Зображення сторінки

in the most frightful confusion, and in contempt of this severe proclamation, the soldiers, naked and without arms, continued to march in the same disorder.

We encamped at a sorry village on our right, where two or three habitations remained, at the distance of an hour's march from Kokanovo. The village of Kokanovo, which we passed on the following day, was entirely ruined; the post-house, which had been inhabited by the staff, alone remained. We were continuing our march along a road which the thaw had rendered horribly dirty, when we received orders not to push onward to Tolotschin, where Napoleon had fixed his quarters, but to halt at a great chateau half a league distant. To deceive the enemy, Napoleon seldom slept at the place which he had announced in the morning. He was often obliged to encamp upon the road, and to sleep in the middle of the square formed by his guards. Hunger and cold so weakened the soldiers in these bivouacks, that his escort every day diminished in a frightful


The road of Orcha, as far as Tolotschin, is undoubtedly one of the best in Europe. It forms a perfectly straight line, and is bordered on each side by a double row of birch trees, the branches of wbich, laden with snow and ice, hung down to the ground like the weeping willow. But these majestic avenues excited in us no admiration. They witnessed only our tears and our despair. On every side we heard only groaps and lamentations. Some, feeling that they could proceed no further, laid themselves on the ground, and, with tears in their eyes, gave us their papers and their money to be conveyed to their families. “Ah! if more fortunate than we,” they exclaimed, “ you are permitted to revisit our dear country, give our parents this last pledge of our love. Tell them that the hope of seeing them again alone sustained us till this day; and that at length, compelled to renounce this pleasing expectation, we died. thinking of them and blessing them. Adieu, God bless you! When, on your return to our beloved France, you

rejoice in your good fortune, sometimes think of our unhappy fate." A little further on we met others, who, holding in their arms their famished children or their wives, implored one morsel of bread to preserve their lives.

In the meantime, Napoleon was informed that the army of Wolhynia, joined to that of Moldavia, had marched on Monsk (November 16), and that it had seized on the bridge of Borisov, to cut us off from the passage of the Beresina. It is reported that when he heard this fatal news, he calmly said, “It is then decided that we must play the fool.”


THE PASSAGE OF THE BERESINA. ARRIVED on the banks of the Beresina, what a frightful picture did this multitude of men present, overwhelmed with misfortunes of every kind, and hemmed in by a morass; that very multitude which, two months before, had exultingly spread itself over half the surface of a vast empire ! Our soldiers pale, emaciated, dying with hunger and cold, having nothing to defend them from the inclemency of the season but tattered pelisses and sheep-skins half-burnt, and uttering the most mournful lamentations, crowded the banks of this unfortunate river. Germans, Polanders, Italians, Spaniards, Croats, Portuguese, and French, were all mingled together, disputing and quarrelling with each other in their different languages :-finally, the officers, and even the generals, wrapped in pelisses, covered with dirt and filth, mingling with the soldiers, and abusing those who pressed upon them, or braved their authority, formed a scene of strange confusion, of which no painter could trace the faintest resemblance.

They whom fatigue or ignorance of the impending danger rendered less eager to cross the river were en

deavouring to kindle a fire and repose their wearied limbs. We had too frequently occasion to observe, in these encampments, to what a degree of brutality excess of misery would debase human nature. In one place we saw several of the soldiers fighting for a morsel of bread. If a stranger, pierced with the cold, endeavoured to approach a fire, those to whom it belonged inhumanly drove him away; or if, tormented with raging thirst, any one asked for a single drop of water from another who carried a full supply, the refusal was accompanied by the vilest abuse. We often heard those who had once been friends, and whose education had been liberal, bitterly disputing with each other for a little straw or a piece of horse-flesh, which they were attempting to divide. This campaign was therefore the more terrible, as it brutalized the character, and stained us with vices to which we had before been strangers. Even those who once were honest, humane, and generous, became selfish, avaricious, dishonest, and cruel.

Although there were two bridges, one for the carriages and the other for the foot-soldiers, yet the crowd was so great, and the approaches so dangerous, that the way was completely obstructed near the Beresina, and it was absolutely impossible to move. About eight o'clock in the morning the bridge for the carriages and the cavalry broke down; the baggage and artillery then advanced towards the other bridge, and attempted to force a passage.

Now began a dreadful contention between the foot-soldiers and the horsemen. Many perished by the hands of their comrades, a great number were suffocated at the head of the bridge, and the dead bodies of men and horses so choked every avenue,

that it was necessary to climb over mountains of carcasses to arrive at the river. Some, who were buried in these horrible heaps, still -breathed, and, struggling with the agonies of death, caught hold of those who mounted over them ; but these inhumanly kicked them with violence to disengage themselves, and remorselessly trod

them underfoot. During this contention, the multitude which followed, like a furious wave, swept away, while it increased the number of victims.

The Duke of Belluno (Victor), remaining on the left bank, took a position on the heights of Weselowo, with the two divisions of Girard and Daendels, to cover the passage, and, amidst the frightful confusion which prevailed, to defend it against the corps of Wittgenstein, whose advanced troops had appeared in the evening. In the meantime, General Parthonneaux, after having repulsed the attacks of Platow and Tschikagow, left Borisov at three o'clock in the afternoon, with the third brigade, to oppose the Russians, who advanced in columns.

In the heat of the engagement, many balls flew over the miserable crowd which was yet pressing across the bridge of the Beresina. Some shells burst in the midst of them. Terror and despair then took possession of every heart. The women and children, who had escaped so many disasters, seemed to have been preserved only to suffer here a death still more deplorable. We saw them rushing from the baggage-waggons, and falling in agonies and tears at the feet of the first soldier they met, imploring his assistance to enable them to reach the other side. The sick and the wounded, sitting on the trunks of trees, or supported by their crutches, anxiously looking around for some friend to help them. But their cries were lost in the air. No one had leisure to attend to his dearest friend. His own preservation absorbed every thought.

Monsieur de Labarriere, the muster-master of the fourth corps, was a man of respectable character and engaging manners. His advanced age, and more especially his feeble constitution, had long rendered him unable to march, and he was now lying with many others on an open sledge. He accidentally perceived an officer of his acquaintance, and although he was scarcely able to stand, he ran to him, threw himself in his arms, and implored his protection. The officer was severely wounded, but, too generous to refuse 'his

feeble help, he promised that he would not leave him. These two friends, closely embracing each other, slowly proceeded towards the bridge, animated by the consoling thought, that at least they would be permitted to die together. They entered the crowd; but, feeble and helpless, they were unable to sustain the intolerable pressure, and were seen no more.

A woman was likewise marching with the equipage of Napoleon, whom her husband had left a little way behind, while he went forward to endeavour to find a place where they might safely pass. During that time a shell burst near the unfortunate female. The crowd that was around ber immediately took to flight. She alone remained. But the enemy soon advancing, caused the troops to retreat suddenly towards the bridge; and in their confused march, they hurried the poor woman with them, who strove in vain to return to the place where her busband had left her. Buffeted by the tumultuous waves, she saw herself driven from the spot without the possibility of return.

We heard her from afar, loudly calling to her husband; but her piercing voice was unattended to, amidst the noise of arms and the cries of the combatants. At length, pale and speechless, she beat her breast in agony, and fell lifeless at the feet of the soldiers, who, attentive to their own escape, neither saw nor heard her.

At length the Russians, continually reinforced by fresh troops, advanced in a mass, and drove before them the Polonese corps of General Girard, which till then had held them in check. At the sight of the enemy, those who had not already passed mingled with the Polanders, and rushed precipitately towards the bridge. The artillery, the baggage-waggons, the cavalry, and the foot-soldiers, all pressed on, contending which should pass the first. The strongest threw into the river those who were weaker, and unfortunately hindered their passage, or unfeelingly trampled under foot all the sick whom they found in their way. Many hundreds were crushed to death by the wheels of the cannon. Others, hoping to save themselves by swim

« НазадПродовжити »