« ZurückWeiter »
His generals did not disobey him, but it would seem that, with almost no exception, they opposed this new project strenuously, and with the utmost openness. Many long conversations between the emperor and his officers are minutely related, and one can hardly fail to be surprised that they, who had won their greatness, and held it, by his favour, should dare to speak to him with such candour and boldness. Of this, the reply of one of them, in the following extract, is a fair specimen :
It was prince Kourakin whom he addressed. That ambassador having just made protestations of the pacific intentions of his master, he interrupted him: “No,” exclaimed he “your master desires war; I know, through my generals, that the Russian army is hurrying towards the Niemen! The emperor Alexander deludes, and gains all my envoys!". Then, perceiving Caulaincourt, he rapidly traversed the hall and violently appealing to him said : “Yes, and you too have become a Russian : you have been seduced by the emperor Alexander.” The duke firmly replied, “ Yes, sire ; because I consider him to be in heart a Frenchman." Napoleon was silent; but from that moment, he treated that great dignítary coldly, without, however, absolutely dismissing him : several times he even essayed, by fresh arguments, intermixed with familiar caresses, to win him over to his opinion, but ineffectually; he always found him inflexible; ready to serve bim, but without approying the nature of the service.
When Napoleon had advanced upon the confines of Russia, the dangers which surrounded hinn became more obvious and more pressing. The plans of the Russians were fully disclosed. They had met him upon the borders of their empire, but retreated before him with scarcely resistance enough to impede his progress. As they fell back, he advanced so rapidly as to leave his supplies far behind him, and involve his army in confusion,—but not so rapidly as to reach his flying foe. Often would they pause, and appear to offer him that battle, upon which all his hopes now rested; but before it could be gained, their march or flight was resumed, and the pursuit again urged. Before every capital city, Napoleon assured himself that a combat would be ventured, but one after another they were destroyed, and their ashes given up to him. At length, he arrived within sight of Smolensk, a city, which, from its size and its position, was considered the key of Old Russia. He found that Barclay and Bagration had hastened hither with all their, forces to defend it, and he once more assured himself that the hour had come, which was to give him, with victory, success and safety. The enemy were before him, and every
disposition was made for battle; the ground was reconnoitred; its place allotted to each division; and Napoleon at length retired, with the expectation of beginning the decisive conflict with the earliest dawn; but the next morning found the Russians again in full retreat. It was now obvious, that they could not be induced to change their plan of operations, and Napoleon's generals saw, what he refused to see himself, that his progress would bring upon them almost inevitable ruin ; and they seem to have expressed this opinion to him pretty unreservedly. One would think they were reasonably competent to judge upon this subject; and certainly the result justified the wisdom of their opinion by that kind of testimony, which to many minds is the strongest possible. This notion may have originated with these generals and become popular upon their authority; or the same reasons which made them adopt it, may have impressed it upon others. Be this as it may, it was a common remark at the time, and is now a prevalent if not an universal sentiment, that Napoleon jeopardized his high fortunes needlessly, by making war upon Russia, and ruined them utterly by pursuing this war with senseless obstinacy. It is impossible to deny that there is some ground for such an opinion; but we have never been thoroughly convinced of its correctness. We of course admit, that the Russian war was the immediate cause of Napoleon's overthrow. The question is, whether the chances of its ill success were duly weighed by him ; and whether in the prosecution of the contest he was so entirely given over to that judicial madness, which the proverb tells us the gods send upon whom they would destroy,as to rush headlong upon ruin, which he alone was so foolish as not to see. Now, we cannot but think that Napoleon had previously vindicated his claim to be considered a man of sagacity, as successfully as most persons. Born to no higher expectations than those which the millions who make up the European commonalty shared with him, he gradually approached and finally ascended the throne of a powerful kingdom. He went on his way, overpowering all opposition, beating all enemies with their own weapons, whether these were the weapons of war or of peace, which the leagued world could bring against him. He formed all his plans with a sa
a gacity that looked far and wide,--provided for them the most efficient means, and pursued them with resistless and untiring energy. And thus he went on for years extending his do
minions from power to power until his imperial sceptre
Perhaps Napoleon's situation justified his encountering this danger. France and England were engaged in a war, which was of necessity, ad internecionem ; one of these two powers was to be totally subdued ere they could be at peace. Now Napoleon's only effective weapon in this war was his continental system, and such was the nature of the contest which he carried on, that he who was not for him, was thereby against him. Alexander had given in his adhesion at Tilsit, but of this he evidently repented and was rapidly approacbing an union with England, he was obviously identifying his interests with those which were necessarily opposed to the power of Napoleon.. It would seem then that the Emperor of the French had but to choose whether he would wait to receive the attack of Russia, gathering in her train the nations of Europe, whom Alexander would have easily brought to his standard by the promise of liberation, and if that were not enough, of spoil,—or assault that empire while these nations yet acknowledged his ascendency and lent him their arms, and so weaken it that it should be no longer a formidable enemy, or perhaps subdue it into cooperation with his plans. He chose the latter course—was defeated and ruined. It is impossible to say what would have been the ultimate result, had he acted only on the defensive; but though he was unfortunate—perhaps imprudent—in advancing upon Russia, surely we are not authorized to say that his determination to do so was that of a madman. We think similar remarks may
be made as to his conduct of this war. It seems that he was strongly urged to stop after he had entered Russia. But by marching on he had a fair prospect of conquering the
empire which he had invaded; he knew that he could reach
l Moscow, and from that capital he would have dictated to his humbled foe, peace upon his own terms, if the Russians had not determined upon a sacrifice, which no nation ever made before, and no other could or would endure now. On the other hand, had he stopped at Wilna, Vitepsk, or Smolensk, Alexander would have diligently improved the opportunities afforded him to strengthen and discipline his armies, and bring out his hordes en masse. In the spring the French must have retreated. How would it have affected Napoleon's reputation as a soldier, had he thus, after all his mighty preparations for a vigorous and overwhelming assault, stopped short in his career, while he was yet victorious, and lost by delay all chance of success. Count Segur seems perfectly assured that in all the controversies with his officers upon these points, Napoleon was in the wrong; but we can not help thinking that the Emperor had some reason for the insinuations he occasionally threw out. His generals had too much to lose in proportion to their possible gain; they were no longer soldiers of fortune, but princes with princely fortunes; they were at the top, and only desired to prevent the wheel from rolling. Their rank and wealth in some measure impaired the qualities which had won for them their high rewards.
But we must return to the doings of “the Grand Army." At length Napoleon's wishes were gratified. The Russians concentrated their forces at Moscow, and prepared to give him battle. Kutusoff
, Barclay, and Bagration were there, and with them one hundred and twenty thousand men.
Moscow was to be defended. The enemy had advanced almost to its walls, and the Russian generals, yielding, as is supposed, to the force of public sentiment, determined to make one effort before their capital was given up to their invaders. Napoleon learned that they were in battle array before him, with triumphant joy. “ At length,” said he, “ we have them in our power. Let us march on and open the gates of Moscow.” The battle was obstinately contested, but the Russians were at length entirely defeated. During this great day, Napoleon did not conduct himself in a manner at all agreeable to his generals, who found fault with him very freely. He refused their urgent and repeated requests, at different periods of the contest, for his guard and his reserve,-persisting in requiring them to win the battle without these troops. In reply to the
entreaty of one general, to send his guard into the battle, he said, “ And if there be another battle tomorrow, what fresh troops shall I have for it?” And all within hearing were thunderstruck with the prodigy of Napoleon's beginning to think of the inorrow !
As the French approached Moscow, Kutusoff continued to cheat its governor, Rostopschin, with assurances that he would defend the capital to the last extremity; at the last moment" he swore by his white hairs, that he would die with him before Moscow," and immediately after decides upon his retreat. Rostopschin immediately announced his intention of burning the city, and completed his preparations.
The French army entered Moscow; Napoleon established himself in the Kremlin,--and his officers selected the most convenient houses and palaces, believing that they were now about to enjoy the repose they had so dearly purchased. They were soon undeceived. The wretches whom Rostopschin left behind him discharged their duties faithfully, and the city was soon wrapt in fire. The French laboured long to extinguish it, but at length the flames reached the Kremlin, and so effective were the preparations of Rostopschin, that Napoleon and his troops speedily ascertained the melancholy' fact, that they could only hope to occupy the burning ruins of Moscow. The Emperor was compelled to leave the Kremlin, but he delayed his retreat, until it became dangerous. It is interesting to contrast his situation, bis demeanour, and his language, as he entered Moscow, and as he left the city.
Napoleon did not enter Moscow till after dark. He stopped in one of the first houses of the Dorogomilow suburb. There he appointed Marshal Mortier governor of that capital. “ Above all,” said he to him, “ no pillage! For this you shall be answerable to me with your life. Defend Moscow against all, whether friend or foe.”
At the sight of this half Gothic and half modern palace of the Ruriks and Romanofs, of their throne still standing, of the cross of the great Ivan, and of the finest part of the city, which is overlooked by the Kremlin, and wbich the flames, as yet confined to the bazaar, seemed disposed to spare, his former hopes revived. His ambition was flattered by this conquest. “ At length then,” he exclaimed, “ I am in Moscow, in the ancient palace of the Czars, in the Kremlin ! he examined every part of it with pride, curiosity, and gratification.
He required a statement of the resources afforded by the city; and in this brief moment given to hope, he sent proposals of peace to the Emperor Alexander. A superior officer of the enemy's had just been found in the great hospital; he was charged with the delivery of this letter. It was by the baleful light of the flames of the bazaar that