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FROM THE PAINTING BY ADOLPHE YVON, IN THE MUSEUM OF VERSAILLES.
MARSHAL NEY SUSTAINING THE REAR-GUARD OF THE GRAND ARMY.
berg had retreated behind the Bug, leaving gave up in despair, a feeling heightened an open road from Brest for Tchitchagoff's when, for the first time, snowflakes came veterans to attack his right flank. Victor, ominously fluttering through the frosty air. learning of his Emperor's straits, had left The weary march was therefore resumed, 15,000 men in Smolensk, and was advancing and there was some semblance of order in it, to join Saint-Cyr on the Dwina in order to although Ney wrote Berthier that already assure the safety of the main army from on the 4th there were without exaggeration that side. To him came the dismal news 4000 men of the grand army who refused to that Wittgenstein had resumed the offensive march in rank, and the number increased against Saint-Cyr, and that the line ofattack on daily. On the 6th Napoleon was informed the French left was as open from the north that Victor, having effected a junction with as was that on the other side from the south. Saint-Cyr, hadchecked Wittgenstein in a series Davout's rear-guard was steadily disintegrat- of gallant struggles, but that step by step the ing under hardships and before the harassing two divisions had been driven back until now attacks of the Russian riders under Platoff. they were only thirty miles distant, having In consequence of these crushing discourage- abandoned the line of the Dwina, including the ments the whole army was re-arrayed, «the depot of Vitebsk. «Seize the offensive; the baggage in the middle, . . . with a half safety of the army depends on it, was Na
» battalion in front, a half battalion behind, poleon's desperate reply. Terrible as this battalions right and left, so that when we news was to the general, it was eclipsed in face we can fire in every direction.) Ney's horror for the Emperor by accounts from Paris corps was assigned to the place of danger of Malet's conspiracy, a movement to overin the rear -a place he kept with desperate throw the Empire based on the false rumor gallantry until he earned the title « bravest of his own death. «And Napoleon II., did of the brave.»
no one think of him? » he cried in anguish. The early promise of substantially reinfor- Grand army, reputation, personal prestigecing Kutusoff's army had not been fulfilled. all these he might lose and survive; but to The fanatic zeal at first displayed soon effer- lose France, that were ruin indeed. vesced, and the supplies of men and equip- That night a heavy frost fell, and the rements dwindled into insignificance. Kutusoff lentless severity of the Russian winter began. was therefore half-hearted in his pursuit, This is proved by Napoleon's famous twentyand when, having taken the short cut which ninth bulletin; in spite of assertions made was unknown to Napoleon, his van came in later to sustain the legend of an army concontact with the French line at Wiazma on quered by the elements, the autumn had November 3, the Russians had little heart to dallied far beyond its time. With numbed fight, and their general held back his main limbs and in the gnawing misery of bitter force in anxious timidity.
cold, the army straggled on. Men and horses A second time the opportunity was lost died by the score; the survivors cut strips for annihilating the retreating foe, now re- of carrion wherewith to sustain life, and duced in number to about 60,000. Napoleon desperately pressed forward; for all who left was far away on the front when Kutusoff at- the highway fell into the enemy's hands. In tacked, and the battle was conducted on the some bivouacs three hundred died overnight; French side by the marshals in consultation there are statements in the papers of officials with Eugène and Poniatowski. The rear- which seem to indicate that in the struggle guard was momentarily severed from the for life the weaker often perished at the line, but these two wheeled and fiercely at- hands of their own comrades. The halftacked the advancing Russians, engaging all crazed, frost-bitten, disorderly soldiers of the within reach until Davout was able to evade French van reached Smolensk on the 9th, the mêlée and rejoin the main army. The and on the 13th the remnants of the rear, French lost about 4000, the Russians fully with many stragglers, came up and encamped. as many. Neither had any courage to renew Ney’s division had well-nigh vanished in their the struggle next morning, and each army glory. Fighting without fear, and dying unkept its way as best it could, both exhausted, daunted, they had saved the moiety of the and hourly shrinking in vigor and numbers. grand army which reached Smolensk; the Napoleon first learned of the conflict on the other half had perished by the way. Eugène 4th, and contemplated a movement which had taken a long circuit, but his division had might lead his pursuers into an ambush. But lost fewer and was less demoralized than he found the three columns which had been those of his colleagues. Murat's recklessness engaged so pitifully disintegrated that he in fighting the Cossacks had resulted in the
loss of nearly all his horses; his men arrived would be different in regard to his rear, he
halted to await their arrival. Early on the The scenes at Smolensk were shameful. At morning of the 17th he sent out a reconnoitfirst the garrison shut the gates in the very ering party as if about to wheel and give faces of the human wolves who clamored for battle; Kutusoff drew back his van and made food and shelter. Discipline having been re- ready. Eugène and Davout were within stored, the guard was admitted. The stores reach, Ney was only then leaving Smolensk. were ample for a fortnight's rations to all Around and behind his six thousand troops survivors; but the distribution was so irreg- were swarming almost as many stragglers; ular that precious supplies were tumbled and on the 18th the Russians endeavored to into the street, and at the end it was found cut off his hampered and sore-pressed divithat the guard had secured sustenance for sion. But Ney rose to the occasion, and on a fortnight, while the line had scarcely suffi- the 19th crossed the Dnieper over the ice, cient for a week. However, the sick and hoping to follow the right bank westward. wounded were housed and made fairly com- Platoff and the Cossacks were hard on his fortable. These sickening tumults over, the heels; but fighting and marching throughstragglers were reincorporated into regi- out the weary, bitter day, at night the unments, the supply wagons were destroyed in daunted marshal found himself in touch with large numbers, and the horses assigned to Eugène, who had advanced to meet him. the artillery; the army was re-arrayed in four When, on the 20th, they effected a junction, divisions under the Emperor, Eugène, Davout, Ney had only eight hundred men in the ranks and Ney respectively, and the French made behind him. It was still intensely cold. ready to leave Smolensk with a bold front. Next day a thaw set in; it began to rain, Napoleon's contempt for his enemy was only the crust broke under the men's feet, and matched by their palpitating fear of him. the roads were lines of icy clods. The solAccordingly he arranged that the four col- diers had no foot-gear but rags; every step umns should move in parallel lines toward was an agony, and thousands who had so far Lithuania, a day's march distant from each endured now gave up, and flung away their other, he with 6000 of the guard in the van; guns and equipments. The guard had begun Ney, with the other 4000 to strengthen his to show signs of demoralization on the 17th. own line, was to keep the rear. The start The Emperor alone seemed impassive. For
. was made on the 12th; five days later the days he had shared the common hardships; towers of the rampart were blown up, and clad in a long Polish coat of marten fur, a the last ranks marched out. The sick and stout birch staff in his hand, without a sign wounded were abandoned to the foe, and of either physical or nervous exhaustion, he found humane treatment; the stragglers, who had marched silently among his suffering remained in considerable numbers to plunder, men. If we picture him standing at Krasnoi, were for the most part caught by the enter- weighing how long he dared to brave an ening Russians, and inhumanly done to death. emy which if consolidated and hurled upon In all these days the cold had not abated, and his lines would have annihilated them, we at times the thermometer marked fifteen de- must feel that collapse was prevented only grees below zero.
by his nerve and by the terror of his name. The further line of retreat was through On the 18th there were not more than twentyKrasnoi, Borrissoff, and Minsk, the Emperor five thousand regularly marching. Again he expecting Schwarzenberg, reinforced by 14,- had thrown the influence of his presence into 000 German recruits, to cover the crossing of the scale, and, stepping before the guard on the Beresina at Borrissoff. The Russians fol- that dreadful day, he said simply: « You see lowed doggedly on their parallel line of pur- the disorganization of my army. In unhappy suit, harassing the French rear and flanks. On infatuation most of the soldiers have thrown the 15th their van came in touch with Na- away their guns. If you follow this dangerpoleon's division near Krasnoi almost as he ous example no hope remains.) The call was himself passed, and their artillery opened not in vain; and reaching Orcha on the 19th, fire. The cannon-balls yelled as they shot by, there was still an army, but as yet no news and there was great excitement. « Bah!» said of Ney. The sky seemed dark and the prosNapoleon, as he pressed forward; «cannon- pect blank when it was learned that both balls have been flying about our legs these Victor and Schwarzenberg had been steadily twenty years. He well knew that his anxious thrown back. The Russian plan was for Wittfoe would not seriously attack him and his genstein and Tchitchagoff to drive in the exguard, but, justly considering that the case treme left and right divisions of Napoleon's Slu attenuated line respectively, and then to con- and his presence was in itself encouragecentrate at Borrissoff and attack the main ment. Purchasing such stores as Jewish French army retreating before Kutusoff. So contractors offered, abandoning the heavy far the various parts of this scheme had pontoons, and hitching the horses to a few been successfully executed. Borrissoff and its field-pieces found in park, the Emperor sent bridge were still in possession of a Polish orders to both Victor and Oudinot, enjoining regiment; but the garrison was very small, them to make forced marches and meet him and could not repulse the attack of lhe con- at Borrissoff; on the 21st, amid the slush, mud, verging Russian columns or of any portion of and broken cakes of crust, he started his them. It behooved Napoleon, therefore, to army on a swift despairing rush for that crumove swiftly if his few remaining troops were cial point. It was too late; that very day to cross the Beresina in safety. It was in this Tchitchagoff's van occupied the town and frightful dilemma that Ney at last appeared, captured the bridge. The thaw had opened