COMBAT AT BIBERACH.
A few days after, however, St. Cyr performed one of those brilliant actions which stamp the man of genius. The Austrians had retreated, and Moreau did not expect to overtake them for another day. In the mean time, St. Cyr had received orders to push on beyond Biberach, a little town which lay on the line of the enemy's retreat. But to his surprise, on coming up to this village he found that the Austrians had recrossed the Danube and marched back to Biberach to defend it on account of the magazines it contained. The entrance to it by the road St. Cyr was marching was through a narrow defile which opened right in front of the village. The Austrian general, thinking it would be unsafe to put the defile in his rear, left ten thousand men to guard it while he posted his army behind the town on an eminence forming an excellent position. As St. Cyr came up he saw at once the advantage it gave the enemy. But, thinking the rout of the ten thousand guarding the pass would shake the courage of the whole army in rear, he wished to order an attack immediately, and would have done so had his whole corps of twenty-five thousand men been with him. But his best division under Ney had been sent to observe the Danube, and though orders were immediately dispatched to hasten him up he could nowhere be found. At this lucky moment, however, he heard the firing of Richenpanse's division, which had come up by a cross road. Thus strengthened, he no longer hesitated, and without waiting for the whole to form in order he hurled his own battalions on the enemy. The order to charge was given, and his brave troops advanced at double-quick time to the onset. Overthrown and routed, the enemy swept in a confused mass through the defile and through the village, hurrying onward to the heights on which the army was posted. Following close on their heels, St. Cyr entered Biberach in hot pursuit.
Here, however, he arrested and re-formed his men, and began to reconnoitre the enemy's position. The river Riess—crossed by a single bridge—and a marsh lay between the village and those heights on which nearly sixty thousand men were drawn up in order of battle. It was a bold attempt to attack with a little over twenty thousand men sixty thousand occupying so formidable a position; and for a moment he hesitated in his course. Pushing forward his men, however, he crossed the Riess and the marsh, and drew up in front of the enemy. At this moment he saw the Austrians he had routed at the defile approach the army on the heights. The ranks opened to let them pass to the rear, and in this movement his clear and practised eye saw evidences of alarm and irresolution which convinced him at once that the firmness of the enemy's troops was shaken. He immediately sent forward some skirmishers to fire on them. The general discharge which this mere insult drew forth made it still clearer that the whole moral power, which is ever greater than physical strength, was on his side; and though the enemy outnumbered him three to one, and occupied a splendid position, his resolution was immediately taken. Forming his three divisions into three solid columns, he began to ascend with a firm step the slopes of the Wittemberg.
Nothing can be more sublime than this faith in the moral over the physical. This was not the headlong rashness of Murat, reckless alike of numbers or position, but the clear calculations Of reason. St. Cyr, who was one of the ablest tacticians in the French army, perceived at a glance that on one side were numbers and irresolution, on the other confidence and courage. When the Austrians saw those columns scaling the mountain-side with such an intrepid step and bold presence, they were seized with a panic, and turned and fled, leaving thousands of prisoners in the hands of St. Cyr. He carried out here successfully the very plan he proposed to Moreau when the enemy lay packed in a curve of the Danube.
The Austrians retreated to Ulm, which was strongly fortified, and St. Cyr, who had tried the metal of their soldiers, and who, from a convent that overlooked the enemy, saw and comprehended their position, begged permission to carry it by assault. In this he was joined by Ney and Richenpanse, who offered to answer for the success of it on their own heads. But Moreau did everything by maneuvers, and, preferring a less certain good to a probable greater one, refused his consent. A man never storms through mathematics, and to Moreau war was a mathematical science. A short time after, however, one of his grand maneuvers came very near destroying his left wing. Pretending he was about to march on Munich, he extended his line over the space of sixty miles, leaving St. Suzanne with 15,000 men alone on the left bank of the Danube.
If the Austrian general had possessed any genius, or even common sense, he would have crushed this division at a blow by falling with his entire force upon it. As it was, however, he sent a large body of cavalry to assail it, which enveloped it like a cloud, threatening to sweep it from the field. In the mean time masses of Austrian infantry came pouring out of Ulm to second the attack, until these fifteen thousand brave French were compelled to resist the onset of twenty-four thousand Austrian infantry and twelve thousand cavalry. Retreating in squares, they mowed down their assailants with their rolling fire, steadily pursuing their way over the field. Hour after hour did the combat rage, and though the ground was strewed with the dead not a square broke, not a battalion fled. St. Cyr, posted on the other side of the river, at some distance from the scene—where the Iller joins the Danube—hearing the cannonading, hastened forward to the spot. It was not Moreau in danger, but St. Suzanne, and he waited for no orders. Coming up opposite the field of battle, he found all the bridges broken down, and immediately planting his artillery so as to cover a ford across which he was beginning to pour his intrepid columns he opened a fierce fire on the enemy. Hearing this cannonading, and fearing for their retreat, the Austrians immediately began to retire toward Ulm.
After this engagement, from the movements of Moreau, the whole army expected an assault on the city, but after various maneuvers this cautious leader established his army and determined to remain inactive till he heard from Bonaparte, who was descending into Italy. The generals complained, St. Cyr openly remonstrated, and had many fierce altercations with him. The unequal distribution of provisions was another cause of dissensions and bitter recriminations. General Grenier arriving at this time, St. Cyr wished to resign his command to him, but Moreau refusing his consent he retired altogether from the army under the plea of ill health.
In October of the same year he is seen fighting bravely in Italy. The next year he was called by Bonaparte to the Council of State, and the year following (1801) took the place of Lucien Bonaparte as Ambassador to the Court of Madrid. He was soon after appointed to the command of the Neapolitan army, where he remained inactive till 1805, when he was made Colonel-General of the Cuirassiers, and received the Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honor. In the following campaigns of Prussia and Poland he distinguished himself, and in 1807 was appointed Governor of Warsaw. After the peace of Tilsit he was sent to Spain, where he won but few laurels; and indulging in unjust, unmanly complaints, was finally superseded by Augereau. Two years of disgrace and exile followed. But in 1812, in the Russian campaign, he appears again, and exhibits the same great qualities of a commander, and, fighting bravely at Polotsk, receives the long withheld, though long deserved, marshal's baton.
The next year he commanded at Dresden, when it was assailed by the allies; and after their repulse held possession of it till the disasters that overtook the French army left him once more at the mercy of the allies, and he was compelled to capitulate. He returned to France after the Restoration, and was given by Louis a seat in the Chamber of Peers.
On the landing of Napoleon from Elba he retired into the country and remained there inactive till the second overthrow of the empire at Waterloo. On the King's return he was honored with the Order of St. Louis and presented with the portfolio of the War ministry. In the autumn of the same year, however, he retired because he could not give his consent to the treaty of Paris. But two years after he was made Minister of the Marine, from whence he passed to the War Office. While in this department he succeeded in getting a law passed by which no man was to receive a commission in the army till he had served two years as a soldier. This thoroughly democratic measure sprung from his experience of the superior efficiency of those officers who had arisen from the ranks, and also, perhaps, from a desire to pay a compliment to his own career. In 1819, being strongly opposed to the proposed change in the law of elections, he resigned his office, and never after appeared in public life.
The great characteristics of St. Cyr were clearsightedness on the field of battle, perfect method in all his plans, and a cold, deep spirit. However he might fail in a great campaign, on the field where an engagement was to take place he was regarded one of the ablest tacticians in the army. His eye took in the enemy's position and his own at a glance, and he saw at once the best course to be taken. In forming his plans he seemed to omit no detail necessary to success, while the moral feeling of the two armies was not forgotten. The latter he Calculated with the same nicety he did numbers; and it is interesting to observe what reliance he always placed upon it. He possessed, to a certain extent, that combination which distinguished Napoleon, and belonged more or less to all his great generals, viz.: clearness and rapidity of thought. But this power in him arose from a different cause than with them. Napoleon and Ney and Massena and Kleber possessed strong minds and strong imaginations also, yet they were so well balanced as only to strengthen each other. The imagination never became so excited as to confuse the operations of reason, while the judgment never acquired such a mastery, as in Moreau, that inspiration and impulse could have no control. Cool, clear-headed, and self-collected, they planned with the sobriety of reason, and yet kept it in such abeyance that in moments of excitement they could be carried away by the impulse of genius. Their imaginations acted as a powerful stimulant to the mental powers, giving them greater rapidity without forcing them into confusion; but St. Cyr possessed none of this impulsiveness. He frequently acted as if he did, but his most headlong movements were as much the result of calculation as his soberest plans. Consummate art took the place of a vivid imagination with him. He could calculate the inspirations of genius, and knew when he ought to be moved by impulse; his mind had great rapidity of movement, but it was the rapidity of mere logic. There was a certainty in his operations on which one could depend, and he himself placed the most implicit confidence in his own judgment. He had all the qualities of a great commander, and but for his unsocial disposition and cold, repulsive nature would doubtless early have attained to the highest honors of the empire. Napoleon rewarded the brave, but lavished his choicest favor on the brave that loved him. Never governed by attachment himself, how could St. Cyr expect others to be swayed by it in their treatment of him. Nevertheless, Napoleon always treated him with justice, and frequently rewarded him with places of trust. The neglect to make him marshal, when, on assuming the imperial crown, he made out that immortal list, was apparently undeserved, and gave rise, perhaps justly, to some charges of favoritism.
St. Cyr was an obstinate man in the prosecution of his own plans, and equally so in his opposition to those which differed from them; and though ready to condemn others, when thwarted or condemned himself he flew into a passion and his head became filled with all forms of suspicion. Thus, when he and Moreau could not agree, and he found there was a clique around the commander-in-chief arrayed against him—instead of performing his duty bravely, and winning back that confidence which others had unjustly deprived him of, he first became remiss and inactive, then fierce and condemnatory, and finally threw up his command. He ought to have known that was no way either to screen himself front unjust charges or win his way to power. He did not seem to know the meaning of the device, "I bide my time." Thus also in Spain, when placed over the army destined to act in Catalonia, he became peevish, complaining and foolish. It was true the army was not an effective one; but, on the other hand, the enemy he had to contend with was not a dangerous one. Besides, it was the greatest compliment Napoleon could pay him to appoint him over a poor army from which he expected victory. The Emperor knew it was badly conditioned, but he could not help it and the only remedy of the evil in his power was to place an able and skillful commander over it. A poor general would have insured its ruin. Yet St. Cyr, instead of winning confidence and renown by executing great things with small means, began to grumble. Ney, when conducting the retreat from Russia, created means where an ordinary man would have declared it impossible, and out of his very defeats and disasters wove for himself the brightest wreath that hangs on his tomb. But St. Cyr not only complained, though successful in all his engagements—winning every battle—but accused Napoleon of placing him there on purpose to ruin him because he had belonged to the army of the Rhine under Moreau; and this splenetic and ridiculous statement of his has been taken up and incorporated in English histories as an evidence of the Emperor's meanness.* How such an accusation could have received a sober thought is passing strange.
Napoleon, at the head of the French empire, nourished such a hostility to Moreau for winning the 'battle of Hohenlinden, which he, as First Consul, sent him there on purpose to gain, and on whose success depended his own—that years after he transferred it to one of Moreau's generals, by placing him over a poor army in Spain, at a time he was straining every nerve to subdue the kingdom. The simple statement of the charge, and the circumstances connected with it, show it to be the absurdest thing, that ever entered a diseased brain. Besides, Napoleon did not take this roundabout way to disgrace those who were displeasing to him. St. Cyr ought to have seen this after he was superseded by Augereau, and not have incorporated such a silly charge into his work.
Offended and proud, he left his command to hurry Augereau to assume his place, thus evincing openly his contempt for the rebuke the Emperor had given him for his folly. Two years of disgrace and exile showed that Napoleon knew a shorter way to ruin the generals that had offended him.
The truth is, St. Cyr was placed where he was compelled to put forth great efforts without winning much renown. It was hard work without corresponding reward, but he should have waited patiently for the latter on some more fortunate field, remembering that a good general is known by his sacrifices as much as by his victories. Once resigning his command in anger, and once disgraced for the same reason, argues very poorly for the amiability of the man.
Previous to this, in 1807, he fought bravely in the campaign of Prussia and Poland, and especially at Heilsberg, though there was no opportunity offered for great actions, as he commanded only a division under Soult. But in 1812, as before remarked, in the great Russian expedition, he had an opportunity to distinguish himself, and won that place among the renowned leaders that followed Napoleon which his services richly merited.
BATTLE OF POLOTSK.
In the first battle of Polotsk, in the advance to Moscow, Oudinot, with his corps, was assaulted by Wittgenstein, and the French marshal was wounded. St. Cyr immediately succeeded him as commander-in-chief of the army, composes of thirty thousand men. This was what he had long desired. Disliking to serve under any other officer, the moment his actions were unfettered he exhibited his great qualities as a military leader. He immediately adopted his own plan of operations, and with that clearness of perception and grasp of knowledge which distinguished him proceeded to put it in execution. For a whole day after the engagement in which Oudinot was wounded, he kept the Russian general quiet by sending proposals respecting the removal of the wounded, and by making demonstrations of a retreat. But as soon as darkness closed over the armies he began in silence to rally his men, and, arranging them in three columns, by five in the morning was ready for battle. The signal was given—the artillery opened its destructive fire, rousing up the Russian bear ere the morning broke, and his three columns poured in resistless strength on the enemy, carrying everything before them. But, even in the moment of victory, St. Cyr came very near being killed. A French battery, suddenly charged by a company of Russian horse, was carried, and the brigade sent to support it being overthrown and borne back over the cannon, that dared not open lest they should sweep down their own troops, spread disorder in their flight. The cannoneers were sabred at their pieces, and the French horse, overwhelmed in the general confusion, also fled, overturning the commander-in-chief and his staff, and sending terror and dismay through the ranks. St. Cyr was compelled to flee on foot, and finally threw himself into a ravine to prevent being trampled under the hoofs of the charging horse. The French cuirassiers, however, soon put an end to this sudden irruption, and drove the daring dragoons into the woods. The victory was complete, and a thousand prisoners remained in the hands of St. Cyr, and the marshal's baton was given him as a reward for his bravery.
Here he remained for two months, while Wittgenstein kept at a respectful distance. In the mean time Moscow had blazed over the army of the empire, and the disheartened and diminished host was about to turn its back on the smoldering capital and flee from the fury of a northern winter. Wittgenstein, who had not been idle, though he dared not to attack St. Cyr, had by constant reinforcements more than doubled his army. The French commander, on the other hand, had carried on a partisan warfare for two months, which, together with sickness and suffering, had reduced his army one-half; so that in the middle of October he had but seventeen thousand men, while the Russian army amounted to fifty-two thousand. To add to the peril of his position, another Russian army, under Steingell, was rapidly moving down to hem him in while Napoleon, three hundred miles in the rear, was sealing his fate by tarrying around Moscow. Macdonald was the only person from whom he could hope for succor, and he sent pressing requests to him for reinforcements. But that brave commander had already discovered signs of defection in his Prussian allies and dared not weaken his force. St. Cyr, therefore, was left to meet his fate alone. As of on purpose to insure lis ruin, he was without intrenchments, not having received orders from the Emperor to erect them. Secure of his prey, the Russian general, on the 18th of October, bore down with his overwhelming force on the French lines.
The battle at once became furious. St. Cyr was one of the first struck. Smitten by a musket-ball, he could neither ride his horse nor keep his feet—still he would not retire. Everything depended on his presence and personal supervision; for the struggle against such fearful odds was to be a stern one. Pale and feeble, yet self-collected and clear-minded as ever, he was borne about by his officers amid the storm of battle, cheering on his men again and again to the desperate charge. Seven times did the Russian thousands sweep like a resistless flood over the partial redoubts, and seven times did St. Cyr steadily hurl them back, till night closed the scene, and fourteen thousand men slept on the field of victory they had wrung from the grasp of fifth thousand. When the morning dawned, the Russian general seemed in no hurry to renew the attack. St Cyr arose from his feverish couch, where the pain from his wound and his intense anxiety had kept him tossing the long night, and was borne again to the field of battle. He perceived at once that the hesitation of the enemy did not arise from fear of a repulse, but from some expected maneuver which was to be the signal of assault; and so he stood in suspense, hour after hour, firmly awaiting the approach of the dense masses that darkened the woods before him, till, at ten o'clock, an aid-de-camp was seen spurring at a furious gallop over the bridge, the hoofs of his horse striking fire on the pavements as he dashed through the village toward the commander-in-chief, Steingell, with thirteen thousand Russians, had come, and was rapidly marching along the other side of the river to assail him in rear. Hemmed in between these two armies, St. Cyr must inevitably be crushed. Imagine for a moment, his desperate condition. Polotsk stands on the left side of the Dwina, as you ascend it, with only one bridge crossing the river to the right bank. Behind this wooden town St. Cyr had drawn up his forces in order of battle, with the formidable masses of the Russian army in front, threatening every moment to overwhelm him. In the mean time, word was brought that thirteen thousand fresh troops were approaching the bridge on the other side, cutting off all hopes of retreat. Here were two armies, numbering together more than sixty thousand men, drawing every moment nearer together to crush between them fourteen thousand French soldiers commanded by a wounded general. But St. Cyr, forgetting his wound, summoned all his energies to meet the crisis that was approaching. He gave his orders in that quiet, determined tone which indicates the settled purpose of a stern and powerful mind. Unseen by Wittgenstein he despatched three regiments across the river to check the progress of Steingell, while he, with his weakened forces, should withstand the shock of the Russian army before him as best he could. Thus the two armies stood watching each other, while the roar of artillery on the farther side approached nearer and nearer every moment, showing that the enemy was sweeping before him the few regiments that had been sent to retard him. At length the French batteries which had been planted on the farther bank of the Dwina to protect the camp were wheeled round, ready to fire on the new enemy, which was expected every moment to emerge into view. At this sight a loud shout of joy rolled along the Russian lines, for they now deemed their prey secure. But the Russian general still delayed the signal of attack till he should see the head of Steingell's columns.
In consternation the French generals gathered around St. Cyr, urging him to retreat; but he steadily refused all their counsel and urgent appeals, declaring that with his first retrograde movement the Russian army would descend upon him, and that his only hope was in delay. If Steingell did not make his appearance before dark, he could retreat under the cover of night; but to fall back now was to precipitate an attack that was most unaccountably delayed. For three mortal hours he stood and listened to the roar of the enemy's cannon, shaking the banks of the river as it mowed its way toward the bridge; now gazing on the opposite shore, now on the fifty thousand Russians before him in order of battle, and now on his own band of heroes, till his agitation became agony. Minutes seemed lengthened into hours, and he kept incessantly pulling out his watch, looking at it, and then at the tardy sun, which his eager gaze seemed almost to push down the sky.
The blazing fire-ball, as it stooped to the western horizon, sending its flashing beams over the battle array on the shores of the Dwina, never before seemed so slow in its motions. St. Cyr afterward declared that he never in his life was so agitated as in the three hours of suspense he then endured. The shock and the overthrow can be borne by a brave heart; but, in a state of utter uncertainty, to stand and watch the dial's face, on whose slow-moving shadow rests everything, is too much for the calmest heart. At length, when within a half-hour's march of the bridge, Steingell halted. Had he kept on a few minutes longer, the head of his columns would have appeared in sight, which would have been the signal of a general attack. Nothing could have been more favorable to St. Cyr than this unexpected halt; and a dense fog soon after spreading over the river, wrapping the three armies in its folds, hastened on the night and relieved his anxious heart. The artillery was immediately sent over the bridge, and his divisions were pressing noiselessly as possible after it, when Legrand foolishly set fire to his camp, so as not to let it fall into the hands of the enemy. The other divisions followed his example, and in a moment the whole line was in a blaze. This rash act immediately revealed to the enemy the whole movements. Its batteries opened at once, the roused columns came hurrying onward, while blazing bombs, hissing through the fog in every direction, fell on the town, which blazed up in the darkness, making a red and lurid light, by which the two armies fought—the one for existence, the other for victory. Amid the burning dwellings the wounded marshal stood, and contested every inch of ground with the energy of despair; and slowly retiring over the blazing timbers, by the light of the conflagration, brought off his army in perfect order, though bleeding at every step. It was three o'clock in the morning before the Russians got possession of the town. In the mean time St. Cyr had gained the farther bank, and destroyed the bridge in the face of the enemy, and stood ready for Steingell, who had soundly slept amid all the uproar and strife of that wild night. The latter seemed under the influence of some unaccountable spell, and could not have acted worse had he been bribed by the French. In the morning, when he aroused himself for battle, St. Cyr was upon him, and, after relieving him of one-sixth of his army, drove him into the wood several miles from the place of action. Ten thousand Russians had fallen in these three days of glory to St. Cyr.
This brave marshal, though wounded, was compelled, on account of dissensions among the generals, to keep command of his troops and commence his retreat. Reversing Napoleon's mode of retreat from Moscow, he, with ten thousand men, kept nearly fifty thousand at bay; so that they did not make more than three marches in eight days. After eleven days of toil and combat and suffering, in which he, though wounded, had exhibited a skill, courage, and tenacity seldom surpassed, he at length effected a junction with Victor, who had marched from Smolensko to meet him.
After the termination of that disastrous campaign he is seen next year at Dresden, struggling to uphold the tottering throne of Napoleon. With twenty thousand men he was operating round the city, and, fearing that the allies would make a demonstration upon it, wrote to that effect to Napoleon, who was combating Blucher in Silesia. But the latter did not agree with him, and kept pushing his projects in the quarter where he then was, when the astounding intelligence was brought him that the allied forces were marching on Dresden. St. Cyr saw at once his danger, and prepared, as well as his means permitted, to meet it. But after some fierce fighting with Wittgenstein's advanced guard—his old foe of Polotsk, in Russia—he retired within the redoubts of Dresden and patiently waited the result.
BATTLE OF DRESDEN.
A hundred and twenty thousand soldiers, with more than five hundred pieces of cannon, covered the heights that overlooked his entrenchments. It was the latter part of August, and everything was smiling in summer vegetation, when this mighty host pitched their tents on the green hills that encircled the city.
On the evening of their approach St. Cyr wrote to Napoleon the following letter:
The next night at midnight he despatched another letter to him, announcing an immediate attack, and closing up with, "We are determined to do all in our power; but can answer for nothing more with such young soldiers." Immediately on the reception of the first letter, Napoleon surrendered his command to Macdonald, and turned his face toward Dresden. Murat was despatched in hot haste to announce his arrival and reassure the besieged. In the middle of his guards, which had marched nearly thirty miles a day since the commencement of the war, he took the road to the city.
To revive his sinking troops he ordered twenty thousand bottles of wine to be distributed among them, but not three thousand could be procured. He, however, marched all next day, having despatched a messenger to the besieged to ascertain the exact amount of danger. Said Napoleon to the messenger, Gourgaud: "Set out immediately for Dresden, ride as hard as you can, and be there this evening—see St. Cyr, the King of Naples, and the King of Saxony—encourage every one. Tell them I can be in Dresden to-morrow with forty thousand men, and the day following with my whole army. At daybreak visit the outposts and redoubts—consult the commander of engineers as to whether they can hold out. Hurry back to me to-morrow at Stolpen, and bring a full report of St. Cyr's and Murat's opinion as to the real state of things." Away dashed Gourgaud in hot haste, while the Emperor hurried on his exhausted army. Gourgaud did not wait till daybreak before he returned. He found everything on the verge of ruin; the allied army was slowly enveloping the devoted city, and when, at dark, he issued forth from the gates, the whole summer heavens were glowing with the light of their bivouac fires, while a burning village near by threw a still more baleful light over the scene. Spurring his panting steed through the gloom, he at midnight burst in a fierce gallop into the squares of the Old Guard, and was immediately ushered into the presence of the anxious Emperor. The report confirmed his worst fears. At daylight the weary soldiers were roused from their repose, and, though they had marched a hundred and twenty miles in four days, pressed cheerfully forward; for already the distant sound of heavy cannonading was borne by on the morning breeze. At eight in the morning, Napoleon and the advanced guard reached an elevation that overlooked the whole plain in which the city lay embosomed; and lo, what a sublime yet terrific sight met their gaze! The whole valley was filled with marching columns, preparing for an assault; while the beams of the morning sun were sent back from countless helmets and bayonets that moved and shook in their light. Here and there volumes of smoke told where the batteries were firing, while the heavy cannonading rolled like thunder over the hills. There, too, was the French army, twenty thousand strong, packed behind the redoubts, yet appearing like a single regiment in the midst of the host that enveloped them. Courier after courier, riding as for life, kept dashing into the presence of the Emperor, bidding him make haste if he would save the city. A few hours would settle its fate. Napoleon, leaving his guards to follow on, drove away in a furious gallop, while a cloud of dust along the road alone told where his carriage was whirled onward. As he approached the gates, the Russian batteries swept the road with such a deadly fire that he was compelled to leave his carriage and crawl along on his hands and knees over the ground, while the cannon-balls whistled in an incessant shower above him.
Suddenly and unannounced, as if he had fallen from the clouds, he appeared at the royal palace, where the King of Saxony was deliberating on the terms of capitulation. Waiting for no rest, he took a single page, so as not to attract the enemy's fire, and went forth to visit the outer works. So near had the enemy approached that the youth by his side was struck down by a spent musket-ball. Having finished his inspection and settled his plans, he returned to the palace, and hurried off couriers to the different portions of the army that were advancing by forced marches toward the city. First, the indomitable guards and the brave cuirassiers, eager for the onset, came pouring in furious haste over the bridge. The overjoyed inhabitants stood by the streets, and offered them food and drink; but though weary, hungry, and thirsty, the brave fellows refused to take either, and hurried onward toward the storm that was ready to burst on their companions. At ten o'clock the troops commenced entering the city—infantry, cavalry, and artillery pouring forward with impetuous speed—till there appeared to be no end to the rushing thousands. Thus without cessation did the steady columns arrive all day long, and were still hurrying in, when at four o'clock the attack commenced. The batteries that covered the heights around the city opened their terrible fire, and in a moment Dresden became the target of three hundred cannon, all trained upon her devoted building. Then commenced one of war's wildest scenes. St. Cyr replied with his artillery, and thunder answered thunder, as if the hot August afternoon was ending in a real storm of heaven. Balls fell in an incessant shower in the city, while the blazing bombs, traversing the sky, hung for a moment like messengers of death over the streets, and then dropped, with an explosion that shook the ground, among the frightened inhabitants. Amid the shrieks of the wounded and the stern language of command was heard the heavy rumbling of the artillery and ammunition-wagons through the streets, and in the intervals the steady tramp, tramp of the marching columns, still hastening in to the work of death, while over all, like successive thunder-claps where the lightning falls nearest, spoke the fierce batteries that were exploding on each other. But the confusion and death and terror that reigned through the city as the burning buildings shot their flames heavenward were not yet complete. The inhabitants had fled to their cellars, to escape the balls and shells that came crashing every moment through their dwellings; and amid the hurry and bustle of the arriving armies, and their hasty tread along the streets, and the roll of drums, and rattling of armor and clangor of trumpets, and thunder of artillery, the signal was given for the assault—three cannon-shots from the heights of Raecknitz. The next moment six massive columns, with fifty cannon at their head, began to move down the slopes, pressing straight for the city. The muffled sound of their heavy, measured tread was heard within the walls, as in dead silence and awful majesty they moved steadily forward upon the batteries.
It was a sight to strike terror into the heart of the boldest, but St. Cyr marked their advance with the calmness of a fearless soul, and firmly awaited the onset that even Napoleon trembled to behold. No sooner did they come within the range of artillery than the ominous silence was broken by its deafening roar. In a moment the heights about the city were in a blaze, the fifty cannon at the head of those columns belched forth fire and smoke; and amid the charging infantry, the bursting of shells, the rolling fire of musketry, and the explosion of hundreds of cannon, St. Cyr received the shock. For two hours did the battle rage with sanguinary ferocity. The plain was covered with dead; the suburbs were overwhelmed with assailants, and ready to yield every moment; the enemy's batteries were playing within fifteen rods of the ramparts; the axes of the pioneers were heard on the gates; and shouts, and yells, and execrations rose over the walls of the city. The last of St. Cyr's reserves were in the battle, and had been for half an hour, and Napoleon began to tremble for his army. But at half-past six, in the hottest of the fight, the Young Guard arrived, shouting as they came, and were received in return with shouts by the army, that for a moment drowned the roar of battle. Then Napoleon's brow cleared up, and St. Cyr for the first time drew a sigh of relief.
The gates were thrown open, and the impetuous Ney, with the invincible Guard, poured through one like a resistless torrent on the foe, followed soon after by Murat with his headlong cavalry. Mortier sallied forth from another; and the Young Guard, though weary and travel-worn, burst with loud cheers on the chief redoubt—which, after flowing in blood, had been wrested from the French—and swept it like a tornado.
Those six massive columns, thinned and riddled through, recoiled before this fierce onset—like the waves when they meet a rock—and slowly surged back from the walls. In the mean time dark and heavy clouds began to roll up the scorching heavens, and the distant roll of thunder mingled with the roar of artillery. Men had turned this hot August afternoon into a battle-storm, and now the elements were to end it with a fight of their own. In the midst of the deepening gloom, the allies, now for the first time aware that the Emperor was in the city, drew off their troops for the night. The rain came down as if the clouds were falling, drenching the living and the dead armies; yet Napoleon, heedless of the storm, and knowing what great results rested upon the next day's action, was seen hurrying on foot through the streets to the bridge, over which he expected the corps of Marmont and Victor to arrive. With anxious heart he stood and listened, till the heavy tread of their advancing columns through the darkness relieved his suspense; and then, as they began to pour over the bridge, he hastened back, and, traversing the city, passed out at the other side and visited the entire lines that were now formed without the walls. The bivouac fires shed a lurid light over the field, and he came at every step upon heaps of corpses, while groans and lamentations issued from the gloom in every direction; for thousands of wounded, uncovered and unburied, lay exposed to the storm, dragging out the weary night in pain. Early in the morning Napoleon was on horseback and rode out to the army. Taking his place beside a huge fire that was blazing and crackling in the center of the squares of the Old Guard, he issued his orders for the day, Victor was on the right; the resistless Ney on the left, over the Young Guard while St. Cyr and Marmont were in the center, which Napoleon commanded in person.
The rain still fell in torrents, and the thick mist shrouded the field as if to shut out the ghastly spectacle its bosom exhibited. The cannonading soon commenced, but with little effect, as the mist concealed the armies from each other. A hundred and sixty thousand of the allies stretched in a huge semicircle along the heights, while Napoleon, with a hundred and thirty thousand in the plain below, was waiting the favorable moment in which to commence the attack. At length the battle opened on the right, where a fierce firing was heard as Victor pressed firmly against an Austrian battery. Suddenly Napoleon heard a shock like a falling mountain. While Victor was engaging the enemy in front, Murat, unperceived in the thick mist, had stolen around to the rear, and without a note of warning burst with twelve thousand cavalry on the enemy. He rode straight through their broken lines, trampling under foot the dead and dying. Ney was equally successful on the left, and as the mist lifted it showed the allied wings both driven back. The day wore away in blood; carts, loaded with the wounded, moved in a constant stream into the city; but the French were victorious at all points; and when night again closed over the scene the allied armies had decided to retreat.
It was in this battle Moreau fell. He had just returned from the United States, at the urgent solicitation of the Emperor Alexander, to take up arms against his country.
This was his first battle, and Napoleon killed him. About noon on the last day of the fight he noticed a group of persons on an eminence a half a mile distant. Supposing they were watching his maneuvers, he called a captain of artillery, who commanded a battery of eighteen or twenty pieces, and, pointing to them said: "Throw a dozen bullets into that group, at one fire; perhaps there are some little generals in it." He obeyed, and it was immediately seen to be agitated. One of the balls had struck Moreau's leg just below the knee, and cutting it off, passed through his horse, carrying away the other leg also. The next day a peasant picked up one of the boots, with the leg in, which the surgeon had left on the field, and brought it to the King of Saxony, saying it belonged to a superior officer. The boot, on examination, was found to be neither of English nor French manufacture, and they were still in doubt. The same day the advance guards, while in pursuit of the enemy, came upon a little spaniel that was roaming over the field, moaning piteously for its master. Around its neck was a collar, on which was written, "I belong to General Moreau."
Both legs of the unfortunate general had to be amputated, which he bore with stoical firmness, calmly smoking a cigar during the painful operation. It is a little singular that by this same battery and same captain another French traitor who occupied a high rank in the Russian army—General St. Priest—was afterward killed under similar circumstances. Napoleon gave the order in that case as in this.
The death of Moreau cast a gloom over the kingly group that assembled to hold a council of war, and on the 28th, the morning after the battle, the allied army was in full retreat, and the bloodstained field was left in the hands of the French.
But what a field it was! For two days a thousand cannon had swept it, and three hundred thousand men had struggled upon it in the midst of their fire. The grassy plain was trodden into mire, on which nearly twenty thousand men, mangled, torn, and bleeding, had been strewn. Many had been carried into the city during the night; but some stark and stiff in death; some reclining on their elbows, pale and ghastly, and calling for help; others writhing in mortal agony amid heaps of the slain—still covered the ground. Others, which had been hastily buried the day before, lay in their half-covered graves—here a leg and there an arm sticking out of the ground; while, to crown the horror of the scene, multitudes of women were seen roaming the field, not to bind up the wounded, but to plunder the dead. They went from heap to heap of the slain, turning over the mangled bodies and stripping them of their clothing; and, loaded down with their booty, gathered it in piles beside the corpses. Unmolested in their work, they made the shuddering field still more ghastly by strewing it with half-naked forms. White arms and bodies stretched across each other, or, dragged away from the heaps they had helped to swell, made the heart of even Napoleon turn faint as he rode over the scene of slaughter. Oh, what a comment on war, and what a cure for ambition and the love of glory, was this field! The terrified and horror-stricken inhabitants came out from the cellars of their burnt dwellings and strove to relieve this woe by burying the dead and succoring the wounded.
After the disasters that soon befell other portions of the French army under Vandamme, Macdonald, and Oudinot,
St. Cyr was ordered back to Dresden, with thirty thousand men, under the expectation of soon evacuating it again after he had destroyed the fortifications around it; but Napoleon, changing his plan, sent him word to keep it to the last extremity. The disastrous battle of Leipsic rendered his situation desperate, for it shut him off from all reinforcements. Previously the allies had placed twenty thousand men before the city to observe it. Against these St. Cyr advanced, and routed them, and thus opened the country about to the foragers. But when Leipsic fell, the allies again directed their attention to the place, and St. Cyr saw
their victorious armies once more hem him in. Insufficient supplies had already weakened his men, so that he had the mere shadow of an army, while the multitudes of the sick and wounded added to the burdens that oppressed him. The maimed and wounded which he had been ordered to send by boats to Torgau could not be got off. Only three thousand were sent, though multitudes, hearing they were to leave their fetid hospitals, crawled out to the banks of the river, and when they found all the boats were filled and they were to be left behind, refused to return to the city, and lay down in rows along the shore. Wasted with sickness and wounds, these ranks of specters lay all night in the cold to be ready for the next boat that should appear. In the mean time the famine and suffering increased in the city. St. Cyr could not hear a word from Napoleon, and was left, without orders, to save his army as he could. But the soldiers were depressed and spiritless, the German auxiliaries deserted him, and, the ammunition becoming exhausted, he was driven to desperation. In this hopeless condition he resolved to sally forth and cut his way through the fifty thousand that environed him, and, joining the garrison at Torgau and Wittenberg, fight his way back to the Rhine.
Carrying out this bold determination he sallied forth with his fifteen thousand men. Vain and last effort! His weary, half-famished soldiers staggered back from the shock and were compelled to flee into the city. All hope was gone. The bread-shops were closed and the mills silent, though the miserable crowds pressed around them, threatening and beseeching by turns. Famine stalked through the streets, followed by pestilence and woe and death. The meat was exhausted, and the starving soldiers fell on their horses and devoured them. Thirty were slain every day; and at length, around the carcasses in the streets, poor wretches were seen quarreling for the loathsome food; even the tendons were chewed to assuage the pangs of hunger. Two hundred bodies were carried every day from the hospitals to the churchyard, where they accumulated so fast that none were found to bury them; and they were "laid naked in ghastly rows along the place of sepulture." The dead tumbled from the overloaded carts, and over the corpses that thus strewed the streets the wheels passed, crushing the bones with a sound that made even the drivers shudder. Some were hurried away before they were dead, and shrieked out as they fell on the hard pavement. Multitudes were thrown into the river, some of whom, revived by the cold water, were seen flinging about their arms and legs in a vain struggle for life. Silent terror and faintness and despair filled every heart. Amid this accumulation of
woe St. Cyr moved with his wonted calmness, though the paleness on his cheek told how this suffering around him wrung his heart. He endured and suffered all as became his brave spirit; and then, finding there was no hope (for he no longer had men that could fight), he consented to capitulate. He offered to surrender the city on condition he should be allowed to return with his soldiers to France, not to fight again till regularly exchanged. The terms were agreed to, and he marched out of the city; but so wan and worn were the soldiers that he himself said that probably not more than one-fourth would ever reach the Rhine. He was spared the trial of conducting this ghost of an army back to France. The allies, with the faithlessness of barbarians, had no sooner got him in their power than they marched him and his army into Bohemia as prisoners of war. Had Napoleon perjured himself in this manner the world would have rung with the villainous deed. The brave St. Cyr firmly protested against this violation of the laws of civilized nations, and hurled scorn and contempt on the sovereigns who thus stamped themselves with infamy in sight of the world, threatening them with future vengeance for the deed. It was all in vain, for he had fallen into the hands of victors who were moved neither by sentiments of honor nor sympathy for the brave.
The course of St. Cyr, on the abdication of Napoleon, and his return and final overthrow, has been already spoken of. He died in March, 1830, and sleeps in the cemetary of Pere-la-Chaise. A noble monument crowns his grave, and he rests in peace amid the heroes by whose side he fought.
St. Cyr was a human man, and obstained from those excesses which stained the reputation of so many of the military leaders of his time. He was possessed of great talents, and deserved all the honors he received. His "Journal des Operations de l'Armee de Catalogne, en 1808-9, sur le commandment du Géeéral [sic] Gouvion St. Cyr," is an able work, though tinged with acrimony against Napoleon, which is as unjust as his conduct was foolish.