Puslapio vaizdai


BUILDING THE BRIDGE AT THE ISLAND OF LOBAU. (Napoleon and General Bertrand in the foreground, village of Ebersdorf in the distance.)

determined to withdraw into the Lobau, and hold it until a stronger bridge could be constructed and Davout bring over his entire force. After two days of terrific defensive fighting, so terrific that the Austrians were several times on the point of retreat,-Napoleon was obliged to abandon the field.


THE night of May 22 was the beginning of such bitterness for the French emperor as he had not yet tasted. His enemy's forces numbered about 70,000, his own perhaps 45,000; but this was entirely his own fault, due largely to overweening confidence in himself and a weak contempt for foes who, after a long and bitter novitiate, now fought like veteran Frenchmen, and were led by one who had learned the lessons of Napoleon's own strategy. Five times Essling had been lost and won; how often Aspern had been captured and retaken could only be estimated. Both hamlets were now abandoned by the French. The last Austrian charge against the center had been made and repelled with fiery valor, but in it Lannes was mortally wounded. The grand total, therefore, of the two days was a loss of gallant troops by the thousand, and of this marshal, Napoleon's greatest division general, the friend of his youth, and the only surviving one that was both fearless and honest. Worse even than this, the «unconquerable, though not conquered, had been checked, and that, too, not in a corner, as in Spain or at Eylau, but in the sight of all Europe, on a field chosen by himself.

As the war-sick Emperor passed the litter on which lay the maimed body of his old comrade, he threw himself on the living but maimed and half-conscious form in an agony of tenderness; and that night, as he sat at table before an untasted meal, the bitter tears rolled over cheeks which did not often know the sensation. But the bulletin which he dictated ran, «The enemy withdrew to their position, and we remained masters of the field. This was exactly as true of the French at Aspern as it had been of the Russians at Eylau-a technical victory, a moral defeat. The Austrians celebrated a victory, the honors of which they accorded to the last cavalry charge under Prince John Liechtenstein; and in the peaceful churchyard at Aspern lies the effigy of a majestic lion stricken to the heart, as an Austrian reminder of those two days' victorious fighting, which literally drenched the spot with blood. «We could not use the victory,»> wrote Charles's chief of staff

on the 24th; «for the enemy's strong position. made pursuit impossible.» This he well knew, for the night before the Austrians had tried with signal failure to dislodge the French army from the Lobau.

The respective feelings of the two forces are mirrored in two facts. On the 23d Napoleon again visited Lannes, who was now fully conscious and aware that he was doomed. He was as fearless as ever, and with the stern candor of an old republican poured out to the Emperor all that he felt. The army, he said, was weary of bloodshed, the nation of its sense of exhaustion; for both were alike aware that they suffered and bled no longer for a principle, but for the boundless ambition of one man. The veteran marshal refused all sympathy or consolation, and turned his face to the wall. Both Marbot and Pelet declare that this story of Cadet de Gassicourt is an invention; if so, it is a clever one, for we know from other sources that as far as the army was concerned the statement attributed to Lannes was correct. As there was little chance for booty in such rapid marching and constant fighting, the youth and the poor were disheartened. The great fortunes won by the officers were of little use while peace was denied for their enjoyment; the millions of Masséna did not save him from the exposures and hardships of the battle-field, and he confessed that he loved luxury and immoral self-indulgence. Such voices had created an undercurrent of discontent.

The feeling of Charles and his soldiers was not greatly different. There was nothing possible as the result of their victory but to take up a more comfortable position on the same Marchfeld which had witnessed their losses. Before them were the corpses of nearly 50,000 slain, about equally divided between their brethren and their foes. The Archduke urged that now was the time for diplomacy. The battle of Aspern had softened Napoleon, he said, and Austria might secure an advantageous peace. But Francis had not changed his nature: he would await the final decision. His brother Ferdinand would soon arrive from Poland, and John was already in Hungary. To Frederick William III. he had offered Warsaw if Prussia would only come to his assistance. But the King was as stubborn as Francis. Fearing lest Austria should secure German leadership, and expecting in the end to gain more from Russia, he refused, in spite of the earnest advice of all his ministers, to assist his rival. It was only when he was assured that Alexander intended to remain neutral that he consented to a secret armament, but

[graphic][subsumed][subsumed][merged small]
[graphic][merged small][merged small]

then it was too late. The insurrection in Westphalia, to assist which Schill, in disobedience of orders, led his battalion of hussars from Berlin, was easily suppressed. Napoleon's signal success in Bavaria seemed to justify the King, and the failure of Francis to secure any advantage after Aspern confirmed him in his opinion. Such, however, was the temper of his people that, under moral compulsion, he proposed formal terms of alliance. Austria's real spirit appeared in her vague answer. She first asked England for more assistance, but failing to secure it, turned ungraciously and with indefinite proposals to Prussia. Her envoy of course found no response. Thus it was that Charles and Napoleon lay for weeks watching each other like gladiators, each ready to take advantage of any false step made by the other, and both steadily gathering strength to renew the struggle in the

same arena.

Napoleon seemed to make his preparations with a determination to risk all in the next encounter. His line of communication with the west was abandoned altogether; the Tyrol, too, was virtually evacuated, and Lefebvre, with the Bavarians, relieved Vandamme and Bernadotte at Linz, so that they might both at once advance within striking distance. Eugène had reached Bruck in Styria, and was therefore at hand; Marmont with 10,000 men was called from Illyria. Being thus safe toward the south, the Emperor sent two divisions to watch the Austrians at Presburg. Before June 10 he had compacted in and about Vienna an army of 240,000 men. On the 13th the Archduke John, having turned and advanced toward Raab, was attacked, defeated, and driven back into Hungary by Eugène, who had learned, if not generalship, at least obedience, and having carefully

obeyed his stepfather's injunctions, had thus won an important victory.

Meantime all was activity on the Lobau. A new and solid bridge was built across the main stream. To forestall another such accident as had occurred before, it was not only protected by piles, but guarded by rowboats armed with field-pieces and manned by artillerymen. The enemy had withdrawn behind the Russbach in a line from Deutsch-Wagram to Markgrafneusiedl, leaving only a corps to fortify the old line from Aspern to Essling. In consequence the Emperor entirely changed his plan. The island of Lobau was first strongly fortified, and then, not one, but numerous bridges were constructed to the mainland on the left bank under cover of its guns. Lower down similar measures were taken. In this way the French troops could effect their passage very rapidly and much farther eastward than before, avoid the Aspern-Essling line, and reaching Enzersdorf under protection of their own forts, turn the enemy's left almost in the act of crossing, and so roll up the left wing of his line, which was strongly posted on high ground behind the Russbach, from Markgrafneusiedl through Parbasdorf toward Wagram, where it was connected with the center. These arrangements were all completed by July 1, on which date the Emperor left Schönbrunn for the Lobau. During the fighting at Aspern he had observed the field from the swinging rungs of a rope-ladder fastened to one of the tall trees on the island. This time he brought with him a long stepladder, one of those used in the palace gardens to trim high trees. The Archduke John was now in Presburg, the Archduke Charles had raised his numbers to 130,000 men. On and near the Lobau were 180,000 French soldiers; 22,000 more were within call.

It was the 5th before all the preliminary moves were successfully taken. The passage had been safely accomplished during the previous night exactly as had been planned, a feint against Aspern having thrown the Austrians on a false scent. In the morning, therefore, the two lines were arrayed opposite, but somewhat obliquely, to each other, the French right overlapping the Austrian left beyond Enzersdorf as far as Wittau, so as either to prevent the approach of Archduke John or to outflank the Austrian left according to circumstances. The French center was thus in front of the Austrian left, and Masséna, with the left resting on the Danube, was to attack the Austrian center at the village of Gerasdorf, while Bernadotte and Eugène were to throw themselves on Charles's left, which stretched behind the Russbach from Wagram to Markgrafneusiedl. Napoleon waited for some hours while scouts reconnoitered toward Presburg. Being assured about five that John had not left Presburg and gave no signs of moving, he prepared his columns, and about seven in the evening ordered the onset.

Masséna made a vigorous effort to hold the enemy's center and right, while Napoleon launched his own center and right against the positions held by his opponent's left. For some hours there was vigorous fighting, but Charles saw the Emperor's manoeuver, and swiftly throwing his reserve from behind Gerasdorf into his left, gained time to call up reinforcements from his right at the Bisamberg. Bernadotte moved slowly, and did not render his force effective at the crucial moment. Napoleon was much incensed by his apparent sluggishness. An attack made at seven against Wagram by Oudinot failed. This hamlet was the key of the Austrian position, forming as it did the angle of their line, and the fighting there was desperate. By nine o'clock the French were thrown back all along, and compelled to resume the positions they had held in the morning. At eleven a last attempt was made by Eugène and Bernadotte on Wagram, but like the other it was bloody and useless. Around the council-fire that evening the leaders of the left and center were ordered to move farther to the right, and to concentrate next morning on the positions behind the Russbach. At dawn the change was made, and before sunrise all was ready, the Emperor having passed a sleepless night on his tiger-skin behind the bivouac fire in front of his tent.

But Charles did not wait next morning to be attacked. With new courage and added

confidence he ordered his right, under Klenau, to follow down the Danube against the enemy's weakened left, which might thus be turned, while with the break of day his center advanced against Masséna. For a time the Austrians carried all before them, and Masséna retreated step by step until it appeared as if the tables would be turned and Napoleon overwhelmed by his own tactics. Both Aspern and Essling were taken, and then, turning north, the united Austrian center and right entirely surrounded the French left and attacked it on the flank. They thought themselves victorious, when unexpectedly the heavy artillery on the Lobau opened fire upon them, and they began to waver. At this crisis the great artillerist brought into action the strong batteries of his own arm which he had so carefully prepared. Lauriston was chosen to carry out the decisive movement, and his splendid conduct not merely secured the victory, but made it overwhelming. According to the most conservative estimate, there were under his command one hundred field-pieces,-sixty from the Guard,-and these were supported by cavalry and cuirassiers; some estimate the number of guns at four hundred, but this is manifestly a wild exaggeration. As the artillery rolled up and unlimbered, their volleys of shot, shell, and shrapnel began to follow in swift succession, and in a short time the enemy's pursuit was not only stayed, but with the approach of Macdonald's infantry to form a new flank it was turned into retreat. The Austrians made one gallant stand, but were finally forced back to the foot of the Bisamberg.

Meantime Davout had attacked the left. While he fought he was steadily reinforced, until at one time, about midday, over a third of the army was concentrated under his command. The Austrians opposed to them could not even with their vantage of high ground withstand the ever stronger pressure, and slowly rolled back northward in a curve. Eugène captured Wagram, and then turned northward to join Macdonald, who, with his entire division, had joined that of Wrede, and had been steadily rolling back the enemy's line in that direction. They were supported by Davout and Oudinot. The Austrians on the right were then once more dislodged and compelled to withdraw on the highway to Brünn. It was about two in the afternoon. Davout had been ordered to wait for a signal to make the decisive advance. It was given, and as Oudinot rushed up the heights at Parbasdorf, his comrade appeared from Markgrafneusiedl, driving the enemy before him. A breach

« AnkstesnisTęsti »