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to throw their united force across the French advance to Vienna, and when at last he brought up on the slopes of the Bisamberg he seemed for an instant aimless. Thus can the hope of peace paralyze a great general's activity. But when, having offered to open negotiations with his adversary, he received no answer, when he learned that the Austrian ministry also was determined to fight the struggle out, he was himself again. His plan was the greatest perhaps ever devised by him: so great, indeed, that four years later Napoleon made it his own at Dresden. It was to free Vienna by threatening the French communications.
The idea was old enough; the novelty lay in the details. Kollowrath was to detach 25,000 men from his own force, and to seize Linz with its bridge; the Archduke John was to join the Army of the Tyrol, which had retreated to the head waters of the Enns, and then march with 50,000 men to the same point. But Masséna was already master of the Enns valley, and Bernadotte was sent to assist Vandamme at Linz. The Emperor had already divined the plan, and had thwarted it by the rapidity with which his orders were transmitted and distant divisions summoned. The communications were threatened, but not broken, and Napoleon gave his whole attention to the problem of crossing a great river in the face of an enemy. He had done it before, but never under circumstances so peculiar as these which confronted him in the size of the Danube and the strength of his foe.
The mighty stream follows for the most part a single channel until it debouches into the plains which face Vienna on the north. There it divides into several arms, inclosing numerous islands. These branches are nearly all substantial streams; many of them are navigable. It was determined to select two such points, one above and the other below the town, to build bridges at both, and to select whichever one should prove more feasible when the task was done. The enterprise above the town failed entirely through the vigilance of the Austrians. Masséna had better success at the other end, and succeeded in gathering sufficient material without great difficulty; his bridges between the two shores by the island of Lobau were ready on May 20. In this interval Charles advanced, and occupied a line farther forward in the great plain, stretching from hamlet to hamlet-from Korneuburg, Enzersfeld, Gross-Ebersdorf, to Strebersdorf. Eugène and Macdonald had reached Villach, whence they could march direct to Vienna; the Archduke John was at
Völkermarkt, on his way down the Drave toward Hungary. Two days before, eight hundred French soldiers had crossed into the island of Lobau to drive out the Austrian scouts; on the 19th Napoleon arrived, and the necessary fortifications were constructed; on the 20th the passage began, and Masséna, with Lannes's light cavalry, was sent out to reconnoiter.
NAPOLEON DEFEATED AT ASPERN.
CHARLES, having apparently determined to let his enemy cross unmolested, and to fight the decisive battle on his own ground, had advanced meantime to still another line of hamlets-Strebersdorf, Gerasdorf, DeutschWagram. On the morning of the 21st Napoleon's army was partly across the main stream, some of his troops being on the Lobau, some entirely over on the left bank, but a large portion being still on the right bank. His cavalry was again sent to clear the Marchfeld of the Austrian light horse, who were coursing from one vantage-point to another; and he himself, in order to survey the country, advanced to the first slight rise beyond the low meadows which border the river. Near where he stood was the comfortable hamlet of Aspern, composed like the others round about of one-story stone houses and high stone barns, some of which are of great size, with walls many feet thick. The farmsteads and churchyard are inclosed with ordinary masonry walls. At a short distance to the eastward lay Essling, with a few hundred inhabitants like Aspern; and farther still, but easily visible, the somewhat larger village of Enzersdorf. The plain, though not rolling, is yet not perfectly flat, and small water-courses traverse it at frequent intervals, their direction marked by the trees growing on their banks. The most important of these, the Russbach, was some miles north of where he stood. Turning to Masséna, after scanning the ground, he said: «I shall refuse on the left, and advancing on the right, turn in the Austrian front to the left.» That is, he would leave his own left on the river, turn the Austrian left, and rolling up their line, inclose them with their own rear to the Danube. His success meant their annihilation, for they had no means of crossing in retreat.
To men of less daring this would have seemed a mad plan. A careful general would, without hesitation, have seized and strongly garrisoned Aspern, Essling, and Enzersdorf in order that his own line of retreat might be secure, and sufficient room be assured in which to deploy. Pelet, in his memoirs, declares that
the Emperor's orders were « to cross the river and march against the enemy.» Be this as it may, there were as yet only three infantry divisions on the left bank of the Danube, and Aspern was but weakly garrisoned. Charles was determined if possible to maintain his superiority of numbers, and sent floats laden with stones down the main channel of the river to crash through Napoleon's bridges. The attempt met with only slight success, though it weakened the most important one. Meantime the Austrians were advancing in five columns, one by Breitenlee against Aspern, one by Aderklaa against Essling, one direct on Enzersdorf to their left; the two others were cavalry, and bore in the general direction of Breitenlee toward Aspern. They appeared in full sight about one o'clock, the column destined to attack Napoleon being nearest. Napoleon's over-confidence disappeared at once, and while the Austrians deployed for the attack, and occupied Aspern, he sent Molitor's division in to seize and hold the hamlet, Masséna being in command. The divisions of Legrand and Boudet were in the rear, on the right and left respectively. Bessières, with the cavalry of Lasalle and Espagne, stood between Aspern and Essling; the division of Carra Saint-Cyr arrived later and was held in reserve. Lannes and Boudet, with a small force, were ordered to hold Essling. Enzersdorf was abandoned, and quickly occupied by the Austrian left.
The fighting at Aspern was awful. The French pushed in, were driven out, then turned and seized it again. Once more, and still once more, the same alternating successes were repeated, the thickest of the fight being at the churchyard in the western end of the village. At Essling the fore-post about which the battle raged was a great barn, with mighty walls and vaulted cellars. Meanwhile the Emperor was calling in his troops as fast as possible from behind, but at three in the afternoon his main bridge over the chief arm of the Danube gave way before masses of rubbish brought down from the hill country by a freshet. The Austrians were from first to last superior in numbers on the battle-field; their enfilading batteries were able to sweep the French lines for several hours, and the carnage was dreadful. At last Bessières succeeded in dislodging them from Essling, and it was held by the French until dusk, when the Austrians drew off to bivouac. But at Aspern the numbers engaged were greater, Legrand being sent in toward nightfall. The Archduke intended to take and hold the village if possible, and the fighting continued
there until midnight. Weakened and inferior in numbers though the French were, they understood better than their foes the defense of a place, and when firing ceased they still held half of the long main street.
By midnight the French bridge was again repaired, and Davout, in response to Napoleon's urgent orders, began to bring up reinforcements, especially artillery, and held them in readiness for crossing on the south shore of the main stream. The Austrians had made at two in the morning still another effort to drive out the enemy from Aspern; soon afterward they attacked Essling. Masséna called in Carra Saint-Cyr to Aspern; within an hour both attacks had been repulsed, and the hamlet entirely cleared of the enemy. While the desperate struggle again went on, the Emperor once more surveyed the field; and when at seven in the morning Davout sent word that a portion of the reinforcements was already on the Lobau, Napoleon determined to break through the enemy's center, and for that purpose threw forward the troops already on the ground. But once more the weakened and patched structure over the Danube gave way, and the arrival of reinforcements was stopped; the available French force was immediately drawn back, and stationed to hold the line from Aspern to Essling. The enemy was encouraged, and pressed on to the attack with renewed vigor; in the former village the scenes of the previous day were repeated, first one and then the other contestant holding it for a time. In the center, where the Austrians almost broke through the line, Napoleon quickly brought together his recently arrived artillery and Bessières's cavalry; after terrific struggles they succeeded in holding the Austrians in check. On the right Essling, captured and recaptured several times by each side, was first taken and long held by the enemy's left, and then retaken only at about three in the afternoon, by a portion of the French reserve, Napoleon's "young guard.» Thereupon, from the sheer exhaustion of both sides, the conflict ceased, nothing being heard but desultory discharges of artillery. The French were in possession of both Aspern and Essling. At seven the Emperor called a council of war; the generals advised recrossing the Danube and a retreat into Vienna. «You must mean to Strasburg,» said their chief; « for if Charles should follow, he might drive me thither, and if he should march to cut me off at Linz, I must march thither, too, to meet him. In either case, I must abandon the capital, my only source of supplies.» There was no reply, and it was
DRAWN BY F. DE MYRBACH.
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.
NAPOLEON VICTORIOUS AT WAGRAM.
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