VERY early in the year 1806 we set out for Wurzburg, where the Emperor was awaiting us. This is a beautiful city, and there is a magnificent castle; the princes gave Napoleon a grand reception. From there the army corps were sent on to Jena, by forced marches; we reached that city the 13th of October, at ten o'clock in the evening. We passed through the town without being able to see anything of it; there was not a light anywhere; the inhabitants had all deserted it. Absolute silence reigned. On the other side of the city we found ourselves at the foot of a mountain as steep as the roof of a house; this we had to climb, and immediately form battalions on the plateau. We were obliged to grope our way along the edge of the precipice; not one of us could see the other. It was necessary to keep perfect silence, for the enemy was near us. We immediately formed a square, with the Emperor in the middle of the guard. Our artillery came to the foot of this terrible mountain, and not being able to pass over it, the road had to be enlarged and the rocks cut away. The Emperor was there, directing the engineers; he did not leave till the road was finished, and the first piece of cannon, drawn by twelve horses, had passed on in front of him, in absolute silence.
Four pieces at a time were carried up and immediately placed in battery in front of our line. Then the same horses went back to the foot of the mountain to be hitched to others. A good part of the night was employed in this terrible task, and the enemy did not perceive us. The Emperor placed himself in the middle of his square, and allowed them to kindle two or three fires for each company. There were a hundred and twenty of us in each company. Twenty from each company were sent off in search of provisions. We did not have far to go, for from the eminence we could throw a stone into the village. All the houses were deserted, the wretched inhabitants had abandoned their homes. We found everything we needed, especially wine and sugar. There were officers with us to keep order, and in three-quarters of an hour we were on our way back up the mountain, loaded with wine, sugar, copper boilers, and all sorts of provisions. We carried torches to give us light in the cellars, and we found a great deal of sealed wine in the large hotels.
Wood was brought and fires lighted, and wine and sugar put into the boilers. We drank to the health of the King of Prussia all night long, and all the sealed wine was divided among us. There was any amount of it; every grenadier had three bottles, two in his bearskin cap, and one in his pocket. All night long we had warm wine; we carried some to our brave gunners, who were half dead with fatigue, and they were very thankful for it. Their officers were invited to come and drink the warm wine with ours; our moustaches were thoroughly wetted, but we were forbidden to make any noise. Imagine what a punishment it was not to be able to speak or sing! Every one of us had something witty ready to say.
Seeing us all so happy, put the Emperor in good spirits. He mounted his horse before day and went the rounds. The darkness was so profound that he was obliged to have a light in order to see his way, and the Prussians, seeing this light moving along their lines, fired on Napoleon. But he went on his way, and returned to his headquarters to order the men to arms.
Day had scarcely broken when the Prussians greeted us (October the I4th) with cannon shots, which passed over our heads. An old Egyptian campaigner said, "The Prussians have bad colds, hear them cough. We must send them some sweetened wine." The whole army now moved forward without being able to see one step ahead of them. We had to feel our way like blind men, constantly falling up against each other. At the sound of the movement which was going on in front of us, it was considered necessary to call a halt and form up for the attack. Our brave Lannes opened on our left; this was the signal for the whole line, and we could only see each other by the light of our firing. The Emperor ordered us to advance rapidly on their centre. He found it necessary to order us first to moderate our pace and finally to halt. Their line had been pierced, as was that of the Russians at Austerlitz. The accursed fog was a great drawback to us, but our columns continued to advance, and we had room to look round. About ten o'clock the sun came out and lighted up the beautiful plateau. Then we could see in front of us. On our right we saw a handsome carriage drawn by white horses; we were told that it was the Queen of Prussia, who was trying to escape. Napoleon ordered us to halt for an hour, and we heard a terrible firing on our left. The Emperor immediately sent an officer to learn what was going on; he seemed angry, and took snuff frequently as he stamped up and down in front of us. The officer returned and said, "Sire, it is Marshal Ney who is fighting desperately, with his grenadiers and light horse, against a body of cavalry." He immediately sent forward his cavalry, and the whole army advanced. Lannes and Ney were Victorious on the left; the Emperor joined them and recovered his good humour.
Prince Murat came up with his dragoons and cuirassiers; his horses tongues were hanging out of their mouths. They brought with them a whole division of Saxons, and it was pitiful to see them, for more than half of these unfortunate fellows were streaming with blood. The Emperor reviewed them, and we gave them all wine, particularly to the wounded, and also to our brave cuirassiers and dragoons. We had at least a thousand bottles of sealed wine still left, and we saved their lives. The Emperor gave them their choice, either to remain with us or to be prisoners, telling them that he was not at war with their sovereign.
After winning this battle, the Emperor left us at Jena; he went on to see the corps of Davoust and Bernadotte. On our right we could hear distant cannonading, and the Emperor sent an order for us to hold ourselves in readiness to march. We spent the night in that poor deserted town. The Emperor returned; we gathered up our wounded and carried them on to Weimar, which is a lovely town.
We had a hard fight with a large body of cavalry, at the assault of Hassenhausen; but Prince Murat gained the victory over them. We marched upon Erfurt, without being able to catch up with the army corps of Davoust and Bernadotte, who carried off all the baggage wagons and cannons of the Prussians. We suffered heavy losses.
On the with we reached Potsdam; we spent the 26th and 27th at Charlottenburg, the splendid palace of the King of Prussia, which is opposite Berlin. The country here is covered with woods up to the very gates of this beautiful city; nothing could be prettier. The gateway is surmounted by a triumphal arch, and the streets are straight as a line. From the Charlottenburg gate to the palace. there is a broad walk, with benches on each side for those who wish to look on. The Emperor made his entrance on the 28th at the head of twenty thousand grenadiers and cuirassiers, and all our splendid foot and horse-guards. The uniform was as magnificent as at the Tuileries; the Emperor moved proudly along in his plain dress, with his small hat and his one-sou cockade. His staff was in full uniform, and it was a curious sight to see the worst-dressed man the master of such a splendid army.
The people were gazing out of the windows as the Parisians did on the day we came back from Austerlitz. It was grand to see this great populace crowding the streets to see us, and following us wherever we went.
We drew up in line of battle in front of the palace, which is isolated by beautiful squares in front and at the back of it, and a handsome square filled with trees, where the great Frederick stands on a pedestal with his little gaiters on.
We were lodged in private houses and fed at the expense of the inhabitants, with orders to give us a bottle of wine every day. This was hard upon the citizens, for the wine costs three francs a bottle. Not being able to procure wine, they begged us to take instead, beer, in little jugs. At roll-call, all the grenadiers spoke about it to their officers, who told us not to force them to give us wine, as the beer was excellent. This was a great comfort to all the people in the town, and the beer in jugs was unsparingly bestowed. It would be impossible to find better beer. Peace and good-will were universal; we could not have been more comfortable; all the citizens came with their servants to bring us our well-served meals. The discipline was strict; Count Hulin was governor of Berlin, and the service was severe.
The Emperor reviewed his guard in front of the palace; he stood near some fine linden-trees, near the statue of Frederick the Great. Behind the statue was a triple barrier of stone, five feet high, joined together by bars of iron. We were formed up in line in front of the palace; the Emperor came up, ordered us to carry arms, and fix bayonets; our colonel repeated the command. He ordered, "Right wheel!" The colonel repeated it. Then, "Forward, at the double, march." We halted in front of the stone barrier. The Emperor seeing us stop, said, "Why do you not advance?" The colonel answered, "We cannot get on.""What is your name?" "Frédéric." The Emperor said, in a severe tone, "Poor Frédéric! Give the word of command: 'Advance!'" And on we went, leaping over the stones and the bars of iron. It was a sight to see us go over.
The corps of Marshal Davoust was the first to enter Berlin; and then marched on to the frontier of Poland. We learned, before leaving, that Magdeburg had surrendered. The Emperor settled matters with the authorities at Berlin, and we set out to rejoin the corps, which was marching on Poland. When we reached Posen, we rested there some time. Our corps marched without intermission to Warsaw. The Russians were good enough to give those beautiful cities up to us; but they were not so generous about provisions; they ravaged the whole country, and carried off everything to the other side, leaving only what they could not take away. They even blew up all the bridges, and carried off all the boats. The Emperor showed some ill-temper. Once before, at Posen, I saw him, when he was angry, mount his horse in such a rage that he vaulted right over it, and give his groom a cut with his
We were ordered into position before reaching Warsaw. We saw the Russians on the opposite side of the river, on a height overlooking the road. Five hundred swimmers were detailed, and made to swim across with their cartridge-pouches and muskets on their heads; they fell upon the Russians at midnight, as they were sleeping beside their fires. We seized upon their position, and made ourselves master of the right bank of the river; but we were still without boats. Marshal Ney, who had accomplished wonderful things at Thorn, sent us some boats to make bridges. The Emperor was in the highest spirits, and said, "That man is a lion."
The Emperor entered Warsaw during the night. Oudinot's grenadiers and ourselves arrived next day. The kind people of this city came out to look at our splendid column of grenadiers. They did everything possible to give us a good reception. The Russians had carried off everything. We had to buy grain and oxen to feed the army, and the Jews made good contracts with Napoleon. Provisions came in to us from all sides, and biscuits were made for us. It must be said that the Jews saved the army as well as made their own fortunes.
When the Emperor was in condition to recommence the campaign, and his troops had been supplied with provisions, he held a number of reviews. The last of them took place in the midst of the most intense cold. During one of these reviews, a handsome carriage drove up, and a small man got out, and presented himself to the Emperor, in front of the guard. He was a hundred and seventeen years old, and walked as if he were sixty. The Emperor offered him his arm: "Thank you, sire," said he. He was said to be the oldest man in Poland.
The ice being considered in proper condition, a distribution of biscuit-rations for fourteen days was made to us. I bought twenty francs' worth of ham, and only got a pound of it for that sum; nothing could be had for love or money. It was December, the beginning of a most terrible winter, in a deserted country, covered with woods, and with roads heavy with sand. We found no inhabitants in the wretched villages; the Russians fell back before us, and we found their camps deserted. We had to march all night, and at midnight we came to a castle. Not knowing where we were, we put down our knapsacks under some walnut-trees, in a bivouac left by the Russians. As I put my knapsack on the ground, I felt a small pile of something. I felt about in the straw. My God, what joy ! there were two loaves of bread of about three pounds each. I knelt down, and opened my knapsack, took one of my loaves, and put it in. The other I broke into pieces. It was so dark that no one saw me. "What are you doing?" said Captain Renard. Taking hold of his hand, I put into it a piece of bread, saying, "Keep silence, watch my knapsack, and eat; I am going for some wood."
I started off with four of my messmates, and we found a gun mounted in front of the castle. We dismounted the piece, and carried off the wheels and the carriage. When we got back to our captain with these tremendous pieces of wood, we made a fire big enough to last all night. What a good night we had! My captain and I hid ourselves so that we could eat our' breed. I said to him, "I have another loaf in my knapsack; you shall have your share to-morrow evening."
The next day we started off again to the right, through the woods and the sand. The weather was terrible: snow, rain, and thaw. The sand gave way under our feet, and the water splashed up over the sinking sand. We sunk down up to our knees. We were obliged to tie our shoes round our ankles with cord, and when we pulled our legs out of the soft sand, the cords broke, and our shoes would stick in the wet mud. Sometimes we had to take hold of one leg, pull it out like a carrot, lift it forwards, and then go back for the other, take hold of it with both hands, and make it take a step forward also, with our muskets slung so as to leave our
hands free. And so we had to go on for two whole days.
The older men began to lose heart; some of them committed suicide rather than face such privations any longer. We lost about sixty of them in the two days previous to our arrival at Pultusk, a miserable thatched village. The hut in which the Emperor had his quarters was not worth a thousand francs. Here we reached the very depths of misery, it could not possibly have been worse.
We camped in front of this wretched village, called Pultusk. In order to make some kind of bivouac, we went in search of some straw to put under our feet. Not finding any, we took some sheaves of wheat, and used that to keep us off the ground, and the local barns were pillaged. I made several trips. I brought back a trough which the horse-grenadiers had not been able to carry off; they put it on my back, and I reached the camp, thus shaming my comrades, who were colossal creatures compared to me. But God had given me legs as fine as those of an Arab horse. I returned again to the village, and brought a small pot, two eggs, and some wood; but I was half dead with fatigue.
No man could give any idea of our suffering. All our artillery stuck fast in the mud; the heavy guns sank deep into the ground. The Emperor's carriage, with him inside, could not be extricated. We were obliged to lead a horse up to the door of the carriage, so that he could get over this terrible place, and go on to Pultusk. And here he saw the desolation among the ranks of his old soldiers, some of whom had blown their brains out. It was here that he called us grognards, or grousers, which name has clung to us ever since, and is now a term of honour.
But to return to my two eggs. I put them into my little pot, in front of the fire. Colonel Frédéric, who commanded us, came towards my fire, for I, the bravest in adversity, had been the first to make a good fire. Seeing such a nice fire, he came to my bivouac, and looking at the little pot in front of it, said, "Is there something good in there?""Yes, colonel.""All right, I will stay by your fire."
I fetched two wheat-sheaves for him to sit on. Then I took out my two eggs, and gave him one of them. As he took it, he gave me a napoleon, saying, "If you do not take these twenty francs, I will not eat your egg; it is worth that to-day." So I was obliged to take twenty francs for an egg.
The horse-grenadiers occupied the village of Pultusk; they found an enormous hog, and chased it into our camp. As it was passing by our bivouac, I rushed out on this noble prey, sabre in hand. Colonel Frédéric, who had a loud voice, shouted to me, "Cut his hams." I rushed forward, caught up with him, and cut his hams, and then passed my sabre across his throat. The grenadier colonel and his men came up, and it was decided that as I had captured him, a quarter and the two kidneys belonged to me. I at once went up to the Emperor's house to get some salt. I found my lieutenant on duty, and asked him for some salt and a pot for the colonel, adding that I had captured a big hog, which the horse-grenadiers were chasing. "It is the hog from this house," said he. "The Emperor was furious at losing his dinner. Fortunately, however, his canteens have just arrived, so he is in a good humour again; but his stomach was as empty as anyone's.""Lieutenant, I will bring you some broiled pork in an hour.""All right, my good fellow, hurry up about it."
When I got back, I found the colonel waiting for me. "Here is some salt and a big saucepan.""We are saved," said he."But, colonel, it was the hog from the Emperor's quarters; this ought to have been his dinner.""Is it possible?""True as I stand here."
The grenadiers and chasseurs went off on a foraging party to look for provisions for the next day. They came back in the evening with some potatoes, which were distributed to us. When divided out to each mess, there were twenty potatoes for every eighteen men. It was pitiful. Only one potato for each man. The colonel and Captain Renard were well warmed, and each ate a kidney. We divided everything with one another. The colonel took me aside, and asked me if I could read and write. I answered that I could not. "What a pity! I would have made you a corporal.""Thank you."
The Emperor sent for Count Dorsenne, and said to him, "You will take my foot-guard, and go back to Warsaw. Here is the map. Do not follow the same road: you would lose my old grousers. Make me a report of the missing. Here is your route to Warsaw."
Next day we started, going through by-ways, from one forest to another. When we halted, about three miles from Warsaw, we were in a perfect state of starvation; hollow-eyed, sunken-checked, and unshaved. We looked like dead men risen from the tomb. General Dorsenne formed a circle round him, and reproached us severely, saying that the Emperor was displeased not to see more courage under hardships which he was sharing with us. "He is treating you," he says, "as grousers ought to be treated." We shouted, "Hurrah for the general!"
The inhabitants of Warsaw received us with open arms, on January 1, 1807: the people could not do too much for us, and the Emperor allowed us to rest in this beautiful city. But this short campaign of fourteen days had aged us ten years.
In the early days of January, we received orders to hold ourselves in readiness to march. The Russians had made a movement upon Warsaw. What glad news for the starving soldiers ! Now we should cease to be hungry. General Dorsenne received orders to break up the encampment, and start on the 30th of January. The Emperor also started the same day, so as to keep ahead of us. We did not catch up with him till the 2nd of February, when he immediately went on. We started again on the 3rd, following him. We were told that we were marching upon Eylau, and that the Russians had gone to the city of Koenigsberg for the purpose of embarking; but they were waiting for us in a position in front of Eylau, which cost us very dear. We carried the woods and the heights, and pursued them closely; they took the road which led to Eylau, to the right over the hill-top, and there fought with desperation. They, however, finally lost their position. Prince Murat and Marshal Ney pursued them into Eylau, where they rushed pell-mell through the streets. The town was occupied by our troops, in spite of the efforts made to recapture it.
On the 7th of February the Emperor ordered us to camp on an eminence in front of Eylau. This mountain was in the form of a sugar-loaf, and very steep; it had been occupied a day or two before by our troops, for we found a number of the dead bodies of the Russians scattered here and there over the snow; and some dying ones, who made signs to us that they wished to be finished. We were obliged to clear away the snow so as to set up tents. We dragged the dead bodies to the other side of the mountain, and carried the wounded to a house at the foot of it. Unfortunately night came on, and some of the soldiers were so cold that they took it into their heads to pull down the house to get wood to warm themselves. The poor wounded fellows were victims of this deed of desperation. They perished under the rubbish.
The Emperor ordered us to light his fire in the midst of our battalions, and asked that each mess should give him a log of wood and a potato. We brought him a score of potatoes, some wood and some bundles of straw. We used for wood the rails which had formed the summer pens for the cattle. He seated himself in the midst of his "old grousers," on a bundle of straw, his stick in his hand. We saw him turn over his potatoes, and divide them with his aides-de-camp.
From our bivouac I could see the Emperor distinctly and he saw all our movements. By the light of the pine logs I shaved those of my comrades who needed it most. They each sat down on the rump of a dead horse, which had been there long enough for the intense cold to freeze it as hard as a stone. I had in my knapsack a towel, which I tied round their necks, and I had also some soap, which I mixed with snow melted over the fire. I daubed it over them with my hand, and then performed the operation. Perched on the top of his bundles of straw, the Emperor watched this strange spectacle, and burst into peals of laughter. I shaved at least a score of them that night.
Early in the morning, on the 8th of February, the Russians greeted us with volleys from their cannon. We sprang to our feet. The Emperor mounted, and marched us forward on the lake with our artillery and all the cavalry of his guard. The thunderbolt caught us on the frozen lake. There were twenty-two siege pieces brought from Koenigsberg firing upon us. The shells passed over the houses, and made great havoc in our ranks. There is no possible suffering greater than to expect to be killed without being allowed to defend one's self. Our quartermaster-sergeant did a brave thing: a cannon-ball took off his leg; he cut off a small part of flesh which remained, and, saying, "I have three pairs of boots at Courbevoie, I shall have enough to last me a long time'" he took two muskets for crutches, and went off unassisted to the field-hospital.
Having lost heavily, the Emperor now brought us forward on the height, our left wing resting on the church. He was there himself near the church, watching the enemy. He was rash enough to go close up to the cemetery, where the carnage was fearful and continuous. This cemetery was the burial-place of a great number of French and Russians. We held on to the position. But to the right, in front of us, the 14th of the line was cut to pieces; the Russians penetrated their square, and the carnage was terrible. The 43rd of the line lost half its men.
M. Sénot, our drum-major, was behind us at the head of his drummers. Someone came to tell him that his son had been killed. He was a youth of about sixteen, and belonged really to another regiment; but, as a favour, and out of respect for his father's position, he had been permitted to serve as a volunteer in the grenadiers of the guard. "So much the worse for him," cried M. Sénot; "I told him he was too young yet to follow me." And he went on with his duty with unshaken firmness. Fortunately, the report proved false; the young man had disappeared in a file of soldiers, who were knocked over by a cannon-ball, but he received no injury. I have seen him since, captain and adjutant in the guard.
A bullet cut off the staff of our eagle, passing between the legs of our sergeant-major as he held it, and made a hole through the front and back of his coat. Fortunately, he was not wounded. We shouted, "Forward! Hurrah for the Emperor!" As the peril was great, he decided to send forward the 2nd regiment of grenadiers and the chasseurs, commanded by General Dorsenne. The cuirassiers had broken through the squares, and made terrible slaughter. Our grenadiers fell upon the Russian guard with their bayonets without firing a single shot, and at the same moment the Emperor charged them with two squadrons of horse-grenadiers and two of chasseurs. They dashed forward with such rapidity that the grenadiers broke through all the Russian lines, and made the circuit of their whole army. They returned covered with blood, having lost some men who had been dismounted and taken prisoners. They were confined in the prison at Koenigsberg, and the next day the Emperor sent them fifty napoleons.
The ardour of the Russians was abated after these repulses, and they were not anxious to recommence the fighting. It was well, for our troops were completely exhausted, and our ranks visibly thinned. But for our guard our infantry would have been overcome. We did not lose the battle, but neither did we win it.
That evening the Emperor led us back to the position we had occupied the day before; he was delighted with his guard, and said to the general, "Dorsenne, that was no joke for you and my grousers; I am very much pleased with you." What with cold and hunger, we passed a wretched night. The battle-field was covered with the dead and wounded; their cries were blended into one great shriek. One can convey no idea of that terrible day. The next day was employed in digging ditches to bury the dead, and in carrying the wounded to the field-hospitals. About noon some casks of brandy, which the Jews brought from Warsaw, arrived, escorted by a company of grenadiers. The order was given that each man should have his turn: a cask was turned up on end, and the head knocked in. Two grenadiers held the money bag; four at a time came up, and each dropped in six francs; then dipped a certain sized glass into the cask, and were forbidden to dip in a second time. Then four others came up, and so on. The four casks saved the army, and the Jews made their fortune. They were escorted to Warsaw by a company of grenadiers who were paid three francs a day.
A truce was agreed upon. It was found impossible to continue fighting; the army had suffered too much. The Emperor ordered us to move our camps; but before departing, we carried off the sick and wounded on sleds, and also the guns taken from the enemy and the prisoners.
On the 17th of February we set out for Thorn and Marienburg, where we found better camping grounds. It was time we should, for we had not changed our clothes for a month.
We came to a large deserted village, called Osterode. It was a poverty-stricken place; but we did find a few potatoes. The Emperor took up his quarters in a barn, but finally found more comfortable lodgings; he was always in our midst, and often lived on food that was given him by his soldiers. But for the soldiers the poor officers would have died of hunger. The inhabitants had buried everything underground in the forests and in their houses. After much searching, we discovered their hiding-places. By sounding with the butt ends of our guns we found provisions of all sorts: rice, bacon, wheat, flour, and hams. Our officers were immediately informed of this, and they had the different articles dug up, and placed in the storehouse. Our beloved Emperor did everything he could to procure provisions for us; but they did not come, and we were often without rations. So we had to go out, in all that terrible weather, in search of food. "Come, let us start out to-morrow," said I one day. "Let a score of us, well armed, scour the great pine forests, where they say we shall find fallow-deer and stags. The snow will be an assistance to us in finding the game. We must start at daybreak, and say nothing about it to anyone; our sergeant will set it all right." "Agreed," said they; "our little hero wants to eat some venison. Let us make a start."
With our muskets loaded, we plunged into the forest. A herd of deer passed us about two hundred feet away, and then a great many hares; but we missed them every time we fired. I saw a hare start up not very far off, and as there were small pine-trees there, about five feet high, which stood thick, near by, I bent some of them over to see if I could find his form. To my astonishment one of the pines came up out of the ground. I took hold of another; it came up also. I tried another with the same result, and then I shouted to my comrades, "This way! this way! I have some good news for you. These pines are not growing here.""What do you mean?" they answered. "Come here and see."
Feeling sure that it was a large secret hiding-place, we began to sound; but the ramrods were not long enough and the place was a hundred feet square. We were so glad! I said, "My hare was the cause of our wind-fall; we must mark the place. There is no path to it; how could they have managed it? The sly dogs must have brought the things on their backs. Let us now get our bearings, and mark the pine-trees, so that we can find our way back to-morrow."
We went to work and cut off pieces of the bark from tile pine-trees on the right and left. Being always on the lookout, I saw a plank nailed against a large pine, and then another twenty-five feet higher. Of course we had to find out what this meant, so we cut down some saplings, and made notches in the branches to form a ladder. When we reached the box, we took out the peg which held up the plank, which was five or six feet high, and found salt meats, stuffed tongues, geese, hams, bacon, and honey; and afterwards, we found two hundred boxes filled with all sorts of things, among them a great many shirts. We carried off the shirts, some of the stuffed tongues, and geese. After marking our road, my comrades said, "Our ferret has a good nose." It was late when we returned to the camp, loaded down, but glad at heart. The sergeant-major immediately informed the officers of our good fortune. The captain came to see us. "Here is our ferret," said my comrades; "it was he who found it all.""Yes, captain, a hiding-place a hundred feet long, and so deep underground that we could not sound it with our ramroads. Here is some ham, bacon, and goose; take some. To-morrow we will set out with wagons, shovels, and pickaxes, and a good many men and ammunition, for we must sleep all night in the woods.""The two lieutenants shall go with fifty men," said our captain. "You will also need knapsacks and axes. The lieutenant shall take my horse and a bundle of hay; if you have to stay all night, he can return to give us news of you."
We started off with our officers and all the knapsacks belonging to our mess. We reached the place, and, after a great deal of hard work, dug down into the hiding-place. What treasures we found there! It took us twenty-four hours to empty the cave. It was good to see our happy faces. There was a large quantity of wheat, flour, rice, and bacon; chests full of linen shirts, and salt meats of every kind. They had replanted the pines, and replaced the moss. Nothing less than a hare hunt could have discovered the treasure.
The lieutenant returned to make his report and send us wagons, and men from other companies. The pit held twenty-five four-horse wagon loads. We had to make a road to get to it. How rejoiced all our grousers were when they saw the wagons coming! their faces sparkled. "This is not all," said I; "we have yet to fetch the boxes of honey we found up in the trees, and look round up in the big pines for other caches." Our search was well rewarded: we found more than a hundred boxes filled with salt meats, linen, and honey. We all climbed up, and filled our knapsacks.
On our return with all these provisions, we made a big fire to cook hams, and regale ourselves, at the expense of the Poles, who wanted to starve us, for in our winter quarters we had passed fifty days without tasting bread. They had all left their houses. If any remained, it was to watch over their hiding-places. When we asked them for food, they always refused. They are a people destitute of human feeling; they are willing that men should starve at their doors. Give me the Germans, who are always resigned to fate, and never desert their homes!
On our return to the camp, I was triumphantly received by the whole regiment. Rice was distributed to the grenadiers, and the wheat was ground up to make bread. This discovery led to further searching; taking soundings became our sport. All the barns-were ransacked, and the floors of the houses and barns torn up. There were hiding-places everywhere, and provisions in every place. The Russians were starving, too, and they came to beg some potatoes from our soldiers. They no longer thought of fighting, and left us undisturbed in our quarters. This terrible winter was the cause of great suffering to us.
Seeing a peasant go every morning and look over his garden, I watched him, and went there and sounded. I came to something which seemed soft, and I went to inform my comrades of it. We set to work at once, and discovered the bodies of two cows, which were entirely decayed. The smell was terrible. But under this carrion there were big casks filled with rice, bacon, ham, and all the utensils of the village: saws, axes, shovels, and pick-axes; in short, everything we needed; and also some preserves made of grapes and pears, for our dessert. I jumped for joy at having persisted in removing the carrion (it was a sickening task). We did not tell our officers about this hiding-place, and we got out of it fifteen hundred pounds of rice and quantities of bacon.
Finding that the snows were beginning to melt, the Emperor sent for his engineers to come and lay out a camp, in a fine position in front of Finkenstein. The lines were marked off in the form of a square. In the middle there was a place for a palace, which was to be built of brick. When the plan was made out, we went to look for planks to make our barracks. In this country the gardens are enclosed with big posts and pine planks twenty feet long and a foot wide. We set to work to pull these planks off the posts. We sent off twenty wagons loaded with it, and they returned for more. For three leagues around all the enclosures were torn down. In a fortnight our barracks were completed, and the Emperor's palace was almost done. A finer encampment could not possibly have been found. The streets were named after the battles won since the beginning of the war. Our officers were comfortably lodged, and the whole army was camped in fine positions. The Emperor went around, and was present at the drills. He sent to Dantzig for brandy and provisions, and for wine for his staff. All the soldiers looked happy. He came often to see us eat our soup, and would say, "Do not let me disturb you; I am much pleased with my grousers; they have furnished me with excellent lodgings, and my officers have rooms with plank floors. The Poles can make a town of it." As we found some pieces of cloth in the hiding-places, we made trousers, and great bags, six feet long, to sleep in. The Poles came with some beautiful ladies, in carriages, to see our plank city.
During May we had an easy time of it, and were as fresh and be-powdered as if we had been at Paris. But on the 5th of June, our bold Marshal Ney was attacked and pursued by a strong force of the Russians. A courier arrived, bringing the news of it to the Emperor. The camp was at once broken up, and we got ready to start. At six o'clock on the morning of the 6th we set out to join the army. We arrived at our destination the next day, and were immediately formed in line of battle with our artillery. We were near Eylau; we were sent to the right and forward to meet the Russians in the lonely plain of Friedland, at the ford of a river. They were awaiting us in a fine position: they had many redoubts on the heights and bridges behind them.
The brave Marshal Lannes came up from Warsaw, greatly disgusted with the Poles. In a discussion with the Emperor, in front of the grenadiers, we heard him say to him, "The blood of one Frenchman is worth all Poland." The Emperor answered, "If you are not satisfied, go away.""No," replied Lannes, "you (tu) need me."
This great warrior was the only one who dared say "thou" (tu) to the Emperor. Pressing his hand, the latter said, "Set off at once with Oudinot's grenadiers, your own corps and the cavalry. March upon Friedland. I will send Marshal Ney to you."
These two great soldiers found themselves opposed by forces more than double as strong as their own. They held out till noon. The grenadiers, light-horse, and cavalry held the enemy in check till we came up; but it was all they could do. The Emperor went galloping by ad the troops who were marching up. As he went through a wood where Oudinot's wounded men were passing, they called out to him, "Hurry to the aid of our comrades. The Russians have the upper hand just now." The Emperor, finding the Russians near a river, wanted to cut their bridges. He gave this task to the intrepid Ney, who went off at a gallop. All the troops came up. The Emperor ordered an hour for rest, visited the lines, came galloping back to his guard, changed his horse, and gave the signal to attack the Russians from all points. The Russians fought like lions; they preferred to be drowned rather than to surrender. ::
After this memorable day's fight, which was kept up late by, the light of the burning of Friedland and some of the neighbouring villages, the fighting ceased, and they took advantage of the night to beat a retreat upon Tilsit. Our Emperor slept on the battle-field, as usual, so as to see that the wounded were cared for, and the next day he pursued the Russians to the Niemen. Our soldiers could only catch up with their rearguard and stragglers; they captured some savages named Kalmucks, fellows with big noses, flat faces, large ears, and quivers full of arrows. There were eighteen hundred cavalrymen of them; but our "iron waistcoats" fell upon them, and hunted them down like sheep. They were commanded by Russian commissioned and noncommissioned officers. We got permission to go to their camp to see these savages. Rations of meat were distributed to them, and they devoured it instantly. On the 19th of June, our troops found themselves in front of the Russians, who had crossed the Niemen, and destroyed all the bridges. The river is not wide at this place; it runs across the foot of a beautiful broad street, which passes through Tilsit, and is closed at one end by a sort of barrack, where the Russian guard is lodged when in the service of the sovereign. His own camp was at the end of a lake, to the right of the city. The Emperor reached the Niemen with his cavalry. The Russians were on the opposite shore, without bread. We were ordered to send them provisions, which meant a march of six or seven leagues. At last an envoy of the Emperor of Russia came across the river to hold a parley. He was presented to Prince Murat, and then to Napoleon, who gave him an immediate answer, for he sent us an order to be ready for a full dress parade next day. Next day a Russian prince came over, and orders were issued that we should be under arms to receive the Emperor of Russia in front of the whole army in full uniform. We were told that a raft was to be built upon the river, and that the two Emperors were to hold a conference, and make peace. God only knows how glad we were to hear this ! We were all mad with delight.
The officers inspected us carefully, to be sure that nothing was wanting in our dress; our queues were neatly tied and powdered, our shoulder-belts clean and white. No absences were permitted. When all was ready, we were ordered to be under arms at eleven o'clock, so as to go down to the river. There was awaiting us there the most splendid sight that will ever be seen on the Niemen. In the middle of the river there was a magnificent raft, covered with large pieces of handsome tapestry, and on one side of it, to the left, there was a tent. On each shore there was a beautiful barge, richly decorated, and manned by a crew from the guard. The Emperor arrived at one o'clock, and entered his barge with his staff. The Emperors left either shore at the same signal; they had each the same distance to go, the same course to take; but our Emperor was the first to reach the raft. The two great men embraced each other as if they had been brothers returning from exile; and from every side rose shouts of "Vive l'Empereur!"
The interview was prolonged, and then each withdrew to his own shore. The next day we went through the same display. This time it was to receive the King of Prussia. Fortunately the great Alexander was there to protect him; he looked like a victim. Lord, how thin he was! He was a miserable sovereign, but he had a very beautiful queen. This interview between the three sovereigns was short, and it was agreed that our Emperor should give them board and lodging in the city. This was magnanimous, after having thrashed them well; but he bore them no malice.
The city was then divided in half, and the next day the whole guard was under arms in the beautiful street of Tilsit, three ranks deep on each side. Our Emperor went down to the bank of the river to meet the Emperor of Russia, and took with him horses to mount the Emperor and the princes. The King of Prussia was not there that day. What a fine sight it was ! all those sovereigns and princes and marshals, among them the proud Murat, who rivalled the Emperor of Russia in beauty of person; and all in splendid uniform ! The Emperor of Russia came in front of us, and said to Colonel Frédéric, "You have a fine guard, colonel.""And a good one, sire," said he to the Emperor, who answered, "I know it."
The next day he entertained them with a grand review of his guard and the third corps, commanded by Marshal Davoust, in a plain about a league from Tilsit. The day was fine; the guard as dazzling as when at Paris, and there was no fault to be found with the marshal's corps. They all had on white pantaloons. After being reviewed by the three sovereigns, we were made to march past by division, commencing with the third corps, and after them the "grousers." It was like a marching rampart. The Emperor of Russia, the King of Prussia, and all their generals saluted each division of the guard as it passed them.
Orders were issued that we should prepare to give an entertainment to the Russian guard. Very long and wide tents were to be put up, with the openings all on a line, and with beautiful pine-trees planted in front of them. One-half of us went with our officers to get the pine-trees, and the other half put up the tents. Eight days were given us to make our preparations, and a circuit of eight miles of country in which to procure provisions. We started off in good order, and that day the provisions were contracted for. The next day more than fifty wagons, loaded and driven by peasants, came to the camp. The peasants had conformed to this requisition with good grace, and they were sent off entirely satisfied. They thought that the carts, which were drawn by oxen, would be detained at the camp; but they were discharged immediately, and the peasants jumped for joy. At noon, on the 30th of June, our feast was spread. More beautiful tables were never seen, all decorated with épergnes made of turf, and filled with flowers. In the back part of each tent there were two stars with the names of the two great emperors formed of flowers, and draped with the French and Russian flags.
We marched out in a body to meet this fine guard, which was to arrive by company. We each offered an arm to one of the giants, and, as there were more of us than of them, we had one to every two of us. They were so tall they might have used us as walking-canes. As for me, the smallest of all, I had one of them all to myself. I was obliged to look up to see his face. I looked like a little boy beside him. They were astonished to see us so splendidly dressed: even our cooks were all powdered, and wore white aprons to wait in. In fact, everything was in the best style.
We seated our guests at table between us, and the dinner was well served. Everybody was in the highest spirits. These famished men could not control themselves; they did not know how to show the reserve which is proper at table. Brandy was served; it was the only liquor used at the entertainment. Before presenting it to them, we had to taste it, and then offer it in a tin goblet, which held a quarter of a litre. The contents of the goblet would instantly disappear. They would swallow pieces of meat as large as an egg at each mouthful. They seemed to become very uncomfortable. We made signs to them to unbutton their coats, doing the same thing ourselves. This made them easier. They had rags stuffed inside their uniforms to give them big chests, and it was disgusting to see these rags come tumbling out.
Two aides-de-camp, one from our Emperor and one from the Emperor of Russia, came to tell us not to move from the tables, as the Emperors were coming to make us a visit. They soon arrived. Our Emperor motioned to us to remain seated. They walked round the table, and the Emperor of Russia said to us, "Grenadiers, your entertainment is worthy of you."
After the Emperors were gone, the Russians, who were now at their ease, began to eat again, as hard as they could. We stuffed them with meat and drink, and when they found they could not eat all that was on the table, what do you suppose they did? They poked their fingers down their throats, threw up their dinner in a heap between their legs, and began all over again. It was a disgusting orgie. They thus filled themselves up three times at one dinner. That evening we accompanied those who could be taken away, to their quarters, and left the rest of them in their vomit, under the table.
One of our jokers took a notion to disguise himself as a Russian, and offered to change uniforms with one of them. The exchange was made, and they started off, arm in arm. On reaching the beautiful street of Tilsit, our fellow let go the Russian's arm. He met a Russian sergeant to whom he made no salute, and who gave him three blows over his shoulder with his cane. At this he forgot his disguise, jumped on the sergeant, and knocked him down. He would have killed him, if he had been allowed to do so, and that under the very balcony from which the two Emperors were watching the merry soldiery. This scene made them laugh heartily. The sergeant was left on the ground, and everybody was glad of it, especially the Russian soldiers.
When the Emperor had arranged his affairs, he made his adieux to the Emperor of Russia, and, on the 10th of July, left Tilsit for Koenigsberg, where he arrived the same day. We set out at once to join him by way of Eylau. Here we saw the graves of our brave comrades who had died for their country. Our officers ordered us to carry arms, and march past the battle-field in solemn silence. We went on to Koenigsberg, a beautiful maritime city, and there we were lodged and fed by the inhabitants. The English, not knowing that peace had been signed, came into port with ships loaded with provisions for the Russian army. One of these ships was loaded with herrings, and the other with snuff. We concealed our troops in the houses along the harbour. As soon as the ships entered the harbour we fired on them, and they surrendered. Good Lord, what a quantity of snuff and herrings I Six packages and a dozen herrings were given to each man of us. The Russians who were on board the captured vessels were glad to be taken prisoners, and our Emperor sent them back to their sovereign.
At this time we received orders to plant trees along the principal street, and to sand it, to receive the Queen of Prussia, who was coming to visit our Emperor. She arrived at ten o'clock at night. Lord, how beautiful she looked with her turban on her head I It was said that she was the beautiful queen of an ugly king, but I think that she was both king and queen. The Emperor came to the bottom of the great stairway to receive her, and offered her his hand; but she could not make him yield. I had the good fortune to stand guard at the foot of the stairway that evening, so I could see her close to; and the next day, at noon, I was put at the same post. I had a good chance to look at her. How beautiful she was, and what a queenly bearing! At thirty-three, I would have given one of my ears to stay with her as long as the Emperor did. This was the last time I ever went on guard as a common soldier.
General Dorsenne received orders to distribute to us the shoes and shirts which were in the Russian and Prussian store-houses, and have us inspected. The Emperor was to review his guard before leaving. All was in commotion. We found everything as it should be in that beautiful city. Its cleanliness was unrivalled. French ladies should go there, if they want to see dazzling apartments: shovels, tongs, doorways, balconies, everything was shining. There were spittoons in all the corners of the rooms, and the linen was as white as snow. It was a perfect model of neatness. After the shoes and linen had been distributed, the general ordered the captains to inspect their companies. The review was to take place on the square at eleven o'clock.
Captain Renard went to see the adjutant-major, M. Belcourt, to talk with him about me. They sent for me to tell me that I was to be made corporal in my company, as they wished to reward me. "But," said I, "I do not know how to read or write.""You shall learn." "Ah! I thank you; but that is impossible.""You shall be corporal to-day, and if the general asks you if you can read and write, you must answer, 'Yes, general,' and I will undertake to have you taught. I have some well-educated young soldiers, who will be very glad to teach you." I was very much ashamed to have to learn to read and write at the age of thirty-three, and I cursed my father for having abandoned me.
Finally, at noon, M. Belcourt and my captain went up to the general, and had a talk with him. "Order him out of the ranks." He eyed me from head to foot, and, seeing my cross, he asked me, "When were you decorated?""Among the first. I was at the Invalides." "The first of all, weren't you?" said he. "Yes general.""Let him be made a corporal at once." I felt relieved, for I was trembling in presence of this man, so strict and so just. The whole company was surprised at seeing me appointed corporal in my own company; no one had expected it. All the corporals gathered round me, and said kindly, "Don't worry; we will show you how to write." As soon as I reached my lodging, I went immediately to see my sergeant-major, who shook hands with me, and said: "Let us go at once to see the captain."
He received me cordially, and said that he should give me a mess of nineteen men, and put into it seven of the laziest but best educated recruits. "He will wake them up," said he to the sergeant-major, "and they will show him how to read and write. I will make you responsible for this good work. He deserves it, for he saved our lives; we always found something to eat at his bivouac." I went to see M. Belcourt, who remembered how smartly I had once returned to him his lost watch. (Seeing him one day galloping about in the rear in search of it, I said to him, "Where are you going so fast, major? You have lost your watch; there it is)"That is the sort of thing one doesn't easily forget," said M. Belcourt. "Go and do your duty well, and you'll soon go further." Lord, how pleased I was with that reception!
I now found myself the head of a mess of twelve "grousers and seven well-educated young soldiers.The sergeant-major had told them what to do, for they started out at once for the bookseller to buy paper, pens, ruler, pencil, and an Old Testament. I was surprised to find that I was to have seven teachers. "See here," said they; "these are what we are going to work with." "I," said one whose name was Galot, "am going to set your copies.""And I," said another whose name was Gobin, " will teach you to read.""We will all teach him to read by turns," said they all. "All right, I thank you all," said I; "I will repay you by smartening you up a bit, which you badly need."
But this was not all. The seven corporals of the company came and brought me two pairs of stripes, and the tailor to sew them on. "Come," said they, "take off your coat. These stripes belonged to two of our comrades, who died on the field of Honour.""Listen," said I to them, "you are all being too good to me; we must christen these stripes.""No," they replied; "there are too many of us.""No matter; we'll have a cup of coffee and a glass of brandy all round. But I beg you will allow me to invite my teachers and the tailor who has sewed on my chevrons to join us." "All right," said they, "let's go along now." So off I went with my fifteen men to the cafe. I seated them at a table, and went to find the host, and said to him, "I am paying the bill for all, you understand.""Very good," said he. "Be sure to let us have French brandy." "At once, sir." I was twelve francs out of pocket, and we left the cafe well pleased.
I said my lessons regularly, like a child, beginning by making crooked marks, and learning verses in the Testament, and reciting them to my teacher. But we had to parade preparatory to leaving, and the next day, July 13 we started for Berlin in high spirits. The people of Berlin came out to meet us; they knew that peace had been made. We could not have been more kindly received: we were comfortably lodged, and many of them took us to cafes. They said to us, "So the Russians found their masters, did they? But they say that our soldiers do not fight well.""Your soldiers are as brave as the Russians, and the Emperor had your wounded men well cared for; we carried them to the field-hospitals, as we did our own. You have also a great general, who took good care of our prisoners; our Emperor knows him well." Then they grasped us by the hand, saying, "That is like Frenchmen!" But I said to them, "Your prisoners are better off than your soldiers; they have good bread, paid, work well, and no flogging.""How kind you are, corporal! you make us very happy. You have behaved yourselves in Berlin as though you were our own countrymen.""I thank you in the name of my comrades."
We marched away from Berlin by short stages. The large towns of Potsdam, Magdeburg, Brunswick, Frankfort, and Mayence received us with triumphant demonstrations. Joy was painted on every countenance. The country people came out on the roads to see us go by. All along the way refreshments were prepared for us in the villages. The villages vied with the cities in their attentions to us. Well fed and triumphant, we returned to the gates of our own capital, which surpasses all others that I have ever seen. There triumphal arches awaited us, magnificent receptions, the theatres, and the beautiful ladies of Paris, who were there looking down at us.
The Emperor received us at the Tuileries in our clean, but threadbare, uniforms. Then we marched through the garden of the Tuileries, and sat down to dinner at a table in the Avenue de l'Étoile, and thence on to Courbwoie to rest awhile. But the Emperor did not allow us to remain quiet long. He immediately established regimental schools, and sent to Paris for two professors to instruct us: one in the morning and the other in the evening.
This was a great help to me. I immediately purchased a grammar and a drill-book. Twice a day I went to school, and, with the help of my young soldiers, I made rapid progress. I never left my studies, except to go on guard. As soon as my classes were over, I went off, and concealed myself in a very secluded part of the Bois de Boulogne, and there studied my drill. At the end of two months, I could write a large hand, and I can say I did it well. The professors said to me, "If we have
you for a year, you will be thoroughly grounded, you have a good hand." How proud I felt!
The Emperor also established a swimming-school, where we could learn to swim. He had some barges placed near the bridge of Neuilly, and there a broad girth was passed under the stomach of each grenadier who did not know how to swim; then two men in each barge would hold on to it, and we went to work with such a will, that in two months there were eight hundred grenadiers who could swim across the Seine. I was told that I must learn to swim. I answered that I was too much afraid of the water. "Very well," said the adjutant major, "let him alone; do not force him.""Thank you."
The Emperor ordered that the strongest swimmers should be held in readiness, at noon, in undress with linen pantaloons. The next day he came to the barrack square, and the swimmers were ordered out. He was accompanied by his favourite Marshal Lannes. He asked for a hundred of the boldest swimmers. The best of them were pointed out to him. "I want them to swim across with their muskets and cartridge-pouches on their heads." Then he said to M. Belcourt, "Can you lead them?""Yes, sire.""Go, then, and get them ready; I will wait for you." He walked up and down the square, and seeing me such a little one among the others, he said to the adjutant-major, "Send that little decorated grenadier to me." I came, feeling very much like a fool. "Can you swim?" said he. "No, sire.""Why not?""I am not afraid of fire, but I am afraid of water."Oh! you are not afraid of fire! Very well," said he to M. Belcourt, " I exempt him from swimming."
I retired quite happy. The hundred swimmers being ready, they went down to the shore of the Seine; there were two boats, manned by sailors of the guard, to follow them, and the Emperor dismounted on the bank. All the swimmers passed under the bridge in front of the castle of Neuilly without any accident. M. Belcourt, alone, got entangled in the long grass which was dragged along by the current, and wound around his legs; but the boatmen immediately went to his assistance, and he caught up with the others. When they reached the opposite shore, they fired a volley. The Emperor galloped over the bridge and round to them. He ordered that some good wine should be given to the "grousers" at once and that they should be sent back in boats. Wine was distributed to all of us, and twenty-five sous to each swimmer. The Emperor also took a fancy to send a of chasseurs, with arms and baggage, across the Seine in front of the Invalides, at the place now occupied by the bridge. They crossed without accident, and reached the Champs Élysées. The Emperor was delighted, but the chasseurs and their baggage were soaked through.
My duties as corporal increased: two lessons a day, and one from my young soldiers, to say nothing of my drill, which I had to recite every day. I used to know it perfectly when I started from the place where I went to study it, but when I came up to M. Belcourt, I could not repeat a single word. "Well," he said, "how is this? Go back and learn it again.""I knew it just now, I answered. "Try again, then.""I will." And I then recited every word of it. "Excellent," said said he one clay. "That will do. To-morrow no more theory. We will learn the tone of command." Next day he gathered us around him. "Now," said he, "I am going to begin We each had to repeat his command in turn.
I used my voice so well that he was surprised, and said to me, "Begin again, and do not be in a hurry. I shall give the command, and you have only to repeat after me. Do not be timid; we are here to teach you." Then l shouted "That's right," said he. "Mark my words, gentlemen, little Corporal Coignet will make a good pupil. In a month he will beat us all.""Ah, major, you make me feel abashed.""You will see," said he, "when you have more self-possession."
As for the theory of drill, I did not get along very well with that; I was always at work on it, but I did not do nearly so well as my comrades, who recited like parrots. I retaliated on them, however, by surpassing them all in practice. I became very skilful in the use of arms, but was always suffering from my ignorance. I bought two hundred little wooden soldiers, and used to drill them.
When there was a corps parade, I tried to remember every command. The brave general, Harlay, who commanded, was a perfect master of drill; one could learn under him. The flank movement by battalion is the most difficult. It is necessary to start off simultaneously, and to halt in the same manner, turn to the front with a "Left face!" all keeping at the same distance from one another, and in a perfect line with the guides. Also we had to give the commands, "March" and "Halt" on the left foot. I remembered every word of these difficult tactics. I scarcely ever left barracks.
About the end of August, the Emperor had grand parades and frequent reviews in the plain of St. Denis. We perceived that he was preparing for another campaign. There were troubles brewing in the direction of Madrid.
We had a good time in Paris until the month of October, 1808, going through reviews, and making cartridges. I especially devoted myself to improving my writing and theory. General Dorsenne held inspections every Sunday. This strict general would come into our rooms, and pass his hand along the bread-shelf overhead, and, if he found one speck of dust on it, four days in the guard-room for the corporal! He lifted up our waistcoats to see if our shirts were clean. He even examined our feet, our finger-nails, and our ears to see if they had been attended to. He looked into our trunks to see that we had no soiled clothes in them. He even looked under the mattresses. We were all afraid of him. Once a fortnight, he came with the surgeon-major to visit us while we were in bed. We had to turn out in our shirts, and were forbidden to absent ourselves on these occasions and under pain of imprisonment.
Finally early in October, the Emperor issued orders for us to hold ourselves in readiness to march in a few days. Our officers had our kit-bags packed so that they could be taken to the storehouse. And it was well they did: the order came for us to start for Bayonne. I said to my comrades, "We are going to Spain: beware of the fleas and the lice! They root up the straw in the barracks, and run about over the pavement like mice. Let drinkers beware too, the wine of the country is fierce stuff, a drop of it lays you low." All turned out as I had predicted. At the end of a week's sojourn in Valladolid, we had to feed the soup to our drunkards: they trembled so that they could not hold their spoons.
From Bayonne we went to Irun; thence to Vittoria, a pretty town and thence to Burgos, where we remained
few days. There is a fine church there; the interior of the building is exceedingly beautiful. There is an Immense dock inside, and at noon its two doors open, and different curious objects come out. The principal spire of this handsome building is flanked by small towers which form four fronts, and contain beautiful rooms, which all communicate. A small stairway, leading from a wide vestibule, goes down the left side of the building; at the end of it there is a beautiful garden. Our horse-grenadiers put up their chargers under the fine old arches, which were filled on the left side with bales of cotton. They were about to feed their horses, when, at the foot of the small stairway, appeared a little boy of eleven or twelve years old, who seemed to wish to attract the attention of our grenadiers. As soon as one of them saw him, he ran back up the stairway; but the grenadier followed him, and caught up with him at the top of the steps. As soon as he reached the landing, the little boy opened a door, and the grenadier entered with him. The door closed, and the monks cut off his head. The little boy came down again, showed himself as before, and another grenadier followed him, and fell a victim to the same fate. The little boy returned a third time, but a grenadier who had seen his comrades go up the stairway, said to those who had just returned from feeding their horses, "Two of our men have already gone up to the belfry, and have not returned. They may have got shut up in the belfry; we must see about it at once."
So they started off in pursuit of the child. They took their carbines along, mounted the narrow stairway, and, to prevent being surprised, fired a volley when they reached the top, burst open the door, and found their comrades lying there with their heads cut off and bathed in their own blood. Our old soldiers became perfectly enraged. They slaughtered those scoundrels of monks; there were eight of them, and they had all sorts of ammunition, provisions, and wine. It was quite a fortress. We threw the Capuchins and the little boy out of the dormer-windows down into the garden.
After having rendered a last duty to our comrades, we left Burgos, and marched forward. After going two leagues, we came up with the King of Spain, who had come to meet his brother, our Emperor, and they set off to rejoin the army which was moving on Madrid. We caught up with the advance guard, which was in hot pursuit of the enemy. On the 30th of November, 1808, the battle of the Sierra took place. It was a most difficult position, but the Emperor did not hesitate; he assembled all his sharp-shooters, and stationed them along the mountains. When he saw them coming near the flank of the enemy's artillery, he sent the Polish lancers out upon the highway with the horse chasseurs of the guard, and ordered them to clear the mountain without stopping. It was bristling with guns. They started off at a gallop, cutting down everything before them. The ground was strewn with horses and men. The sappers cleared the road by throwing them down into the ravines.
The Spaniards made every effort to defend their capital, but the Emperor turned Madrid, which was blockaded. The garrison was very weak; even the inhabitants and the monks had taken up arms. They had all joined in the revolt, had taken up the pavements of the city, and carried the stones up into their houses. We were ordered to camp near a chateau a short distance from Madrid, where we remained two days. There was not enough water in the castle well to supply us, and we were obliged to go off in search of some. We returned to camp with two hundred asses laden with wine in leather bottles made of goat-skin, and we had to shave ourselves with wine. We tied our quadrupeds to some posts for the night, but the next morning they made such a fearful noise that the Emperor could not stand it, and sent an aide-de-camp to put a stop to the racket. We let the poor beasts loose, and, finding themselves at liberty, they escaped into the open fields where, having nothing else to eat, they devoured each other.
The cannonading was unceasing; balls were sent into the city from every direction; but they would not surrender. However, their losses were finally so great that they were compelled to do so. The Emperor declared that if a single stone should fall on his soldiers, he would put all the inhabitants to death with the sword. They gained nothing but the trouble of repaving their principal streets.
Marshal Lannes was commanded to take Saragossa, which cost great loss to our army. All the houses were furnished with battlements, and we had to carry them one at a time. The Emperor left Madrid with all his guard, and we came to the foot of a steep mountain, covered with snow like St. Bernard. We encountered untold difficulties in crossing it. Just before reaching this terrible pass, we were overtaken by a snow-storm which almost blew us over. We were obliged to hold on to one another, as we could not see a step before us. It was necessary to have an Emperor like ours to follow, in order to be able to resist it. We slept at the foot of this mountain, which cost our artillery much labour to cross, and then descended on the other side into a plain where there were some miserable villages which had been devastated by the English. We came to the shore of a river, which we found was extremely rapid, and from which all the bridges had been cut away. We had to ford it, holding on to one another, scarcely daring to raise our feet lest we should be carried away by the rapidity of the current. Our caps were covered with sleet. Imagine the delights of such a bath in the month of January! When we stepped into this river it came up to our waists. We were ordered to take off our breeches before crossing the two branches of the river, and, when we came out of the water, our legs and thighs were as red as lobsters.
On the other side, there was a field where our cavalry successfully charged the English. We had to pursue them in order to support the charge, and we marched rapidly, without stopping, as far as Benevento, which we found had also been ravaged by the English; they had carried off everything. Our cavalry pursued them as far as possible. They killed all their horses, and abandoned all their baggage-wagons and artillery. The Emperor ordered us to recross the terrible river. Think of two such baths in one day! This was something to grumble at; but he had provided for our comfort, and had had fires lighted a short distance off, so that we could warm ourselves
The whole guard now started for Valladolid, a large city. Here even the monks had taken up arms: all the convents were deserted, and we were at no loss for lodgings. We were ordered to return to France by forced marches, and the Emperor set out for Paris. He had a little surprise prepared for us on our arrival at Limoges, for he wanted to take care of our legs and our shoes. We were received in this city, and passed the night there. The next day our officers said, "Take the hammers off your muskets and wrap them up well with the screws and the bayonets lest they should be lost. The whole guard. will go to Paris in wagons. The wagons are ready outside the city."
As I was dismounting my musket, I said to my captain, "They surely take us for calves, putting us in on straw in this fashion." He laughed, and replied, "That is so , but time presses. There is mischief brewing. We are not yet ready to sleep in our beds, and one cannot tell what may happen between here and Paris."
Having dismounted our muskets, we started off. Crowds of people were on the streets. Outside the city we found the wagons with the bottoms lined with straw waiting for us. Gendarmes were stationed in lines on each side of the road to guard them. We got in by companies, in perfect order; the number in each wagon was according to the capacity of the vehicle (if there were three horses, twelve men were put in). When we reached the relay five francs were paid for each draft horse, and, if the horse died, three hundred francs were paid at once. Paymasters were on hand when the troops arrived, ready to pay for everything, and other wagons were ready for a fresh start. Tickets for refreshment had been issued to each company. The inhabitants came out to meet the train of wagons, each having an order for a certain number of men whom they were to feed, and took them off at once to seat them at table. Everything was in readiness everywhere. We had only three-quarters of an hour for eating, and started off immediately after. The drum-major had his food brought to him at his place, so that he could be ready to beat to parade at/he precise moment. There was no delay. When we were ready to start, the battalion was spread out in a line along the road, so that each company faced the wagons into which they were to mount by messes. There was not a moment lost; each man felt the need of doing his duty. We travelled twenty-five leagues a day. It was as though a streak of lightning passed from the south to the north.
The long journey from Limoges to Versailles was soon made. On arriving at the gates of that beautiful city, we were ordered to get out of the wagons and enter. We had to remount our muskets, and march through the city in a state of utter weariness and starvation (we were neither shaved nor combed). We counted on finding wagons on the other side of Versailles, but we were mistaken. We were obliged to go on foot as far as Courbevoie, where we were to pass the night, and where, half dead with fatigue and hunger, we found provisions and wine.
The next day was occupied in making ourselves clean. We drew upon the stores of linen and shoes, and the day after that the Emperor reviewed us. Then we started off at once, but the favour was granted us of being sent in cabs: a requisition had been made for all in the city. Four grenadiers in a cab, with packs and muskets, was the arrangement. When we arrived at Claye, we gave some hay to our miserable nags, fed our coachmen, and started off again in the same carriages. At each halting-place we found our dinners waiting on the table.
We went to Ferté-sous-Jouarre, where the big wagons of Brie with big horses and good fresh straw awaited us (twelve men to each wagon). Those cursed roads were full of deep ruts and large stones. The jolting knocked us together, and threw us down upon one another. Lord, what suffering it was! We travelled twenty-five or six leagues every day. On reaching Lorraine, we found small light horses and small low carriages, which carried us along like the wind; they were harnessed in tandem fashion. We were able to make thirty leagues a day with such horses; but it was a painful business going down the steep mountains, particularly those where the road turns off towards Metz. When we arrived at the gates of this city, we had to salute it, consequently we were obliged to remount our muskets, and put on our full uniforms, unpack our knapsacks, and change our linen. More than ten thousand people had come out to see us, among them a great many ladies who had never seen the Emperor's guard. As soon as our muskets were in order, we opened our knapsacks to change our clothes. A high wind was blowing at the time, with the result that all our shirts flew up in the air, and we had the field to ourselves in no time, for the ladies screamed with horror when they saw the handsomest men in France stark naked. But we couldnt help that.
Our entrance into the city was magnificent: we were lodged with the citizens, and kindly treated. The Emperor said that the Lorraine horses, by their fleetness, had enabled the guard to gain fifty leagues. We then set out from Metz, with orders not to halt night or day. We were guided by a fairy wand. It was night when we reached Ulm. Our billeting-orders were given us, but, after we had eaten something, the drums beat the grenadière, and we had to fly to arms immediately. On the road to Augsburg we had a roll-call at nine o'clock at night. No more carriages after that; we were in the enemy's country. We had to rub up our legs, and march all night. We came to a town about nine o'clock in the morning. We were only allowed three-quarters of an hour to eat, and started off again immediately. We were obliged to march twenty-one leagues the first day with our heavy loads on our backs.
Then only a halt of half an hour. The next day no time for rest, except just long enough to eat and be off again. We had still twenty miles to make before reaching Schoenbrunn. After going fifteen or sixteen leagues, we were formed up in line in front of a large village, and twenty-five volunteers were called for to join the Emperor at the gates of Vienna, and mount guard at the castle of Schoenbrunn. I remembered that I had several times been on guard there before. I was the first to step out of the ranks. "I will go," said I to my captain. "Good," said General Dorsenne, "the smallest sets a good example."
The number was soon made up and we started off. A bottle of wine was promised to each of us when we should be within three leagues of Vienna. We reached that point at nine o'clock at night, utterly worn out and very thirsty, and counting on the promise of the bottle of wine. But no wine was forthcoming. We had to go right on without stopping. I turned out of the way to look for some water to quench the thirst which was consuming me. I ran along the street, and met a peasant who was coming my way. He was carrying a bucket full of something, and, seeing me, he went into a finelooking house where a sentry was on guard. I went on, but at the corner of the street I crouched down against the wall. The peasant came out again with his pail. I spoke to him in his own language. To my surprise his pail was full of wine. I made him stop in front of me, and hold up his pail with both hands, while I, putting my musket down on the ground, began to drink as hard as I could. I never before was so thankful for something to drink. This set me on my legs for the next three leagues, and I rejoined my comrades with a heart full of contentment.
We reached the village of Schoenbrunn at midnight. Our officers had the imprudence to allow us to rest about a quarter of an hour's march from the castle, awaiting orders from the Emperor, who, when he heard of our arrival, was furious. "What," said he, "have you marched my veterans more than forty leagues in two days? Who ordered you to do this? Where are they?""Near by.""Tell them to come here, that I may ace them."
We were ordered to rise, but our limbs were as stiff as the barrel of a gun. We could hardly move. We had to use our muskets as crutches to help ourselves along. When the Emperor saw us coming, all bent over on the butt-ends of our guns, not one erect, all with heads bowed down, he became like a raging lion. "Can these be my veterans in such a state? Suppose I needed them at this moment! You are . . ."He gave them a tremendous dressing down. He said to the horse grenadiers, "Have large fires made immediately in the middle of the courtyard, and fetch straw for them to lie down on; have some pots of sweetened wine heated."
Large pots were quickly put on the fire to make soup for us; and it was a sight to see the cavalrymen running round, and the Emperor having things brought for us. During the bombardment of Vienna, the inhabitants of the city had concealed some grocery wagons which were in front of the gates of the city; they contained sugar and nuts and raisins. The sugar was now brought out, some of it was put in the basins of warm wine, and all sorts of cups were collected. The Emperor never left us; he stayed with us more than an hour. When the wine was ready, the grenadiers came round the fires to give us some to drink. Not being able to raise ourselves up, they were obliged to raise our heads before we could drink. The grenadiers twitted us maliciously, saying, "Your shoes and the straps of your knapsacks have overcome you. Come, the Emperor's health, and ours too! We will stay by you all night, and take care of you. In a little while we will give you something more to drink, and then you can go to sleep; the soup is ready; to-morrow you will be all right again."
The Emperor returned to his palace. At five o'clock we sat up on our straw to eat our soup, meat, bread, and wine. At nine o'clock the Emperor came out again to see us, and ordered our officers to make us stand up; but we each had to have two men to help us to walk, our limbs were so stiff. The Emperor stamped his feet angrily; the grenadiers mocked us, and our officers did not dare show themselves for fear of a scolding. That night lodgings were found for us in that beautiful and wealthy village, and the whole guard arrived, and was comfortably quartered.
The bombardment of Vienna had ceased: our troops had taken possession of the capital. The Austrian armies had blown up the bridges, after crossing over to the other side of the Danube. Great preparations were made for recommencing hostilities; in order to follow them up, we had to cross this terrible river, which was swollen and rushing on like a torrent. The water was very high, and even large boats were anchored with difficulty. Very strong boats were needed to make a bridge of such immense length over such a rapid current. All these preparations required time. The Emperor, we were told, had his large boats brought down about three leagues below Vienna, in front of the island of Lobau and the field of Essling. When the two bridges were completed, the Emperor sent Marshal Lannes' corps down to await orders to cross; he placed a hundred thousand men in Vienna to hold that capital, and keep a strict watch upon all the buildings, so that no one could hold any communication with Prince Charles from the other side. The streets were strictly patrolled, and all the people were shut up in their houses. Then a presence of crossing was made in front of Vienna so as to keep Prince Charles's army in front of his capital, and prevent them from moving down towards Essling.
When all was in readiness, the Emperor announced promotions in the guard. I was appointed sergeant on the 18th of May, 1809, at Schoenbrunn. It was an ressible joy to me to find myself a non-commissioned , with the rank of lieutenant of the line, and the right when in Paris, to carry a sword and a cane. I was to remain with my company; but I had no sergeant's stripes, and I had to give up my corporal's stripes to my successor; there I was, like a private soldier again; "But patience," said I to myself, "there'll be plenty of stripes for the asking soon!"
The Emperor ordered Marshal Lannes to lead his army corps over the great bridge over the Danube, and march them forward beyond Essling. The fusiliers of guard, Marshal Bessieres, and a park of artillery were in position from early morning. The Austrians did not perceive them until Lannes greeted them with a round of cannon-shot, causing them to turn their backs on their capital, and face our army which had crossed without their permission. The whole army of Prince Charles fell into line in front of us, and firing began from one end to the other. More than a hundred thousand men fell upon the corps of Marshal Lannes. The shock fell upon us, too, but we held out to the utmost. The Emperor ordered us to leave Schoenbrunn for the Danube early in the morning; the whole infantry of the guard with himself at their head. At eleven o'clock he ordered us to cross over, and to put on our bear-skins. There was no time to lose, and as we crossed the bridge, three abreast, we unpacked one another's bear-skins without halting. The operation was complete by the time we reached the further bank, and we threw all our undress caps into the Danube, and have never worn them since. That was the end of caps for the guard.
We crossed one end of the island, and came to another bridge which we went over at the charge. The foot chasseurs crossed first, dashed into the field, and wheeled to the left in column instead of to the right. This mistaken movement could not be rectified, and we had to go into battle at once, with our right wing near a branch of the Danube. As soon as the fight began a cannon-ball struck the Emperor's horse on the hip. At once all shouted, "We will lay down our arms, if the Emperor does not go to the rear instantly." He was compelled to recross the smaller bridge, and had a rope ladder made up to the top of a high pine-tree, from which height he could watch all the movements of his own army and that of the enemy.
A second cannon-ball struck the drum-sergeant. One of my comrades went immediately and took off his stripes and epaulets and brought them to me. I thanked him, and pressed his hand. This was only a prelude. To the left of Essling the enemy planted fifty guns in front of us. I felt an urgent call to relieve nature, but it was strictly against orders to move a step towards the rear. There was no alternative but to go forward in advance of the line, which I did; and, having put down my musket, I began operations with my behind to the enemy. All at once a cannon-ball came along, ricochetted within a yard of me, and threw a hail of earth and stones all over my back. Luckily for me I still had my pack on, or I should have perished.
Picking up my musket with one hand and my trousers with the other, black and blue behind, I was on my way back to my post when the major, seeing the state I was in, came galloping up. "What's this?" said he; "are you wounded?""It's nothing, major, they wanted to wipe my breech for me, but they didn't succeed. "Ah! well, have a drink of rum to pull you together."
He took a flask in a wicker case from his pistol-holster, and held it out to me. "After you, if you please." "Take a good pull! Can you get back alone?""Yes," I answered. He galloped away, and I moved off again, with my musket in one hand and my "rousers 'in the other, bringing up the rear, and was soon back in my place in the ranks. "Well, Coignet," said Captain Regard, "that was a near thing.""It was, sir; their paper's too hard, I couldn't use it. They're a lot of swine." And then followed handshakes all round with my officers and comrades.
The fifty guns of the Austrians thundered upon us without our being able to advance a step, or fire a shot.
the agony we endured in such a position, for I can never describe it. We had only four of our own in front of us; and two in front of the chasseurs, which to answer fifty. The balls fell among our ranks, and cut down our men three at a time; the shells knocked the bear-skin caps twenty feet in the air. As each file was cut down, I called out, "Right dress, close up the ranks!" And the brave grenadiers closed up without a frown, saying to one another as they saw the enemy making ready to fire, "The next one's for me." "Good, I'm behind you; that's the best place; keep cool."
A ball struck a whole file, and knocked them all three head over heels on top of me. I fell to the ground. "Keep cool," I called out; "close up at once." "But, sergeant, the hilt of your sabre is gone, your cartridge-pouch is half cut off.""That's nothing; the battle is not yet over."
There were no gunners left to work our two pieces. General Dorsenne sent forward twelve grenadiers to take their places, and bestowed the cross on them. But all those brave fellows perished beside their guns. No more horses, no more artillery-men, no more shells. The carriages were broken to pieces, and the timbers scattered over the ground like logs of wood. It was impossible to make any more use of them. A shell fell and burst near our good general, covering him with dirt, but he rose up like the brave soldier that he was, saying, "Your general is not hurt. You may depend upon him, he will know how to die at his post." He had no horse any longer; two had been killed under him. How grateful the country ought to be for such men ! The awful thunder continued. A cannon-ball cut down a file of soldiers next to me. Something struck me on the arm, and I dropped my musket. I thought my arm was cut off. I had no feeling in it. I looked, and saw a bit of flesh sticking to my wrist. I thought I had broken my arm, but I had not; it was a piece of the flesh of one of my brave comrades, which had been dashed against me with such violence that it had stuck to my arm. The lieutenant came up to me, took hold of my arm, shook it, and the piece of flesh fell off. I saw the cloth of my coat. He shook my arm, and said to me, "It is only numbed." Imagine my joy when I found I could move my fingers! The commander said to me, "Leave your musket and take your satire." " I have none; the cannon-ball cut off the hilt of it." I took my musket in my left hand.
The losses became very heavy. We had to place the guard all in one rank so as to keep up the line in front of the enemy. As soon as this movement had been made, a stretcher was brought up on our left, borne by grenadiers, who deposited their precious burden in our centre. The Emperor, from the top of his pine-tree, recognized his favourite, left his post of observation, and hurried to receive the last words of Marshal Lannes, who had been mortally wounded at the head of his corps. The Emperor knelt upon one knee, took him in his arms and had him carried over to the island; but he did not survive the amputation. Thus ended the career of that great general. We were all filled with dismay at our great loss.
Marshal Bessieres was still left to us, and was dismounted with all the rest. He came out in front of us. The cannonading continued. One of our officers was struck by a cannon-ball which cut off his leg, and the general granted permission to two of the grenadiers to carry him to the island. They laid him upon two muskets, and were bearing him off, but had not taken more than four hundred paces, when a cannon-ball killed all three of them. But an even worse thing happened shortly afterwards. The corps of Marshal Lannes beat a retreat; one part fell back upon us panic-stricken, and masked our front. As there was only a single file of us, our grenadiers took them by the collar, and put them behind us saying , "Now you need not be afraid."
Fortunately they all had their arms and cartridges. The village of Essling was in our possession, though it had been taken and retaken and burnt. The brave fusiliers remained masters for the rest of the day. The soldiers behind our file being somewhat restored to presence of mind, Marshal Bessieres came up to them, and reassured them by saying, "I am going to take you forward as sharp-shooters, and I shall be among you on foot myself."
Then they all started off with this brave general. He then placed them in extended order within range of the fifty guns whose fire we had stood since eleven o'clock in the morning; and thus there was a line of sharpshooters to protect the file-firing which had been opened on the Austrian artillery. The brave marshal, with his hands behind his back, walked up and down the line, silencing for the moment their fury against us. This gave us a little breathing-space; but time passes slowly when one is awaiting death without the power to defend one's self. The hours seem ages. After having lost a fourth of our veterans without having burnt a priming, I was no longer at a loss for sergeant's stripes and epaulets; my grenadiers brought me my pockets full. This terrible battle cost us dear. The brave marshal remained behind his sharp-shooters more than four hours. The battle was neither lost nor won. We did not know that the bridges over the broad river had been carried away, and that our army was crossing the Danube at Vienna. At nine o'clock the firing ceased. The Emperor ordered that each of us should light his fire, so as to make the enemy think that our whole army had crossed over.
Prince Charles did not know that our bridge had been carried away, else he would have captured us with little trouble, and would not have asked for a truce of three months, which was immediately granted, for, to tell the truth, we were in a cage: they could have bombarded us on all sides. When we had our fires well alight, we were ordered to recross to the island by our small bridge, and leave our fires burning. We spent the night in getting settled into positions where there were no fires, and waited for the daylight. The next morning some heavy guns were brought over in front of us, and stationed at the head of our little bridge. To our great surprise we saw nothing of the large bridge upon which we had crossed the day before. There was no more trace of it than of the caps which we had thrown into the Danube.
On the river in front of Vienna, the mills, which were on boats, had been loosened from their moorings, and the wheels taken off; they were filled with stones, and these heavy masses borne along by the current swept away the large bridge. This sacrifice of their mills blockaded us three days in the island without bread. We ate up all the horses which had not died; not one was left. To the prisoners taken that morning we gave the heads and entrails. Our officers had nothing left but bridles and saddles. It is impossible to describe our privations; and, in addition, heart-rending shrieks came from m near at hand, where M. Larrey was making amputations; it was frightful to hear.
The Emperor called on the city of Vienna to collect all its boats and bring them down to make a new bridge. On the fourth day we were set free from our imprisonment on the island. We recrossed the awful river with joyful hearts, but very pale faces. Provisions awaited us at Schoenbrunn, where we arrived that night. Everything was in readiness to receive us, and our billets for lodgings all made out. We had plenty of time to recuperate during the three months' truce. Then entrenchments were begun in the island of Lobau: a hundred thousand men set to work on redoubts and covered roads It would be impossible to give any idea of the quantity of earth thrown up during those three months. The Austrians threw up as much more in front of us. The Emperor would leave his palace on horseback, accompanied by his escort, go to the island of Lobau, and mount to the top of his pine-tree; thence he could see all their works, and watch the execution of his own. He would return satisfied and happy. He would come out to see us as soon as he got back, speak to all his veterans, and walk about the courtyard with his hands behind his back. He filled up the vacancies in his guard, and, as he had brought with him some actors from Paris, he gave a play in the castle. The fair ladies of Vienna were invited, and also fifty non-commissioned officers. It was a magnificent sight; but the ball-room was too small for so many people.
My arm having recovered its strength, I worked hard during those three months at my writing; I made great progress. My masters expressed themselves quite satisfied with me. Not one of the guard put his foot into Vienna, not even the Emperor, but he made frequent visits to the island of Lobau to watch his great preparations. He had his whole army drilled so as to keep in readiness to recommence the campaign. When all was ready, he showed a sample of his army to the amateurs of Vienna, in a review of a hundred thousand men, on the heights to the left of the city. There he sent for our Colonel Frédéric, and promoted him general, saying, "I will make you earn your epaulets." All the corps received orders to start for the island of Lobau on the 5th of July. Fortunately Prince Eugene, with the army of Italy, arrived in time to cross the Danube on the 6th of July, at ten o'clock in the morning. The whole army was assembled in the plain.
The Emperor had ordered rafts to be made, large enough to carry two hundred men each, who were to take possession of an island occupied by the Austrians, which interfered with his movements: he could not pass without being seen by the Austrian army. Everything was ready; the light-horse and the grenadiers on the rafts with General Frédéric. They were sent out precisely as the hour of midnight sounded, so as to keep to the agreement, for the truce ended on the 6th of July. The rain was falling in torrents. The Austrian soldiers went into their quarters for shelter. Our rafts landed alongside the island on the sand. The water being only up to our calves, we took the island without firing a gun; all the Austrians were taken prisoners, and then the enemy could not see our movements. Two thousand sappers were sent with the engineers to make a road for the pontoons and artillery. The trees which barred the way fell under axes and saws. By daylight we were three leagues beyond the enemy's works and our own without the enemy's even suspecting it. In a quarter of an hour three bridges were made, and at ten o'clock in the morning a hundred thousand men had crossed over -into the plain of Wagram. At noon our whole army was in line with seven hundred pieces of cannon in battery. The Austrians had quite as many. We could not hear ourselves speak.
It was amusing to see us facing Vienna, and the Austrians with their backs turned on their capital. It must be said for their credit that they fought with determination. The Emperor was informed that the main battery of the guard would have to be replaced, as the gunners were all killed. "What! said he, "if I relieve the artillery of my guard, the enemy will perceive it, and redouble their efforts to break through my centre. Call for volunteers at once from the grenadiers to man the guns."Twenty men from each company started off immediately. It was necessary to make a selection, for all wanted to go. No non-commissioned officers were accepted, only grenadiers and corporals. Off they started to man a battery of fifty pieces. As soon as they reached their position, the firing began. The Emperor took snuff, and walked up and down in front of us. Meanwhile Marshal Davoust was seizing the heights, and driving the enemy back upon us as he marched across the great plateau so as to cut off their road to Olmütz. The Emperor, seeing the marshal in front of him, lost no time in ordering all the cuirassiers in a body to go forward, and break through their centre. The whole body started together, and passed in front of us. The earth shook under our feet. They brought back with them fifty pieces of cannon, all harnessed up, and some prisoners. Prince de' Beauharnais came galloping up to the Emperor to tell him that the victory was assured. He embraced his son.
That night four grenadiers brought in the colonel who had commanded the fifty guns, to which the Emperor had sent his "grousers." This brave officer had been wounded about eleven o'clock. They were carrying him to the rear of his battery. "No," said he, "take me back to my post; that is my place;" and he commanded sitting down.
The guard formed a square, and the Emperor slept in the middle of it. He had all the wounded got together, and carried on to Vienna. The next day we found thirty cannon-balls which had fallen in one spot. It is impossible to give any idea of such a battle. On the 23rd all the columns started out early in the morning. The Austrians had left, after suffering great loss; they were compelled to come and ask for peace on the height of Olmütz where the Emperor had erected his magnificent tent. The firing ceased on all sides. We started for Schoenbrunn, and there negotiations for peace were entered upon. The armies remained in sight of each other while the Emperor arranged matters.