been killed or wounded, or were straggling, and plundering
in his rear our allies and the French themselves.

But 157,000 men were sufficient to destroy the Russian army by a
complete victory, and to take Moscow. As to his base of operation,
notwithstanding the 120,000 Russians by whom it was threatened, it
appeared to be secure. Lithuania, the Düna, the Dnieper, and lastly
Smolensk, were or would soon be covered towards Riga and Dünabourg by
Macdonald and 32,000 men; towards Polotsk, by Saint-Cyr, with 30,000; at
Witepsk, Smolensk, and Mohilef, by Victor and 40,000; before Bobruisk,
by Dombrowski and 12,000; and on the Bug by Schwartzenberg and Regnier,
at the head of 45,000 men. Napoleon reckoned besides on the divisions of
Loison and Durutte, 22,000 strong, which were already approaching
Königsberg and Warsaw; and on reinforcements to the amount of 80,000,
all of which would enter Russia before the middle of November.

He should thus have 280,000 men, including the Lithuanian and Polish
levies, to support him, while, with 155,000 more, he made an incursion
of 93 leagues; for such was the distance between Smolensk and Moscow.

But these 280,000 men were commanded by six different leaders, all
independent of each other, and the most elevated of them, he who
occupied the centre, and who seemed to be appointed to act as an
intermediate link, to give some unity to the operations of the other
five, was a minister of peace, and not of war.

Besides, the same causes which had already diminished, by one-third, the
French forces which first entered Russia, could not fail to disperse or
to destroy a still greater proportion of all these reinforcements. Most
of them were coming by detachments, formed provisionally into marching
battalions under officers new to them, whom they were to leave the first
day, without the incentive of discipline, _esprit de corps_, or glory,
and traversing an exhausted country, which the season and the climate
would be rendering daily more bare and more rude.

Meanwhile Napoleon beheld Dorogobouje in ashes, like Smolensk,
especially the quarter of the merchants, those who had most to lose,
whom their riches might have detained or brought back amongst us, and
who, from their situation, formed a kind of intermediate class, a
commencement of the third estate, which liberty was likely to seduce.

He was perfectly aware that he was quitting Smolensk, as he had come
thither, with the hope of a battle, which the indecision and discord of
the Russian generals had as yet deferred; but his resolution was taken;
he would hear of nothing but what was calculated to support him in it.
He persisted in pursuing the track of the enemy; his hardihood increased
with their prudence; their circumspection he called pusillanimity, their
retreat flight; he despised, that he might hope.



The emperor had proceeded with such expedition to Dorogobouje, that he
was obliged to halt there, in order to wait for his army, and to leave
Murat to pursue the enemy. He set out again on the 26th of August; the
army marched in three columns abreast; the Emperor, Murat, Davoust, and
Ney in the centre, on the high-road to Moscow; Poniatowski on the right;
and the army of Italy on the left.

The principal column, that of the centre, found nothing on a road where
its advanced guard itself had to subsist entirely on the leavings of the
Russians; it could not digress from its direction, for want of time, in
so rapid a march. Besides, the columns on the right and left consumed
every thing on either side of it. In order to live better, it ought to
have set out later every day, halted earlier, and then extended itself
more on its flanks during the night; which could be done without
imprudence when the enemy was so near at hand.

At Smolensk orders had been issued, as at Witepsk, to take, at starting,
provisions for several days. The emperor was aware of the difficulty of
collecting them, but he reckoned upon the diligence of the officers and
the troops; they had warning,--that was sufficient; they would contrive
to provide themselves with necessaries. They had acquired the habit of
doing so; and it was really a curious sight to observe the voluntary and
continual efforts of so many men to follow a single individual to such
great distances. The existence of the army was a prodigy that was daily
renewed, by the active, industrious, and intelligent spirit of the
French and Polish troops, by their habit of surmounting all
difficulties, and by their fondness for the hazards and irregularities
of this dreadful game of an adventurous life.

In the train of each regiment there were a multitude of those diminutive
horses with which Poland swarms, a great number of carts of the country,
which required to be incessantly replaced with fresh ones, and a drove
of cattle. The baggage-waggons were driven by soldiers, for they turned
their hands to every trade. They were missed in the ranks, it is true;
but here the want of provisions, the necessity for transporting every
thing with them, excused this prodigious train: it required a second
army, as it were, to carry or draw what was indispensable for the first.

In this prompt organization, adopted while marching, the army had
accommodated itself to all the local customs and difficulties; the
genius of the soldiers had admirably made the most of the scanty
resources of the country. As to the officers, as the general orders
always took for granted regular distributions which were never made,
each of them, according to the degree of his zeal, intelligence, and
firmness, appropriated to himself more or less of this spoil, and had
converted individual pillage into regular contributions.

For it was only by excursions on the flanks and into an unknown country
that any provisions could be procured. Every evening, when the army
halted, and the bivouacs were established, detachments, rarely commanded
by divisions, sometimes by brigades, and most commonly by regiments,
went in quest of necessaries, and penetrated into the country; a few
wersts from the road they found all the villages inhabited, and were not
very hostilely received; but as they could not make themselves
understood, and besides wanted every thing, and that instantaneously,
the peasants were soon seized with a panic and fled into the woods,
whence they issued again as no very formidable partizans.

The detachments meanwhile plentifully regaled themselves, and rejoined
their corps next day or some days afterwards, laden with all that they
had collected; and it frequently happened that they were plundered in
their turn by their comrades belonging to the other corps whom they
chanced to fall in with. Hence animosities, which would have infallibly
led to most sanguinary intestine conflicts, had not all been
subsequently overtaken by the same misfortune, and involved in the
horrors of a common disaster.

Till the return of their detachments, the soldiers who remained with
their eagles lived on what they could find on the military route; in
general it consisted of new rye, which they bruised and boiled. Owing to
the cattle which followed, there was less want of meat than of bread;
but the length, and especially the rapidity of the marches, occasioned
the loss of many of these animals: they were suffocated by the heat and
dust; when, therefore, they came to water, they ran into it with such
fury, that many of them were drowned, while others drank so
immoderately, as to swell themselves out till they were unable to walk.

It was remarked, as before we reached Smolensk, that the divisions of
the first corps continued to be the most numerous; their detachments,
better disciplined, brought back more, and did less injury to the
inhabitants. Those who remained with their colours lived on the contents
of their knapsacks, the regular appearance of which relieved the eye,
fatigued with a disorder that was nearly universal.

Each of these knapsacks, reduced to what was strictly necessary in point
of apparel, contained two shirts, two pair of shoes with nails, and a
pair of extra soles, a pair of pantaloons and half-gaiters of cloth; a
few articles requisite to cleanliness, a bandage, and a quantity of
lint, and sixty cartridges.

In the two sides were placed four biscuits of sixteen ounces each; under
these, and at the bottom, was a long, narrow, linen bag, filled with ten
pounds of flour. The whole knapsack and its contents, together with the
straps and the hood, rolled up and fastened at top, weighed
thirty-three pounds twelve ounces.

Each soldier carried also a linen bag, slung in form of a shoulder-belt,
containing two loaves of three pounds each. Thus with his sabre, his
loaded knapsack, three flints, his turn-screw, his belt and musket, he
had to carry fifty-eight pounds weight, and was provided with bread for
four days, biscuit for four, flour for seven, and sixty rounds of

Behind it were carriages laden with provisions for six more days; but it
was impossible to reckon with confidence on these vehicles, picked up on
the spot, which would have been so convenient in any other country with
a smaller army, and in a more regular war.

When the flour-bag was emptied, it was filled with any corn that could
be found, and which was ground at the first mill, if any chanced to be
met with; if not, by the hand-mills which followed the regiments, or
which were found in the villages, for the Russians are scarcely
acquainted with any others. It took sixteen men twelve hours to grind in
one of them the corn necessary for one hundred and thirty men for one

As every house in this country has an oven, little want was felt on that
score; bakers abounded; for the regiments of the first corps contained
men of all trades, so that articles of food and clothing were all made
or repaired by them during the march. They were colonies uniting the
character of civilized and nomadic. The emperor had first conceived the
idea, which the genius of the prince of Eckmühl had appropriated; he had
every thing he wanted, time, place, and men to carry it into execution;
but these three elements of success were less at the disposal of the
other chiefs. Besides, their characters being more impetuous and less
methodical, would scarcely have derived the same advantages from it;
with a less organizing genius, they would therefore have had more
obstacles to surmount; the emperor had not paid sufficient attention to
these differences, which were productive of baneful effects.


It was from Slawkowo, a few leagues beyond Dorogobouje, that Napoleon
sent orders, on the 27th of August, to marshal Victor, who was then on
the Niemen, to advance to Smolensk. This marshal's left was to occupy
Witepsk, his right Mohilef, and his centre Smolensk. There he would
succour Saint-Cyr, in case of need, serve for a point of support to the
army of Moscow, and keep up his communications with Lithuania.

It was also from the same imperial head-quarters that he published the
details of his review at Valoutina, with the intention of proclaiming to
the present and future ages the names even of the private soldiers who
had there distinguished themselves. But he added, that at Smolensk "the
conduct of the Poles had astonished the Russians, who had been
accustomed to despise them." These words drew from the Poles an outcry
of indignation, and the emperor smiled at an anger which he had
foreseen, and the effects of which were designed to fall exclusively on
the Russians.

On this march he took delight in dating from the heart of Old Russia a
number of decrees, which would be circulated in the meanest hamlets of
France; from the desire of appearing to be present every where at once,
and filling the earth more and more with his power: the offspring of
that inconceiveable and expanding greatness of soul, whose ambition was
at first a mere plaything, but finally coveted the empire of the world.

It is true that at the same time there was so little order about him at
Slawkowo, that his guard burned, during the night, to warm themselves,
the bridge which they were ordered to guard, and the only one by which
he could, the next day, leave his imperial quarters. This disorder,
however, like many others, proceeded not from insubordination, but from
thoughtlessness; it was corrected as soon as it was perceived.

The very same day Murat drove the enemy beyond the Osma, a narrow river,
but enclosed with high banks, and of great depth, like most of the
rivers of this country, the effect of the snow, and which, at the period
of its general melting, prevents inundations. The Russian rear-guard,
covered by this obstacle, faced about and established itself on the
heights of the opposite bank. Murat ordered the ravine to be examined,
and a ford was discovered. It was through this narrow and insecure
defile that he dared to march against the Russians, to venture between
the river and their position; thus cutting off from himself all retreat,
and turning a skirmish into a desperate action. In fact, the enemy
descended in force from their height, and drove him back to the very
brink of the ravine, into which they had well-nigh precipitated him. But
Murat persisted in his error; he braved it out, and converted it into a
success. The 4th lancers carried the position, and the Russians went to
pass the night not far off; content with having made us purchase at a
dear rate a quarter of a league of ground, which they would have given
up to us for nothing during the night.

At the moment of the most imminent danger, a battery of the prince of
Eckmühl twice refused to fire. Its commanding officer pleaded his
instructions, which forbade him, upon pain of being broke, to fight
without orders from Davoust. These orders arrived, in time, according to
some, but too late according to others. I relate this incident, because,
on the following day, it was the occasion of a violent quarrel between
Murat and Davoust, in presence of the emperor, at Semlewo.

The king reproached the prince with his tardy circumspection, and more
especially with an enmity which dated from the expedition to Egypt. In
the vehemence of his passion he told him, that if there was any quarrel
between them they ought to settle it by themselves, but that the army
ought not to be made the sufferers for it.

Davoust, irritated in his turn, accused the king of temerity; according
to him "his thoughtless ardour was incessantly compromising his troops,
and wasting to no purpose, their lives, their strength, and their
stores. It was right that the emperor should at last know what was daily
occurring in his advanced guard. Every morning the enemy had disappeared
before it; but this experience led to no alteration whatever in the
march: the troops, therefore, set out late, all keeping the high-road,
and forming a single column, and in this manner they advanced in the
void till about noon.

"The enemy's rear-guard, ready to fight, was then discovered behind some
marshy ravine, the bridges over which had been broken down, and which
was commanded from the opposite bank. The light troops were instantly
brought into action, then the first regiments of cavalry that were at
hand, and then the artillery; but in general out of reach, or against
straggling cossacks, who were not worth the trouble. At length, after
vain and sanguinary attempts made in front, the king took it into his
head to reconnoitre the force and position of the enemy more accurately,
and to manoeuvre; and he sent for the infantry.

"Then after having long waited in this endless column, the ravine was
crossed on the left or on the right of the Russians, who retired under a
fire of their small arms to a new position; where the same resistance,
and the same mode of march and attack, exposed us to the same losses and
the same delays.

"In this manner the king went on from position to position, till he came
to one which was stronger or better defended. It was usually about five
in the evening, sometimes later, rarely earlier; but in this case the
tenacity of the Russians, and the hour, plainly indicated that their
whole army was there, and was determined to pass the night on the spot.

"For it could not be denied that this retreat of the Russians was
conducted with admirable order. The ground alone dictated it to them and
not Murat. Their positions were so well chosen, taken so seasonably, and
each defended so exactly in proportion to its strength, and the time
which their general wished to gain, that in truth their movements seemed
to form part of a plan which had been long determined on, carefully
traced, and executed with scrupulous exactness.

"They never abandoned a post till the moment before they were likely to
be driven from it.

"In the evening they established themselves early in a good position,
leaving under arms no more troops than were absolutely necessary to
defend it, while the remainder rested and refreshed themselves."

Davoust added that, "so far from profiting by this example, the king
paid no regard either to the hour, the strength of the situation, or the
resistance; that he dashed on among his tirailleurs, dancing about in
front of the enemy's line, feeling it in every part; putting himself in
a passion, giving his orders with loud shouts, and making himself hoarse
with repeating them; exhausting every thing, cartouch-boxes,
ammunition-waggons, men and horses, combatants and non-combatants, and
keeping all the troops under arms till night had set in.

"Then, indeed, it was found necessary to desist, and to take up their
quarters where they were; but they no longer knew where to find
necessaries. It was really pitiful to hear the soldiers wandering in the
dark, groping about, as it were, for forage, water, wood, straw, and
provisions, and then, unable to find their bivouacs again, calling out
to one another lest they should lose themselves, during the whole night.
Scarcely had they time, not to sleep, but to prepare their food.
Overwhelmed with fatigue, they cursed the hardships they had to endure,
till daylight and the enemy came to rouse them again.

"It was not the advanced guard alone that suffered in this manner, but
the whole of the cavalry. Every evening Murat had left behind him 20,000
men on horseback and under arms, on the high-road. This long column had
remained all day without eating or drinking, amidst a cloud of dust,
under a burning sky; ignorant of what was passing before it, advancing a
few paces from one quarter of an hour to another, then halting to deploy
among fields of rye, but without daring to take off the bridles and to
allow their famished horses to feed, because the king kept them
incessantly on the alert. It was to advance five or six leagues that
they thus passed sixteen tedious hours--particularly arduous for the
cuirassier horses, which had more to carry than the others, though
weaker, as the largest horses in general are, and which required more
food; hence their great carcasses were worn down to skeletons, their
flanks collapsed, they crawled rather than walked, and every moment one
was seen staggering, and another falling under his rider, who left him
to his fate."

Davoust concluded with saying, that "in this manner the whole of the
cavalry would perish; Murat, however, might dispose of that as he
pleased, but as for the infantry of the first corps, so long as he had
the command of it, he would not suffer it to be thrown away in that

The king was not backward in replying. While the emperor was listening
to them, he was at the same time playing with a Russian ball, which he
kicked about with his foot. It seemed as if there was something in the
misunderstanding between these chiefs which did not displease him. He
attributed their animosity entirely to their ardour, well aware that of
all passions glory is the most jealous.

The impatient ardour of Murat gratified his own. As the troops had
nothing to live upon but what they found, every thing was consumed at
the moment; for this reason it was necessary to make short work with the
enemy, and to proceed rapidly. Besides, the general crisis in Europe was
too strong, his situation too critical to remain there, and himself too
impatient; he wished to bring matters to a close at any rate, in order
to extricate himself.

The impetuosity of the king, therefore, seemed to suit his anxiety
better than the methodical prudence of the Prince of Eckmühl.
Accordingly, when he dismissed them, he said mildly to Davoust, that
"one person could not possess every species of merit; that he knew
better how to fight a battle than to push a rear-guard; and that if
Murat had pursued Bagration in Lithuania, he would probably not have
allowed him to escape." It is even asserted that he reproached the
marshal with a restless disposition, an anxiety to appropriate to
himself all the commands; less, indeed, from ambition than zeal, and
that all might go on better; but yet this zeal had its inconveniences.
He then sent them away with an injunction to agree better in future.

The two chiefs returned to their commands, and to their animosity. As
the war was confined to the head of the column, that also was the scene
of their disputes.


On the 28th of August, the army crossed the vast plains of the
government of Wiazma: it marched in all haste, the whole together,
through fields, and several regiments abreast, each forming a short,
close column. The high-road was left for the artillery, its waggons, and
those carrying the sick and wounded. The emperor, on horseback, was seen
every where: Murat's letters, and the approach to Wiazma, deceived him
once more with the hope of a battle: he was heard calculating on the
march the thousands of cannon-balls which he would require to crush the
hostile army.

Napoleon had assigned its place to the baggage: he published an order
for burning all vehicles which should be seen among the troops, not
excepting carts loaded with provisions, for they might embarrass the
movements of the columns, and compromise their safety in case of attack.
Having met in his way with the carriage of General Narbonne, his
aid-de-camp, he himself caused it to be set on fire, before the face of
that general, and that instantaneously, without suffering it to be
emptied; an order which was only severe, although it appeared harsh,
because he himself began by enforcing its execution, which, however, was
not followed up.

The baggage of all the corps was therefore assembled in the rear of the
army: there was, from Dorogobouje, a long train of bat-horses and
kibitks, harnessed with ropes; these vehicles were laden with booty,
provisions, military effects, men appointed to take care of them;
lastly, sick soldiers, and the arms of both, which were rusting in them.
In this column were seen many of the tall dismounted cuirassiers,
bestriding horses no bigger than our asses, because they could not
follow on foot for want of practice and of boots. On this confused and
disorderly multitude, as well as on most of the marauders on our flanks,
the cossacks might have made successful _coups de main_. They would
thereby have harassed the army, and retarded its march, but Barclay
seemed fearful of discouraging us: he put out his strength only against
our advanced guard, and that but just sufficiently to slacken without
stopping our progress.

This determination of Barclay's, the declining strength of the army, the
quarrels between its chiefs, the approach of the decisive moment, gave
uneasiness to Napoleon. At Dresden, at Witepsk, and even at Smolensk, he
had hoped in vain for a communication from Alexander. At Ribky, on the
28th of August, he appeared to solicit one: a letter from Berthier to
Barclay, in no other respect worthy of notice, concluded with these
words: "The emperor directs me to request you to present his compliments
to the emperor Alexander; tell him that neither the vicissitudes of war,
nor any other circumstance, can diminish the friendship which he feels
for him."

The same day, the 28th of August, the advanced-guard drove back the
Russians as far as Wiazma; the army, thirsty from the march, the heat
and the dust, was in want of water; the troops disputed the possession
of a few muddy pools, and fought near the springs, which were soon
rendered turbid and exhausted; the emperor himself was forced to put up
with this muddy beverage.

During the night, the enemy destroyed the bridges over the Wiazma,
plundered that town, and set it on fire. Murat and Davoust precipitately
advanced to extinguish the flames. The enemy defended his conflagration,
but the Wiazma was fordable near the ruins of the bridges: one part of
the advanced-guard then attacked the incendiaries, and the other the
fire, which they speedily subdued.

On this occasion some chosen men were sent to the advanced-guard, with
orders to watch the enemy closely at Wiazma, and ascertain whether they,
or our soldiers, were the real incendiaries. Their report entirely
dissipated the doubts which the emperor might still have entertained as
to the fatal resolution of the Russians. They found in this town some
resources, which pillage would soon have wasted. In passing through the
city, the emperor observed this disorder: he was exceedingly incensed,
rode into the midst of the groups of soldiers, caused a suttler to be
seized, and ordered him to be instantly tried and shot. But the meaning
of the phrase from his lips was well known; it was known, also that the
more vehement his paroxysms of anger, the sooner they were followed by
indulgence. A moment afterwards, they, therefore, merely placed in his
way the unfortunate man on his knees, with a woman and several children
beside him, whom they passed off for his family. The emperor, who had
already cooled, inquired what they wanted, and caused the man to be set
at liberty.

He was still on horseback, when he saw Belliard, for fifteen years the
companion in war of Murat, and then the chief of his staff, coming
towards him. Surprised at seeing him, the emperor fancied some
misfortune had happened. Belliard first relieved his apprehensions, and
then added, that "Beyond the Wiazma, behind a ravine, on an advantageous
position, the enemy had shown himself in force and ready for battle;
that the cavalry on both sides immediately engaged, and as the infantry
became necessary, the king in person put himself at the head of one of
Davoust's divisions, and drew it out to lead it against the enemy; but
that the marshal hastened up, calling to his men to halt, loudly
censuring that manoeuvre, harshly reproaching the king for it, and
forbidding his generals to obey him: that Murat then appealed to his
dignity, to his military rank, to the exigency of the occasion, but in
vain; that, finally, he had sent to declare to the emperor his disgust
for a command so contested, and to tell him that he must choose between
him and Davoust."

This intelligence threw Napoleon into a passion: he exclaimed, that
"Davoust was unmindful of all subordination; that he forgot the respect
due to his brother-in-law, to him whom he had appointed his lieutenant;"
and he sent Berthier with orders that Compans's division, the same which
had been the subject of the altercation, should be thenceforward under
the command of the king. Davoust did not defend the manner, but merely
the motive of his act, either from prejudice against the habitual
temerity of the king, from spleen, or that he was a better judge of the
ground, and the manoeuvre adapted to it, which is very possible.

Meanwhile the combat had finished, and Murat, whose attention was no
longer diverted by the enemy, was wholly occupied with the thoughts of
his quarrel. Shut up with Belliard, and hiding himself in a manner in
his tent, as his memory recalled the expressions of the marshal, his
blood became more and more inflamed with shame and rage. "He had been
set at defiance, and publicly insulted, and Davoust still lived! What
did he care for the anger of the emperor, and for his decision? it was
for him to revenge his own wrong! What signified his rank? it was his
sword alone that had made him a king, and it was to that alone he should
appeal!" He was already snatching up his arms to go and attack Davoust,
when Belliard stopped him, by urging existing circumstances, the example
he ought to set to the army, the enemy to be pursued, and that it would
be wrong to distress his friends and delight the foe by so desperate a

The general says, that he then saw the king curse his crown, and strive
to swallow the affront; but that tears of spite rolled down his cheeks
and fell upon his clothes. Whilst he was thus tormenting himself,
Davoust, obstinately persisting in his opinion, said that the emperor
was misinformed, and remained quietly in his head-quarters.

Napoleon returned to Wiazma, where he was obliged to stop to ascertain
the advantages that he might derive from his new conquest. The accounts
which he received from the interior of Russia, represented the hostile
government as appropriating to itself our successes, and inculcating the
belief that the loss of so many provinces was the effect of a general
plan of retreat, adopted beforehand. Papers seized at Wiazma stated that
_Te Deum_ had been sung at Petersburgh for pretended victories at
Witepsk or Smolensk. "What!" he exclaimed in astonishment, "_Te Deum!_
Dare they then lie to God as well as to men?"

For the rest, most of the intercepted Russian letters expressed the same
astonishment. "While our villages are blazing," said they, "we hear
nothing here but the ringing of bells, hymns of thanksgiving, and
triumphant reports. It seems as if they would make us thank God for the
victories of the French. Thus there is lying in the air, lying on earth,
lying in words and in writing, lying to Heaven and earth, lying in every
thing. Our great men treat Russia like a child, but there is no small
degree of credulity in believing us to be so credulous."

Very just reflections, if means so gross had been employed to deceive
those who were capable of writing such letters. At any rate, though
these political falsehoods are generally resorted to, it was plain that
when carried to such excess, they were a satire either on the governors
or the governed, and, perhaps, on both.

During this time the advanced-guard pushed the Russians as far as Gjatz,
exchanging a few balls with them,--an exchange which was almost always
to the disadvantage of the French, the Russians taking care to employ
only their long pieces, which would carry much farther than ours.
Another remark which we made was, that from Smolensk the Russians had
neglected to burn the villages and the mansions. As they are of a
character which aims at effect, this obscure evil probably appeared to
them to be a useless one. They were satisfied with the more signal
conflagrations of their cities.

This defect, if that negligence proceeded from it, turned, as is
frequently the case with all other defects, to the advantage of their
enemies. In these villages, the French army found forage, corn, ovens
for baking, and shelter. Others observed on this point, that all these
devastations were allotted to cossacks, to barbarians; and that these
hordes, either from hatred or contempt of civilization, seemed to take a
savage and particular pleasure in the destruction of the towns.


On the 1st of September, about noon, there was only a copse of fir-trees
between Murat and Gjatz. The appearance of cossacks obliged him to
deploy his first regiments, but in his impatience he soon sent for some
horse, and having himself driven the Russians from the wood which they
occupied, he crossed it and found himself at the gates of Gjatz. This
sight animated the French, and they instantly made themselves masters of
the town as far as the river which parts it into two, and the bridges of
which had been already set on fire.

There, as at Smolensk and Wiazma, whether by chance, or from the relic
of a Tartar custom, the bazaar was on the Asiatic side, on the bank
opposite to us. The Russian rear-guard, secured by the river, had time,
therefore, to burn that whole quarter. Nothing but the promptitude of
Murat saved the rest.

The troops crossed the Gjatz as they could, on planks, in a few boats,
and by fording. The Russians disappeared behind the flames, whither our
foremost riflemen followed them,--when they saw an inhabitant come
forth, approach them, and cry out that he was a Frenchman. His joy and
his accent confirmed his assertion. They conducted him to Davoust, who
interrogated him.

According to the account of this man, there had been a great change in
the Russian army. A violent clamour had been raised from its ranks
against Barclay. It had been re-echoed by the nobility, by the
merchants, by all Moscow. "That general, that minister, was a traitor;
he caused all their divisions to be destroyed piece-meal; he was
dishonouring the army by an interminable flight; yet, at the same time,
they were labouring under the disgrace of an invasion, and their towns
were in flames. If it was necessary to determine upon this ruin, they
might as well sacrifice themselves at once; then, there would be at
least some honour, whereas, to suffer themselves to be sacrificed by a
stranger, was losing every thing, the honour of the sacrifice not

"But why employ this stranger? Was not the contemporary, the comrade,
the rival of Suwarrow yet living? A Russian was wanted to save Russia!"
And they all called for, all were anxious for Kutusof and a battle. The
Frenchman added, that Alexander had yielded; that the insubordination of
Bagration, and the universal outcry, had obtained from him that general
and a battle; and that, moreover, after drawing the invading army so
far, the Russian emperor had himself judged a general engagement

Finally, he related, that the arrival of Kutusof on the 29th of August
at Tzarewo-zaimizcze, between Wiazma and Gjatz, and the announcement of
a speedy battle, had intoxicated the enemy with two-fold joy; that all
had immediately marched towards Borodino,--not to continue their flight,
but to fix themselves on this frontier of the government of Moscow, to
root themselves to the soil, and defend it; in short, to conquer there
or die.

An incident, otherwise not worthy of notice, seemed to confirm this
intelligence; this was the arrival of a Russian officer with a flag of
truce. He had so little to say, that it was evident from the first that
he came only to observe. His manner was particularly displeasing to
Davoust, who read in it something more than assurance. A French general
having inconsiderately asked this stranger what we should find between
Wiazma and Moscow, the Russian proudly replied, "Pultowa." This answer
bespoke a battle; it pleased the French, who are fond of a smart
repartee, and delight to meet with enemies worthy of themselves.

This officer was conducted back without precaution, as he had been
brought. He saw that there was no obstacle to prevent access to our very
head-quarters; he traversed our advanced posts without meeting with a
single vidette; every where the same negligence was perceptible, and the
temerity so natural to Frenchmen and to conquerors. Every one was
asleep; there was no watchword, no patroles; our soldiers seemed to
despise these details, as too trivial. Wherefore so many precautions?
They attacked--they were victorious: it was for the Russians to defend
themselves! This officer has since said, that he was tempted to take
advantage that very night of our imprudence, but that he did not find
any Russian corps within his reach.

The enemy, in his haste to burn the bridges over the Gjatz, left behind
some of his cossacks; they were taken and conducted to the emperor, who
was approaching on horseback. Napoleon wished to question them himself.
He sent for his interpreter, and caused two of these Scythians, whose
strange dress and wild look were remarkable, to be placed by his side.
In this manner he entered Gjatz, and passed through that town. The
answers of these barbarians corresponded with the account of the
Frenchman; and during the night of the 1st of September, all the reports
from the advanced posts confirmed their accuracy.

Thus Barclay had, singly against all, supported till the very last
moment that plan of retreat, which in 1807 he had vaunted to one of our
generals as the only expedient for saving Russia. Among us, he was
commended for having persisted in this prudent defensive system, in
spite of the clamours of a proud nation irritated by misfortune, and
before so aggressive an enemy.

He had, no doubt, failed in suffering himself to be surprised at Wilna,
and for not considering the marshy course of the Berezina as the proper
frontier of Lithuania; but it was remarked that, subsequently, at Witepsk
and Smolensk, he had forestalled Napoleon; that on the Loutcheza, on the
Dnieper, and at Valoutina, his resistance had been proportionate to time
and place; that this petty warfare, and the losses occasioned by it, had
been but too much in his favour; every retrograde step of his drawing us
to a greater distance from our reinforcements, and carrying him nearer to
his: in short, all that he had done, he had done judiciously, whether he
had hazarded, defended, or abandoned.

And yet he had drawn upon himself general animadversion! But this was,
in our opinion, his highest panegyric. We thought the better of him for
despising public opinion, when it had gone astray; for having contented
himself with watching our motions in order to profit by them, and for
having proved that, most frequently, nations are saved in spite of

Barclay showed himself still greater during the rest of the campaign.
This commander in chief, and minister at war, who had been deprived of
the command, that it might be given to Kutusof, voluntarily served under
him, and was seen to obey with as much zeal as he had commanded.


The Russian army at length halted. Miloradowitch, with sixteen thousand
recruits, and a host of peasants, bearing the cross and shouting, "_'Tis
the will of God!_" hastened to join its ranks. We were informed that the
enemy were turning up the whole plain of Borodino, and covering it with
entrenchments, apparently with the determination of rooting themselves
there, and not falling back any further.

Napoleon announced a battle to his army; he allowed it two days to rest,
to prepare its arms, and to collect subsistence. He merely warned the
detachments sent out in quest of provisions, that "if they did not
return the following day, they would deprive themselves of the honour of

The emperor then endeavoured to obtain some information concerning his
new adversary. Kutusof was described to him as an old man, the
groundwork of whose reputation had been formerly laid by a singular
wound. He had since skilfully profited by circumstances. The very defeat
of Austerlitz, which he had foreseen, added to his renown, which was
further increased by his late campaigns against the Turks. His valour
was incontestable, but he was charged with regulating its vehemence
according to his private interest; for he calculated every thing. His
genius was slow, vindictive, and, above all, crafty--the true Tartar
character!--knowing the art of preparing an implacable war with a
fawning, supple, and patient policy.

In other respects, he was more an adroit courtier than an able general:
but formidable by his renown, by his address in augmenting it, and in
making others concur in this object. He had contrived to flatter the
whole nation, and every individual of it, from the general to the
private soldier.

It was added, that there was in his person, in his language, nay, even
in his very dress, his superstitious practices and his age, a remnant of
Suwarrow,--the stamp of an ancient Muscovite, an air of nationality,
which rendered him dear to the Russians: at Moscow the joy at his
appointment had been carried to intoxication; people embraced one
another in the streets, and considered themselves as saved.

When Napoleon had learned these particulars, and given his orders, he
awaited the event with that tranquillity of mind peculiar to
extraordinary men. He quietly employed himself in exploring the environs
of his head-quarters. He remarked the progress of agriculture; but at
the sight of the Gjatz, which pours its waters into the Wolga, he who
had conquered so many rivers, felt anew the first emotions of his glory:
he was heard to boast of being the master of those waves destined to
visit Asia,--as if they were proceeding to announce his approach, and to
open for him the way to that quarter of the globe.

[Illustration: Portrait of Murat, King of Naples]

On the 4th of September, the army, still divided into three columns, set
out from Gjatz and its environs. Murat had gone on a few leagues before.
Ever since the arrival of Kutusof, troops of cossacks had been
incessantly hovering about the heads of our columns. Murat was
exasperated at seeing his cavalry forced to deploy against so feeble an
obstacle. We are assured that on that day, from one of those first
impulses worthy of the ages of chivalry, he dashed suddenly and alone
towards their line, stopped short a few paces from them, and there,
sword in hand, made a sign for them to retire, with an air and gesture
so commanding, that these barbarians obeyed, and fell back in amazement.

This circumstance, which was related to us immediately, was received
without incredulity. The martial air of that monarch, the brilliancy of
his chivalrous dress, his reputation, and the novelty of such an action,
caused this momentary ascendancy to appear true, in spite of its
improbability; for such was Murat, a theatrical monarch by the splendor
of his dress, and truly a king by his extraordinary valour and his
inexhaustible activity; bold as the attack, and always armed with that
air of superiority, that threatening audacity, which is the most
dangerous of offensive weapons.

He had not marched long, however, before he was forced to halt. At
Griednewa, between Gjatz and Borodino, the high-road suddenly descends
into a deep ravine, whence it again rises as suddenly to a spacious
height, which Kutusof had ordered Konownitzin to defend. That general at
first made a vigorous resistance against the foremost troops of Murat;
but as the army closely followed the latter, every moment gave increased
energy to the attack, and diminished that of the defence; presently the
advanced-guard of the viceroy engaged on the right of the Russians,
where a charge by the Italian chasseurs was withstood for a moment by
the cossacks, which excited astonishment; they became intermixed.

Platof himself admitted that in this affair an officer was wounded near
him, at which he was by no means surprised; but that he nevertheless
caused the sorcerer who accompanied him to be flogged before all his
cossacks, loudly charging him with laziness for neglecting to turn aside
the balls by his conjurations, as he had been expressly directed to do.

Konownitzin was vanquished and retired; on the 5th his bloody track was
followed to the vast convent of Kolotskoi,--fortified as habitations
were of old in those too highly vaunted Gothic ages, when civil wars
were so frequent; when every place, not excepting even these sacred
abodes of peace, was transformed into a military post.

Konownitzin, threatened on the right and left, made no other stand
either at Kolotskoi or at Golowino; but when the advanced-guard
debouched from that village, it beheld the whole plain and the woods
infested with cossacks, the rye crops spoiled, the villages sacked; in
short, a general destruction. By these signs it recognized the field of
battle, which Kutusof was preparing for the grand army. Behind these
clouds of Scythians were perceived three villages; they presented a line
of a league. The intervals between them, intersected by ravines and
wood, were covered with the enemy's riflemen. In the first moment of
ardour, some French horse ventured into the midst of these Russians, and
were cut off.

Napoleon then appeared on a height, from which he surveyed the whole
country, with that eye of a conqueror which sees every thing at once and
without confusion; which penetrates through obstacles, sets aside
accessaries, discovers the capital point, and fixes it with the look of
an eagle, like prey on which he is about to dart with all his might and
all his impetuosity.

He knew that, a league before him, at Borodino, the Kologha, a river
running in a ravine, along the margin of which he proceeded a few
wersts, turned abruptly to the left, and discharged itself into the
Moskwa. He guessed that a chain of considerable heights alone could
have opposed its course, and so suddenly changed its direction. These
were, no doubt, occupied by the enemy's army, and on this side it could
not be easily attacked. But the Kologha, both banks of which he
followed, while it covered the right of the position, left their left

The maps of the country were insufficient; at any rate, as the ground
necessarily sloped towards the principal stream, which was the most
considerable merely from being the lowest, it followed, that the ravines
which ran into it must rise, become shallower, and be at length lost, as
they receded from the Kologha. Besides, the old road to Smolensk, which
ran on its right, sufficiently marked their commencement; why should it
have been formerly carried to a distance from the principal stream of
water, and consequently from the most habitable places, if not to avoid
the ravines and the hills which bordered them?

The demonstrations of the enemy agreed with these inductions of his
experience,--no precautions, no resistance in front of their right and
their centre; but before their left a great number of troops, a marked
solicitude to profit by the slightest accidents of the ground, in order
to dispute it, and finally, a formidable redoubt; this was, of course,
their weak side, since they covered it with such care. Nay, more; it was
on the flank of the high-road, and on that of the grand army, that this
redoubt was situated; it was therefore of the utmost importance to
carry it, if he would advance: Napoleon gave orders to that effect.

How much the historian is at a loss for words to express the _coup
d'oeil_ of a man of genius!

The villages and the woods were immediately occupied; on the left and in
the centre were the army of Italy, Compans's division, and Murat; on the
right, Poniatowski. The attack was general; for the army of Italy and
the Polish army appeared at once on the two wings of the grand imperial
column. These three masses drove back the Russian rear-guards upon
Borodino, and the whole war was concentrated on a single point.

This curtain being withdrawn, the first Russian redoubt was discovered;
too much detached in advance of their position, which it defended
without being defended by it. The nature of the ground had compelled the
choice of this insulated situation.

Compans skilfully availed himself of the undulations of the ground; its
elevations served as platforms to his guns for battering the redoubt,
and screened his infantry while drawing up into columns of attack. The
61st marched foremost; the redoubt was taken by a single effort, and
with the bayonet; but Bagration sent reinforcements, by which it was
retaken. Three times did the 61st recover it from the Russians, and
three times was it driven out again; but at length it maintained itself
in it, covered with blood and half destroyed.

Next day, when the emperor reviewed that regiment, he inquired where
was its third battalion? "In the redoubt," was the reply of the colonel.
But the affair did not stop there; a neighbouring wood still swarmed
with Russian light troops, who sallied every moment from this retreat to
renew their attacks, which were supported by three divisions: at length
the attack of Schewardino by Morand, and of the woods of Elnia by
Poniatowski, completely disheartened the troops of Bagration, and
Murat's cavalry cleared the plain. It was chiefly the firmness of a
Spanish regiment that foiled the enemy; they at last gave way, and that
redoubt, which had been their advanced post, became ours.

At the same time the emperor assigned its place to each corps; the rest
of the army formed in line, and a general discharge of musketry,
accompanied at intervals with that of a few cannon, ensued. It continued
till each party had fixed its limit, and darkness had rendered their
fire uncertain.

One of Davoust's regiments then sought to take its rank in the first
line. Owing to the darkness, it passed beyond it, and got into the midst
of the Russian cuirassiers, who attacked it, threw it into disorder,
took from it three pieces of cannon, and killed or took three hundred
men. The rest immediately fell into platoons, forming a shapeless mass,
but making so formidable a resistance, that the enemy could not again
break it; and this regiment, with diminished numbers, finally regained
its place in the line of battle.


The emperor encamped behind the army of Italy, on the left of the
high-road; the old guard formed in square around his tents. As soon as
the fire of small arms had ceased, the fires were kindled. Those of the
Russians burned brightly, in an immense semicircle; ours gave a pale,
unequal, and irregular light,--the troops arriving late and in haste, on
an unknown ground, where nothing was prepared for them, and where there
was a want of wood, especially in the centre and on the left.

The emperor slept little. On General Caulaincourt's return from the
conquered redoubt, as no prisoners had fallen into our hands, Napoleon
surprised, kept asking him repeatedly, "Had not his cavalry then charged
apropos? Were the Russians determined to conquer or die?"--The answer
was, that "being fanaticised by their leaders, and accustomed to fight
with the Turks, who gave no quarter, they would be killed sooner than
surrender." The emperor then fell into a deep meditation; and judging
that a battle of artillery would be the most certain, he multiplied his
orders to bring up, with all speed, the parks which had not yet joined

That very same night, a cold mizzling rain began to fall, and the autumn
set in with a violent wind. This was an additional enemy, which it was
necessary to take into account; for this period of the year
corresponded with the age on which Napoleon was entering, and every one
knows the influence of the seasons of the year on the like seasons of

During that night how many different agitations! The soldiers and the
officers had to prepare their arms, to repair their clothing, and to
combat cold and hunger; for their life was a continual combat. The
generals, and the emperor himself, were uneasy, lest their defeat of the
preceding day should have disheartened the Russians, and they should
escape us in the dark. Murat had anticipated this; we imagined several
times that we saw their fires burn more faintly, and that we heard the
noise of their departure; but day alone eclipsed the light of the
enemy's bivouacs.

This time there was no need to go far in quest of them. The sun of the
6th found the two armies again, and displayed them to each other, on the
same ground where it had left them the evening before. There was a
general feeling of exultation.

The emperor took advantage of the first rays of dawn, to advance between
the two lines, and to go from height to height along the whole front of
the hostile army. He saw the Russians crowning all the eminences, in a
vast semicircle, two leagues in extent, from the Moskwa to the old
Moscow road. Their right bordered the Kologha, from its influx into the
Moskwa to Borodino; their centre, from Gorcka to Semenowska, was the
saliant part of their line. Their right and left receded. The Kologha
rendered their right inaccessible.

The emperor perceived this immediately, and as, from its distance, this
wing was not more threatening than vulnerable, he took no account of it.
For him then the Russian army commenced at Gorcka, a village situated on
the high-road, and at the point of an elevated plain which overlooks
Borodino and the Kologha. This sharp projection is surrounded by the
Kologha, and by a deep and marshy ravine; its lofty crest, to which the
high-road ascends on leaving Borodino, was strongly entrenched, and
formed a separate work on the right of the Russian centre, of which it
was the extremity.

On its left, and within reach of its fire, rose a detached hill,
commanding the whole plain; it was crowned by a formidable redoubt,
provided with twenty-one pieces of cannon. In front and on its right it
was encompassed by the Kologha and by ravines; its left inclined to and
supported itself upon a long and wide plateau, the foot of which
descended to a muddy ravine, a branch of the Kologha. The crest of this
plateau, which was lined by the Russians, declined and receded as it ran
towards the left, in front of the grand army; it then kept rising as far
as the yet smoking ruins of the village of Semenowska. This saliant
point terminated Barclay's command and the centre of the enemy: it was
armed with a strong battery, covered by an entrenchment.

Here began the left wing of the Russians under Bagration. The less
elevated crest which it occupied undulated as it gradually receded to
Utitza, a village on the old Moscow road, where the field of battle
ended. Two hills, armed with redoubts, and bearing diagonally upon the
entrenchment of Semenowska, which flanked them, marked the front of

From Semenowska to the wood of Utitza there was an interval of about
twelve hundred paces. It was the nature of the ground which had decided
Kutusof thus to refuse this wing; for here the ravine, which was under
the plateau in the centre, just commenced. It was scarcely an obstacle;
the slopes of its banks were very gentle, and the summits suitable for
artillery were at some distance from its margin. This side was evidently
the most accessible, since the redoubt of the 61st, which that regiment
had taken the preceding day, no longer defended the approach: this was
even favoured by a wood of large pines, extending from the redoubt just
mentioned to that which appeared to terminate the line of the Russians.

But their left wing did not end there. The emperor knew that behind this
wood was the old Moscow road; that it turned round the left wing of the
Russians, and passing behind their army, ran again into the new Moscow
road in front of Mojaisk. He judged that it must be occupied; and, in
fact, Tutchkof, with his _corps d'armée_, had placed himself across it
at the entrance of a wood; he had covered himself by two heights, on
which he had planted artillery.

But this was of little consequence, because, between this detached corps
and the last Russian redoubt, there was a space of five or six hundred
fathoms and a covered ground. If we did not begin with overwhelming
Tutchkof, we might therefore occupy it, pass between him and the last of
Bagration's redoubts, and take the left wing of the enemy in flank; but
the emperor could not satisfy himself on this point, as the Russian
advanced posts and the woods forbade his farther advance, and
intercepted his view.

Having finished his reconnoissance, he formed his plan. "Eugene shall be
the pivot!" he exclaimed: "it is the right that must commence. As soon
as, under cover of the wood, it has taken the redoubt opposite to it, it
must make a movement to the left, and march on the Russian flank,
sweeping and driving back their whole army upon their right and into the

The general plan thus conceived, he applied himself to the details.
During the night, three batteries, of sixty guns each, must be opposed
to the Russian redoubts; two facing their left, the third before their
centre. At daybreak, Poniatowski and his army, reduced to five thousand
men, must advance on the old Smolensk road, turning the wood on which
the French right wing and the Russian left were supported. He would
flank the one and annoy the other; the army would wait for the report of
his first shots.

Instantly, the whole of the artillery should commence upon the left of
the Russians, its fire would open their ranks and redoubts, and Davoust
and Ney should rush upon them; they should be supported by Junot and his
Westphalians, by Murat and his cavalry, and lastly, by the emperor
himself, with 20,000 guards. It was against these two redoubts that the
first efforts should be made; it was by them that he would penetrate
into the hostile army, thenceforth mutilated, and whose centre and right
would then be uncovered, and almost enveloped.

Meanwhile, as the Russians showed themselves in redoubled masses on
their centre and their right, threatening the Moscow road, the only line
of operation of the grand army; as in throwing his chief force and
himself on their left, Napoleon was about to place the Kologha between
him and that road, his only retreat, he resolved to strengthen the army
of Italy which occupied it, and joined with it two of Davoust's
divisions and Grouchy's cavalry. As to his left, he judged that one
Italian division, the Bavarian cavalry, and that of Ornano, about 10,000
men, would suffice to cover it. Such were the plans of Napoleon.


He was on the heights of Borodino, taking a last survey of the whole
field of battle, and confirming himself in his plan, when Davoust
hastened up. This marshal had just examined the left of the Russians
with so much the more care, as it was the ground on which he was to
act, and he mistrusted his own eyes.

He begged the emperor "to place at his disposal his five divisions,
35,000 strong, and to unite with them Poniatowski, whose force was too
weak to turn the enemy by itself. Next day he would set this force in
motion; he would cover its march with the last shades of night, and with
the wood on which the Russian left wing was supported, and beyond which
he would pass by following the old road from Smolensk to Moscow; then,
all at once, by a precipitate manoeuvre, he would deploy 40,000 French
and Poles on the flank and in the rear of that wing. There, while the
emperor would occupy the front of the Muscovites by a general attack, he
would march impetuously from redoubt to redoubt, from reserve to
reserve, driving every thing from left to right on the high-road of
Mojaisk, where they should put an end at once to the Russian army, the
battle, and the war."

The emperor listened attentively to the marshal; but after meditating in
silence for some minutes, he replied, "No! it is too great a movement;
it would remove me too far from my object, and make me lose too much

The Prince of Eckmühl, however, from conviction, persisted in his point;
he undertook to accomplish his manoeuvre before six in the morning; he
protested that in another hour the greatest part of its effect would be
produced. Napoleon, impatient of contradiction, sharply replied with
this exclamation, "Ah! you are always for turning the enemy; it is too
dangerous a manoeuvre!" The marshal, after this rebuff, said no more:
he then returned to his post, murmuring against a prudence which he
thought unseasonable, and to which he was not accustomed; and he knew
not to what cause to attribute it, unless the looks of so many allies,
who were not to be relied on, an army so reduced, a position so remote,
and age, had rendered Napoleon less enterprising than he was.

The emperor, having decided, had returned to his camp, when Murat, whom
the Russians had so often deceived, persuaded him that they were going
to run away once more without fighting. In vain did Rapp, who was sent
to observe their attitude, return and say, that he had seen them
entrenching themselves more and more; that they were numerous,
judiciously disposed, and appeared determined much rather to attack, if
they were not anticipated, than to retreat: Murat persisted in his
opinion, and the emperor, uneasy, returned to the heights of Borodino.

He there perceived long black columns of troops covering the high-road,
and spreading over the plain; then large convoys of waggons, provisions,
and ammunition, in short all the dispositions indicative of a stay and a
battle. At that very moment, though he had taken with him but few
attendants, that he might not attract the notice and the fire of the
enemy, he was recognized by the Russian batteries, and a cannon-shot
suddenly interrupted the silence of that day.

For, as it frequently happens, nothing was so calm as the day preceding
that great battle. It was like a thing mutually agreed upon! Wherefore
do each other useless injury? was not the next day to decide every
thing? Besides, each had to prepare itself; the different corps, their
arms, their force, their ammunition; they had to resume all their unity,
which on a march is always more or less deranged. The generals had to
observe their reciprocal dispositions of attack, defence, and retreat,
in order to adapt them to each other and the ground, and to leave as
little as possible to chance.

Thus these two colossal foes, on the point of commencing their terrible
contest, watched each other attentively, measured one another with their
eyes, and silently prepared for a tremendous conflict.

The emperor, who could no longer entertain doubts of a battle, returned
to his tent to dictate the order of it. There he meditated on his awful
situation. He had seen that the two armies were equal; about 120,000
men, and 600 pieces of cannon on either side. The Russians had the
advantage of ground, of speaking but one language, of one uniform, of
being a single nation, fighting for the same cause, but a great number
of irregular troops and recruits. The French had as many men, but more
soldiers; for the state of his corps had just been submitted to him: he
had before his eyes an account of the strength of his divisions, and as
it was neither a review, nor a distribution, but a battle that was in
prospect, this time the statements were not exaggerated. His army was
reduced indeed, but sound, supple, nervous,--like those manly bodies,
which, having just lost the plumpness of youth, display forms more
masculine and strongly marked.

Still, during the last few days that he had marched in the midst of it,
he had found it silent, from that silence which is imposed by great
expectation or great astonishment; like nature, the moment before a
violent tempest, or crowds at the instant of an extraordinary danger.

He felt that it wanted rest of some kind or other, but that there was no
rest for it but in death or victory; for he had brought it into such a
necessity of conquering, that it must triumph at any rate. The temerity
of the situation into which he had urged it was evident, but he knew
that of all faults that was the one which the French most willingly
forgave; that in short they doubted neither of themselves nor of him,
nor of the general result, whatever might be their individual hardships.

He reckoned, moreover, on their habit and thirst of glory, and even on
their curiosity; no doubt they wished to see Moscow, to be able to say
that they had been there, to receive there the promised reward, perhaps
to plunder, and, above all, there to find repose. He did not observe in
them enthusiasm, but something more firm: an entire confidence in his
star, in his genius, the consciousness of their superiority, and the
proud assurance of conquerors, in the presence of the vanquished.

Full of these sentiments, he dictated a proclamation, simple, grave,
and frank, as befitted such circumstances, and men who were not just
commencing their career, and whom, after so many sufferings, it would
have been idle to pretend to exalt.

Accordingly he addressed himself solely to the reason of all, or what is
the same thing, to the real interest of each; he finished with glory,
the only passion to which he could appeal in these deserts, the last of
the noble motives by which it was possible to act upon soldiers always
victorious, enlightened by an advanced civilization and long experience;
in short, of all the generous illusions, the only one that could have
carried them so far. This harangue will some day be deemed admirable: it
was worthy of the commander and of the army; it did honour to both.

"Soldiers!" said he, "here is the battle which you have so ardently
desired. Victory will now depend upon yourselves; it is necessary for
us; it will give us abundance, good winter-quarters, and a speedy return
home! Behave as you did at Austerlitz, at Friedland, at Witepsk, and at
Smolensk, and afford to remotest posterity occasion to cite your conduct
on that day: let it be said of you, 'He was in that great battle under
the walls of Moscow.'"


About the middle of the day, Napoleon remarked an extraordinary movement
in the enemy's camp; in fact, the whole Russian army was drawn up and
under arms, and Kutusof, surrounded with every species of religious and
military pomp, took his station in the middle of it. He had made his
popes and his archimandrites dress themselves in those splendid and
majestic insignia, which they have inherited from the Greeks. They
marched before him, carrying the venerated symbols of their religion,
and particularly that divine image, formerly the protectress of
Smolensk, which, by their account, had been miraculously saved from the
profanation of the sacrilegious French.

When the Russian saw that his soldiers were sufficiently excited by this
extraordinary spectacle, he raised his voice, and began by putting them
in mind of heaven, the only country which remains to the slave. In the
name of the religion of equality, he endeavoured to animate these serfs
to defend the property of their masters; but it was principally by
exhibiting to them that holy image which had taken refuge in their
ranks, that he appealed to their courage, and raised their indignation.

Napoleon, in his mouth, "was a universal despot! the tyrannical
disturber of the world! a poor worm! an arch-rebel, who had overturned
their altars, and polluted them with blood; who had exposed the true
ark of the Lord, represented by the holy image, to the profanation of
men, and the inclemency of the seasons." He then told them of their
cities reduced to ashes; reminded them that they were about to fight for
their wives and children; added a few words respecting the emperor, and
concluded by appealing to their piety and their patriotism. These were
the virtues of instinct with this rude and simple people, who had not
yet advanced beyond sensations, but who, for that very reason, were so
much more formidable as soldiers; less diverted from obedience by
reasoning; confined by slavery to a narrow circle, in which they are
reduced to a small number of sensations, which are the only sources of
their wants, wishes, and ideas.

As to other characteristics, proud for want of comparison, and credulous
as they are proud, from ignorance--worshippers of images, idolaters as
much as Christians can be; for they had converted that religion of the
soul, which is wholly intellectual and moral, into one entirely physical
and material, to bring it to the level of their brute and short

This solemn spectacle, however, their general's address, the
exhortations of their officers, and the benedictions of their priests,
served to give a thorough tincture of fanaticism to their courage. All,
even to the meanest soldier, fancied themselves devoted by God himself
to the defence of Heaven and their consecrated soil.

With the French there was no solemnity, either religious or military,
no review, no means of excitation: even the address of the emperor was
not distributed till very late, and read the next morning so near the
time of action, that several corps were actually engaged before they
could hear it. The Russians, however, whom so many powerful motives
should have inflamed, added to their invocations the sword of St.
Michael, thus seeking to borrow aid from all the powers of heaven; while
the French sought for it only within themselves, persuaded that real
strength exists only in the heart, and that _there_ is to be found the
"celestial host."

Chance so ordered it, that on that very day the emperor received from
Paris the portrait of the King of Rome, that infant whose birth had been
hailed by the empire with the same transports of joy and hope as it had
been by the emperor. Every day since that happy event, the emperor, in
the interior of his palace, had given loose when near his child, to the
expression of the most tender feelings; when, therefore, in the midst of
these distant fields, and all these menacing preparations, he saw once
more that sweet countenance, how his warlike soul melted! With his own
hand he exhibited this picture outside his tent; he then called his
officers, and even some of the soldiers of his old guard, desirous of
sharing his pleasure with these veteran grenadiers, of showing his
private family to his military family, and making it shine as a symbol
of hope in the midst of imminent peril.

In the evening, an aid-de-camp of Marmont, who had been despatched from
the field of battle near Salamanca, arrived at that of the Moskwa. This
was the same Fabvier, who has since made such a figure in our civil
dissensions. The emperor received graciously the aid-de-camp of the
vanquished general. On the eve of a battle, the fate of which was so
uncertain, he felt disposed to be indulgent to a defeat; he listened to
all that was said to him respecting the scattered state of his forces in
Spain, and the number of commanders-in-chief, and admitted the justice
of it all; but he explained his reasons, which it enters not into our
province to mention here.

With the return of night also returned the apprehension, that under
cover of its shades, the Russian army might escape from the field of
battle. Napoleon's anxiety was so great as to prevent him from sleeping.
He kept calling incessantly to know the hour, inquiring if any noise was
heard, and sending persons to ascertain if the enemy was still before
him. His doubts on this subject were so strong, that he had given orders
that his proclamation should not be read to his troops until the next
morning, and then only in case of the certainty of a battle.

Tranquillized for a few moments, anxiety of an opposite description
again seized him. He became frightened at the destitute state of the
soldiers. Weak and famished as they were, how could they support a long
and terrible shock? In this danger he looked upon his guard as his sole
resource; it seemed to be his security for both armies. He sent for
Bessières, that one of his marshals in whom he had the greatest
confidence for commanding it; he wished to know if this chosen reserve
wanted nothing;--he called him back several times, and repeated his
pressing questions. He desired that these old soldiers should have three
days' biscuit and rice distributed among them from their waggons of
reserve; finally, dreading that his orders had not been obeyed, he got
up once more, and questioned the grenadiers on guard at the entrance of
his tent, if they had received these provisions. Satisfied by their
answer, he went in, and soon fell into a doze.

Shortly after, he called once more. His aid-de-camp found him now
supporting his head with both hands; he seemed, by what was heard, to be
meditating on the vanities of glory. "What is war? A trade of
barbarians, the whole art of which consists in being the strongest on a
given point!" He then complained of the fickleness of fortune, which he
said, he began to experience. Seeming to revert to more encouraging
ideas, he recollected what had been told him of the tardiness and
carelessness of Kutusof, and expressed his surprise that Beningsen had
not been preferred to him. He thought of the critical situation into
which he had brought himself, and added, "that a great day was at hand,
that there would be a terrible battle." He asked Rapp if he thought we
should gain the victory? "No doubt;" was the reply, "but it will be
sanguinary." "I know it," resumed Napoleon, "but I have 80,000 men; I
shall lose 20,000, I shall enter Moscow with 60,000; the stragglers
will there rejoin us, and afterwards the battalions on the march, and we
shall be stronger than we were before the battle." In this estimate he
seemed to include neither his guard nor the cavalry.

Again assailed by his first anxiety, he sent once more to examine the
attitude of the Russians; he was informed that their fires burned with
equal brightness, and that by the number of these, and the moving
shadows surrounding them, it was supposed that it was not merely a
rear-guard, but a whole army that kept feeding them. The certainty of
their presence at last quieted the emperor, and he tried to take some

But the marches which he had just made with the array, the fatigues of
the preceding days and nights, so many cares, and his intense and
anxious expectation, had worn him out; the chillness of the atmosphere
had struck to him; an irritating fever, a dry cough, and excessive
thirst consumed him. During the remainder of the night, he made vain
attempts to quench the burning thirst which consumed him. This fresh
disorder was complicated with an old complaint; he had been struggling
since the day before with a painful attack of that cruel disorder[18],
which had been long threatening him.

[Footnote 18: A retention of urine.]

At last, just at five o'clock, one of Ney's officers came to inform him
that the marshal was still in sight of the Russians, and wished to begin
the attack. This news seemed to restore the strength of which the fever
had deprived him. He arose, called his officers, and sallied out,
exclaiming, "We have them at last! Forward! Let us go and open the gates
of Moscow!"


It was half-past five in the morning, when Napoleon arrived near the
redoubt which had been conquered on the 5th of September. There he
waited for the first dawn of day, and for the first fire of
Poniatowski's infantry. The sun rose. The emperor, showing it to his
officers, exclaimed, "Behold the sun of Austerlitz!" But it was opposite
to us. It rose on the Russian side, made us conspicuous to their fire,
and dazzled us. We then first perceived, that owing to the darkness, our
batteries had been placed out of reach of the enemy, and it was
necessary to push them more forward. The enemy allowed this to be done:
he seemed to hesitate in being the first to break the awful silence.

The emperor's attention was then directed towards his right, when, all
at once, near seven o'clock, the battle began upon his left. Shortly
after, he was informed, that one of the regiments of Prince Eugene, the
106th, had got possession of the village of Borodino, and its bridge,
which it should have destroyed; but that being carried away by the
ardour of success, it had crossed that passage, in spite of the cries of
its general, in order to attack the heights of Gorcka, where it was
overwhelmed by the front and flank fires of the Russians. It was added,
that the general who commanded that brigade had been already killed, and
that the 106th regiment would have been entirely destroyed had it not
been for the 92d, which voluntarily ran up to its assistance, and
collected and brought back its survivors.

It was Napoleon himself who had just ordered his left wing to make a
violent attack. Probably, he had only reckoned on a partial execution of
his orders, and wished to keep the enemy's attention directed to that
side. But he multiplied his orders, used the most violent excitations,
and engaged a battle in front, the plan of which he had conceived in an
oblique order.

During this action, the emperor judging that Poniatowski was closing
with the enemy on the old Moscow road, gave him the signal to attack.
Suddenly, from that peaceful plain, and the silent hills, volumes of
fire and smoke were seen spouting out, followed by a multitude of
explosions, and the whistling of bullets, tearing the air in every
direction. In the midst of this noise, Davoust, with the divisions
Compans and Dessaix, and thirty pieces of cannon in front, advanced
rapidly to the first Russian redoubt.

The enemy's musketry began, and was answered only by the French cannon.
The French infantry marched without firing: it was hurrying on to get
within reach of and extinguish that of the enemy, when Compans, the
general of that column, and his bravest soldiers, were wounded and fell:
the rest, disconcerted, halted under the shower of balls, in order to
return it, when Rapp, rushing to replace Compans, again led his soldiers
on, with fixed bayonets, and at a running pace against the enemy's

He was himself just on the point of reaching it, when he was, in his
turn, hit; it was his twenty-second wound. A third general, who
succeeded him, also fell. Davoust himself was wounded. Rapp was carried
to the emperor, who said to him, "What, Rapp, always hit! What are they
doing above, then?" The aid-de-camp answered, that it would require the
guard to finish. "No!" replied Napoleon, "I shall take good care of
that; I have no wish to see it destroyed; I shall gain the battle
without it."

Ney, then, with his three divisions, reduced to 10,000 men, hastened
into the plain to the assistance of Davoust. The enemy divided his fire.
Ney rushed forward. The 57th regiment of Compans's division, finding
itself supported, took fresh courage; by a last effort it succeeded in
reaching the enemy's entrenchments, scaled them, mingled with the
Russians, put them to the bayonet, overthrew and killed the most
obstinate of them. The rest fled, and the 57th maintained itself in its
conquest. At the same time Ney made so furious an attack on the two
other redoubts, that he wrested them from the enemy.

It was now mid-day; the left Russian line being thus forced, and the
plain cleared, the emperor ordered Murat to proceed with his cavalry,
and complete the victory. An instant was sufficient for that prince to
show himself on the heights and in the midst of the enemy, who again
made his appearance there; for the second Russian line and the
reinforcements, led on by Bagawout and sent by Tutchkof, had come to the
assistance of the first line. They all rushed forward, resting upon
Semenowska, in order to retake their redoubts. The French, who were
still in the disorder of victory, were astonished and fell back.

The Westphalians, whom Napoleon had just sent to the assistance of
Poniatowski, were then crossing the wood which separated that prince
from the rest of the army; through the dust and smoke they got a glimpse
of our troops, who were retreating. By the direction of their march,
they guessed them to be enemies, and fired upon them. They persisted in
their mistake, and thereby increased the disorder.

The enemy's cavalry vigorously followed up their advantage; they
surrounded Murat, who forgot himself in his endeavours to rally his
troops; they were already stretching out their arms to lay hold of him,
when he threw himself into the redoubt, and escaped from them. But there
he found only some unsteady soldiers whose courage had forsaken them,
and running round the parapet in a state of the greatest panic. They
only wanted an outlet to run away.

The presence of the king and his cries first restored confidence to a
few. He himself seized a musket; with one hand he fought, with the other
he elevated and waved his plume, calling to his men, and restoring them
to their first valour by that authority which example gives. At the same
time Ney had again formed his divisions. Their fire stopped the enemy's
cuirassiers, and threw their ranks into disorder. They let go their
hold, Murat was at last disengaged, and the heights were reconquered.

Scarcely had the king escaped this peril, when he ran into another; with
the cavalry of Bruyère and Nansouty, he rushed upon the enemy, and by
obstinate and repeated charges overthrew the Russian lines, pushed and
drove them back on their centre, and, within an hour, completed the
total defeat of their left wing.

But the heights of the ruined village of Semenowska, where the left of
the enemy's centre commenced, were still untouched; the reinforcements
which Kutusof incessantly drew from his right, supported it. Their
commanding fire was poured down upon Ney and Murat's troops, and stopped
their victory; it was indispensable to acquire that position. Maubourg
with his cavalry first cleared the front; Friand, one of Davoust's
generals, followed him with his infantry. Dufour and the 15th light were
the first to climb the steep; they dislodged the Russians from the
village, the ruins of which were badly entrenched. Friand, although
wounded, followed up and secured this advantage.


This vigorous action opened up to us the road to victory; it was
necessary to rush into it; but Murat and Ney were exhausted: they
halted, and while they were rallying their troops, they sent to Napoleon
to ask for reinforcements. Napoleon was then seized with a hesitation
which he never before displayed; he deliberated long with himself, and
at last, after repeated orders and counter-orders to his young guard, he
expressed his belief that the appearance of Friand and Maubourg's troops
on the heights would be sufficient, the decisive moment not appearing to
him to be yet arrived.

But Kutusof took advantage of the respite which he had no reason to
expect; he summoned the whole of his reserve, even to the Russian
guards, to the support of his uncovered left wing. Bagration, with all
these reinforcements, re-formed his line, his right resting on the great
battery which Prince Eugene was attacking, his left on the wood which
bounded the field of battle towards Psarewo. His fire cut our ranks to
pieces; his attack was violent, impetuous, and simultaneous; infantry,
artillery, and cavalry, all made a grand effort. Ney and Murat stood
firm against this tempest; the question with them was no longer about
following up the victory, but about retaining it.

The soldiers of Friand, drawn up in front of Semenowska, repelled the
first charges, but when they were assailed with a shower of balls and
grape shot, they began to give way; one of their leaders got tired, and
gave orders to retreat. At that critical moment, Murat ran up to him,
and seizing him by the collar, exclaimed, "What are you about?" The
colonel, pointing to the ground, covered with half his troops, answered,
"You see well enough that it is impossible to stand here."--"Very well,
I will remain!" exclaimed the king. These words stopped the officer: he
looked Murat steadily in the face, and turning round, coolly said, "You
are right! Soldiers, face to the enemy! Let us go and be killed!"

Meanwhile, Murat had just sent back Borelli to the emperor to ask for
assistance; that officer pointed to the clouds of dust which the charges
of the cavalry were raising upon the heights, which had hitherto
remained tranquil since they had been taken. Some cannon-balls also for
the first time fell close to where Napoleon was stationed; the enemy
seemed to be approaching; Borelli insisted, and the emperor promised his
young guard. But, scarcely had it advanced a few paces, when he himself
called out to it to halt. The Count de Lobau, however, made it advance
by degrees, under pretence of dressing the line. Napoleon perceiving
it, repeated his order.

Fortunately, the artillery of the reserve advanced at that moment, to
take a position on the conquered heights; Lauriston had obtained the
emperor's consent to that manoeuvre, but it was rather a permission
than an order. Shortly after, however, he thought it so important, that
he urged its execution with the only movement of impatience he exhibited
during the whole of that day.

It is not known whether his doubts as to the results of Prince
Poniatowski and Prince Eugene's engagement on his right and left kept
him in uncertainty; what is certain is, that he seemed to be
apprehensive lest the extreme left of the Russians should escape from
the Poles, and return to take possession of the field of battle in the
rear of Ney and Murat. This at least was one of the causes of his
retaining his guard in observation upon that point. To such as pressed
him, his answer was, "that he wished to have a better view; that his
battle was not yet begun; that it would be a long one; that they must
learn to wait; that time entered into every thing; that it was the
element of which all things are composed; that nothing was yet
sufficiently clear." He then inquired the hour, and added, "that the
hour of his battle was not yet come; that it would begin in two hours."

But it never began: the whole of that day he was sitting down, or
walking about leisurely, in front, and a little to the left of the
redoubt which had been conquered on the 5th, on the borders of a
ravine, at a great distance from the battle, of which he could scarcely
see any thing after it got beyond the heights; not at all uneasy when he
saw it return nearer to him, nor impatient with his own troops, or the
enemy. He merely made some gestures of melancholy resignation, on every
occasion, when they came to inform him of the loss of his best generals.
He rose several times to take a few turns, but immediately sat down

Every one around him looked at him with astonishment. Hitherto, during
these great shocks, he had displayed an active coolness; but here it was
a dead calm, a nerveless and sluggish inactivity. Some fancied they
traced in it that dejection which is generally the follower of violent
sensations: others, that he had already become indifferent to every
thing, even to the emotion of battles. Several remarked, that the calm
constancy and _sang-froid_ which great men display on these great
occasions, turn, in the course of time, to phlegm and heaviness, when
age has worn out their springs. Those who were most devoted to him,
accounted for his immobility by the necessity of not changing his place
too much, when he was commanding over such an extent, in order that the
bearers of intelligence might know where to find him. Finally, there
were others who, on much better grounds, attributed it to the shock
which his health had sustained, to a secret malady, and to the
commencement of a violent indisposition.

The generals of artillery, who were surprised at their stagnation,
quickly availed themselves of the permission to fight which was just
given them. They very soon crowned the heights. Eighty pieces of cannon
were discharged at once. The Russian cavalry was first broken by that
brazen line, and obliged to take refuge behind its infantry.

The latter advanced in dense masses, in which our balls at first made
wide and deep holes; they still, however, continued to advance, when the
French batteries crushed them by a second discharge of grape-shot. Whole
platoons fell at once; their soldiers were seen trying to keep together
under this terrible fire. Every instant, separated by death, they closed
together over her, treading her under foot.

At last they halted, not daring to advance farther, and yet unwilling to
retreat; either because they were struck, and, as it were, petrified
with horror, in the midst of this great destruction, or that Bagration
was wounded at that moment; or, perhaps, because their generals, after
the failure of their first disposition, knew not how to change it, from
not possessing, like Napoleon, the great art of putting such great
bodies into motion at once, in unison, and without confusion. In short,
these listless masses allowed themselves to be mowed down for two hours,
making no other movement than their fall. It was a most horrible
massacre; and our brave and intelligent artillerymen could not help
admiring the motionless, blind, and resigned courage of their enemies.

The victors were the first to be tired out. They became impatient at
the tardiness of this battle of artillery. Their ammunition being
entirely exhausted, they came to a decision, in consequence of which Ney
moved forward, extending his right, which he made to advance rapidly,
and again turn the left of the new front opposed to him. Davoust and
Murat seconded him, and the remnants of Ney's corps became the
conquerors over the remains of Bagration's.

The battle then ceased in the plain, and became concentrated on the rest
of the enemy's heights, and near the great redoubt, which Barclay with
the centre and the right, continued to defend obstinately against

In this manner, about mid-day, the whole of the French right wing, Ney,
Davoust, and Murat, after annihilating Bagration and the half of the
Russian line, presented itself on the half-opened flank of the remainder
of the hostile army, of which they could see the whole interior, the
reserves, the abandoned rears, and even the commencement of the retreat.

But as they felt themselves too weak to throw themselves into that gap,
behind a line still formidable, they called aloud for the guard: "The
young guard! only let it follow them at a distance! Let it show itself,
and take their place upon the heights! They themselves will then be
sufficient to finish!"

General Belliard was sent by them to the emperor. He declared, "that
from their position, the eye could penetrate, without impediment, a far
as the road to Mojaisk, in the rear of the Russian army; that they could
see there a confused crowd of flying and wounded soldiers, and carriages
retreating; that it was true there was still a ravine and a thin copse
between them, but that the Russian generals were so confounded, that
they had no thought of turning these to any advantage; that in short,
only a single effort was required to arrive in the middle of that
disorder, to seal the enemy's discomfiture, and terminate the war!"

The emperor, however, still hesitated, and ordered that general to go
and look again, and to return and bring him word. Belliard, surprised,
went and returned with all speed; he reported, "that the enemy began to
think better of it; that the copse was already lined with his marksmen:
that the opportunity was about to escape; that there was not a moment to
be lost, otherwise it would require a second battle to terminate the

But Bessières, who had just returned from the heights, to which Napoleon
had sent him to examine the attitude of the Russians, asserted, that,
"far from being in disorder, they had retreated to a second position,
where they seemed to be preparing for a fresh attack." The emperor then
said to Belliard, "That nothing was yet sufficiently unravelled: that to
make him give his reserves, he wanted to see more clearly upon his
chess-board." This was his expression; which he repeated several times,
at the same time pointing on one side to the old Moscow road, of which
Poniatowski had not yet made himself master; on the other, to an attack
of the enemy's cavalry in the rear of our left wing; and, finally, to
the great redoubt, against which the efforts of prince Eugene had been

Belliard, in consternation, returned to the king of Naples, and informed
him of the impossibility of obtaining the reserve from the emperor; he
said, "he had found him still seated in the same place, with a suffering
and dejected air, his features sunk, and a dull look; giving his orders
languishingly, in the midst of these dreadful warlike noises, to which
he seemed completely a stranger!" At this account, Ney, furious and
hurried away by his ardent and unmeasured character, exclaimed, "Are we
then come so far, to be satisfied with a field of battle? What business
has the emperor in the rear of the army? There, he is only within reach
of reverses, and not of victory. Since he will no longer make war
himself, since he is no longer the general, as he wishes to be the
emperor every where, let him return to the Tuilleries, and leave us to
be generals for him!"

Murat was more calm; he recollected having seen the emperor the day
before, as he was riding along, observing that part of the enemy's line,
halt several times, dismount, and with his head resting upon the cannon,
remain there some time in the attitude of suffering. He knew what a
restless night he had passed, and that a violent and incessant cough cut
short his breathing. The king guessed that fatigue, and the first
attacks of the equinox, had shaken his weakened frame, and that in
short, at that critical moment, the action of his genius was in a manner
chained down by his body; which had sunk under the triple load of
fatigue, of fever, and of a malady which, probably, more than any other,
prostrates the moral and physical strength of its victims.

Still, farther incitements were not wanting; for shortly after Belliard,
Daru, urged by Dumas, and particularly by Berthier, said in a low voice
to the emperor, "that from all sides it was the cry that the moment for
sending the guard was now come." To which Napoleon replied, "And if
there should be another battle to-morrow, where is my army?" The
minister urged no farther, surprised to see, for the first time, the
emperor putting off till the morrow, and adjourning his victory.


Barclay, however, with the right, kept up a most obstinate struggle with
Prince Eugene. The latter, immediately after the capture of Borodino,
passed the Kologha in the face of the enemy's great redoubt. There,
particularly, the Russians had calculated upon their steep heights,
encompassed by deep and muddy ravines, upon our exhaustion, upon their
entrenchments, defended by heavy artillery, and upon 80 pieces of
cannon, planted on the borders of these banks, bristling with fire and
flames! But all these elements, art, and nature, every thing failed
them at once: assailed by a first burst of that _French fury_, which has
been so celebrated, they saw Morand's soldiers appear suddenly in the
midst of them, and fled in disorder.

Eighteen hundred men of the 30th regiment, with general Bonnamy at their
head, had just made that great effort.

It was there that Fabvier, the aid-de-camp of Marmont, who had arrived
but the day before from the heart of Spain, made himself conspicuous; he
went as a volunteer, and on foot, at the head of the most advanced
sharp-shooters, as if he had come there to represent the army of Spain,
in the midst of the grand army; and, inspired with that rivalry of glory
which makes heroes, wished to exhibit it at the head, and the first in
every danger.

He fell wounded in that too famous redoubt; for the triumph was
short-lived; the attack wanted concert, either from precipitation in the
first assailant, or too great slowness in those who followed. They had
to pass a ravine, whose depth protected them from the enemy's fire. It
is affirmed that many of our troops halted there. Morand, therefore, was
left alone in the face of several Russian lines. It was yet only ten
o'clock. Friand, who was on his right, had not yet commenced the attack
of Semenowska; and, on his left, the divisions Gérard, Broussier, and
the Italian guard, were not yet in line.

This attack, besides, should not have been made so precipitately: the
intention had been only to keep Barclay in check, and occupied on that
side, the battle having been arranged to begin by the right wing, and
pivot on the left. This was the emperor's plan, and we know not why he
himself altered it at the moment of its execution; for it was he who, on
the first discharge of the artillery, sent different officers in
succession to Prince Eugene, to urge his attack.

The Russians, recovering from their first surprise, rushed forward in
all directions. Kutaisof and Yermoloff advanced at their head with a
resolution worthy of so great an occasion. The 30th regiment, single
against a whole army, ventured to attack it with the bayonet; it was
enveloped, crushed, and driven out of the redoubt, where it left a third
of its men, and its intrepid general pierced through with twenty wounds.
Encouraged by their success, the Russians were no longer satisfied with
defending themselves, but attacked in their turn. Then were seen united,
on that single point, all the skill, strength, and fury, which war can
bring forth. The French stood firm for four hours on the declivity of
that volcano, under the shower of iron and lead which it vomited forth.
But to do this required all the skill and determination of Prince
Eugene; and the idea so insupportable to long-victorious soldiers, of
confessing themselves vanquished.

Each division changed its general several times. The viceroy went from
one to the other, mingling entreaties and reproaches, and, above all,
reminding them of their former victories. He sent to apprise the
emperor of his critical situation; but Napoleon replied, "That he could
not assist him; that he must conquer; that he had only to make a greater
effort; that the heat of the battle was there." The prince was rallying
all his forces to make a general assault, when suddenly his attention
was diverted by furious cries proceeding from his left.

Ouwarof, with two regiments of cavalry, and some thousand cossacks, had
attacked his reserve, and thrown it into disorder. He ran thither
instantly, and, seconded by Generals Delzons and Ornano, soon drove away
that troop, which was more noisy than formidable; after which he
returned to put himself at the head of a decisive attack.

It was about that time that Murat, forced to remain inactive on the
plain where he commanded, had sent, for the fourth time, to his
brother-in-law, to complain of the losses which his cavalry were
sustaining from the Russian troops, protected by the redoubts which were
opposed to Prince Eugene. "He only requested the cavalry of the guard,
with whose assistance he could turn the entrenched heights, and destroy
them along with the army which defended them."

The emperor seemed to give his consent, and sent in search of Bessières,
who commanded these horse-guards. Unfortunately they could not find the
marshal, who, by his orders, had gone to look at the battle somewhat
nearer. The emperor waited nearly an hour without the least impatience,
or repeating his order; and when the marshal returned, he received him
with a pleasant look, heard his report quietly, and allowed him to
advance as far as he might judge it desirable.

But it was too late; he could no longer think of making the whole
Russian army prisoners, or perhaps of taking entire possession of
Russia; the field of battle was all he was likely to gain. He had
allowed Kutusof leisure to reconnoitre his positions; that general had
fortified all the points of difficult approach which remained to him,
and his cavalry covered the plain.

The Russians had thus, for the third time, renewed their left wing, in
the face of Ney and Murat. The latter summoned the cavalry of Montbrun,
who had been killed. General Caulaincourt succeeded him; he found the
aides-de-camp of the unfortunate Montbrun in tears for the loss of their
commander. "Follow me," said he to them, "weep not for him, but come and
avenge his death!"

The king pointed out to him the enemy's fresh wing; he must break
through it, and push on as far as the breast of their great battery;
when there, during the time that the light cavalry is following up his
advantage, he, Caulaincourt, must turn suddenly, on the left with his
cuirassiers, in order to take in the rear that terrible redoubt whose
front fire is still mowing the ranks of the viceroy.

Caulaincourt's reply was, "You shall see me there presently, alive or
dead." He immediately set off, overthrew all before him, and turning
suddenly round on the left with his cuirassiers, was the first to enter
the bloody redoubt, when he was struck dead by a musket-ball. His
conquest was his tomb.

They ran immediately to acquaint the emperor with this victory, and the
loss which it had occasioned. The grand-equerry, brother of the
unfortunate general, listened, and was at first petrified; but he soon
summoned courage against this misfortune, and, but for the tears which
silently coursed down his cheeks, you might have thought that he felt
nothing. The emperor, uttering an exclamation of sorrow, said to him,
"You have heard the news, do you wish to retire?" But as at that moment
we were advancing against the enemy, the grand-equerry made no reply; he
did not retire; he only half uncovered himself to thank the emperor, and
to refuse.

While this determined charge of cavalry was executing, the viceroy, with
his infantry, was on the point of reaching the mouth of this volcano,
when suddenly he saw its fires extinguished, its smoke disappear, and
its summit glittering with the moveable and resplendent armour of our
cuirassiers. These heights, hitherto Russian, had at last become French;
he hastened forward to share and terminate the victory, and to
strengthen himself in that position.

But the Russians had not yet abandoned it; they returned with greater
obstinacy and fury to the attack; successively as they were beat back by
our troops, they were again rallied by their generals, and finally the
greater part perished at the foot of these works, which they had
themselves raised.

Fortunately, their last attacking column presented itself towards
Semenowska and the great redoubt, without its artillery, the progress of
which had, no doubt, been retarded by the ravines. Belliard had barely
time to collect thirty cannon against this infantry. They came almost
close to the mouths of our pieces, which overwhelmed them so apropos,
that they wheeled round and retreated without being even able to deploy.
Murat and Belliard then said, that if they could have had at that moment
ten thousand infantry of the reserve, their victory would have been
decisive; but that, being reduced to their cavalry, they considered
themselves fortunate to keep possession of the field of battle.

On his side, Grouchy, by sanguinary and repeated charges on the left of
the great redoubt, secured the victory, and scoured the plain. But it
was impossible to pursue the fugitive Russians; fresh ravines, with
armed redoubts behind them, protected their retreat. There they defended
themselves with fury until the approach of night, covering in this
manner the great road to Moscow, their holy city, their magazine, their
depôt, their place of refuge.

From this second range of heights, their artillery overwhelmed the first
which they had abandoned to us. The viceroy was obliged to conceal his
panting, exhausted, and thinned lines in the hollows of the ground, and
behind the half-destroyed entrenchments. The soldiers were obliged to
get upon their knees, and crouch themselves up behind these shapeless
parapets. In that painful posture they remained for several hours, kept
in check by the enemy, who stood in check of them.

It was about half-past three o'clock when this last victory was
achieved; there had been several such during the day; each corps
successively beat that which was opposed to it, without being able to
take advantage of its success to decide the battle; as, not being
supported in proper time by the reserve, each halted exhausted. But at
last all the first obstacles were overcome; the firing gradually
slackened, and got to a greater distance from the emperor. Officers were
coming in to him from all parts. Poniatowski and Sebastiani, after an
obstinate contest, were also victorious. The enemy halted, and
entrenched himself in a new position. It was getting late, our
ammunition was exhausted, and the battle ended.

Belliard then returned for the third time to the emperor, whose
sufferings appeared to have increased. He mounted his horse with
difficulty, and rode slowly along the heights of Semenowska. He found a
field of battle imperfectly gained, as the enemy's bullets, and even
their musket-balls, still disputed the possession of it with us.

In the midst of these warlike noises, and the still burning ardour of
Ney and Murat, he continued always in the same state, his gait
desponding, and his voice languid. The sight of the Russians, however,
and the noise of their continued firing, seemed again to inspire him;
he went to take a nearer view of their last position, and even wished to
drive them from it. But Murat, pointing to the scanty remains of our own
troops, declared that it would require the guard to finish; on which,
Bessières continuing to insist, as he always did, on the importance of
this _corps d'élite_, objected "the distance the emperor was from his
reinforcements; that Europe was between him and France; that it was
indispensable to preserve, at least, that handful of soldiers, which was
all that remained to answer for his safety." And as it was then nearly
five o'clock, Berthier added, "that it was too late; that the enemy was
strengthening himself in his last position; and that it would require a
sacrifice of several more thousands, without any adequate results."
Napoleon then thought of nothing but to recommend the victors to be
prudent. Afterwards he returned, still at the same slow pace, to his
tent, that had been erected behind that battery which was carried two
days before, and in front of which he had remained ever since the
morning, an almost motionless spectator of all the vicissitudes of that
terrible day.

As he was thus returning, he called Mortier to him, and ordered him "to
make the young guard now advance, but on no account to pass the new
ravine which separated us from the enemy." He added, "that he gave him
in charge to guard the field of battle; that that was all he required of
him; that he was at liberty to do whatever he thought necessary for that
purpose, and nothing more." He recalled him shortly after to ask "if he
had properly understood him; recommended him to make no attack; but
merely to guard the field of battle." An hour afterwards he sent to him
to reiterate the order, "neither to advance nor retreat, whatever might


After he had retired to his tent, great mental anguish was added to his
previous physical dejection. He had seen the field of battle; places had
spoken much more loudly than men; the victory which he had so eagerly
pursued, and so dearly bought, was incomplete. Was this he who had
always pushed his successes to the farthest possible limits, whom
Fortune had just found cold and inactive, at a time when she was
offering him her last favours?

The losses were certainly immense, and out of all proportion to the
advantages gained. Every one around him had to lament the loss of a
friend, a relation, or a brother; for the fate of battles had fallen on
the most distinguished. Forty-three generals had been killed or wounded.
What a mourning for Paris! what a triumph for his enemies! what a
dangerous subject for the reflections of Germany! In his army, even in
his very tent, his victory was silent, gloomy, isolated, even without

The persons whom he had summoned, Dumas and Daru, listened to him, and
said nothing; but their attitude, their downcast eyes, and their
silence, spoke more eloquently than words.

It was now ten o'clock. Murat, whom twelve hours' fighting had not
exhausted, again came to ask him for the cavalry of his guard. "The
enemy's army," said he, "is passing the Moskwa in haste and disorder; I
wish to surprise and extinguish it." The emperor repelled this sally of
immoderate ardour; afterwards he dictated the bulletin of the day.

He seemed pleased at announcing to Europe, that neither he nor his guard
had been at all exposed. By some this care was regarded as a refinement
of self-love; but those who were better informed thought very
differently. They had never seen him display any vain or gratuitous
passion, and their idea was, that at that distance, and at the head of
an army of foreigners, who had no other bond of union but victory, he
had judged it indispensable to preserve a select and devoted body.

His enemies, in fact, would have no longer any thing to hope from fields
of battle; neither his death, as he had no need to expose his person in
order to insure success, nor a victory, as his genius was sufficient at
a distance, even without bringing forward his reserve. As long,
therefore, as this guard remained untouched, his real power and that
which he derived from opinion would remain entire. It seemed to be a
sort of security to him, against his allies, as well as against his
enemies: on that account he took so much pains to inform Europe of the
preservation of that formidable reserve; and yet it scarcely amounted to
20,000 men, of whom more than a third were new recruits.

These were powerful motives, but they did not at all satisfy men who
knew that excellent reasons may be found for committing the greatest
faults. They all agreed, "that they had seen the battle which had been
won in the morning on the right, halt where it was favourable to us, and
continue successively in front, a contest of mere strength, as in the
infancy of the art! it was a battle without any plan, a mere victory of
soldiers, rather than of a general! Why so much precipitation to
overtake the enemy, with an army panting, exhausted, and weakened? and
when we had come up with him, why neglect to complete his discomfiture,
and remain bleeding and mutilated, in the midst of an enraged nation, in
immense deserts, and at 800 leagues' distance from our resources?"

Murat then exclaimed, "That in this great day he had not recognized the
genius of Napoleon!" The viceroy confessed "that he had no conception
what could be the reason of the indecision which his adopted father had
shown." Ney, when he was called on for his opinion, was singularly
obstinate in advising him to retreat.

Those alone who had never quitted his person, observed, that the
conqueror of so many nations had been overcome by a burning fever, and
above all by a fatal return of that painful malady which every violent
movement, and all long and strong emotions excited in him. They then
quoted the words which he himself had written in Italy fifteen years
before: "Health is indispensable in war, and nothing can replace it;"
and the exclamation, unfortunately prophetic, which he had uttered on
the plains of Austerlitz: "Ordener is worn out. One is not always fit
for war; I shall be good for six years longer, after which I must lie

During the night, the Russians made us sensible of their vicinity, by
their unseasonable clamours. Next morning there was an alert, close to
the emperor's tent. The old guard was actually obliged to run to arms; a
circumstance which, after a victory, seemed insulting. The army remained
motionless until noon, or rather it might be said that there was no
longer an army, but a single vanguard. The rest of the troops were
dispersed over the field of battle to carry off the wounded, of whom
there were 20,000. They were taken to the great abbey of Kolotskoi, two
leagues in the rear.

Larrey, the surgeon-in-chief, had just taken assistants from all the
regiments; the _ambulances_ had rejoined, but all was insufficient. He
has since complained, in a printed narrative, that no troop had been
left him to procure the most necessary articles in the surrounding

The emperor then rode over the field of battle; never did one present so
horrible an appearance. Every thing concurred to make it so; a gloomy
sky, a cold rain, a violent wind, houses burnt to ashes, a plain turned
topsy-turvy, covered with ruins and rubbish, in the distance the sad and
sombre verdure of the trees of the North; soldiers roaming about in all
directions, and hunting for provisions, even in the haversacks of their
dead companions; horrible wounds, for the Russian musket-balls are
larger than ours; silent bivouacs, no singing or story-telling--a gloomy

Round the eagles were seen the remaining officers and subalterns, and a
few soldiers, scarcely enough to protect the colours. Their clothes had
been torn in the fury of the combat, were blackened with powder, and
spotted with blood; and yet, in the midst of their rags, their misery,
and disasters, they had a proud look, and at the sight of the emperor,
uttered some shouts of triumph, but they were rare and excited; for in
this army, capable at once of analysis and enthusiasm, every one was
sensible of the position of all.

French soldiers are not easily deceived; they were astonished to find so
many of the enemy killed, so great a number wounded, and so few
prisoners, there being not 800 of the latter. By the number of these,
the extent of a victory had been formerly calculated. The dead bodies
were rather a proof of the courage of the vanquished, than the evidence
of a victory. If the rest retreated in such good order, proud, and so
little discouraged, what signified the gain of a field of battle? In
such extensive countries, would there ever be any want of ground for the
Russians to fight on?

As for us, we had already too much, and a great deal more than we were
able to retain. Could that be called conquering it? The long and
straight furrow which we had traced with so much difficulty from Kowno,
across sands and ashes, would it not close behind us, like that of a
vessel on an immense ocean! A few peasants, badly armed, might easily
efface all traces of it.

In fact they were about to carry off, in the rear of the army, our
wounded and our marauders. Five hundred stragglers soon fell into their
hands. It is true that some French soldiers, arrested in this manner,
affected to join these cossacks; they assisted them in making fresh
captures, until finding themselves sufficiently numerous, with their new
prisoners, they collected together suddenly and rid themselves of their
unsuspecting enemies.

The emperor could not value his victory otherwise than by the dead. The
ground was strewed to such a degree with Frenchmen, extended prostrate
on the redoubts, that they appeared to belong more to them than to those
who remained standing. There seemed to be more victors killed there,
than there were still living.

Amidst the crowd of corses which we were obliged to march over in
following Napoleon, the foot of a horse encountered a wounded man, and
extorted from him a last sign of life or of suffering. The emperor,
hitherto equally silent with his victory, and whose heart felt
oppressed by the sight of so many victims, gave an exclamation; he felt
relieved by uttering cries of indignation, and lavishing the attentions
of humanity on this unfortunate creature. To pacify him, somebody
remarked that it was only a Russian, but he retorted warmly, "that after
victory there are no enemies, but only men!" He then dispersed the
officers of his suite, in order to succour the wounded, who were heard
groaning in every direction.

Great numbers were found at the bottom of the ravines, into which the
greater part of our men had been precipitated, and where many had
dragged themselves, in order to be better protected from the enemy, and
the violence of the storm. Some groaningly pronounced the name of their
country or their mother; these were the youngest: the elder ones waited
the approach of death, some with a tranquil, and others with a sardonic
air, without deigning to implore for mercy or to complain; others
besought us to kill them outright: these unfortunate men were quickly
passed by, having neither the useless pity to assist them, nor the cruel
pity to put an end to their sufferings.

One of these, the most mutilated (one arm and his trunk being all that
remained to him) appeared so animated, so full of hope, and even of
gaiety, that an attempt was made to save him. In bearing him along, it
was remarked that he complained of suffering in the limbs, which he no
longer possessed; this is a common case with mutilated persons, and
seems to afford additional evidence that the soul remains entire, and
that feeling belongs to it alone, and not to the body, which can no more
feel than it can think.

The Russians were seen dragging themselves along to places where dead
bodies were heaped together, and offered them a horrible retreat. It has
been affirmed by several persons, that one of these poor fellows lived
for several days in the carcase of a horse, which had been gutted by a
shell, and the inside of which he gnawed. Some were seen straightening
their broken leg by tying a branch of a tree tightly against it, then
supporting themselves with another branch, and walking in this manner to
the next village. Not one of them uttered a groan.

Perhaps, when far from their own homes, they looked less for compassion.
But certainly they appeared to support pain with greater fortitude than
the French; not that they suffered more courageously, but that they
suffered less; for they have less feeling in body and mind, which arises
from their being less civilized, and from their organs being hardened by
the climate.

During this melancholy review, the emperor in vain sought to console
himself with a cheering illusion, by having a second enumeration made of
the few prisoners who remained, and collecting together some dismounted
cannon: from seven to eight hundred prisoners, and twenty broken cannon,
were all the trophies of this imperfect victory.


At the same time, Murat kept pushing the Russian rear-guard as far as
Mojaisk: the road which it uncovered on its retreat was perfectly clear,
and without a single fragment of men, carriages, or dress. All their
dead had been buried, for they have a religious respect for the dead.

At the sight of Mojaisk, Murat fancied himself already in possession of
it, and sent to inform the emperor that he might sleep there. But the
Russian rear-guard had taken a position outside the walls of the town,
and the remains of their army were placed on a height behind it. In this
way they covered the Moscow and the Kalouga roads.

Perhaps Kutusof hesitated which of these two roads to take, or was
desirous of leaving us in uncertainty as to the one he had taken, which
was the case. Besides, the Russians felt it a point of honour to bivouac
at only four leagues from the scene of our victory. That also allowed
them time to disencumber the road behind them and clear away their

Their attitude was equally firm and imposing as before the battle, which
we could not help admiring; but something of this was also attributable
to the length of time we had taken to quit the field of Borodino, and to
a deep ravine which was between them and our cavalry. Murat did not
perceive this obstacle, but General Dery, one of his officers, guessed
it. He went and reconnoitred the ground, close to the gates of the town,
under the Russian bayonets.

But the king of Naples, quite as fiery as at the beginning of the
campaign, or of his military life, made nothing of the obstacle; he
summoned his cavalry, called to them furiously to advance, to charge and
break through these battalions, gates, and walls! In vain his
aid-de-camp urged the impossibility of effecting his orders; he pointed
out to him the army on the opposite heights, which commanded Mojaisk,
and the ravine where the remains of our cavalry were about to be
swallowed up. Murat, in greater fury than ever, insisted "that they must
march, and if there was any obstacle, they would see it." He then made
use of insulting phrases to urge them on, and his orders were about to
be carried,--with some delay, nevertheless, for there was generally an
understanding to retard their execution, in order to give him time to
reflect, and to allow time for a counter-order, which had been
anticipated to arrive before any misfortune happened, which was not
always the case, but was so this time. Murat was satisfied with wasting
his cannon and powder on some drunken and straggling cossacks by whom he
was almost surrounded, and who attacked him with frightful howls.

This skirmish, however, was sufficiently serious to add to the losses of
the preceding day, as general Belliard was wounded in it. This officer,
who was a great loss to Murat, was employed in reconnoitring the left of
the enemy's position. As it was approachable, the attack should have
been made on that side, but Murat never thought of any thing but
striking what was immediately before him.

The emperor only arrived on the field of battle at nightfall, escorted
by a very feeble detachment. He advanced towards Mojaisk, at a still
slower pace than the day before, and so completely absent, that he
neither seemed to hear the noise of the engagement, nor that of the
bullets which were whistling around him.

Some one stopped him, and pointed out to him the enemy's rear-guard
between him and the town; and on the heights behind, the fires of an
army of 50,000 men. This sight was a proof of the incompleteness of his
victory, and how little the enemy were discouraged; but he seemed quite
insensible of it; he listened to the reports with a dejected and
listless air, and returned to sleep at a village some little distance
off, which was within reach of the enemy's fire.

The Russian autumn had triumphed over him: had it not been for that,
perhaps the whole of Russia would have yielded to our arms on the plains
of the Moskwa: its premature inclemency was a most seasonable assistance
to their empire. It was on the 6th of September, the very day before the
great battle! that a hurricane announced its fatal commencement. It
struck Napoleon. Ever since the night of that day, it has been seen that
a wearying fever had dried up his blood, and oppressed his spirits, and
that he was quite overcome by it during the battle; the suffering he
endured from this, added to another still more severe, for the five
following days arrested his march, and bound up his genius. This it was
which preserved Kutusof from total ruin at Borodino, and allowed him
time to rally the remainder of his army, and withdraw it from our

On the 9th of September we found Mojaisk uncovered, and still standing:
but beyond it the enemy's rear-guard on the heights which command it,
and which their army had occupied the day before. Some of our troops
entered the town for the purpose of passing through it in pursuit of the
enemy, and others to plunder and find lodgings for themselves. They
found neither inhabitants nor provisions, but merely dead bodies, which
they were obliged to throw out of the windows, in order to get
themselves under cover, and a number of dying soldiers, who were all
collected into one spot. These last were so numerous, and had been so
scattered about, that the Russians had not dared to set fire to the
habitations; but their humanity, which was not always so scrupulous, had
given way to the desire of firing on the first French they saw enter,
which they did with shells: the consequence was, that this wooden town
was soon set fire to, and a part of the unfortunate wounded whom they
had abandoned were consumed in the flames.

While we were making attempts to save them, fifty voltigeurs of the 33d
climbed the heights, of which the enemy's cavalry and artillery still
occupied the summit. The French army, which had halted under the walls
of Mojaisk, was surprised at seeing this handful of men, scattered about
on this uncovered declivity, teasing with their fire thousands of the
enemy's cavalry. All at once what had been foreseen happened; several of
the enemy's squadrons put themselves in motion, and in an instant
surrounded these bold fellows, who immediately formed, and kept facing
and firing at them in all directions; but they were so few in the midst
of a large plain, and the number of cavalry about them was so great,
that they soon disappeared from our eyes. A general exclamation of
sorrow burst from the whole of our lines. Every one of the soldiers with
his neck stretched, and his eye fixed, followed the enemy's movements,
and endeavoured to distinguish the fate of his companions in arms. Some
were lamenting the distance they were at, and wishing to march; others
mechanically loaded their muskets or crossed their bayonets with a
threatening air, as if they had been near enough to assist them. Their
looks were sometimes as animated as if they were fighting, and at other
times as much distressed as if they had been beat. Others advised and
encouraged them, forgetting that they were out of reach of hearing.

Several volleys of smoke, ascending from amidst the black mass of
horses, prolonged the uncertainty. Some cried out, that it was our men
firing, and still defending themselves, and that they were not yet beat.
In fact, a Russian commanding officer had just been killed by the
officer commanding these _tirailleurs_. This was the way in which he
replied to the summons to surrender. Our anxiety lasted some minutes
longer, when all at once the army set up a cry of joy and admiration at
seeing the Russian cavalry, intimidated at this bold resistance,
separate in order to escape their well-directed fire, disperse, and at
last allow us to see once more this handful of brave fellows master of
this extensive field of battle, of which it only occupied a few feet.

When the Russians saw that we were manoeuvring seriously to attack
them, they disappeared without leaving us any traces to follow them.
This was the same they had done at Witepsk and Smolensk, and what was
still more remarkable, the second day after their great disaster. At
first there was some uncertainty whether to follow the road to Moscow or
that to Kalouga, after which Murat and Mortier proceeded, at all
hazards, towards Moscow.

They marched for two days, with no other food than horse-flesh and
bruised wheat, without finding a single person or thing by which to
discover the Russian army. That army, although its infantry only formed
one confused mass, did not leave behind it a single fragment; such was
the national spirit and habit of obedience in it, collectively and
singly, and so thoroughly unprovided were we with every kind of
information, as well as resources, in this deserted and thoroughly
hostile country.

The army of Italy was advancing at some leagues' distance on the left of
the great road, and surprised some of the armed peasantry, who were not
accustomed to fighting; but their master, with a dagger in his hand,
rushed upon our soldiers like a madman: he exclaimed that he had no
longer a religion, empire, or country to defend, and that life was
odious to him; they were willing, however, to leave him that, but as he
attempted to kill the soldiers who surrounded him, pity yielded to
anger, and his wish was gratified.

Near Krymskoié, on the 11th of September, the hostile army again made
its appearance, firmly established in a strong position. It had returned
to its plan of looking more to the ground, in its retreat, than to the
enemy. The duke of Treviso at first satisfied Murat of the impossibility
of attacking it; but the smell of powder soon intoxicated that monarch.
He committed himself, and obliged Dufour, Mortier, and their infantry,
to advance to his support. This consisted of the remains of Friand's
division, and the young guard. There were lost, without the least
utility, 2000 men of that reserve which had been so unseasonably spared
on the day of battle; and Mortier was so enraged, that he wrote to the
emperor, that he would no longer obey Murat's orders. For it was by
letter that the generals of the vanguard communicated with Napoleon. He
had remained for three days at Mojaisk, confined to his apartment, still
consumed by a burning fever, overwhelmed with business, and worn out
with anxiety. A violent cold had deprived him of the use of his voice.
Compelled to dictate to seven persons at once, and unable to make
himself heard, he wrote on different papers the heads of his despatches.
When any difficulty arose, he explained himself by signs.

There was a moment when Bessières enumerated to him all the generals who
were wounded on the day of the battle. This fatal list affected him so
poignantly, that by a violent effort he recovered his voice, and
interrupted the marshal by the sudden exclamation, "Eight days at
Moscow, and there will be an end of it!"

Meantime, although he had hitherto placed all his futurity in that
capital, a victory so sanguinary and so little decisive lowered his
hopes. His instructions to Berthier of the 11th of September for marshal
Victor exhibited his distress: "The enemy, attacked at the heart, no
longer trifles with us at the extremities. Write to the duke of Belluno
to direct all, infantry, cavalry, artillery, and isolated soldiers to
Smolensk, in order to be forwarded from thence to Moscow."

In the midst of these bodily and mental sufferings, which he carefully
concealed from his army, Davoust obtained access to him; his object was
to offer himself again, notwithstanding his wound, to take the command
of the vanguard, promising that he would contrive to march night and
day, reach the enemy, and compel him to fight, without squandering, as
Murat did, the strength and lives of the soldiers. Napoleon only
answered him by extolling in high terms the audacious and inexhaustible
ardour of his brother-in-law.

He had just before heard, that the enemy's army had again been found;
that it had not retired upon his right flank, towards Kalouga, as he had
feared it would; that it was still retreating, and that his vanguard was
already within two days' march of Moscow. That great name, and the great
hopes which he attached to it, revived his strength, and on the 12th of
September, he was sufficiently recovered to set out in a carriage, in
order to join his vanguard.









  Quamquam animus meminisse horret, luctuque refugit,









[Illustration: Portrait of the Emperor Alexander]








We have seen how the Emperor Alexander, surprised at Wilna amidst his
preparations for defence, retreated with his disunited army, and was
unable to rally it till it was at the distance of a hundred leagues from
that city, between Witepsk and Smolensk. That Prince, hurried along in
the precipitate retreat of Barclay, sought refuge at Drissa, in a camp
injudiciously chosen and entrenched at great expense; a mere point in
the space, on so extensive a frontier, and which served only to indicate
to the enemy the object of his manoeuvres.

Alexander, however, encouraged by the sight of this camp, and of the
Düna, took breath behind that river. It was there that he first
consented to receive an English agent, so important did he deem it to
appear till that moment faithful to his engagements with France. Whether
he acted with real good faith, or merely made a show of doing so, we
know not: so much is certain, that at Paris, after his success, he
affirmed, on his honour, to Count Daru, that, "notwithstanding the
accusations of Napoleon, this was his first infraction of the treaty of

At the same time he caused Barclay to issue addresses, designed to
corrupt the French and their allies, similar to those which had so
irritated Napoleon at Klubokoe;--attempts which the French regarded as
contemptible, and the Germans as unseasonable.

In other respects, the Emperor had given his enemies but a mean opinion
of his military talents: this opinion was founded on his having
neglected the Berezina, the only natural line of defence of Lithuania;
on his eccentric retreat towards the north, when the rest of his army
was fleeing southward; and lastly, on his ukase relative to recruiting,
dated Drissa, which assigned to the recruits, for their places of
rendezvous, several towns that were almost immediately occupied by the
French. His departure from the army, as soon as it began to fight, was
also a subject of remark.

As to his political measures in his new and in his old provinces, and
his proclamations from Polotsk to his army, to Moscow, to his great
nation, it was admitted that they were singularly adapted to persons and
places. It appears, in fact, that in the political means which he
employed there was a very striking gradation of energy.

In the recently acquired portion of Lithuania, houses, inhabitants,
crops, in short every thing had been spared, either from hurry or
designedly. The most powerful of the nobles had alone been carried off:
their defection might have set too dangerous an example, and had they
still further committed themselves, their return in the sequel would
have been more difficult; besides, they were hostages.

In the provinces of Lithuania which had been of old incorporated with
the empire, where a mild administration, favours judiciously bestowed,
and a longer habit of subjection, had extinguished the recollection of
independence, the inhabitants were hurried away with all they could
carry with them. Still it was not deemed expedient to require of
subjects professing a different religion, and a nascent patriotism, the
destruction of property: a levy of five men only out of every five
hundred males was ordered.

But in Russia Proper, where religion, superstition, ignorance,
patriotism, all went hand in hand with the government, not only had the
inhabitants been obliged to retreat with the army, but every thing that
could not be removed had been destroyed. Those who were not destined to
recruit the regulars, joined the militia or the cossacks.

The interior of the empire being then threatened, it was for Moscow to
set an example. That capital, justly denominated by its poets, "_Moscow
with the golden cupolas_," was a vast and motley assemblage of two
hundred and ninety-five churches, and fifteen hundred mansions, with
their gardens and dependencies. These palaces of brick, and their parks,
intermixed with neat houses of wood, and even thatched cottages, were
spread over several square leagues of irregular ground: they were
grouped round a lofty triangular fortress; the vast double inclosure of
which, half a league in circuit, contained, the one, several palaces,
some churches, and rocky and uncultivated spots; the other, a prodigious
bazaar, the town of the merchants and shopkeepers, where was displayed
the collected wealth of the four quarters of the globe.

These edifices, these palaces, nay, the very shops themselves, were all
covered with polished and painted iron: the churches, each surmounted by
a terrace and several steeples, terminating in golden balls, then the
crescent, and lastly the cross, reminded the spectator of the history of
this nation: it was Asia and its religion, at first victorious,
subsequently vanquished, and finally the crescent of Mahomet surmounted
by the cross of Christ.

A single ray of sun-shine caused this splendid city to glisten with a
thousand varied colours. At sight of it the traveller paused, delighted
and astonished. It reminded him of the prodigies with which the oriental
poets had amused his childhood. On entering it, a nearer view served but
to heighten his astonishment: he recognized the nobles by the manners,
the habits, and the different languages of modern Europe; and by the
rich and light elegance of their dress. He beheld, with surprise, the
luxury and the Asiatic form of those of the merchants; the Grecian
costumes of the common people, and their long beards. He was struck by
the same variety in the edifices: and yet all this was tinged with a
local and sometimes harsh colour, such as befits the country of which
Moscow was the ancient capital.

When, lastly, he observed the grandeur and magnificence of so many
palaces, the wealth which they displayed, the luxury of the equipages,
the multitude of slaves and servants, the splendour of those gorgeous
spectacles, the noise of those sumptuous festivities, entertainments,
and rejoicings, which incessantly resounded within its walls, he fancied
himself transported into a city of kings, into an assemblage of
sovereigns, who had brought with them their manners, customs, and
attendants from all parts of the world.

They were, nevertheless, only subjects; but opulent and powerful
subjects; grandees, vain of their ancient nobility, strong in their
collected numbers, and in the general ties of consanguinity contracted
during the seven centuries which this capital had existed. They were
landed proprietors, proud of their existence amidst their vast
possessions; for almost the whole territory of the government of Moscow
belongs to them, and they there reign over a million of serfs. Finally,
they were nobles, resting, with a patriotic and religious pride, upon
"the cradle and the tomb of their nobility"--for such is the appellation
which they give to Moscow.

It seems right, in fact, that here the nobles of the most illustrious
families should be born and educated; that hence they should launch into
the career of honours and glory; and lastly, that hither, when
satisfied, discontented, or undeceived, they should bring their disgust,
or their resentment to pour it forth; their reputation, in order to
enjoy it, to exercise its influence on the young nobility; and to
recruit, at a distance from power, of which they have nothing farther to
expect, their pride, which has been too long bowed down near the throne.

Here their ambition, either satiated or disappointed, has assumed,
amidst their own dependents, and as it were beyond the reach of the
court, a greater freedom of speech: it is a sort of privilege which time
has sanctioned, of which they are tenacious, and which their sovereign
respects. They become worse courtiers, but better citizens. Hence the
dislike of their princes to visit this vast repository of glory and of
commerce, this city of nobles whom they have disgraced or disgusted,
whose age or reputation places them beyond their power, and to whom they
are obliged to show indulgence.

To this city necessity brought Alexander: he repaired thither from
Polotsk, preceded by his proclamations, and looked for by the nobility
and the mercantile class. His first appearance was amidst the assembled
nobility. There every thing was great--the circumstance, the assembly,
the speaker, and the resolutions which he inspired. His voice betrayed
emotion. No sooner had he ceased, than one general simultaneous,
unanimous cry burst from all hearts:--"Ask what you please, sire! we
offer you every thing! take our all!"

One of the nobles then proposed the levy of a militia; and in order to
its formation, the gift of one peasant in twenty-five: but a hundred
voices interrupted him, crying, that "the country required a greater
sacrifice; that it was necessary to grant one serf in ten, ready armed,
equipped, and supplied with provisions for three months." This was
offering, for the single government of Moscow, eighty thousand men, and
a great quantity of stores.

This sacrifice was immediately voted without deliberation--some say with
enthusiasm, and that it was executed in like manner, so long as the
danger was at hand. Others have attributed the concurrence of this
assembly to so urgent a proposition, to submission alone--a sentiment
indeed, which, in the presence of absolute power, absorbs every other.

They add, that, on the breaking up of the meeting, the principal nobles
were heard to murmur among themselves against the extravagance of such a
measure. "Was the danger then so pressing? Was there not the Russian
army, which, as they were told, still numbered four hundred thousand
men, to defend them? Why then deprive them of so many peasants! The
service of these men would be, it was said, only temporary; but who
could ever wish for their return? It was, on the contrary, an event to
be dreaded. Would these serfs, habituated to the irregularities of war,
bring back their former submission? Undoubtedly not: they would return
full of new sentiments and new ideas, with which they would infect the
villages; they would there propagate a refractory spirit, which would
give infinite trouble to the master by spoiling the slave."

Be this as it may, the resolution of that meeting was generous, and
worthy of so great a nation. The details are of little consequence. We
well know that it is the same everywhere; that every thing in the world
loses by being seen too near; and lastly, that nations ought to be
judged by the general mass and by results.

Alexander then addressed the merchants, but more briefly: he ordered
that proclamation to be read to them, in which Napoleon was represented
as "a perfidious wretch; a Moloch, who, with treachery in his heart and
loyalty on his lips, was striving to sweep Russia from the face of the

It is said that, at these words, the masculine and highly coloured faces
of the auditors, to which long beards imparted a look at once antique,
majestic and wild, were inflamed with rage. Their eyes flashed fire;
they were seized with a convulsive fury: their stiffened arms, their
clenched fists, the gnashing of their teeth, and subdued execrations,
expressed its vehemence. The effect was correspondent. Their chief, whom
they elect themselves, proved himself worthy of his station: he put down
his name the first for fifty thousand rubles. It was two-thirds of his
fortune, and he paid it the next day.

These merchants are divided into three classes: it was proposed to fix
the contribution for each; but one of the assembly, who was included in
the lowest class, declared that his patriotism would not brook any
limit, and he immediately subscribed a sum far surpassing the proposed
standard: the others followed his example more or less closely.
Advantage was taken of their first emotions. Every thing was at hand
that was requisite to bind them irrevocably while they were yet
together, excited by one another, and by the words of their sovereign.

This patriotic donation amounted, it is said, to two millions of rubles.
The other governments repeated, like so many echoes, the national cry of
Moscow. The Emperor accepted all; but all could not be given
immediately: and when, in order to complete his work, he claimed the
rest of the promised succours, he was obliged to have recourse to
constraint; the danger which had alarmed some and inflamed others,
having by that time ceased to exist.


Meanwhile Smolensk was soon reduced; Napoleon at Wiazma, and
consternation in Moscow. The great battle was not yet lost, and already
people began to abandon that capital.

The governor-general, Count Rostopchin, told the women, in his
proclamations, that "he should not detain _them_, as the less fear the
less danger there would be; but that their brothers and husbands must
stay, or they would cover themselves with infamy." He then added
encouraging particulars concerning the hostile force, which consisted,
according to his statement, of "one hundred and fifty thousand men, who
were reduced to the necessity of feeding on horse-flesh. The Emperor
Alexander was about to return to his faithful capital; eighty-three
thousand Russians, both recruits and militia, with eighty pieces of
cannon, were marching towards Borodino, to join Kutusoff."

He thus concluded: "If these forces are not sufficient, I will say to
you, 'Come, my friends, and inhabitants of Moscow, let us march also! we
will assemble one hundred thousand men: we will take the image of the
Blessed Virgin, and one hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, and put an
end to the business at once!'"

It has been remarked as a purely local singularity, that most of these
proclamations were in the scriptural style and in poetic prose.

At the same time a prodigious balloon was constructed, by command of
Alexander, not far from Moscow, under the direction of a German
artificer. The destination of this winged machine was to hover over the
French army, to single out its chief, and destroy him by a shower of
balls and fire. Several attempts were made to raise it, but without
success, the springs by which the wings were to be worked having always

Rostopchin, nevertheless, affecting to persevere, is said to have caused
a great quantity of rockets and other combustibles to be prepared.
Moscow itself was designed to be the great infernal machine, the sudden
nocturnal explosion of which was to consume the Emperor and his army.
Should the enemy escape this danger, he would at least no longer have an
asylum or resources; and the horror of so tremendous a calamity, which
would be charged to his account, as had been done in regard to the
disasters of Smolensk, Dorogobouje, Wiazma, and Gjatz, would not fail to
rouse the whole of Russia.

Such was the terrible plan of this noble descendant of one of the
greatest Asiatic conquerors. It was conceived without effort, matured
with care, and executed without hesitation. This Russian nobleman has
since visited Paris. He is a steady man, a good husband, an excellent
father: he has a superior and cultivated mind, and in society his
manners are mild and pleasing: but, like some of his countrymen, he
combines an antique energy with the civilization of modern times.

His name henceforth belongs to history: still he had only the largest
share in the honour of this great sacrifice. It had been previously
commenced at Smolensk, and it was he who completed it. This resolution,
like every thing great and entire, was admirable; the motive sufficient
and justified by success; the devotedness unparalleled, and so
extraordinary, that the historian is obliged to pause in order to
fathom, to comprehend, and to contemplate it.[19]

[Footnote 19: A Count Rostopchin, we know, has written that he had no
hand in that great event: but we cannot help following the opinion of
the Russians and French, who were witnesses of and actors in this grand
drama. All, without exception, persist in attributing to that nobleman
the entire honour of that generous resolution. Several even seem to
think, that if Count Rostopchin, who is yet animated by the same noble
spirit, which will render his name imperishable, still refuses the
immortality of so great an action, it is that he may leave all the glory
of it to the patriotism of the nation, of which he is become one of the
most remarkable characters.]

One single individual, amidst a vast empire nearly overthrown, surveys
its danger with steady eye: he measures, he appreciates it, and
ventures, perhaps uncommissioned, to devote all the public and private
interests a sacrifice to it. Though but a subject, he decides the lot of
the state, without the countenance of his sovereign; a noble, he decrees
the destruction of the palaces of all the nobles, without their consent;
the protector, from the post which he occupies, of a numerous
population, of a multitude of opulent merchants and traders, of one of
the largest capitals in Europe, he sacrifices their fortunes, their
establishments, nay, the whole city: he himself consigns to the flames
the finest and the richest of his palaces, and proud and satisfied, he
quietly remains among the resentful sufferers who have been injured or
utterly ruined by the measure.

What motive then could be so just and so powerful as to inspire him with
such astonishing confidence? In deciding upon the destruction of Moscow,
his principal aim was not to famish the enemy, since he had contrived to
clear that great city of provisions; nor to deprive the French army of
shelter, since it was impossible to suppose that out of eight thousand
houses and churches, dispersed over so vast a space, there should not be
left buildings enough to serve as barracks for one hundred and fifty
thousand men.

He was no doubt aware also that by such a step he would counteract that
very important point of what was supposed to be the plan of campaign
formed by Alexander, whose object was thought to be to entice forward
and to detain Napoleon, till winter should come upon him, seize him, and
deliver him up defenceless to the whole incensed nation. For it was
natural to presume that these flames would enlighten that conqueror;
they would take from his invasion its end and aim. They would of course
compel him to renounce it while it was yet time, and decide him to
return to Lithuania, for the purpose of taking up winter quarters in
that country--a determination which was likely to prepare for Russia a
second campaign more dangerous than the first.

But in this important crisis Rostopchin perceived two great dangers; the
one, which threatened the national honour, was that of a disgraceful
peace dictated at Moscow, and forced upon his sovereign; the other was a
political rather than a military danger, in which he feared the
seductions of the enemy more than his arms, and a revolution more than a

Averse, therefore, to any treaty, this governor foresaw that in the
populous capital, which the Russians themselves style the oracle, the
example of the whole empire, Napoleon would have recourse to the weapon
of revolution, the only one that would be left him to accomplish his
purpose. For this reason he resolved to raise a barrier of fire between
that great captain and all weaknesses, from whatever quarter they might
proceed, whether from the throne or from his countrymen, either nobles
or senators; and more especially between a population of serfs and the
soldiers of a free nation; in short, between the latter and that mass of
artisans and tradesmen, who form in Moscow the commencement of an
intermediate class--a class for which the French Revolution was
specially adapted.

All the preparations were made in silence, without the knowledge either
of the people, the proprietors of all classes, or perhaps of their
Emperor. The nation was ignorant that it was sacrificing itself. This is
so strictly true, that, when the moment for execution arrived, we heard
the inhabitants who had fled to the churches, execrating this
destruction. Those who beheld it from a distance, the most opulent of
the nobles, mistaken like their peasants, charged us with it; and in
short, those by whom it was ordered threw the odium of it upon us,
having engaged in the work of destruction in order to render us objects
of detestation, and caring but little about the maledictions of so many
unfortunate creatures, provided they could throw the weight of them upon

The silence of Alexander leaves room to doubt whether he approved this
grand determination or not. What part he took in this catastrophe is
still a mystery to the Russians: either they are ignorant on the
subject, or they make a secret of the matter:--the effect of despotism,
which enjoins ignorance or silence.

Some think that no individual in the whole empire excepting the
sovereign, would have dared to take on himself so heavy a
responsibility. His subsequent conduct has disavowed without
disapproving. Others are of opinion that this was one of the causes of
his absence from the army, and that, not wishing to appear either to
order or to defend, he would not stay to be a witness of the

As to the general abandonment of the houses, all the way from Smolensk,
it was compulsory, the Russian army defending them till they were
carried sword in hand, and describing us every where as destructive
monsters. The country suffered but little from this emigration. The
peasants residing near the high road escaped through by-ways to other
villages belonging to their lords, where they found accommodation.

The forsaking of their huts made of trunks of trees laid one upon
another, which a hatchet suffices for building, and of which a bench, a
table, and an image, constitute the whole furniture, was scarcely any
sacrifice for serfs, who had nothing of their own, whose persons did not
even belong to themselves, and whose masters were obliged to provide for
them, since they were their property, and the source of all their

These peasants, moreover, in removing their carts, their implements, and
their cattle, carried every thing with them, most of them being able to
supply themselves with habitation, clothing, and all other necessaries:
for these people are still in but the first stage of civilization, and
far from that division of labour which denotes the extension and high
improvement of commerce and society.

But in the towns, and especially in the great capital, how could they be
expected to quit so many establishments, to resign so many conveniencies
and enjoyments, so much wealth, moveable and immoveable? and yet it cost
little or no more to obtain the total abandonment of Moscow than that of
the meanest village. There, as at Vienna, Berlin, and Madrid, the
principal nobles hesitated not to retire on our approach: for with them
to remain would seem to be the same as to betray. But here, tradesmen,
artisans, day-labourers, all thought it their duty to flee like the most
powerful of the grandees. There was no occasion to command: these people
have not yet ideas sufficient to judge for themselves, to distinguish
and to discover differences; the example of the nobles was sufficient.
The few foreigners who remained at Moscow might have enlightened them;
some of these were exiled, and terror drove away the rest.

It was, besides, an easy task to excite apprehensions of profanation,
pillage, and devastation in the minds of people so cut off from other
nations, and in the inhabitants of a city which had been so often
plundered and burnt by the Tartars. With these examples before their
eyes, they could not await an impious and ferocious enemy but for the
purpose of fighting him: the rest must necessarily shun his approach
with horror, if they would save themselves in this life and in the next:
obedience, honour, religion, fear, every thing in short enjoined them to
flee, with all that they could carry off.

A fortnight before our arrival, the departure of the archives, the
public chests and treasure, and that of the nobles and the principal
merchants, together with their most valuable effects, indicated to the
rest of the inhabitants what course to pursue. The governor, already
impatient to see the city evacuated, appointed superintendants to
expedite the emigration.

On the 3d of September, a Frenchwoman, at the risk of being torn in
pieces by the furious Muscovites, ventured to leave her hiding-place.
She wandered a long time through extensive quarters, the solitude of
which astonished her, when a distant and doleful sound thrilled her with
terror. It was like the funeral dirge of this vast city; fixed in
motionless suspense, she beheld an immense multitude of persons of both
sexes in deep affliction, carrying their effects and their sacred
images, and leading their children along with them. Their priests, laden
with the sacred symbols of religion, headed the procession. They were
invoking heaven in hymns of lamentation, in which all of them joined
with tears.

On reaching the gates of the city, this crowd of unfortunate creatures
passed through them with painful hesitation: turned their eyes once more
towards Moscow, they seemed to be bidding a last farewell to their holy
city: but by degrees their sobs and the doleful tones of their hymns
died away in the vast plains by which it is surrounded.


Thus was this population dispersed in detail or in masses. The roads to
Cazan, Wladimir, and Yaroslaf were covered to the distance of forty
leagues by fugitives on foot, and several unbroken files of vehicles of
every kind. At the same time the measures of Rostopchin to prevent
dejection and to preserve order, detained many of these unfortunate
people till the very last moment.

To this must be added the appointment of Kutusoff, which had revived
their hopes, the false intelligence of a victory at Borodino, and for
the less affluent, the hesitation natural at the moment of abandoning
the only home which they possessed; lastly, the inadequacy of the means
of transport, notwithstanding the quantity of vehicles, which is
peculiarly great in Russia; either because heavy requisitions for the
exigencies of the army had reduced their number; or because they were
too small, as it is customary to make them very light, on account of the
sandy soil and the roads, which may be said to be rather marked out than

It was just then that Kutusoff, though defeated at Borodino, sent
letters to all quarters announcing that he was victorious. He deceived
Moscow, Petersburg, and even the commanders of the other Russian armies.
Alexander communicated this false intelligence to his allies. In the
first transports of his joy he hastened to the altars, loaded the army
and the family of his general with honours and money, gave directions
for rejoicings, returned thanks to heaven, and appointed Kutusoff
field-marshal for this defeat.

Most of the Russians affirm that their emperor was grossly imposed upon
by this report. They are still unacquainted with the motives of such a
deception, which at first procured Kutusoff unbounded favours, that were
not withdrawn from him, and afterwards, it is said, dreadful menaces,
that were not put in execution.

If we may credit several of his countrymen, who were perhaps his
enemies, it would appear that he had two motives. In the first place, he
wished not to shake, by disastrous intelligence, the little firmness
which, in Russia, Alexander was generally, but erroneously thought to
possess. In the second, as he was anxious that his despatch should
arrive on the very name-day of his Sovereign, it is added that his
object was to obtain the rewards for which this kind of anniversaries
furnishes occasion.

But at Moscow the erroneous impression was of short continuance. The
rumour of the destruction of half his army was almost immediately
propagated in that city, from the singular commotion of extraordinary
events, which has been known to spread almost instantaneously to
prodigious distances. Still, however, the language of the chiefs, the
only persons who durst speak, continued haughty and threatening: many of
the inhabitants, trusting to it, remained; but they were every day more
and more tormented by a painful anxiety. Nearly at one and the same
moment, they were transported with rage, elevated with hope, and
overwhelmed with fear.

At one of those moments when, either prostrate before the altars, or in
their own houses before the images of their saints, they had no hope but
in heaven, shouts of joy suddenly resounded: the people instantly
thronged the streets and public places to learn the cause. Intoxicated
with joy, their eyes were fixed on the cross of the principal church. A
vulture had entangled himself in the chains which supported it and was
held suspended by them. This was a certain presage to minds whose
natural superstition was heightened by extraordinary anxiety; it was
thus that their God would seize and deliver Napoleon into their power.

Rostopchin took advantage of all these movements, which he excited or
checked according as they were favourable to him or otherwise. He caused
the most diminutive to be selected from the prisoners taken from the
enemy, and exhibited to the people, that the latter might derive courage
from the sight of their weakness: and yet he emptied Moscow of every
kind of supplies, in order to feed the vanquished, and to famish the
conquerors. This measure was easily carried into effect, as Moscow was
provisioned in spring and autumn by water only, and in winter by

He was still preserving with a remnant of hope the order that was
necessary, especially in such a flight, when the effects of the disaster
at Borodino appeared. The long train of wounded, their groans, their
garments and linen dyed with gore; their most powerful nobles struck and
overthrown like the others--all this was a novel and alarming sight to a
city which had for such a length of time been exempt from the horrors of
war. The police redoubled its activity; but the terror which it excited
could not long make head against a still greater terror.

Rostopchin once more addressed the people. He declared that "he would
defend Moscow to the last extremity; that the tribunals were already
closed, but that was of no consequence; that there was no occasion for
tribunals to try the guilty." He added, that "in two days he would give
the signal." He recommended to the people to "arm themselves with
hatchets, and especially with three-pronged forks, as the French were
not heavier than a sheaf of corn." As for the wounded, he said he should
cause "masses to be said and the water to be blessed in order to their
speedy recovery. Next day," he added, "he should repair to Kutusoff, to
take final measures for exterminating the enemy. And then," said he, "we
will send these guests to the devil; we will despatch the perfidious
wretches, and fall to work to reduce them to powder."

Kutusoff had in fact never despaired of the salvation of the country.
After employing the militia during the battle of Borodino to carry
ammunition and to assist the wounded, he had just formed with them the
third rank of his army. At Mojaisk, the good face which he had kept up
had enabled him to gain sufficient time to make an orderly retreat, to
pick his wounded, to abandon such as were incurable, and to embarrass
the enemy's army with them. Subsequently at Zelkowo, a check had stopped
the impetuous advance of Murat. At length, on the 13th of September,
Moscow beheld the fires of the Russian bivouacs.

There the national pride, an advantageous position, and the works with
which it was strengthened, all induced a belief that the general had
determined to save the capital or to perish with it. He hesitated,
however, and whether from policy or prudence, he at length abandoned the
governor of Moscow to his full responsibility.

The Russian army in this position of Fili, in front of Moscow, numbered
ninety-one thousand men, six thousand of whom were cossacks, sixty-five
thousand veteran troops, (the relics of one hundred and twenty-one
thousand engaged at the Moskwa,) and twenty thousand recruits, armed
half with muskets and half with pikes.

The French army, one hundred and thirty thousand strong the day before
the great battle, had lost about forty thousand men at Borodino, and
still consisted of ninety thousand. Some regiments on the march and the
divisions of Laborde and Pino had just rejoined it: so that on its
arrival before Moscow it still amounted to nearly one hundred thousand
men. Its march was retarded by six hundred and seven pieces of cannon,
two thousand five hundred artillery carriages, and five thousand baggage
waggons; it had no more ammunition than would suffice for one
engagement. Kutusoff perhaps calculated the disproportion between his
effective force and ours. On this point, however, nothing but conjecture
can be advanced, or he assigned purely military motives for his retreat.

So much is certain, that the old general deceived the governor to the
very last moment. He even swore to him "by his grey hair that he would
perish with him before Moscow," when all at once the governor was
informed, that in a council of war held at night in the camp, it had
been determined to abandon the capital without a battle.

Rostopchin was incensed, but not daunted by this intelligence. There was
now no time to be lost, no farther pains were taken to conceal from
Moscow the fate that was destined for it; indeed it was not worth while
to dissemble for the sake of the few inhabitants who were left; and
besides it was necessary to induce them to seek their safety in flight.

At night, therefore, emissaries went round, knocking at every door and
announcing the conflagration. Fusees were introduced at every favourable
aperture, and especially into the shops covered with iron of the
tradesmen's quarter. The fire engines were carried off: the desolation
attained its highest pitch, and each individual, according to his
disposition, was either overwhelmed with distress or urged to a
decision. Most of those who were left formed groups in the public
places; they crowded together, questioned each other, and reciprocally
asked advice: many wandered about at random, some depressed with terror,
others in a frightful state of exasperation. At length the army, the
last hope of the people, deserted them: the troops began to traverse the
city, and in their retreat they hurried along with them the still
considerable remnant of its population.

They departed by the gate of Kolomna, surrounded by a multitude of
women, children, and aged persons in deep affliction. The fields were
covered with them. They fled in all directions, by every path across the
country, without provisions, and laden with such of their effects as in
their agitation they had first laid their hands on. Some, for want of
horses, had harnessed themselves to carts, and thus dragged along their
infant children, a sick wife, or an infirm father, in short, whatever
they held most dear. The woods afforded them shelter, and they subsisted
on the charity of their countrymen.

On that day, a terrific scene terminated this melancholy drama. This,
the last day of Moscow, having arrived, Rostopchin collected together
all whom he had been able to retain and arm. The prisons were thrown
open. A squalid and disgusting crew tumultuously issued from them. These
wretches rushed into the streets with a ferocious joy. Two men, a
Russian and a Frenchman, the one accused of treason, the other of
political indiscretion, were selected from among this horde, and dragged
before Rostopchin, who reproached the Russian with his crime. The latter
was the son of a tradesman: he had been apprehended while exciting the
people to insurrection. A circumstance which occasioned alarm was the
discovery that he belonged to a sect of German illuminati, called
Martinists, a society of superstitious independents. His audacity had
never failed him in prison. It was imagined for a moment that the spirit
of equality had penetrated into Russia. At any rate he did not impeach
any accomplices.

At this crisis his father arrived. It was expected that he would
intercede for his son: on the contrary, he insisted on his death. The
governor granted him a few moments, that he might once more speak to and
bless him. "What, I! I bless a traitor:" exclaimed the enraged
Russian, and turning to his son, he, with a horrid voice and gesture,
pronounced a curse upon him.

This was the signal for his execution. The poor wretch was struck down
by an ill-directed blow of a sabre. He fell, but wounded only, and
perhaps the arrival of the French might have saved him, had not the
people perceived that he was yet alive. They forced the barriers, fell
upon him, and tore him to pieces.

The Frenchman during this scene was petrified with terror. "As for
thee," said Rostopchin, turning towards him, "being a Frenchman, thou
canst not but wish for the arrival of the French army: be free, then,
but go and tell thy countrymen, that Russia had but a single traitor,
and that he is punished." Then addressing himself to the wretches who
surrounded him, he called them sons of Russia, and exhorted them to make
atonement for their crimes by serving their country. He was the last to
quit that unfortunate city, and he then rejoined the Russian army.

From that moment the mighty Moscow belonged neither to the Russians nor
to the French, but to that guilty horde, whose fury was directed by a
few officers and soldiers of the police. They were organized, and each
had his post allotted to him, in order that pillage, fire, and
devastation might commence every where at once.


That very day (September the 14th), Napoleon, being at length persuaded
that Kutusoff had not thrown himself on his right flank, rejoined his
advanced guard. He mounted his horse a few leagues from Moscow. He
marched slowly and cautiously, sending scouts before him to examine the
woods and the ravines, and to ascend all the eminences to look out for
the enemy's army. A battle was expected: the ground favoured the
opinion: works were begun, but had all been abandoned, and we
experienced not the slightest resistance.

At length the last eminence only remained to be passed: it is contiguous
to Moscow, which it commands. It is called _the Hill of Salvation_,
because, on its summit, the inhabitants, at sight of their holy city,
cross and prostrate themselves. Our scouts had soon gained the top of
this hill. It was two o'clock: the sun caused this great city to glisten
with a thousand colours. Struck with astonishment at the sight, they
paused, exclaiming, "Moscow! Moscow!" Every one quickened his pace; the
troops hurried on in disorder; and the whole army, clapping their hands,
repeated with transport, "Moscow! Moscow!" just as sailors shout "Land!
land!" at the conclusion of a long and toilsome voyage.

At the sight of this gilded city, of this brilliant knot uniting Asia
and Europe, of this magnificent emporium of the luxury, the manners, and
the arts of the two fairest divisions of the globe, we stood still in
proud contemplation. What a glorious day had now arrived! It would
furnish the grandest, the most brilliant recollection of our whole
lives. We felt that at this moment all our actions would engage the
attention of the astonished universe; and that every one of our
movements, however trivial, would be recorded by history.

On this immense and imposing theatre we marched, accompanied, as it
were, by the acclamations of all nations: proud of exalting our grateful
age above all other ages, we already beheld it great from our greatness,
and completely irradiated by our glory.

At our return, already so ardently wished for, with what almost
respectful consideration, with what enthusiasm should we be received by
our wives, our countrymen, and even by our parents! We should form,
during the rest of our lives, a particular class of beings, at whom they
would not look but with astonishment, to whom they would not listen but
with mingled curiosity and admiration! Crowds would throng about us
wherever we passed; they would catch up our most unmeaning words. This
miraculous conquest would surround us with a halo of glory: henceforward
people would fancy that they breathed about us an air of prodigy and

When these proud thoughts gave place to more moderate sentiments, we
said to ourselves, that this was the promised term of our labours; that
at length we should pause, since we could no longer be surpassed by
ourselves, after a noble expedition, the worthy parallel to that of
Egypt, and the successful rival of all the great and glorious wars of

At that moment, dangers, sufferings were all forgotten. Was it possible
to purchase too dearly the proud felicity of being able to say, during
the rest of life, "I belonged to the army of Moscow!"

Well, comrades, even now, amidst our abasement, and though it dates from
that fatal city, is not this reflexion of a noble exultation
sufficiently powerful to console us, and to make us proudly hold up our
heads, bowed down by misfortune?

Napoleon himself hastened up. He paused in transport: an exclamation of
joy escaped his lips. Ever since the great battle, the discontented
marshals had shunned him: but at the sight of captive Moscow, at the
intelligence of the arrival of a flag of truce, struck with so important
a result, and intoxicated with all the enthusiasm of glory, they forgot
their grievances. They pressed around the emperor, paying homage to his
good fortune, and already tempted to attribute to his genius the little
pains he had taken on the 7th to complete his victory.

But in Napoleon first emotions were of short duration. He had too much
to think of, to indulge his sensations for any length of time. His first
exclamation was: "There, at last, is that famous city!" and the second:
"It was high time!"

His eyes, fixed on that capital, already expressed nothing but
impatience: in it he beheld in imagination the whole Russian empire. Its
walls enclosed all his hopes,--peace, the expenses of the war, immortal
glory: his eager looks therefore intently watched all its outlets. When
will its gates at length open? When shall he see that deputation come
forth, which will place its wealth, its population, its senate, and the
principal of the Russian nobility at our disposal? Henceforth that
enterprise in which he had so rashly engaged, brought to a successful
termination by dint of boldness, will pass for the result of a high
combination; his imprudence for greatness: henceforth his victory at the
Moskwa, incomplete as it was, will be deemed his greatest achievement.
Thus all that might have turned to his ruin will contribute to his
glory: that day would begin to decide whether he was the greatest man in
the world, or the most rash; in short, whether he had raised himself an
altar, or dug himself a grave.

Anxiety, however, soon began to take possession of his mind. On his left
and right he already beheld Prince Eugene and Poniatowski approaching
the hostile city; Murat, with his scouts, had already reached the
entrance of the suburbs, and yet no deputation appeared: an officer,
sent by Miloradowitch, merely came to declare that his general would set
fire to the city, if his rear was not allowed time to evacuate it.

Napoleon granted every demand. The first troops of the two armies were,
for a short time, intermingled. Murat was recognized by the Cossacks,
who, familiar as the nomadic tribes, and expressive as the people of the
south, thronged around him: then, by their gestures and exclamations,
they extolled his valour and intoxicated him with their admiration. The
king took the watches of his officers, and distributed them among these
barbarous warriors. One of them called him his _hettman_.

Murat was for a moment tempted to believe that in these officers he
should find a new Mazeppa, or that he himself should become one: he
imagined that he had gained them over. This momentary armistice, under
the actual circumstances, sustained the hopes of Napoleon, such need had
he to delude himself. He was thus amused for two hours.

Meanwhile the day was declining, and Moscow continued dull, silent, and
as it were inanimate. The anxiety of the emperor increased; the
impatience of the soldiers became more difficult to be repressed. Some
officers ventured within the walls of the city. "Moscow is deserted!"

At this intelligence, which he angrily refused to credit, Napoleon
descended the Hill of Salvation, and approached the Moskwa and the
Dorogomilow gate. He paused once more, but in vain, at the entry of that
barrier. Murat urged him. "Well!" replied he, "enter then, since they
wish it!" He recommended the strictest discipline; he still indulged
hopes. "Perhaps these inhabitants do not even know how to surrender: for
here every thing is new; they to us, and we to them."

Reports now began to succeed each other: they all agreed. Some
Frenchmen, inhabitants of Moscow, ventured to quit the hiding-place
which for some days had concealed them from the fury of the populace,
and confirmed the fatal tidings. The emperor called Daru. "Moscow
deserted!" exclaimed he: "what an improbable story! We must know the
truth of it. Go and bring me the boyars." He imagined that those men,
stiff with pride, or paralysed with terror, were fixed motionless in
their houses: and he, who had hitherto been always met by the submission
of the vanquished, provoked their confidence, and anticipated their

How, indeed, was it possible for him to persuade himself, that so many
magnificent palaces, so many splendid temples, so many rich mercantile
establishments, were forsaken by their owners, like the paltry hamlets
through which he had recently passed. Daru's mission however was
fruitless. Not a Muscovite was to be seen; not the least smoke rose from
a single chimney; not the slightest noise issued from this immense and
populous city; its three hundred thousand inhabitants seemed to be
struck dumb and motionless by enchantment: it was the silence of the

But such was the incredulity of Napoleon, that he was not yet convinced,
and waited for farther information. At length, an officer, determined to
gratify him, or persuaded that whatever the Emperor willed must
necessarily be accomplished, entered the city, seized five or six
vagabonds, drove them before his horse to the Emperor, and imagined that
he had brought him a deputation. From the first words they uttered,
Napoleon discovered that the persons before him were only indigent

It was not till then that he ceased to doubt the entire evacuation of
Moscow, and lost all the hopes that he had built upon it. He shrugged
his shoulders, and with that contemptuous look with which he met every
thing that crossed his wishes, he exclaimed, "Ah! the Russians know not
yet the effect which the taking of their capital will produce upon


It was now an hour since Murat, and the long and close column of his
cavalry, had entered Moscow; they penetrated into that gigantic body, as
yet untouched, but inanimate. Struck with profound astonishment at the
sight of this complete solitude, they replied to the taciturnity of this
modern Thebes, by a silence equally solemn. These warriors listened,
with a secret shuddering, to the steps of their horses resounding alone,
amid these deserted palaces. They were astonished to hear nothing but
themselves amid such numerous habitations. No-one thought of stopping or
of plundering, either from prudence, or because great civilized nations
respect themselves in enemies' capitals, in the presence of those great
centers of civilization.

Meanwhile they were silently observing that mighty city, which would
have been truly remarkable had they met with it in a flourishing and
populous country, but which was still more astonishing in these deserts.
It was like a rich and brilliant oasis. They had at first been struck by
the sudden view of so many magnificent palaces; but they now perceived
that they were intermingled with mean cottages; a circumstance which
indicated the want of gradation between the classes, and that luxury was
not generated there, as in other countries, by industry, but preceded
it; whereas, in the natural order, it ought to be its more or less
necessary consequence.

Here more especially prevailed inequality--that bane of all human
society, which produces pride in some, debasement in others, corruption
in all. And yet such a generous abandonment of every thing demonstrated
that this excessive luxury, as yet however entirely borrowed, had not
rendered these nobles effeminate.

They thus advanced, sometimes agitated by surprise, at others by pity,
and more frequently by a noble enthusiasm. Several cited events of the
great conquests which history has handed down to us; but it was for the
purpose of indulging their pride, not to draw lessons from them; for
they thought themselves too lofty and beyond all comparison: they had
left behind them all the conquerors of antiquity. They were exalted by
that which is second to virtue only, by glory. Then succeeded
melancholy; either from the exhaustion consequent on so many sensations,
or the effect of the operation produced by such an immeasurable
elevation, and of the seclusion in which we were wandering on that
height, whence we beheld immensity, infinity, in which our weakness was
lost: for the higher we ascend, the more the horizon expands, and the
more conscious we become of our own insignificance.

Amid these reflexions, which were favoured by a slow pace, the report of
fire-arms was all at once heard: the column halted. Its last horses
still covered the fields; its centre was in one of the longest streets
of the city; its head had reached the Kremlin. The gates of that citadel
appeared to be closed. Ferocious cries issued from within it: men and
women, of savage and disgusting aspect, appeared fully armed on its
walls. In a state of filthy inebriety, they uttered the most horrible
imprecations. Murat sent them an amicable message, but to no purpose. It
was found necessary to employ cannon to break open the gate.

We penetrated partly without opposition, partly by force, among these
wretches. One of them rushed close to the king, and endeavoured to kill
one of his officers. It was thought sufficient to disarm him, but he
again fell upon his victim, rolled him on the ground, and attempted to
suffocate him; and even after his arms were seized and held, he still
strove to tear him with his teeth. These were the only Muscovites who
had waited our coming, and who seemed to have been left behind as a
savage and barbarous token of the national hatred.

It was easy to perceive, however, that there was no unison in this
patriotic fury. Five hundred recruits, who had been forgotten in the
Kremlin, beheld this scene without stirring. At the first summons they
dispersed. Farther on, we overtook a convoy of provisions, the escort of
which immediately threw down its arms. Several thousand stragglers and
deserters from the enemy, voluntarily remained in the power of our
advanced guard. The latter left to the corps which followed the task of
picking them up; and these to others, and so on: hence they remained at
liberty in the midst of us, till the conflagration and pillage of the
city having reminded them of their duty, and rallied them all in one
general feeling of antipathy, they went and rejoined Kutusoff.

Murat, who had been stopped but a few moments by the Kremlin, dispersed
this crew which he despised. Ardent and indefatigable as in Italy and
Egypt, after a march of nine hundred leagues, and sixty battles fought
to reach Moscow, he traversed that proud city without deigning to halt
in it, and pursuing the Russian rear-guard, he boldly, and without
hesitation, took the road for Wladimir and Asia.

Several thousand Cossacks, with four pieces of cannon, were retreating
in that direction. The armistice was at an end. Murat, tired of this
peace of half a day, immediately ordered it to be broken by a discharge
of carbines. But our cavalry considered the war as finished; Moscow
appeared to them to be the term of it, and the advanced posts of the two
empires were unwilling to renew hostilities. A fresh order arrived, and
the same hesitation prevailed. At length Murat, irritated at this
disobedience, gave his orders in person; and the firing, with which he
seemed to threaten Asia, but which was not destined to cease till we
reached the banks of the Seine, was renewed.


Napoleon did not enter Moscow till after dark. He stopped in one of the
first houses of the Dorogomilow suburb. There he appointed Marshal
Mortimer governor of that capital. "Above all," said he to him, "no
pillage? For this you shall be answerable to me with your life. Defend
Moscow against all, whether friend or foe."

That night was a gloomy one: sinister reports followed one upon the
heels of another. Some Frenchmen, resident in the country, and even a
Russian officer of police, came to denounce the conflagration. He gave
all the particulars of the preparations for it. The Emperor, alarmed by
these accounts, strove in vain to take some rest. He called every
moment, and had the fatal tidings repeated to him. He nevertheless
entrenched himself in his incredulity, till about two in the morning,
when he was informed that the fire had actually broken out.

It was at the exchange, in the centre of the city, in its richest
quarter. He instantly issued orders upon orders. As soon as it was
light, he himself hastened to the spot, and threatened the young guard
and Mortimer. The Marshal pointed out to him some houses covered with
iron; they were closely shut up, still untouched and uninjured without,
and yet a black smoke was already issuing from them. Napoleon pensively
entered the Kremlin.

At the sight of this half Gothic and half modern palace of the Ruriks
and the Romanofs, of their throne still standing, of the cross of the
great Ivan, and of the finest part of the city, which is overlooked by
the Kremlin, and which the flames, as yet confined to the bazaar, seemed
disposed to spare, his former hopes revived. His ambition was flattered
by this conquest. "At length then," he exclaimed, "I am in Moscow, in
the ancient palace of the Czars, in the Kremlin!" He examined every part
of it with pride, curiosity, and gratification.

He required a statement of the resources afforded by the city; and in
this brief moment given to hope, he sent proposals of peace to the
Emperor Alexander. A superior officer of the enemy's had just been found
in the great hospital; he was charged with the delivery of this letter.
It was by the baleful light of the flames of the bazaar that Napoleon
finished it, and the Russian departed. He was to be the bearer of the
news of this disaster to his sovereign, whose only answer was this

Daylight favoured the efforts of the Duke of Treviso, to subdue the
fire. The incendiaries kept themselves concealed. Doubts were
entertained of their existence. At length, strict injunctions being
issued, order restored, and alarm suspended, each took possession of a
commodious house, or sumptuous palace, under the idea of there finding
comforts that had been dearly purchased by long and excessive

Two officers had taken up their quarters in one of the buildings of the
Kremlin. The view hence embraced the north and west of the city. About
midnight they were awakened by an extraordinary light. They looked and
beheld palaces filled with flames, which at first merely illuminated,
but presently consumed these elegant and noble structures. They observed
that the north wind drove these flames directly towards the Kremlin, and
became alarmed for the safety of that fortress in which the flower of
their army and its commander reposed. They were apprehensive also for
the surrounding houses, where our soldiers, attendants and horses, weary
and exhausted, were doubtless buried in profound sleep. Sparks and
burning fragments were already flying over the roofs of the Kremlin,
when the wind, shifting from north to west, blew them in another

One of these officers, relieved from apprehension respecting his corps,
then composed himself again to sleep, exclaiming, "Let others look to it
now; 'tis no affair of ours." For such was the unconcern produced by the
multiplicity of events and misfortunes, and such the selfishness arising
from excessive suffering and fatigue, that they left to each only just
strength and feeling sufficient for his personal service and

It was not long before fresh and vivid lights again awoke them. They
beheld other flames rising precisely in the new direction which the wind
had taken towards the Kremlin, and they cursed French imprudence and
want of discipline, to which they imputed this disaster. But three times
did the wind thus change from north to west, and three times did these
hostile fires, as if obstinately bent on the destruction of the imperial
quarters, appear eager to follow this new direction.

At this sight a strong suspicion seized their minds. Can the Muscovites,
aware of our rash and thoughtless negligence, have conceived the hope of
burning with Moscow our soldiers, heavy with wine, fatigue and sleep; or
rather, have they dared to imagine that they should involve Napoleon in
this catastrophe; that the loss of such a man would be fully equivalent
to that of their capital; that it was a result sufficiently important to
justify the sacrifice of all Moscow to obtain it; that perhaps Heaven,
in order to grant them so signal a victory, had decreed so great a
sacrifice; and lastly, that so immense a colossus required a not less
immense funeral pile?

Whether this was their plan we cannot tell, but nothing less than the
Emperor's good fortune was required to prevent its being realized. In
fact, not only did the Kremlin contain, unknown to us, a magazine of
gunpowder; but that very night, the guards, asleep and carelessly
posted, suffered a whole park of artillery to enter and draw up under
the windows of Napoleon.

It was at this moment that the furious flames were driven from all
quarters with the greatest violence towards the Kremlin; for the wind,
attracted no doubt by this vast combustion, increased every moment in
strength. The flower of the army and the Emperor would have been
destroyed, if but one of the brands that flew over our heads had
alighted on one of the powder-waggons. Thus upon each of the sparks that
were for several hours floating in the air, depended the fate of the
whole army.

At length the day, a gloomy day, appeared: it came to add to the horrors
of the scene, and to deprive it of its brilliancy. Many of the officers
sought refuge in the halls of the palace. The chiefs, and Mortimer
himself, overcome by the fire with which, for thirty six hours, they had
been contending, there dropped down from fatigue and despair.

They said nothing and we accused ourselves. Most of us imagined that
want of discipline in our troops and intoxication had begun the
disaster, and that the high wind had completed it. We viewed ourselves
with a sort of disgust. The cry of horror which all Europe would not
fail to set up terrified us. Filled with consternation by so tremendous
a catastrophe, we accosted each other with downcast looks: it sullied
our glory; it deprived us of the fruits of it; it threatened our present
and our future existence; we were now but an army of criminals, whom
Heaven and the civilized world would severely judge. From these
overwhelming thoughts and paroxysms of rage against the incendiaries, we
were roused only by an eagerness to obtain intelligence; and all the
accounts began to accuse the Russians alone of this disaster.

In fact, officers arrived from all quarters, and they all agreed. The
very first night, that of the 14th, a fire-balloon had settled on the
palace of Prince Trubetskoi, and consumed it: this was a signal. Fire
had been immediately set to the Exchange: Russian police soldiers had
been seen stirring it up with tarred lances. Here howitzer shells,
perfidiously placed, had discharged themselves in the stoves of several
houses, and wounded the military who crowded round them. Retiring to
other quarters which were still standing, they sought fresh retreats;
but when they were on the point of entering houses closely shut up and
uninhabited, they had heard faint explosions within; these were
succeeded by a light smoke, which immediately became thick and black,
then reddish, and lastly the colour of fire, and presently the whole
edifice was involved in flames.

All had seen hideous-looking men, covered with rags, and women
resembling furies, wandering among these flames, and completing a
frightful image of the infernal regions. These wretches, intoxicated
with wine and the success of their crimes, no longer took any pains to
conceal themselves: they proceeded in triumph through the blazing
streets; they were caught, armed with torches, assiduously striving to
spread the conflagration: it was necessary to strike down their hands
with sabres to oblige them to loose their hold. It was said that these
banditti had been released from prison by the Russian generals for the
purpose of burning Moscow; and that in fact so grand, so extreme a
resolution could have been adopted only by patriotism and executed only
by guilt.

Orders were immediately issued to shoot all the incendiaries on the
spot. The army was on foot. The old guard which exclusively occupied one
part of the Kremlin, was under arms: the baggage, and the horses ready
loaded, filled the courts; we were struck dumb with astonishment,
fatigue and disappointment, on witnessing the destruction of such
excellent quarters. Though masters of Moscow, we were forced to go and
bivouac without provisions outside its gates.

While our troops were yet struggling with the conflagration, and the
army was disputing their prey with the flames, Napoleon, whose sleep
none had dared to disturb during the night, was awoke by the two-fold
light of day and of the fire. His first feeling was that of irritation,
and he would have commanded the devouring element; but he soon paused
and yielded to impossibility. Surprised that when he had struck at the
heart of an empire, he should find there any other sentiment than
submission and terror, he felt himself vanquished, and surpassed in

This conquest, for which he had sacrificed every thing, was like a
phantom which he had pursued, and which at the moment when he imagined
he had grasped it, vanished in a mingled mass of smoke and flame. He was
then seized with extreme agitation; he seemed to be consumed by the
fires which surrounded him. He rose every moment, paced to and fro, and
again sat down abruptly. He traversed his apartments with quick steps:
his sudden and vehement gestures betrayed painful uneasiness: he
quitted, resumed, and again quitted, an urgent occupation, to hasten to
the windows and watch the progress of the conflagration. Short and
incoherent exclamations burst from his labouring bosom. "What a
tremendous spectacle!--It is their own work!--So many palaces!--What
extraordinary resolution!--What men!--These are Scythians indeed!"

Between the fire and him there was an extensive vacant space, then the
Moskwa and its two quays; and yet the panes of the windows against which
he leaned felt already burning to the touch, and the constant exertions
of sweepers, placed on the iron roofs of the palace, were not sufficient
to keep them clear of the numerous flakes of fire which alighted upon

At this moment a rumour was spread that the Kremlin was undermined: this
was confirmed, it was said, by Russians, and by written documents. Some
of his attendants were beside themselves with fear; while the military
awaited unmoved what the orders of the Emperor and fate should decree:
And to this alarm the Emperor replied only with a smile of incredulity.

But he still walked convulsively; he stopped at every window, and beheld
the terrible, the victorious element furiously consuming his brilliant
conquest; seizing all the bridges, all the avenues to his fortress,
inclosing, and as it were besieging him in it; spreading every moment
among the neighbouring houses; and, reducing him within narrower and
narrower limits, confining him at length to the site of the Kremlin

We already breathed nothing but smoke and ashes. Night approached, and
was about to add darkness to our dangers: the equinoxial gales, in
alliance with the Russians, increased in violence. The King of Naples
and Prince Eugene hastened to the spot: in company with the Prince of
Neufchatel they made their way to the Emperor, and urged him by their
entreaties, their gestures, and on their knees, and insisted on removing
him from this scene of desolation. All was in vain.

Napoleon, in possession of the palace of the Czars, was bent on not
yielding that conquest even to the conflagration, when all at once the
shout of "the Kremlin is on fire!" passed from mouth to mouth, and
roused us from the contemplative stupor with which we had been seized.
The Emperor went out to ascertain the danger. Twice had the fire
communicated to the building in which he was, and twice had it been
extinguished; but the tower of the arsenal was still burning. A soldier
of the police had been found in it. He was brought in, and Napoleon
caused him to be interrogated in his presence. This man was the
incendiary: he had executed his commission at the signal given by his
chief. It was evident that every thing was devoted to destruction, the
ancient and sacred Kremlin itself not excepted.

The gestures of the Emperor betokened disdain and vexation: the wretch
was hurried into the first court, where the enraged grenadiers
dispatched him with their bayonets.

[Illustration: Conflagration of Moscow]


This incident had decided Napoleon. He hastily descended the northern
staircase, famous for the massacre of the Strelitzes, and desired to be
conducted out of the city, to the distance of a league on the road to
Petersburgh, toward the imperial palace of Petrowsky.

But we were encircled by a sea of fire, which blocked up all the gates
of the citadel, and frustrated the first attempts that were made to
depart. After some search, we discovered a postern gate leading between
the rocks to the Moskwa. It was by this narrow passage that Napoleon,
his officers and guard escaped from the Kremlin. But what had they
gained by this movement? They had approached nearer to the fire, and
could neither retreat nor remain where they were; and how were they to
advance? how force a passage through the waves of this ocean of flame?
Those who had traversed the city, stunned by the tempest, and blinded by
the ashes, could not find their way, since the streets themselves were
no longer distinguishable amidst smoke and ruins.

There was no time to be lost. The roaring of the flames around us became
every moment more violent. A single narrow winding street completely on
fire, appeared to be rather the entrance than the outlet to this hell.
The Emperor rushed on foot and without hesitation into this narrow
passage. He advanced amid the crackling of the flames, the crash of
floors, and the fall of burning timbers, and of the red-hot iron roofs
which tumbled around him. These ruins impeded his progress. The flames
which, with impetuous roar, consumed the edifices between which we were
proceeding spreading beyond the walls, were blown about by the wind, and
formed an arch over our heads. We walked on a ground of fire, beneath a
fiery sky, and between two walls of fire. The intense heat burned our
eyes, which we were nevertheless obliged to keep open and fixed on the
danger. A consuming atmosphere, glowing ashes, detached flames, parched
our throats, and rendered our respiration short and dry; and we were
already almost suffocated by the smoke. Our hands were burned, either in
endeavouring to protect our faces from the insupportable heat, or in
brushing off the sparks which every moment covered and penetrated our

In this inexpressible distress, and when a rapid advance seemed to be
our only mean of safety, our guide stopped in uncertainty and agitation.
Here would probably have terminated our adventurous career, had not some
pillagers of the first corps recognised the Emperor amidst the whirling
flames: they ran up and guided him towards the smoking ruins of a
quarter which had been reduced to ashes in the morning.

It was then that we met the Prince of Eckmühl. This marshal, who had
been wounded at the Moskwa, had desired to be carried back among the
flames to rescue Napoleon, or to perish with him. He threw himself into
his arms with transport; the emperor received him kindly, but with that
composure which in danger he never lost for a moment.

To escape from this vast region of calamities, it was further necessary
to pass a long convoy of powder, which was defiling amidst the fire.
This was not the least of his dangers, but it was the last, and by
nightfall he arrived at Petrowsky.

Next morning, the 17th of September, Napoleon cast his first looks
towards Moscow, hoping to see that the conflagration had subsided. He
beheld it again raging with the utmost violence: the whole city appeared
like a vast spout of fire rising in whirling eddies to the sky, which it
deeply coloured. Absorbed by this melancholy contemplation, he preserved
a long and gloomy silence, which he broke only by the exclamation, "This
forebodes great misfortunes to us!"

The effort which he had made to reach Moscow had expended all his means
of warfare. Moscow had been the term of his projects, the aim of all his
hopes, and Moscow was no more! What was now to be done? Here this
decisive genius was forced to hesitate. He, who in 1805 had ordered the
sudden and total abandonment of an expedition, prepared at an immense
cost, and determined at Bologne-sur-mer on the surprise and annihilation
of the Austrian army, in short, all the operations of the campaign
between Ulm and Munich exactly as they were executed; the same man, who,
the following year, dictated at Paris with the same infallibility all
the movements of his army as far as Berlin, the day fixed for his
entrance into that capital, and the appointment of the governor whom he
destined for it--he it was, who, astonished in his turn, was now
undecided what course to pursue. Never had he communicated his most
daring projects to the most confidential of his ministers but in the
order for their execution; he was now constrained to consult, and put to
the proof, the moral and physical energies of those about him.

In doing this, however, he still preserved the same forms. He declared,
therefore, that he should march for Petersburg. This conquest was
already marked out on his maps, hitherto so prophetic: orders were even
issued to the different corps to hold themselves in readiness. But his
decision was only a feint: it was but a better face that he strove to
assume, or an expedient for diverting his grief for the loss of Moscow:
so that Berthier, and more especially Bessières, soon convinced him that
he had neither time, provisions, roads, nor a single requisite for so
extensive an excursion.

At this moment he was apprised that Kutusoff, after having fled
eastward, had suddenly turned to the south, and thrown himself between
Moscow and Kalouga. This was an additional motive against the expedition
to Petersburg; there was a threefold reason for marching upon this
beaten army for the purpose of extinguishing it; to secure his right
flank and his line of operation; to possess himself of Kalouga and
Toula, the granary and arsenal of Russia; and lastly, to open a safe,
short, new, and virgin retreat to Smolensk and Lithuania.

Some one proposed to return upon Wittgenstein and Witepsk. Napoleon was
undecided between all these plans. That for the conquest of Petersburg
alone flattered him: the others appeared but as ways of retreat, as
acknowledgments of error; and whether from pride, or policy which will
not admit itself to be in the wrong, he rejected them.

Besides, where was he to stop in a retreat? He had so fully calculated
on concluding a peace at Moscow, that he had no winter quarters provided
in Lithuania. Kalouga had no temptations for him. Wherefore lay waste
fresh provinces? It would be wiser to threaten them, and leave the
Russians something to lose, in order to induce them to conclude a peace
by which it might be preserved. Would it be possible to march to another
battle, to fresh conquests, without exposing a line of operation,
covered with sick, stragglers, wounded and convoys of all sorts? Moscow
was the general rallying point; how could it be changed? What other name
would have any attraction?

Lastly, and above all, how relinquish a hope to which he had made so
many sacrifices, when he knew that his letter to Alexander had just
passed the Russian advanced posts; when eight days would be sufficient
for receiving an answer so ardently desired; when he wanted that time to
rally and re-organize his army, to collect the relics of Moscow, the
conflagration of which had but too strongly sanctioned pillage, and to
draw his soldiers from that vast infirmary!

Scarcely indeed a third of that army and of that capital now existed.
But himself and the Kremlin were still standing: his renown was still
entire, and he persuaded himself that those two great names, Napoleon
and Moscow, combined, would be sufficient to accomplish every thing. He
determined, therefore, to return to the Kremlin, which a battalion of
his guard had unfortunately preserved.


The camps which he traversed on his way thither presented an
extraordinary sight. In the fields, amidst thick and cold mud, large
fires were kept up with mahogany furniture, windows, and gilded doors.
Around these fires, on a litter of damp straw, imperfectly sheltered by
a few boards, were seen the soldiers, and their officers, splashed all
over with mud, and blackened with smoke, seated in arm-chairs or
reclined on silken couches. At their feet were spread or heaped Cashmere
shawls, the rarest furs of Siberia, the gold stuffs of Persia, and
silver plates, off which they had nothing to eat but a black dough baked
in the ashes, and half broiled and bloody horse-flesh. Singular
assemblage of abundance and want, of riches and filth, of luxury and

Between the camp and the city were met troops of soldiers dragging along
their booty, or driving before them, like beasts of burden, Muscovites
bending under the weight of the pillage of their capital; for the fire
brought to view nearly twenty thousand inhabitants, previously
unobserved in that immense city. Some of these Muscovites of both sexes
were well dressed; they were tradespeople. They came with the wreck of
their property to seek refuge at our fires. They lived pell-mell with
our soldiers, protected by some, and tolerated, or rather scarcely
remarked by others.

About ten thousand of the enemy's troops were in the same predicament.
For several days they wandered about among us free, and some of them
even still armed. Our soldiers met these vanquished enemies without
animosity, or without thinking of making them prisoners; either because
they considered the war as at an end, from thoughtlessness, or from
pity, and because when not in battle the French delight in having no
enemies. They suffered them to share their fires; nay, more, they
allowed them to pillage in their company. When some degree of order was
restored, or rather when the officers had organized this marauding as a
regular system of forage, the great number of these Russian stragglers
then attracted notice. Orders were given to secure them; but seven or
eight thousand had already escaped. It was not long before we had to
fight them.

On entering the city, the Emperor was struck by a sight still more
extraordinary: a few houses scattered among the ruins were all that was
left of the mighty Moscow. The smell issuing from this colossus,
overthrown, burned, and calcined, was horrible. Heaps of ashes, and at
intervals, fragments of walls or half demolished pillars, were now the
only vestiges that marked the site of streets.

The suburbs were sprinkled with Russians of both sexes, covered with
garments nearly burned. They flitted like spectres among the ruins;
squatted in the gardens, some of them were scratching up the earth in
quest of vegetables, while others were disputing with the crows for the
relics of the dead animals which the army had left behind. Farther on,
others again were seen plunging into the Moskwa to bring out some of the
corn which had been thrown into it by command of Rostopchin, and which
they devoured without preparation, sour and spoiled as it already was.

Meanwhile the sight of the booty, in such of the camps where every thing
was yet wanting, inflamed the soldiers whom their duty or stricter
officers had kept with their colours. They murmured. "Why were they to
be kept back? Why were they to perish by famine and want, when every
thing was within their reach! Was it right to leave the enemy's fires to
destroy what might be saved? Why was such respect to be paid them?" They
added, that "as the inhabitants of Moscow had not only abandoned, but
even endeavoured utterly to destroy it, all that they could save would
be legitimately acquired; that the remains of that city, like the relics
of the arms of the conquered, belonged by right to the victors, as the
Muscovites had turned their capital into a vast machine of war, for the
purpose of annihilating us."

The best principled and the best disciplined were those who argued thus,
and it was impossible to reply. Too rigid scruples at first prevented
the issuing of orders for pillage; it was now permitted, unrestrained by
regulations. Urged by the most imperious necessities, all hurried to
share in the spoil, the soldiers of the _élite_, and even officers
themselves. Their chiefs were obliged to shut their eyes: only such
guards as were absolutely indispensable were left with the eagles and
the fasces.

The Emperor saw his whole army dispersed over the city. His progress was
obstructed by a long file of marauders going in quest of booty, or
returning with it; by tumultuous assemblages of soldiers grouped around
the entrances of cellars, or the doors of palaces, shops, and churches,
which the fire had nearly reached, and into which they were endeavouring
to penetrate.

His steps were impeded by the fragments of furniture of every kind which
had been thrown out of the windows to save it from the flames, or by
rich pillage which had been abandoned from caprice for some other booty;
for such is the way with soldiers; they are incessantly beginning their
fortune afresh, taking every thing without discrimination, loading
themselves beyond measure, as if they could carry all they find; then,
after they have gone a few steps, compelled by fatigue to throw away the
greatest part of their burden.

The roads were obstructed; the open places, like the camps, were turned
into markets, whither every one repaired to exchange superfluities for
necessaries. There, the rarest articles, the value of which was not
known to their possessors, were sold at a low price; others, of
deceitful appearance, were purchased at a price far beyond their worth.
Gold, as being more portable, was bought at an immense loss with silver,
which the knapsacks were incapable of holding. Everywhere soldiers were
seen seated on bales of merchandize, on heaps of sugar and coffee,
amidst wines and the most exquisite liqueurs, which they were offering
in exchange for a morsel of bread. Many, in an intoxication aggravated
by inanition, had fallen near the flames, which reached them, and put an
end to their lives.

Most of the houses and palaces which had escaped the fire served
nevertheless for quarters for the officers, and all that they contained
was respected. All of them beheld with pain this vast destruction, and
the pillage which was its necessary consequence. Some of our men
belonging to the _élite_ were charged with taking too much pleasure in
collecting what they were able to save from the flames; but their number
was so few that they were mentioned by name. In these ardent men, war
was a passion which presupposed the existence of others. It was not
covetousness, for they did not hoard; they spent lavishly what they
picked up, taking in order to give, believing that one hand washed the
other, and that they had paid for every thing with the danger.

Besides, on such an occasion, there is scarcely any distinction to be
made, unless in the motive: some took with regret, others with pleasure,
and all from necessity. Amidst wealth which had ceased to belong to any
individual, ready to be consumed, or to be buried in ashes, they were
placed in a quite novel situation, where right and wrong were
confounded, and for which no rule was laid down. The most delicate,
either from principle, or because they were richer than others, bought
of the soldiers the provision and apparel which they required: some sent
agents to plunder for them; and the most necessitous were forced to help
themselves with their own hands.

As to the soldiers, many of them being embarrassed with the fruits of
their pillage, became less active, less thoughtless: in danger they
began to calculate, and in order to save their booty, they did what they
would have disdained to do to save themselves.

It was amidst this confusion that Napoleon again entered Moscow. He had
allowed this pillage, hoping that his army, scattered over the ruins,
would not ransack them in vain. But when he learned that the disorder
increased; that the old guard itself was seduced; that the Russian
peasants, who were at length allured thither with provisions, for which
he caused them to be liberally paid for the purpose of drawing others,
were robbed of the provisions which they brought us, by our famished
soldiers; when he was informed that the different corps, destitute of
every thing, were ready to fight for the relics of Moscow; that,
finally, all the existing resources were wasted by this irregular
pillage; he then issued strict orders, and forbade his guard to leave
their quarters. The churches, in which our cavalry had sheltered
themselves, were restored to the Greek worship. The business of plunder
was ordered to be taken in turn by the corps like any other duty, and
directions were at length given for securing the Russian stragglers.

But it was too late. These soldiers had fled: the affrighted peasants
returned no more; great quantities of provisions were spoiled. The
French army have sometimes fallen into this fault, but on the present
occasion the fire pleads their excuse: no time was to be lost in
anticipating the flames. It is, however, a remarkable fact, that at the
first command perfect order was restored.

Some writers, and even French ones, have ransacked these ruins in quest
of traces of outrages which might have been committed in them. There
were very few. Most of our men behaved generously, considering the small
number of inhabitants, and the great number of enemies, that they met
with. But if in the first moments of pillage some excesses were
committed, ought this to appear surprising in an army exasperated by
such urgent wants, such severe sufferings, and composed of so many
different nations?

Misfortune having since humbled these warriors, reproaches have, as is
always the case, been raised against them. Who can be ignorant that such
disorders have always been the bad side of great wars, the inglorious
part of glory; that the renown of conquerors casts its shadow like every
thing else in this world! Does there exist a creature ever so
diminutive, on every side of which the sun, great as is that luminary,
can shine at once? It is therefore a law of nature, that large bodies
have large shadows.

For the rest, people have been too much astonished at the virtues as
well as at the vices of that army. They were the virtues of the moment,
the vices of the age; and for this very reason, the former were less
praiseworthy, and the latter less reprehensible, inasmuch as they were,
if I may so express myself, enjoined by example and circumstances. Thus
every thing is relative, which does not exclude fixed principles and
absolute good as the point of departure and aim. But here the question
relates to the judgment formed of this army and its chief; and he who
would form a correct judgment of them must put himself in their place.
As, then, this position is very elevated, very extraordinary, very
complicated, few minds are capable of attaining it, embracing the whole
of it, and appreciating all its necessary results.


Meanwhile Kutusoff, on leaving Moscow, had drawn Murat towards Kolomna,
to the point where the Moskwa intersects the road. Here, under favour of
the night, he suddenly turned to the south, proceeding by way of Podol,
to throw himself between Moscow and Kalouga. This nocturnal march of the
Russians around Moscow, the ashes and flames of which were wafted to
them by the violence of the wind, was melancholy and religious. They
advanced by the baleful light of the conflagration, which was consuming
the centre of their commerce, the sanctuary of their religion, the
cradle of their empire! Filled with horror and indignation, they all
kept a sullen silence, which was unbroken save by the dull and
monotonous sound of their footsteps, the roaring of the flames, and the
howling of the tempest. The dismal light was frequently interrupted by
livid and sudden flashes. The brows of these warriors might then be seen
contracted by a savage grief, and the fire of their sombre and
threatening looks answered these flames, which they regarded as our
work; it already betrayed that ferocious revenge which was rankling in
their hearts, which spread throughout the whole empire, and to which so
many Frenchmen fell victims.

At that solemn moment, Kutusoff in a firm and noble tone informed his
sovereign of the loss of his capital. He declared, that, "in order to
preserve the fertile provinces of the south, and his communication with
Tormasof and Tchitchakof, he had been obliged to abandon Moscow, but
emptied of the inhabitants, who were the life of it; that as the people
are the soul of every empire, so wherever the Russian people were, there
would be Moscow and the whole empire of Russia."

Here, however, he seemed to bend under the weight of his grief. He
admitted that "this wound was deep and could never be effaced;" but soon
recovering himself, he added, that "the loss of Moscow made but one city
less in the empire, that it was the sacrifice of a part for the
salvation of the whole. He was throwing himself on the flank of the
enemy's long line of operation, keeping him as it were blockaded by his
detachments: there he should watch his movements, cover the resources of
the empire, and again complete his army;" and already (on the 16th of
September) he announced, that "Napoleon would be forced to abandon his
fatal conquest."

It is said that on the receipt of this intelligence Alexander was
thunderstruck. Napoleon built hopes on the weakness of his rival, and
the Russians at the same time dreaded the effect of that weakness. The
Czar belied both these hopes and these fears. In his addresses to his
subjects he exhibited himself great as his misfortune; "No pusillanimous
dejection!" he exclaimed: "Let us vow redoubled courage and
perseverance! The enemy is in deserted Moscow as in a tomb, without
means of domination or even of existence. He entered Russia with three
hundred thousand men of all countries, without union or any national or
religious bond;--he has lost half of them by the sword, famine, and
desertion: he has but the wreck of this army in Moscow; he is in the
heart of Russia, and not a single Russian is at his feet.

"Meanwhile, our forces are increasing and inclosing him. He is in the
midst of a mighty population, encompassed by armies which are waiting
for, and keeping him in check. To escape famine, he will soon be obliged
to direct his flight through the close ranks of our brave soldiers.
Shall we then recede, when all Europe is looking on and encouraging us?
Let us on the contrary set it an example, and kiss the hand which has
chosen us to be the first of the nations in the cause of virtue and
independence." He concluded with an invocation to the Almighty.

The Russians entertain different opinions respecting their general and
their Emperor. We, for our part, as enemies, can only judge of our
enemies by their actions. Now such were their words, and their actions
corresponded with them. Comrades! let us do them justice! their
sacrifice was complete, without reserve, without tardy regrets. They
have since claimed nothing, even in the enemy's capital which they
preserved. Their renown has therefore remained great and unsullied. They
have known real glory; and when a more advanced civilization shall have
spread among all classes of that great nation, it will have its
brilliant era, and will sway in its turn the sceptre of glory, which it
seems to be decreed that the nations of the earth shall successively
relinquish to each other.

This circuitous march made by Kutusoff, either from indecision or
stratagem, turned out fortunate for him. Murat lost all trace of him for
three days. The Russian employed this interval in studying the ground
and entrenching himself. His advanced guard had nearly reached Woronowo,
one of the finest domains belonging to Count Rostopchin, when that
nobleman proceeded forward before it. The Russians supposed that he was
going to take a last look at this mansion, when all at once the edifice
was wrapt from their sight by clouds of smoke.

They hurried on to extinguish the fire, but Rostopchin himself rejected
their aid. They beheld him amid the flames which he was encouraging,
smiling at the demolition of this splendid mansion, and then with a firm
hand penning these words, which the French, shuddering with surprise,
read on the iron gate of a church which was left standing: "For eight
years I have been embellishing this country seat, where I have lived
happily in the bosom of my family. The inhabitants of this estate, to
the number of 1,720, will leave it on your approach, while I have set
fire to my house, that it might not be polluted by your presence.
Frenchmen, I have relinquished to you my two houses at Moscow, with
their furniture, worth half a million of rubles. Here you will find
nothing but ashes."

It was near this place that Murat came up with Kutusoff. On the 29th of
September there was a smart engagement of cavalry towards Czerikowo, and
another, on the 4th of October, near Vinkowo. But there, Miloradowitch,
too closely pressed, turned round furiously, with twelve thousand horse,
upon Sebastiani. He brought him into such danger, that Murat, amidst the
fire, dictated a proposal for a suspension of arms, announcing to
Kutusoff the approach of a flag of truce. It was Lauriston that he
expected. But as the arrival of Poniatowski at that moment gave us some
superiority, the king made no use of the letter which he had written; he
fought till nightfall, and repulsed Miloradowitch.

Meanwhile the conflagration at Moscow, which commenced in the night of
the 14th of September, suspended through our exertions during the day of
the 15th, revived in the following night, and raging in its utmost
violence on the 16th, 17th, and 18th, abated on the 19th. It ceased on
the 20th. That very day, Napoleon, whom the flames had driven from the
Kremlin, returned to the palace of the czars. He invited thither the
looks of all Europe. He there awaited his convoys, his reinforcements,
and the stragglers of his army; certain that all his men would be
rallied by his victory, by the allurements of such vast booty, by the
astonishing sight of captive Moscow, and above all, by his own glory,
which from the top of this immense pile of ruins, still shone attractive
like a beacon upon a rock.

Twice, however, on the 22d and 28th of September, letters from Murat had
well nigh drawn Napoleon from this fatal abode. They announced a battle;
but twice the orders for departure, written in consequence, were burned.
It seemed as though the war was finished for our Emperor, and that he
was only waiting for an answer from Petersburg. He nourished his hopes
with the recollections of Tilsit and Erfurt. Was it possible that at
Moscow he should have less ascendancy over Alexander? Then, like men who
have long been favourites of fortune, what he ardently wished he
confidently expected.

His genius possessed besides that extraordinary faculty, which consisted
in throwing aside the most important occupation whenever he pleased,
either for the sake of variety or of rest: for in him the power of
volition surpassed that of imagination. In this respect he reigned over
himself as much as he did over others.

Thus Paris diverted his attention from Petersburg. His affairs were as
yet divided, and the couriers, which in the first days succeeded each
other without intermission, served to engage him. But the rapidity with
which he transacted business soon left him nothing to do. His expresses,
which at first came from France in a fortnight, ceased to arrive. A few
military posts, placed in four towns reduced to ashes, and in wooden
houses rudely palisaded, were not sufficient to guard a road of
ninety-three leagues: for we had not been able to establish more than a
few echelons, and those at too great distances, on too long a line of
operation, broken at every point where it was touched by the enemy; and
for which a few peasants and a handful of Cossacks were quite

Still no answer was received from Alexander. The uneasiness of Napoleon
increased, and his means of distraction diminished. The activity of his
genius, accustomed to the government of all Europe, had nothing
wherewith to occupy itself but the management of one hundred thousand
men; and then, the organization of his army was so perfect, that this
was scarcely any occupation. Here every thing was fixed; he held all the
wires in his hand: he was surrounded by ministers who could tell him
immediately, at any hour of the day, the position of each man in the
morning or at night, whether alone or not, whether with his colours, or
in the hospital, or on leave of absence, or wherever else he might be,
and that from Moscow to Paris--to such a degree of perfection had the
science of military administration been brought, so experienced and well
chosen were the officers, and so much was required by their commander.

But eleven days had now elapsed; still Alexander was silent, and still
did Napoleon hope to overcome his rival in obstinacy: thus losing the
time which he ought to have gained, and which is always serviceable to
defence against attack.

From this period all his actions indicated to the Russians still more
strongly than at Witepsk, that their mighty foe was resolved to fix
himself in the heart of their empire. Moscow, though in ashes, received
an intendant and municipalities. Orders were issued to provision it for
the winter. A theatre was formed amidst the ruins. The first-rate actors
of Paris were said to have been sent for. An Italian singer strove to
reproduce in the Kremlin the evening entertainments of the Tuileries. By
such means Napoleon expected to dupe a government, which the habit of
reigning over error and ignorance had rendered an adept in all these

He was himself sensible of the inadequacy of these means, and yet
September was past, October had begun. Alexander had not deigned to
reply! it was an affront! he was exasperated. On the 3d of October,
after a night of restlessness and anger, he summoned his marshals. "Come
in," said he, as soon as he perceived them, "hear the new plan which I
have conceived; Prince Eugene, read it." They listened. "We must burn
the remains of Moscow, march by Twer to Petersburg, where we shall be
joined by Macdonald. Murat and Davoust will form the rear-guard."--The
Emperor, all animation, fixed his sparkling eyes on his generals, whose
frigid and silent countenances expressed nothing but astonishment.

Then exalting himself in order to rouse them--"What!" said he, "and are
_you_ not inflamed by this idea? Was there ever so great a military
achievement? Henceforth this conquest is the only one that is worthy of
us! With what glory we shall be covered, and what will the whole world
say, when it learns that in three months we have conquered the two great
capitals of the North!"

But Davoust, as well as Daru, objected to him, "the season, the want of
supplies, a sterile desert and artificial road, that from Twer to
Petersburg, running for a hundred leagues through morasses, and which
three hundred peasants might in one day render impassable. Why keep
proceeding northward? why go to meet winter, to provoke and to defy
it?--it was already too near; and what was to become of the six thousand
wounded still in Moscow? were they then to be left to the mercy of
Kutusoff? That general would not fail to follow close at our heels. We
should have at once to attack and to defend ourselves, and to march, as
though we were fleeing to a conquest."

These officers have declared that they then proposed various plans; a
useless trouble with a prince whose genius outstripped all other
imaginations, and whom their objections would not have stopped, had he
been really determined to march to Petersburg. But that idea was in him
only a sally of anger, an inspiration of despair, on finding himself
obliged in the face of Europe to give way, to relinquish a conquest, and
to retreat.

It was more especially a threat to frighten his officers as well as the
enemy, and to bring about and promote a negotiation which Caulaincourt
was to open. That officer had pleased Alexander; he was the only one of
the grandees of Napoleon's court who had acquired any influence over his
rival; but for some months past, Napoleon had kept him at a distance,
because he had not been able to persuade him to approve his expedition.

It was nevertheless to this very man that he was that day obliged to
have recourse, and to disclose his anxiety. He sent for him; but when
alone with him, he hesitated. Taking him by the arm, he walked to and
fro a long time in great agitation, while his pride prevented him from
breaking so painful a silence: at length it yielded, but in a
threatening manner. He was to beg the enemy to solicit peace, as if he
deigned to grant it.

After a few words, which were scarcely articulate, he said, that "he was
about to march to Petersburg. He knew that the destruction of that city
would no doubt give pain to his grand-equerry. Russia would then rise
against the Emperor Alexander: there would be a conspiracy against that
monarch; he would be assassinated, which would be a most unfortunate
circumstance. He esteemed that prince, and should regret him, both for
his own sake and that of France. His character, he added, was suitable
to our interests; no prince could replace him with such advantage to us.
He thought therefore of sending Caulaincourt to him, to prevent such a

The Duke of Vicenza, however, more obstinate, than susceptible of
flattery, did not alter his tone. He maintained that "these overtures
would be useless; that so long as the Russian territory was not entirely
evacuated, Alexander would not listen to any proposals; that Russia was
sensible of all her advantage at this season of the year; nay, more,
that this step would be detrimental to himself, inasmuch as it would
demonstrate the need which Napoleon had of peace, and betray all the
embarrassment of our situation."

He added, "that the higher the rank of the negotiator whom he selected,
the more clearly he would show his anxiety; that of course he himself
would be more likely to fail than any other, especially as he should go
with this certainty." The Emperor abruptly terminated the conversation
by these words: "Well, then, I will send Lauriston."

The latter asserts, that he added fresh objections to the preceding, and
that, being urged by the Emperor, he recommended to him to begin his
retreat that very day by way of Kalouga. Napoleon, irritated at this,
acrimoniously replied, that "he liked simple plans, less circuitous
routes, high roads, the road by which he had come, yet he would not
retread it but with peace." Then showing to him, as he had done to the
Duke of Vicenza, the letter which he had written to Alexander, he
ordered him to go and obtain of Kutusoff a safe-conduct to Petersburg.
The last words of the Emperor to Lauriston were: "I want peace, I must
have peace, I absolutely will have peace; only save my honour!"


The general set out, and reached the advanced posts on the 5th of
October. Hostilities were instantly suspended, the interview granted;
but Wolkonsky, aide-de-camp to Alexander, and Beningsen were there
without Kutusoff. Wilson asserts, that the Russian generals and
officers, suspecting their commander, and accusing him of weakness, had
raised a cry of treason, and that the latter had not dared to leave his

Lauriston's instructions purported that he was to address himself to no
one but Kutusoff. He therefore peremptorily rejected any intermediate
communication, and seizing, as he said, this occasion for breaking off a
negotiation which he disapproved, he retired, in spite of all the
solicitations of Wolkonsky, and determined to return to Moscow. In that
case, no doubt, Napoleon, exasperated, would have fallen upon Kutusoff,
overthrown him and destroyed his army, as yet very incomplete, and have
forced him into a peace. In case of less decisive success, he would at
least have been able to retire without loss upon his reinforcements.

Beningsen unfortunately desired an interview with Murat. Lauriston
paused. The chief of the Russian staff, an abler negotiator than
soldier, strove to charm the new king by demonstrations of respect; to
seduce him by praises; to deceive him with smooth words, breathing
nothing but a weariness of war and the hope of peace: and Murat, tired
of battles, anxious respecting their result, and as it is said,
regretting his throne, now that he had no hope of a better, suffered
himself to be charmed, seduced and deceived.

Beningsen was equally successful in persuading his own commander, and
the leader of our vanguard; he sent in great haste for Lauriston, and
had him conducted to the Russian camp, where Kutusoff was waiting for
him at midnight. The interview began ill. Konownitzin and Wolkonsky
wished to be present. This shocked the French general: he insisted that
they should retire, and they complied.

As soon as Lauriston was alone with Kutusoff, he explained his motives
and his object, and applied for a safe-conduct to Petersburg. The
Russian general replied, that a compliance with this demand exceeded his
powers; but he immediately proposed to send Wolkonsky with the letter
from Napoleon to Alexander, and offered an armistice till the return of
that officer. He accompanied these proposals with pacific protestations,
which were repeated by all his generals.

"According to their account," they all deplored the continuance of the
war. And for what reason? Their nations, like their Emperors, ought to
esteem, to love, and to be allies of one another. It was their ardent
wish that a speedy peace might arrive from Petersburg. Wolkonsky could
not make "haste enough." They pressed round Lauriston, drawing him
aside, taking him by the hand, and lavishing upon him those caressing
manners which they have inherited from Asia.

It was soon demonstrated that the chief point in which they were all
agreed was to deceive Murat and his Emperor; and in this they succeeded.
These details transported Napoleon with joy. Credulous from hope,
perhaps from despair, he was for some moments dazzled by these
appearances; eager to escape from the inward feeling which oppressed
him, he seemed desirous to deaden it by resigning himself to an
expansive joy. He summoned all his generals; he triumphantly "announced
to them a very speedy peace. They had but to wait another fortnight.
None but himself was acquainted with the Russian character. On the
receipt of his letter, Petersburg would be full of bonfires."

But the armistice proposed by Kutusoff was unsatisfactory to him, and he
ordered Murat to break it instantly; but notwithstanding, it continued
to be observed, the cause of which is unknown.

This armistice was a singular one. If either party wished to break it,
three hours notice was to be sufficient. It was confined to the fronts
of the two camps, but did not extend to their flanks. Such at least was
the interpretation put upon it by the Russians. We could not bring up a
convoy, or send out a foraging party, without fighting; so that the war
continued everywhere, excepting where it could be favourable to us.

In the first of the succeeding days, Murat took it into his head to show
himself at the enemy's advanced posts. There, he was gratified by the
notice which his fine person, his reputation for bravery, and his rank
procured him. The Russian officers took good care not to displease him;
they were profuse of all the marks of respect calculated to strengthen
his illusion. He could give his orders to their vedettes just as he did
to the French. If he took a fancy to any part of the ground which they
occupied, they cheerfully gave it up to him.

Some Cossack chiefs even went so far as to affect enthusiasm, and to
tell him that they had ceased to acknowledge any other as Emperor but
him who reigned at Moscow. Murat believed for a moment that they would
no longer fight against him. He went even farther. Napoleon was heard to
exclaim, while reading his letters, "Murat, King of the Cossacks! What
folly!" The most extravagant ideas were conceived by men on whom fortune
had lavished all sorts of favours.

As for the Emperor, who could scarcely be deceived, he had but a few
moments of a factitious joy. He soon complained "that an annoying
warfare of partizans hovered around him; that notwithstanding all these
pacific demonstrations, he was sensible that bodies of Cossacks were
prowling on his flanks and in his rear. Had not one hundred and fifty
dragoons of his old guard been surprised and routed, by a number of
these barbarians? And this two days after the armistice, on the road to
Mojaisk, on his line of operation, that by which the army communicated
with its magazines, its reinforcements, its depôts, and himself with

In fact two convoys had just fallen into the enemy's hands on that road:
one through the negligence of its commander, who put an end to his life
in despair; and the other through the cowardice of an officer, who was
about to be punished when the retreat commenced. To the destruction of
the army he owed his escape.

Our soldiers, and especially our cavalry, were obliged every morning to
go to a great distance in quest of provisions for the evening and the
next day; and as the environs of Moscow and Vinkowo became gradually
more and more drained, they were daily necessitated to extend their
excursions. Both men and horses returned worn out with fatigue, that is
to say such of them as returned at all; for we had to fight for every
bushel of rye, and for every truss of forage. It was a series of
incessant surprises, skirmishes, and losses. The peasantry took a part
in it. They punished with death such of their number as the prospect of
gain had allured to our camp with provisions. Others set fire to their
own villages, to drive our foragers out of them, and to give them up to
the Cossacks whom they had previously summoned, and who kept us there in
a state of siege.

It was the peasantry also who took Vereïa, a town in the neighbourhood
of Moscow. One of their priests is said to have planned and executed
this _coup-de-main_. He armed the inhabitants, obtained some troops from
Kutusoff; then on the 10th of October, before daybreak, he caused the
signal of a false attack to be given in one quarter, while in another he
himself rushed upon our palisades, destroyed them, penetrated into the
town, and put the whole garrison to the sword.

Thus the war was every where; in our front, on our flanks and in our
rear: the army was weakening, and the enemy becoming daily more
enterprising. This conquest was destined to fare like many others, which
are won in the mass, and lost in detail.

Murat himself at length grew uneasy. In these daily skirmishes he saw
half of the remnant of his cavalry melted away. At the advanced posts,
or on meeting with our officers, those of the Russians, either from
weariness, vanity, or military frankness carried to indiscretion,
exaggerated the disasters which threatened us. They showed us those
"wild-looking horses, scarcely at all broken in, whose long manes swept
the dust of the plain. Did not this tell us that a numerous cavalry was
joining them from all quarters, while ours was gradually perishing? Did
not the continual discharges of fire-arms within their line apprise us
that a multitude of recruits were there training under favour of the

And in fact, notwithstanding the long journies which they had to make,
all these recruits joined the army. There was no occasion to defer
calling them together as in other years, till deep snows, obstructing
all the roads excepting the high road, rendered their desertion
impossible. Not one failed to obey the national appeal; all Russia rose:
mothers, it was said, wept for joy on learning that their sons had been
selected for soldiers: they hastened to acquaint them with this glorious
intelligence, and even accompanied them to see them marked with the sign
of the Crusaders, to hear them cry, _'Tis the will of God!_

The Russian officers added, "that they were particularly astonished at
our security on the approach of their mighty winter, which was their
natural and most formidable ally, and which they expected every moment:
they pitied us and urged us to fly. In a fortnight, your nails will drop
off, and your arms will fall from your benumbed and half-dead fingers."

The language of some of the Cossack chiefs was also remarkable. They
asked our officers, "if they had not, in their own country, corn enough,
air enough, graves enough--in short, room enough to live and die? Why
then did they come so far from home to throw away their lives and to
fatten a foreign soil with their blood?" They added, that "this was a
robbery of their native land, which, while living, it is our duty to
cultivate, to defend and to embellish; and to which after our death we
owe our bodies, which we received from it, which it has fed, and which
in their turn ought to feed it."

The Emperor was not ignorant of these warnings, but he would not suffer
his resolution to be shaken by them. The uneasiness which had again
seized him betrayed itself in angry orders. It was then that he caused
the churches of the Kremlin to be stripped of every thing that could
serve for a trophy to the grand army. These objects, devoted to
destruction by the Russians themselves, belonged, he said, to the
conquerors by the two-fold right conferred by victory, and still more by
the conflagration.

It required long efforts to remove the gigantic cross from the steeple
of Ivan the Great, to the possession of which the Russians attached the
salvation of their empire. The Emperor determined that it should adorn
the dome of the invalids, at Paris. During the work it was remarked that
a great number of ravens kept flying round this cross, and that
Napoleon, weary of their hoarse croaking, exclaimed, that "it seemed as
if these flocks of ill-omened birds meant to defend it." We cannot
pretend to tell all that he thought in this critical situation, but it
is well known that he was accessible to every kind of presentiment.

His daily excursions, always illumined by a brilliant sun, in which he
strove himself to perceive and to make others recognize his star, did
not amuse him. To the sullen silence of inanimate Moscow was superadded
that of the surrounding deserts, and the still more menacing silence of
Alexander. It was not the faint sound of the footsteps of our soldiers
wandering in this vast sepulchre, that could rouse our Emperor from his
reverie, and snatch him from his painful recollections and still more
painful anticipations.

His nights in particular became irksome to him. He passed part of them
with Count Daru. It was then only that he admitted the danger of his
situation. "From Wilna to Moscow what submission, what point of support,
rest or retreat, marks his power? It is a vast, bare and desert field of
battle, in which his diminished army is imperceptible, insulated, and as
it were lost in the horrors of an immense void. In this country of
foreign manners and religion, he has not conquered a single individual;
he is in fact master only of the ground on which he stands. That which
he has just quitted and left behind him is no more his than that which
he has not yet reached. Insufficient for these vast deserts, he is lost
as it were in their immense space."

He then reviewed the different resolutions of which he still had the
choice. "People imagined," he said, "that he had nothing to do but
march, without considering that it would take a month to refit his army
and to evacuate his hospitals; that if he relinquished his wounded, the
Cossacks would celebrate daily triumphs over his sick and his
stragglers. He would appear to fly. All Europe would resound with the
report! Europe, which envied him, which was seeking a rival under whom
to rally, and which imagined that it had found such a rival in

Then appreciating all the power which he derived from the notion of his
infallibility, he shuddered at the idea of giving it the first blow.
"What a frightful series of dangerous wars would date from his first
retrograde step! Let not then his inactivity be censured! As if I did
not know," added he, "that in a military point of view Moscow is of no
value! But Moscow is not a military position, it is a political
position. People look upon me as general there, when in fact I am
Emperor!" He then exclaimed that "in politics a person ought never to
recede, never to retrograde, never to admit himself to be wrong, as it
lessened his consideration; that when mistaken, he ought to persevere,
in order to give him the appearance of being in the right."

On this account he adhered to his own opinion with that tenacity which,
on other occasions, was his best quality, but in this case his worst

His distress meanwhile increased. He knew that he could not rely on the
Prussian army: an intimation from too authentic a source, addressed to
Berthier, extinguished his confidence in the support of the Austrians.
He was sensible that Kutusoff was playing with him, but he had gone so
far, that he could neither advance nor stay where he was, nor retreat,
nor fight with honour and success. Thus alternately impelled and held
back by all that can decide and dissuade, he remained upon those ashes,
ceasing to hope, but continuing to desire.

The letter of which Lauriston was the bearer had been dispatched on the
6th of October; the answer to it could scarcely arrive before the 20th;
and yet in spite of so many threatening demonstrations, the pride, the
policy, and perhaps the health of Napoleon induced him to pursue the
worst of all courses, that of waiting for this answer, and of trusting
to time which was destroying him. Daru, like his other grandees, was
astonished to find in him no longer that prompt decision, variable and
rapid as the circumstances that called it forth; they asserted, that his
genius could no longer accommodate itself to them; they placed it to the
account of his natural obstinacy, which led to his elevation, and was
likely to cause his downfall.

But in this extremely critical warlike position, which by its
complication with a political position, became the most delicate which
ever existed, it was not to be expected that a character like his, which
had hitherto been so great from its unshaken constancy, would make a
speedy renunciation of the object which he had proposed to himself ever
since he left Witepsk.


Napoleon however, was completely aware of his situation. To him every
thing seemed lost if he receded in the face of astonished Europe, and
every thing saved if he could yet overcome Alexander in determination.
He appreciated but too well the means that were left him to shake the
constancy of his rival; he knew that the number of effective troops,
that his situation, the season, in short every thing would become daily
more and more unfavourable to him; but he reckoned upon that force of
illusion which gave him his renown. Till that day he had borrowed from
it a real and never-failing strength; he endeavoured therefore to keep
up by specious arguments the confidence of his people, and perhaps also
the faint hope that was yet left to himself.

Moscow, empty of inhabitants, no longer furnished him with any thing to
lay hold of. "It is no doubt a misfortune," said he, "but this
misfortune is not without its advantage. Had it been otherwise, he would
not have been able to keep order in so large a city, to overawe a
population of three hundred thousand souls, and to sleep in the Kremlin
without having his throat cut. They have left us nothing but ruins, but
at least we are quiet among them. Millions have no doubt slipped through
our hands, but how many millions is Russia losing! Her commerce is
ruined for a century to come. The nation is thrown back fifty years;
this, of itself, is an important result. When the first moment of
enthusiasm is past, this reflexion will fill them with consternation."
The conclusion which he drew was, that so violent a shock would convulse
the throne of Alexander, and force that prince to sue for peace.

If he reviewed his different _corps d'armée_, as their reduced
battalions now presented but a narrow front, which he had traversed in a
moment, this diminution vexed him; and whether he wished to dissemble
for the sake of his enemies or his own people, he declared that the
practice hitherto pursued, of ranging the men three deep, was wrong, and
that two were sufficient; he therefore ordered that in future his
infantry should be drawn up in two ranks only.

Nay, more, he insisted that the inflexibility of the _states of
situation_ should give way to this illusion. He disputed their results.
The obstinacy of Count Lobau could not overcome his: he was desirous no
doubt of making his aide-de-camp understand what he wished others to
believe, and that nothing could shake his resolution.

Murat, nevertheless, transmitted to him tidings of the distress of his
advanced guard. They terrified Berthier; but Napoleon sent for the
officer who brought them, pressed him with his interrogatories, daunted
him with his looks, brow-beat him with his incredulity. The assertions
of Murat's envoy lost much of their assurance. Napoleon took advantage
of his hesitation to keep up the hopes of Berthier, and to persuade him
that matters were not yet so very urgent; and he sent back the officer
to Murat's camp with the opinion which he would no doubt propagate, that
the Emperor was immoveable, that he doubtless had his reasons for thus
persisting, and that they must all redouble their exertions.

Meanwhile the attitude of his army seconded his wishes. Most of the
officers persevered in their confidence. The common soldiers, who,
seeing their whole lives in the present moment and expecting but little
from the future, concerned themselves but little about it, retained
their thoughtlessness, the most valuable of their qualities. The
rewards, however, which the Emperor bestowed profusely upon them in the
daily reviews, were received only with a sedate joy, mingled with some
degree of dejection. The vacant places that were just filled up were yet
dyed with blood. These favours were threatening.

On the other hand, ever since they had left Wilna many of them had
thrown away their winter garments, that they might load themselves with
provisions. Their shoes were worn by the length of the way, and the rest
of their apparel by the actions in which they had been engaged; but, in
spite of all, their attitude was still lofty. They carefully concealed
their wretched plight from the notice of the Emperor, and appeared
before him with their arms bright and in the best order. In this first
court of the palace of the Czars, eight hundred leagues from their
resources, and after so many battles and bivouacs, they were anxious to
appear still clean, ready and smart; for herein consists the pride of
the soldier: here they piqued themselves upon it the more on account of
the difficulty, in order to astonish, and because man prides himself on
every thing that requires extraordinary effort.

The Emperor complaisantly affected to know no better, catching at every
thing to keep up his hopes, when all at once the first snows fell. With
them fell all the illusions with which he had endeavoured to surround
himself. From that moment he thought of nothing but retreat, without,
however, pronouncing the word, and yet no positive order for it could be
obtained from him. He merely said, that in twenty days the army must be
in winter-quarters, and he urged the departure of his wounded. On this,
as on other occasions, he would not consent to the voluntary
relinquishment of any thing, however trifling; there was a deficiency of
horses for his artillery, now too numerous for an army so reduced; it
did not signify, and he flew into a passion at the proposal to leave
part of it in Moscow. "No; the enemy would make a trophy of it."--and he
insisted that every thing should go along with him.

In this desert country, he gave orders for the purchase of twenty
thousand horses, and he expected forage for two months to be provided,
on a tract where the most distant and dangerous excursions were not
sufficient for the supply of the passing day. Some of his officers were
astonished to hear orders which it was so impossible to execute; but we
have already seen that he sometimes issued such orders to deceive his
enemies, and most frequently to indicate to his own troops the extent of
his necessities, and the exertions which they ought to make for the
purpose of supplying them.

His distress manifested itself only in some paroxysms of ill humour. It
was in the morning at his levee. There, amid the assembled chiefs, in
whose anxious looks he imagined he could read disapprobation, he seemed
desirous to awe them by the severity of his attitude, by his sharp tone
and his abrupt language. From the paleness of his face, it was evident
that Truth, whose best time for obtaining a hearing is in the darkness
of night, had oppressed him grievously by her presence, and tired him
with her unwelcome light. Sometimes, on these occasions, his bursting
heart would overflow, and pour forth his sorrows around him by movements
of impatience; but so far from lightening his grief, he aggravated them
by those acts of injustice for which he reproached himself, and which he
was afterwards anxious to repair.

It was to Count Daru alone that he unbosomed himself frankly, but
without weakness. He said, "he should march upon Kutusoff, crush or
drive him back, and then turn suddenly towards Smolensk." Daru, who had
before approved this course, replied, that "it was now too late; that
the Russian army was reinforced, his own weakened; his victory
forgotten; that the moment his troops should turn their faces towards
France, they would slip away from him by degrees; that each soldier,
laden with booty, would try to get the start of the army, for the
purpose of selling it in France."--"What then is to be done?" exclaimed
the Emperor. "Remain here," replied Daru, "make one vast entrenched camp
of Moscow and pass the winter in it. He would answer for it that there
would be no want of bread and salt: the rest foraging on a large scale
would supply. Such of the horses as they could not procure food for
might be salted down. As to lodgings, if there were not houses enough,
the cellars might make up the deficiency. Here we might stay till the
return of spring, when our reinforcements and all Lithuania in arms
should come to relieve, to join us, and to complete the conquest."

After listening to this proposal the Emperor was for some time silent
and thoughtful; he then replied, "This is a lion's counsel! But what
would Paris say? what would they do there? what have they been doing for
the last three weeks that they have not heard from me? who knows what
would be the effect of a suspension of communications for six months!
No; France would not accustom itself to my absence, and Prussia and
Austria would take advantage of it."

Still Napoleon did not decide either to stay or to depart. Overcome in
this struggle of obstinacy, he deferred from day to day the avowal of
his defeat. Amid the dreadful storm of men and elements which was
gathering around him, his ministers and his aides-de-camp saw him pass
whole days in discussing the merits of some new verses which he had
received, or the regulations for the _Comédie Française_ at Paris, which
he took three evenings to finish. As they were acquainted with his deep
anxiety, they admired the strength of his genius, and the facility with
which he could take off or fix the whole force of his attention on
whatever he pleased.

It was merely remarked that he prolonged his meals, which had hitherto
been so simple and so short. He seemed desirous of stifling thought by
repletion. He would then pass whole hours, half reclined, as if torpid,
and awaiting, with a novel in his hand, the catastrophe of his terrible
history. On beholding this obstinate and inflexible character struggling
with impossibility, his officers would then observe to one another, that
having arrived at the summit of his glory, he no doubt foresaw that from
his first retrograde step would date its decline; that for this reason
he continued immoveable, clinging to and lingering a few moments longer
on this elevation.

Kutusoff, meanwhile, was gaining that time which we were losing. His
letters to Alexander described "his army as being in the midst of
abundance; his recruits arriving from all quarters and being trained;
his wounded recovering in the bosom of their families; the peasants,
some in arms, some on the look out from the tops of steeples, while
others were stealing into our habitations and even into the Kremlin.
Rostopchin received from them a daily report of what was passing at
Moscow, as before its capture. If they undertook to be our guides, it
was for the purpose of delivering us into his hands. His partizans were
every day bringing in some hundreds of prisoners. Every thing concurred
to destroy the enemy's army and to strengthen his own; to serve him and
to betray us; in a word, the campaign, which was over for us, was but
just about to begin for them."

Kutusoff neglected no advantage. He made his camp ring with the news of
the victory of Salamanca. "The French," said he, "are expelled from
Madrid. The hand of the Most High presses heavily upon Napoleon. Moscow
will be his prison, his grave, and that of all his grand army. We shall
soon take France in Russia!" It was in such language that the Russian
general addressed his troops and his Emperor; and nevertheless he still
kept up appearances with Murat. At once bold and crafty, he contrived
slowly to prepare a sudden and impetuous warfare, and to cover his plans
for our destruction with demonstrations of kindness and honeyed words.

At length, after several days of illusion, the charm was dispelled. A
Cossack completely dissolved it. This barbarian fired at Murat, at the
moment when that prince came as usual to show himself at the advanced
posts. Murat was exasperated; he declared to Miloradowitch that an
armistice which was incessantly violated was at an end; and that
thenceforward each ought to put confidence in himself alone.

At the same time he apprised the Emperor, that a woody country on his
left might favour attempts against his flank and rear; that his first
line, backed against a ravine, might be precipitated into it; that in
short the position which he occupied, in advance of a defile, was
dangerous, and rendered a retrograde movement absolutely necessary. But
Napoleon would not consent to this step, though he had at first pointed
out Woronowo as a more secure position. In this war, still in his view
rather political than military, he dreaded above all the appearance of
receding. He preferred risking every thing.

At the same time, on the 13th of October, he sent back Lauriston to
Murat, to examine the position of the vanguard. As to the Emperor,
either from a tenacious adherence to his first hope, or that any
disposition which might be construed into a preparation for retreat,
equally shocked his pride and his policy, a singular negligence was
remarked in his preparations for departure. He nevertheless thought of
it, for that very day he traced his plan of retreat by Woloklamsk,
Zubtzow, and Bieloé, on Witepsk. A moment afterwards he dictated another
on Smolensk. Junot received orders to burn on the 21st, at Kolotskoi,
all the muskets of the wounded, and to blow up the ammunition waggons.
D'Hilliers was to occupy Elnia, and to form magazines at that place. It
was not till the 17th, at Moscow, that Berthier thought of causing
leather to be distributed for the first time among the troops.

This major-general was a wretched substitute for his principal on this
critical occasion. In a strange country and climate, he recommended no
new precaution, and he expected the minutest details to be dictated by
his Emperor. They were forgotten. This negligence or want of foresight
was attended with fatal consequences. In an army, each division of which
was commanded by a marshal, a prince, or even a king, one relied perhaps
too much on the other. Besides, Berthier gave no orders of himself; he
thought it enough to repeat exactly the very letter of Napoleon's
commands; for, as to their spirit, either from fatigue or habit, he was
incessantly confounding the positive with the conjectural parts of those

Napoleon meanwhile rallied his _corps d'armée_. The reviews which he
held in the Kremlin were more frequent; he formed all the dismounted
cavalry into battalions, and lavishly distributed rewards. The division
of Claparede, the trophies and all the wounded that could be removed,
set out for Mojaisk; the rest were collected in the great foundling
hospital; French surgeons were placed there; and the Russian wounded,
intermixed with ours, were intended to serve them for a safeguard.

But it was too late. Amid these preparations, and at the moment when
Napoleon was reviewing Ney's divisions in the first court of the
Kremlin, a report was all at once circulated around him, that the report
of cannon was heard towards Vinkowo. It was some time before any one
durst apprise him of the circumstance; some from incredulity or
uncertainty, and dreading the first movement of his impatience; others
from love of ease, hesitating to provoke a terrible signal, or
apprehensive of being sent to verify this assertion, and of exposing
themselves to a fatiguing excursion.

Duroc, at length, took courage. The Emperor was at first agitated, but
quickly recovering himself, he continued the review. An aide-de-camp,
young Beranger, arrived shortly after with the intelligence that Murat's
first line had been surprised and overthrown, his left turned by favour
of the woods, his flank attacked, his retreat cut off; that twelve
pieces of cannon, twenty ammunition waggons, and thirty waggons
belonging to the train were taken, two generals killed, three or four
thousand men lost and the baggage; and lastly, that the King was
wounded. He had not been able to rescue the relics of his advanced guard
from the enemy, but by repeatedly charging their numerous troops which
already occupied the high road in his rear, his only retreat.

Our honour however was saved. The attack in front, directed by Kutusoff,
was feeble; Poniatowski, at some leagues distance on the right, made a
glorious resistance; Murat and his carbineers, by supernatural
exertions, checked Bagawout, who was ready to penetrate our left flank,
and restored the fortune of the day. Claparede and Latour-Maubourg
cleared the defile of Spaskaplia, two leagues in the rear of our line,
which was already occupied by Platof. Two Russian generals were killed,
and others wounded: the loss of the enemy was considerable, but the
advantage of the attack, our cannon, our position, the victory in short,
were theirs.

As for Murat, he no longer had an advanced guard. The armistice had
destroyed half the remnant of his cavalry. This engagement finished it;
the survivors, emaciated with hunger, were so few as scarcely to furnish
a charge. Thus had the war recommenced. It was now the 18th of October.

At these tidings Napoleon recovered the fire of his early years. A
thousand orders general and particular, all differing, yet all in unison
and all necessary, burst at once from his impetuous genius. Night had
not yet arrived, and the whole army was already in motion for Woronowo;
Broussier was sent in the direction of Fominskoë, and Poniatowski toward
Medyn. The Emperor himself quitted Moscow before daylight on the 19th of
October. "Let us march upon Kalouga," said he, "and woe be to those whom
I meet with by the way!"



In the southern part of Moscow, near one of its gates, one of its most
extensive suburbs is divided by two high roads; both run to Kalouga: the
one, that on the right, is the more ancient; the other is new. It was on
the first that Kutusoff had just beaten Murat. By the same road Napoleon
left Moscow on the 19th of October, announcing to his officers his
intention to return to the frontiers of Poland by Kalouga, Medyn,
Yuknow, Elnia, and Smolensk. One of them, Rapp, observed that "it was
late, and that winter might overtake them by the way." The Emperor
replied, "that he had been obliged to allow time to the soldiers to
recruit themselves, and to the wounded collected in Moscow, Mojaisk, and
Kolotskoi, to move off towards Smolensk." Then pointing to a still
serene sky, he asked, "if in that brilliant sun they did not recognize
his star?" But this appeal to his fortune, and the sinister expression
of his looks, belied the security which he affected.

Napoleon entered Moscow with ninety thousand fighting men, and twenty
thousand sick and wounded, and quitted it with more than a hundred
thousand combatants. He left there only twelve hundred sick. His stay,
notwithstanding daily losses, had therefore served to rest his infantry,
to complete his stores, to augment his force by ten thousand men, and to
protect the recovery or the retreat of a great part of his wounded. But
on this very first day he could perceive, that his cavalry and artillery
might be said rather to crawl than to march.

A melancholy spectacle added to the gloomy presentiments of our chief.
The army had ever since the preceding day been pouring out of Moscow
without intermission. In this column of one hundred and forty thousand
men and about fifty thousand horses of all kinds, a hundred thousand
combatants marching at the head with their knapsacks, their arms,
upwards of five hundred and fifty pieces of cannon, and two thousand
artillery-waggons, still exhibited a formidable appearance, worthy of
soldiers who had conquered the world. But the rest, in an alarming
proportion, resembled a horde of Tartars after a successful invasion. It
consisted of three or four files of infinite length, in which there was
a mixture, a confusion of chaises, ammunition waggons, handsome
carriages, and vehicles of every kind. Here trophies of Russian,
Turkish, and Persian colours, and the gigantic cross of Ivan the
Great--there, long-bearded Russian peasants carrying or driving along
our booty, of which they constituted a part: others dragging even
wheelbarrows filled with whatever they could remove. The fools were not
likely to proceed in this manner till the conclusion of the first day:
their senseless avidity made them think nothing of battles and a march
of eight hundred leagues.

In these followers of the army were particularly remarked a multitude of
men of all nations, without uniform and without arms, and servants
swearing in every language, and urging by dint of shouts and blows the
progress of elegant carriages, drawn by pigmy horses harnessed with
ropes. They were filled with provisions, or with the booty saved from
the flames. They carried also French women with their children. Formerly
these females were happy inhabitants of Moscow; they now fled from the
hatred of the Muscovites, which the invasion had drawn upon their heads;
the army was their only asylum.

A few Russian girls, voluntary captives, also followed. It looked like a
caravan, a wandering nation, or rather one of those armies of antiquity
returning loaded with slaves and spoil after a great devastation. It was
inconceivable how the head of this column could draw and support such a
heavy mass of equipages in so long a route.

Notwithstanding the width of the road and the shouts of his escort,
Napoleon had great difficulty to obtain a passage through this immense
throng. No doubt the obstruction of a defile, a few forced marches and a
handful of Cossacks, would have been sufficient to rid us of all this
incumbrance: but fortune or the enemy had alone a right to lighten us in
this manner. As for the Emperor, he was fully sensible that he could
neither deprive his soldiers of this fruit of so many toils, nor
reproach them for securing it. Besides, the provisions concealed the
booty, and could he, who could not give his troops the subsistence which
he ought to have done, forbid their carrying it along with them? Lastly,
in failure of military conveyances, these vehicles would be the only
means of preservation for the sick and wounded.

Napoleon, therefore, extricated himself in silence from the immense
train which he drew after him, and advanced on the old road leading to
Kalouga. He pushed on in this direction for some hours, declaring that
he should go and beat Kutusoff on the very field of his victory. But all
at once, about mid-day, opposite to the castle of Krasnopachra, where he
halted, he suddenly turned to the right with his army, and in three
marches across the country gained the new road to Kalouga.

The rain, which overtook him in the midst of this manoeuvre, spoiled
the cross-roads, and obliged him to halt in them. This was a most
unfortunate circumstance. It was not without difficulty that our cannon
were drawn out of the sloughs.

At any rate the Emperor had masked his movement by Ney's corps and the
relics of Murat's cavalry, which had remained behind the Motscha and at
Woronowo. Kutusoff, deceived by this feint, was still waiting for the
grand army on the old road, whilst on the 23rd of October, the whole of
it, transferred to the new one, had but one march to make in order to
pass quietly by him, and to get between him and Kalouga.

A letter from Berthier to Kutusoff, dated the first day of this flanking
march, was at once a last attempt at peace, and perhaps a _ruse de
guerre_. No satisfactory answer was returned to it.


On the 23rd the imperial quarters were at Borowsk. That night was an
agreeable one for the Emperor: he was informed that at six in the
evening Delzons and his division had, four leagues in advance of him,
found Malo-Yaroslawetz and the woods which command it unoccupied: this
was a strong position within reach of Kutusoff, and the only point where
he could cut us off from the new road to Kalouga.

The Emperor wished first to secure this advantage by his presence; the
order to march was even given, but withdrawn, we know not why. He passed
the whole of that evening on horseback, not far from Borowsk, on the
left of the road, the side on which he supposed Kutusoff to be. He
reconnoitred the ground in the midst of a heavy rain, as if he
anticipated that it might become a field of battle. Next day, the 24th,
he learned that the Russians had disputed the possession of
Malo-Yaroslawetz with Delzons. Owing either to confidence or uncertainty
in his plans, this intelligence gave him very little concern.

He quitted Borowsk, therefore, late and leisurely, when the noise of a
very smart engagement reached where he was; he then became uneasy,
hastened to an eminence and listened. "Had the Russians anticipated him?
Was his manoeuvre thwarted? Had he not used sufficient expedition in
that march, the object of which was to pass the left flank of Kutusoff?"

In reality there was in this whole movement a little of that torpor
which succeeds a long repose. Moscow is but one hundred and ten wersts
from Malo-Yaroslawetz; four days would have been sufficient to go that
distance; we took six. The army, laden with provisions and pillage, was
heavy, and the roads were deep. A whole day had been sacrificed to the
passage of the Nara and its morass, as also to the rallying of the
different corps. It is true that in defiling so near the enemy it was
necessary to march close, that we might not present to him too long a
flank. Be this as it may, we may date all our calamities from that

The Emperor was still listening; the noise increased. "Is it then a
battle?" he exclaimed. Every discharge agitated him, for the chief point
with him was no longer to conquer, but to preserve, and he urged on
Davoust, who accompanied him; but he and that marshal did not reach the
field of battle till dark, when the firing was subsiding and the whole
was over.

The Emperor saw the end of the battle, but without being able to assist
the viceroy. A band of Cossacks from Twer had nearly captured one of his
officers, who was only a very short distance from him.

It was not till then that an officer, sent by Prince Eugene, came to him
to explain the whole affair. "The troops had," he said, "in the first
place, been obliged to cross the Louja at the foot of Malo-Yaroslawetz,
at the bottom of an elbow which the river makes in its course; and then
to climb a steep hill: it is on this rapid declivity, broken by pointed
crags, that the town is built. Beyond is an elevated plain, surrounded
with wood from which run three roads, one in front, coming from Kalouga,
and two on the left, from Lectazowo, the entrenched camp of Kutusoff.

"On the preceding day Delzons found no enemy there; but he did not think
it prudent to place his whole division in the upper town, beyond a river
and a defile, and on the margin of a precipice, down which it might have
been thrown by a nocturnal surprise. He remained, therefore, on the low
bank of the Louja, sending only two battalions to occupy the town and to
watch the elevated plain.

"The night was drawing to a close; it was four o'clock, and all were
already asleep in Delzons's bivouacs, excepting a few sentinels, when
Doctorof's Russians suddenly rushed in the dark out of the wood with
tremendous shouts. Our sentinels were driven back on their posts, the
posts on their battalions, the battalions on the division: and yet it
was not a _coup-de-main_, for the Russians had brought up cannon. At the
very commencement of the attack, the firing had conveyed the tidings of
a serious affair to the viceroy, who was three leagues distant."

The report added, that "the Prince had immediately hastened up with some
officers, and that his divisions and his guard had precipitately
followed him. As he approached, a vast amphitheatre, where all was
bustle, opened before him; the Louja marked the foot of it, and a
multitude of Russian riflemen already disputed its banks."

Behind them from the summit of the declivities on which the town was
situated, their advanced guard poured their fire on Delzons: beyond
that, on the elevated plain, the whole army of Kutusoff was hastening up
in two long black columns, by the two roads from Lectazowo. They were
seen stretching and entrenching themselves on this bare slope, upon a
line of about half a league, where they commanded and embraced every
thing by their number and position: they were already placing themselves
across the old road to Kalouga, which was open the preceding day, which
we might have occupied and travelled if we had pleased, but which
Kutusoff would henceforward have it in his power to defend inch by inch.

The enemy's artillery had at the same time taken advantage of the
heights which bordered the river on their side; their fire traversed the
low ground in the bend of the river, in which were Delzons and his
troops. The position was untenable, and hesitation would have been
fatal. It was necessary to get out of it either by a prompt retreat, or
by an impetuous attack; but it was before us that our retreat lay, and
the viceroy gave orders for the attack.

After crossing the Louja by a narrow bridge, the high road from Kalouga
runs along the bottom of a ravine which ascends to the town, and then
enters Malo-Yaroslawetz. The Russians, in mass occupied this hollow way:
Delzons and his Frenchmen rushed upon them head foremost; the Russians
were broken and overthrown; they gave way and presently our bayonets
glistened on the heights.

Delzons, conceiving himself sure of the victory, announced it as won. He
had nothing but a pile of buildings to storm, his soldiers hesitated. He
himself advanced and was encouraging them by his words, gestures and
example, when a ball struck him on the forehead, and extended him on the
ground. His brother threw himself upon him, covered him with his body,
clasped him in his arms, and would have borne him off out of the fire
and the fray, but a second ball hit him also, and both expired together.

This loss left a great void, which required to be filled up. Guilleminot
succeeded Delzons, and the first thing he did was to throw a hundred
grenadiers into a church and church-yard, in the walls of which they
made loop-holes. This church stood on the left of the high road, which
it commanded, and to this edifice we owed the victory. Five times on
that day was this post passed by the Russian columns, which were
pursuing ours, and five times did its fire, seasonably poured upon their
flank and rear, harass them and slacken their progress: afterwards when
we resumed the offensive, this position placed them between two fires
and ensured the success of our attacks.

Scarcely had that general made this disposition when he was assailed by
hosts of Russians; he was driven back towards the bridge, where the
viceroy had stationed himself, in order to judge how to act and prepare
his reserves. At first the reinforcements which he sent came up but
slowly one after another; and as is almost always the case, each of
them, being inadequate to any great effort, was successively destroyed
without result.

At length the whole of the 14th division was engaged: the combat was
then carried, for the third time, to the heights. But when the French
had passed the houses, when they had removed from the central point from
which they set out; when they had reached the plain, where they were
exposed, and where the circle expanded; they could advance no farther:
overwhelmed by the fire of a whole army they were daunted and shaken:
fresh Russians incessantly came up; our thinned ranks gave way and were
broken; the obstacles of the ground increased their confusion: they
again descended precipitately and abandoned every thing.

Meanwhile the shells having set fire to the wooden town behind them, in
their retreat they were stopped by the conflagration; one fire drove
them back upon another; the Russian recruits, wrought up to a pitch of
fanatic fury, closely pursued them; our soldiers became enraged; they
fought man to man: some were seen seizing each other by one hand,
striking with the other, until both victors and vanquished rolled down
precipices into the flames, without losing their hold. There the wounded
expired, either suffocated by the smoke, or consumed by the fire. Their
blackened and calcined skeletons soon presented a hideous sight, when
the eye could still discover in them the traces of a human form.

All, however, were not equally intent on doing their duty. There was one
officer, a man who was known to talk very big, and who, at the bottom of
a ravine, wasted the time for action in making speeches. In this place
of security he kept about him a sufficient number of troops to authorize
his remaining himself, leaving the rest to expose themselves in detail,
without unison and at random.

The 15th division was still left. The viceroy summoned it: as it
advanced, it threw a brigade into the suburb on the left, and another
into the town on the right. It consisted of Italians, recruits, who had
never before been in action. They ascended, shouting enthusiastically,
ignorant of the danger or despising it, from that singular disposition,
which renders life less dear in its flower than in its decline, either
because while young we fear death less from the feeling of its distance,
or because at that age, rich in years and prodigal of every thing, we
squander life as the wealthy do their fortune.

The shock was terrible: every thing was reconquered for the fourth time,
and lost in like manner. More eager to begin than their seniors, they
were sooner disheartened, and returned flying to the old battalions,
which supported and were obliged to lead them back to the danger.

The Russians, emboldened by their incessantly increasing numbers and
success, then descended by their right to gain possession of the bridge
and to cut off our retreat. Prince Eugene had nothing left but his last
reserve: he and his guard now took part in the combat. At this sight,
and at his call, the remains of the 13th, 14th, and 15th divisions
mustered their courage; they made a powerful and a last effort, and for
the fifth time the combat was transferred to the heights.

At the same time Colonel Peraldi and the Italian chasseurs overthrew
with their bayonets the Russians, who were already approaching the left
of the bridge, and inebriated by the smoke and the fire, through which
they had passed, by the havoc which they made, and by their victory,
they pushed forward without stopping on the elevated plain, and
endeavoured to make themselves masters of the enemy's cannon: but one of
those deep clefts, with which the soil of Russia is intersected, stopped
them in the midst of a destructive fire; their ranks opened, the enemy's
cavalry attacked them, and they were driven back to the very gardens of
the suburbs. There they paused and rallied: all, both French and
Italians, obstinately defended the upper avenues of the town, and the
Russians being at length repulsed, drew back and concentrated themselves
on the road to Kalouga, between the woods and Malo-Yaroslawetz.

In this manner eighteen thousand Italians and French crowded together at
the bottom of a ravine, defeated fifty thousand Russians, posted over
their heads, and seconded by all the obstacles that a town built on a
steep declivity is capable of presenting.

The army, however, surveyed with sorrow this field of battle, where
seven generals and four thousand Italians had been killed or wounded.
The sight of the enemy's loss afforded no consolation; it was not twice
the amount of ours, and their wounded would be saved. It was moreover
recollected that in a similar situation Peter I., in sacrificing ten
Russians for one Swede, thought that he was not sustaining merely an
equal loss, but even gaining by so terrible a bargain. But what caused
the greatest pain, was the idea that so sanguinary a conflict might have
been spared.

In fact, the fires which were discovered on our left, in the night
between the 23d and 24th, had apprised us of the movement of the
Russians towards Malo-Yaroslawetz; and yet the French army had marched
thither languidly; a single division, thrown to the distance of three
leagues from all succour, had been carelessly risked; the _corps
d'armée_ had remained out of reach of each other. Where were now the
rapid movements of Marengo, Ulm, and Eckmühl? Why so slow and drawling a
march on such a critical occasion? Was it our artillery and baggage that
had caused this tardiness? Such was at least the most plausible


When the Emperor heard the report of this combat, he was a few paces to
the right of the high road, at the bottom of a ravine, close to the
rivulet and village of Ghorodinia, in the habitation of a weaver, an
old, crazy, filthy, wooden hut. Here he was half a league from
Malo-Yaroslawetz, at the commencement of the bend of the Louja. It was
in this worm-eaten dwelling, and in a dirty dark room, parted off into
two by a cloth, that the fate of the army and of Europe was about to be

The first hours of the night passed in receiving reports. All agreed
that the enemy was making preparations against the next day for a
battle, which all were disposed to decline. About eleven o'clock
Bessières entered. This marshal owed his elevation to honourable
services, and above all to the affection of the Emperor, who had become
attached to him as to a creation of his own. It is true, that a man
could not be a favourite with Napoleon, as with any other monarch; that
it was necessary at least to have followed and been of some service to
him, for he sacrificed little to the agreeable; in short, it was
requisite that he should have been more than a witness of so many
victories; and the Emperor when fatigued, accustomed himself to see with
eyes which he believed to be of his own formation.

He had sent this marshal to examine the attitude of the enemy. Bessières
had obeyed: he had carefully explored the front of the Russian position.
"It is," said he, "unassailable!"--"Oh heavens!" exclaimed the Emperor,
clasping his hands, "are you sure you are right? Are you not mistaken?
Will you answer for that?" Bessières repeated his assertion: he affirmed
that "three hundred grenadiers would there be sufficient to keep in
check a whole army." Napoleon then crossed his arms with a look of
consternation, hung his head, and remained as if overwhelmed with the
deepest dejection. "His army was victorious and himself conquered. His
route was intercepted, his manoeuvre, thwarted: Kutusoff, an old man,
a Scythian, had been beforehand with him! And he could not accuse his
star. Did not the sun of France seem to have followed him to Russia? Was
not the road to Malo-Yaroslawetz open but the preceding day? It was not
his fortune then that had failed him, but he who had been wanting to his

Absorbed in this abyss of painful reflections, he fell into so profound
a stupor, that none of those about him could draw from him a single
word. Scarcely could a nod of the head be obtained from him by dint of
importunity. At length he strove to get some rest: but a feverish
anxiety prevented him from closing his eyes. During all the rest of that
cruel night he kept rising, lying down again, and calling incessantly,
but yet not a single word betrayed his distress: it was only from the
agitation of his body that the anguish of his mind was to be inferred.

About four in the morning, one of his orderly officers, the Prince
d'Aremberg, came to inform him that under favour of the night, the woods
and some inequalities of ground, Cossacks were slipping in between him
and his advanced posts. The Emperor had just sent off Poniatowski on his
right to Kremenskoe. So little did he expect the enemy from that side,
that he had neglected to order out any scouts on his right flank. He
therefore slighted the report of his orderly officer.

No sooner did the sun appear above the horizon on the 25th, than he
mounted his horse, and advanced on the Kalouga road, which to him was
now nothing more than the road to Malo-Yaroslawetz. To reach the bridge
of that town, he had to cross the plain, about a league in length and
breadth, embraced by the bend of the Louja: a few officers only attended
him. The four squadrons of his usual escort, not having been previously
apprised, hastened to rejoin, but had not yet overtaken him. The road
was covered with sick-waggons, artillery, and vehicles of luxury: it was
the interior of the army, and every one was marching on without

In the distance, towards the right, a few small bodies of men were first
seen running, and then large black lines advancing. Outcries were
presently heard: some women and attendants on the army were met running
back, too much affrighted and out of breath, either to listen to any
thing, or to answer any question. At the same time the file of vehicles
stopped in uncertainty; disorder arose in it: some endeavoured to
proceed, others to turn back; they crossed, jostled and upset one
another: and the whole was soon a scene of complete uproar and

The Emperor looked on and smiled, still advancing, and believing it to
be a groundless panic. His aides-de-camp suspected that it was Cossacks
whom they saw, but they marched in such regular platoons that they still
had doubts on the subject; and if those wretches had not howled at the
moment of attack, as they all do to stifle the sense of danger, it is
probable that Napoleon would not have escaped them. A circumstance which
increased the peril was, that their cries were at first mistaken for
acclamations, and their hurrahs for shouts of _Vive l'Empereur!_

It was Platof and six thousand Cossacks, who in the rear of our
victorious advanced-guard, had ventured to cross the river, the low
plain and the high road, carrying all before them; and it was at the
very moment when the Emperor, perfectly tranquil in the midst of his
army, and the windings of a deep river, was advancing, refusing belief
to so audacious a plan, that they put it in execution.

When they had once started, they approached with such speed, that Rapp
had but just time to say to the Emperor, "It is the Cossacks!--turn
back!" The Emperor, whose eyes deceived him, or who disliked running
away, stood firm, and was on the point of being surrounded, when Rapp
seized the bridle of his horse, and turned him round, crying. "Indeed
you must!" And really it was high time to fly, although Napoleon's pride
would not allow him to do so. He drew his sword, the Prince of
Neufchatel and the grand equerry did the same; then placing themselves
on the left side of the road, they waited the approach of the horde,
from which they were not forty paces distant. Rapp had barely time to
turn himself round to face these barbarians, when the foremost of them
thrust his lance into the chest of his horse with such violence as to
throw him down. The other aides-de-camp, and a few horse belonging to
the guard, extricated the general. This action, the bravery of
Lecoulteux, the efforts of a score of officers and chasseurs, and above
all the thirst of these barbarians for plunder, saved the Emperor. And
yet they needed only to have stretched out their hands and seized him;
for, at the same moment, the horde, in crossing the high road, overthrew
every thing before them, horses, men, and carriages, wounding and
killing some, and dragging them into the woods for the purpose of
plundering them; then, loosing the horses harnessed to the guns, they
took them along with them across the country. But they had only a
momentary victory; a triumph of surprise. The cavalry of the guard
galloped up; at this sight they let go their prey and fled; and this
torrent subsided, leaving indeed melancholy traces, but abandoning all
that it was hurrying away in its course.

Some of these barbarians, however, carried their audacity even to
insolence. They were seen retiring at a foot-pace across the interval
between our squadrons, and coolly reloading their arms. They reckoned
upon the heaviness of our cavalry of the _élite_, and the swiftness of
their own horses, which they urge with a whip. Their flight was effected
without disorder; they faced round several times, without waiting indeed
till within reach of fire, so that they left scarcely any wounded and
not one prisoner. At length they enticed us on to ravines covered with
bushes, where we were stopped by their artillery, which was waiting for
them. All this furnished subject for reflection. Our army was worn down;
and the war had begun again with new and undiminished spirit.

The Emperor, struck with astonishment that the enemy had dared to attack
him, halted until the plain was cleared; after which he returned to
Malo-Yaroslawetz, where the viceroy pointed out to him the obstacles
which had been conquered the preceding day.

The ground itself spoke sufficiently. Never was field of battle more
terribly eloquent. Its marked features; its ruins covered with blood;
the streets, the line of which could no longer be recognized but by the
long train of the dead, whose heads were crushed by the wheels of the
cannon, the wounded, who were still seen issuing from the rubbish and
crawling along, with their garments, their hair, and their limbs half
consumed by the fire, and uttering lamentable cries; finally, the
doleful sound of the last melancholy honours which the grenadiers were
paying to the remains of their colonels and generals who had been
slain--all attested the extreme obstinacy of the conflict. In this scene
the Emperor, it was said, beheld nothing but glory: he exclaimed, that
"the honour of so proud a day belonged exclusively to Prince Eugene."
This sight, nevertheless, aggravated the painful impression which had
already seized him. He then advanced to the elevated plain.


Can you ever forget, comrades, the fatal field which put a stop to the
conquest of the world, where the victories of twenty years were blasted,
where the great edifice of our fortune began to totter to its
foundation? Do you not still figure to yourselves the blood-stained
ruins of that town, those deep ravines, and the woods which surround
that elevated plain and convert it, as it were, into a tented field? On
one side were the French, quitting the north, which they shunned; on the
other, at the entrance of the wood, were the Russians, guarding the
south, and striving to drive us back upon their mighty winter. In the
midst of this plain, between the two armies, was Napoleon, his steps and
his eyes wandering from south to west, along the roads to Kalouga and
Medyn, both which were closed against him. On that to Kalouga, were
Kutusoff and one hundred and twenty thousand men, ready to dispute with
him twenty leagues of defiles; towards Medyn he beheld a numerous
cavalry: it was Platof and those same hordes which had just penetrated
into the flank of the army, had traversed it through and through, and
burst forth, laden with booty, to form again on his right flank, where
reinforcements and artillery were waiting for them. It was on that side
that the eyes of the Emperor were fixed longest; it was there that he
received the reports of his officers and consulted his maps: then,
oppressed with regret and gloomy forebodings, he slowly returned to his

Murat, Prince Eugene, Berthier, Davoust and Bessières followed him. This
mean habitation of an obscure artisan contained within it an Emperor,
two Kings, and three Generals. Here they were about to decide the fate
of Europe, and of the army which had conquered it. Smolensk was the
goal. Should they march thither by Kalouga, Medyn or Mojaisk? Napoleon
was seated at a table, his head supported by his hands, which concealed
his features, as well as the anguish which they no doubt expressed.

A silence fraught with such imminent destinies continued to be
respected, until Murat, whose actions were always the result of
impetuous feeling, became weary of this hesitation. Yielding to the
dictates of his genius, which was wholly directed by his ardent
temperament, he was eager to burst from that uncertainty, by one of
those first movements which elevate to glory, or hurry to destruction.

Rising, he exclaimed, that "he might possibly be again accused of
imprudence, but that in war circumstances decided and gave to every
thing its name; that where there is no other course than to attack,
prudence becomes temerity and temerity prudence; that to stop was
impossible, to fly dangerous, consequently they ought to pursue. What
signified the menacing attitude of the Russians and their impenetrable
woods? For his part he cared not for them. Give him but the remnant of
his cavalry, and that of the guard, and he would force his way into
their forests and their battalions, overthrow all before him, and open
anew to the army the road to Kalouga."

Here Napoleon, raising his head, extinguished all this fire, by saying,
that "we had exhibited temerity enough already; that we had done too
much for glory, and it was high time to give up thinking of any thing
but how to save the rest of the army."

Bessières, either because his pride revolted from the idea of obeying
the King of Naples, or from a desire to preserve uninjured the cavalry
of the guard, which he had formed, for which he was answerable to
Napoleon, and which he exclusively commanded; Bessières, finding himself
supported, then ventured to add, that "neither the army nor even the
guard had sufficient spirit left for such efforts. It was already said
in both, that as the means of conveyance were inadequate, henceforth the
victor, if overtaken, would fall a prey to the vanquished; that of
course every wound would be mortal. Murat would therefore be but feebly
seconded. And in what a position! its strength had just been but too
well demonstrated. Against what enemies! had they not remarked the field
of the preceding day's battle, and with what fury the Russian recruits,
only just armed and clothed, had there fought and fell?" The Marshal
concluded by voting in favour of retreat, which the Emperor approved by
his silence.

The Prince of Eckmühl immediately observed, that, "as a retreat was
decided upon, he proposed that it should be by Medyn and Smolensk." But
Murat interrupted Davoust, and whether from enmity or from that
discouragement which usually succeeds the rejection of a rash measure,
he declared his astonishment, "that any one should dare to propose so
imprudent a step to the Emperor. Had Davoust sworn the destruction of
the army? Would he have so long and so heavy a column trail along,
without guides and in uncertainty, on an unknown track, within reach of
Kutusoff, presenting its flank to all the attacks of the enemy? Would
he, Davoust, defend it? Why--when in our rear Borowsk and Vereïa would
lead us without danger to Mojaisk--why reject that safe route? There,
provisions must have been collected, there every thing was known to us,
and we could not be misled by any traitor."

At these words Davoust, burning with a rage which he had great
difficulty to repress, replied, that "he proposed a retreat through a
fertile country, by an untouched, plentiful and well supplied route,
villages still standing, and by the shortest road, that the enemy might
not avail himself of it, to cut us off from the route from Mojaisk to
Smolensk, recommended by Murat. And what a route! a desert of sand and
ashes, where convoys of wounded would increase our embarrassment, where
we should meet with nothing but ruins, traces of blood, skeletons and

"Moreover, though he deemed it his duty to give his opinion when it was
asked, he was ready to obey orders contrary to it with the same zeal as
if they were consonant with his suggestions; but that the Emperor alone
had a right to impose silence on him, and not Murat, who was not his
Sovereign, and never should be!"

The quarrel growing warm, Bessières and Berthier interposed. As for the
Emperor, still absorbed in the same attitude, he appeared insensible to
what was passing. At length he broke up this council with the words,
"Well, gentlemen, I will decide."

He decided on retreat, and by that road which would carry him most
speedily to a distance from the enemy; but it required another desperate
effort before he could bring himself to give an order of march so new to
him. So painful was this effort, that in the inward struggle which it
occasioned, he lost the use of his senses. Those who attended him have
asserted, that the report of another warm affair with the Cossacks,
towards Borowsk, a few leagues in the rear of the army, was the last
shock which induced him finally to adopt this fatal resolution.

It is a remarkable fact, that he issued orders for this retreat
northward, at the very moment that Kutusoff and his Russians, dismayed
by the defeat of Malo-Yaroslawetz, were retiring southward.


The very same night a similar anxiety had agitated the Russian camp.
During the combat of Malo-Yaroslawetz, Kutusoff had approached the field
of battle, groping his way, as it were, pausing at every step, and
examining the ground, as if he was afraid of its sinking beneath him; he
did not send off the different corps which were dispatched to the
assistance of Doctorof, till the orders for that purpose were absolutely
extorted from him. He durst not place himself in person across
Napoleon's way, till an hour when general battles are not to be

Wilson, warm from the action, then hastened to him.--Wilson, that active
bustling Englishman, whom we had seen in Egypt, in Spain, and every
where else, the enemy of the French and of Napoleon. He was the
representative of the allies in the Russian army; he was in the midst of
Kutusoff's army an independent man, an observer, nay, even a
judge--infallible motives of aversion; his presence was odious to the
old Russian general; and as hatred never fails to beget hatred, both
cordially detested each other.

Wilson reproached him with his excessive dilatoriness; he reminded him
that five times in one day it had caused them to lose the victory, in
the battle of Vinkowo, on the 18th of October. In fact, on that day
Murat would have been destroyed, had Kutusoff fully occupied the front
of the French by a brisk attack, while Beningsen was turning their left
wing. But either from negligence, or that tardiness which is the fault
of age, or as several Russians assert, because Kutusoff was more envious
of Beningsen than inimical to Napoleon, the veteran had attacked too
faintly, and too late, and had stopped too soon.

Wilson continued to insist on his agreeing to a decisive engagement on
the following day, and on his refusal, he asked, "Was he then determined
to open a free passage for Napoleon? to allow him to escape with his
victory? What a cry of indignation would be raised in Petersburgh, in
London, throughout all Europe! Did he not already hear the murmurs of
his own troops?"

Kutusoff, irritated at this, replied, that "he would certainly rather
make a bridge of gold for the enemy than compromise his army, and with
it the fate of the whole empire. Was not Napoleon fleeing? why then stop
him and force him to conquer? The season was sufficient to destroy him:
of all the allies of Russia, they could rely with most confidence on
winter; and he should wait for its assistance. As for the Russian army,
it was under his command, and it would obey him in spite of the clamours
of Wilson; Alexander, when informed of his proceedings, would approve
them. What did he care for England? was it for her that he was fighting?
He was a true-born Russian, his fondest wish was to see Russia
delivered, and delivered she would be without risking the chance of
another battle; and as for the rest of Europe, it was nothing to him
whether it was under the dominion of France or England."

Thus was Wilson repulsed, and yet Kutusoff, shut up with the French army
in the elevated plain of Malo-Yaroslawetz, was compelled to put himself
into the most threatening attitude. He there drew up, on the 25th, all
his divisions, and seven hundred pieces of artillery. No doubts were any
longer entertained in the two armies that a decisive day had arrived:
Wilson was of that opinion himself. He remarked that the Russian lines
had at their back a muddy ravine, across which there was an unsafe
bridge. This only way of retreat, in the sight of an enemy, appeared to
him to be impracticable. Kutusoff was now in such a situation that he
must either conquer or perish; and the Englishman was hugging himself at
the prospect of a decisive engagement: whether its issue proved fatal to
Napoleon or dangerous to Russia, it must be bloody, and England could
not but be a gainer by it.

Still uneasy, however, he went at night through the ranks: he was
delighted to hear Kutusoff swear that he was at length going to fight;
he triumphed on seeing all the Russian generals preparing for a terrible
conflict; Beningsen alone had still his doubts on the subject. The
Englishman, nevertheless, considering that the position no longer
admitted of falling back, at length lay down to wait for daylight, when
about three in the morning a general order for retreat awoke him. All
his efforts were ineffectual. Kutusoff had resolved to direct his flight
southward, first to Gonczarewo, and then beyond Kalouga; and at the Oka
every thing was by this time ready for his passage.

It was at that very instant that Napoleon ordered his troops to retire
northward on Mojaisk. The two armies therefore turned their backs on
each other, mutually deceiving each other by means of their rear-guards.

On the part of Kutusoff, Wilson asserts, that his retreat was like a
rout. Cavalry, cannon, carriages, and battalions thronged from all sides
to the entrance of the bridge, against which the Russian army was
backed. There all these columns, hurrying from the right, the left, and
the centre, met, clashed, and became blended into so enormous and so
dense a mass, that it lost all power of motion. It took several hours to
disentangle it and to clear the passage. A few balls discharged by
Davoust, which he regarded as thrown away, fell among this confused

Napoleon needed but to have advanced upon this disorderly rabble. It was
after the greatest effort, that of Malo-Yaroslawetz, had been made, and
when he had nothing to do but to march, that he retreated. But such is
war! in which it is impossible to attempt too much or to be too daring.
One army knows not what the other is doing. The advanced posts are the
exterior of these two great hostile bodies, by means of which they
overawe one another. What an abyss there is between two armies that are
in the presence of each other!

Besides, it was perhaps because the Emperor had been wanting in prudence
at Moscow that he was now deficient in audacity: he was worn out; the
two affairs with the Cossacks had disgusted him: he felt for his
wounded; so many horrors disheartened him, and like men of extreme
resolutions, having ceased to hope for a complete victory, he determined
upon a precipitate retreat.

From that moment he had nothing in his view but Paris, just as on
leaving Paris he saw nothing but Moscow. It was on the 26th of October
that the fatal movement of our retreat commenced. Davoust with
twenty-five thousand men remained as a rear-guard. While he advanced a
few paces, and, without being aware of it, spread consternation among
the Russians, the grand army in astonishment turned its back on them. It
marched with downcast eyes, as if ashamed and humbled. In the midst of
it, its commander, gloomy and silent, seemed to be anxiously measuring
his line of communication with the fortresses on the Vistula.

For the space of more than two hundred and fifty leagues it offered but
two points where he could halt and rest, the first, Smolensk, and the
second, Minsk. He had made these two towns his two great depôts, where
immense magazines were established. But Wittgenstein, still before
Polotsk, threatened the left flank of the former, and Tchitchakof,
already at Bresk-litowsky, the right flank of the latter. Wittgenstein's
force was gaining strength by recruits and fresh corps which he was
daily receiving, and by the gradual diminution of that of Saint Cyr.

Napoleon, however, reckoned upon the Duke of Belluno and his thirty-six
thousand fresh troops. The _corps d'armée_ had been at Smolensk ever
since the beginning of September. He reckoned also upon detachments
being sent from his depôts, on the sick and wounded who had recovered,
and on the stragglers, who would be rallied and formed at Wilna into
marching battalions. All these would successively come into line, and
fill up the chasms made in his ranks by the sword, famine, and disease.
He should therefore have time to regain that position on the Düna and
the Borysthenes, where he wished it to be believed that his presence,
added to that of Victor, Saint Cyr, and Macdonald, would overawe
Wittgenstein, check Kutusoff, and threaten Alexander even in his second

He therefore proclaimed that he was going to take post on the Düna. But
it was not upon that river and the Borysthenes that his thoughts rested:
he was sensible that it was not with a harassed and reduced army that he
could guard the interval between those two rivers and their courses,
which the ice would speedily efface. He placed no reliance on a sea of
snow six feet deep, with which winter would speedily cover those parts,
but to which it would also give solidity: the whole then would be one
wide road for the enemy to reach him, to penetrate into the intervals
between his wooden cantonments, scattered over a frontier of two hundred
leagues, and to burn them.

Had he at first stopped there, as he declared he should on his arrival
at Witepsk; had he there taken proper measures for preserving and
recruiting his army; had Tormasof, Tchitchakof and Hoertel been driven
out of Volhynia; had he raised a hundred thousand Cossacks in those rich
provinces; his winter-quarters would then have been habitable. But now,
nothing was ready for him there; and not only was his force inadequate
to the purpose, but Tchitchakof, a hundred leagues in his rear, would
still threaten his communications with Germany and France and his
retreat. It was therefore at a hundred leagues beyond Smolensk, in a
more compact position, behind the morasses of the Berezina, it was to
Minsk, that it was necessary to repair in search of winter-quarters,
from which he was forty marches distant.

But should he arrive there in time? He had reason to think so.
Dombrowski and his Poles, placed around Bobruisk, would be sufficient to
keep Ertell in check. As for Schwartzenberg, that general had been
victorious; he was at the head of forty-two thousand Austrians, Saxons,
and Poles, whom Durutte, and his French division, from Warsaw, would
augment to more than fifty thousand men. He had pursued Tormasof as far
as the Styr.

It was true that the Russian army of Moldavia had just formed a junction
with the remnant of the army of Volhynia; that Tchitchakof, an active
and resolute general, had assumed the command of fifty-five thousand
Russians; that the Austrian had paused and even thought it prudent, on
the 23d of September, to retire behind the Bug; but he was to have
recrossed that river at Bresk-litowsky, and Napoleon knew no more.

At any rate, without a defection, which it was too late to foresee, and
which a precipitate return could alone prevent, he flattered himself
that Schwartzenberg, Regnier, Durutte, Dombrowski, and twenty thousand
men, divided between Minsk, Slonim, Grodno, and Wilna--in short, that
seventy thousand men; would not allow sixty thousand Russians to gain
possession of his magazines and to cut off his retreat.


Napoleon, reduced to such hazardous conjectures, arrived quite pensive
at Vereïa, when Mortier presented himself before him. But I perceive
that, hurried along, just as we then were, by the rapid succession of
violent scenes and memorable events, my attention has been diverted from
a fact worthy of notice. On the 23d of October, at half-past one in the
morning, the air was shaken by a tremendous explosion which for a moment
astonished both armies, though amid such mighty expectations scarcely
any thing now excited astonishment.

Mortier had obeyed his orders; the Kremlin was no more: barrels of
powder had been placed in all the halls of the palace of the Czars, and
one hundred and eighty-three thousand pounds under the vaults which
supported them. The marshal, with eight thousand men, had remained on
this volcano, which a Russian howitzer-shell might have exploded. Here
he covered the march of the army upon Kalouga and the retreat of our
different convoys towards Mojaisk.

Among these eight thousand men there were scarcely two thousand on whom
Mortier could rely: the others were dismounted cavalry, men of different
countries and regiments, under new officers, without similar habits,
without common recollections, in short, without any bond of union, who
formed rather a rabble than an organized body; they could scarcely fail
in a short time to disperse.

This marshal was looked upon as a devoted victim. The other chiefs, his
old companions in glory, had left him with tears in their eyes, as well
as the Emperor, who said to him, "that he relied on his good fortune;
but still in war we must sometimes make part of a fire." Mortier had
resigned himself without hesitation. His orders were to defend the
Kremlin, and on retreating to blow it up, and to burn what yet remained
of the city. It was from the castle of Krasnopachra, on the 21st of
October, that Napoleon had sent him his last orders. After executing
them, Mortier was to march upon Vereïa and to form the rear-guard of the

In this letter Napoleon particularly recommended to him "to put the men
still remaining in the hospitals into the carriages belonging to the
young guard, those of the dismounted cavalry, and any others that he
might find. The Romans," added he, "awarded civic crowns to those who
saved citizens: so many soldiers as he should save, so many crowns would
the Duke of Treviso deserve. He must put them on his horses and those of
any of his troops. It was thus that he, Napoleon, acted at St. Jean
d'Acre. He ought so much the more to take this measure, since, as soon
as the convoy should have rejoined the army, there would be plenty of
horses and carriages, which the consumption would have rendered useless
for its supply. The Emperor hoped that he should have to testify his
satisfaction to the Duke of Treviso for having saved him five hundred
men. He must begin with the officers and then with the subalterns, and
give the preference to Frenchmen. He would therefore assemble all the
generals and officers under his command, to make them sensible of the
importance of this measure, and how well they would deserve of the
Emperor if they saved him five hundred men."

Meanwhile, as the grand army was leaving Moscow, the Cossacks were
penetrating into the suburbs, and Mortier had retired towards the
Kremlin, as a remnant of life retires towards the heart, when death has
begun to seize the extremities. These Cossacks were the scouts to ten
thousand Russians under the command of Winzingerode.

This foreigner, inflamed with hatred of Napoleon, and animated by the
desire of retaking Moscow and naturalizing himself in Russia by this
signal exploit, pushed on to a considerable distance from his men; he
traversed, running, the Georgian colony, hastened towards the Chinese
town and the Kremlin, met with advanced posts, mistook them, fell into
an ambuscade, and finding himself a prisoner in a city which he had come
to take, he suddenly changed his part, waving his handkerchief in the
air, and declaring that he had brought a flag of truce.

He was conducted to the Duke of Treviso. There he claimed, in a high
tone, the protection of the law of nations, which, he said, was violated
in his person. Mortier replied, that "a general-in-chief, coming in this
manner, might be taken for a rash soldier, but never for a flag of
truce, and that he must immediately deliver his sword." The Russian
general, having no longer any hope of imposing upon him, complied and
admitted his imprudence.

At length, after four days' resistance, the French bid an eternal adieu
to that fatal city. They carried with them four hundred wounded, and, on
retiring, deposited, in a safe and secret place, a fire-work skilfully
prepared, which a slow fire was already consuming; its progress was
minutely calculated; so that it was known at what hour the fire would
reach the immense heap of powder buried among the foundations of these
condemned palaces.

Mortier hastened his flight; but while he was rapidly retiring, some
greedy Cossacks and squalid Muscovites, allured probably by the prospect
of pillage, approached; they listened, and emboldened by the apparent
quiet which pervaded the fortress, they ventured to penetrate into it;
they ascended, and their hands, eager after plunder, were already
stretched forth, when in a moment they were all destroyed, crushed,
hurled into the air, with the buildings which they had come to pillage,
and thirty thousand stand of arms that had been left behind there: and
then their mangled limbs, mixed with fragments of walls and shattered
weapons, blown to a great distance, descended in a horrible shower.

The earth shook under the feet of Mortier. At Feminskoe, ten leagues
off, the Emperor heard the explosion, and he himself, in that tone of
anger in which he sometimes addressed Europe, published the following
day a bulletin, dated from Borowsk, to this effect, that "the Kremlin,
the arsenal, the magazines were all destroyed; that the ancient citadel,
which dated from the origin of the monarchy, and the first palace of the
Czars, no longer existed; that Moscow was now but a heap of ruins, a
filthy and unwholesome sink, without importance, either political or
military. He had abandoned it to Russian beggars and plunderers to march
against Kutusoff, to throw himself on the left wing of that general, to
drive him back, and then to proceed quietly to the banks of the Düna,
where he should take up his winter-quarters." Then, apprehensive lest he
should appear to be retreating, he added, that "there he should be
within eighty leagues of Wilna and Petersburg, a double advantage; that
is to say, twenty marches nearer to his resources and his object." By
this remark he hoped to give to his retreat the air of an offensive

It was on this occasion that he declared, that "he had refused to give
orders for the destruction of the whole country which he was quitting;
he felt a repugnance to aggravate the miseries of its inhabitants. To
punish the Russian incendiary and a hundred wretches who make war like
Tartars, he would not ruin nine thousand proprietors, and leave two
hundred thousand serfs, innocent of all these barbarities, absolutely
destitute of resources."

He had not then been soured by misfortune; but in three days every thing
had changed. After coming in collision with Kutusoff, he retreated
through this same town of Borowsk, and no sooner had he passed through
it than it ceased to exist. It was thus that in future all was destined
to be burned behind him. While conquering, he had preserved: when
retiring, he resolved to destroy: either from necessity, to ruin the
enemy and to retard his march, every thing being imperative in war; or
by way of reprisal, the dreadful consequence of wars of invasion, which
in the first place authorize every means of defence, while these
afterwards operate as motives to those of attack.

It must be admitted, however, that the aggression in this terrible
species of warfare was not on the side of Napoleon. On the 19th of
October, Berthier had written to Kutusoff, proposing "to regulate
hostilities in such a manner that they might not inflict on the
Muscovite empire more evils than were inseparable from a state of war;
the devastation of Russia being as detrimental to that empire as it was
painful to Napoleon." But Kutusoff replied, that "it was not in his
power to restrain the Russian patriotism," which amounted to an approval
of the Tartar war made upon us by his militia, and authorized us in some
measure to repay them in their own coin.

The like flames consumed Vereïa, where Mortier rejoined the Emperor,
bringing to him Winzingerode. At sight of that German general, all the
secret resentments of Napoleon took fire; his dejection gave place to
anger, and he discharged all the spleen that oppressed him upon his
enemy. "Who are you?" he exclaimed, crossing his arms with violence as
if to grasp and to restrain himself, "a man without country! You have
always been my personal enemy. When I was at war with the Austrians, I
found you in their ranks. Austria is become my ally, and you have
entered into the Russian service. You have been one of the warmest
instigators of the present war. Nevertheless you are a native of the
states of the Confederation of the Rhine; you are my subject. You are
not an ordinary enemy, you are a rebel; I have a right to bring you to
trial! _Gendarmes d'élite_, seize this man!" The _gendarmes_ remained
motionless, like men accustomed to see these violent scenes terminate
without effect, and sure of obeying best by disobeying.

The Emperor resumed: "Do you see, sir, this devastated country, these
villages in flames? To whom are these disasters to be charged? to fifty
adventurers like yourself, paid by England, who has thrown them upon the
continent; but the weight of this war will ultimately fall on those who
have excited it. In six months I shall be at Petersburg, and I will call
them to account for all this swaggering."

Then addressing the aide-de-camp of Winzingerode, who was a prisoner
like himself, "As for you, Count Narischkin," said he, "I have nothing
to upbraid you with; you are a Russian, you are doing your duty; but how
could a man of one of the first families in Russia become the
aide-de-camp of a foreign mercenary? Be the aide-de-camp of a Russian
general; that employment will be far more honourable."

Till then General Winzingerode had not had an opportunity to answer this
violent language, except by his attitude: it was calm as his reply. "The
Emperor Alexander," he said, "was his benefactor and that of his family:
all that he possessed he owed to him; gratitude had made him his
subject; he was at the post which his benefactor had allotted to him,
and consequently he was only doing his duty."

Napoleon added some threats, but in a less violent strain, and he
confined himself to words, either because he had vented all his wrath in
the first explosion, or because he merely designed to frighten the
Germans who might be tempted to abandon him. Such at least was the
interpretation which those about him put upon his violence. It was
disapproved; no account was taken of it, and each was eager to accost
the captive general, to tranquillize and to console him. These
attentions were continued till the army reached Lithuania, where the
Cossacks retook Winzingerode and his aide-de-camp. The Emperor had
affected to treat this young Russian nobleman with kindness, at the same
time that he stormed so loudly against his general--a proof that there
was calculation even in his wrath.


On the 28th of October we again beheld Mojaisk. That town was still full
of wounded; some were carried away and the rest collected together and
left, as at Moscow, to the generosity of the Russians. Napoleon had
proceeded but a few wersts from that place, when the winter began. Thus,
after an obstinate combat, and ten days' marching and countermarching,
the army, which had brought from Moscow only fifteen rations of flour
per man, had advanced but three days' march in its retreat. It was in
want of provisions and overtaken by the winter.

Some men had already sunk under these hardships. In the first days of
the retreat, on the 26th of October, carriages, laden with provisions,
which the horses could no longer draw, were burned. The order for
setting fire to all behind the army then followed; in obedience to it,
powder-waggons, the horses of which were already worn out, were blown up
together with the houses. But at length, as the enemy had not again
shown himself, we seemed to be but once more setting out on a toilsome
journey; and Napoleon, on again seeing the well-known road, was
recovering his confidence, when, towards evening, a Russian chasseur,
who had been made prisoner, was sent to him by Davoust.

At first he questioned him carelessly; but as chance would have it, this
Russian had some knowledge of roads, names, and distances. He answered,
that "the whole Russian army was marching by Medyn upon Wiazma." The
Emperor then became attentive. Did Kutusoff mean to forestall him there,
as at Malo-Yaroslawetz, to cut off his retreat upon Smolensk, as he had
done that upon Kalouga, and to coop him up in this desert without
provisions, without shelter, and in the midst of a general insurrection?
His first impulse, however, inclined him to reject this notion; for,
whether owing to pride or experience, he was accustomed not to give his
adversaries credit for that ability which he should have displayed in
their place.

In this instance, however, he had another motive. His security was but
affected: for it was evident that the Russian army was taking the Medyn
road, the very one which Davoust had recommended for the French army:
and Davoust, either from vanity or inadvertence, had not confided this
alarming intelligence to his dispatch alone. Napoleon feared its effects
on his troops, and therefore affected to disbelieve and to despise it;
but at the same time he gave orders that his guard should march next day
in all haste, and so long as it should be light, as far as Gjatz. Here
he proposed to afford rest and provisions to this flower of his army, to
ascertain, so much nearer, the direction of Kutusoff's march, and to be
beforehand with him at that point.

But he had not consulted the season, which seemed to avenge the slight.
Winter was so near at hand, that a blast of a few minutes was sufficient
to bring it on, sharp, biting, intense. We were immediately sensible
that it was indigenous to this country, and that we were strangers in
it. Every thing was altered: roads, faces, courage: the army became
sullen, the march toilsome, and consternation began.

Some leagues from Mojaisk, we had to cross the Kologa. It was but a
large rivulet; two trees, the same number of props, and a few planks
were sufficient to ensure the passage: but such was the confusion and
inattention, that the Emperor was detained there. Several pieces of
cannon, which it was attempted to get across by fording, were lost. It
seemed as if each _corps d'armée_ was marching separately as if there
was no staff, no general order, no common tie, nothing that bound these
corps together. In reality the elevation of each of their chiefs
rendered them too independent of one another. The Emperor himself had
become so exceedingly great, that he was at an immeasurable distance
from the details of his army; and Berthier, holding an intermediate
place between him and officers, who were all kings, princes, or
marshals, was obliged to act with a great deal of caution. He was
besides wholly incompetent to the situation.

The Emperor, stopped by the trifling obstacle of a broken bridge,
confined himself to a gesture expressive of dissatisfaction and
contempt; to which Berthier replied only by a look of resignation. On
this particular point he had received no orders from the Emperor: he
therefore conceived that he was not to blame; for Berthier was a
faithful echo, a mirror, and nothing more. Always ready, clear and
distinct, he reflected, he repeated the Emperor, but added nothing, and
what Napoleon forgot was forgotten without retrieve.

After passing the Kologa, we marched on, absorbed in thought, when some
of us, raising our eyes, uttered an exclamation of horror. Each
instantly looked around him, and beheld a plain trampled, bare and
devastated, all the trees cut down within a few feet from the surface,
and farther off craggy hills, the highest of which appeared to be the
most misshapen. It had all the appearance of an extinguished and
destroyed volcano. The ground was covered all around with fragments of
helmets and cuirasses, broken drums, gun-stocks, tatters of uniforms,
and standards dyed with blood.

On this desolate spot lay thirty thousand half-devoured corses. A number
of skeletons, left on the summit of one of the hills, overlooked the
whole. It seemed as if death had here fixed his empire; it was that
terrible redoubt, the conquest and the grave of Caulaincourt. Presently
the cry, "It is the field of the great battle!" formed a long and
doleful murmur. The Emperor passed quickly. Nobody stopped. Cold,
hunger, and the enemy urged us on: we merely turned our faces as we
proceeded to take a last melancholy look at the vast grave of so many
companions in arms, uselessly sacrificed, and whom we were obliged to
leave behind.

It was here that we had inscribed with the sword and blood one of the
most memorable pages of our history. A few relics yet recorded it, and
they would soon be swept away. Some day the traveller will pass with
indifference over this plain, undistinguished from any other; but when
he shall learn that it was the theatre of the great battle, he will turn
back, long survey it with inquisitive looks, impress its minutest
features on his greedy memory, and doubtless exclaim, What men! what a
commander! what a destiny! These were the soldiers, who thirteen years
before in the south attempted a passage to the East, through Egypt, and
were dashed against its gates. They afterwards conquered Europe, and
hither they came by the north to present themselves again before that
same Asia, to be again foiled. What then urged them into this roving and
adventurous life? They were not barbarians, seeking a more genial
climate, more commodious habitations, more enchanting spectacles,
greater wealth: on the contrary, they possessed all these advantages,
and all possible pleasures; and yet they forsook them, to live without
shelter, and without food, to fall daily and in succession, either slain
or mutilated. What necessity drove them to this?--Why, what but
confidence in a leader hitherto infallible! the ambition to complete a
great work gloriously begun! the intoxication of victory, and above all,
that insatiable thirst of fame, that powerful instinct, which impels man
to seek death, in order to obtain immortality.


While the army was passing this fatal field in grave and silent
meditation, one of the victims of that sanguinary day was perceived, it
is said, still living, and piercing the air with his groans. It was
found by those who ran up to him that he was a French soldier. Both his
legs had been broken in the engagement; he had fallen among the dead,
where he remained unnoticed. The body of a horse, gutted by a shell, was
at first his asylum; afterwards, for fifty days, the muddy water of a
ravine, into which he had rolled, and the putrified flesh of the dead,
had served for dressing for his wounds and food for the support of his
languishing existence. Those who say that they discovered this man
affirm that they saved him.

Farther on, we again beheld the great abbey or hospital of Kolotskoi, a
sight still more hideous than that of the field of battle. At Borodino
all was death, but not without its quiet; there at least the battle was
over; at Kolotskoi it was still raging. Death here seemed to be pursuing
his victims, who had escaped from the engagement, with the utmost
malignity; he penetrated into them by all their senses at once. They
were destitute of every thing for repelling his attacks, excepting
orders, which it was impossible to execute in these deserts, and which,
moreover, issuing from too high and too distant a quarter, passed
through too many hands to be executed.

Still, in spite of famine, cold, and the most complete destitution, the
devotedness of a few surgeons and a remnant of hope, still supported a
great number of wounded in this pestiferous abode. But when they saw the
army repass, and that they were about to be left behind, the least
infirm crawled to the threshold of the door, lined the way, and extended
towards us their supplicating hands.

The Emperor had just given orders that each carriage, of whatever kind
it might be, should take up one of these unfortunate creatures, that the
weakest should be left, as at Moscow, under the protection of such of
the wounded and captive Russian officers as had been recovered by our
attentions. He halted to see this order carried into execution, and it
was at a fire kindled with his forsaken waggons that he and most of his
attendants warmed themselves. Ever since morning a multitude of
explosions proclaimed the numerous sacrifices of this kind which it
already had been found necessary to make.

During this halt, an atrocious action was witnessed. Several of the
wounded had just been placed in the suttlers' carts. These wretches,
whose vehicles were overloaded with the plunder of Moscow, murmured at
the new burden imposed upon them; but being compelled to admit it, they
held their peace. No sooner, however, had the army recommenced its
march, than they slackened their pace, dropped behind their columns, and
taking advantage of a lonely situation, they threw all the unfortunate
men committed to their care into the ditches. One only lived long enough
to be picked up by the next carriages that passed: he was a general, and
through him this atrocious procedure became known. A shudder of horror
spread throughout the column; it reached the Emperor; for the sufferings
of the army were not yet so severe and so universal as to stifle pity,
and to concentrate all his affections within the bosom of each

In the evening of this long day, as the imperial column approached
Gjatz, it was surprised to find Russians quite recently killed on the
way. It was remarked, that each of them had his head shattered in the
same manner, and that his bloody brains were scattered near him. It was
known that two thousand Russian prisoners were marching on before, and
that their guard consisted of Spaniards, Portuguese, and Poles. On this
discovery, each, according to his disposition, was indignant, approved,
or remained indifferent. Around the Emperor these various feelings were
mute. Caulaincourt broke out into the exclamation, that "it was an
atrocious cruelty. Here was a pretty specimen of the civilization which
we were introducing into Russia! What would be the effect of this
barbarity on the enemy? Were we not leaving our wounded and a multitude
of prisoners at his mercy? Did he want the means of wreaking the most
horrible retaliation?"

Napoleon preserved a gloomy silence, but on the ensuing day these
murders had ceased. These unfortunate people were then merely left to
die of hunger in the enclosures where, at night, they were confined like
cattle. This was no doubt a barbarity too; but what could we do?
Exchange them? the enemy rejected the proposal. Release them? they would
have gone and published the general distress, and, soon joined by
others, they would have returned to pursue us. In this mortal warfare,
to give them their lives would have been sacrificing our own. We were
cruel from necessity. The mischief arose from our having involved
ourselves in so dreadful an alternative.

Besides, in their march to the interior of Russia, our soldiers, who had
been made prisoners, were not more humanely treated, and there,
certainly, imperious necessity was not an excuse.

At length the troops arrived with the night at Gjatz; but this first day
of winter had been cruelly occupied. The sight of the field of battle,
and of the two forsaken hospitals, the multitude of waggons consigned to
the flames, the Russians with their brains blown out, the excessive
length of the march, the first severities of winter, all concurred to
render it horrible: the retreat became a flight; and Napoleon, compelled
to yield and run away, was a spectacle perfectly novel.

Several of our allies enjoyed it with that inward satisfaction which is
felt by inferiors, when they see their chiefs at length thwarted, and
obliged in their turn to give way. They indulged that miserable envy
that is excited by extraordinary success, which rarely occurs without
being abused, and which shocks that equality which is the first want of
man. But this malicious joy was soon extinguished and lost in the
universal distress.

The wounded pride of Napoleon justified the supposition of such
reflections. This was perceived in one of the halts of that day: there,
on the rough furrows of a frozen field, strewed with wrecks both Russian
and French, he attempted, by the energy of his words, to relieve himself
from the weight of the insupportable responsibility of so many
disasters. "He had in fact dreaded this war, and he devoted its author
to the execration of the whole world. It was ---- whom he accused of
this; it was that Russian minister, sold to the English, who had
fomented it, and the traitor had drawn into it both Alexander and

These words, uttered before two of his generals, were heard with that
silence enjoined by old respect, added to that which is due to
misfortune. But the Duke of Vicenza, perhaps too impatient, betrayed his
indignation by a gesture of anger and incredulity, and, abruptly
retiring, put an end to this painful conversation.


From Gjatz the Emperor proceeded in two marches to Wiazma. He there
halted to wait for Prince Eugene and Davoust, and to reconnoitre the
road of Medyn and Yucknow, which runs at that place into the high road
to Smolensk. It was this cross-road which might bring the Russian army
from Malo-Yaroslawetz on his passage. But on the first of November,
after waiting thirty-six hours, Napoleon had not seen any avant-courier
of that army; he set out, wavering between the hope that Kutusoff had
fallen asleep, and the fear that the Russian had left Wiazma on his
right, and proceeded two marches farther towards Dorogobouje to cut off
his retreat. At any rate, he left Ney at Wiazma, to collect the first
and fourth corps, and to relieve, as the rear-guard, Davoust, whom he
judged to be fatigued.

He complained of the tardiness of the latter; he wrote to reproach him
with being still five marches behind him, when he ought to have been no
more than three days later; he considered the genius of that marshal as
too methodical to direct, in a suitable manner, so irregular a march.

The whole army, and the corps of Prince Eugene in particular, repeated
these complaints. They said, that "owing to his spirit of order and
obstinacy, Davoust had suffered the enemy to overtake him at the Abbey
of Kalotskoi; that he had there done ragamuffin Cossacks the honour of
retiring before them, step by step, and in square battalions, as if they
had been Mamelukes; that Platof, with his cannon, had played at a
distance on the deep masses which he had presented to him; that then
only the marshal had opposed to them merely a few slender lines, which
had speedily formed again, and some light pieces, the first fire of
which had produced the desired effect; but that these manoeuvres and
regular foraging excursions had occasioned a great loss of time, which
is always valuable in retreat, and especially amidst famine, through
which the most skilful manoeuvre was to pass with all possible

In reply to this, Davoust urged his natural horror of every kind of
disorder, which had at first led him to attempt to introduce regularity
into this flight; he had endeavoured to cover the wrecks of it, fearing
the shame and the danger of leaving for the enemy these evidences of our
disastrous state.

He added, that, "people were not aware of all that he had had to
surmount; he had found the country completely devastated, houses
demolished, and the trees burned to their very roots; for it was not to
him who came last, that the work of general destruction had been left;
the conflagration preceded him. It appeared as if the rear-guard had
been totally forgotten! No doubt, too, people forgot the frozen road
rough with the tracks of all who had gone before him; as well as the
deep fords and broken bridges, which no one thought of repairing, as
each corps, when not engaged, cared but for itself alone."

Did they not know besides, that the whole tremendous train of
stragglers, belonging to the other corps, on horseback, on foot, and in
vehicles, aggravated these embarrassments, just as in a diseased body
all the complaints fly to and unite in the part most affected? Every day
he marched between these wretches and the Cossacks, driving forward the
one and pressed by the other.

Thus, after passing Gjatz, he had found the slough of Czarewo-Zaimcze
without a bridge, and completely encumbered with carriages. He had
dragged them out of the marsh in sight of the enemy, and so near to them
that their fires lighted his labours, and the sound of their drums
mingled with that of his voice. For the marshal and his generals could
not yet resolve to relinquish to the enemy so many trophies; nor did
they make up their minds to it, till after superfluous exertions, and in
the last extremity, which happened several times a day.

The road was in fact crossed every moment by marshy hollows. A slope,
slippery as glass with the frost, hurried the carriages into them and
there they stuck; to draw them out it was necessary to climb the
opposite ascent by an icy road, where the horses, whose shoes were worn
quite smooth, could not obtaining a footing, and where every moment they
and their drivers dropped exhausted one upon the other. The famished
soldiers immediately fell upon these luckless animals and tore them to
pieces; then at fires, kindled with the remains of their carriages, they
broiled the yet bleeding flesh and devoured it.

Meanwhile the artillerymen, a chosen corps, and their officers, all
brought up in the first school in the world, kept off these unfortunate
wretches whenever they could, and took the horses from their own chaises
and waggons, which they abandoned to save the guns. To these they
harnessed their horses, nay even themselves: the Cossacks, observing
this disaster from a distance, durst not approach; but with their light
pieces mounted on sledges they threw their balls into all this disorder,
and served to increase it.

The first corps had already lost ten thousand men: nevertheless, by dint
of efforts and sacrifices, the viceroy and the Prince of Eckmühl were,
on the 2d of November, within two leagues of Wiazma. It is certain that
the same day they might have passed that town, joined Ney, and avoided a
disastrous engagement. It is affirmed, that such was the opinion of
Prince Eugene, but that Davoust believed his troops to be too much
fatigued, on which the viceroy, sacrificing himself to his duty, staid
to share a danger which he foresaw. Davoust's generals say, on the
contrary, that Prince Eugene, who was already encamped, could not find
in his heart to make his soldiers leave their fires and their meal,
which they had already begun, and the cooking of which always cost them
a great deal of trouble.

Be that as it may, during the deceptive tranquillity of that night, the
advanced-guard of the Russians arrived from Malo-Yaroslawetz, our
retreat from which place had put an end to theirs: it skirted along the
two French corps and that of Poniatowski, passed their bivouacs, and
disposed its columns of attack against the left flank of the road, in
the intermediate two leagues which Davoust and Eugene had left between
themselves and Wiazma.

Miloradowitch, whom we denominated the Russian Murat, commanded this
advanced-guard. He was, according to his countrymen, an indefatigable
and successful warrior, impetuous as that soldier-king, of a stature
equally remarkable, and, like him, a favourite of fortune. He was never
known to be wounded, though numbers of officers and soldiers had fallen
around him, and several horses had been killed under him. He despised
the principles of war: he even made an art of not following the rules of
that art, pretending to surprise the enemy by unexpected blows, for he
was prompt in decision; he disdained to make any preparations, leaving
places and circumstances to suggest what was proper to be done, and
guiding himself only by sudden inspirations. In other respects, a
general in the field of battle alone, he was destitute of foresight in
the management of any affairs, either public or private, a notorious
spendthrift, and, what is rare, not less upright than prodigal.

It was this general, with Platof and twenty thousand men, whom we had
now to fight.


On the 3d of November, Prince Eugene was proceeding towards Wiazma,
preceded by his equipages and his artillery, when the first light of day
shewed him at once his retreat threatened by an army on his left; behind
him his rear-guard cut off; and on his left the plain covered with
stragglers and scattered vehicles, fleeing before the lances of the
enemy. At the same time, towards Wiazma, he heard Marshal Ney, who
should have assisted him, fighting for his own preservation.

That Prince was not one of those generals, the offspring of favour, to
whom every thing is unexpected and cause of astonishment, for want of
experience. He immediately looked the evil in the face, and set about
remedying it. He halted, turned about, deployed his divisions on the
right of the high road, and checked in the plain the Russian columns,
who were striving to cut him off from that road. Their foremost troops,
overpowering the right of the Italians, had already seized one point, of
which they kept possession, when Ney despatched from Wiazma one of his
regiments, which attacked them in the rear and dislodged them.

At the same time Compans, a general of Davoust's, joined the Italian
rear-guard with his division. They cleared a way for themselves, and
while they, united with the Viceroy, were engaged, Davoust with his
column passed rapidly behind them, along the left side of the high road,
then crossing it as soon as he had got beyond them, he claimed his place
in the order of battle, took the right wing, and found himself between
Wiazma and the Russians. Prince Eugene gave up to him the ground which
he had defended, and crossed to the other side of the road. The enemy
then began to extend himself before them, and endeavoured to break
through their wings.

By the success of this first manoeuvre, the two French and Italian
corps had not conquered the right to continue their retreat, but only
the possibility of defending it. They were still thirty thousand strong;
but in the first corps, that of Davoust, there was some disorder. The
hastiness of the manoeuvre, the surprise, so much wretchedness, and,
above all, the fatal example of a multitude of dismounted cavalry,
without arms, and running to and fro bewildered with fear, threw it into

This sight encouraged the enemy; he took it for a rout. His artillery,
superior in number, manoeuvred at a gallop: it took obliquely and in
flank our lines, which it cut down, while the French cannon, already at
Wiazma, and which had been ordered to return in haste, could with
difficulty be brought along. However, Davoust and his generals had still
their firmest troops, about them. Several of these officers, still
suffering from the wounds received at the Moskwa, one with his arm in a
sling, another with his head wrapped in cloths, were seen supporting the
best, encouraging the most irresolute, dashing at the enemy's batteries,
forcing them to retire, and even seizing three of their pieces; in
short, astonishing both the enemy and their own fugitives, and combating
a mischievous example by their noble behaviour.

Miloradowitch, perceiving that his prey was escaping, now applied for
reinforcement; and it was again Wilson, who was sure to be present
wherever he could be most injurious to France, who hastened to summon
Kutusoff. He found the old marshal unconcernedly resting himself with
his army within hearing of the action. The ardent Wilson, urgent as the
occasion, excited him in vain: he could not induce him to stir.
Transported with indignation, he called him traitor, and declared that
he would instantly despatch one of his Englishmen full speed to
Petersburg, to denounce his treason to his Emperor and his allies.

This threat had no effect on Kutusoff; he persisted in remaining
inactive; either because to the frost of age was superadded that of
winter, and that in his shattered frame his mind was depressed by the
sight of so many ruins; or that, from another effect of old age, a
person becomes prudent when he has scarcely any thing to risk, and a
temporiser when he has no more time to lose. He seemed still to be of
opinion, as at Malo-Yaroslawetz, that the Russian winter alone could
overthrow Napoleon; that this genius, the conqueror of men, was not yet
sufficiently conquered by Nature; that it was best to leave to the
climate the honour of that victory, and to the Russian atmosphere the
work of vengeance.

Miloradowitch, left to himself, then tried to break the French line of
battle; but he could not penetrate it except by his fire, which made
dreadful havoc in it. Eugene and Davoust were growing weak; and as they
heard another action in the rear of their right, they imagined that the
rest of the Russian army was approaching Wiazma by the Yuknof road, the
outlet of which Ney was defending.

It was only an advanced-guard: but they were alarmed at the noise of
this fight in the rear of their own, threatening their retreat. The
action had lasted ever since seven in the morning; night was
approaching; the baggage must by this time have got away; the French
generals therefore began to retire.

This retrograde movement increased the ardour of the enemy, and but for
a memorable effort of the 25th, 57th, and 85th regiments, and the
protection of a ravine, Davoust's corps would have been broken, turned
by its right, and destroyed. Prince Eugene, who was not so briskly
attacked, was able to effect his retreat more rapidly through Wiazma;
but the Russians followed him thither, and had penetrated into the town,
when Davoust, pursued by twenty thousand men, and overwhelmed by eighty
pieces of cannon, attempted to pass in his turn.

Morand's division first entered the town: it was marching on with
confidence, under the idea that the action was over, when the Russians,
who were concealed by the windings of the streets, suddenly fell upon
it. The surprise was complete and the confusion great: Morand
nevertheless rallied and re-encouraged his men, retrieved matters, and
fought his way through.

It was Compans who put an end to the whole. He closed the march with his
division. Finding himself too closely pressed by the bravest troops of
Miloradowitch, he turned about, dashed in person at the most eager,
overthrew them, and having thus made them fear him, he finished his
retreat without further molestation. This conflict was glorious to each,
and its result disastrous to all: it was without order and unity. There
would have been troops enough to conquer, had there not been too many
commanders. It was not till near two o'clock that the latter met to
concert their manoeuvres, and these were even then executed without

When at length the river, the town of Wiazma, night, mutual fatigue, and
Marshal Ney had separated them from the enemy, the danger being
adjourned and the bivouacs established, the numbers were counted.
Several pieces of cannon which had been broken, the baggage, and four
thousand killed or wounded, were missing. Many of the soldiers had
dispersed. Their honour was saved, but there were immense gaps in the
ranks. It was necessary to close them up, to bring every thing within a
narrower compass, to form what remained into a more compact whole. Each
regiment scarcely composed a battalion, each battalion a platoon. The
soldiers had no longer their accustomed places, comrades, or officers.

This sad re-organization took place by the light of the conflagration of
Wiazma, and during the successive discharges of the cannon of Ney and
Miloradowitch, the thunders of which were prolonged amid the double
darkness of night and the forests. Several times the relics of these
brave troops, conceiving that they were attacked, crawled to their arms.
Next morning, when they fell into their ranks again, they were
astonished at the smallness of their number.


The spirits of the troops were still supported by the example of their
leaders, by the hopes of finding all their wants supplied at Smolensk,
and still more by the aspect of a yet brilliant sun, of that universal
source of hope and life, which seemed to contradict and deny the
spectacles of despair and death that already encompassed us.

But on the 6th of November, the heavens declared against us. Their azure
disappeared. The army marched enveloped in cold fogs. These fogs became
thicker, and presently an immense cloud descended upon it in large
flakes of snow. It seemed as if the very sky was falling, and joining
the earth and our enemies to complete our destruction. All objects
changed their appearance, and became confounded, and not to be
recognised again; we proceeded, without knowing where we were, without
perceiving the point to which we were bound; every thing was transformed
into an obstacle. While the soldier was struggling with the tempest of
wind and snow, the flakes, driven by the storm, lodged and accumulated
in every hollow; their surfaces concealed unknown abysses, which
perfidiously opened beneath our feet. There the men were engulphed, and
the weakest, resigning themselves to their fate, found a grave in these

Those who followed turned aside, but the storm drove into their faces
both the snow that was descending from the sky, and that which it raised
from the ground: it seemed bent on opposing their progress. The Russian
winter, under this new form, attacked them on all sides: it penetrated
through their light garments and their torn shoes and boots. Their wet
clothes froze upon their bodies; an icy envelope encased them and
stiffened all their limbs. A keen and violent wind interrupted
respiration: it seized their breath at the moment when they exhaled it,
and converted it into icicles, which hung from their beards all round
their mouths.

The unfortunate creatures still crawled on, shivering, till the snow,
gathering like balls under their feet, or the fragment of some broken
article, a branch of a tree, or the body of one of their comrades,
caused them to stumble and fall. There they groaned in vain; the snow
soon covered them; slight hillocks marked the spot where they lay: such
was their only grave! The road was studded with these undulations, like
a cemetery: the most intrepid and the most indifferent were affected;
they passed on quickly with averted looks. But before them, around them,
there was nothing but snow: this immense and dreary uniformity extended
farther than the eye could reach; the imagination was astounded; it was
like a vast winding-sheet which Nature had thrown over the army. The
only objects not enveloped by it, were some gloomy pines, trees of the
tombs, with their funeral verdure, the motionless aspect of their
gigantic black trunks and their dismal look, which completed the doleful
appearance of a general mourning, and of an army dying amidst a nature
already dead.

Every thing, even to their very arms, still offensive at
Malo-Yaroslawetz, but since then defensive only, now turned against
them. These seemed to their frozen limbs insupportably heavy, in the
frequent falls which they experienced, they dropped from their hands and
were broken or buried in the snow. If they rose again, it was without
them; for they did not throw them away; hunger and cold wrested them
from their grasp. The fingers of many others were frozen to the musket
which they still held, which deprived them of the motion necessary for
keeping up some degree of warmth and life.

We soon met with numbers of men belonging to all the corps, sometimes
singly, at others in troops. They had not basely deserted their colours;
it was cold and inanition which had separated them from their columns.
In this general and individual struggle, they had parted from one
another, and there they were, disarmed, vanquished, defenceless, without
leaders, obeying nothing but the urgent instinct of self-preservation.

Most of them, attracted by the sight of by-paths, dispersed themselves
over the country, in hopes of finding bread and shelter for the coming
night: but, on their first passage, all had been laid waste to the
extent of seven or eight leagues; they met with nothing but Cossacks,
and an armed population, which encompassed, wounded, and stripped them
naked, and then left them, with ferocious bursts of laughter, to expire
on the snow. These people, who had risen at the call of Alexander and
Kutusoff, and who had not then learned, as they since have, to avenge
nobly a country which they were unable to defend, hovered on both flanks
of the army under favour of the woods. Those whom they did not despatch
with their pikes and hatchets, they brought back to the fatal and
all-devouring high road.

Night then came on--a night of sixteen hours! But on that snow which
covered every thing, they knew not where to halt, where to sit, where to
lie down, where to find some root or other to eat, and dry wood to
kindle a fire! Fatigue, darkness, and repeated orders nevertheless
stopped those whom their moral and physical strength and the efforts of
their officers had kept together. They strove to establish themselves;
but the tempest, still active, dispersed the first preparations for
bivouacs. The pines, laden with frost, obstinately resisted the flames;
their snow, that from the sky which yet continued to fall fast, and that
on the ground, which melted with the efforts of the soldiers, and the
effect of the first fires, extinguished those fires, as well as the
strength and spirits of the men.

When at length the flames gained the ascendancy, the officers and
soldiers around them prepared their wretched repast; it consisted of
lean and bloody pieces of flesh torn from the horses that were knocked
up, and at most a few spoonfuls of rye-flour mixed with snow-water. Next
morning circular ranges of soldiers extended lifeless marked the
bivouacs; and the ground about them was strewed with the bodies of
several thousand horses.

From that day we began to place less reliance on one another. In that
lively army, susceptible of all impressions, and taught to reason by an
advanced civilization, discouragement and neglect of discipline spread
rapidly, the imagination knowing no bounds in evil as in good.
Henceforward, at every bivouac, at every difficult passage, at every
moment, some portion separated from the yet organised troops, and fell
into disorder. There were some, however, who withstood this wide
contagion of indiscipline and despondency. These were officers,
non-commissioned officers, and steady soldiers. These were extraordinary
men: they encouraged one another by repeating the name of Smolensk,
which they knew they were approaching, and where they had been promised
that all their wants should be supplied.

It was in this manner that, after this deluge of snow, and the increase
of cold which it foreboded, each, whether officer or soldier, preserved
or lost his fortitude, according to his disposition, his age, and his
constitution. That one of our leaders who had hitherto been the
strictest in enforcing discipline, now paid little attention to it.
Thrown out of all his fixed ideas of regularity, order, and method, he
was seized with despair at the sight of such universal disorder, and
conceiving, before the others, that all was lost, he felt himself ready
to abandon all.

From Gjatz to Mikalewska, a village between Dorogobouje and Smolensk,
nothing remarkable occurred in the imperial column, unless that it was
found necessary to throw the spoils of Moscow into the lake of Semlewo:
cannon, gothic armour, the ornaments of the Kremlin, and the cross of
Ivan the Great, were buried in its waters; trophies, glory, all those
acquisitions to which we had sacrificed every thing, became a burden to
us; our object was no longer to embellish, to adorn life, but to
preserve it. In this vast wreck, the army, like a great ship tossed by
the most tremendous of tempests, threw without hesitation into that sea
of ice and snow, every thing that could slacken or impede its progress.


During the 3d and 4th of November Napoleon halted at Stakowo. This
repose, and the shame of appearing to flee, inflamed his imagination. He
dictated orders, according to which his rear-guard, by appearing to
retreat in disorder, was to draw the Russians into an ambuscade, where
he should be waiting for them in person; but this vain project passed
off with the pre-occupation which gave it birth. On the 5th he slept at
Dorogobouje. Here he found the hand-mills which were ordered for the
expedition at the time the cantonments of Smolensk were projected; of
these a late and totally useless distribution was made.

Next day, the 6th of November, opposite to Mikalewska, at the moment
when the clouds, laden with sleet and snow, were bursting over our
heads, Count Daru was seen hastening up, and a circle of vedettes
forming around him and the Emperor.

An express, the first that had been able to reach us for ten days, had
just brought intelligence of that strange conspiracy, hatched in Paris
itself, and in the depth of a prison, by an obscure general. He had had
no other accomplices than the false news of our destruction, and forged
orders to some troops to apprehend the Minister, the Prefect of Police,
and the Commandant of Paris. His plan had completely succeeded, from the
impulsion of a first movement, from ignorance and the general
astonishment; but no sooner was a rumour of the affair spread abroad,
than an order was sufficient again to consign the leader, with his
accomplices or his dupes, to a prison.

The Emperor was apprised at the same moment of their crime and their
punishment. Those who at a distance strove to read his thoughts in his
countenance could discover nothing. He repressed his feelings; his first
and only words to Daru were, "How now, if we had remained at Moscow!" He
then hastened into a house surrounded with a palisade, which had served
for a post of correspondence.

The moment he was alone with the most devoted of his officers, all his
emotions burst forth at once in exclamations of astonishment,
humiliation and anger. Presently afterwards he sent for several other
officers, to observe the effect which so extraordinary a piece of
intelligence would produce upon them. He perceived in them a painful
uneasiness and consternation, and their confidence in the stability of
his government completely shaken. He had occasion to know that they
accosted each other with a sigh, and the remark, that it thus appeared
that the great revolution of 1789, which was thought to be finished, was
not yet over. Grown old in struggles to get out of it, were they to be
again plunged into it, and to be thrown once more into the dreadful
career of political convulsions? Thus war was coming upon us in every
quarter, and we were liable to lose every thing at once.

Some rejoiced at this intelligence, in the hope that it would hasten the
return of the Emperor to France, that it would fix him there, and that
he would no longer risk himself abroad, since he was not safe at home.
On the following day, the sufferings of the moment put an end to these
conjectures. As for Napoleon, all his thoughts again flew before him to
Paris, and he was advancing mechanically towards Smolensk, when his
whole attention was recalled to the present place and time, by the
arrival of an aide-de-camp of Ney.

From Wiazma that Marshal had begun to protect this retreat, mortal to so
many others, but immortal for himself. As far as Dorogobouje, it had
been molested only by some bands of Cossacks, troublesome insects
attracted by our dying and by our forsaken carriages, flying away the
moment a hand was lifted, but harassing by their continual return.

They were not the subject of Ney's message. On approaching Dorogobouje
he had met with the traces of the disorder which prevailed in the corps
that preceded him, and which it was not in his power to efface. So far
he had made up his mind to leave the baggage to the enemy; but he
blushed with shame at the sight of the first pieces of cannon abandoned
before Dorogobouje.

The marshal had halted there. After a dreadful night, in which snow,
wind, and famine had driven most of his men from the fires, the dawn,
which is always awaited with such impatience in a bivouac, had brought
him a tempest, the enemy, and the spectacle of an almost general
defection. In vain he had just fought in person at the head of what men
and officers he had left: he had been obliged to retreat precipitately
behind the Dnieper; and of this he sent to apprise the Emperor.

He wished him to know the worst. His aide-de-camp, Colonel Dalbignac,
was instructed to say, that "the first movement of retreat from
Malo-Yaroslawetz, for soldiers who had never yet run away, had
dispirited the army; that the affair at Wiazma had shaken its firmness;
and that lastly, the deluge of snow and the increased cold which it
betokened, had completed its disorganization: that a multitude of
officers, having lost every thing, their platoons, battalions,
regiments, and even divisions, had joined the roving masses: generals,
colonels, and officers of all ranks, were seen mingled with the
privates, and marching at random, sometimes with one column, sometimes
with another: that as order could not exist in the presence of disorder,
this example was seducing even the veteran regiments, which had served
during the whole of the wars of the revolution: that in the ranks, the
best soldiers were heard asking one another, why they alone were
required to fight in order to secure the flight of the rest; and how any
one could expect to keep up their courage, when they heard the cries of
despair issuing from the neighbouring woods, in which large convoys of
their wounded, who had been dragged to no purpose all the way from
Moscow, had just been abandoned? Such then was the fate which awaited
themselves! what had they to gain by remaining by their colours?
Incessant toils and combats by day, and famine at night; no shelter, and
bivouacs still more destructive than battle: famine and cold drove sleep
far away from them, or if fatigue got the better of these for the
moment, that repose which ought to refresh them put a period to their
lives. In short, the eagles had ceased to protect--they destroyed. Why
then remain around them to perish by battalions, by masses? It would be
better to disperse, and since there was no other course than flight, to
try who could run fastest. It would not then be the best that would
fall: the cowards behind them would no longer eat up the relics of the
high road." Lastly, the aide-de-camp was commissioned to explain to the
Emperor all the horrors of his situation, the responsibility of which
Ney absolutely declined.

But Napoleon saw enough around himself to judge of the rest. The
fugitives were passing him; he was sensible that nothing could now be
done but sacrifice the army successively, part by part, beginning at the
extremities, in order to save the head. When, therefore, the
aide-de-camp was beginning, he sharply interrupted him with these words,
"Colonel, I do not ask you for these details." The Colonel was silent,
aware that in this disaster, now irremediable, and in which every one
had occasion for all his energies, the Emperor was afraid of complaints,
which could have no other effect but to discourage both him who indulged
in, and him who listened to them.

He remarked the attitude of Napoleon, the same which he retained
throughout the whole of this retreat. It was grave, silent, and
resigned; suffering much less in body than others, but much more in
mind, and brooding over his misfortunes. At that moment General
Charpentier sent him from Smolensk a convoy of provisions. Bessières
wished to take possession of them, but the Emperor instantly had them
forwarded to the Prince of the Moskwa, saying, "that those who were
fighting must eat before the others." At the same time he sent word to
Ney "to defend himself long enough to allow him some stay at Smolensk,
where the army should eat, rest, and be re-organized."

But if this hope kept some to their duty, many others abandoned every
thing, to hasten towards that promised term of their sufferings. As for
Ney, he saw that a sacrifice was required, and that he was marked out as
the victim: he resigned himself, ready to meet the whole of a danger
great as his courage: thenceforward he neither attached his honour to
baggage, nor to cannon, which the winter alone wrested from him. A first
bend of the Borysthenes stopped and kept back part of his guns at the
foot of its icy slopes; he sacrificed them without hesitation, passed
that obstacle, faced about, and made the hostile river, which crossed
his route, serve him as the means of defence.

The Russians, however, advanced under favour of a wood and our forsaken
carriages, whence they kept up a fire of musketry on Ney's troops. Half
of the latter, whose icy arms froze their stiffened fingers, got
discouraged; they gave way, justifying themselves by their
faint-heartedness on the preceding day, fleeing because they had fled;
which before they would have considered as impossible. But Ney rushed in
amongst them, snatched one of their muskets, and led them back to the
fire, which he was the first to renew; exposing his life like a private
soldier, with a musket in his hand, the same as when he was neither
husband nor father, neither possessed of wealth, nor power, nor
consideration: in short, as if he had still every thing to gain, when in
fact he had every thing to lose. At the same time that he again turned
soldier, he ceased not to be a general; he took advantage of the ground,
supported himself against a height, and covered himself with a palisaded
house. His generals and his colonels, among whom he himself remarked
Fezenzac, strenuously seconded him; and the enemy, who expected to
pursue, was obliged to retreat.

By this action, Ney gave the army a respite of twenty-four hours; it
profited by it to proceed towards Smolensk. The next day, and all the
succeeding days, he manifested the same heroism. Between Wiazma and
Smolensk he fought ten whole days.


On the 13th of November he was approaching that city, which he was not
to enter till the ensuing day, and had faced about to keep off the
enemy, when all at once the hills upon which he intended to support his
left were seen covered with a multitude of fugitives. In their fright,
these unfortunate wretches fell and rolled down to where he was, upon
the frozen snow, which they stained with their blood. A band of
Cossacks, which was soon perceived in the midst of them, sufficiently
accounted for this disorder. The astonished marshal, having caused this
flock of enemies to be dispersed, discovered behind it the army of
Italy, returning quite stripped, without baggage, and without cannon.

Platof had kept it besieged, as it were, all the way from Dorogobouje.
Near that town Prince Eugene had left the high-road, and, in order to
proceed towards Witepsk, had taken that which, two months before, had
brought him from Smolensk; but the Wop, which when he crossed before was
a mere brook, and had scarcely been noticed, he now found swelled into a
river. It ran over a bed of mud, and was bounded by two steep banks. It
was found necessary to cut a way in these rough and frozen banks, and to
give orders for the demolition, during the night, of the neighbouring
houses, in order to build a bridge with the materials. But those who had
taken shelter in them opposed their destruction. The Viceroy, more
beloved than feared, was not obeyed. The pontonniers were disheartened,
and when daylight appeared with the Cossacks, the bridge, after being
twice broken down, was abandoned.

Five or six thousand soldiers still in order, twice the number of
disbanded men, sick and wounded, upwards of a hundred pieces of cannon,
ammunition waggons, and a multitude of other vehicles, lined the bank,
and covered a league of ground. An attempt was made to ford through the
ice carried along by the torrent. The first guns that tried to cross
reached the opposite bank; but the water kept rising every moment, while
at the same time the bed of the river at the ford was deepened by the
wheels and the efforts of the horses. A carriage stuck fast; others did
the same; and the stoppage became general.

Meanwhile the day was advancing; the men were exhausting themselves in
vain efforts: hunger, cold, and the Cossacks became pressing, and the
Viceroy at length found himself necessitated to order his artillery and
all his baggage to be left behind. A distressing spectacle ensued. The
owners had scarcely time to part from their effects; while they were
selecting from them the articles which they most needed, and loading
horses with them, a multitude of soldiers hastened up; they fell in
preference upon the vehicles of luxury; they broke in pieces and
rummaged every thing, revenging their destitution on this wealth, their
privations on these superfluities, and snatching them from the Cossacks,
who looked on at a distance.

It was provisions of which most of them were in quest. They threw aside
embroidered clothes, pictures, ornaments of every kind, and gilt
bronzes, for a few handfuls of flour. In the evening it was a singular
sight to behold the riches of Paris and Moscow, the luxuries of two of
the largest cities in the world, lying scattered and despised on the
snow of the desert.

At the same time most of the artillerymen spiked their guns in despair,
and scattered their powder about. Others laid a train with it as far as
some ammunition waggons, which had been left at a considerable distance
behind our baggage. They waited till the most eager of the Cossacks had
come up to them, and when a great number, greedy of plunder, had
collected about them, they threw a brand from a bivouac upon the train.
The fire ran and in a moment reached its destination: the waggons were
blown up, the shells exploded, and such of the Cossacks as were not
killed on the spot dispersed in dismay.

A few hundred men, who were still called the 14th division, were opposed
to these hordes, and sufficed to keep them at a respectful distance till
the next day. All the rest, soldiers, administrators, women and
children, sick and wounded, driven by the enemy's balls, crowded the
bank of the torrent. But at the sight of its swollen current, of the
sharp and massive sheets of ice flowing down it, and the necessity of
aggravating their already intolerable sufferings from cold by plunging
into its chilling waves, they all hesitated.

An Italian, Colonel Delfanti, was obliged to set the example and cross
first. The soldiers then moved and the crowd followed. The weakest, the
least resolute, or the most avaricious, staid behind. Such as could not
make up their minds to part from their booty, and to forsake fortune
which was forsaking them, were surprised in the midst of their
hesitation. Next day the savage Cossacks were seen amid all this wealth,
still covetous of the squalid and tattered garments of the unfortunate
creatures who had become their prisoners: they stripped them, and then
collecting them in troops, drove them along naked on the snow, by hard
blows with the shaft of their lances.

The army of Italy, thus dismantled, thoroughly soaked in the waters of
the Wop, without food, without shelter, passed the night on the snow
near a village, where its officers expected to have found lodging for
themselves. Their soldiers, however, beset its wooden houses. They
rushed like madmen, and in swarms, on each habitation, profiting by the
darkness, which prevented them from recognizing their officers or being
known by them. They tore down every thing, doors, windows and even the
wood-work of the roofs, feeling little compunction to compel others, be
they who they might, to bivouac like themselves.

Their generals strove in vain to drive them off; they took their blows
without murmur or opposition, but without desisting; and even the men of
the royal and imperial guards: for, throughout the whole army, such were
the scenes that occurred every night. The unfortunate fellows remained
silently but actively engaged on the wooden walls, which they pulled in
pieces on every side at once, and which, after vain efforts, their
officers were obliged to relinquish to them, for fear they should fall
upon their own heads. It was an extraordinary mixture of perseverance in
their design, and respect for the anger of their generals.

Having kindled good fires they spent the night in drying themselves,
amid the shouts, imprecations, and groans of those who were still
crossing the torrent, or who, slipping from its banks, were precipitated
into it and drowned.

It is a fact which reflects disgrace on the enemy, that during this
disaster, and in sight of so rich a booty, a few hundred men, left at
the distance of half a league from the Viceroy, on the other side of the
Wop, were sufficient to curb, for twenty hours, not only the courage but
also the cupidity of Platof's Cossacks.

It is possible, indeed, that the Hetman made sure of destroying the
Viceroy on the following day. In fact, all his measures were so well
planned, that at the moment when the army of Italy, after an unquiet and
disorderly march, came in sight of Dukhowtchina, a town yet uninjured,
and was joyfully hastening forward to shelter itself there, several
thousand Cossacks sallied forth from it with cannon, and suddenly
stopped its progress: at the same time Platof, with all his hordes, came
up and attacked its rear-guard and both flanks.

Persons, who were eye-witnesses, assert that a complete tumult and
disorder then ensued; that the disbanded men, the women, and the
attendants, ran over one another, and broke quite through the ranks;
that, in short, there was a moment when this unfortunate army was but a
shapeless mass, a mere rabble rout whirling round and round. All seemed
to be lost; but the coolness of the Prince and the efforts of the
officers saved all. The best men disengaged themselves; the ranks were
again formed. They advanced, firing a few volleys, and the enemy, who
had every thing on his side excepting courage, the only advantage yet
left us, opened and retired, confining himself to a mere demonstration.

The army took his place still warm in that town, beyond which he went to
bivouac, and to prepare similar surprises to the very gates of Smolensk.
For this disaster at the Wop had made the Viceroy give up the idea of
separating from the Emperor; there these hordes grew bolder; they
surrounded the 14th division. When Prince Eugene would have gone to its
relief, the men and their officers, stiffened with a cold of twenty
degrees, which the wind rendered most piercing, continued stretched on
the warm ashes of their fires. To no purpose did he point out to them
their comrades surrounded, the enemy approaching, the bullets and balls
which were already reaching them; they refused to rise, protesting that
they would rather perish than any longer have to endure such cruel
hardships. The vedettes themselves had abandoned their posts. Prince
Eugene nevertheless contrived to save his rear-guard.

It was in returning with it towards Smolensk that his stragglers had
been driven back on Ney's troops, to whom they communicated their panic;
all hurried together towards the Dnieper; here they crowded together at
the entrance of the bridge, without thinking of defending themselves,
when a charge made by the 4th regiment stopped the advance of the enemy.

Its colonel, young Fezenzac, contrived to infuse fresh life into these
men who were half perished with cold. There, as in every thing that can
be called action, was manifested the superiority of the sentiments of
the soul over the sensations of the body; for every physical sensation
tended to encourage despondency and flight; nature advised it with her
hundred most urgent voices; and yet a few words of honour were
sufficient to produce the most heroic devotedness. The soldiers of the
4th regiment rushed like furies upon the enemy, against the mountain of
snow and ice of which he had taken possession, and in the teeth of the
northern hurricane, for they had every thing against them. Ney himself
was obliged to moderate their impetuosity.

A reproach from their colonel effected this change. These private
soldiers devoted themselves, that they might not be wanting to their own
characters, from that instinct which requires courage in a man, as well
as from habit and the love of glory. A splendid word for so obscure a
situation! For, what is the glory of a common soldier, who perishes
unseen, who is neither praised, censured, nor regretted, but by his own
division of a company! The circle of each, however, is sufficient for
him: a small society embraces the same passions as a large one. The
proportions of the bodies differ; but they are composed of the same
elements; it is the same life that animates them, and the looks of a
platoon stimulate a soldier, just as those of an army inflame a general.


At length the army again beheld Smolensk; it approached the term so
often held forth to its sufferings. The soldiers pointed it out to each
other. There was that land of promise where their famine was to find
abundance, their fatigue rest; where bivouacs in a cold of nineteen
degrees would be forgotten in houses warmed by good fires. There they
should enjoy refreshing sleep; there they might repair their apparel;
there they should be furnished with new shoes and garments adapted to
the climate.

At this sight, the corps _d'élite_, some soldiers, and the veteran
regiments, alone kept their ranks; the rest ran forward with all
possible speed. Thousands of men, chiefly unarmed, covered the two steep
banks of the Borysthenes: they crowded in masses round the lofty walls
and gates of the city; but their disorderly multitude, their haggard
faces, begrimed with dirt and smoke, their tattered uniforms and the
grotesque habiliments which they had substituted for them, in short,
their strange, hideous look, and their extreme ardour, excited alarm. It
was conceived that if the irruption of this crowd, maddened with hunger,
were not repelled, a general pillage would be the consequence, and the
gates were closed against it.

It was also hoped that by this rigour these men would be forced to
rally. A horrid struggle between order and disorder then commenced in
the remnant of that unfortunate army. In vain did some entreat, weep,
conjure, threaten, strive to burst the gates, and drop down dead at the
feet of their comrades, who had orders to repel them; they found them
inexorable: they were forced to await the arrival of the first troops,
who were still officered and in order.

These were the old and young guard. It was not till afterwards that the
disbanded men were allowed to enter; they and the other corps which
arrived in succession, from the 8th to the 14th, believed that their
entry had been delayed merely to give more rest and more provisions to
this guard. Their sufferings rendered them unjust; they execrated it.
"Were they then to be for ever sacrificed to this privileged class,
fellows kept for mere parade, who were never foremost but at reviews,
festivities, and distributions? Was the army always to put up with their
leavings; and in order to obtain them, was it always to wait till they
had glutted themselves?" It was impossible to tell them in reply, that
to attempt to save all was the way to lose all; that it was necessary to
keep at least one corps entire, and to give the preference to that which
in the last extremity would be capable of making the most powerful

At last, however, these poor creatures were admitted into that Smolensk
for which they had so ardently wished; they had left the banks of the
Borysthenes strewed with the dying bodies of the weakest of their
number; impatience and several hours' waiting had finished them. They
left others on the icy steep which they had to climb to reach the upper
town. The rest ran to the magazines, and there more of them expired
while they beset the doors; for they were again repulsed. "Who were
they? to what corps did they belong? what had they to show for it? The
persons who had to distribute the provisions were responsible for them;
they had orders to deliver them only to authorized officers, bringing
receipts, for which they could exchange the rations committed to their
care." Those who applied had no officers; nor could they tell where
their regiments were. Two thirds of the army were in this predicament.

These unfortunate men then dispersed through the streets, having no
longer any other hope than pillage. But horses dissected to the very
bones every where denoted a famine; the doors and windows of the houses
had been all broken and torn away to feed the bivouac-fires: they found
no shelter in them, no winter-quarters prepared, no wood. The sick and
wounded were left in the streets, in the carts which had brought them.
It was again, it was still the fatal high-road, passing through an empty
name; it was a new bivouac among deceitful ruins; colder even than the
forests which they had just quitted.

Then only did these disorganized troops seek their colours; they
rejoined them for a moment in order to obtain food; but all the bread
that could be baked had been distributed: there was no more biscuit, no
butcher's meat, rye-flour, dry vegetables, and spirits were delivered
out to them. It required the most strenuous efforts to prevent the
detachments of the different corps from murdering one another at the
doors of the magazines: and when, after long formalities, their wretched
fare was delivered to them, the soldiers refused to carry it to their
regiments; they fell upon their sacks, snatched out of them a few pounds
of flour, and ran to hide themselves till they had devoured it. The same
was the case with the spirits. Next day the houses were found full of
the bodies of these unfortunate wretches.

In short, that fatal Smolensk, which the army had looked forward to as
the term of its sufferings, marked only their commencement.
Inexpressible hardships awaited us: we had yet to march forty days under
that yoke of iron. Some, already overloaded with present miseries, sunk
under the alarming prospect of those which awaited them. Others revolted
against their destiny; finding they had nothing to rely on but
themselves, they resolved to live at any rate.

Henceforward, according as they found themselves the stronger or the
weaker, they plundered their dying companions by violence or stealth, of
their subsistence, their garments, and even the gold, with which they
had filled their knapsacks instead of provisions. These wretches, whom
despair had made robbers, then threw away their arms to save their
infamous booty, profiting by the general condition, an obscure name, a
uniform no longer distinguishable, and night, in short, by all kinds of
obscurities, favourable to cowardice and guilt. If works already
published had not exaggerated these horrors, I should have passed in
silence details so disgusting; for these atrocities were rare, and
justice was dealt to the most criminal.

The Emperor arrived on the 9th of November, amid this scene of
desolation. He shut himself up in one of the houses in the new square,
and never quitted it till the 14th, to continue his retreat. He had
calculated upon fifteen days' provisions and forage for an army of one
hundred thousand men; there was not more than half the quantity of
flour, rice, and spirits, and no meat at all. Cries of rage were set up
against one of the persons appointed to provide these supplies. The
commissary saved his life only by crawling for a long time on his knees
at the feet of Napoleon. Probably the reasons which he assigned did more
for him than his supplications.

"When he arrived," he said, "bands of stragglers, whom, when advancing,
the army left behind it, had, as it were, involved Smolensk in terror
and destruction. The men died there of hunger as upon the road. When
some degree of order had been restored, the Jews alone had at first
offered to furnish the necessary provisions. More generous motives
subsequently engaged the aid of some Lithuanian noblemen. At length the
foremost of the long convoys of provisions collected in Germany
appeared. These were the carriages called _comtoises_, and were the only
ones which had traversed the sands of Lithuania; they brought no more
than two hundred quintals of flour and rice; several hundred German and
Italian bullocks had also arrived with them.

"Meanwhile the accumulation of dead bodies in the houses, courts, and
gardens, and their unwholesome effluvia, infected the air. The dead were
killing the living. The civil officers as well as many of the military
were attacked: some had become to all appearance idiots, weeping or
fixing their hollow eyes stedfastly on the ground. There were others
whose hair had become stiff, erect, and ropy, and who, amidst a torrent
of blasphemies, a horrid convulsion, or a still more frightful laugh,
had dropped down dead.

"At the same time it had been found necessary to kill without delay the
greatest part of the cattle brought from Germany and Italy. These
animals would neither walk any farther, nor eat. Their eyes, sunk in
their sockets, were dull and motionless. They were killed without
seeking to avoid the fatal blow. Other misfortunes followed: several
convoys were intercepted, magazines taken, and a drove of eight hundred
oxen had just been carried off from Krasnoë."

This man added, that "regard ought also to be had to the great quantity
of detachments which had passed through Smolensk; to the stay which
Marshal Victor, twenty-eight thousand men, and about fifteen thousand
sick, had made there; to the multitude of posts and marauders whom the
insurrection and the approach of the enemy had driven back into the
city. All had subsisted upon the magazines; it had been necessary to
deliver out nearly sixty thousand rations per day; and lastly,
provisions and cattle had been sent forward towards Moscow as far as
Mojaisk and towards Kalouga as far as Yelnia."

Many of these allegations were well founded. A chain of other magazines
had been formed from Smolensk to Minsk and Wilna. These two towns were
in a still greater degree than Smolensk, centres of provisioning, of
which the fortresses of the Vistula formed the first line. The total
quantity of provisions distributed over this space was incalculable; the
efforts for transporting them thither gigantic, and the result little
better than nothing. They were insufficient in that immensity.

Thus great expeditions are crushed by their own weight. Human limits had
been surpassed; the genius of Napoleon, in attempting to soar above
time, climate, and distances, had, as it were, lost itself in space:
great as was its measure, it had been beyond it.

For the rest, he was passionate, from necessity. He had not deceived
himself in regard to the inadequacy of his supplies. Alexander alone had
deceived him. Accustomed to triumph over every thing by the terror of
his name, and the astonishment produced by his audacity, he had ventured
his army, himself, his fortune, his all, on a first movement of
Alexander's. He was still the same man as in Egypt, at Marengo, Ulm, and
Esslingen; it was Ferdinand Cortes; it was the Macedonian burning his
ships, and above all solicitous, in spite of his troops, to penetrate
still farther into unknown Asia; finally, it was Cæsar risking his whole
fortune in a fragile bark.



The surprise of Vinkowo, however, that unexpected attack of Kutusoff in
front of Moscow, was only the spark of a great conflagration. On the
same day, at the same hour, the whole of Russia had resumed the
offensive. The general plan of the Russians was at once developed. The
inspection of the map became truly alarming.

On the 18th of October, at the very moment that the cannon of Kutusoff
were destroying Napoleon's illusions of glory and of peace,
Wittgenstein, at one hundred leagues in the rear of his left wing, had
thrown himself upon Polotsk; Tchitchakof, behind his right, and two
hundred leagues farther off, had taken advantage of his superiority over
Schwartzenberg; and both of them, one descending from the north, and the
other ascending from the south, were endeavouring to unite their forces
at Borizof.

This was the most difficult passage in our retreat, and both these
hostile armies were already close to it, at the time that Napoleon was
at the distance of twelve days' journey, with the winter, famine, and
the grand Russian army between them.

At Smolensk it was only suspected that Minsk was in danger; the officers
who were present at the loss of Polotsk gave the following details
respecting it:--

Ever since the battle of the 18th of August, which raised him to the
dignity of marshal, Saint Cyr had remained on the Russian bank of the
Düna, in possession of Polotsk, and of an entrenched camp in front of
its walls. This camp showed how easy it would have been for the whole
army to have taken up its winter quarters on the frontiers of Lithuania.
Its barracks, constructed by our soldiers, were more spacious than the
houses of the Russian peasantry, and equally warm: they were beautiful
military villages, properly entrenched, and equally protected from the
winter and from the enemy.

For two months the two armies carried on merely a war of partizans. With
the French its object was to extend themselves through the country in
search of provisions; on the part of the Russians, to strip them of what
they found. A war of this sort was entirely in favour of the Russians,
as our people, being ignorant of the country as well as of the language,
even of the names of the places where they attempted to enter, were
incessantly betrayed by the inhabitants, and even by their guides.

In consequence of these checks, and of hunger, and disease, the strength
of Saint Cyr's army was diminished one half, while that of Wittgenstein
had been more than doubled by the arrival of recruits. By the middle of
October, the Russian army at that point amounted to fifty-two thousand
men, while ours was only seventeen thousand. In this number must be
included the 6th corps, or the Bavarians, reduced from twenty-two
thousand to eighteen hundred men, and two thousand cavalry. The latter
were then absent; Saint Cyr being without forage, and uneasy respecting
the attempts of the enemy upon his flanks, had sent them to a
considerable distance up the river, with orders to return by the left
bank, in order to procure subsistence and to gain intelligence.

For this marshal was afraid of having his right turned by Wittgenstein
and his left by Steingell, who was advancing at the head of two
divisions of the army of Finland, which had recently arrived at Riga.
Saint Cyr had sent a very pressing letter to Macdonald, requesting him
to use his efforts to stop the march of these Russians, who would have
to pass his army, and to send him a reinforcement of fifteen thousand
men; or if he would not do that, to come himself with succours to that
amount, and take the command. In the same letter he also submitted to
Macdonald all his plans of attack and defence. But Macdonald did not
feel himself authorized to operate so important a movement without
orders. He distrusted Yorck, whom he perhaps suspected of an intention
of allowing the Russians to get possession of his park of besieging
artillery. His reply was that he must first of all think of defending
that, and he remained stationary.

In this state of affairs, the Russians became daily more and more
emboldened; and finally, on the 17th of October, the out-posts of Saint
Cyr were driven into his camp, and Wittgenstein possessed himself of all
the outlets of the woods which surround Polotsk. He threatened us with a
battle, which he did not believe we would venture to accept.

The French marshal, without orders from his Emperor, had been too late
in his determination to entrench himself. His works were only marked out
as much as was necessary, (not to cover their defenders), but to point
out the place where their efforts would be principally required. Their
left, resting on the Düna, and defended by batteries placed on the left
bank of the river, was the strongest. Their right was weak. The Polota,
a stream which flows into the Düna, separated them.

Wittgenstein sent Yatchwil to threaten the least accessible side, and
on the 18th he himself advanced against the other; at first with some
rashness, for two French squadrons, the only ones which Saint Cyr had
retained, overthrew his column in advance, took its artillery, and made
himself prisoner, it is said, without being aware of it; so that they
abandoned this general-in-chief, as an insignificant prize, when they
were forced by numbers to retreat.

Rushing from their woods, the Russians then exhibited their whole force,
and attacked Saint Cyr in the most furious manner. In one of the first
discharges of their musketry, the marshal was wounded by a ball. He
remained, however, in the midst of the troops, but being unable to
support himself, was obliged to be carried about. Wittgenstein's
determination to carry this point lasted as long as it was daylight. The
redoubts, which were defended by Maison, were taken and retaken seven
times. Seven times did Wittgenstein believe himself the conqueror; Saint
Cyr finally wore him out. Legrand and Maison remained in possession of
their entrenchments, which were bathed with the blood of the Russians.

But while on the right the victory appeared completely gained, on the
left every thing seemed to be lost: the eagerness of the Swiss and the
Croats was the cause of this reverse. Their rivalry had up to that
period wanted an opportunity of showing itself. From a too great anxiety
to show themselves worthy of belonging to the grand army, they acted
rashly. Having been placed carelessly in front of their position, in
order to draw on Yacthwil, they had, instead of abandoning the ground
which had been prepared for his destruction, rushed forward to meet his
masses, and were overwhelmed by numbers. The French artillery, being
prevented from firing on this medley, became useless, and our allies
were driven back into Polotsk.

It was then that the batteries on the left bank of the Düna discovered,
and were able to commence firing on the enemy, but instead of arresting,
they only quickened his march. The Russians under Yacthwil, in order to
avoid that fire, threw themselves with great rapidity into the ravine of
the Polota, by which they were about to penetrate into the town, when at
last three cannon, which were hastily directed against the head of their
column, and a last effort of the Swiss, succeeded in driving them back.
At five o'clock the battle terminated; the Russians retreated on all
sides into their woods, and fourteen thousand men had beat fifty

The night which followed was perfectly tranquil, even to Saint Cyr. His
cavalry were deceived, and brought him wrong intelligence; they assured
him that no enemy had passed the Düna either above or below his
position: this was incorrect, as Steingell and thirteen thousand
Russians had crossed the river at Drissa, and gone up the left bank,
with the object of taking the marshal in the rear, and shutting him up
in Polotsk, between them, the Düna, and Wittgenstein.

The morning of the 19th exhibited the latter under arms, and making
every disposition for an attack, the signal for which he appeared to be
afraid of giving. Saint Cyr, however, was not to be deceived by these
appearances; he was satisfied that it was not his feeble entrenchments
which kept back an enterprising and numerous enemy, but that he was
doubtless waiting the effect of some manoeuvre, the signal of an
important co-operation, which could only be effected in his rear.

In fact, about ten o'clock in the morning, an aide-de-camp came in full
gallop from the other side of the river, with the intelligence, that
another hostile army, that of Steingell, was marching rapidly along the
Lithuanian side of the river, and that it had defeated the French
cavalry. He required immediate assistance, without which this fresh army
would speedily get in the rear of the camp and surround it. The news of
this engagement soon reached the army of Wittgenstein, where it excited
the greatest joy, while it carried dismay into the French camp. Their
position became dreadfully critical. Let any one figure to himself these
brave fellows, hemmed in, against a wooden town, by a force treble their
number, with a great river behind them, and no other means of retreat
but a bridge, the passage from which was threatened by another army.

It was in vain that Saint Cyr then weakened his force by three
regiments, which he dispatched to the other side to meet Steingell, and
whose march he contrived to conceal from Wittgenstein's observation.
Every moment the noise of the former's artillery was approaching nearer
and nearer to Polotsk. The batteries, which from the left side protected
the French camp, were now turned round, ready to fire upon this new
enemy. At sight of this, loud shouts of joy burst out from the whole of
Wittgenstein's line; but that officer still remained immoveable. To make
him begin it was not merely necessary that he should _hear_ Steingell;
he seemed absolutely determined to _see_ him make his appearance.

Meanwhile, all Saint Cyr's generals, in consternation, were surrounding
him, and urging him to order a retreat, which would soon become
impossible. Saint Cyr refused; convinced that the 50,000 Russians before
him under arms, and on the tiptoe of expectation, only waited for his
first retrograde movement to dart upon him, he remained immoveable,
availing himself of their unaccountable inaction, and still flattering
himself that night would cover Polotsk with its shades before Steingell
could make his appearance.

He has since confessed, that never in his life was his mind in such a
state of agitation. A thousand times, in the course of these three hours
of suspense, he was seen looking at his watch and at the sun; as if he
could hasten his setting.

At last, when Steingell was within half an hour's march of Polotsk, when
he had only to make a few efforts to appear in the plain, to reach the
bridge of the town, and shut out Saint Cyr from the only outlet by which
he could escape from Wittgenstein, he halted. Soon after, a thick fog,
which the French looked upon as an interposition from heaven, preceded
the approach of night, and shut out the three armies from the sight of
each other.

Saint Cyr only waited for that moment. His numerous artillery was
already silently crossing the river, his divisions were about to follow
it and conceal their retreat, when the soldiers of Legrand, either from
habit, or regret at abandoning their camp entire to the enemy, set fire
to it; the other two divisions, fancying that this was a signal agreed
upon, followed their example, and in an instant the whole line was in a

This fire disclosed their movement; the whole of Wittgenstein's
batteries immediately began their fire; his columns rushed forward, his
shells set fire to the town; the French troops were obliged to contend
every inch of ground with the flames, the fire throwing light on the
engagement the same as broad daylight. The retreat, however, was
effected in good order; on both sides the loss was great; but it was not
until three o'clock in the morning of the 20th of October that the
Russian eagle regained possession of Polotsk.

As good luck would have it, Steingell slept soundly at the noise of this
battle, although he might have heard even the shouts of the Russian
militia. He seconded the attack of Wittgenstein during that night as
little as Wittgenstein had seconded his the day before. It was not until
Wittgenstein had finished on the right side, that the bridge of Polotsk
was broken down, and Saint Cyr, with all his force on the left bank, and
then fully able to cope with Steingell, that the latter began to put
himself in motion. But De Wrede, with 6,000 French, surprised him in his
first movement, beat him back several leagues into the woods which he
had quitted, and took or killed 2,000 of his men.


Those three days were days of glory. Wittgenstein was repulsed,
Steingell defeated, and ten thousand Russians, with six generals, killed
or put _hors du combat_. But Saint Cyr was wounded, the offensive was
lost, confidence, joy, and plenty reigned in the enemy's corps,
despondency and scarcity in ours; it was necessary to fall back. The
army required a commander: De Wrede aspired to be so, but the French
generals refused even to enter into concert with that officer, from a
knowledge of his character, and a belief that it was impossible to go on
harmoniously with him. Amidst their jarring pretensions Saint Cyr,
although wounded, was obliged to retain the command of these two corps.

Immediately after, he gave orders to retreat on Smoliantzy by all the
roads leading to that place. He himself kept in the centre, regulating
the march of the different columns by that of each other. This was a
mode of retreat completely contrary to that which Napoleon had just

Saint Cyr's object was to find more provisions, to march with greater
freedom, and more concert; in short, to avoid that confusion which is so
common in the march of numerous columns, when troops, artillery, and
baggage are crowded together on one road. He completely succeeded. Ten
thousand French, Swiss, and Croats, with fifty thousand Russians at
their heels, retired slowly in four columns, without allowing themselves
to be broken, and kept Wittgenstein and Steingell from advancing more
than three marches in eight days.

By retreating in this manner towards the south, they covered the right
flank of the road from Orcha to Borizof, by which the Emperor was
returning from Moscow. One column only, that of the left, met with a
check. It was that of De Wrede and his fifteen hundred Bavarians,
augmented with a brigade of French cavalry, which he retained with him
in spite of Saint Cyr's orders. He marched at his own pleasure; his
wounded pride would no longer suffer him to yield obedience to others;
but it cost him the whole of his baggage. Afterwards, under pretence of
better serving the common cause by covering the line of operations from
Wilna to Witepsk, which the Emperor had abandoned, he separated himself
from the second corps, retreated by Klubokoe on Vileika, and made
himself useless.

The discontent of De Wrede had existed ever since the 19th of August. He
fancied that he had contributed so great a part to the victory of the
18th, that he thought it was made too little of in the report of the
following day. This feeling had rankled in his mind, and was increased
by repeated complaints, and by the instigation of a brother, who it was
said was serving in the Austrian army. Added to this, it was believed,
that at the last period of the retreat, the Saxon general, Thielmann,
had drawn him into his plans for the liberation of Germany.

This defection was scarcely felt at the time. The Duke of Belluno, with
twenty-five thousand men, hastened from Smolensk, and on the 31st of
October effected a junction with Saint Cyr in front of Smoliantzy, at
the very moment that Wittgenstein, ignorant of this junction, and
relying on his superior strength, had crossed the Lukolmlia, imprudently
engaged himself in defiles at his rear, and attacked our out-posts. It
only required a simultaneous effort of the two French corps to have
destroyed his army completely. The generals and soldiers of the second
corps were burning with ardour. But at the moment that victory was in
their hearts, and when, believing it before their eyes, they were
waiting for the signal to engage, Victor gave orders to retreat.

Whether this prudence, which was then considered unseasonable, arose
from his unacquaintance with a country, which he then saw for the first
time, or from his distrust of soldiers whom he had not yet tried, we
know not. It is possible that he did not feel himself justified in
risking a battle, the loss of which would certainly have involved that
of the grand army and its leader.

After falling back behind the Lukolmlia, and keeping on the defensive
the whole of the day, he took advantage of the night to gain Sienno. The
Russian general then became sensible of the peril of his position; it
was so critical, that he only took advantage of our retrograde movement,
and the discouragement which it occasioned, to effect his retreat.

The officers who gave us these details added, that ever since that time
Wittgenstein seemed to think of nothing but retaking Witepsk, and
keeping on the defensive. He probably thought it too rash to turn the
Berezina at its sources, in order to join Tchitchakof; for a vague
rumour had already reached us of the march of this army from the south
upon Minsk and Borizof, and of the defection of Schwartzenberg.

It was at Mikalewska, on the 6th of November, that unfortunate day when
he had just received information of Mallet's conspiracy, that Napoleon
was informed of the junction of the second and the ninth corps, and of
the unfortunate engagement at Czazniki. Irritated at the intelligence,
he sent orders to the Duke of Belluno immediately to drive Wittgenstein
behind the Düna, as the safety of the army depended upon it. He did not
conceal from the marshal that he had arrived at Smolensk with an army
harassed to death and his cavalry entirely dismounted.

Thus, therefore, the days of good fortune were passed, and from all
quarters nothing but disastrous intelligence arrived. On one side
Polotsk, the Düna, and Witepsk lost, and Wittgenstein already within
four days march of Borizof; on the other, towards Elnia, Baraguay
d'Hilliers defeated. That general had allowed the enemy to cut off the
brigade of Augereau, and to take the magazines, and the Elnia road, by
the possession of which Kutusoff was now enabled to anticipate us at
Krasnoë, as he had done at Wiazma.

At the same time, at one hundred leagues in advance of us,
Schwartzenberg informed the Emperor, that he was covering Warsaw; in
other words, that he had uncovered Minsk and Borizof, the magazine, and
the retreat of the grand army, and that probably, the Emperor of Austria
would deliver up his son-in-law to Russia.

At the same moment, in our rear and our centre, Prince Eugene was
conquered by the Wop; the draught-horses which had been waiting for us
at Smolensk were devoured by the soldiers; those of Mortier carried off
in a forage; the cattle at Krasnoë captured; the army exhibiting
frightful symptoms of disease; and at Paris the period of conspiracies
appeared to have returned; in short, every thing seemed to combine to
overwhelm Napoleon.

The daily reports which he received of the state of each corps of the
army were like so many bills of mortality; in these he saw his army,
which had conquered Moscow, reduced from an hundred and eighty thousand,
to thirty thousand men, still capable of fighting. To this mass of
calamities, he could only oppose an inert resistance, an impassable
firmness, and an unshaken attitude. His countenance remained the same;
he changed none of his habits, nothing in the form of his orders; in
reading them, you would have supposed that he had still several armies
under his command. He did not even expedite his march. Irritated only at
the prudence of Marshal Victor, he repeated his orders to him to attack
Wittgenstein, and thereby remove the danger which menaced his retreat.
As to Baraguay d'Hilliers, whom an officer had just accused, he had him
brought before him, and sent him off to Berlin, where that general,
overwhelmed by the fatigues of the retreat, and sinking under the weight
of chagrin, died before he was able to make his defence.

The unshaken firmness which the Emperor preserved was the only attitude
which became so great a spirit, and so irreparable a misfortune. But
what appears surprising, is, that he allowed fortune to strip him of
every thing, rather than sacrifice a part to save the rest. It was at
first without his orders that the commanders of corps burnt the baggage
and destroyed their artillery; he only allowed it to be done. If he
afterwards gave similar instructions, they were absolutely extorted from
him; he seemed as if he was tenacious, above every thing, that no action
of his should confess his defeat; either from a feeling that he thus
respected his misfortunes, and by his inflexibility set the example of
inflexible courage to those around him, or from that proud feeling of
men who have been long fortunate, which precipitates their downfall.

Smolensk, however, which was twice fatal to the army, was a place of
rest for some. During the respite which this afforded to their
sufferings, these were asking each other, "how it happened, that at
Moscow every thing had been forgotten; why there was so much useless
baggage; why so many soldiers had already died of hunger and cold under
the weight of their knapsacks, which were loaded with gold, instead of
food and raiment; and, above all, if three and thirty days rest had not
allowed sufficient time to make snow shoes for the artillery, cavalry,
and draught-horses, which would have made their march more sure and

"If that had been done, we should not have lost our best men at Wiazma,
at the Wop, at the Dnieper, and along the whole road; in short, even
now, Kutusoff, Wittgenstein, and perhaps Tchitchakof would not have had
time to prepare more fatal days for us.

"But why, in the absence of orders from Napoleon, had not that
precaution been taken by the commanders, all of them kings, princes, and
marshals? Had not the winter in Russia been foreseen? Was it that
Napoleon, accustomed to the active intelligence of his soldiers, had
reckoned too much upon their foresight? Had the recollection of the
campaign in Poland, during a winter as mild as that of our own climate,
deceived him, as well as an unclouded sun, whose continuance, during the
whole of the month of October, had astonished even the Russians
themselves? What spirit of infatuation is it that has seized the whole
army as well as its leader? What has every one been reckoning upon? as
even supposing that at Moscow the hope of peace had dazzled us all, it
was always necessary to return, and nothing had been prepared, even for
a pacific journey homeward!"

The greater number could not account for this general infatuation,
otherwise than by their own carelessness, and because in armies, as well
as in despotic governments, it is the office of one to think for all; in
this case that _one_ was alone regarded as responsible, and misfortune,
which authorizes distrust, led every one to condemn him. It had been
already remarked, that in this important fault, this forgetfulness, so
improbable in an active genius during so long and unoccupied a
residence, there was something of that spirit of error, "the fatal
forerunner of the fall of kings!"

Napoleon had been at Smolensk for five days. It was known that Ney had
received orders to arrive there as late as possible, and Eugene to halt
for two days at Doukhowtchina. "Then it was not the necessity of waiting
for the army of Italy which detained him! To what then must we attribute
this delay, when famine, disease and the winter, and three hostile
armies were gradually surrounding us?

"While we had been penetrating to the heart of the Russian Colossus, had
not his arms remained advanced and extended towards the Baltic and the
Black Sea? was he likely to leave them motionless now, when, instead of
striking him mortal blows, we had been struck ourselves? Was not the
fatal moment arrived when this Colossus was about to surround us with
his threatening arms? Could we imagine that we had either tied them up,
or paralysed them, by opposing to them the Austrians in the south, and
the Prussians in the north? Was it not rather a method of rendering the
Poles and the French, who were mixed with these dangerous allies,
entirely useless?

"But without going far in search of causes of uneasiness, was the
Emperor ignorant of the joy of the Russians, when three months before he
stopped to attack Smolensk, instead of marching to the right to Elnia,
where he would have cut off the enemy's army from a retreat upon their
capital? Now that the war has returned back to the same spots, will the
Russians, whose movements are much more free than ours were then,
imitate our error? Will they keep in our rear when they can so easily
place themselves before us, on the line of our retreat?

"Is Napoleon unwilling to allow that Kutusoff's attack may be bolder and
more skilful than his own had been? Are the circumstances still the
same? Was not every thing favourable to the Russians during their
retreat, and, on the contrary, has not every thing been unfavourable to
us, in our retreat? Will not the cutting off Augereau and his brigade
upon that road open his eyes? What business had we in the burnt and
ravaged Smolensk, but to take a supply of provisions and proceed rapidly

"But the Emperor no doubt fancied that by dating his despatches five
days from that city, he would give to his disorderly flight the
appearance of a slow and glorious retreat! This was the reason of his
ordering the destruction of the towers which surround Smolensk, from the
wish, as he expressed it, of not being again stopped short by its walls!
as if there was any idea of our returning to a place, which we did not
even know whether we should ever get out of.

"Will any one believe that he wished to give time to the artillerymen to
shoe their horses against the ice? as if he could expect any labour from
workmen emaciated with hunger and long marches; from poor wretches who
hardly found, the day long enough to procure provisions and dress them,
whose forges were thrown away or damaged, and who besides wanted the
indispensable materials for a labour so considerable.

"But perhaps he wished to allow himself time to drive on before him, out
of danger and clear of the ranks, the troublesome crowd of soldiers, who
had become useless, to rally the better sort, and to re-organize the
army? as if it were possible to convey any orders whatever to men so
scattered about, or to rally them, without lodgings, or distribution of
provisions, to _bivouacs_; in short, to think of re-organization for
corps of dying soldiers, all of whom had no longer any thing to adhere
to, and whom the least touch would dissolve."

Such, around Napoleon, were the conversations of his officers; or rather
their secret reflexions: for their devotion to him remained entire for
two whole years longer, in the midst of the greatest calamities, and of
the general revolt of nations.

The Emperor, however, made an effort which was not altogether fruitless;
namely, to rally, under one commander, all that remained of the cavalry:
of thirty-seven thousand cavalry which were present at the passage of
the Niemen, there were now only eighteen hundred left on horseback. He
gave the command of them to Latour-Maubourg; whether from the esteem
felt for him, or from fatigue, no one objected to it.

As to Latour-Maubourg, he received the honour or the charge without
expressing either pleasure or regret. He was a character of peculiar
stamp; always ready without forwardness, calm and active, remarkable for
his extreme purity of morals, simple and unostentatious; in other
respects, unaffected and sincere in his relations with others, and
attaching the idea of glory only to actions, and not to words. He always
marched with the same order and moderation in the midst of the most
immoderate disorder; and yet, what does honour to the age, he attained
to the highest distinctions as quickly and as rapidly as any who could
be named.

This feeble re-organization, the distribution of a part of the
provisions, the plunder of the rest, the repose which the Emperor and
his guard were enabled to take, the destruction of part of the artillery
and baggage, and finally, the expedition of a number of orders, were
nearly all the benefits which were derived from that fatal delay. In
other respects, all the misfortunes happened which had been foreseen. A
few hundred men were only rallied for a moment. The explosion of the
mines scarcely blew up the outside of some of the walls, and was only of
use on the last day, in driving out of the town the stragglers whom we
had been unable to set in motion.

The soldiers who had totally lost heart, the women, and several thousand
sick and wounded, were here abandoned. This was when Augereau's disaster
near Elnia made it but too evident that Kutusoff, now become the
pursuer, did not confine himself to the high road; that he was marching
from Wiazma by Elnia, direct upon Krasnoë; finally, when we ought to
have foreseen that we should be obliged to cut our way through the
Russian army, it was only on the 14th of November that the grand army
(or rather thirty-six thousand troops) commenced its march.

The old and young guard had not then more than from nine to ten thousand
infantry, and two thousand cavalry; Davoust and the first corps, from
eight to nine thousand; Ney and the third corps, five to six thousand;
Prince Eugene and the army of Italy, five thousand; Poniatowski, eight
hundred; Junot and the Westphalians, seven hundred; Latour-Maubourg and
the rest of the cavalry, fifteen hundred; there might also be about one
thousand light horse, and five hundred dismounted cavalry, whom we had
succeeded in collecting together.

This army had left Moscow one hundred thousand strong; in
five-and-twenty days it had been reduced to thirty-six thousand men. The
artillery had already lost three hundred and fifty of their cannon, and
yet these feeble remains were always divided into eight armies, which
were encumbered with sixty thousand unarmed stragglers, and a long train
of cannon and baggage.

Whether it was this incumbrance of so many men and carriages, or a
mistaken sense of security, which led the Emperor to order a day's
interval between the departure of each marshal, is uncertain; most
probably it was the latter. Be that as it may, he, Eugene, Davoust, and
Ney only quitted Smolensk in succession; Ney was not to leave it till
the 16th or 17th. He had orders to make the artillery saw the trunnions
of the cannon left behind, and bury them; to destroy the ammunition, to
drive all the stragglers before him, and to blow up the towers which
surrounded the city.

Kutusoff, meanwhile, was waiting for us at some leagues distance from
thence, and preparing to cut in pieces successively those remnants of
corps thus extended and parcelled out.


It was on the 14th of November, about five in the morning, that the
imperial column at last quitted Smolensk. Its march was still firm, but
gloomy and silent as night, and mute and discoloured as the aspect of
the country through which it was advancing.

This silence was only interrupted by the cracking of the whips applied
to the poor horses, and by short and violent imprecations when they met
with ravines; and when upon these icy declivities, men, horses, and
artillery were rolling in obscurity, one over the other. The first day
they advanced five leagues. The artillery of the guard took twenty-two
hours to get over that ground.

Nevertheless, this first column arrived, without any great loss of men,
at Korythinia, which Junot had passed with his Westphalian corps, now
reduced to seven hundred men. A vanguard had pushed on as far as
Krasnoë. The wounded and disbanded men were on the point of reaching
Liady. Korythinia is five leagues from Smolensk; Krasnoë five leagues
from Korythinia; Liady four leagues from Krasnoë. The Boristhenes flows
at two leagues on the right of the high road from Korythinia to Krasnoë.

Near Korythinia another road, that from Elnia to Krasnoë, runs close to
the great road. That very day Kutusoff advanced upon that road with
ninety thousand men, which completely covered it; his march was parallel
with that of Napoleon, whom he soon outstripped; on the cross-roads he
sent forward several vanguards to intercept our retreat.

One of these, said to be commanded by Ostermann, made its appearance at
Korythinia at the same time with Napoleon, and was driven back.

A second, consisting of twenty thousand men, and commanded by
Miloradowitch, took a position three leagues in advance of us, towards
Merlino and Nikoulina, behind a ravine which skirts the left side of the
great road; and there, lying in ambush on the flank of our retreat, it
awaited our passage.

At the same time a third reached Krasnoë, which it surprised during the
night, but was driven out by Sebastiani, who had just arrived there.

Finally, a fourth, pushed still more in advance, got between Krasnoë and
Liady, and carried off, upon the high road, several generals and other
officers who were marching singly.

Kutusoff, at the same time, with the bulk of his army, advanced, and
took a position in the rear of these vanguards, and within reach of them
all, and felicitated himself on the success of his manoeuvres, which
would have inevitably failed, owing to his tardiness, had it not been
for our want of foresight; for this was a contest of errors, in which
ours being the greatest, we could have no thought of escaping total
destruction. Having made these dispositions, the Russian commander must
have believed that the French army was entirely in his power; but this
belief saved us. Kutusoff was wanting to himself at the moment of
action; his old age executed only half and badly the plans which it had
combined wisely.

During the time that all these masses were arranging themselves round
Napoleon, he remained perfectly tranquil in a miserable hut, the only
one left standing in Korythinia, apparently quite unconscious of all
these movements of troops, artillery, and cavalry, which were
surrounding him in all directions; at least he sent no orders to the
three corps which had halted at Smolensk to expedite their march, and he
himself waited for daylight to proceed.

His column was advancing, without precaution, preceded by a crowd of
stragglers, all eager to reach Krasnoë, when at two leagues from that
place, a row of Cossacks, placed from the heights on our left all across
the great road, appeared before them. Seized with astonishment, these
stragglers halted; they had looked for nothing of the kind, and at first
were inclined to believe that relentless fate had traced upon the snow
between them and Europe, that long, black, and motionless line as the
fatal term assigned to their hopes.

Some of them, stupified and rendered insensible by the misery of their
situation, with their eyes mentally fixed on home, and pursuing
mechanically and obstinately that direction, would listen to no warning,
and were about to surrender; the others collected together, and on both
sides there was a pause, in order to consider each other's force.
Several officers, who then came up, put these disbanded soldiers in some
degree of order; seven or eight riflemen, whom they sent forward, were
sufficient to break through that threatening curtain.

The French were smiling at the audacity of this idle demonstration, when
all at once, from the heights on their left, an enemy's battery began
firing. Its bullets crossed the road; at the same time thirty squadrons
showed themselves on the same side, threatening the Westphalian corps
which was advancing, the commander of which was so confused, that he
made no disposition to meet their attack.

A wounded officer, unknown to these Germans, and who was there by mere
chance, called out to them with an indignant voice, and immediately
assumed their command. The men obeyed him as they would their own
leader. In this case of pressing danger the differences of convention
disappeared. The man really superior having shown himself, acted as a
rallying point to the crowd, who grouped themselves around him, while
the general-in-chief remained mute and confounded, receiving with
docility the impulse the other had given, and acknowledging his
superiority, which, after the danger was over, he disputed, but of which
he did not, as too often happens, seek to revenge himself.

This wounded officer was Excelmans! In this action he was every thing,
general, officer, soldier, even an artilleryman, for he actually laid
hold of a cannon that had been abandoned, loaded and pointed it, and
made it once more be of use against our enemies. As to the commander of
the Westphalians, after this campaign, his premature and melancholy end
makes us presume that excessive fatigue and the consequences of some
severe wounds had already affected him mortally.

On seeing this leading column marching in such good order, the enemy
confined itself to attacking it with their bullets, which it despised,
and soon left behind it. When it came to the turn of the grenadiers of
the old guard to pass through this fire, they closed their ranks around
Napoleon like a moveable fortress, proud of having to protect him. Their
band of music expressed this pride. When the danger was greatest, they
played the well-known air, "_Où peut-on être mieux qu'au sein de sa
famille!_" (Where can we be happier than in the bosom of our family!) But
the Emperor, whom nothing escaped, stopped them with an exclamation,
"Rather play, _Veillons au salut de l'Empire_!" (Let us watch for the
safety of the empire!) words much better suited to his pre-occupation,
and to the general situation.

At the same time, the enemy's fire becoming troublesome, he gave orders
to silence it, and in two hours after he reached Krasnoë. The sight of
Sebastiani, and of the first grenadiers who preceded him, had been
sufficient to drive away the enemy's infantry. Napoleon entered in a
state of great anxiety, from not knowing what corps had been attacking
him, and his cavalry being too weak to enable them to get him
information, out of reach of the high road. He left Mortier and the
young guard a league behind him, in this way stretching out from too
great a distance a hand too feeble to assist his army, and determined to
wait for it.

The passage of his column had not been sanguinary, but it could not
conquer the ground as it did the enemy; the road was hilly; at every
eminence cannon were obliged to be left behind without being spiked, and
baggage, which was plundered before it was abandoned. The Russians from
their heights saw the whole interior of the army, its weaknesses, its
deformities, its most shameful parts: in short, all that is generally
concealed with the greatest care.

Notwithstanding, it appeared as if Miloradowitch, from his elevated
position, was satisfied with merely insulting the passage of the
Emperor, and of that old guard which had been so long the terror of
Europe. He did not dare to gather up its fragments until it had passed
on; but then he became bold, concentrated his forces, and descending
from the heights, took up a strong position with twenty thousand men,
quite across the high road; by this movement he separated Eugene,
Davoust, and Ney from the Emperor, and closed the road to Europe against
these three leaders.


While he was making these preparations, Eugene was using all his efforts
at Smolensk to collect his scattered troops; with great difficulty he
tore them from the plunder of the magazines, and he did not succeed in
rallying eight thousand men until late on the 15th of November. He was
obliged to promise them supplies of provisions, and to show them the
road to Lithuania, in order to induce them to renew their march. Night
compelled him to halt at three leagues distance from Smolensk; the half
of his soldiers had already left their ranks. Next morning he continued
his march, with all that the cold of the night and of death had not
fastened round their _bivouacs_.

The noise of the cannon which they had heard the day before had ceased;
the royal column was advancing with difficulty, adding its own fragments
to those which it encountered. At its head, the viceroy and the chief of
his staff, buried in their own melancholy reflections, gave the reins to
their horses. Insensibly they left their troop behind them, without
being sensible of it; for the road was strewed with stragglers and men
marching at their pleasure, the idea of keeping whom in order had been

In this way they advanced to within two leagues of Krasnoë, but then a
singular movement which was passing before them attracted their absent
looks. Several of the disbanded soldiers had suddenly halted; those who
followed as they came up, formed a group with them; others who had
advanced farther fell back upon the first; they crowded together; a mass
was soon formed. The viceroy surprised, then looked about him; he
perceived that he had got the start of the main body of his army by an
hour's march: that he had about him only fifteen hundred men of all
ranks, of all nations, without organization, without leaders, without
order, without arms ready or fit for an engagement, and that he was
summoned to surrender.

This summons was answered by a general cry of indignation! But the
Russian flag of truce, who presented himself singly, insisted: "Napoleon
and his guard," said he to them, "have been beaten; you are surrounded
by twenty thousand Russians: you have no means of safety but in
accepting honourable conditions, and these Miloradowitch proposes to

At these words, Guyon, one of the generals whose soldiers were either
all dead or dispersed, rushed from the crowd, and with a loud voice
called out, "Return immediately to whence you came, and tell him who
sent you, that if he has twenty thousand men, we have eighty thousand!"
The Russian, confounded, immediately retired.

All this happened in the twinkling of an eye; in a moment after the
hills on the left of the road were spouting out lightning and whirlwinds
of smoke; showers of shells and grape-shot swept the high road, and
threatening advancing columns showed their bayonets.

The viceroy hesitated for a moment; it grieved him to leave that
unfortunate troop, but at last, leaving his chief of the staff with
them, he returned back to his divisions, in order to bring them forward
to the combat, to make them get beyond the obstacle before it became
insurmountable, or to perish; for with the pride derived from a crown
and so many victories, it was not to be expected that he could ever
admit the thought of surrender.

Meanwhile, Guilleminot summoned about him the officers who, in this
crowd, had mingled with the soldiers. Several generals, colonels, and a
great number of officers immediately started forth and surrounded him;
they concerted together, and accepting him for their leader, they
distributed into platoons all the men who had hitherto formed but one
mass, and whom in that state they had found it impossible to excite.

This organization was made under a sharp fire. Several superior officers
went and placed themselves proudly in the ranks, and became once more
common soldiers. From a different species of pride, some marines of the
guard insisted on being commanded by one of their own officers, while
each of the other platoons was commanded by a general. Hitherto the
Emperor himself had been their colonel; now they were on the point of
perishing they maintained their privilege, which nothing could make them
forget, and which was respected accordingly.

These brave men, in this order, proceeded on their march to Krasnoë: and
they had already got beyond the batteries of Miloradowitch, when the
latter, rushing with his columns upon their flanks, hemmed them in so
closely, as to compel them to turn about, and seek a position in which
they could defend themselves. To the eternal glory of these warriors it
should be told, that these fifteen hundred French and Italians, one to
ten, with nothing in their favour but a determined countenance and very
few fire-arms in a state fit for use, kept their enemies at a respectful
distance upwards of an hour.

But as there was still no appearance of the viceroy and the rest of his
divisions, a longer resistance was evidently impossible. They were again
and again summoned to lay down their arms. During these short pauses
they heard the cannon rolling at a distance in their front and in their
rear. Thus, therefore, "the whole army was attacked at once, and from
Smolensk to Krasnoë it was but one engagement! If we wanted assistance,
there could be none expected by waiting for it; we must go and look for
it; but on which side? At Krasnoë it was impossible; we were too far
from it; there was every reason to believe that our troops were beaten
there. It would besides become matter of necessity for us to retreat;
and we were too near the Russians under Miloradowitch, who were calling
to us from their ranks to lay down our arms, to venture to turn our
backs upon them. It would therefore be a much better plan, as our faces
were now turned towards Smolensk, and as Prince Eugene was on that side,
to form ourselves into one compact mass, keep all its movements well
connected, and rushing headlong, to re-enter Russia by cutting our way
through these Russians, and rejoin the viceroy; then to return together,
to overthrow Miloradowitch, and at last reach Krasnoë."

To this proposition of their leader, there was a loud and unanimous cry
of assent. Instantly the column formed into a mass, and rushed into the
midst of ten thousand hostile muskets and cannon. The Russians, at first
seized with astonishment, opened their ranks and allowed this handful of
warriors, almost disarmed, to advance into the middle of them. Then,
when they comprehended their purpose, either from pity or admiration,
the enemy's battalions, which lined both sides of the road, called out
to our men to halt; they entreated and conjured them to surrender; but
the only answer they received was a more determined march, a stern
silence, and the point of the bayonet. The whole of the enemy's fire was
then poured upon them at once, at the distance of a few yards, and the
half of this heroic column was stretched wounded or lifeless on the

The remainder proceeded without a single man quitting the body of his
troop, which no Russian was bold enough to venture near. Few of these
unfortunate men again saw the viceroy and their advancing divisions.
Then only they separated; they ran and threw themselves into these
feeble ranks, which were opened to receive and protect them.

For more than an hour the Russian cannon had been thinning them. While
one half of their forces had pursued Guilleminot and compelled him to
retreat, Miloradowitch, with the other half, had stopped Prince Eugene.
His right rested on a wood which was protected by heights entirely
covered with cannon; his left touched the great road, but more in the
rear. This disposition dictated that of Eugene. The royal column, by
degrees, as it came up, deployed on the right of the road, its right
more forward than its left. The viceroy thus placed obliquely between
him and the enemy the great road, the possession of which was the
subject of contest. Each of the two armies occupied it by its left.

The Russians, placed in a position so offensive, kept entirely on the
defensive; their bullets alone attacked Eugene. A cannonade was kept up
on both sides, on theirs most destructive, on ours almost totally
ineffective. Tired out with this firing, Eugene formed his resolution;
he called the 14th French division, drew it up on the left of the great
road, pointed out to it the woody height on which the enemy rested, and
which formed his principal strength; _that_ was the decisive point, the
centre of the action, and to make the rest fall, _that_ must be carried.
He did not expect it would; but that effort would draw the attention and
the strength of the enemy on that side, the right of the great road
would remain free, and he would endeavour to take proper advantage of

Three hundred soldiers, formed into three troops, were all that could be
found willing to mount to this assault. These devoted men advanced
resolutely against hostile thousands in a formidable position. A battery
of the Italian guard advanced to protect them, but the Russian batteries
immediately demolished it, and their cavalry took possession of it.

In spite of the grape-shot which was mowing them rapidly down, the three
hundred French kept moving on, and they had actually reached the enemy's
position, when, suddenly from two sides of the wood two masses of
cavalry rushed forth, bore down upon, overwhelmed and massacred them.
Not one escaped; and with them perished all remains of discipline and
courage in their division.

It was then that General Guilleminot again made his appearance. That in
a position so critical, Prince Eugene, with four thousand enfeebled
troops, the remnant of forty-two thousand and upwards, should not have
despaired, that he should still have exhibited a bold countenance, may
be conceived, from the known character of that commander; but that the
sight of our disaster and the ardour of victory should not have urged
the Russians to more than indecisive efforts, and that they should have
allowed the night to put an end to the battle, is with us, to this day,
matter of complete astonishment. Victory was so new to them, that even
when they held it in their hands, they knew not how to profit by it;
they delayed its completion until the next day.

The viceroy saw that the greater part of the Russians, attracted by his
demonstrations, had collected on the left of the road, and he only
waited until night, the sure ally of the weakest, had chained all their
movements. Then it was, that leaving his fires burning on that side, to
deceive the enemy, he quitted it, and marching entirely across the
fields, he turned, and silently got beyond the left of Miloradowitch's
position, while that general, too certain of his victory, was dreaming
of the glory of receiving, next morning, the sword of the son of

In the midst of this perilous march, there was an awful moment. At the
most critical instant, when these soldiers, the survivors of so many
battles, were stealing along the side of the Russian army, holding their
breath and the noise of their steps; when their all depended on a look
or a cry of alarm; the moon all at once coming out of a thick cloud
appeared to light their movements. At the same moment a Russian sentinel
called out to them to halt, and demanded who they were? They gave
themselves up for lost! but Klisky, a Pole, ran up to this Russian, and
speaking to him in his own language, said to him with the greatest
composure, in a low tone of voice, "Be silent, fellow! don't you see
that we belong to the corps of Ouwarof, and that we are going on a
secret expedition?" The Russian, outwitted, held his tongue.

But the Cossacks were galloping up every moment to the flanks of the
column, as if to reconnoitre it, and then returned to the body of their
troop. Their squadrons advanced several times as if they were about to
charge; but they did no more, either from doubt as to what they saw, for
they were still deceived, or from prudence, as it frequently halted, and
presented a determined front to them.

At last, after two hours most anxious march, they again reached the high
road, and the viceroy was actually in Krasnoë on the 17th of November,
when Miloradowitch, descending from his heights in order to seize him,
found the field of battle occupied only by a few stragglers, whom no
effort could induce the night before to quit their fires.


The Emperor on his side had waited for the viceroy during the whole of
the preceding day. The noise of his engagement had irritated him. An
effort to break through the enemy, in order to join him, had been
ineffectually attempted; and when night came on without his making his
appearance, the uneasiness of his adopted father was at the height.
"Eugene and the army of Italy, and this long day of baffled expectation,
had they then terminated together?" Only one hope remained to Napoleon;
and that was, that the viceroy, driven back towards Smolensk, had there
joined Davoust and Ney, and that the following day they would, with
united forces, attempt a decisive effort.

In his anxiety, the Emperor assembled the marshals who remained with
him. These were Berthier, Bessières, Mortier, and Lefebvre; these were
saved; they had cleared the obstacle; they had only to continue their
retreat through Lithuania, which was open to them; but would they
abandon their companions in the midst of the Russian army? No,
certainly; and they determined once more to enter Russia, either to
deliver, or to perish with them.

When this resolution was taken, Napoleon coolly prepared the
dispositions to carry it into effect. He was not at all shaken by the
great movements which the enemy were evidently making around him. He saw
that Kutusoff was advancing in order to surround and take him prisoner
in Krasnoë. The very night before, he had learned that Ojarowski, with a
vanguard of Russian infantry, had got beyond him, and taken a position
at Maliewo, in a village in the rear of his left. Irritated, instead of
depressed, by misfortune, he called his aide-de-camp, Rapp, and
exclaimed, "that he must set out immediately, and proceed during the
night and the darkness to attack that body of infantry with the bayonet;
that this was the first time of its exhibiting so much audacity, and
that he was determined to make it repent it, in such a way, that it
should never again dare to approach so near to his head-quarters." Then
instantly recalling him, he continued, "But, no! let Roguet and his
division go alone! As for thee, remain where thou art, I don't wish thee
to be killed here, I shall have occasion for thee at Dantzic."

Rapp, while he was carrying this order to Roguet, could not help feeling
astonished, that his leader, surrounded by eighty thousand enemies, whom
he was going to attack next day with nine thousand, should have so
little doubt about his safety, as to be thinking of what he should have
to do at Dantzic, a city from which he was separated by the winter, two
other hostile armies, famine, and a hundred and eighty leagues.

The nocturnal attack on Chirkowa and Maliewo was successful. Roguet
formed his idea of the enemy's position by the direction of their fires;
they occupied two villages, connected by a causeway, which was defended
by a ravine. He disposed his troop into three columns of attack; those
on the right and left were to advance silently, as close as possible to
the enemy; then at the signal to charge, which he himself would give
them from the centre, they were to rush into the midst of the enemy
without firing a shot, and making use only of their bayonets.

Immediately the two wings of the young guard commenced the action. While
the Russians, taken by surprise, and not knowing on which side to defend
themselves, were wavering from their right to their left, Roguet, with
his column, rushed suddenly upon their centre and into the midst of
their camp, into which he entered pell-mell with them. Thus divided and
thrown into confusion, they had barely time to throw the best part of
their great and small arms into a neighbouring lake, and to set fire to
their tents, the flames arising from which, instead of saving them, only
gave light to their destruction.

This check stopped the movement of the Russian army for four-and-twenty
hours, put it in the Emperor's power to remain at Krasnoë, and enabled
Eugene to rejoin him during the following night. He was received by
Napoleon with the greatest joy; but the Emperor's uneasiness respecting
Davoust and Ney became shortly after proportionably greater.

Around us the camp of the Russians presented a spectacle similar to what
it had done at Vinkowo, Malo-Yaroslawetz, and Wiazma. Every evening,
close to the general's tent, the relics of the Russian saints,
surrounded by an immense number of wax tapers, were exposed to the
adoration of the soldiers. While each of these was, according to custom,
giving proofs of his devotion by an endless repetition of crossings and
genuflections, the priests were addressing them with fanatical
exhortations, which would appear barbarous and absurd to every civilized

In spite, however, of the great power of such means, of the number of
the Russians, and of our weakness, Kutusoff, who was only at two
leagues' distance from Miloradowitch, while the latter was beating
Prince Eugene, remained immoveable. During the following night,
Beningsen, urged on by the ardent Wilson, in vain attempted to animate
the old Russian. Elevating the faults of his age into virtues, he
applied the names of wisdom, humanity, and prudence, to his dilatoriness
and strange circumspection; he was resolved to finish as he had begun.
For if we may be allowed to compare small things with great, his renown
had been established on a principle directly contrary to that of
Napoleon, fortune having made the one, and the other having created his

He made a boast of "advancing only by short marches; of allowing his
soldiers to rest every third day; he would blush, and halt immediately,
if they wanted bread or spirits for a single moment." Then, with great
self-gratulation, he pretended that "all the way from Wiazma, he had
been escorting the French army as his prisoners; chastising them
whenever they wished to halt, or strike out of the high road; that it
was useless to run any risks with captives; that the Cossacks, a
vanguard, and an army of artillery, were quite sufficient to finish
them, and make them pass successively under the yoke; and that in this
plan, he was admirably seconded by Napoleon himself. Why should he seek
to _purchase_ of Fortune what she was so generously giving him? Was not
the term of Napoleon's destiny already irrevocably marked? it was in the
marshes of the Berezina that this meteor would be extinguished, this
colossus overthrown, in the midst of Wittgenstein, Tchitchakof, and
himself, and in the presence of the assembled Russian armies. As for
himself, he would have the glory of delivering him up to them,
enfeebled, disarmed, and dying; and to him that glory was sufficient."

To this discourse the English officer, still more active and eager,
replied only by entreating the field-marshal "to leave his head-quarters
only for a few moments, and advance upon the heights; there he would see
that the last moment of Napoleon was already come. Would he allow him
even to get beyond the frontiers of Russia proper, which loudly called
for the sacrifice of this great victim? Nothing remained but to strike;
let him only give the order, one charge would be sufficient, and in two
hours the face of Europe would be entirely changed!"

Then, gradually getting warmer at the coolness with which Kutusoff
listened to him, Wilson, for the third time, threatened him with the
general indignation. "Already, in his army, at the sight of the
straggling, mutilated, and dying column, which was about to escape from
him, he might hear the Cossacks exclaiming, what a shame it was to allow
these skeletons to escape in this manner out of their tomb!" But
Kutusoff, whom old age, that misfortune without hope, rendered
indifferent, became angry at the attempts made to rouse him, and by a
short and violent answer, shut the indignant Englishman's mouth.

It is asserted that the report of a spy had represented to him Krasnoë
as filled with an enormous mass of the imperial guard, and that the old
marshal was afraid of compromising his reputation by attacking it. But
the sight of our distress emboldened Beningsen; this chief of the staff
prevailed upon Strogonof, Gallitzin, and Miloradowitch, with a force of
more than fifty thousand Russians, and one hundred pieces of cannon, to
venture to attack at daylight, in spite of Kutusoff, fourteen thousand
famished, enfeebled, and half-frozen French and Italians.

This was a danger, the imminence of which Napoleon fully comprehended.
He might escape from it; daylight had not yet appeared. He was at
liberty to avoid this fatal engagement; to gain Orcha and Borizof by
rapid marches along with Eugene and his guard; there he could rally his
forces with thirty thousand French under Victor and Oudinôt, with
Dombrowski, with Regnier, with Schwartzenberg, and with all his depôts,
and be might again, the following year, make his appearance as
formidable as ever.

On the 17th, before daylight, he issued his orders, armed himself, and
going out on foot, at the head of his old guard, began his march. But it
was not towards Poland, his ally, that it was directed, nor towards
France, where he would be still received as the head of a rising
dynasty, and the Emperor of the West. His words on taking up his sword
on this occasion, were "I have sufficiently acted the emperor; it is
time that I should become the general." He turned back into the midst of
eighty thousand enemies, plunged into the thickest of them, in order to
draw all their efforts against himself, to make a diversion in favour of
Davoust and Ney, and to tear them from a country, the gates of which had
been closed upon them.

Daylight at last appeared, exhibiting on one side the Russian battalions
and batteries, which on three sides, in front, on our right, and in our
rear, bounded the horizon, and on the other, Napoleon with his six
thousand guards advancing with a firm step, and proceeding to take his
place in the middle of that terrible circle. At the same time Mortier, a
few yards in front of his Emperor, displayed in the face of the whole
Russian army, the five thousand men which still remained to him.

Their object was to defend the right flank of the great road from
Krasnoë to the great ravine in the direction of Stachowa. A battalion of
_chasseurs_ of the old guard, formed in a square like a fortress, was
planted close to the high road, and acted as a support to the left wing
of our young soldiers. On their right, in the snowy plains which
surrounded Krasnoë, the remains of the cavalry of the guard, a few
cannon, and the four hundred cavalry of Latour-Maubourg (as, since they
left Smolensk, the cold had killed or dispersed fourteen hundred of
them) occupied the place of the battalions and batteries which the
French army no longer possessed.

The artillery of the Duke of Treviso was reinforced by a battery
commanded by Drouot; one of those men who are endowed with the whole
strength of virtue, who think that duty embraces every thing, and are
capable of making the noblest sacrifices simply and without the least

Claparede remained at Krasnoë, where, with a few soldiers, he protected
the wounded, the baggage, and the retreat. Prince Eugene continued his
retreat towards Liady. His engagement of the preceding day and his night
march had entirely broken up his corps; his divisions only retained
sufficient unity to drag themselves along, and to perish, but not to

Meantime Roguet had been recalled to the field of battle from Maliewo.
The enemy kept pushing columns across that village, and was extending
more and more beyond our right in order to surround us. The battle then
commenced. But what kind of battle? The Emperor had here no sudden
illumination to trust to, no flashes of momentary inspiration, none of
these great strokes so unforeseen from their boldness, which ravish
fortune, extort a victory, and by which he had so often disconcerted,
stunned, and crushed his enemies. All _their_ movements were now free,
all _ours_ enchained, and this genius of attack was reduced to defend

Here therefore it became perfectly evident that renown is not a vain
shadow, that she is real strength, and doubly powerful by the inflexible
pride which she imparts to her favourites, and the timid precautions
which she suggests to them who venture to attack her. The Russians had
only to march forward without manoeuvring, even without firing: their
mass was sufficient, they might have crushed Napoleon and his feeble
troop: but they did not dare to come to close quarters with him. They
were awed by the presence of the conqueror of Egypt and of Europe. The
Pyramids, Marengo, Austerlitz, Friedland, an army of victories, seemed
to rise between him and the whole of the Russians. We might almost fancy
that, in the eyes of that submissive and superstitious people, a renown
so extraordinary appeared like some thing supernatural; that they
regarded it as beyond their reach; that they believed they could only
attack and demolish it from a distance; and in short, that against that
old guard, that living fortress, that column of granite, as it had been
styled by its leader, human efforts were impotent, and that cannon alone
could demolish it.

These made wide and deep breaches in the ranks of Roguet and the young
guard, but they killed without vanquishing. These young soldiers, one
half of whom had never before been in an engagement, received the shock
of death during three hours without retreating one step, without making
a single movement to escape it, and without being able to return it,
their artillery having been broken, and the Russians keeping beyond the
reach of their musketry.

But every instant strengthened the enemy and weakened Napoleon. The
noise of the cannon as well as Claparede apprised him, that in the rear
of Krasnoë and his army, Beningsen was proceeding to take possession of
the road to Liady, and cut off his retreat. The east, the west, and the
south were sparkling with the enemy's fires; one side only remained
open, that of the north and the Dnieper, towards an eminence, at the
foot of which were the high road and the Emperor. We fancied we saw the
enemy covering this eminence with his cannon: in that situation they
were just over Napoleon's head, and might have crushed him at a few
yards' distance. He was apprised of his danger, cast his eyes for an
instant upon it, and uttered merely these words, "Very well, let a
battalion of my _chasseurs_ take possession of it!" Immediately
afterwards, without paying farther attention to it, his whole looks and
attention reverted to the perilous situation of Mortier.

Then at last Davoust made his appearance, forcing his way through a
swarm of Cossacks, whom he drove away by a precipitate march. At the
sight of Krasnoë, this marshal's troops disbanded themselves, and ran
across the fields to get beyond the right of the enemy's line, in the
rear of which they had come up. Davoust and his generals could only
rally them at Krasnoë.

The first corps was thus preserved, but we learned at the same time,
that our rear-guard could no longer defend itself at Krasnoë; that Ney
was probably still at Smolensk, and that we must give up waiting for him
any longer. Napoleon, however, still hesitated; he could not determine
on making this great sacrifice.

But at last, as all were likely to perish, his resolution was fixed. He
called Mortier, and squeezing his hand sorrowfully, told him, "that he
had not a moment to lose; that the enemy were overwhelming him in all
directions; that Kutusoff might already reach Liady, perhaps Orcha, and
the last winding of the Boristhenes before him; that he would therefore
proceed thither rapidly with his old guard, in order to occupy that
passage. Davoust would relieve Mortier; but both of them must endeavour
to hold out in Krasnoë until night, after which they must come and
rejoin him." Then with his heart full of Ney's misfortune, and of
despair at abandoning him, he withdrew slowly from the field of battle,
traversed Krasnoë, where he again halted, and then cleared his way to

Mortier was anxious to obey, but at that moment the Dutch troops of the
guard had lost, along with a third part of their number, an important
post which they were defending, which the enemy immediately after
covered with his artillery. Roguet, feeling the destructive effects of
its fire, fancied he was able to extinguish it. A regiment which he sent
against the Russian battery was repulsed; a second (the 1st of the
_voltigeurs_) got into the middle of the Russians, and stood firm
against two charges of their cavalry. It continued to advance, torn to
pieces by their grape-shot, when a third charge overwhelmed it. Fifty
soldiers and eleven officers were all of it that Roguet was able to

That general had lost the half of his men. It was now two o'clock, and
his unshaken fortitude still kept the Russians in astonishment, when at
last, emboldened by the Emperor's departure, they began to press upon
him so closely, that the young guard was nearly hemmed in, and very soon
in a situation in which it could neither hold out, nor retreat.

Fortunately, some platoons which Davoust had rallied, and the appearance
of another troop of his stragglers, attracted the enemy's attention.
Mortier availed himself of it. He gave orders to the three thousand men
he had still remaining to retreat slowly in the face of their fifty
thousand enemies. "Do you hear, soldiers?" cried General Laborde, "the
marshal orders ordinary time! Ordinary time, soldiers!" And this brave
and unfortunate troop, dragging with them some of their wounded, under a
shower of balls and grape-shot, retired as slowly from this field of
carnage, as they would have done from a field of manoeuvre.


As soon as Mortier had succeeded in placing Krasnoë between him and
Beningsen, he was in safety. The communication between that town and
Liady was only interrupted by the fire of the enemy's batteries, which
flanked the left side of the great road. Colbert and Latour-Maubourg
kept them in check upon their heights. In the course of this march a
most singular accident occurred. A howitzer shell entered the body of a
horse, burst there, and blew him to pieces without wounding his rider,
who fell upon his legs, and went on.

The Emperor, meanwhile, halted at Liady, four leagues from the field of
battle. When night came on, he learned that Mortier, who he thought was
in his rear, had got before him. Melancholy and uneasy, he sent for him,
and with an agitated voice, said to him, "that he had certainly fought
gloriously, and suffered greatly. But why had he placed his Emperor
between him and the enemy? why had he exposed himself to be cut off?"

The marshal had got the start of Napoleon without being aware of it. He
exclaimed, "that he had at first left Davoust in Krasnoë, again
endeavouring to rally his troops, and that he himself had halted, not
far from that: but that the first corps, having been driven back upon
him, had obliged him to retrograde. That besides, Kutusoff did not
follow up his victory with vigour, and appeared to hang upon our flank
with all his army with no other view than to feast his eyes with our
distress, and gather up our fragments."

Next day the march was continued with hesitation. The impatient
stragglers took the lead, and all of them got the start of Napoleon; he
was on foot, with a stick in his hand, walking with difficulty and
repugnance, and halting every quarter of an hour, as if unwilling to
tear himself from that old Russia, whose frontier he was then passing,
and in which he had left his unfortunate companions in arms.

In the evening he reached Dombrowna, a wooden town, with a population
like Liady; a novel sight for an army, which had for three months seen
nothing but ruins. We had at last emerged from old Russia and her
deserts of snow and ashes, and entered into a friendly and inhabited
country, whose language we understood. The weather just then became
milder, a thaw had begun, and we received some provisions.

Thus the winter, the enemy, solitude, and with some famine and bivouacs,
all ceased at once; but it was too late. The Emperor saw that his army
was destroyed; every moment the name of Ney escaped from his lips, with
exclamations of grief. That night particularly he was heard groaning and
exclaiming, "That the misery of his poor soldiers cut him to the heart,
and yet that he could not succour them without fixing himself in some
place: but where was it possible for him to rest, without ammunition,
provisions, or artillery? He was no longer strong enough to halt; he
must reach Minsk as quickly as possible."

He had hardly spoken the words, when a Polish officer arrived with the
news, that Minsk itself, his magazine, his retreat, his only hope, had
just fallen into the hands of the Russians, Tchitchakof having entered
it on the 16th. Napoleon, at first, was mute and overpowered at this
last blow; but immediately afterwards, elevating himself in proportion
to his danger, he coolly replied, "Very well! we have now nothing to do,
but to clear ourselves a passage with our bayonets."

But in order to reach this new enemy, who had escaped from
Schwartzenberg, or whom Schwartzenberg had perhaps allowed to pass, (for
we knew nothing of the circumstances,) and to escape from Kutusoff and
Wittgenstein, we must cross the Berezina at Borizof. With that view
Napoleon (on the 19th of November, from Dombrowna) sent orders to
Dombrowski to give up all idea of fighting Hoertel, and proceed with all
haste to occupy that passage. He wrote to the Duke of Reggio, to march
rapidly to the same point, and to hasten to recover Minsk; the Duke of
Belluno would cover his march. After giving these orders, his agitation
was appeased, and his mind, worn out with suffering, sunk into

It was still far from daylight, when a singular noise drew him out of
his lethargy. Some say that shots were at first heard, which had been
fired by our own people, in order to draw out of the houses such as had
taken shelter in them, that they might take their places; others assert,
that from a disorderly practice, too common in our bivouacs, of
vociferating to each other, the name of _Hausanne_, a grenadier, being
suddenly called out loudly, in the midst of a profound silence, was
mistaken for the alert cry of _aux armes_, which announced a surprise by
the enemy.

Whatever might be the cause, every one immediately saw, or fancied he
saw, the Cossacks, and a great noise of war and of alarm surrounded
Napoleon. Without disturbing himself, he said to Rapp, "Go and see, it
is no doubt some rascally Cossacks, determined to disturb our rest!" But
it became very soon a complete tumult of men running to fight or to
flee, and who, meeting in the dark, mistook each other for enemies.

Napoleon for a moment imagined that a serious attack had been made. As
an embanked stream of water ran through the town, he inquired if the
remaining artillery had been placed behind that ravine, and being
informed that the precaution had been neglected, he himself immediately
ran to the bridge, and caused his cannon to be hurried over to the other

He then returned to his old guard, and stopping in front of each
battalion: "Grenadiers!" said he to them, "we are retreating without
being conquered by the enemy, let us not be vanquished by ourselves! Set
an example to the army! Several of you have already deserted their
eagles, and even thrown away their arms. I have no wish to have recourse
to military laws to put a stop to this disorder, but appeal entirely to
yourselves! Do justice among yourselves. To your own honour I commit the
support of your discipline!"

The other troops he harangued in a similar style. These few words were
quite sufficient to the old grenadiers, who probably had no occasion for
them. The others received them with acclamation, but an hour afterwards,
when the march was resumed, they were quite forgotten. As to his
rear-guard, throwing the greatest part of the blame of this hot alarm
upon it, he sent an angry message to Davoust on the subject.

At Orcha we found rather an abundant supply of provisions, a bridge
equipage of sixty boats, with all its appurtenances, which were entirely
burnt, and thirty-six pieces of cannon, with their horses, which were
distributed between Davoust, Eugene, and Latour-Maubourg.

Here for the first time we again met with the officers and gendarmes,
who had been sent for the purpose of stopping on the two bridges of the
Dnieper the crowd of stragglers, and making them rejoin their columns.
But those eagles, which formerly promised every thing, were now looked
upon as of fatal omen, and deserted accordingly.

Disorder was already regularly organized, and had enlisted in its ranks
men who showed their ability in its service. When an immense crowd had
been collected, these wretches called out "the Cossacks!" with a view to
quicken the march of those who preceded them and to increase the tumult.
They then took advantage of it, to carry off the provisions and cloaks
of those whom they had thrown off their guard.

The gendarmes, who again saw this army for the first time since its
disaster, were astonished at the sight of such misery, terrified at the
great confusion, and became discouraged. This friendly frontier was
entered tumultuously; it would have been given up to pillage, had it not
been for the guard, and a few hundred men who remained, with Prince

Napoleon entered Orcha with six thousand guards, the remains of
thirty-five thousand! Eugene, with eighteen hundred soldiers, the
remains of forty-two thousand! Davoust, with four thousand, the remains
of seventy thousand!

This marshal had lost every thing, was actually without linen, and
emaciated with hunger. He seized upon a loaf which was offered him by
one of his comrades, and, voraciously devoured it. A handkerchief was
given him to wipe his face, which was covered with rime. He exclaimed,
"that none but men of iron constitutions could support such trials, that
it was physically impossible to resist them; that there were limits to
human strength, the utmost of which had been exceeded."

He it was who at first supported the retreat as far as Wiazma. He was
still, according to his custom, halting at all the defiles, and
remaining there the very last, sending every one to his ranks, and
constantly struggling with the disorder. He urged his soldiers to insult
and strip of their booty such of their comrades as threw away their
arms; the only means of retaining the first and punishing the last.
Nevertheless, his methodical and severe genius, so much out of its
element in that scene of universal confusion, has been accused of being
too much intimidated at it.

The Emperor made fruitless attempts to check this discouragement. When
alone, he was heard compassionating the sufferings of his soldiers; but
in their presence, even upon that point, he wished to appear inflexible.
He issued a proclamation, "ordering every one to return to their ranks;
if they did not, he would strip the officers of their grades, and put
the soldiers to death."

A threat like this produced neither good nor bad impression upon men who
had become insensible, or were reduced to despair, fleeing not from
danger, but from suffering, and less apprehensive of the _death_ with
which they were threatened than of the _life_ that was offered to them.

But Napoleon's confidence increased with his peril; in his eyes, and in
the midst of these deserts of mud and ice, this handful of men was still
the grand army! and himself the conqueror of Europe! and there was no
infatuation in this firmness; we were certain of it, when, in this very
town, we saw him burning with his own hands every thing belonging to
him, which might serve as trophies to the enemy, in the event of his

There also were unfortunately consumed all the papers which he had
collected in order to write the history of his life, for such was his
intention when he set out for this fatal war. He had then determined to
halt as a threatening conqueror on the borders of the Düna and the
Boristhenes, to which he now returned as a disarmed fugitive. At that
time he regarded the _ennui_ of six winter months, which he would have
been detained on these rivers, as his greatest enemy, and to overcome
it, this second Cæsar intended there to have dictated his Commentaries.


Every thing, however, was now changed; two hostile armies were cutting
off his retreat. The question to decide was, through which of them he
must attempt to force his way: and as he knew nothing of the Lithuanian
forests into which he was about to penetrate, he summoned such of his
officers as had passed through them in order to reach him.

The Emperor began by telling them, that "Too much familiarity with great
victories was frequently the precursor of great disasters, but that
recrimination was now out of the question." He then mentioned the
capture of Minsk, and after admitting the skilfulness of Kutusoff's
persevering manoeuvres on his right flank, declared "that he meant to
abandon his line of operations on the Minsk, unite with the Dukes of
Belluno and Reggio, cut his way through Wittgenstein's army, and regain
Wilna by turning the sources of the Berezina."

Jomini combated this plan. That Swiss general described the position of
Wittgenstein as a series of long defiles, in which his resistance might
be either obstinate or flexible, but in either way sufficiently long to
consummate our destruction. He added, that in this season, and in such a
state of disorder, a change of route would complete the destruction of
the army; that it would lose itself in the cross-roads of these barren
and marshy forests; he maintained that the high road alone could keep it
in any degree of union. Borizof, and its bridge over the Berezina, were
still open; and it would be sufficient to reach it.

He then stated that he knew of a road to the right of that town,
constructed on wooden bridges, and passing across the marshes of
Lithuania. This was the only road, by his account, by which the army
could reach Wilna by Zembin and Malodeczno, leaving Minsk on the left,
its road a day's journey longer, its fifty broken bridges rendering a
passage impracticable, and Tchitchakof in possession of it. In this
manner we should pass between the two hostile armies, avoiding them

The Emperor was staggered; but as his pride revolted at the appearance
of avoiding an engagement, and he was anxious to signalize his departure
from Russia by a victory, he sent for General Dodde, of the engineers.
As soon as he saw him he called out to him, "Whether shall we retreat by
Zembin, or go and beat Wittgenstein at Smoliantzy?" and knowing that
Dodde had just come from the latter position, he asked him if it was

His reply was, that Wittgenstein occupied a height which entirely
commanded that miry country; that it would be necessary for us to tack
about, within his sight and within his reach, by following the windings
and turnings of the road, in order to ascend to the Russian camp; that
thus our column of attack would be long exposed to their fire, first its
left and then its right flank; that this position was therefore
unapproachable in front, and that to turn it, it would be necessary to
retrograde towards Witepsk, and take too long a circuit.

Disappointed in this last hope of glory, Napoleon then decided for
Borizof. He ordered General Eblé to proceed with eight companies of
sappers and pontonniers to secure the passage of the Berezina, and
General Jomini to act as his guide. But he said at the same time, "that
it was cruel to retreat without fighting, to have the appearance of
flight. If he had any magazine, any point of support, which would allow
him to halt, he would still prove to Europe that he always knew how to
fight and to conquer."

All these illusions were now destroyed. At Smolensk, where he arrived
first, and from which he was the first to depart, he had rather been
informed of, than witnessed his disaster. At Krasnoë, where our miseries
had successively been unrolled before his eyes, the peril had distracted
his attention; but at Orcha he could contemplate, at once and leisurely,
the full extent of his misfortunes.

At Smolensk, thirty-six thousand combatants, one hundred and fifty
cannon, the army-chest, and the hope of life and breathing at liberty on
the other side of the Berezina, still remained; here, there were
scarcely ten thousand soldiers, almost without clothing or shoes,
entangled amidst a crowd of dying men, with a few cannon, and a pillaged

In five days, every evil had been aggravated; destruction and
disorganization had made frightful progress; Minsk had been taken. He
had no longer to look for rest and abundance on the other side of the
Berezina, but fresh contests with a new enemy. Finally, the defection of
Austria from his alliance seemed to be declared, and perhaps it was a
signal given to all Europe.

Napoleon was even uncertain whether he should reach Borizof in time to
meet the new peril, which Schwartzenberg's hesitation seemed to have
prepared for him. We have seen that a third Russian army, that of
Wittgenstein, menaced, on his right, the interval which separated him
from that town; that he had sent the Duke of Belluno against him, and
had ordered that marshal to retrieve the opportunity he had lost on the
1st of November, and to resume the offensive.

In obedience to these orders, on the 14th of November, the very day
Napoleon quitted Smolensk, the Dukes of Belluno and of Reggio had
attacked and driven back the out-posts of Wittgenstein towards
Smoliantzy, preparing, by this engagement, for a battle which they
agreed should take place on the following day.

The French were thirty thousand against forty thousand; there, as well
as at Wiazma, the soldiers were sufficiently numerous, if they had not
had too many leaders.

The two Marshals disagreed. Victor wished to manoeuvre on the enemy's
left wing, to overthrow Wittgenstein with the two French corps, and
march by Botscheikowo on Kamen, and from Kamen by Pouichna on Berezina.
Oudinôt warmly disapproved of this plan, saying that it would separate
them from the grand army, which required their assistance.

Thus, one of the leaders wishing to manoeuvre, and the other to attack
in front, they did neither the one nor the other. Oudinôt retired during
the night to Czereïa, and Victor, discovering this retreat at daybreak,
was compelled to follow him.

He halted within a day's march of the Lukolmlia, near Sienno, where
Wittgenstein did not much disturb him; but the Duke of Reggio having at
last received the order dated from Dombrowna, which directed him to
recover Minsk, Victor was about to be left alone before the Russian
general. It was possible that the latter would then become aware of his
superiority: and the Emperor, who at Orcha, on the 20th of November, saw
his rear-guard, lost, his left flank menaced by Kutusoff, and his
advance column stopped at the Berezina by the army of Volhynia, learned
that Wittgenstein and forty thousand more enemies, far from being beaten
and repulsed, were ready to fall upon his right, and that he had no time
to lose.

But Napoleon was long before he could determine to quit the Boristhenes.
It appeared to him that this was like a second abandonment of the
unfortunate Ney, and casting off for ever his intrepid companion in
arms. There, as he had done at Liady and Dombrowna, he was calling every
hour of the day and night, and sending to inquire if no tidings had been
heard of that marshal; but not a trace of his existence had transpired
through the Russian army; four days this mortal silence had lasted, and
yet the Emperor still continued to hope.

At last, being compelled, on the 20th of November, to quit Orcha, he
still left there Eugene, Mortier, and Davoust, and halted at two leagues
from thence, inquiring for Ney, and still expecting him. The same
feeling of grief pervaded the whole army, of which Orcha then contained
the remains. As soon as the most pressing wants allowed a moment's rest,
the thoughts and looks of every one were directed towards the Russian
bank. They listened for any warlike noise which might announce the
arrival of Ney, or rather his last sighs; but nothing was to be seen but
enemies who were already menacing the bridges of the Boristhenes! One of
the three leaders then wished to destroy them, but the others refused
their consent, on the ground, that this would be again separating them
from their companion in arms, and a confession that they despaired of
saving him, an idea to which, from their dread of so great a misfortune,
they could not reconcile themselves.

But with the fourth day all hope at last vanished. Night only brought
with it a wearisome repose. They blamed themselves for Ney's misfortune,
forgetting that it was utterly impossible to wait longer for the third
corps in the plains of Krasnoë, where they must have fought for another
twenty-eight hours, when they had merely strength and ammunition left
for one.

Already, as is the case in all cruel losses, they began to treasure up
recollections. Davoust was the last who had quitted the unfortunate
marshal, and Mortier and the viceroy were inquiring of him what were his
last words! At the first reports of the cannonade opened on the 15th on
Napoleon, Ney was anxious immediately to evacuate Smolensk in the suite
of the viceroy; Davoust refused, pleading the orders of the Emperor, and
the obligation to destroy the ramparts of the town. The two chiefs
became warm, and Davoust persisting to remain until the following day,
Ney, who had been appointed to bring up the rear, was compelled to wait
for him.

It is true, that on the 16th, Davoust sent to warn him of his danger;
but Ney, either from a change of opinion, or from an angry feeling
against Davoust, then returned him for answer, "That all the Cossacks in
the universe should not prevent him from executing his instructions."

After exhausting these recollections and all their conjectures, they
again relapsed into a more gloomy silence, when suddenly they heard the
steps of several horses, and then the joyful cry, "Marshal Ney is safe!
here are some Polish cavalry come to announce his approach!" One of his
officers then galloped in, and informed them that the marshal was
advancing on the right bank of the Boristhenes, and had sent him to ask
for assistance.

Night had just set in; Davoust, Eugene, and Mortier had only its short
duration to revive and animate the soldiers, who had hitherto always
bivouacked. For the first time since they left Moscow, these poor
fellows had received a sufficient quantum of provisions; they were about
to prepare them and to take their rest, warm and under cover: how was it
possible to make them resume their arms, and turn them from their
asylums during that night of rest, whose inexpressible sweets they had
just begun to taste? Who could persuade them to interrupt it, to retrace
their steps, and return once more into the darkness and frozen deserts
of Russia?

Eugene and Mortier disputed the honour of this sacrifice, and the first
only carried it in right of his superior rank. Shelter and the
distribution of provisions had effected that which threats had failed to
do. The stragglers were rallied, the viceroy again found himself at the
head of four thousand men; all were ready to march at the news of Ney's
danger; but it was their last effort.

They proceeded in the darkness, by unknown roads, and had marched two
leagues at random, halting every few minutes to listen. Their anxiety
was already increased. Had they lost their way? were they too late? had
their unfortunate comrades fallen? was it the victorious Russian army
they were about to meet? In this uncertainty, Prince Eugene directed
some cannon shot to be fired. Immediately after they fancied they heard
signals of distress on that sea of snow; they proceeded from the third
corps, which, having lost all its artillery, answered the cannon of the
fourth by some volleys of platoon firing.

The two corps were thus directed towards their meeting. Ney and Eugene
were the first to recognize each other; they ran up, Eugene more
precipitately, and threw themselves into each other's arms. Eugene wept,
Ney let some angry words escape him. The first was delighted, melted,
and elevated by the warlike heroism which his chivalrous heroism had
just saved! The latter, still heated from the combat, irritated at the
dangers which the honour of the army had run in his person, and blaming
Davoust, whom he wrongfully accused of having deserted him.

Some hours afterwards, when the latter wished to excuse himself, he
could draw nothing from Ney but a severe look, and these words,
"Monsieur le Maréchal, I have no reproaches to make to you; God is our
witness and your judge!"

When the two corps had fairly recognized each other, they no longer kept
their ranks. Soldiers, officers, generals, all ran towards each other.
Those of Eugene shook hands with those of Ney; they touched them with a
joyful mixture of astonishment and curiosity, and pressed them to their
bosoms with the tenderest compassion. The refreshments and brandy which
they had just received they lavished upon them; they overwhelmed them
with questions. They then all proceeded together in company, towards
Orcha, all impatient, Eugene's soldiers to hear, and Ney's to tell their


They stated, that on the 17th of November they had quitted Smolensk with
twelve cannon, six thousand infantry, and three hundred cavalry, leaving
there five thousand sick at the mercy of the enemy; and that had it not
been for the noise of Platof's cannon, and the explosion of the mines,
their marshal would never have been able to bring away from the ruins of
that city seven thousand unarmed stragglers who had taken shelter in
them. They dwelt upon the attentions which their leader had shown to the
wounded, and to the women and their children, proving upon this occasion
that the bravest was again the most humane.

At the gates of the city an unnatural action struck them with a degree
of horror which was still undiminished. A mother had abandoned her
little son, only five years old; in spite of his cries and tears she had
driven him away from her sledge which was too heavily laden. She herself
cried out with a distracted air, "that _he_ had never seen France! that
_he_ would not regret it! as for _her_, _she_ knew France! _she_ was
resolved to see France once more!" Twice did Ney himself replace the
unfortunate child in the arms of his mother, twice did she cast him off
on the frozen snow.

This solitary crime, amidst a thousand instances of the most devoted and
sublime tenderness, they did not leave unpunished. The unnatural mother
was herself abandoned to the same snow from which her infant was
snatched, and entrusted to another mother; this little orphan was
exhibited in their ranks; he was afterwards seen at the Berezina, then
at Wilna, even at Kowno, and finally escaped from all the horrors of the

The officers of Ney continued, in answer to the pressing questions of
those of Eugene; they depicted themselves advancing towards Krasnoë,
with their marshal at their head, completely across our immense wrecks,
dragging after them one afflicted multitude, and preceded by another,
whose steps were quickened by hunger.

They described how they found the bottom of each ravine filled with
helmets, hussar-caps, trunks broken open, scattered garments, carriages
and cannon, some overturned, others with the horses still harnessed, and
the poor animals worn out, expiring and half devoured.

How, near Korythinia, at the end of their first day's march, a violent
cannonading and the whistling of several bullets over their heads, had
led them to imagine that a battle had just commenced. This discharge
appeared to proceed from before and quite close to them even upon the
road, and yet they could not get sight of a single enemy. Ricard and his
division advanced with a view to discover them, but they only found, in
a turn of the road, two French batteries abandoned, with their
ammunition, and in the neighbouring field a horde of wretched Cossacks,
who immediately fled, terrified at their audacity in setting fire to
them, and at the noise they had made.

Ney's officers here interrupted their narrative to inquire in their turn
what had passed? What was the cause of the general discouragement? why
had the cannon been abandoned to the enemy untouched? Had they not had
time to spike them, or at least to spoil their ammunition?

In continuation, they said they had hitherto only discovered the traces
of a disastrous march. But next morning there was a complete change, and
they confessed their unlucky presentiments when they arrived at that
field of snow reddened with blood, sprinkled with broken cannon and
mutilated corses. The dead bodies still marked the ranks and places of
battle; they pointed them out to each other. _There_ had been the 14th
division; _there_ were still to be seen, on the broken plates of their
caps, the numbers of its regiments. _There_ had been the Italian guard;
there were its dead, whose uniforms were still distinguishable! But
where were its living remnants? Vainly did they interrogate that field
of blood, these lifeless forms, the motionless and frozen silence of the
desert and the grave! they could neither penetrate into the fate of
their companions, nor into that which awaited themselves.

Ney hurried them rapidly over all these ruins, and they had advanced
without impediment to a part of the road, where it descends into a deep
ravine, from which it rises into a broad and level height. It was that
of Katova, and the same field of battle, where, three months before, in
their triumphant march, they had beat Newerowskoi, and saluted Napoleon
with the cannon which they had taken the day before from his enemies.
They said they recollected the situation, notwithstanding the different
appearance given to it by the snow.

Mortier's officers here exclaimed, "that it was in that very position
that the Emperor and they had waited for them on the 17th, fighting all
the time." Very well, replied those of Ney, Kutusoff, or rather
Miloradowitch, occupied Napoleon's place, for the old Russian general
had not yet quitted Dobroé.

Their disbanded men were already retrograding, pointing to the snowy
plains completely black with the enemy's troops, when a Russian,
detaching himself from their army, descended the hill; he presented
himself alone to their marshal, and either from an affectation of
extreme politeness, respect for the misfortune of their leader, or dread
of the effects of his despair, covered with honied words the summons to

It was Kutusoff who had sent him. "That field-marshal would not have
presumed to make so cruel a proposal to so great a general, to a warrior
so renowned, if there remained a single chance of safety for him. But
there were eighty thousand Russians before and around him, and if he had
any doubt of it, Kutusoff offered to let him send a person to go through
his ranks, and count his forces."

The Russian had not finished his speech, when suddenly forty discharges
of grape shot, proceeding from the right of his army, and cutting our
ranks to pieces, struck him with amazement, and interrupted what he had
to say. At the same moment a French officer darted forward, seized, and
was about to kill him as a traitor, when Ney, checking this fury, called
to him angrily, "A marshal never surrenders; there is no parleying under
an enemy's fire; you are my prisoner." The unfortunate officer was
disarmed, and placed in a situation of exposure to the fire of his own
army. He was not released until we reached Kowno, after twenty-six days
captivity, sharing all our miseries, at liberty to escape, but
restrained by his parole.

At the same time the enemy's fire became still hotter, and, as they
said, all the hills, which but an instant before looked cold and silent,
became like so many volcanoes in eruption, but that Ney became still
more elevated at it: then with a burst of enthusiasm that seemed to
return every time they had occasion to mention his name in their
narrative, they added, that in the midst of all this fire that ardent
man seemed to breathe an element exclusively his own.

Kutusoff had not deceived him. On the one side, there were eighty
thousand men in complete ranks, full, deep, well-fed, and in double
lines, a numerous cavalry, an immense artillery occupying a formidable
position, in short, every thing, and fortune to boot, which alone is
equal to all the rest. On the other side, five thousand soldiers, a
straggling and dismembered column, a wavering and languishing march,
arms defective and dirty, the greatest part mute and tottering in
enfeebled hands.

And yet the French leader had no thought of yielding, nor even of dying,
but of penetrating and cutting his way through the enemy; and that
without the least idea that he was attempting a sublime effort. Alone,
and looking no where for support, while all were supported by him, he
followed the impulse of a strong natural temperament, and the pride of a
conqueror, whom the habit of gaining improbable victories had impressed
with the belief that every thing was possible.

But what most astonished them, was, that they had been all so docile;
for all had shown themselves worthy of him, and they added, that it was
there they clearly saw that it is not merely great obstinacy, great
designs, or great temerity which constitute the great man, but
principally the power of influencing and supporting others.

Ricard and his fifteen hundred soldiers were in front. Ney impelled them
against the enemy, and prepared the rest of his army to follow them.
That division descended with the road into the ravine, but in ascending,
was driven back into it, overwhelmed by the first Russian line.

The marshal, without being intimidated, or allowing others to be so,
collected the survivors, placed them in reserve, and proceeded forward
in their place; Ledru, Razont, and Marchand seconded him. He ordered
four hundred Illyrians to take the enemy on their left flank, and with
three thousand men, he himself mounted in front to the assault. He made
no harangue; he marched at their head, setting the example, which, in a
hero, is the most eloquent of all oratorical movements, and the most
imperious of all orders. All followed him. They attacked, penetrated,
and overturned the first Russian line, and without halting were
precipitating themselves upon the second; but before they could reach
it, a volley of artillery and grape shot poured down upon them. In an
instant Ney saw all his generals wounded, the greatest part of his
soldiers killed; their ranks were empty, their shapeless column whirled
round, tottered, fell back, and drew him along with it.

Ney found that he had attempted an impossibility, and he waited until
the flight of his men had once more placed the ravine between them and
the enemy, that ravine which was now his sole resource; there, equally
hopeless and fearless, he halted and rallied them. He drew up two
thousand men against eighty thousand; he returned the fire of two
hundred cannon with six pieces, and made fortune blush that she should
ever betray such courage.

She it was, doubtless, who then struck Kutusoff with the palsy of
inertness. To their infinite surprise, they saw this Russian Fabius
running into extremes like all imitators, persisting in what he called
his humanity and prudence, remaining upon his heights with his pompous
virtues, without allowing himself, or daring to conquer, as if he was
astonished at his own superiority. Seeing that Napoleon had been
conquered by his rashness, he pushed his horror of that fault to the
very extreme of the opposite vice.

It required, however, but a transport of indignation in any one of the
Russian corps to have completely extinguished them; but all were afraid
to make a decisive movement; they remained clinging to their soil with
the immobility of slaves, as if they had no boldness but in their
watchword, or energy but in their obedience. This discipline, which
formed their glory in _their_ retreat, was their disgrace in _ours_.

They were for a long time uncertain, not knowing which enemy they were
fighting with; for they had imagined that Ney had retreated from
Smolensk by the right bank of the Dnieper; they were mistaken, as is
frequently the case, from supposing that their enemy had done what he
ought to have done.

At the same time, the Illyrians had returned completely in disorder;
they had had a most singular adventure. In their advance to the left
flank of the enemy's position, these four hundred men had met with five
thousand Russians returning from a partial engagement, with a French
eagle, and several of our soldiers prisoners.

These two hostile troops, the one returning to its position, the other
going to attack it, advanced in the same direction, side by side,
measuring each other with their eyes, but neither of them venturing to
commence the engagement. They marched so close to each other, that from
the middle of the Russian ranks the French prisoners stretched out their
arms towards their friends, conjuring them to come and deliver them. The
latter called out to them to come to them, and they would receive and
defend them; but no one moved on either side. Just then Ney was
overthrown, and they retreated along with him.

Kutusoff, however, relying more on his artillery than his soldiers,
sought only to conquer at a distance. His fire so completely commanded
all the ground occupied by the French, that the same bullet which
prostrated a man in the first rank proceeded to deal destruction in the
last of the train of carriages, among the women who had fled from

Under this murderous hail, Ney's soldiers remained astonished,
motionless, looking at their chief, waiting his decision to be satisfied
that they were lost, hoping they knew not why, or rather, according to
the remark of one of their officers, because in the midst of this
extreme peril they saw his spirit calm and tranquil, like any thing in
its place. His countenance became silent and devout; he was watching the
enemy's army, which, becoming more suspicious since the successful
artifice of Prince Eugene, extended itself to a great distance on his
flanks, in order to shut him out from all means of preservation.

The approach of night began to render objects indistinct; winter, which
in that sole point was favourable to our retreat, brought it on quickly.
Ney had been waiting for it, but the advantage he took of the respite
was to order his men to return to Smolensk. They all said that at these
words they remained frozen with astonishment. Even his aide-de-camp
could not believe his ears; he remained silent like one who did not
understand what he heard, and looked at his general with amazement. But
the marshal repeated the same order; in his brief and imperious tone,
they recognized a resolution taken, a resource discovered, that
self-confidence which inspires others with the same quality, and a
spirit which commands his position, however strong that may be. They
immediately obeyed, and without hesitation turned their backs on their
own army, on Napoleon, and on France! They returned once more into that
fatal Russia. Their retrograde march lasted an hour; they passed again
over the field of battle marked by the remains of the army of Italy;
there they halted, and their marshal, who had remained alone in the
rear-guard, then rejoined them.

Their eyes followed his every movement. What was he going to do; and
whatever might be his plan, whither would he direct his steps, without a
guide, in an unknown country? But he, with his warlike instinct, halted
on the edge of a ravine of such depth, as to make it probable that a
rivulet ran through it. He made them clear away the snow and break the
ice; then consulting his map, he exclaimed "That this was one of the
streams which flowed into the Dnieper! this must be our guide, and we
must follow it; that it would lead us to that river, which we must
cross, and that on the other side we should be safe!" He immediately
proceeded in that direction.

However at a little distance from the high road which he had abandoned,
he again halted in a village, the name of which they knew not, but
believed that it was either Fomina, or Danikowa. There he rallied his
troops, and made them light their fires, as if he intended to take up
his quarters in it for the night. Some Cossacks who followed him took it
for granted, and no doubt sent immediately to apprise Kutusoff of the
spot where, next day, a French marshal would surrender his arms to him;
for shortly after the noise of their cannon was heard.

Ney listened: "Is this Davoust at last," he exclaimed, "who has
recollected me?" and he listened a second time. But there were regular
intervals between the firing; it was a salvo. Being then fully satisfied
that the Russian army was triumphing by anticipation over his captivity,
he swore he would give the lie to their joy, and immediately resumed his

At the same time his Poles ransacked the country. A lame peasant was the
only inhabitant they had discovered; this was an unlooked-for piece of
good fortune. He informed them that they were within the distance of a
league from the Dnieper, but that it was not fordable there, and could
not yet be frozen over. "It will be so," was the marshal's remark; but
when it was observed to him that the thaw had just commenced, he added
"that it did not signify, we must pass, as there was no other resource."

At last, about eight o'clock, after passing through a village, the
ravine terminated, and the lame Russian, who walked first, halted and
pointed to the river. They imagined that this must have been between
Syrokorenia and Gusinoé. Ney, and those immediately behind him, ran up
to it. They found the river sufficiently frozen to bear their weight,
the course of the flakes which it bore along to that point, being
counteracted by a sudden turn in its banks, was there suspended; the
winter had completely frozen it over only in that single spot; both
above and below it, its surface was still moveable.

This observation was sufficient to make their first sensation of joy
give way to uneasiness. This hostile river might only offer them a
treacherous appearance. One officer devoted himself for the rest; he
crossed to the other side with great difficulty. He returned and
reported, that the men, and perhaps some of the horses might pass over,
but that the rest must be abandoned, and there was no time to lose, as
the ice was beginning to give way in consequence of the thaw.

But in this nocturnal and silent march across fields, of a column
composed of weakened and wounded men, and women with their children,
they had been unable to keep close enough, to prevent their extending,
separating, and losing the traces of each other in the darkness. Ney
perceived that only a part of his people had come up; nevertheless, he
might have always surmounted the obstacle, thereby secured his own
safety, and waited on the other side. The idea never once entered his
mind; some one proposed it to him, but he rejected it instantly. He
allowed three hours for the rallying; and without suffering himself to
be agitated by impatience, or the danger of waiting so long, he wrapped
himself up in his cloak, and passed these three dangerous hours in a
profound sleep on the bank of the river. So much did he possess of the
temperament of great men, a strong mind in a robust body, and that
vigorous health, without which no man can ever expect to be a hero.


At last, about midnight, the passage began; but the first persons who
ventured on the ice, called out that the ice was bending under them,
that it was sinking, that they were up to their knees in water;
immediately after which that frail support was heard splitting with
frightful cracks, which were prolonged in the distance, as in the
breaking up of a frost. All halted in consternation.

Ney ordered them to pass only one at a time; they proceeded with
caution, not knowing sometimes in the darkness if they were putting
their feet on the flakes or into a chasm; for there were places where
they were obliged to clear large crevices, and jump from one piece of
ice to another, at the risk of falling between them and disappearing for
ever. The first hesitated, but those who were behind kept calling to
them to make haste.

When at last, after several of these dreadful panics, they reached the
opposite bank and fancied themselves saved, a perpendicular steep,
entirely covered with rime, again opposed their landing. Many were
thrown back upon the ice which they broke in their fall, or which
bruised them. By their account, this Russian river and its banks
appeared only to have contributed with regret, by surprise, and as it
were by compulsion, to their escape.

But what seemed to affect them with the greatest horror in their
relation, was the trouble and distraction of the females and the sick,
when it became necessary to abandon, along with the baggage, the remains
of their fortune, their provisions, and in short, their whole resources
against the present and the future. They saw them stripping themselves,
selecting, throwing away, taking up again, and falling with exhaustion
and grief upon the frozen bank of the river. They seemed to shudder
again at the recollection of the horrible sight of so many men scattered
over that abyss, the continual noise of persons falling, the cries of
such as sunk in, and, above all, of the wailing and despair of the
wounded, who, from their carts, which durst not venture on this weak
support, stretched out their hands to their companions, and intreated
not to be left behind.

Their leader then determined to attempt the passage of several waggons,
loaded with these poor creatures; but in the middle of the river, the
ice sunk down and separated. Then were heard, on the opposite bank,
proceeding from the gulf, first, cries of anguish long and piercing,
then stifled and feeble groans, and last of all an awful silence. All
had disappeared!

Ney was looking stedfastly at the abyss with an air of consternation,
when through the darkness, he imagined he saw an object still moving; it
turned out to be one of those unfortunate persons, an officer, named
Briqueville, whom a deep wound in the groin had disabled from standing
upright. A large piece of ice had borne him up. He was soon distinctly
seen, dragging himself from one piece to another on his knees and hands,
and on his getting near enough to the side, the marshal himself caught
hold of, and saved him.

The losses since the preceding day amounted to four thousand stragglers
and three thousand soldiers, either killed, dead, or missing; the cannon
and the whole of the baggage were lost; there remained to Ney scarcely
three thousand soldiers, and about as many disbanded men. Finally, when
all these sacrifices were consummated, and all that had been able to
cross the river were collected, they resumed their march, and the
vanquished river became once more their friend and their guide.

They proceeded at random and uncertain, when one of them happening to
fall, recognised a beaten road; it was but too much so, for those who
were marching first, stooping and using their hands, as well as their
eyes, halted in alarm, exclaiming, "that they saw the marks quite fresh
of a great quantity of cannon and horses." They had, therefore, only
avoided one hostile army to fall into the midst of another; at a time
when they could scarcely walk, they must be again obliged to fight! The
war was therefore everywhere! But Ney made them push on, and without
disturbing himself, continued to follow these menacing traces.

They brought them to a village called Gusinoé, into which they entered
suddenly, and seized every thing; they found in it all that they had
been in want of since they left Moscow, inhabitants, provisions, repose,
warm dwellings, and a hundred Cossacks, who awoke to find themselves
prisoners. Their reports, and the necessity of taking some refreshment
to enable him to proceed, detained the marshal there a few minutes.

About ten o'clock, they reached two other villages, and were resting
themselves there, when suddenly they saw the surrounding forests filled
with movements. They had scarcely time to call to each other, to look
about, and to concentrate themselves in the village which was nearest to
the Boristhenes, when thousands of Cossacks came pouring out from
between the trees, and surrounded the unfortunate troop with their
lances and their cannon.

These were Platof, and his hordes, who were following the right bank of
the Dnieper. They might have burnt the village, discovered the weakness
of Ney's force, and exterminated it; but for three hours they remained
motionless, without even firing; for what reason, is not known. The
account since given by themselves is, that they had no orders; that at
that moment their leader was not in a state to give any: and that in
Russia no one dares to take upon himself a responsibility that does not
belong to him.

The bold countenance of Ney kept them in check. He himself and a few
soldiers were sufficient; he even ordered the rest of his people to
continue their repast till night came on. He then caused the order to be
circulated to decamp in silence, to give notice to each other in a low
tone of voice, and to march as compact as possible. Afterwards, they all
began their march together; but their very first step was like a signal
given to the enemy, who immediately discharged the whole of his
artillery at them: all his squadrons also put themselves in movement at

At the noise occasioned by this, the disarmed stragglers, of whom there
were yet between three and four thousand, took the alarm. This flock of
men wandered here and there; the great mass of them kept reeling about
in uncertainty, sometimes attempting to throw themselves into the ranks
of the soldiers, who drove them back. Ney contrived to keep them between
him and the Russians, whose fire was principally absorbed by these
useless beings. The most timid, therefore, in this instance, served as a
covering to the bravest.

At the same time that the marshal made a rampart of these poor wretches
to cover his right flank, he regained the banks of the Dnieper, and by
that covered his left flank; he marched on thus between the two,
proceeding from wood to wood, from one turning to another, taking
advantage of all the windings, and of the least accidents of the soil.
Whenever he ventured to any distance from the river, which he was
frequently obliged to do, Platof then surrounded him on all sides.

[Illustration: Portrait of Marshal Ney]

In this manner, for two days and a distance of twenty leagues, did six
thousand Cossacks keep constantly buzzing about the flanks of their
column, now reduced to fifteen hundred men in arms, keeping it in a
state of siege, disappearing before its sallies, and returning again
instantly, like their Scythian ancestors; but with this fatal
difference, that they managed their cannon mounted on sledges, and
discharged their bullets in their flight, with the same agility which
their forefathers exhibited in the management of their bows and the
discharge of their arrows.

The night brought some relief, and at first they plunged into the
darkness with a degree of joy; but then, if any one halted for a moment
to bid a last adieu to some worn out or wounded comrade, who sunk to
rise no more, he ran the risk of losing the traces of his column. Under
such circumstances there were many cruel moments, and not a few
instances of despair. At last, however, the enemy slackened his pursuit.

This unfortunate column was proceeding more tranquilly, groping its way
through a thick wood, when all at once, a few paces before it, a
brilliant light and several discharges of cannon flashed in the faces of
the men in the first rank. Seized with terror, they fancied that there
was an end of them, that they were cut off, that their end was now come,
and they fell down terrified; those who were behind, got entangled among
them, and were brought to the ground. Ney, who saw that all was lost,
rushed forward, ordered the charge to be beat, and, as if he had
foreseen the attack, called out, "Comrades, now is your time: forward!
They are our prisoners!" At these words, his soldiers, who but a minute
before were in consternation, and fancied themselves surprised, believed
they were about to surprise their foes; from being vanquished, they rose
up conquerors; they rushed upon the enemy, who had already disappeared,
and whose precipitate flight through the forest they heard at a

They passed quickly through this wood; but about ten o'clock at night,
they met with a small river embanked in a deep ravine, which they were
obliged to cross one by one, as they had done the Dnieper. Intent on the
pursuit of these poor fellows, the Cossacks again got sight of them, and
tried to take advantage of that moment: but Ney, by a few discharges of
his musketry, again repulsed them. They surmounted this obstacle with
difficulty, and in an hour after reached a large village, where hunger
and exhaustion compelled them to halt for two hours longer.

The next day, the 19th of Nov., from midnight till ten o'clock in the
morning, they kept marching on, without meeting any other enemy than a
hilly country; about that time Platof's columns again made their
appearance, and Ney halted and faced them, under the protection of the
skirts of a wood. As long as the day lasted, his soldiers were obliged
to resign themselves to see the enemy's bullets overturning the trees
which served to shelter them, and furrowing their bivouacs; for they had
now nothing but small arms, which could not keep the Cossack artillery
at a sufficient distance.

On the return of night, the marshal gave the usual signal, and they
proceeded on their march to Orcha. During the preceding day, he had
already despatched thither Pchébendowski with fifty horse, to require
assistance; they must already have arrived there, unless the enemy had
already gained possession of that town.

Ney's officers concluded their narrative by saying, that during the rest
of their march, they had met with several formidable obstacles, but that
they did not think them worth relating. They continued, however,
speaking enthusiastically of their marshal, and making us sharers of
their admiration of him; for even his equals had no idea of being
jealous of him. He had been too much regretted, and his preservation had
excited too agreeable emotions, to allow envy to have any part in them;
besides, Ney had placed himself completely beyond its reach. As to
himself, in all this heroism, he had gone so little beyond his natural
disposition, that had it not been for the éclat of his glory in the
eyes, the gestures, and the acclamations of every one, he would never
have imagined that he had done a sublime action.

And this was not an enthusiasm of surprise. Each of the latter days had
had its remarkable men; amongst others, that of the 16th had Eugene,
that of the 17th Mortier; but from this time, Ney was universally
proclaimed the hero of the retreat.

The distance between Smolensk and Orcha is hardly five days' march. In
that short passage, what a harvest of glory had been reaped! how little
space and time are required to establish an immortal renown! Of what
nature then are these great inspirations, that invisible and impalpable
germ of great devotion, produced in a few moments, issuing from a single
heart, and which must fill time and eternity?

When Napoleon, who was two leagues farther on, heard that Ney had just
re-appeared, he leaped and shouted for joy, and exclaimed, "I have then
saved my eagles! I would have given three hundred millions from my
treasury, sooner than have lost such a man."



The army had thus for the third and last time repassed the Dnieper, a
river half Russian and half Polish, but of Russian origin. It runs from
east to west as far as Orcha, where it appears as if it would penetrate
into Poland; but there the heights of Lithuania oppose its farther
progress, and compel it to turn towards the south, and to become the
frontier of the two countries.

Kutusoff and his eighty thousand Russians halted before this feeble
obstacle. Hitherto they had been rather the spectators than the authors
of our calamities; we saw them no more; our army was released from the
punishment of their joy.

In this war, and as always happens, the character of Kutusoff availed
him more than his talents. So long as it was necessary to deceive and
temporize, his crafty spirit, his indolence, and his great age, acted of
themselves; he was the creature of circumstances, which he ceased to be
as soon as it became necessary to march rapidly, to pursue, to
anticipate, and to attack.

But after passing Smolensk, Platof passed over to the right flank of the
road, in order to join Wittgenstein. The war was then entirely
transferred to that side.

On the 22d of November, the army had a disagreeable march from Orcha to
Borizof, on a wide road, (skirted by a double row of large birch trees,)
in which the snow had melted, and through a deep and liquid mud. The
weakest were drowned in it; it detained and delivered to the Cossacks
such of our wounded, as, under the idea of a continuance of the frost,
had exchanged their waggons for sledges.

In the midst of this gradual decay, an action was witnessed exhibiting
something of antique energy. Two marines of the guard were cut off from
their column by a band of Cossacks, who seemed determined to take them.
One became discouraged, and wished to surrender; the other continued to
fight, and called out to him, that if he was coward enough to do so, he
would certainly shoot him. In fact, seeing his companion throw away his
musket, and stretching out his arms to the enemy, he brought him to the
ground just as he fell into the hands of the Cossacks; then profiting by
their surprise, he quickly reloaded his musket, with which he threatened
the most forward. He kept them thus at bay, retreated from tree to tree,
gained ground upon them, and succeeded in rejoining his troop.

It was during the first days of the march to Borizof, that the news of
the fall of Minsk became generally known in the army. The leaders
themselves began then to look around them with consternation; their
imagination, tormented with such a long continuance of frightful
spectacles, gave them glimpses of a still more fatal futurity. In their
private conversations, several exclaimed, that, "like Charles XII. in
the Ukraine, Napoleon had carried his army to Moscow only to destroy

Others would not agree in attributing the calamities we at present
suffered to that incursion. Without wishing to excuse the sacrifices to
which we had submitted, by the hope of terminating the war in a single
campaign, they asserted, "that that hope had been well founded; that in
pushing his line of operation as far as Moscow, Napoleon had given to
that lengthened column a base sufficiently broad and solid."

They showed "the trace of this base marked out by the Düna, the Dnieper,
the Ula, and the Berezina, from Riga to Bobruisk; they said that
Macdonald, Saint Cyr and De Wrede, Victor and Dombrowski were there
waiting for them; there were thus, including Schwartzenberg, and even
Augereau, (who protected the interval between the Elbe and the Niemen
with fifty thousand men,) nearly two hundred and eighty thousand
soldiers on the defensive, who, from the north to the south, supported
the attack of one hundred and fifty thousand men upon the east; and from
thence they argued, that this _point_ upon Moscow, however hazardous it
might appear, had been both sufficiently prepared, and was worthy of the
genius of Napoleon, and that its success was possible; in fact, its
failure had been entirely occasioned by errors of detail."

They then brought to mind our useless waste of lives before Smolensk,
Junot's inaction at Valoutina, and they maintained, "that in spite of
all these losses, Russia would have been completely conquered on the
field of battle of the Moskwa, if Marshal Ney's first successes had been
followed up.

"Even at the last, although the expedition had failed in a military
point of view, by the indecision of that day, and politically by the
burning of Moscow, the army might still have returned from it safe and
sound. From the time of our entrance into that capital, had not the
Russian general and the Russian winter allowed us, the one forty, and
the other fifty days, to recover ourselves, and to make our retreat?"

Deploring afterwards the rash obstinacy of losing so much time at
Moscow, and the fatal hesitation at Malo-Yaroslawetz, they proceeded to
reckon up their losses. Since their leaving Moscow, they had lost all
their baggage, five hundred cannon, thirty-one eagles, twenty-seven
generals, forty thousand prisoners, sixty thousand dead: all that
remained were forty thousand stragglers, unarmed, and eight thousand
effective soldiers.

Last of all, when their column of attack had been destroyed, they asked,
"by what fatality it had happened, that the remains of this column, when
collected at its base, which had been vigorously supported, were left
without knowing where to halt, or to take breath? Why could they not
even concentrate themselves at Minsk and at Wilna, behind the marshes of
the Berezina, and there keep back the enemy, at least for some time,
take advantage of the winter and recruit themselves?

"But no, all is lost by another side, by the fault of entrusting an
Austrian to guard the magazines, and cover the retreat of all these
brave armies, and not placing a military leader at Wilna or Minsk, with
a force sufficient either to supply the insufficiency of the Austrian
army to meet the combined armies of Moldavia and Volhynia, or to prevent
its betraying us."

Those who made such complaints were not unaware of the presence of the
Duke of Bassano at Wilna; but notwithstanding the talents of that
minister, and the great confidence the Emperor placed in him, they
considered that being a stranger to the art of war, and overloaded with
the cares of a great administration, and of every thing political, the
direction of military affairs should not have been left to him. Such
were the complaints of those, whose sufferings left them the leisure
necessary for observation. That a fault had been committed, it was
impossible to deny; but to say how it might have been avoided, to weigh
the value of the motives which had occasioned it, in so great a crisis,
and in the presence of so great a man, is more than one would venture to
undertake. Who is there besides that does not know, that in these
hazardous and gigantic enterprises, every thing becomes a fault, when
the object of them has failed?

Although the treachery of Schwartzenberg was by no means so evident, it
is certain, that, with the exception of the three French generals who
were with him, the whole of the grand army considered it as beyond a
doubt. They said, "that Walpole's only object at Vienna was to act as a
secret agent of England; that he and Metternich composed between them
the perfidious instructions which were sent to Schwartzenberg. Hence it
was that ever since the 20th of September, the day when the arrival of
Tchitchakof and the battle of Lutsk closed the victorious career of
Schwartzenberg, that marshal had repassed the Bug, and covered Warsaw by
uncovering Minsk; hence his perseverance in that false manoeuvre:
hence, after a feeble effort towards Bresk-litowsky on the 10th of
October, his neglect to avail himself of Tchitchakof's inaction by
getting between him and Minsk, and hence his losing his time in military
promenades, and insignificant marches towards Briansk, Bialystok, and

"He had thus allowed the admiral to take rest, and rally his sixty
thousand men, to divide them into two, to leave one half with Sacken to
oppose him, and to set out on the 27th of October with the other half to
take possession of Minsk, of Borizof, of the magazine, of the passage of
Napoleon, and of his winter quarters. Then only did Schwartzenberg put
himself in the rear of this hostile movement, instead of anticipating
it, as he had orders to do, leaving Regnier in the presence of Sacken,
and marching so slowly, that from the very first the admiral had got
five marches the start of him.

"On the 14th of November, at Volkowitz, Sacken attacked Regnier,
separated him from the Austrians, and pressed him so closely, that he
was obliged to call Schwartzenberg to his aid. Immediately, the latter,
as if he had been expecting the summons, retrograded, leaving Minsk to
its fate. It is true that he released Regnier, that he beat Sacken and
destroyed half his army, pursuing him as far as the Bug; but on the 16th
of November, the very day of his victory, Minsk was taken by
Tchitchakof: this was a double victory for Austria. Thus all appearances
were preserved; the new field-marshal satisfied the wishes of his
government, which was equally the enemy of the Russians whom he had just
weakened on one side, and of Napoleon, whom on the other he had betrayed
to them."

Such was the language of almost the whole of the grand army; its leader
was silent, either because he expected no more zeal on the part of an
ally, or from policy, or because he believed that Schwartzenberg had
acted with sufficient honour, in sending him the sort of notice which he
did six weeks before, when he was at Moscow.

However, he did address some reproaches to the field-marshal. To these
the latter replied, by complaining bitterly, first, of the double and
contradictory instructions which he had received, to cover Warsaw and
Minsk at the same time; and second, of the false news which had been
transmitted to him by the Duke of Bassano.

He said, "that minister had constantly represented to him that the grand
army was retreating safe and sound, in good order, and always
formidable. Why had he been trifled with, by sending him bulletins made
to deceive the idlers of the capital? His only reason for not making
greater efforts to join the grand army was, because he believed that it
was fully able to protect itself."

He also alleged his own weakness. "How could it be expected that with
twenty-eight thousand men he could so long keep sixty thousand in check?
In that situation, if Tchitchakof stole a few marches on him, was it at
all wonderful? Had he then hesitated to follow him, to leave Gallicia,
his point of departure, his magazines, and his depôt? If he ceased his
pursuit, it was only because Regnier and Durutte, the two French
generals, summoned him in the most urgent manner to come to their
assistance. Both they and he had reason to expect that Maret, Oudinôt,
or Victor, would provide for the safety of Minsk."


In fact, no one had any right to accuse another of treachery, when we
had betrayed ourselves, for all had been wanting in the time of need.

At Wilna, they appeared to have had no suspicion of the real state of
affairs; and at a time when the garrisons, the depôts, the marching
battalions, and the divisions of Durutte, Loison, and Dombrowski,
between the Berezina and the Vistula, might have formed at Minsk an army
of thirty thousand men, three thousand men, headed by a general of no
reputation, were the only forces which Tchitchakof found there to oppose
him. It was a known fact that this handful of young soldiers was exposed
in front of a river, into which they were precipitated by the admiral,
whereas, if they had been placed on the other side, that obstacle would
have protected them for some time.

For thus, as frequently happens, the faults of the general plan had led
to faults of detail. The governor of Minsk had been negligently chosen.
He was, it was said, one of those men who undertake every thing, who
promise every thing, and who do nothing. On the 16th of November, he
lost that capital, and with it four thousand seven hundred sick, the
warlike ammunition, and two million rations of provisions. It was five
days since the news of this loss had reached Dombrowna, and the news of
a still greater calamity came on the heels of it.

This same governor had retreated towards Borizof. There he neglected to
inform Oudinôt, who was only at the distance of two marches, to come to
his assistance; and failed to support Dombrowski, who made a hasty march
thither from Bobruisk and Igumen. The latter did not arrive, however, in
the night of the 20th and 21st, at the _tête-du-pont_, until after the
enemy had taken possession of it; notwithstanding, he expelled
Tchitchakof's vanguard, took possession of it, and defended himself
gallantly there until the evening of the 21st; but being then
overwhelmed by the fire of the Russian artillery, which took him in
flank, and attacked by a force more than double his own, he was driven
across the river, and out of the town, as far as the road to Moscow.

Napoleon was wholly unprepared for this disaster; he fancied that he had
completely prevented it by the instructions he had sent to Victor from
Moscow, on the 6th of October. These instructions "anticipated a warm
attack from Wittgenstein or Tchitchakof; they recommended Victor to keep
within reach of Polotsk and of Minsk; to have a prudent, discreet, and
intelligent officer about Schwartzenberg; to keep up a regular
correspondence with Minsk, and to send other agents in different

But Wittgenstein having made his attack before Tchitchakof, the nearer
and more pressing danger had attracted every one's attention; the wise
instructions of the 6th of October had not been repeated by Napoleon,
and they appeared to have been entirely forgotten by his lieutenant.
Finally, when the Emperor learned at Dombrowna the loss of Minsk, he had
no idea that Borizof was in such imminent danger, as when he passed the
next day through Orcha, he had the whole of his bridge-equipage burnt.

His correspondence also of the 20th of November with Victor proved his
security; it supposed that Oudinôt would have nearly arrived on the 25th
at Borizof, while that place had been taken possession of by Tchitchakof
on the 21st.

It was on the day immediately subsequent to that fatal catastrophe, at
the distance of three marches from Borizof, and upon the high road, that
an officer arrived and announced to Napoleon this fresh disaster. The
Emperor, striking the ground with his stick, and darting a furious look
to heaven, pronounced these words, "It is then written above that we
shall now commit nothing but faults!"

Meanwhile Marshal Oudinôt, who was already marching towards Minsk,
totally ignorant of what had happened, halted on the 21st between Bobr
and Kroupki, when in the middle of the night General Brownikowski
arrived to announce to him his own defeat, as well as that of General
Dombrowski; that Borizof was taken, and that the Russians were following
hard at his heels.

On the 22d the marshal marched to meet them, and rallied the remains of
Dombrowski's force.

On the 23d, at three leagues on the other side of Borizof, he came in
contact with the Russian vanguard, which he overthrew, taking from it
nine hundred men and fifteen hundred carriages, and drove back by the
united force of his artillery, infantry, and cavalry, as far as the
Berezina; but the remains of Lambert's force, on repassing Borizof and
that river, destroyed the bridge.

Napoleon was then at Toloczina: he made them describe to him the
position of Borizof. They assured him that at that point the Berezina
was not merely a river but a lake of moving ice; that the bridge was
three hundred fathoms in length; that it had been irreparably destroyed,
and the passage by it rendered completely impracticable.

At that moment arrived a general of engineers, who had just returned
from the Duke of Belluno's corps. Napoleon interrogated him; the general
declared "that he saw no means of escape but through the middle of
Wittgenstein's army." The Emperor replied, "that he must find a
direction in which he could turn his back to all the enemy's generals,
to Kutusoff, to Wittgenstein, to Tchitchakof;" and he pointed with his
finger on the map to the course of the Berezina below Borizof; it was
there he wished to cross the river. But the general objected to him the
presence of Tchitchakof on the right bank; the Emperor then pointed to
another passage below the first, and then to a third, still nearer to
the Dnieper. Recollecting, however, that he was then approaching the
country of the Cossacks, he stopped short, and exclaimed, "Oh yes!
Pultawa! that is like Charles XII.!"

In fact, every disaster which Napoleon could anticipate had occurred;
the melancholy conformity, therefore, of his situation with that of the
Swedish conqueror, threw his mind into such a state of agitation, that
his health became still more seriously affected than it had been at
Malo-Yaroslawetz. Among the expressions he made use of, loud enough to
be overheard, was this: "See what happens when we heap faults on

Nevertheless, these first movements were the only ones that had escaped
him, and the valet-de-chambre who assisted him, was the only person that
witnessed his agitation. Duroc, Daru, and Berthier have all said, that
they knew nothing of it, that they saw him unshaken; this was very true,
humanly speaking, as he retained sufficient command over himself to
avoid betraying his anxiety, and as the strength of man most frequently
consists in concealing his weakness.

A remarkable conversation, which was overheard the same night, will show
better than any thing else, how critical was his position, and how well
he bore it. It was getting late; Napoleon had gone to bed. Duroc and
Daru, who remained in his chamber, fancying that he was asleep, were
giving way, in whispers, to the most gloomy conjectures; he overheard
them, however, and the word "prisoner of state," coming to his ear,
"How!" exclaimed he, "do you believe they would dare?" Daru, after his
first surprise, immediately answered, "that if we were compelled to
surrender, we must be prepared for every thing; that he had no reliance
on an enemy's generosity; that we knew too well that great state-policy
considered itself identified with morality, and was regulated by no
law." "But France," said the Emperor, "what would France say?" "Oh, as
to France," continued Daru, "we are at liberty to make a thousand
conjectures more or less disagreeable, but none of us can know what will
take place there." And he then added, "that for the sake of the
Emperor's chief officers, as well as the Emperor himself, the most
fortunate thing would be, if by the air or otherwise, as the earth was
closed upon us, the Emperor could reach France, from whence he could
much more certainly provide for their safety, than by remaining among
them!" "Then I suppose I am in your way?" replied the Emperor, smiling.
"Yes, Sire." "And you have no wish to be a prisoner of state?" Daru
replied in the same tone, "that it was enough for him to be a prisoner
of war." On which the Emperor remained for some time in a profound
silence; then with a more serious air: "Are all the reports of my
ministers burnt?" "Sire, hitherto you would not allow that to be done."
"Very well, go and destroy them; for it must be confessed, we are in a
most melancholy position." This was the sole avowal which it wrested
from him, and on that idea he went to sleep, knowing, when it was
necessary, how to postpone every thing to the next day.

His orders displayed equal firmness. Oudinôt had just sent to inform him
of his determination to overthrow Lambert; this he approved of, and he
also urged him to make himself master of a passage, either above or
below Borizof. He expressed his anxiety, that by the 24th this passage
should be fixed on, and the preparations begun, and that he should be
apprised of it, in order to make his march correspond. Far from thinking
of making his escape through the midst of these three hostile armies,
his only idea now was, that of beating Tchitchakof, and retaking Minsk.

It is true, that eight hours afterwards, in a second letter to the Duke
of Reggio, he resigned himself to cross the Berezina near Veselowo, and
to retreat directly upon Wilna by Vileika, avoiding the Russian admiral.

But on the 24th he learned that the passage could only be attempted near
Studzianka; that at that spot the river was only fifty-four fathoms
wide, and six feet deep; that they would land on the other side, in a
marsh, under the fire of a commanding position strongly occupied by the


All hope of passing between the Russian armies was thus lost; driven by
the armies of Kutusoff and Wittgenstein upon the Berezina, there was no
alternative but to cross that river in the teeth of the army of
Tchitchakof, which lined its banks.

Ever since the 23d, Napoleon had been preparing for it, as for a
desperate action. And first he had the eagles of all the corps brought
to him, and burnt. He formed into two battalions, eighteen hundred
dismounted cavalry of his guard, of whom only eleven hundred and
fifty-four were armed with muskets and carbines.

The cavalry of the army of Moscow was so completely destroyed, that
Latour-Maubourg had not now remaining under his command more than one
hundred and fifty men on horseback. The Emperor collected around his
person all the officers of that arm who were still mounted; he styled
this troop, of about five hundred officers, his _sacred squadron_.
Grouchy and Sebastiani had the command of them; generals of division
served in it as captains.

Napoleon ordered further that all the useless carriages should be burnt;
that no officer should keep more than one; that half the waggons and
carriages of all the corps should also be burnt, and that the horses
should be given to the artillery of the guard. The officers of that arm
had orders to take all the draught-cattle within their reach, even the
horses of the Emperor himself, sooner than abandon a single cannon, or
ammunition waggon.

After giving these orders, he plunged into the gloomy and immense forest
of Minsk, in which a few hamlets and wretched habitations have scarcely
cleared a few open spots. The noise of Wittgenstein's artillery filled
it with its echo. That Russian general came rushing from the north upon
the right flank of our expiring column; he brought back with him the
winter which had quitted us at the same time with Kutusoff; the news of
his threatening march quickened our steps. From forty to fifty thousand
men, women, and children, glided through this forest as precipitately as
their weakness and the slipperiness of the ground, from the frost
beginning again to set in, would allow.

These forced marches, commenced before daylight, and which did not
finish at its close, dispersed all that had remained together. They lost
themselves in the darkness of these great forests and long nights. They
halted at night and resumed their march in the morning, in darkness, at
random, and without hearing the signal; the dissolution of the remains
of the corps was then completed; all were mixed and confounded together.

In this last stage of weakness and confusion, as we were approaching
Borizof, we heard loud cries before us. Some ran forward fancying it was
an attack. It was Victor's army, which had been feebly driven back by
Wittgenstein to the right side of our road, where it remained waiting
for the Emperor to pass by. Still quite complete and full of animation,
it received the Emperor, as soon as he made his appearance, with the
customary but now long forgotten acclamations.

Of our disasters it knew nothing; they had been carefully concealed even
from its leaders. When therefore, instead of that grand column which had
conquered Moscow, its soldiers perceived behind Napoleon only a train of
spectres covered with rags, with female pelisses, pieces of carpet, or
dirty cloaks, half burnt and holed by the fires, and with nothing on
their feet but rags of all sorts, their consternation was extreme. They
looked terrified at the sight of those unfortunate soldiers, as they
defiled before them, with lean carcasses, faces black with dirt, and
hideous bristly beards, unarmed, shameless, marching confusedly, with
their heads bent, their eyes fixed on the ground and silent, like a
troop of captives.

But what astonished them more than all, was to see the number of
colonels and generals scattered about and isolated, who seemed only
occupied about themselves, and to think of nothing but saving the wrecks
of their property or their persons; they were marching pell-mell with
the soldiers, who did not notice them, to whom they had no longer any
commands to give, and of whom they had nothing to expect, all ties
between them being broken, and all ranks effaced by the common misery.

The soldiers of Victor and Oudinôt could not believe their eyes. Moved
with compassion, their officers, with tears in their eyes, detained such
of their companions as they recognised in the crowd. They first supplied
them with clothes and provisions, and then asked them where were their
_corps d'armée_? And when the others pointed them out, seeing, instead
of so many thousand men, only a weak platoon of officers and
non-commissioned officers round a commanding officer, their eyes still
kept on the look out.

The sight of so great a disaster struck the second and the ninth corps
with discouragement, from the very first day. Disorder, the most
contagious of all evils, attacked them; for it would seem as if order
was an effort against nature. And yet the disarmed, and even the dying,
although they were now fully aware that they had to fight their way
across a river, and through a fresh enemy, never doubted of their being

It was now merely the shadow of an army, but it was the shadow of the
grand army. It felt conscious that nature alone had vanquished it. The
sight of its Emperor revived it. It had been long accustomed not to look
to him for its means of support, but solely to lead it to victory. This
was its first unfortunate campaign, and it had had so many fortunate
ones! it only required to be able to follow him. He alone, who had
elevated his soldiers so high, and now sunk them so low, was yet able to
save them. He was still, therefore, cherished in the heart of his army,
like hope in the heart of man.

Thus, amid so many beings who might have reproached him with their
misfortunes, he marched on without the least fear, speaking to one and
all without affectation, certain of being respected as long as glory
could command our respect. Knowing perfectly that he belonged to us, as
much as we to him, his renown being a species of national property, we
should have sooner turned our arms against ourselves, (which was the
case with many,) than against him, and it was a minor suicide.

Some of them fell and died at his feet, and though in the most frightful
delirium, their sufferings never gave its wanderings the turn of
reproach, but of entreaty. And in fact did not he share the common
danger? Which of them all risked so much as he? Who suffered the
greatest loss, in this disaster?

If any imprecations were uttered, it was not in his presence; it seemed,
that of all misfortunes, that of incurring his displeasure was still the
greatest; so rooted were their confidence in, and submission to that man
who had subjected the world to them; whose genius, hitherto uniformly
victorious and infallible, had assumed the place of their free-will, and
who having so long in his hands the book of pensions, of rank, and of
history, had found wherewithal to satisfy not only covetous spirits, but
also every generous heart.


We were now approaching the most critical moment; Victor was in the rear
with 15,000 men; Oudinôt in front with 5,000, and already on the
Berezina; the Emperor, between them, with 7,000 men, 40,000 stragglers,
and an enormous quantity of baggage and artillery, the greatest part of
which belonged to the second and the ninth corps.

On the 25th, as he was about to reach the Berezina, he appeared to
linger on his march. He halted every instant on the high road, waiting
for night to conceal his arrival from the enemy, and to allow the Duke
of Reggio time to evacuate Borizof.

This marshal, when he entered that town upon the 23d, found the bridge,
which was 300 fathoms in length, destroyed at three different points,
and that the vicinity of the enemy rendered it impossible to repair it.
He had ascertained, that on his left, two miles lower down the river,
there was, near Oukoholda, a deep and unsafe ford; that at the distance
of a mile above Borizof, namely, at Stadhof, there was another, but of
difficult approach. Finally, he had learned within the last two days,
that at Studzianka, two leagues above Stadhof, there was a third
passage;--for the knowledge of this he was indebted to Corbineau's

This was the same brigade which the Bavarian general, De Wrede, had
taken from the second corps, in his march to Smoliantzy. He had retained
it until he reached Dokszitzi, from whence he sent it back to the second
corps by way of Borizof. When Corbineau arrived there, he found
Tchitchakof already in possession of it, and was compelled to make his
retreat by ascending the Berezina, and concealing his force in the
forests which border that river. Not knowing at what point to cross it,
he accidentally saw a Lithuanian peasant, whose horse seemed to be quite
wet, as if he had just come through it. He laid hold of this man, and
made him his guide; he got up behind him, and crossed the river at a
ford opposite to Studzianka. He immediately rejoined Oudinôt, and
informed him of the discovery he had made.

As Napoleon's intention was to retreat directly upon Wilna, the marshal
saw at once that this passage was the most direct, as well as the least
dangerous. It was also observed, that even if our infantry and artillery
should be too closely pressed by Wittgenstein and Kutusoff, and
prevented from crossing the river on bridges, there was at least a
certainty, from the ford having been tried, that the Emperor and the
cavalry would be able to pass; that all would not then be lost, both
peace and war, as if Napoleon himself remained in the enemy's hands. The
marshal therefore did not hesitate. In the night of the 23d, the general
of artillery, a company of pontonniers, a regiment of infantry, and the
brigade Corbineau, took possession of Studzianka.

At the same time the other two passages were reconnoitred, and both
found to be strongly observed. The object therefore was to deceive and
displace the enemy. As force could do nothing, recourse was had to
stratagem; in furtherance of which, on the 24th, three hundred men and
several hundred stragglers were sent towards Oukoholda, with
instructions to collect there, with as much noise as possible, all the
necessary materials for the construction of a bridge; the whole division
of the cuirassiers was also made to promenade on that side within view
of the enemy.

In addition to this, Major General Lorencé had several Jews sought out
and brought to him; he interrogated them with great apparent minuteness
relative to that ford, and the roads leading from it to Minsk. Then,
affecting to be mightily pleased with their answers, and to be satisfied
that there was no better passage to be found, he retained some of these
rascals as guides, and had the others conveyed beyond our out-posts. But
to make still more sure of the latter _not_ keeping their word with him,
he made them swear that they would return to meet us, in the direction
of lower Berezina, in order to inform us of the enemy's movements.

While these attempts were making to draw Tchitchakof's attention
entirely to the left, the means of effecting a passage were secretly
preparing at Studzianka. It was only on the 25th, at five in the
evening, that Eblé arrived there, followed only by two field forges, two
waggons of coal, six covered waggons of utensils and nails, and some
companies of pontonniers. At Smolensk he had made each workman provide
himself with a tool and some cramp-irons.

But the tressels, which had been made the day before, out of the beams
of the Polish cabins, were found to be too weak. The work was all to do
over again. It was found to be quite impossible to finish the bridge
during the night; it could only be fixed during the following day, the
26th, in full daylight, and under the enemy's fire; but there was no
room for hesitation.

On the first approach of that decisive night, Oudinôt ceded to Napoleon
the occupation of Borizof, and went to take position with the rest of
his corps at Studzianka. They marched in the most profound obscurity,
without making the least noise, and mutually recommending to each other
the deepest silence.

By eight o'clock at night Oudinôt and Dombrowski had taken possession of
the heights commanding the passage, while General Eblé descended from
them. That general placed himself on the borders of the river, with his
pontonniers and a waggon-load of the irons of abandoned wheels, which at
all hazards he had made into cramp-irons. He had sacrificed every thing
to preserve that feeble resource, and it saved the army.

At the close of the night of the 25th he made them sink the first
tressel in the muddy bed of the river. But to crown our misfortunes, the
rising of the waters had made the traces of the ford entirely disappear.
It required the most incredible efforts on the part of our unfortunate
sappers, who were plunged in the water up to their mouths, and had to
contend with the floating pieces of ice which were carried along by the
stream. Many of them perished from the cold, or were drowned by the ice
flakes, which a violent wind drove against them.

They had every thing to conquer but the enemy. The rigour of the
atmosphere was just at the degree necessary to render the passage of the
river more difficult, without suspending its course, or sufficiently
consolidating the moving ground upon which we were about to venture. On
this occasion the winter showed itself more Russian than even the
Russians themselves. The latter were wanting to their season, which
never failed them.

The French laboured during the whole night by the light of the enemy's
fires, which shone on the heights of the opposite bank, and within reach
of the artillery and musketry of the division Tchaplitz. The latter,
having no longer any doubt of our intentions, sent to apprise his


The presence of a hostile division deprived us of all hope of deceiving
the Russian admiral. We were expecting every instant to hear the whole
fire of his artillery directed upon our workmen; and even if he did not
discover them until daylight, their labours would not then be
sufficiently advanced; and the opposite bank, being low and marshy, was
too much commanded by Tchaplitz's positions to make it at all possible
for us to force a passage.

When he quitted Borizof, therefore, at ten o'clock at night, Napoleon
imagined that he was setting out for a most desperate contest. He
settled himself for the night, with the 6,400 guards which still
remained to him, at Staroi-Borizof, a chateau belonging to Prince
Radzivil, situated on the right of the road from Borizof to Studzianka,
and equidistant from these two points.

He passed the remainder of that night on his feet, going out every
moment, either to listen, or to repair to the passage where his destiny
was accomplishing; for the magnitude of his anxieties so completely
filled his hours, that as each revolved, he fancied that it was morning.
Several times he was reminded of his mistake by his attendants.

Darkness had scarcely disappeared when he joined Oudinôt. The sight of
danger tranquillized him, as it always did; but on seeing the Russian
fires and their position, his most determined generals, such as Rapp,
Mortier, and Ney, exclaimed, "that if the Emperor escaped this danger,
they must absolutely believe in the influence of his star!" Murat
himself thought it was now time to think of nothing but saving Napoleon.
Some of the Poles proposed it to him.

The Emperor was waiting for the approach of daylight in one of the
houses on the borders of the river, on a steep bank which was crowned
with Oudinôt's artillery. Murat obtained access to him; he declared to
his brother-in-law, "that he looked upon the passage as impracticable;
he urged him to save his person while it was yet time. He informed him
that he might, without any danger, cross the Berezina a few leagues
above Studzianka; that in five days he would reach Wilna; that some
brave and determined Poles, perfectly acquainted with all the roads, had
offered themselves for his guards, and to be responsible for his

But Napoleon rejected this proposition as an infamous plan, as a
cowardly flight, and was indignant that any one should dare to think for
a moment that he would abandon his army, so long as it was in danger. He
was not, however, at all displeased with Murat, probably because that
prince had afforded him an opportunity of showing his firmness, or
rather because he saw nothing in his proposal but a mark of devotion,
and because the first quality in the eyes of sovereigns is attachment to
their persons.

At that moment the appearance of daylight made the Russian fires grow
pale and disappear. Our troops stood to their arms, the artillerymen
placed themselves by their pieces, the generals were observing, and the
looks of all were steadily directed to the opposite bank, preserving
that silence which betokens great expectation, and is the forerunner of
great danger.

Since the day before, every blow struck by our pontonniers, echoing
among the woody heights, must, we concluded, have attracted the whole
attention of the enemy. The first dawn of the 26th was therefore
expected to display to us his battalions and artillery, drawn up, in
front of the weak scaffolding, to the construction of which Eblé had yet
to devote eight hours more. Doubtless they were only waiting for
daylight to enable them to point their cannon with better aim. When day
appeared, we saw their fires abandoned, the bank deserted, and upon the
heights, thirty pieces of artillery in full retreat. A single bullet of
theirs would have been sufficient to annihilate the only plank of
safety, which we were about to fix, in order to unite the two banks; but
that artillery retreated exactly as ours was placed in battery.

Farther off, we perceived the rear of a long column, which was moving
off towards Borizof without ever looking behind it; one regiment of
infantry, however, and twelve cannon remained, but without taking up any
position; we also saw a horde of Cossacks wandering about the skirts of
the wood: they formed the rear-guard of Tchaplitz's division, six
thousand strong, which was thus retiring, as if for the purpose of
delivering up the passage to us.

The French, at first could hardly venture to believe their eyes. At
last, transported with joy, they clapped their hands, and uttered loud
shouts. Rapp and Oudinôt rushed precipitately into the house where the
Emperor was. "Sire," they said to him, "the enemy has just raised his
camp, and quitted his position!"--"It is not possible!" he replied; but
Ney and Murat just then entered and confirmed this report. Napoleon
immediately darted out; he looked, and could just see the last files of
Tchaplitz's column getting farther off and disappearing in the woods.
Transported with joy, he exclaimed, "I have outwitted the admiral!"

During this first movement, two of the enemy's pieces re-appeared, and
fired. An order was given to remove them by a discharge of our

One salvo was enough; it was an act of imprudence which was not
repeated, for fear of its recalling Tchaplitz. The bridge was as yet
scarcely begun; it was eight o'clock, and the first tressels were only
then fixing.

The Emperor, however, impatient to get possession of the opposite bank,
pointed it out to the bravest. Jacqueminot, aide-de-camp to the Duke of
Reggio, and the Lithuanian count Predziecski, were the first who threw
themselves into the river, and in spite of the pieces of ice, which cut
and bled the chests and sides of their horses, succeeded in reaching the
other side. Sourd, chief of the squadron, and fifty chasseurs of the
7th, each carrying a voltigeur _en croupe_, followed them, as well as
two frail rafts which transported four hundred men in twenty trips. The
Emperor having expressed a wish to have a prisoner to interrogate,
Jacqueminot, who overheard him, had scarcely crossed the river, when he
saw one of Tchaplitz's soldiers; he rushed after, attacked, and disarmed
him; then seizing and placing him on the bow of his saddle, he brought
him through the river and the ice to Napoleon.

About one o'clock the bank was entirely cleared of the Cossacks, and the
bridge for the infantry finished. The division Legrand crossed it
rapidly with its cannon, the men shouting "Vive l'Empereur!" in the
presence of their sovereign, who was himself actively pressing the
passage of the artillery, and encouraged his brave soldiers by his voice
and example.

He exclaimed, when he saw them fairly in possession of the opposite
bank, "Behold my star again appear!" for he was a believer in fatality,
like all conquerors, those men, who, having the largest accounts with
Fortune, are fully aware how much they are indebted to her, and who,
moreover, having no intermediate power between themselves and heaven,
feel themselves more immediately under its protection.


At that moment, a Lithuanian nobleman, disguised as a peasant, arrived
from Wilna with the news of Schwartzenberg's victory over Sacken.
Napoleon appeared pleased in proclaiming it aloud, with the addition,
that "Schwartzenberg had immediately returned upon the heels of
Tchitchakof, and that he was coming to our assistance." A conjecture, to
which the disappearance of Tchaplitz gave considerable probability.

Meantime, as the first bridge which was just finished had only been made
for the infantry, a second was begun immediately after, a hundred
fathoms higher up, for the artillery and baggage, which was not finished
until four o'clock in the afternoon. During that interval, the Duke of
Reggio, with the rest of the second corps, and Dombrowski's division,
followed General Legrand to the other side; they formed about seven
thousand men.

The marshal's first care was to secure the road to Zembin, by a
detachment which chased some Cossacks from it; to push the enemy towards
Borizof, and to keep him as far back as possible from the passage of

Tchaplitz, in obedience to the admiral's orders, proceeded as far as
Stakhowa, a village close to Borizof, he then turned back, and
encountered the first troops of Oudinôt commanded by Albert. Both sides
halted. The French, finding themselves rather too far off from their
main body, only wanted to gain time, and the Russian general waited for

Tchitchakof had found himself in one of those difficult situations, in
which prepossession, being compelled to fluctuate in uncertainty between
several points at once, has no sooner determined and fixed upon one
side, than it removes and gets overturned upon another.

His march from Minsk to Borizof in three columns, not only by the high
road, but by the roads of Antonopolia, Logoïsk, and Zembin, showed that
his whole attention was at first directed to that part of the Berezina,
above Borizof. Feeling himself then so strong upon his left, he felt
only that his right was weakened, and in consequence, his anxiety was
entirely transferred to that side.

The error which led him into that false direction had other and stronger
foundations. Kutusoff's instructions directed his responsibility to that
point. Ertell, who commanded twelve thousand men near Bobruisk, refused
to quit his cantonments, to follow Dombrowski, and to come and defend
that part of the river. He alleged, as his justification for refusal,
the danger of a distemper among the cattle, a pretext unheard of and
improbable, but perfectly true, as Tchitchakof himself has admitted.

The admiral adds further, that information sent to him by Wittgenstein
directed his anxiety towards Lower Berezino, as well as the supposition,
natural enough, that the presence of that general on the right flank of
the grand army and above Borizof, would push Napoleon below that town.

The recollection of the passages of Charles XII. and of Davoust at
Berezino, might also be another of his motives. By taking that
direction, Napoleon would not only escape Wittgenstein, but he might
retake Minsk, and form a junction with Schwartzenberg. This last was a
serious consideration with Tchitchakof, Minsk being his conquest, and
Schwartzenberg his first adversary. Lastly, and principally, Oudinôt's
demonstration near Ucholoda, and probably the report of the Jews,
determined him.

The admiral, completely deceived, had therefore resolved, on the evening
of the 25th, to descend the Berezina, at the very moment that Napoleon
had determined to re-ascend it. It might almost be said that the French
Emperor dictated the Russian general's resolution, the time for adopting
it, the precise moment, and every detail of its execution. Both started
at the same time from Borizof, Napoleon for Studzianka, Tchitchakof for
Szabaszawiczy, turning their backs to each other as if by mutual
agreement, and the admiral recalling all the troops which he had above
Borizof, with the exception of a small body of light troops, and without
even taking the precaution of breaking up the roads.

Notwithstanding, at Szabaszawiczy, he was not more than five or six
leagues from the passage which was effectuating. On the morning of the
26th he must have been informed of it. The bridge of Borizof was only
three hours' march from the point of attack. He had left fifteen
thousand men before that bridge; he might therefore have returned in
person to that point, rejoined Tchaplitz at Stakhowa, on the same day
made an attack, or at least made preparations for it, and on the
following day, the 27th, overthrown with eighteen thousand men the seven
thousand soldiers of Oudinôt and Dombrowski; and finally resumed, in
front of the Emperor and of Studzianka, the position which Tchaplitz had
quitted the day before.

But great errors are seldom repaired with the same readiness with which
they are committed; either because it is in our nature to be at first
doubtful of them, and that no one is disposed to admit them until they
are completely certain; or because they confuse, and in the distrust of
our own judgment, we hesitate, and require the support of other

Thus it was, that the admiral lost the remainder of the 26th and the
whole of the 27th in consultations, in feeling his way, and in
preparations. The presence of Napoleon and his grand army, of the
weakness of which it was impossible for him to have any idea, dazzled
him. He saw the Emperor every where; before his right, in the simulated
preparations for a passage; opposite his centre at Borizof, because in
fact the arrival of the successive portions of our army filled that
place with movements; and finally, at Studzianka before his left, where
the Emperor really was.

On the 27th, so little had he recovered from his error that he made his
chasseurs reconnoitre and attack Borizof; they crossed over upon the
beams of the burnt bridge, but were repulsed by the soldiers of
Partouneaux's division.

On the same day, while he was thus irresolute, Napoleon, with about five
thousand guards, and Ney's corps, now reduced to six hundred men,
crossed the Berezina about two o'clock in the afternoon; he posted
himself in reserve to Oudinôt, and secured the outlet from the bridges
against Tchitchakof's future efforts.

He had been preceded by a crowd of baggage and stragglers. Numbers of
them continued to cross the river after him as long as daylight lasted.
The army of Victor, at the same time, succeeded the guard in its
position on the heights of Studzianka.


Hitherto all had gone on well. But Victor, in passing through Borizof,
had left there Partouneaux with his division. That general had orders to
stop the enemy in the rear of that town, to drive before him the
numerous stragglers who had taken shelter there, and to rejoin Victor
before the close of the day. It was the first time that Partouneaux had
seen the disorder of the grand army. He was anxious, like Davoust at the
beginning of the retreat, to hide the traces of it from the Cossacks of
Kutusoff, who were at his heels. This fruitless attempt, the attacks of
Platof by the high road of Orcha, and those of Tchitchakof by the burnt
bridge of Borizof, detained him in that place until the close of the

He was preparing to quit it, when an order reached him from the Emperor
himself, to remain there all night. Napoleon's idea, no doubt, was, in
that manner to direct the whole attention of the three Russian generals
upon Borizof, and that Partouneaux's keeping them back upon that point,
would allow him sufficient time to operate the passage of his whole

But Wittgenstein left Platof to pursue the French army along the high
road, and directed his own march more to the right. He debouched the
same evening on the heights which border the Berezina, between Borizof
and Studzianka, intercepted the road between these two points, and
captured all that was found there. A crowd of stragglers, who were
driven back on Partouneaux, apprised him that he was separated from the
rest of the army.

Partouneaux did not hesitate: although he had no more than three cannon
with him, and three thousand five hundred soldiers, he determined to cut
his way through, made his dispositions accordingly, and began his march.
He had at first to march along a slippery road, crowded with baggage and
runaways; with a violent wind blowing directly in his face, and in a
dark and icy-cold night. To these obstacles were shortly added the fire
of several thousand enemies, who lined the heights upon his right. As
long as he was only attacked in flank, he proceeded; but shortly after,
he had to meet it in front from numberless troops well posted, whose
bullets traversed his column through and through.

This unfortunate division then got entangled in a shallow; a long file
of five or six hundred carriages embarrassed all its movements; seven
thousand terrified stragglers, howling with terror and despair, rushed
into the midst of its feeble lines. They broke through them, caused its
platoons to waver, and were every moment involving in their disorder
fresh soldiers who got disheartened. It became necessary to retreat, in
order to rally, and take a better position, but in falling back, they
encountered Platof's cavalry.

Half of our combatants had already perished, and the fifteen hundred
soldiers who remained found themselves surrounded by three armies and by
a river.

In this situation, a flag of truce came, in the name of Wittgenstein and
fifty thousand men, to order the French to surrender. Partouneaux
rejected the summons. He recalled into his ranks such of his stragglers
as yet retained their arms; he wanted to make a last effort, and clear a
sanguinary passage to the bridge of Studzianka; but these men, who were
formerly so brave, were now so degraded by their miseries, that they
would no longer make use of their arms.

At the same time, the general of his vanguard apprised him that the
bridges of Studzianka were burnt; an aide-de-camp, named Rochex, who had
just brought the report, pretended that he had seen them burning.
Partouneaux believed this false intelligence, for, in regard to
calamities, misfortune is credulous.

He concluded that he was abandoned and sacrificed; and as the night, the
incumbrances, and the necessity of facing the enemy on three sides,
separated his weak brigades, he desired each of them to be told to try
and steal off, under favour of the darkness, along the flanks of the
enemy. He himself, with one of these brigades, reduced to four hundred
men, ascended the steep and woody heights on his right, with the hope of
passing through Wittgenstein's army in the darkness, of escaping him,
and rejoining Victor; or, at all events, of getting round by the sources
of the Berezina.

But at every point where he attempted to pass, he encountered the
enemy's fires, and he turned again; he wandered about for several hours
quite at random, in plains of snow, in the midst of a violent hurricane.
At every step he saw his soldiers transfixed by the cold, emaciated with
hunger and fatigue, falling half dead into the hands of the Russian
cavalry, who pursued him without intermission.

This unfortunate general was still struggling with the heavens, with
men, and with his own despair, when he felt even the earth give way
under his feet. In fact, being deceived by the snow, he had fallen into
a lake, which was not frozen sufficiently hard to bear him, and in which
he would have been drowned. Then only he yielded and gave up his arms.

While this catastrophe was accomplishing, his other three brigades,
being more and more hemmed in upon the road, lost all power of movement.
They delayed their surrender till the next morning, first by fighting,
and then by parleying; they then all fell in their turn; a common
misfortune again united them with their general.

Of the whole division, a single battalion only escaped: it had been left
the last in Borizof. It quitted it in the midst of the Russians of
Platof and of Tchitchakof, who were effecting in that town, and at that
very moment, the junction of the armies of Moscow and of Moldavia. This
battalion, being alone and separated from its division, might have been
expected to be the first to fall, but that very circumstance saved it.
Several long trains of equipages and disbanded soldiers were flying
towards Studzianka in different directions; drawn aside by one of these
crowds, mistaking his road, and leaving on his right that which had been
taken by the army, the leader of this battalion glided to the borders of
the river, followed all its windings and turnings, and protected by the
combat of his less fortunate comrades, by the darkness, and the very
difficulties of the ground, moved off in silence, escaped from the
enemy, and brought to Victor the confirmation of Partouneaux's

When Napoleon heard the news, he was struck with grief, and exclaimed,
"How unfortunate it was, that when all appeared to be saved, as if
miraculously, this _defection_ had happened, to spoil all!" The
expression was improper, but grief extorted it from him, either because
he anticipated that Victor, being thus weakened, would be unable to hold
out long enough next day; or because he had made it a point of honour to
have left nothing during the whole of his retreat in the hands of the
enemy, but stragglers, and no armed and organised corps. In fact, this
division was the first and the only one which laid down its arms.


This success encouraged Wittgenstein. At the same time, after two days
feeling his way, the report of a prisoner, and the recapture of Borizof
by Platof had opened Tchitchakof's eyes. From that moment the three
Russian armies of the north, east, and south, felt themselves united;
their commanders had mutual communications. Wittgenstein and Tchitchakof
were jealous of each other, but they detested us still more; hatred, and
not friendship, was their bond of union. These generals were therefore
prepared to attack in conjunction the bridges of Studzianka, on both
sides of the river.

This was on the 28th of November. The grand army had had two days and
two nights to effect its passage; it ought to have been too late for the
Russians. But the French were in a state of complete disorder, and
materials were deficient for two bridges. Twice during the night of the
26th, the one for the carriages had broke down, and the passage had been
retarded by it for seven hours: it broke a third time on the 27th, about
four in the afternoon. On the other hand, the stragglers, who had been
dispersed in the woods and surrounding villages, had not taken advantage
of the first night, and on the 27th, when daylight appeared, they all
presented themselves at once in order to cross the bridges.

This was particularly the case when the guard, by whose movements they
regulated themselves, began its march. Its departure was like a signal;
they rushed in from all parts, and crowded upon the bank. Instantly
there was seen a deep, broad, and confused mass of men, horses, and
chariots, besieging the narrow entrance of the bridge, and overwhelming
it. The first, pushed forward by those behind them, and driven back by
the guards and pontonniers, or stopped by the river, were crushed, trod
underfoot, or precipitated among the floating ices of the Berezina. From
this immense and horrible rabble-rout there arose at times a confused
buzzing noise, at others a loud clamour, mingled with groans and fearful

The efforts of Napoleon and his lieutenants to save these desperate men
by restoring order among them, were for a long time completely
fruitless. The disorder was so great, that, about two o'clock, when the
Emperor presented himself in his turn, it was necessary to employ force
to open a passage for him. A corps of grenadiers of the guard, and
Latour-Maubourg, out of pure compassion, declined clearing themselves a
way through these poor wretches.

The imperial head-quarters were established at the hamlet of Zaniwki,
which is situated in the midst of the woods, within a league of
Studzianka. Eblé had just then made a survey of the baggage with which
the bank was covered; he apprised the Emperor that six days would not be
sufficient to enable so many carriages to pass over. Ney, who was
present, immediately called out, "that in that case they had better be
burnt immediately." But Berthier, instigated by the demon of courts,
opposed this; he assured the Emperor that the army was far from being
reduced to that extremity, and the Emperor was led to believe him, from
a preference for the opinion which flattered him the most, and from a
wish to spare so many men, whose misfortunes he reproached himself as
the cause of, and whose provisions and little all these carriages

In the night of the 27th the disorder ceased by the effect of an
opposite disorder. The bridges were abandoned, and the village of
Studzianka attracted all these stragglers; in an instant, it was pulled
to pieces, disappeared, and was converted into an infinite number of
bivouacs. Cold and hunger kept these wretched people fixed around them;
it was found impossible to tear them from them. The whole of that night
was again lost for their passage.

Meantime Victor, with six thousand men, was defending them against
Wittgenstein. But with the first dawn of the 28th, when they saw that
marshal preparing for a battle, when they heard the cannon of
Wittgenstein thundering over their heads, and that of Tchitchakof at the
same time on the opposite bank, they rose all at once, they descended,
precipitated themselves tumultuously, and returned to besiege the

Their terror was not without foundation; the last day of numbers of
these unfortunate persons was come. Wittgenstein and Platof, with forty
thousand Russians of the armies of the north and east, attacked the
heights on the left bank, which Victor, with his small force, defended.
On the right bank, Tchitchakof, with his twenty-seven thousand Russians
of the army of the south, debouched from Stachowa against Oudinôt, Ney,
and Dombrowski. These three could hardly reckon eight thousand men in
their ranks, which were supported by the sacred squadron, as well as by
the old and young guard, who then consisted of three thousand eight
hundred infantry and nine hundred cavalry.

The two Russian armies attempted to possess themselves at once of the
two outlets from the bridges, and of all who had been unable to push
forward beyond the marshes of Zembin. More than sixty thousand men, well
clothed, well fed, and completely armed, attacked eighteen thousand
half-naked, badly armed, dying of hunger, separated by a river,
surrounded by morasses, and additionally encumbered with more than fifty
thousand stragglers, sick or wounded, and by an enormous mass of
baggage. During the last two days, the cold and misery had been such
that the old guard had lost two-thirds, and the young guard one-half of
their effective men.

This fact, and the calamity which had fallen upon Partouneaux's
division, sufficiently explain the frightful diminution of Victor's
corps, and yet that marshal kept Wittgenstein in check during the whole
of that day, the 28th. As to Tchitchakof, he was beaten. Marshal Ney,
with his eight thousand French, Swiss, and Poles, was a match for
twenty-seven thousand Russians.

The admiral's attack was tardy and feeble. His cannon cleared the road,
but he durst not venture to follow his bullets, and penetrate by the
chasm which they made in our ranks. Opposite to his right, however, the
legion of the Vistula gave way to the attack of a strong column.
Oudinôt, Albert, Dombrowski, Claparede, and Kosikowski were then
wounded; some uneasiness began to be felt. But Ney hastened forward; he
made Doumerc and his cavalry dash quite across the woods upon the flank
of that Russian column; they broke through it, took two thousand
prisoners, cut the rest to pieces, and by this vigorous charge decided
the fate of the battle, which was dragging on in uncertainty.
Tchitchakof, thus defeated, was driven back into Stachowa.

[Illustration: Passage of the Berezina]

On our side, most of the generals of the second corps were wounded; for
the less troops they had, the more they were obliged to expose their
persons. Many officers on this occasion took the muskets and the places
of their wounded men. Among the losses of the day, that of young
Noailles, Berthier's aide-de-camp, was remarkable. He was struck dead by
a ball. He was one of those meritorious but too ardent officers, who are
incessantly exposing themselves, and are considered sufficiently
rewarded by being employed.

During this combat, Napoleon, at the head of his guard, remained in
reserve at Brilowa, covering the outlet of the bridges, between the two
armies, but nearer to that of Victor. That marshal, although attacked in
a very dangerous position, and by a force quadruple his own, lost very
little ground. The right of his _corps d'armée_, mutilated by the
capture of Partouneaux's division, was protected by the river, and
supported by a battery which the Emperor had erected on the opposite
bank. His front was defended by a ravine, but his left was in the air,
without support, and in a manner lost, in the elevated plain of

Wittgenstein's first attack was not made until ten o'clock in the
morning of the 28th, across the road of Borizof, and along the Berezina,
which he endeavoured to ascend as far as the passage, but the French
right wing stopped him, and kept him back for a considerable time, out
of reach of the bridges. He then deployed, and extended the engagement
with the whole front of Victor, but without effect. One of his attacking
columns attempted to cross the ravine, but it was attacked and

At last, about the middle of the day, the Russian discovered the point
where his superiority lay: he overwhelmed the French left wing. Every
thing would then have been lost had it not been for an effort of
Fournier, and the devotion of Latour-Maubourg. That general was passing
the bridges with his cavalry; he perceived the danger, retraced his
steps, and the enemy was again stopped by a most sanguinary charge.
Night came on before Wittgenstein's forty thousand men had made any
impression on the six thousand of the Duke of Belluno. That marshal
remained in possession of the heights of Studzianka, and still preserved
the bridges from the attacks of the Russian infantry, but he was unable
to conceal them from the artillery of their left wing.


During the whole of that day, the situation of the ninth corps was so
much more critical, as a weak and narrow bridge was its only means of
retreat; in addition to which its avenues were obstructed by the baggage
and the stragglers. By degrees, as the action got warmer, the terror of
these poor wretches increased their disorder. First of all they were
alarmed by the rumours of a serious engagement, then by seeing the
wounded returning from it, and last of all by the batteries of the
Russian left wing, some bullets from which began to fall among their
confused mass.

They had all been already crowding one upon the other, and the immense
multitude heaped upon the bank pell-mell with the horses and carriages,
there formed a most alarming incumbrance. It was about the middle of the
day that the first Russian bullets fell in the midst of this chaos; they
were the signal of universal despair.

Then it was, as in all cases of extremity, that dispositions exhibited
themselves without disguise, and actions were witnessed, most base, and
others most sublime. According to their different characters, some
furious and determined, with sword in hand, cleared for themselves a
horrible passage. Others, still more cruel, opened a way for their
carriages by driving them without mercy over the crowd of unfortunate
persons who stood in the way, whom they crushed to death. Their
detestable avarice made them sacrifice their companions in misfortune to
the preservation of their baggage. Others, seized with a disgusting
terror, wept, supplicated, and sunk under the influence of that passion,
which completed the exhaustion of their strength. Some were observed,
(and these were principally the sick and wounded,) who, renouncing life,
went aside and sat down resigned, looking with a fixed eye on the snow
which was shortly to be their tomb.

Numbers of those who started first among this crowd of desperadoes
missed the bridge, and attempted to scale it by the sides, but the
greater part were pushed into the river. There were seen women in the
midst of the ice, with their children in their arms, raising them as
they felt themselves sinking, and even when completely immerged, their
stiffened arms still held them above them.

In the midst of this horrible disorder, the artillery bridge burst and
broke down. The column, entangled in this narrow passage, in vain
attempted to retrograde. The crowds of men who came behind, unaware of
the calamity, and not hearing the cries of those before them, pushed
them on, and threw them into the gulf, into which they were precipitated
in their turn.

Every one then attempted to pass by the other bridge. A number of large
ammunition waggons, heavy carriages, and cannon crowded to it from all
parts. Directed by their drivers, and carried along rapidly over a rough
and unequal declivity, in the midst of heaps of men, they ground to
powder the poor wretches who were unlucky enough to get between them;
after which, the greater part, driving violently against each other and
getting overturned, killed in their fall those who surrounded them.
Whole rows of these desperate creatures being pushed against these
obstacles, got entangled among them, were thrown down and crushed to
pieces by masses of other unfortunates who succeeded each other

Crowds of them were rolling in this way, one over the other, nothing was
heard but cries of rage and suffering. In this frightful medley, those
who were trod under and stifled, struggled under the feet of their
companions, whom they laid hold of with their nails and teeth, and by
whom they were repelled without mercy, as if they had been enemies.

Among them were wives and mothers, calling in vain, and in tones of
distraction, for their husbands and their children, from whom they had
been separated but a moment before, never more to be united: they
stretched out their arms and entreated to be allowed to pass in order to
rejoin them; but being carried backwards and forwards by the crowd, and
overcome by the pressure, they sunk under without being even remarked.
Amidst the tremendous noise of a furious hurricane, the firing of
cannon, the whistling of the storm and of the bullets, the explosion of
shells, vociferations, groans, and the most frightful oaths, this
infuriated and disorderly crowd heard not the complaints of the victims
whom it was swallowing up.

The more fortunate gained the bridge by scrambling over heaps of
wounded, of women and children thrown down and half suffocated, and whom
they again trod down in their attempts to reach it. When at last they
got to the narrow defile, they fancied they were safe, but the fall of a
horse, or the breaking or displacing of a plank again stopped all.

There was also, at the outlet of the bridge, on the other side, a
morass, into which many horses and carriages had sunk, a circumstance
which again embarrassed and retarded the clearance. Then it was, that in
that column of desperadoes, crowded together on that single plank of
safety, there arose an internal struggle, in which the weakest and worst
situated were thrown into the river by the strongest. The latter,
without turning their heads, and carried away by the instinct of
self-preservation, pushed on toward the goal with fury, regardless of
the imprecations of rage and despair, uttered by their companions or
their officers, whom they had thus sacrificed.

But on the other hand, how many noble instances of devotion! and why are
time and space denied me to relate them? There were seen soldiers, and
even officers, harnessing themselves to sledges, to snatch from that
fatal bank their sick or wounded comrades. Farther off, and out of reach
of the crowd, were seen soldiers motionless, watching over their dying
officers, who had entrusted themselves to their care; the latter in vain
conjured them to think of nothing but their own preservation, they
refused, and, sooner than abandon their leaders, were contented to wait
the approach of slavery or death.

Above the first passage, while the young Lauriston threw himself into
the river, in order to execute the orders of his sovereign more
promptly, a little boat, carrying a mother and her two children, was
overset and sunk under the ice; an artilleryman, who was struggling like
the others on the bridge to open a passage for himself, saw the
accident; all at once, forgetting himself, he threw himself into the
river, and by great exertion, succeeded in saving one of the three
victims. It was the youngest of the two children; the poor little thing
kept calling for its mother with cries of despair, and the brave
artilleryman was heard telling it, "not to cry; that he had not
preserved it from the water merely to desert it