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berg had retreated behind the Bug, leaving an open road from Brest for Tchitchagoff's veterans to attack his right flank. Victor, learning of his Emperor's straits, had left 15,000 men in Smolensk, and was advancing to join Saint-Cyr on the Dwina in order to assure the safety of the main army from that side. To him came the dismal news that Wittgenstein had resumed the offensive against Saint-Cyr, and that the line of attack on the French left was as open from the north as was that on the other side from the south. Davout's rear-guard was steadily disintegrating under hardships and before the harassing attacks of the Russian riders under Platoff. In consequence of these crushing discouragements the whole army was re-arrayed, «the baggage in the middle, .. with a half battalion in front, a half battalion behind, battalions right and left, so that when we face we can fire in every direction.» Ney's corps was assigned to the place of danger in the rear-a place he kept with desperate gallantry until he earned the title «bravest of the brave.>>

The early promise of substantially reinforcing Kutusoff's army had not been fulfilled. The fanatic zeal at first displayed soon effervesced, and the supplies of men and equipments dwindled into insignificance. Kutusoff was therefore half-hearted in his pursuit, and when, having taken the short cut which was unknown to Napoleon, his van came in contact with the French line at Wiazma on November 3, the Russians had little heart to fight, and their general held back his main force in anxious timidity.

A second time the opportunity was lost for annihilating the retreating foe, now reduced in number to about 60,000. Napoleon was far away on the front when Kutusoff attacked, and the battle was conducted on the French side by the marshals in consultation with Eugène and Poniatowski. The rearguard was momentarily severed from the line, but these two wheeled and fiercely attacked the advancing Russians, engaging all within reach until Davout was able to evade the mêlée and rejoin the main army. The French lost about 4000, the Russians fully as many. Neither had any courage to renew the struggle next morning, and each army kept its way as best it could, both exhausted, and hourly shrinking in vigor and numbers. Napoleon first learned of the conflict on the 4th, and contemplated a movement which might lead his pursuers into an ambush. But he found the three columns which had been engaged so pitifully disintegrated that he

gave up in despair, a feeling heightened when, for the first time, snowflakes came ominously fluttering through the frosty air.

The weary march was therefore resumed, and there was some semblance of order in it, although Ney wrote Berthier that already on the 4th there were without exaggeration 4000 men of the grand army who refused to march in rank, and the number increased daily. On the 6th Napoleon was informed that Victor, having effected a junction with Saint-Cyr, had checked Wittgenstein in a series of gallant struggles, but that step by step the two divisions had been driven back until now they were only thirty miles distant, having abandoned the line of the Dwina, including the depot of Vitebsk. «Seize the offensive; the safety of the army depends on it,» was Napoleon's desperate reply. Terrible as this news was to the general, it was eclipsed in horror for the Emperor by accounts from Paris of Malet's conspiracy, a movement to overthrow the Empire based on the false rumor of his own death. «And Napoleon II., did no one think of him?» he cried in anguish. Grand army, reputation, personal prestigeall these he might lose and survive; but to lose France, that were ruin indeed.

That night a heavy frost fell, and the relentless severity of the Russian winter began. This is proved by Napoleon's famous twentyninth bulletin; in spite of assertions made later to sustain the legend of an army conquered by the elements, the autumn had dallied far beyond its time. With numbed limbs and in the gnawing misery of bitter cold, the army straggled on. Men and horses died by the score; the survivors cut strips of carrion wherewith to sustain life, and desperately pressed forward; for all who left the highway fell into the enemy's hands. In some bivouacs three hundred died overnight; there are statements in the papers of officials which seem to indicate that in the struggle for life the weaker often perished at the hands of their own comrades. The halfcrazed, frost-bitten, disorderly soldiers of the French van reached Smolensk on the 9th, and on the 13th the remnants of the rear, with many stragglers, came up and encamped. Ney's division had well-nigh vanished in their glory. Fighting without fear, and dying undaunted, they had saved the moiety of the grand army which reached Smolensk; the other half had perished by the way. Eugène had taken a long circuit, but his division had lost fewer and was less demoralized than those of his colleagues. Murat's recklessness in fighting the Cossacks had resulted in the




loss of nearly all his horses; his men arrived on foot.

The scenes at Smolensk were shameful. At first the garrison shut the gates in the very faces of the human wolves who clamored for food and shelter. Discipline having been restored, the guard was admitted. The stores were ample for a fortnight's rations to all survivors; but the distribution was so irreg ular that precious supplies were tumbled into the street, and at the end it was found that the guard had secured sustenance for a fortnight, while the line had scarcely sufficient for a week. However, the sick and wounded were housed and made fairly comfortable. These sickening tumults over, the stragglers were reincorporated into regiments, the supply wagons were destroyed in large numbers, and the horses assigned to the artillery; the army was re-arrayed in four divisions under the Emperor, Eugène, Davout, and Ney respectively, and the French made ready to leave Smolensk with a bold front. Napoleon's contempt for his enemy was only matched by their palpitating fear of him. Accordingly he arranged that the four columns should move in parallel lines toward Lithuania, a day's march distant from each other, he with 6000 of the guard in the van; Ney, with the other 4000 to strengthen his own line, was to keep the rear. The start was made on the 12th; five days later the towers of the rampart were blown up, and the last ranks marched out. The sick and wounded were abandoned to the foe, and found humane treatment; the stragglers, who remained in considerable numbers to plunder, were for the most part caught by the entering Russians, and inhumanly done to death. In all these days the cold had not abated, and at times the thermometer marked fifteen degrees below zero.

The further line of retreat was through Krasnoi, Borrissoff, and Minsk, the Emperor expecting Schwarzenberg, reinforced by 14,000 German recruits, to cover the crossing of the Beresina at Borrissoff. The Russians followed doggedly on their parallel line of pursuit, harassing the French rear and flanks. On the 15th their van came in touch with Napoleon's division near Krasnoi almost as he himself passed, and their artillery opened fire. The cannon-balls yelled as they shot by, and there was great excitement. «Bah!» said Napoleon, as he pressed forward; «cannonballs have been flying about our legs these twenty years.» He well knew that his anxious foe would not seriously attack him and his guard, but, justly considering that the case

would be different in regard to his rear, he halted to await their arrival. Early on the morning of the 17th he sent out a reconnoitering party as if about to wheel and give battle; Kutusoff drew back his van and made ready. Eugène and Davout were within reach, Ney was only then leaving Smolensk. Around and behind his six thousand troops were swarming almost as many stragglers; and on the 18th the Russians endeavored to cut off his hampered and sore-pressed division. But Ney rose to the occasion, and on the 19th crossed the Dnieper over the ice, hoping to follow the right bank westward. Platoff and the Cossacks were hard on his heels; but fighting and marching throughout the weary, bitter day, at night the undaunted marshal found himself in touch with Eugène, who had advanced to meet him. When, on the 20th, they effected a junction, Ney had only eight hundred men in the ranks behind him. It was still intensely cold.

Next day a thaw set in; it began to rain, the crust broke under the men's feet, and the roads were lines of icy clods. The soldiers had no foot-gear but rags; every step was an agony, and thousands who had so far endured now gave up, and flung away their guns and equipments. The guard had begun to show signs of demoralization on the 17th. The Emperor alone seemed impassive. For days he had shared the common hardships; clad in a long Polish coat of marten fur, a stout birch staff in his hand, without a sign of either physical or nervous exhaustion, he had marched silently among his suffering men. If we picture him standing at Krasnoi, weighing how long he dared to brave an enemy which if consolidated and hurled upon his lines would have annihilated them, we must feel that collapse was prevented only by his nerve and by the terror of his name. On the 18th there were not more than twentyfive thousand regularly marching. Again he had thrown the influence of his presence into the scale, and, stepping before the guard on that dreadful day, he said simply: «You see the disorganization of my army. In unhappy infatuation most of the soldiers have thrown away their guns. If you follow this dangerous example no hope remains.» The call was not in vain; and reaching Orcha on the 19th, there was still an army, but as yet no news of Ney. The sky seemed dark and the prospect blank when it was learned that both Victor and Schwarzenberg had been steadily thrown back. The Russian plan was for Wittgenstein and Tchitchagoff to drive in the extreme left and right divisions of Napoleon's




attenuated line respectively, and then to concentrate at Borrissoff and attack the main French army retreating before Kutusoff. So far the various parts of this scheme had been successfully executed. Borrissoff and its bridge were still in possession of a Polish regiment; but the garrison was very small, and could not repulse the attack of the converging Russian columns or of any portion of them. It behooved Napoleon, therefore, to move swiftly if his few remaining troops were to cross the Beresina in safety. It was in this frightful dilemma that Ney at last appeared,

and his presence was in itself encouragement. Purchasing such stores as Jewish contractors offered, abandoning the heavy pontoons, and hitching the horses to a few field-pieces found in park, the Emperor sent orders to both Victor and Oudinot, enjoining them to make forced marches and meet him at Borrissoff; on the 21st, amid the slush, mud, and broken cakes of crust, he started his army on a swift despairing rush for that crucial point. It was too late; that very day Tchitchagoff's van occupied the town and captured the bridge. The thaw had opened

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