PASSAGE OF THE SPLUGEN.
The present pass over this mountain is a very different thing from the one which Macdonald and his fifteen thousand men traversed. There is now a carriage-way across cut in sixteen zigzags along the breast of the mountain. But the road he was compelled to go was a mere bridle-path going through the gorge of the Cardinel. To understand some of the difficulties that beset him and his army, imagine a gloomy defile leading up to the height of six thousand five hundred feet above the level of the sea, while the raging of an Alpine storm and the rapid sweep of avalanches across it add tenfold horror to the wintry scene. First comes the deep, dark defile called the Via Mala, made by the Rhine, here a mere rivulet, and overhung by mountains often three thousand feet high. Along the precipices that stoop over this mad torrent the path is cut in the solid rock—now hugging the mountain wall like a mere thread, and now shooting in a single arch over the gorge that sinks three hundred feet below. Strangely silent snow peaks pierce the heavens in every direction, while from the slender ridges that spring from precipice to precipice over the turbulent stream the roar of the vexed waters can scarcely be heard. After leaving this defile the road passes through the valley of Schams, then winding up the pine-covered cliffs of La Raffla strikes on to the bare face of the mountain—going sometimes at an angle of forty-five degrees and finally reaches the naked summit, standing bleak and cold in the wintry heavens. This was the Splugen Pass Macdonald was commanded to lead his army of 15,000 men over in midwinter.
It was on the 20th of November he commenced his preparations. A constant succession of snowstorms had filled up the entire path, so that a single man on foot would not have thought of making the attempt. But when Macdonald had made up his mind to do a thing, that was the end of all impossibilities. The cannon were dismounted and placed on sleds, to which oxen were attached; the ammunition divided about on the backs of mules, while every soldier had to carry, besides his usual arms, five packets of cartridges and five days' provisions. The guides went in advance and stuck down long black poles to indicate the course of the path beneath, while behind them came the workmen clearing away the snow, and behind them still the mounted dragoons, with the most powerful horses of the army, to beat down the track. The first company had advanced in this manner nearly half-way to the summit, and were approaching the hospice, when a low moaning was heard among the hills, like the voice of the sea before a storm. The guides understood too well its meaning, and gazed on each other in alarm. The ominous sound grew louder every moment, till suddenly the fierce Alpine blast swept in a cloud of snow over the breast of the mountain, and howled like an unchained demon through the gorge below. In an instant all was confusion and blindness and uncertainty. The very heavens were blotted out, and the frightened column stood and listened to the raving tempest that threatened to lift the rock-rooted pines that shrieked above them from their places, and bring down the very Alps themselves. But suddenly another still more alarming sound was heard amid the storm—"An avalanche! An avalanche!" shrieked the guides, and the next moment an awful white form came leaping down the mountain, and, striking the column that was struggling along the path, passed straight through it into the gulf below, carrying thirty dragoons and their horses along with it in its wild plunge. The black forms of steeds and their riders were seen for one moment suspended in mid-heavens, and in the next disappeared among the ice and crags below. The head of the column immediately pushed on and reached the hospice in safety, while the rear, separated from it by the avalanche, and struck dumb by this sudden apparition crossing their path with such lightning-like velocity, and bearing to such a fearful death their brave comrades, refused to proceed, and turned back to the village of Splugen.
For three days the storm raged amid the mountains, filling the heavens with snow and hurling avalanches into the path, till it became so filled up that the guides declared it would take fifteen days to open it again so as to make it at all passable. But fifteen days Macdonald could not spare. Independent of the urgency of his commands, there was no way to provision his army in these savage solitudes, and he must proceed. He ordered four of the strongest oxen that could be found to be led in advance by the best guides. Forty peasants followed behind, clearing away and beating down the snow, and two companies of sappers came after to give still greater consistency to the track, while on their heels marched the remnant of the company of the dragoons, part of which had been borne away by the avalanche three days before. The post of danger was given them at their own request. They presented a strange sight amid those Alpine solitudes. Those oxen with their horns just peering above the snow toiled slowly on, pushing their unwieldy bodies through the drifts, while the soldiers up to their arm-pits struggled behind. Not a drum or bugle note cheered the solitude or awoke the echoes of those silent peaks. The footfall gave back no sound in the soft snow, and the words of command seemed smothered in the very atmosphere. Silently, noiselessly the vast but disordered line stretched itself upward, with naught to break the deep stillness of the wintry noon save the fierce pantings of the horses and animals, as with reeking sides they strained up the ascent.
This day and the next being clear and frosty, the separate columns passed in safety, with the exception of those who sunk in their footsteps overcome by the cold. The successful efforts of the columns these two days induced Macdonald to march all of the remaining troops over the next day; and so, ordering the whole army to advance, commenced, on the 5th of December, the passage. But fresh snow had fallen the night previous, filling up the entire track, so that it had all to be made over again. The guides, expecting a wind and avalanches after this fresh fall of snow, refused to go till they were compelled to by Macdonald. Breast deep the army waded up the difficult and desolate path, making in six hours but six miles, or one mile an hour. They had not advanced far however, when they came upon a huge block of ice and a newly fallen avalanche that entirely filled up the way. The guides halted before these new obstacles and refused to proceed, and the head of the column wheeled about and began its march down the mountain. Macdonald immediately hastened forward, and placing himself at the head of his men, walked on foot, with a long pole in his hand, to sound the treacherous mass he was treading upon, while he revived the drooping spirits of the soldiers with words of encouragement. "Soldiers," said he, "your destinies call you into Italy; advance and conquer first the mountain and the snow, then the plains and the armies." Ashamed to see their general hazarding his life at every step where they had refused to go, they returned cheerfully to their toil. But before they could effect the passage the voice of the hurricane was again heard on its march, and the next moment a cloud of driving snow obliterated everything from view. The path was filled up, and all traces of it swept utterly away. Amid the screams of the guides, the confused commands of the officers, and the howling of the storm, was heard the rapid thunder-crash of avalanches.
Then commenced again the stern struggle of the army for life. The foe they had to content [sic] with was not one of flesh and blood. To sword-cut, bayonet-thrust, and the blaze of artillery, the strong Alpine storm was alike invulnerable. On the serried column and straggling line it thundered with the same reckless power, while over all the drifting snow lay like one vast winding-sheet. No one who has not seen an Alpine storm can imagine the fearful energy with which it rages through the mountains. The light snow, borne aloft on its bossom, is whirled and scattered like an ocean of mist over all things. Such a storm now piled around them the drifts which seemed to form instantaneously, as by the touch of a magician's wand. All was mystery and darkness, gloom and affright. The storm had sounded its trumpet for the charge, but no note of defiance replied. The heroes of so many battle-fields stood in still terror before this new and mightier foe. Crowding together, as though proximity added to their safety, the frightened soldiers crouched and shivered to the blast that seemed to pierce their very bones with its chilling cold. But the piercing cold, and drifting snow, and raging storm, and concealed pitfalls, were not enough to complete this scene of terror. Avalanches fell in rapid succession from the top of the Spulgen. Scaling the breast of the mountain with a single leap, they came with a crash on the shivering column, bearing it away to the destruction that waited beneath. The extreme density of the atmosphere, filled as it was with snow, imparted infinite terror to these mysterious messengers of death as they came down the mountain declivity. A low, rumbling sound would be heard amid the pauses of the storm; and as the next shriek of the blast swept by a rushing as of a counterblast smote the ear; and before the thought had time to change, a rolling, leaping, broken mass of snow burst through the thick atmosphere, and the next moment rushed with the sound of thunder far, far below, bearing away a whole company of soldiers to its deep, dark resting-place. One drummer, carried over the precipice, fell unhurt to the bottom of the bottom of the gulf, and crawling out from the mass of the snow which had broken his fall, began to beat his drum for relief. Deep down, amid the crushed forms of avalanches, the poor fellow stood, and for a whole hour beat the rapid strains which had so often summoned his companions to arms. The muffled sound came ringing up the face of the precipice, the most touching appeal that could be made to a soldier's heart. But no hand could reach him there, and the rapid blows grew fainter and fainter till they ceased altogether, and the poor drummer lay down to die. He had beaten his last reveille, and his companions passed mournfully on, leaving the Alpine storm to sing his dirge.
On the evening of the 6th of December, the greater part of the army had passed the mountains, and the van had pushed on as far as Lake Como. From the 26th of November to the 6th of December, or nearly two weeks, had Macdonald been engaged in this perilous pass. Nearly two hundred men had perished in the undertaking, and as many more mules and horses.
And never can one in imagination see that long straggling line, winding itself like a huge anaconda over the lofty snow-peak of the Splugen with the indomitable Macdonald feeling his way in front covered with snow, while ever and anon huge avalanches sweep by him and the blinding storm covers his men and the path from his sight, and hear his stern, calm, clear voice, directing the way, without feelings of supreme wonder. There is nothing like it in modern history, unless it be Suwarrow's passage of the Glarus in the midst of a superior enemy. Bonaparte's passage over the St. Bernard—so world-renowned—was mere child's play compared to it. That pass was made in pleasant weather, with nothing but the ruggedness of the ascent to obstruct the progress. Suwarrow, on the contrary led his mighty army over the Praegel,breast-deep, in snow, with the enemy on every side of him, mowing down his ranks without resistance. Macdonald had no enemy to contend with but nature—but it was nature alive and wild. The path by which he conducted his army over the Splugen was nearly as bad in summer as the St. Bernard the time Napoleon crossed it. But in midwinter to make a path, and lead an army of fifteen thousand men through hurricanes and avalanches, where the foot of the chamois scarce dared to tread, was an undertaking from which even Bonaparte himself would have shrunk. And Napoleon never uttered a greater untruth than when he said "The passage of the Splugen presented without doubt some difficulties, but winter is by no means the season of the year in which such operations are conducted with most difficulty; the snow is then firm, the weather settled, and there is nothing to fear from the avalanches, which constitute the true and only danger to be apprehended in the Alps." Bonaparte would have suppose that no avalanches fall in December, and that the passage of the Splugen in the midst of hurricanes of snow was executed in "settled weather." What then must we think of his passage of the St. Bernard, in summer time, without a foe to molest him or an avalanche to frighten him!
But Macdonald's difficulties did not end with the passage of the Splugen. To fulfill the orders of Napoleon, to penetrate into the valley of the Adige, he had no sooner arrived at Lake Como than he began the ascent of the Col Apriga, which also was no sooner achieved than the bleak peak of Mount Tonal arose before him. A mere sheep-path led over this steep mountain, and the army was compelled to toil up it in single file through the deep snow. And when he arrived at the summit, which was a small flat about fifty rods across, he found the Austrians there, prepared to dispute the passage with him. This narrow flat lay between two enormous glaciers that no human foot could scale, and across it the enemy had built three entrenchments forming a triple line, and composed chiefly of huge blocks of ice cut into regular shapes and fitted to each other. Behind these walls of ice the Austrians lay waiting the approach of the exhausted French. The grenadiers, clambering up the slippery path, formed in column and advanced with firm step on the strong entrenchments. A sheet of fire ran along their sides, strewing the rocks with the dead. Pressing on, however, they carried the external palisades, but the fire here becoming so destructive they were compelled to retreat, and brought word to Macdonald that the entrenchments could not be forced. Eight days after, however, he ordered a fresh column under Vandamme to attempt to carry them by assault. Under a terrible discharge the intrepid column moved up to the icy wall, and though a devouring fire mowed down the men, so fierce was the onset that the two external forts were carried. But the fire from the inner intrenchment and from a blockhouse that commanded the position of the French was too terrific to withstand; and after bravely struggling against such desperate odds they were compelled to retreat. On the snowy summit of the Tonal, among the glaciers, and scattered around on the huge blocks of ice, lay the brave dead, while the wintry sun flashed mournfully down on the bayonets of the retreating and wounded column. Nothing daunted, Macdonald by a circuitous route over two other mountain ridges at length reached the Adige, and fulfilled the extraordinary commands of Napoleon.
The passage of Napoleon over the St. Bernard was a magnificent feat, but the passage of the Splugen by Macdonald was a desperate one. One was attended with difficulties alone, the other with danger; one was executed in safety, the other with the loss of whole companies. This latter fact alone is sufficient to prove which was the more difficult and dangerous. Suwarrow was driven up his pass by the cannon of the French, and led his bleeding thousands over the snow, while the enemy's muskets were continually thinning his defenseless ranks. Macdonald led his column through an awful gorge, and up a naked Alpine peak, when the tempest was raging and the snow flying and the avalanches falling in all the terror of a wintry hurricane. Bonaparte led his army over the San Bernard in the delightful month of summer, when the genial sun subdues the asperity of the Alps, and without an enemy to molest him. Which achievement of these three stands lowest in the scale it is not difficult to determine.
BATTLE OF WAGRAM.
But it is at Wagram that we are to look for Macdonald's greatest deed. One never thinks of that terrific battle without feelings of the profoundest wonder at his desperate charge, that then and there saved Napoleon and the empire. The battle of Aspern had proved disastrous to the French. The utmost efforts of Napoleon could not wring victory from the hands of the Austrians. Massena had stood under a tree while the boughs were crashing with cannon balls overhead, and fought as never even he fought before. The brave Lannes had been mangled by a cannon shot, and died while the victorious guns of the enemy were still playing on his heroic but flying column; and the fragments of the magnificent army, that had in the morning moved from the banks of the Danube in all the confidence of victory, at nightfall were crowded and packed in the little island of Lobau. Rejecting the counsel of his officers, Bonaparte resolved to make a stand here, and wait for reinforcements to come up. Nowhere does his exhaustless genius show itself more than in this critical period of his life. He revived the drooping spirits of his soldiers by presents from his own hands, and visited in person the sick in the hospitals, while the most gigantic plans at the same time strung his vast energies to their utmost tension.
From the latter part of May to the first of July he had remained cooped up in this little island, but not inactive. He had done everything that could be done on the spot, while orders had been sent to the different armies to hasten to his relief; and never was there such an exhibition of the skill and promptitude with which orders had been issued and carried out. At two o'clock in the afternoon the different armies from all quarters first began to come in, and before the next night they had all arrived. First with music and streaming banners appeared the columns of Bernadotte, hastening from the banks of the Elbe, carrying joy to the desponding hearts of Napoleon's army. They had hardly reached the field before the stirring notes of the bugle, and the roll of drums in another quarter, announced the approach of Vandamme from the provinces on the Rhine. Wrede came next from the banks of the Lech, with his strong Bavarians, while the morning sun shone on Macdonald's victorious troops rushing down from Illyria and the Alpine summits to save Bonaparte and the Empire. As the bold Scotchman reined his steed up beside Napoleon, and pointed back to his advancing columns, he little thought that two days after the fate of Europe was to turn on his single will. Scarcely were his troops arranged in their appointed place before the brave Marmont appeared with glittering bayonets and waving plumes from the borders of Dalmatia. Like an exhaustless stream the magnificent armies kept pouring into that little isle, while, to crown the whole, Eugene came up with his veterans from the plains of Hungary. In two days they had all assembled and on the evening of the 4th of July Napoleon glanced with exultant eye over a hundred and eighty thousand warriors, crowded and packed into the small space of two miles and a half in breadth and a mile and a half in length. Congratulations were exchanged by soldiers who last saw each other on the same glorious battle-field, and universal joy and hope spread through the dense ranks that almost touched each other.
Bridges had been constructed to fling across the channel, and during that evening were brought out from their places of concealment and dragged to the bank. In ten minutes one was across and fastened at both ends. In a little longer time two others were thrown over and made firm to the opposite shore. Bonaparte was there, walking backward and forward in the mud, cheering on the men, and accelerating the work, which was driven with such wonderful rapidity that by three o'clock in the morning six bridges were finished and filled with the marching columns. He had constructed two bridges lower down the river, as if he intended to cross there, in order to distract the enemy from the real point of danger. On these the Austrians kept up an incessant fire of artillery, which was answered by the French from the island with a hundred cannon, lighting up the darkness of the night with their incessant blaze. The village of Erzerderf was set on fire, and burned with terrific fierceness, for a tempest arose, as if in harmony with the scene, and blew the flames into tenfold fury. Dark clouds swept the midnight heavens, as if gathering for a contest among themselves; the artillery of heaven was heard above the roar of cannon, and the bright lightning that ever and anon rent the gloom blent in with the incessant flashes below, while blazing bombs, traversing the sky in every direction, wove their fiery network over the heavens, making the night wild and awful as the last day of time. In the midst of this scene of terror Napoleon remained unmoved, heedless alike of the storm of the element and the storm of the artillery; and though the wind shrieked around him, and the dark Danube rolled its turbulent flood at his feet, his eye watched only the movements of his rapid columns over the bridges, while his sharp, quick voice gave redoubled energy to every effort. The time—the scene—the immense results at stake—all harmonized with his stern and tempestuous nature. His perceptions became quicker, his will firmer, and his confidence of success stronger. By six o'clock in the morning a hundred and fifty thousand infantry and thirty thousand cavalry stood in battle array on the shores of the Danube, from whence a month before the Austrians had driven the army in affright. The clouds had vanished with the night, and when the glorious sun arose over the hilltops his beams glanced over a countless array of helmets, and nearly three hundred thousand bayonets glittered in his light. It was a glorious spectacle, those two mighty armies standing in the early sunlight amid the green fields while the air fairly sparkled with the flashing steel that rose like a forest over their heads. Nothing could exceed the surprise of the Austrians when they saw the French legions across the river and ready for battle. That bright scene was to see the fate of Europe settled for the next four years, and that glorious summer's sun, as it rolled over the heavens, was to look down on one of the most terrific battles the world ever saw.
The battle, the first day, was fierce and sanguinary, and clearly indicated that sternness with which the field would be contested. Bonaparte, at the outset, had his columns—converged to a point—resting at one end of the Danube, and radiating off into the field, like the spokes of a wheel. The Austrians, on the contrary, stood in a vast semicircle, as if about to enclose and swallow up their enemy. Macdonald's division was about the first brought into the engagement, and bravely hold its ground during the day. When night closed the scene of strife the Austrians had gained on the French. They nevertheless sounded a retreat while the exhausted army of Napoleon lay down on the field of blood to sleep.
Early in the morning the Austrians, taking advantage of their success the day before, commenced the attack, and the thunder of their guns at daylight brought Napoleon into his saddle. The field was again alive with charging squadrons and covered with the smoke of battle. From daylight to nearly noon had the conflict raged without a moments cessation. Everywhere, except against the Austrians' left, the French were defeated. From the steeples of Vienna the multitude gazed on the progress of the doubtful fight, till they heard the cheers of their countrymen above the roar of cannon, driving the flying enemy before them, when they shouted in joy and believed the victory gained. But Napoleon galloped up and, restoring order in the disorderly lines, ordered Davoust to make a circuit, and, ascending the plateau of Wagram, carry Neusiedel. While waiting the result of this movement, on the success of which depended all his future operations, the French lines under Napoleon's immediate charge were exposed to a most scourging fire from the enemy's artillery, which tore them into fragments. Unable to advance, and too distant to return the fire, they were compelled to stand as idle spectators and see the cannon-shot plow through them. Whole battalions, driven frantic by this inaction in the midst of such fearful carnage, broke and fled. But everything depended on the infantry holding firmly their position till the effect of Dayoust's assault was seen. Yet nothing but Napoleon's heroic bravery kept them steady. Mounted on his milk- white charger, Euphrates, given him by the king of Persia, he slowly rode backward and forward before the lines, while the cannon-balls whistled and rattled like hail-stones about him, casting ever and anon an anxious look toward the spot where Davoust was expected to appear with bis fifty thousand brave followers. For a whole hour he thus rode in front of his men, and though they expected every moment to see him shattered by a cannon-ball he moved unscathed amid the storm. At length Davoust was seen charging like fire over the plateau of Wagram, and finally appeared with his cannon on the farther side of Neusiedel. In a moment the plateau was covered with smoke as he opened his artillery on the exposed ranks of the enemy. A smile lighted up Napoleon's countenance, and the brow that had been knit like iron during the deadly strife of the two hours before, as word was constantly brought him of his successive losses and the steady progress of the Austrians, cleared up, and he ordered Macdonald, with eight battalions, to march straight on the enemy's center, and pierce it.
CHARGE OF MACDONALD.
This formed the crisis of the battle, and no sooner did the Archduke see the movement of this terrible column of eight battalions, composed of sixteen thousand men, upon his center, than he knew that the hour of Europe's destiny and of his own army had arrived. He immediately doubled the lines at the threatened point, and brought up the reserve cavalry, while two hundred cannon were wheeled around the spot on which such destinies hung, and opened a steady fire on the approaching column. Macdonald immediately ordered a hundred cannon to precede him and answer the Austrian batteries, that swept every inch of ground like a storm of sleet. The cannoneers mounted their horses, and, starting on a rapid trot with their hundred pieces, approached to within a half cannon-shot, and then opened on the enemy's ranks. The column marched up to this battery, and with it at its head belching forth fire like some huge monster, steadily advanced. The Austrians fell back and closed in on each other, knowing that the final struggle had come. At this crisis of the battle nothing could exceed the sublimity and terror of the scene. The whole interest of the armies was concentrated here, where the incessant and rapid roll of cannon told how desperate was the conflict. Still Macdonald slowly advanced, though his numbers were diminishing and the fierce battery at his head was gradually becoming silent. Enveloped in the fire of its antagonist, the guns had one by one been dismounted, and at the distance of a mile and a half from the spot where he started on his awful mission Macdonald found himself without a protecting battery, and the center still unbroken. Marching over the wreck of his guns, and pushing the naked head of his column into the open field, and into the devouring cross-fire of the Austrian artillery, he continued to advance. The carnage then became terrible. At every discharge the head of that column disappeared, as if it sank into the earth, while the outer ranks on either side melted away like snow-wreaths on the river's brink. No pen can describe the intense anxiety with which Napoleon watched its progress. On just such a charge rested his empire at Waterloo, and in its failure his doom was sealed. But all the lion in Macdonald's nature was roused, and he had fully resolved to execute the dread task given him or fall on the field. Still he towered unhurt amid his falling guard, and with his eye fixed steadily on the enemy's center moved sternly on. At the close and fierce discharges of these cross-batteries on its mangled head that column would sometimes stop and stagger back, like a strong ship when smitten by a wave. The next moment the drums would beat their hurried charge, and the calm, steady voice of Macdonald ring back through his exhausted ranks, nerving them to the desperate valor that filled his own spirit. Never before was such a charge made, and it seemed at every moment that the torn and mangled mass must break and fly.
The Austrian cannon are gradually wheeled around till they stretch away in parallel lines like two walls of fire on each side of this band of heroes, and hurl an incessant tempest of lead against their bosoms. But the stern warriors close in and fill up the frightful gaps made at every charge, and still press forward. Macdonald has communicated his own settled purpose to conquer or die to his devoted followers. There is no excitement—no enthusiasm such as Murat was wont to infuse into his men when pouring on the foe his terrible cavalry. No cries of "Vive l'Empereur" are heard along the lines; but in their place is an unalterable resolutien that nothing but annihilation can shake. The eyes of the army and the world are on them, and they carry Napoleon's fate as they go. But human strength has its limits, and human effort the spot where it ceases forever. No living man could have carried that column to where it stands but the iron-hearted leader at its head. But now he halts and casts his eye over his little surviving band that stands all alone in the midst of the enemy. He looks back on his path, and as far as the eye can reach he sees the course of his heroes by the black swath of dead men that stretches like a huge serpent over the plain. Out of the sixteen thousand men with which he started but fifteen hundred are left beside him. Ten out of every eleven have fallen, and here at length the tired hero pauses and surveys with a stern and anxious eye his few remaining followers. The heart of Napoleon stops beating at the sight, and well it may, for his throne is where Macdonald stands. He bears the empire on his single brave heart—he is the EMPIRE. Shall he turn at last and sound the retreat? The fate of nations wavers to and fro, for, like a speck in the distance, Macdonald is seen still to pause, while the cannon are piling the dead in heaps around him. "Will he turn and fly?" is the secret and agonizing question Napoleon puts to himself. No! he is worthy of the mighty trust committed to him. The empire stands or falls with him, but shall stand while he stands. Looking away to where his Emperor sits, he sees the dark masses of the Old Guard in motion, and the shining helmets of the brave cuirassiers sweeping to his relief. "Forward!" breaks from his iron lips. The roll of drums and the pealing of trumpets answer the volley that smites that exhausted column, and the next moment it is seen piercing the Austrian center. The day is won—the Empire saved—and the whole Austrian army is in full retreat.
Such was the battle of Wagram, and such the charge of Macdonald. I know of nothing equal to it, except Ney's charge at Waterloo, and that was not equal, because it failed.
On riding over the victorious field Bonaparte came where Macdonald stood amid his troops. As his eye fell on the calm and collected hero, he stopped, and holding out his hand said, "Shake hands, Macdonald—no more hatred between us—we must henceforth be friends, and as a pledge of my sincerity, I will send your marshal's staff, which, you have so gloriously earned." The frankness and kindness of Napoleon effected what all his neglect and coldness had failed to do—subdued him. Grasping his hand, and with a voice choked with emotion, which the wildest uproar of battle could never agitate, he replied, "Ah! sire, with us it is henceforth for life and death." Noble man! Kindness could overcome him in a moment. It is no wonder that Bonaparte felt at last that he had not known Macdonald's true worth.
The last great conflict in which he was engaged was the disastrous battle of Leipsic. For two days he fought like a lion, and when all hope was abandoned he was appointed by Napoleon to form, with Lannistau and Poniatowski, the rearguard of the retreating army while it passed over the only remaining bridge of Lindenau across the Elster. Here he stood and kept the allies at bay, though they swarmed in countless multitudes into the city, making it fairly reel under their wild hurrahs, as they drove before them the scattered remnants of the rear of the French army. Carriages and baggage-waggons and chariots and artillery came thundering by, and Macdonald hurried them over the bridge, still maintaining his post against the headlong attacks of the victorious army. Slowly the confused and bleeding mass streamed over the crowded bridge, protected from the pursuing enemy by the steady resistance of Macdonald. The allies were struck with astonishment at this firm opposition in the midst of defeat. Half the disasters of that battle, so fatal to Napoleon, would have been saved but for the rashness of a single corporal. Bonaparte had ordered a mine to be constructed under this bridge, which was to be fired the moment the French army had passed. The corporal to whom this duty had been entrusted, hearing the shouts of the allies as they rolled like the sea into Leipsic, and seeing the tiralleurs amid the gardens on the side near the river, thought the army had all passed, and fired the train. The bridge was lifted into the air with a sound of thunder, and fell in fragments into the river. It is said the shriek of the French soldiers forming the rear guard, when they saw their only communication with the army cut off, was most appalling. They broke their ranks and rushed to the bank of the river, stretching out their arms toward the opposite shore, where were the retreating columns of their comrades. Thousands in desperation plunged into the stream, most Of whom perished, while the whole remaining fifteen thousand were made prisoners. But amid the melee that succeeded the blowing up of the bridge were seen two officers spurring their horses through the dense multitude that obstructed their way. At length, after most desperate efforts, they reached the banks. As they galloped up to the shore on their panting and blood-covered steeds one was seen to be Macdonald and the other the brave Poniatowski. Casting one look on the chaos of an army that struggled toward the chasm, they plunged in. Their strong chargers stemmed the torrent manfully, and struck the opposite shore. With one bold spring Macdonald cleared the bank and galloped away. But the brave and noble Pole reached it only to die. His exhausted steed struggled nobly to ascend the bank, but failing, fell back on his wounded rider, and both perished together in the flood.
Of Macdonald's after-career I have already spoken. He remained firm to Napoleon till his abdication, and then, like all his generals and marshals, gave in his allegiance to the Bourbon throne. His firmness of character, which rendered him in all emergencies so decided and invincible, prevented him also from indulging in those excesses and adopting those ultra principles which marred the character of some of the other marshals. His Scotch education may also have had some influence over him. He gave his adhesion to the Bourbons because it was in the compact with Napoleon, and because under the circumstances he considered it his duty to do so, and no after-excitement could shake his fidelity. He was a thorough Scotchman in his fixedness of will. He possessed none of the flexibility of the French character, and but little of its enthusiasm. Bold, unwavering, and determined, he naturally held great sway over the French soldiers. Versatile themselves, they have greater confidence in a character the reverse of their own, and will follow farther an iron-willed commander than one possessing nothing but enthusiasm. In a sudden charge you want the headlong excitement, but in the steady march into the very face of destruction, and the firm resistance in the midst of carnage, you need the cool, resolute man.
This trait in Macdonald's character was evinced in his conduct when sent to repel the invasion of Napoleon, who was drawing all hearts after him in his return from exile. He repaired to Lyons with his army, but, finding that his troops had caught the wildfire enthusiasm that was carrying everything before it, he addressed them on their duty. It was to no purpose, however, for, no sooner did they see the advanced guard of Napoleon's small company, and hear the shout of "Vive l'Empereur" with which they rent the air, than they rushed forward, shouting "Vive l'Empereur" in return, and clasped their old comrades to their bosoms. Ney, under similar circumstances, was also borne away by the enthusiasm of the moment, and, flinging his hat into the air, joined in the wild cry that shook Europe like an earthquake, and summoned a continent to arms again, and made kings tremble for their thrones. But Macdonald was not a being of such rapid impulses. His actions were the result of reflection rather than of feeling. True to his recent oath, he turned from his treacherous troops and fled, and narrowly escaped being taken prisoner by them.
He was a conscientious soldier—kind in peace, sparing of his men in battle, unless saerifice was imperiously demanded, and then spilling blood like water. Generous and open-hearted, he spoke his sentiments freely, and abhorred injustice and meanness. Dazzled, as all the world was, by the splendid talents and brilliant achievements of Bonaparte, he followed him with a constancy and devotion that evince a generous and noble heart.
To a watchfulness that never slept, and a spirit that never tired, he added exertion that overcame the most insurmountable difficulties and baffled the plans of all his enemies. He seemed to be unconscious of fatigue, and never for a moment indulged in that lassitude which is so epidemic in an army and so often ensures its dcstruction. One cannot put his finger on the spot in the man's life where he acted as if he felt discouraged or ready to abandon everything in despair. He seemed to lack enthusiasm, but had in its place a dogged resolution that was still more resistless. He quietly saw what was to be done, and then commenced doing it in the best possible manner, without the thought of failing in his designs. He was conscious of the mighty force of will, and knew by experience how difficulties vanish by pushing against them.
The Duke of Tarentum, as Macdonald was called in France, had no sons. He had three daughters, two of whom married nobles, and the third a rich banker.