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THE BURNING OF MOSCOW.
AT length Moscow, with its domes, and towers, and palaces, appeared in sight; and Napoleon, who had joined the advanced guard, gazed long and thoughtfully on that goal of his wishes. Murat went forward, and entered the gates with his splendid cavalry; but as he passed through the streets he was struck by the solitude that surrounded him. Nothing was heard but the heavy tramp of his squadrons as he passed along; for a deserted and abandoned city was the meagre prize for which such unparalleled efforts had been made. As night drew its curtain over the splendid capital, Napoleon entered the gates, and immediately appointed Mortier governor. him to abstain from all pillage. be answerable with your life. friend or foe."
In his directions he commanded
"For this," said he, "you shall Defend Moscow against all, whether
The bright moon rose over the mighty city, tipping with silver the domes of more than two hundred churches, and pouring a flood of light over a thousand palaces, and the dwellings of three hundred thousand inhabitants. The weary arm sunk to rest, but there was no sleep for Mortier's eyes. Not the gorgeous and variegated palaces and their rich ornaments, nor the parks and gardens and Oriental magnificence that everywhere surrounded him, kept him wakeful, but the ominous forebodings that some dire calamity was hanging over the silent capital. When he entered it, scarcely a living soul met his gaze as he looked down the long streets; and when he broke open the buildings, he found parlours, and bed-rooms, and chambers, all furnished and in order, but no occupants! This sudden abandonment of their homes betokened some secret purpose yet to be fulfilled. The midnight moon was settling over the city, when the cry of "Fire!" reached the ears of Mortier; and the first light over Napoleon's faltering empire was kindled, and that most wondrous scene of modern times commenced-THE BURNING OF Moscow.
Mortier, as governor of the city, immediately issued his orders, and was putting forth every exertion, when at daylight Napoleon hastened to him. Affecting to disbelieve the reports that the inhabitants were firing their own city, he put more rigid commands on Mortier to keep the soldiers from the work of destruction. The marshal simply pointed to some iron-covered houses that had not yet been opened, from every crevice of which smoke was issuing like steam from the sides of a pent-up volcano. Sad and thoughtful, Napoleon turned towards the Kremlin, the ancient palace of the Czars, whose huge structure rose high above the surrounding edifices.
In the morning, Mortier, by great exertions, was enabled to subdue the fire. But the next night, September 15th, at midnight, the sentinels on watch upon lofty Kremlin saw below them the flames bursting through the houses and palaces, and the cry "Fire! fire!" passed through the city. The dread scene was now fairly opened. Fiery balloons were seen dropping from the air and lighting on the houses; dull explosions were heard on every side from the shut-up dwellings, and the next moment light burst forth, and the flames were raging through the apartments. All was uproar and confusion. The serene air and moonlight of the night before had given way to driving clouds and a wild tempest that swept like the roar of the sea over the city. Flames arose on every side, blazing and crackling in the storm; white clouds of smoke and sparks in an incessant shower went driving towards the Kremlin. The clouds themselves seemed turned into fire, rolling wrath over devoted Moscow. Mortier, crushed with the responsibility thrown upon his shoulders, moved with his Young Guard amid this desolation, blowing up the houses and facing the tempest and the flames-struggling nobly to arrest the conflagration.
He hastened from place to place amid the ruins, his face blackened with smoke, and his hair and eyebrows singed with the fierce heat. At length the day dawned-a day of tempest and of flame --and Mortier, who had strained every nerve for thirty-six hours, entered a palace and dropped down from fatigue. The manly
form and stalwart arm that had so often carried death into the ranks of the enemy, at length gave way, and the gloomy marshal lay and panted in utter exhaustion. But the night of tempest had been succeeded by a day of tempest; and when night again enveloped the city, it was one broad flame, waving to and fro in the blast.
The wind had increased to a perfect hurricane, and shifted from quarter to quarter, as if on purpose to swell the sea of fire and extinguish the last hope. The fire was approaching the Kremlin, and already the roar of the flames and crash of falling houses, and the crackling of burning timbers, were borne to the ears of the startled Emperor. He arose and walked to and fro, stopping convulsively and gazing on the terrific scene. Murat, Eugene, and Berthier, rushed into his presence, and on their knees besought him to flee; but he still clung to that haughty palace, as if it were his empire.
But at length the shout, "The Kremlin is on fire!" was heard above the roar of the conflagration, and Napoleon reluctantly consented to leave. He descended into the streets with his staff, and looked about for a way of egress, but the flames blocked every passage. At length they discovered a postern gate leading to the Moskwr, and entered it; but they had entered still further into the danger. As Napoleon cast his eye round the open space, girdled and arched with fire, smoke, and cinders, he saw one single street yet open, but all on fire. Into this he rushed, and amid the crash of falling houses and raging of the flames, over burning ruins, through clouds of rolling smoke, and between walls of fire, he pressed on; and at length, half-suffocated, emerged in safety from the blazing city, and took up his quarters in the imperial palace of Petrowsky, nearly three miles distant.
Mortier, relieved from his anxiety for the Emperor, redoubled his efforts to arrest the conflagration. His men cheerfully rushed into every danger. Breathing nothing but smoke and ashescanopied by flame and smoke and cinders-surrounded by walls of fire that rocked to and fro, and fell with a crash amid the blazing ruins, carrying down with them red-hot roofs of iron
he struggled against an enemy that no boldness could awe or courage overcome. Those brave troops had heard the tramp of thousands of cavalry sweeping to battle without fear; but now they stood in still terror before the march of the conflagration, under whose burning footsteps was heard the incessant crash of falling houses and palaces and churches. The continuous roar of the raging hurricane, mingled with that of the flames, was more terrible than the thunder of artillery; and before this new foe, in the midst of this battle of the elements, the awe-struck army stood powerless and affrighted.
When night again descended on the city, it presented a spectacle the like of which was never seen before, and which baffles all description. The streets were streets of fire; the heavens a canopy of fire; and the entire body of the city a mass of fire, fed by a hurricane that sped the blazing fragments in a constant stream through the air. Incessant explosions, from the blowing up of stores of oil and tar and spirits, shook the very foundations of the city, and sent vast volumes of smoke rolling furiously toward the sky. Huge sheets of canvas on fire came floating, like messengers of death, through the flames-the towers and domes of the churches and palaces, glowing with a red-hot heat over the wild sea below, then tottering a moment on their bases, were hurled by the tempest into the common ruin.
Thousands of wretches, before unseen, were driven by the heat from the cellars and hovels, and streamed in an incessant throng through the streets. Children were seen carrying their parents, the strong the weak; while thousands more were staggering under the loads of plunder they had snatched from the flames. This, too, would frequently take fire in the falling shower, and the miserable creatures would be compelled to drop it and flee for their lives. Oh, it was a scene of woe and fear inconceivable and indescribable! A mighty and closely-packed city of houses and churches and palaces, wrapped from limit to limit in flames, which are fed by a whirling hurricane, is a sight this world will seldom see.
But this was within the city. To Napoleon without, the spec
tacle was still more sublime and terrific. When the flames had overcome all obstacles, and had wrapped everything in their red mantle, that great city looked like a sea of rolling fire, swept by a tempest that drove it into billows. Huge domes and towers, throwing off sparks like blazing firebrands, now disappeared in their maddening flow, as they rushed and broke high over their tops, scattering their spray of fire against the clouds. The heavens themselves seemed to have caught the conflagration, and the angry masses that swept it rolled over a bosom of fire.
Columns of flame would rise and sink along the surface of this sea, and huge volumes of black smoke suddenly shoot into the air, as if volcanoes were working below. The black form of the Kremlin alone towered above the chaos-now wrapped in flame and smoke, again emerging into view-standing amid this scene of desolation and terror, like Virtue in the midst of a burning world, enveloped but unscathed by the devouring element. Napoleon stood and gazed on the scene in silent awe. Though nearly three miles distant, the windows and walls of his apartment were so hot that he could scarcely bear his hand against them. years afterward,
"It was the spectacle of a sea and billows of fire, a sky and clouds of flame; mountains of red rolling flames, like immense waves of the sea, alternately bursting forth and elevating themselves to the skies of flame above. Oh, it was the most grand, the most sublime, and the most terrific sight the world ever beheld!"