Зображення сторінки
[blocks in formation]



OUR route from Dresden to Leipsic, October, 1813, was remarkable only for those scenes of riot which had previously degraded our forced marches, and which seemed to acquire a more hardened character the nearer we approached the Saxon capital. But, licensed as the soldiery were, I must still lay to the account of the thousands of self-elected commissaries, who encumbered our armies, and whose sole trade was rapine, many of the excesses for which the troops were alone held guilty. In the system indeed, more than in the agents, was to be sought the root of all those evils which have so long tarnished the records of our arms, and, by the brutalizing of our soldiery, thrown a stain upon the national character itself. Our bread and forage waggons, instead of being supplied through the lawful channels, were meant only to receive the stores which were to be plundered from the houses, barns, and cellars, on our march; and, amidst the train of enormities consequent.upon such a method of supplying our wants, the heart of many an honest Frenchman has been made to bleed at scenes in which necessity has forced him to participate. On the night of the 6th we entered Leipsic, leaving Saxony itself, from Lusatia to the Elbe, but a miserable waste, to calculate from the consequences of our advance.

On the 8th, the 7th corps under Regnier arrived, and were speedily followed by those of Bertrand and Marmont, to which that of Augereau soon joined itself. That some decisive event was at hand was felt generally throughout the army,' strengthened as well by appearances as by the usual policy of the Emperor to select the anniversary of some former victory for his further struggles for glory. The 14th of October brought Ulm, Jena, and Auerstadt to mind, with all their kindling recollections, and with 170,000 of the same soldiers over whom the Eagles had recently been borne victorious from Dresden, victory appeared hardly doubtful.

The inhabitants of Leipsic seemed enthusiastic in their wishes : our chasseurs, in their march from the city to join the corps of Latour Maubourg, were deafened by the huzzas of the populace, while garlands and ribands were thrown among the men, and a thousand handkerchiefs waved from the windows. The scene was exhilarating in the extreme; the streets were crowded with equipages of rank; and general officers were seen galloping to and fro, the bearers of a hundred flying reports. The Emperor was expected daily, and an express had arrived that the king of Saxony was within

twenty miles of the city. All was bustle and uproar, and the sound of distant cannonading, in the direction of Liebertwolkwitz, was drowned by shouts, the ringing of bells, and the sounds of music. We departed by the Grimma Gate, and proceeded in the direction of Probstheide to our destination.

As the different squadrons emerged upon the wide plain that skirts the city, I could not refrain from looking frequently back with pride upon their martial appearance and imposing numbers, as they winded away in seemingly interminable succession round a small eminence that divides two post-roads, and ascended that to the right, which rising by a gradual sweep, presented a fine bird's-eye view of the splendid march. The sky was red with all the glory of an October sunset, and while it formed a splendid back-ground to the spires, and pinnacles, and gigantic outlines, of the city, it threw a gleam over their files that lent a double brilliance to their arms, and made the Eagles swim in glory to the anxious eyes of the soldiers. On the road, as we advanced, various appearances presented themselves to mark the immediate vicinity of war: the country, on either side, bore the marks of having been lately bivouacked upon by an immense body of troops ; the remains of the fires, and unused vegetables, and fodder, being strewed over an extent of several miles, while the roads were broken up by deep ruts from the passage of the artillery. Numerous straggling parties of soldiers were likewise observed hovering about, while our march was interrupted by waggons and carts, increasing as we advanced, and our ears assailed, by the shouts and cries of their drivers, and the frequent hallooing and swearing of numerous couriers forcing themselves away, as they galloped on their missions. At length, about the distance of fifteen miles from the city, the grand army itself, the object for which we had been for some time straining our sight, lay before us, and was greeted with enthusiasm, stretching over the whole plain between Paundorff on our right to the woods of Konnewitz, in one continuous mass, until it disappeared in the distance from the eye.

The shades of night had already overtaken us before we arrived at our destination, and joined the first division, with which we were meant to act. We had calculated upon almost immediate service, but were, in this respect, in our surmises, far behind what we were doomed to experience, as we had hardly slackened saddles before an order arrived for our forming part of a strong muster of cavalry, destined to march to the centre as soon as the darkness admitted of the movement being made unnoticed. Our veterans, accustomed from experience to regard such motions in their proper light, while they shrugged their shoulders, with an ominous leer of the eye upon their more raw comrades, set seriously to work to make the best use of the short respite allowed them for rest or comfort, and were to be seen as anxiously engaged around the fires in cooking and discussing the multifarious contents of their haversacks, as if famine had been the only enemy they had any backwardness to encounter. The different groups, thus thrown together and composed of the soldiers of several nations, in all the postures which a desire for perfect ease could suggest, formed many a rich picturesque sketch for the pen or pencil. Here, resting upon his carabin, stood the French cuirassier—the practised warrior-the man of iron-tall, bewhiskered and bemoustached, beside the Saxon chasseur, with his splendid jacket and attenuated person; at his side sat, upon his bundled-up night-cloak, the showy Polish lancer, his cap ú negligee to one side, with a look of half-dignificd or dandified nonchalance, in solemn silence, puffing his clouds of smoke over the young guardsman stretched at full length, happy at having got quit for a space of his ponderous casque and breast-plate. Opposite was the embrowned soldier of the line-the veteran of sixty, whom the sun of Alexandria and Moscow had looked upon in the same trade of blood, and whose home was the camp, in juxta-position to the raw conscript of sixteen, whom the very last levy had forced into the ranks. Yet, striking as this contrast was, how deficient would it have appeared in point, could the minds comprised in this military group have been scrutinized, and the hopes, fears, affections, and wishes, of its individual members been equally laid open to the eye of truth.

About ten o'clock we again got into order, and soon afterwards found ourselves in motion along with about three thousand taken from the division of Sebastiani, and several squadrons of the cavalry of the guards, and, diverging to the left, bya circuitous route, we reached our destination about half an hour before midnight.

The arrival of successive divisions from different posts of the army for some time took away from any whom habit had not steeled to all interruption the power of repose. The van was occupied by Maubourg's division, in whose rear the several detachments formed as they came up, exposing to the enemy a front by no means extended, and the whole at length settling down into a deceitful calm, when the final arrangements had been made. The situation was novel to me, and exciting in the extreme. My short military career had been begun at Bautzen, and war, on the stupendous scale I was about to engage in, was fraught with the most anxious interest. Having seen my horse properly attended to, and partaken of a little refreshment, I seized the opportunity, instead of immediately seeking repose, of walking out a little in front of our lines. The sight which these presented was in the extreme magnificent and imposing. A thick fog had been gradually becoming denser since nightfall, and

the darkness would have been intense, but for the thousand watchfires which on either side tracked to the practised eye the exact lines of the hostile armies, and marked, as with a barrier of flame, height ened in effect by the state of the atmosphere, which presented as it were a magnificent reflection in the air, their extended boundaries, insensibly spreading farther on the eye as their lines were lengthened by the arrival of fresh columns. Beyond these, all seemed darkness and solitude, with nothing to intimate to the ear or eye that aught living was near, save by a low monotonous hum, which came heavily as from a distance, and a few figures which, like ghosts, fitted past in front in perfect relief. It might be that, to a novice such as I was, the stupendous preparations around might have been conveyed to my mind through the most extravagant medium; or that imagination, fully licensed by being baffled in its own resources, had determined to avenge itself upon my judgment by a complete disarrangement of its powers. From whatever cause it might have arisen, never, I am certain, can my mind be again capable of the same comprehensive grasp, or be filled with the like intensity of feeling and deep thought, which, as apart from reason as might well be, made me yet to myself something akin to sublime. I was unconscious of reality, as reality, and yet nervously alive to its slight est impressions. A heavy dew was falling, and, while a slight shudder passed over me from head to foot, I recollect opening my cloak, and feeling its cooling influence with perfect delight, for my skin burned as if in a fever, when all at once my dreams were broke in upon by the distinct discharges of three cannon, which boomed ominously upon the ear; the usual signal given by the enemy that his dispositions were settled for the night, which was immediately answered by our own bugles, shrill or distant, as they sounded simultaneously from the different posts of the line.

The intervening hours before dawn I passed as comfortably as I could, wrapped up in my cloak; but sleep had deserted me, and with its earliest streaks we were under arms and preparing for some decisive stroke. The morning of the 16th of October broke lazily and clouded, so that day was as yet only betokened by the continuous black expanse of the sky being changed in the east into a dull leaden hue, when the different squadrons stood formed, awaiting their orders. But our activity was destined to be overmatched. A roar of artillery which, by its unexpectedness, made the horses rear and reel in all directions, came with the most destructive precision among our ranks, and told us, that if surprise had been the foundation of our scheme of attack, we were disappointed. At this moment a voice was heard in our front, which the French soldier know from experience both to fear and appreciate; and immediately afterwards

« НазадПродовжити »