Napoleon and His Marshals - Vol. II
His Early Life— Studies Theology— His Adventures— His Bravery in Egypt— He marries Napoleon's Sister— His Personal Appearance and Knightly Dress and Bearing— Battle of Mount Tabor— The Admiration of the Cossacks— His Quarrel with Napoleon— Charge at Eylau— His Character as King— His Desertion of Napoleon— His Flight and Distress after the Battle of Waterloo— Last Attempt to regain his Throne— His Tragical Death.
ACHILLE, the eldest son of Murat, formerly king of the two Sicilies, is now a planter in Florida. Fleeing from France, he came to our country, and found an asylum on our shores, the place of refuge to so many of those stern and restless spirits that once unsettled Europe from her repose. Kings, and princes, and marshals, and nobles, have in turn been forced to take shelter under our eagle, to escape imprisonment and death at home.
There are three classes of men which a state of war brings to the surface to astonish the world by their deeds. The first is composed of those stern and powerful men whose whole inherent force must out in action or slumber on forever. In peaceful times they acquire no eminence, for there is nothing on which they can expend the prodigious active energy they possess; agitated times, when a throne can be won by a arm and a daring spirit, they arouse themselves, and move amid the tumult completely at home. At the head of this class stands Marshal Ney-the proud, stern, invincible soldier, who acquired the title of "the bravest of the brave."
A second class of reckless, daring spirits, who love the excitement of danger, and the still greater excitement of gaining or losing every thing on a single throw, always flourish in great commotions. In times of peace they would be distinguished only as roving adventurers or reckless, dissipated youth of some country village. In war they often perform desperate deeds, and by their headlong valor secure for themselves a place among those who go down to immortality. At the head of this class stands Marshal Junot, who acquired the sobriquet of "la tempête," "the tempest."
A third class is composed of the few men left of a chivalric age. They have an innate love of glory from their youth, and live more by imagination in the days of knighthood, than amid the practical scenes that surround them. Longing for the field where great deeds are to be done, they cannot be forced into the severe and steady mental labor necessary to success in ordinary times. To them life is worthless, destitute of brilliant achievements, and there is nothing brilliant that is not outwardly so. In peace such men simply do nothing, and dream away half their life, while the other half is made up of blunders, and good and bad impulses. But in turbulent scenes, they are your decided characters. The doubts and opposing reasons that distract others have no influence over them. Following their impulses, they move to a higher feeling than the mere calculator of good and evil. At the head of this class stands, as a patriot, the lazy Patrick Henry, and as a warrior, the chivalric Murat. The latter, however, was an active, rather than a passive dreamer-pursuing, rather than contemplating, a fancied good, and he acquired the name of the "prieux chevalier."
Joachim Murat was born March 25th, 1767, in Bastide, a little village, twelve miles from Cahors. His father was the landlord of a little tavern in the place. He was honest and industrious, with a large family of children, none of which exhibited any striking qualities with the exception of Joachim, who was regarded the most reckless, daring boy in the village. He rode a horse like a young Bedouin, and it was around his father's stable he first acquired that firm and easy seat in the saddle, that afterwards made him the most remarkable horseman of his time. The high and fiery spirit of the boy marked him out, at an early age, as a child of promise, and he became the Benjamin of his parents. The father had once been a steward in the Talleyrand family, and through its influence young Murat was received, when nine years old, into the college of Cahors, and entered on a course of studies, preparatory to the church.
Young Murat was destined by his parents to the priestly office, for which he was about as much fitted by nature as Talleyrand himself. But nothing could make a scholar of him. Neglecting his studies and engaged in every frolic, he was disliked by his instructors and beloved by his companions. The "Abbe Murat," as he was jocularly termed, did nothing that corresponded to his title, but on the contrary every thing opposed to it. His teachers prophesied evil of him, and declared him, at length, fit for nothing but a soldier, and they, for once, were right. Leaving Cahors, he entered the college at Toulouse no wiser than when he commenced his ecclesiastical education. Many adventures are told of him while at the latter place, which, whether apocryphal or not, were all worthy of the reckless young libertine. At length, falling in love with a pretty girl of the city, he fought for her, and carrying off his prize, lived with her concealed till the last sous was gone, and then appeared among his companions again. This put an end to his clerical hopes, and throwing off his professional garb, he enlisted, in a fit of desperation, into a regiment of chasseurs that happened at that time to be passing through the city. Becoming tired of the restraint of the camp, he wrote to his brother to obtain his dismission, which was promised, on condition he would resume his theological studies. The promise was given, and be returned to his books, but the ennui of such a life was greater than that of a camp, and he soon left school and went to his father's house, and again employed himself in the stables. Disgusted with the business of an ostler, be again entered the army. The second time be became sick of his employment, and asked for his dismissal. It was about this time he cheated an old miser out of a hundred francs, by passing off a gilded snuff-box for a gold one. But money was not the motive that prompted him to this trick. A young friend had enlisted in the army, and had no way of escape except by raising a certain sum of money, which was out of his power to do. It was to obtain this for his friend, Murat cheated the old man.
But the revolution beginning now to agitate Paris, Murat's spirit took fire, and having obtained a situation in the constitutional guard of Louis Sixteenth, he hastened with young Bessières, born in the same department, to the capital, and there laid the foundation of his after career, which made him the most distinguished of Napoleon's marshals. An ultra-republican, his sentiments, of which he made no secret, often brought him into difficulty, so that it is said he fought six duels in a single month. At this time he was twenty-two years of age, tall, handsome, and almost perfectly formed, and with a gait and bearing that made him the admiration of every beholder.
During the reign of terror he was a violent republican, and advanced through the grades of lieutenant and captain to that of major. In 1795, having aided Napoleon in quelling the sections, the latter, when he was appointed to command the army in Italy, made him a member of his personal staff. Here, beside the rising Corsican, commenced his brilliant career. With the words, "Honor and the Ladies," engraved on the blade of his sword-words characteristic of the chivalric spirit of the man-he passed through the Italian campaign second only to Bonaparte in the valorous deeds that were wrought. At Montenotte, Milesimo, Dego, Alondovi, Rivoli, &c., he proved the clear-sightedness of Napoleon in selecting him for a companion in the perilous path he had marked out for himself. He was made the bearer of the colors taken in this campaign, to the Directory, and was promoted to the rank of general of brigade.
He soon after accompanied Bonaparte to Egypt, where he grew weary and discontented in the new warfare he had to encounter. In the first place, cavalry was less efficient than infantry against the wild Mamelukes. When twenty thousand of those fierce warriors, mounted on the fleet steeds of the desert, came flying down on their mad gallop, nothing but the close and serried ranks of infantry and the fixed bayonet could arrest their progress. Besides, what was a charge of cavalry against those fleet horsemen, whose onset and retreat were too rapid for the heavy-armed French cuirassiers to return or pursue? Besides, the taking of pyramids and deserts was not the kind of victory that suited his nature.
But at Aboukir, where he was appointed by Napoleon to force the centre of the Turkish lines, he showed what wild work he could make with his cavalry. He rode straight through the Turkish ranks, and drove column after column into the sea; and in one of his fierce charges dashed into the camp of Mustapha Pacha, and rode straight up to the Turkish chieftain as, surrounded by two hundred Janizaries, he stood bravely defending himself. As the Pacha saw him approach he advanced rapidly to meet him, and drawing a pistol, aimed it at his head. The bullet grazed his cheek, just starting the blood, and the next moment Murat's glittering sword gleamed before the eyes of the Pacha as it descended on his hand, crushing two of his fingers with the blow. The Pacha was seized, and carried a prisoner into the French camp. His brilliant achievements in this battle fixed him forever in the affections of Napoleon, who soon after made him one of the few who were to return with him to France. During that long and anxious voyage Murat was by his side, and when the vessel in which they sailed was forced by adverse winds into the port of Ajaccio, he visited with the bold Corsican the scenes of his childhood.
In the revolution of the 18th Brumaire, which placed Bonaparte in power, Joachim took a conspicuous part, and did perhaps more than any other single general for him in that trying hour. In that crisis of Napoleon's life, when he stalked into the Council of the Five Hundred, already thrown into tumultuous excitement by the news of his usurpation; and the startling cry, "Down with the tyrant" met his ear, Murat was by to save him. "Charge bayonets," said he to the battalion of soldiers under him, and with firm step and leveled pieces they marched into the hall and dissolved the Assembly.
Soon after, being at the time thirty-three years of age, he married Caroline Bonaparte, the youngest sister of the Emperor, then in all the bloom and freshness of eighteen. The handsome person and dashing manners of Murat pleased her more than the higher-born Moreau. In a fortnight after his marriage he was on his way with his brother-in-law to cross the San Bernard into Italy. At Marengo he commanded the cavalry, and for his great exploits in this important battle, received from the consular government a magnificent sword.
Bonaparte, as Emperor, never ceased lavishing honors on his favorite brother-in-law. He went up from General of Brigade to General of Division, then to Commander of the National Guard, Marshal, Grand Admiral, Prince of the Empire, Grand Eagle of the Legion of Honor, Grand Duke of Berg and Cleves, and was finally made King of Naples.
"The Abbé Murat" had gone through some changes since he was studying theology at Toulouse.
It is not my design to enter in detail into the history of Murat, but having given the steps by which he ascended to greatness, speak only of those acts which illustrate the great points of his character. In the campaign of 1805—at Wertingen, Vienna and Austerlitz, and other fields of fame—in 1806-7 at Jena, Lubeck, Eylau and Friedland—in 1808 overthrowing the Spanish Bourbons, and placing the crown in Napoleon's hands, he is the same victorious leader and intrepid man.
His three distinguishing characteristics were, high chivalric courage, great skill as a general, and almost unparalleled coolness in the hour of peril. Added to all this, Nature had lavished her gifts on the mere physical man. His form was tall and finely proportioned—his tread like that of a king—his face striking and noble, while his piercing glance few men could bear. This was Murat on foot, but place him on horseback, and he was still more imposing. He never mounted a steed that was not worthy of the boldest knight of ancient days, and his incomparable seat made both horse and rider an object of universal admiration. The English invariably condemn the theatrical costume he always wore, as an evidence of folly, but it was in perfect keeping with his character. He was not a man of deep thought and compact mind, but resembled an oriental in his tastes, and loved every thing gorgeous and imposing. He usually wore a rich Polish dress, with the collar ornamented with gold brocade, ample pantaloons, scarlet or purple, and embroidered with gold; boots of yellow leather, while a straight diamond-hilted sword, like that worn by the ancient Romans, hanging from a girdle of gold brocade, completed his dashing exterior. He had heavy black whiskers, and long black locks, which, streaming over his shoulders, contrasted singularly with his fiery blue eye. On his head he wore a three-cornered chapeau, from which rose a magnificent white plume that bent under its profusion of ostrich feathers, while beside it, and in the same gold band, towered away a splendid heron plume. Over all this brilliant costume, he wore in cold weather a pelisse of green velvet, lined and fringed with the costliest sables.
Neither did he forget his horse in this gorgeous appareling, but had him adorned with the rich Turkish stirrup and bridle, and almost covered with azure-colored trappings. Had all this finery been piled on a diminutive man, or an indifferent rider like Bonaparte, it would have appeared ridiculous; but on the splendid charger and still more majestic figure of Murat, with his lofty bearing, it seemed all in place and keeping. This dazzling exterior always made him a mark for the enemy's bullets in battle, and it is a wonder that so conspicuous an object was never shot down. Perhaps there never was a greater contrast between two men, than between Murat and Napoleon, when they rode together along the lines previous to battle. The square figure, plain three-cornered hat, leather breeches, brown surtout, and careless seat of Napoleon, were the direct counterpart of the magnificent display and imposing attitude of his chivalric brother-in-law. To see Murat decked out in this extravagant costume at a review, might create a smile, but whoever once saw that gaily-caparisoned steed with its commanding rider in the front of battle, plunging like a thunderbolt through the broken ranks, or watched the progress of that towering white plume, as floating high over the tens of thousands that struggled behind it—a constant mark to the balls that whistled like hailstones around it—never felt like smiling again at him. Especially would he forget those gilded trappings when he saw him return from a charge, with his diamond-hilted sword dripping with blood, his gay uniform riddled with balls and singed and blackened with powder, while his strong war-horse was streaked with foam and blood, and reeking with sweat. That white plume was the banner to the host be led, and while it continued fluttering over the field of the slain, hope was never relinquished. Many a time has Napoleon seen it glancing like a beam of light to the charge, and watched its progress like the star of his destiny, as it struggled for awhile in the hottest of the fight, and then smiled in joy as he beheld it burst through the thick ranks of infantry, scattering them from his path like chaff before the wind.
Napoleon once said, that in battle he was probably the bravest man in the world. There was something more than mere success to him in it. He invested it with a sort of glory in itself—threw an air of romance about it all, and doubtless fought frequently, almost in an imaginary world. The device on his sword, so like the knights of old—his very costume copied from those warriors who lived in more chivalric days, and his heroic manner and bearing, as he led his troops into battle, prove him to be wholly unlike all other generals of that time. In his person at least, he restored the days of knighthood. He himself unconsciously lets out this peculiarity, in speaking of the battle of Mount Tabor. At the foot of this hill, Kleber, with 5,000 men, found himself hemmed in by 30,000 Turks. Fifteen thousand cavalry first came thundering down on this band of 5,000, arranged in the form of a square. For six hours they maintained the unequal combat, when Napoleon arrived with succor on Mount Tabor. As he looked down on the plain, he could see nothing but a countless multitude covering the tumultuous field, and swaying and tossing amid the smoke that curtained them in. It was only by the steady vollies and simultaneous flashes of musketry, that he could distinguish where his own brave soldiers maintained their ground. The shot of a solitary twelvepounder, which he fired, first announced to his exhausted countrymen that relief was at hand. The ranks then, for the first time, ceased acting on the defensive, and extending themselves, charged bayonet. Murat was on the banks of the Jordan and took the enemy as they rolled towards the bridge, and with his little band performed prodigies of valor and outdid himself. Once he was nearly alone in the centre of a large body of Turkish cavalry. All around, nothing was visible but a mass of turbaned heads and flashing scimetars, except in the centre, where was seen a single white plume, tossing like a rent banner over the throng. For awhile the battle thickened where it stooped and rose, as Murat's strong war-horse reared and plunged amid the sabre strokes that fell like lightning on every side,—and then the multitude surged back, as a single rider burst through covered with his own blood and those of his foes, and his arm red to the elbow that grasped his dripping sword. His steed staggered under him and seemed ready to fall, while the blood poured in streams from his sides. But Murat's eye seemed to burn with four-fold lustre, and with a shout, those who surrounded him never forgot to their latest day, he wheeled his exhausted steed on the foe, and at the head of a body of his own cavalry trampled everything down that opposed his progress. Speaking of this terrible fight, Murat said that in the hottest of it he thought of Christ, and his transfiguration on that same spot nearly two thousand years before, and it gave him ten-fold courage and strength. He was promoted in rank on the spot. This single fact throws a flood of light on Murat's character, and shows what visions of glory often rose before him in battle, giving to his whole movement and aspect, a greatness and dignity that could not be assumed.
None could appreciate this chivalrous bearing of Murat more than the wild Cossacks. In the memorable Russian campaign, he was called from his throne at Naples to take command of the cavalry, and performed prodigies of valor in that disastrous war. When the steeples and towers of Moscow at length rose on the sight, Murat, looking at his soiled and battle-worn garments, declared them unbecoming so great an occasion as the triumphal entrance into the Russian capital, and retired and dressed himself in his most magnificent costume, and thus appareled, rode at the head of his squadrons into the deserted city. The Cossacks bad never seen a man that would compare with Murat in the splendor of his garb, the beauty of his horsemanship, and, more than all, in his incredible daring in battle. Those wild children of the desert would often stop, amazed, and gaze in silent admiration, as they saw him dash, single-handed, into the thickest of their ranks, and scatter a score of their most renowned warriors from his path, as if be were a bolt from heaven. His effect upon these children of nature, and the prodigies he wrought among them, seem to belong to the age of romance rather than to our practical times. They never saw him on his magnificent steed, sweeping to the charge, his tall white plume streaming behind him, without sending up a shout of admiration before they closed in conflict.
In approaching Moscow, Murat, with a few troops, had left Gjatz somewhat in advance of the grand army, and finding himself constantly annoyed by the hordes of Cossacks that hovered around him, now wheeling away in the distance, and now dashing up to his columns, compelling them to deploy; lost all patience, and obeying one of those chivalric, impulses that so often hurled him into the most desperate straits, put spurs to his horse, and galloping all alone up to the astonished squadrons, halted right in front of them, and cried out in a tone of command, "Clear the way, reptiles!" Awed by his manner and voice, they immediately dispersed. During the armistice, while the Russians were evacuating Moscow, these sons of the wilderness flocked by thousands around him. As they saw him reining his high-spirited steed towards them, they sent up a shout of applause, and rushed forward to gaze, on one they had seen carrying such terror through
their ranks. One called him his "hetman,"—the highest honor that could be conferred on him. They would now point to his steed and now to his costume, while they fairly recoiled before his piercing glance. Murat was so much pleased by the homage of these simple-hearted warriors, that be distributed among them all the money he had, and all he could borrow from the officers about him, and finally his watch, and then the watches of his friends. He had made many presents to them before; for often, in battle, he would select out the most distinguished Cossack warrior, and plunging directly into the midst of the enemy, engage him singlehanded, and take him prisoner, and afterwards dismiss him with a gold chain about his neck or some other rich ornament attached to his person.
He was also a good general, though I know this is often disputed. Nothing is more common than the belief that an impulsive, headlong man cannot be clear-headed, while history proves that few others ever accomplish anything. From Alexander down to Bonaparte, your impetuous beings have always had the grandest plans, and executed them. Yet, men will retain their prejudices, and you cannot convince them that the silent, grave owl is not wiser than the talkative parrot, though the reverse is indisputably true. There could hardly be a more impetuous man than Bonaparte, and he had a clearer head and a sounder judgment than all his generals put together. Murat's impulses were often stronger than his reason, and in that way detracted from his generalship. Besides, he was too brave, and never counted his enemy. He seemed to think he was not made to be killed in battle, or to be defeated. Bonaparte had great confidence in his judgment when be was cool, and consulted him perhaps more than any other of his generals upon the plan of an anticipated battle. On these occasions Murat never flattered, but expressed his opinions in the plainest, most direct language, and often differed materially from his brother-in-law. Perhaps no one ever had greater skill than Napoleon in judging of the position of the enemy; and in the midst of battle, and in the confusion of conflicting columns, his perceptions were like lightning. Yet, in these great qualities, Murat was nearly his equal. His plans were never reckless, but the manner he carried them out was desperation itself. Said Bonaparte of him, "He was my right arm—he was a paladin in the field—the best cavalry officer in the world."
Murat loved Bonaparte with supreme devotion, and bore with his impatience and irascibility, and even dissipated them by his good-humor. Once, however, Bonaparte irritated him beyond endurance. Murat foresaw the result of a march to Moscow, and expostulated with his brother-in-law on the perilous undertaking. The dispute ran high, and Murat pointed to the lateness of the season, and the inevitable ruin in which the winter, so close at hand, would involve the army. Bonaparte, more passionate than usual, because Murat had the right of it, as he had, a few days before, when he besought him not to attack Smolensko because the Russians would evacuate it of their own accord; made some reply which was heard only by the latter, but which stung him so to the quick that he simply replied, "A march to Moscow will be the destruction of the army," and spurred his horse straight into the fire of a Russian battery. Bonaparte had touched him in some sore spot, and he determined to wipe out the disgrace by his death. He ordered all his guard to leave him, and dismounting from his magnificent steed, with his piercing eye turned full on the battery, stood calmly waiting the ball that should shatter him. A more striking subject for a picture was scarce ever furnished than he exhibited in that attitude. There stood his high-mettled and richly-caparisoned charger, with arching neck and dilated eye, giving ever and anon a slight shiver at each explosion of the artillery that ploughed up the turf at his feet, while Murat, in his splendid attire, stood beside him with his ample breast turned full on the fire, and his proud lip curled in defiance, and his tall white-plume waving to and fro in the air as the bullets whistled by it—the impersonation of calm courage and heroic daring. At length, casting his eye round, he saw General Belliard still by his side. He asked him why he did not withdraw. "Every man," he replied, is master of his own life, and as your Majesty seems determined to dispose of your own, I must be allowed to fall beside you." This fidelity and love struck the generous heart of Murat, and he turned his horse and galloped out of the fire. The affection of a single man could conquer him, at any time, whom the enemy seemed unable to overcome. His own life was nothing, but the life of a friend was surpassingly dear to him.
As proof that he was an able general as well as a brave man, it is necessary only to refer to the campaign of 1805. He commenced this campaign by the victory of Wertingen—took three thousand prisoners at Languertau, advanced upon Neresheim, charged the enemy and made three thousand prisoners, marched to Norlingen and compelled the whole division of Weernesk to surrender, beat Prince Ferdinand, and hurrying after the enemy, overtook the rear-guard of the Austrians, charged them and took 500 prisoners—took Ems, and again beat the enemy on the heights of Amstetten, and made 1800 prisoners—pushed on to Saint Polten, entered Vienna, and without stopping, pressed on after the Russians, and overtaking their rear-guard, made 2000 prisoners, and crowned his rapid, brilliant career with prodigies of valor that filled all Europe with admiration, on the field of Austerlitz.
Bonaparte usually put from ten to twenty thousand cavalry under Murat, and placed them in reserve behind the lines, and when he ordered the charge be was almost certain of victory. After a long and wasting fight, in which the infantry struggled with almost equal success, and separate bodies of horse had effected but little, Bonaparte would order him down with his enormous weight of cavalry. It is said that his eye always brightened as he saw that magnificent body begin to move, and he watched the progress of that single white plume, which was ever visible above the throng with the intensest interest. Where it went he knew were broken ranks and trampled men, and while it went he knew that defeat was impossible. Like Ney, he carried immense moral force with him. Not only were his followers inspired by his personal appearance and incredible daring, but he had acquired the reputation of being invincible, and when he ordered the charge, every man, both friend and foe, knew it was to be the most desperate one human power could make. And then the appearance of twenty thousand horsemen coming down on the dead gallop, led by such a man, was enough to send terror through any infantry.
The battle of Valentina exhibited an instance of this moral force of Murat. He had ordered Junot to cross a marshy flat and charge the flank of the Russians while he poured his strong cuirassiers on the centre. Charging like a storm with his own men, he was surprised to find that Junot had not obeyed his command. Without waiting for his guard, he wheeled his horse, and galloping alone through the wasting fire, rode up to him and demanded why be had not obeyed his order. Junot replied that he could not induce the Westphalian cavalry to stir, so dreadful was the fire where they were ordered to advance. Murat made no reply, but reining his steed up in front of the squadrons, waved his sword over his head and dashed straight into the sharp shooters, followed by that hitherto wavering cavalry as if they had forgotten there was such a thing as danger. The Russians were scattered like pebbles from his path; then turning to Junot, he said, "There, thy marshal's staff is half earned for thee; do the rest thyself."
Soon after, at the battle of Borodino, as the redoubts were carried and Bagration was driven back, and while, he was endeavoring to rally his men disordered with victory, the second Russian line advanced, and the latter became entirely surrounded before he was aware of it. To escape being made prisoner, he threw himself into one of the redoubts, where he found only a few soldiers, panic stricken, and running in affright around the fort seeking a way of retreat. Instantly calling them to halt, he stood and waved his plume, as a banner, over his head, and finally rallied them to resistance, and held the redoubt till Ney advanced to his deliverance. As these two heroes stood and breasted the terrible tempest that then burst upon them, Murat saw the soldiers of Friand's division beginning to break, and heard one of the officers order a retreat. Running up to him, he seized him by the collar, and exclaimed, "What are you about?" The colonel pointed to the ground, on which lay half his troops, and said, "You see it is impossible to stand here." "Very well," replied Murat, "I will remain." The officer stopped, looked at him a moment in surprise, and then turning round, coolly said, "You are right! soldiers, face the enemy; let us go and be killed!"
Throughout this fatal campaign he bore himself like one who could not be killed, and when the mournful retreat commenced, he fought with the same unshaken courage. Though his cavalry had melted away, and his gorgeous apparel had given place to the soiled and tattered garments of a fugitive, and the gay and brilliant knight had disappeared before the rigors of winter, the claims of hunger, toil, and defeat; he still charged with the saine impetuosity as ever. His apparel, dazzling as it was, had nothing to do with his courage. He once said to Miot, at the siege of Jaffa, who asked him what be would do if the enemy should surprise him in the night, "Well, I would mount on horseback in my shirt, and I should be the better distinguished in the dark." His showy exterior simply corresponded with his chivalric sentiments.
But it is impossible to speak of all the engagements in which he took a part. He was in constant service, and he never fought a battle without performing some heroic deed. On the plains of Italy, over the sands of Egypt, by the waters of Jordan, by the Danube and Rhine, through the snow-drifts of Russia,—everywhere, over hundreds of battle-fields, be moves the same intrepid leader and chivalric warrior. Resistless in the onset, deadly in the pursuit, he flies from one scene of strife to another, as if war were his element.
CHARGE AT EYLAU.
But it is at Eylau that he always appears in his most terrible aspect. This battle, fought in mid winter, in 1807, was the most important and bloody one that had yet occurred. France and Russia had never before opposed such strength to each other, and a complete victory on either side would have settled the fate of Europe. Bonaparte remained in possession of the
field, and that was all—no victory was ever so like a defeat.
The field of Eylau was covered with snow, and the little ponds that lay scattered over it were frozen sufficiently hard to bear the artillery. Seventy-five thousand men on one side, and eighty-five thousand on the other, arose from the frozen field on which they had slept the night of the 7th of February, without tent or covering, to battle for a continent. Augereau, on the left, as described in the preceding volume, was utterly routed early in the morning. Advancing through a snow-storm so thick he could not see the enemy, the Russian cannon mowed down his ranks with their destructive fire, while the Cossack cavalry, which were ordered to charge, came thundering on, almost hitting the French infantry with their long lances before they were visible through the storm. Hemmed in and overthrown, the whole division, composed of 16,000 men, with the exception of 1,500, were captured or slain. Just then the snow-storm clearing up, revealed to Napoleon the peril to which he was brought, and he immediately ordered a grand charge by the Imperial Guard and the whole cavalry. Nothing was farther from Bonaparte's wishes or expectations than the bringing of his reserve into the engagement at this early stage of the battle—but there was no other resource left him. Murat sustained his high reputation on this occasion, and proved himself for the hundredth time worthy of the great confidence Napoleon placed in him. Nothing could be more imposing than the battle-field at this moment. Bonaparte and the Empire trembled in the balance, while Murat prepared to lead down his cavalry to save them. Seventy squadrons, making in all 14,000 well-mounted men, began to move over the slope, with the Old Guard moving sternly behind. Bonaparte, it is said, was more agitated at this crisis than when, a moment before, he was so near being captured by the Russians. But as he saw those seventy squadrons come down on a plunging trot, pressing hard after the white plume of Murat, that streamed through the snow-storm far in front, a smile passed over his countenance. The earth groaned and trembled as they passed, and the thousands of glittering helmets and flashing sabres above the dark and angry mass below, looked like the foam of a sea wave as it crests on the deep. The rattling of their armor and the muffled thunder of their tread drowned all the roar of battle, as with firm set array and swift, steady motion, they bore down with their terrible front on the foe. The shock of that immense host was like a falling mountain, and the front line of the Russian army went down like frost-work before it. Then commenced a protracted fight of hand-to-hand and sword-to-sword, as in the cavalry action at Eckmuhl. The clashing of steel was like the ringing of countless hammers, and horses and riders were blended in wild confusion together. The Russian reserve were ordered up, and on these Murat fell with his fierce horsemen, crushing and trampling them down by thousands. But the obstinate Russians disdained to fly, and rallied again and again, so that it was no longer cavalry charging on infantry, but squadrons of horse galloping through a broken host that, gathering into knots, still disputed with unparalleled bravery the red and rent field.
It was during this strange fight that Murat was seen to perform one of those desperate deeds for which he was so renowned. Excited to the highest pitch of passion by the obstacles that opposed him, he seemed endowed with ten-fold strength, and looked more like a superhuman being treading down helpless mortals, than an ordinary man. Amid the roar of artillery and rattle of musketry, and falling of sabre-strokes like lightning about him, that lofty white plume never once went down, while ever and anon it was seen glancing through the smoke of battle the star of hope to Napoleon, and that his "right arm" was still uplifted and striking for victory. He raged like an unloosed lion amid the foe; and his eye, always terrible in battle, burned with increased lustre, while his clear and steady voice, heard above the tumult of the strife, was worth more than a thousand trumpets to cheer on his followers. At length, seeing a knot of Russian soldiers that, for a long time, had kept up a devouring fire on his men, he wheeled his horse and drove in full gallop upon their leveled muskets. A few of his guard, that never allowed that white plume to leave their sight, charged after. Without waiting to count his foes, he seized the bridle in his teeth, and with a pistol in one hand and his drawn sword in the other, burst in headlong fury upon them, and scattered them as if a hurricane had swept by.
Though the cavalry were at length compelled to retire, the Russians had received a check that alone saved the day. Previously, without bringing up their reserve, they were steadily advancing over the field, but now they were glad to cease the combat and wait for further reinforcements under Lestocq, before they renewed the battle. I have spoken of the progress of the fight during the day in another place. Prodigies of valor were performed on all sides, and men slain by tens of thousands, till night at length closed the awful scene, and the Russians began to retire from the field.
Such was the battle of Eylau, fought in the midst of a piercing snow-storm. Murat was a thunderbolt on that day, and the deeds that were wrought by him will ever furnish themes for the poet and painter. But let the enthusiast go over the scene on the morning after the battle, if he would find a cure for his love of glory. Fifty-two thousand men lay piled across each other in the short space of six miles, while the snow, giving back the stain of blood, made the field look like one great slaughter-house. The frosts of a wintry morning were all unheeded in the burning fever of ghastly wounds, and the air was loaded with cries for help, and groans, and blasphemies, and cursings. Six thousand horses lay amid the slain, some stiff and cold in death, others rendering the scene still more fearful by their shrill cries of pain. The cold heavens looked down on this fallen multitude, while the pale faces of the thousands that were already stiff in death, appeared still more appalling in their vast winding-sheet of snow. Foemen had fallen across each other as they fought, and lay like brothers clasped in the last embrace; while dismembered limbs and disemboweled corpses were scattered thick as autumn leaves over the field. Every form of wound, and every modification of wo [sic] were here visible. No modern war had hitherto exhibited such carnage, and where Murat's cavalry had charged, ,there the slain lay thickest. Two days after the battle five thousand wounded Russians lay on the frozen field, where they had dragged out the weary nights and days in pain. The dead were still unburied, and lay amid wrecks of cannons, and munition wagons, and bullets, and howitzers;—whole lines had sunk where they stood, while epaulettes, and neglected sabres, and muskets without owners, were strewed on every side, and thrown into still more terrible relief by the white ground of snow, over which they lay. Said Napoleon, in his bulletin home, after describing the dreadful appearance the field presented,—"The spectacle is sufficient to inspire princes with the love of peace and horror of war."
I have said little of his conquest of Madrid, because it was done without effort. The sudden rising of the population of the city, in which were slaughtered seven hundred Frenchmen, was followed by the public execution of forty of the mob. Much effort has been made to fix a stain on Murat by this execution, and the destruction of some hundred previously, in the attempt to quell the insurrection; by calling it a premeditated massacre. But it was evidently not so. Murat was imprudent, there is no doubt, and acted with duplicity, nay, treachery, in all his dealings with the royal family of Spain, but also acted under instructions. He doubtless hoped to receive the crown of Spain, but Bonaparte forced it on his brother Joseph, then king of Naples, and put Murat in his place.
Of his civil administration, one cannot say much in praise. He was too ignorant for a king, and was worthless in the cabinet. The diplomacy of a battle-field he understood, and the management of 20,000 cavalry was an easier thing than the superintendence of a province. Strength of resolution, courage, and military skill he was not wanting in, while in the qualities necessary to the administration of a government, he was utterly deficient. He was conscious of his inferiority here, and knew that his imperial brother-in-law, who gazed on him in adiniration, almost in awe, in the midst of battle, made sport of him as a king. These things, together with some unsuccessful efforts of his own, exasperated him to such a degree that he became sick and irresolute. Four years of his life passed away in comparative idleness, and it was only the extensive preparations of Napoleon in 1812 to invade Russia, that roused him to be his former self. Bonaparte's treatment of him while occupying his throne at Naples, together with some things that transpired in the Russian campaign, conspired to embitter Murat's feelings towards his imperious brother-in-law; for his affection, which till that time was unwavering, began then to vacillate.
It is probable that it had been more than hinted to him by the emperor that he intended to deprive him of his crown. At least, not long after Bonaparte left the wreck of the grand army in its retreat from Russia in his hands, he abandoned his post, and traveled night and day till he reached Naples. It is also said by an acquaintance of Murat, that Bonaparte, at the birth of the young Duke of Parma, announced to the King of Naples, who had come to Paris to congratulate him, that he must lay down his crown. Murat asked to be allowed to give his reply the next morning, but no sooner was he out of the Emperor's presence than he mounted his horse and started for his kingdom. He rode night and day till he reached Naples, where he immediately set on foot preparations for the defence of his throne. Being summoned anew by a marshal of France, sent to him for that purpose, to give up his sceptre, he replied, "Go, tell your master to come and take it, and, he shall find how well sixty thousand men can defend it." Rather than come to open conflict with one of his bravest generals, he abandoned the project, and let Murat occupy his throne. If this be true it accounts for the estrangement and final desertion of Napoleon by his brother-in-law. Still, in Napoleon's last struggle for his throne on the plains of Germany, Murat fought nobly for him, and helped to gain the battle of Dresden, and chased Blucher over the Elbe. But after the disastrous battle of Leipsic, he returned to Naples and immediately entered into negotiations with the allied powers, and in this act sullied forever his fame.
In 1814 he concluded a treaty with Austria, by which he was to retain his crown on the condition he would furnish 30,000 troops for the common cause. Bonaparte could not a first credit this defection of the husband of his sister, and wrote to him twice on the subject. These letters show that Murat was playing a double game, and endeavoring, in the uncertainty of things, to secure his throne. In his first letter Napoleon says, "You are a good soldier on the field of battle, but, excepting there, you have no vigor and no character. Take advantage of an act of treachery, therefore, which I attribute only to fear, in order to serve me by useful information. I rely upon your intentions, upon your promises. I suppose you are one of those who imagine the lion is dead; if such are your calculations, they are false. * * * The title of king has turned your head. If you wish to preserve the power, behave right and keep your word." The second commences, "Sir my brother, I have already communicated to you my opinion of your conduct. Your situation had turned your head. My reverses have finished you. You have surrounded yourself with men who hate France, and who wish to ruin you. What you wrote to me is at variance with your actions. I shall, however, see by your behavior at Ancona if your heart be still French, and if you yield to necessity alone. Recollect that your kingdom, which has cost so much blood and trouble to France, is yours only for the benefit of those who gave it you. * * * Remember that I have made you king solely for the interest of my system." The truth is, Bonaparte tampered with the affection of Murat. The latter had so often yielded to him on points where they differed, and had followed him through his wondrous career with such constant devotion, that Napoleon believed he could twist him round his finger as he liked, and became reckless of his feelings. But he found the intrepid soldier could be trifled with too far, and came to his senses barely in time to prevent an utter estrangement.
Shortly after, Napoleon abdicated, and was sent to Elba. But before the different allied powers had decided whether they should allow Murat to retain his throne, Europe was thrown into consternation by the announcement that Bonaparte was again on the shores of France. Joachim immediately declared in favor of his brother-in-law, and attempted to rouse Italy. But his army deserted him, and hastening back to Naples, he threw himself into the arms of his wife, exclaiming, "All is lost, Caroline, but my life, and that I have not been able to cast away." Finding himself betrayed on every side, he fled in disguise to Ischia. Sailing thence to France, he landed at Cannes, and dispatched a courier to Fouché, requesting him to inform Napoleon of his arrival. Bonaparte, irritated at his former defection, and still more vexed that he had precipitated things so in Italy, contrary to his express directions, sent back the simple reply, "to remain where he was until the Emperor's pleasure with regard to him was-known." This cold answer threw Murat in a tempest of passion. He railed against his brother-in-law, loading him with accusations, for whom, he said, he had lost his throne and his kingdom. Wishing, however, to be nearer Paris, he started for Lyons, but while changing horses at Aubagne, near Marseilles, he was told of the disastrous battle of Waterloo.
Hastening back to Toulon, he lay concealed in a house near the city, to await the result of this last overthrow of Napoleon. When he was informed of his abdication, he scarcely knew what to do. At first he wished to get to Paris, to treat personally with the allied sovereigns for his safety. Being unable to accomplish his purpose, he thought of flying to England, but hesitated to do this also, without a promise of protection from that government, he finally, through Fouché, obtained permission of the Emperor of Austria to settle in his dominions. But while be was preparing to set out, he was told that a band of men were on the way to seize him, in order to get the 40,000 francs which the Bourbons had offered for his head; and fled with a single servant to a desolate place on the sea-shore near Toulon. Thither his friends from the city secretly visited him, and informed him what were the designs respecting him. Resolving at last to proceed to Paris by sea, he engaged the captain of a vessel bound to Havre, to send a boat at night to take him off. But by some strange fatality, the seamen could not find Murat, nor he the seamen, though searching for each other half the night; and the sea beginning to rise, the boat was compelled to return to the ship without him. As the morning broke over the coast, the dejected wanderer saw the vessel, with all her sails set, standing boldly out to sea. He gazed for awhile on the lessening masts, and then fled to the woods, where he wandered about for two days, without rest or food. At length, drenched with rain, exhausted and weary, he stumbled on a miserable cabin, where he found an old woman, who kindly gave him food and shelter. He gave himself out as belonging to the garrison at Toulon, and he looked worn and haggard enough to be the commonest soldier. The white plume was gone, that had floated over so many battle-fields, and the dazzling costume, that had glanced like a meteor through the cloud of war, was exchanged for the soiled garments of an outcast. Not even his good steed was left, that had borne him through so many dangers, and as that tall and majestic, form stooped to enter the low door of the cabin, he felt how changeful was human fortune. The fields of his fame were far away—his throne was gone, and the wife of his bosom ignorant of the fate of her lord.
While he sat at his humble fare, the owner of the cabin, a soldier belonging to the garrison of Toulon, entered, and bade him welcome. But there was something about the wanderer's face that struck him, and at length remembering to have seen those features on some French coin, he fell on his knees before him, and called him king Murat. His wife followed his example. Murat was astonished at the discovery; and then overwhelmed at the evidence of affiction these poor, unknown people ofrered him, be raised them to his bosom, and gave them his blessing. Forty thousand francs were no temptation to this honest soldier and his wife.
Here he lay concealed, till one night the old woman saw lights approaching the cabin, and immediately suspecting the cause, aroused Murat, and hastening him into the garden, thrust him into a hole, and piled him over with vine branches. She then returned to the house, and, arranged the couch from which he had escaped and began herself to undress for bed, as if nothing had occurred to disturb her ordinary household arrangements. ln a few moments sixty gens d'armes entered, and ransacked the house and garden, passing again and again by the spot where Murat was concealed. Foiled in their search, they at length went away.
But such a spirit as Murat's could not long endure this mode of existence, and he determined to put to sea. Having, through his friends at Toulon, obtained a skiff, he on the night of the 22d of August, with only three attendants, boldly pushed his frail boat from the beach, and launched out into the broad Mediterranean, and when about thirty miles from the shore, they saw and hailed a vessel, but she passed them. The wind now began to rise, and amid the deepening gloom was heard the moaning of the sea, as it gathered itself for the tempest. The foam-crested waves leaped by, deluging the frail skiff, that struggled almost hopelessly with the perils that environed it. The haughty chieftain saw dangers gathering round him that no charge of cavalry could scatter, but he sat and looked out on the rising deep, with the with the same composure he so often had sat on his gallant steed, when the artillery was mowing down every thing at his side. At length the post-office-packet-vessel for Corsica was seen advancing towards them. Scarcely had Murat and his three faithful followers stepped aboard of it, before the frail skiff sunk to the bottom. It would have been better for him had it sunk sooner. He landed at Corsica in the disguise of a common soldier. The mayor of the Commune of Bastia, the port where the vessel anchored, seeing a man at his door, with a black silk bonnet over his brows, his beard neglected, and coarsely clad, was about to question him, when he looked up, and "judge of my astonishment," says the mayor, "when I discovered that this was Joachim, the splendid king of Naples! I uttered a cry; and fell on my knees." Yes, this was Murat—the plume exchanged for the old silk bonnet, and the gold brocade for the coarse gaiters of a common soldier.
The Corsicans received him with enthusiasm, and as he entered Ajaccio, the troops on the ramparts, and the populace received him with deafening cheers. But this last shadow of his old glory consummated his ruin. It brought back to his memory the shouts that were wont to rend Naples when he returned from the army to his kingdom, loaded with horrors and heralded by great deeds. In the enthusiasm of the moment, he resolved to return to Naples, and make another stand for his throne. At this critical period the passports of the emperor of Austria arrived. Murat was promised a safe passage into Austria, and an unmolested residence in any city of Bohemia, with the title of Count, if he, in return, would renounce the throne of Naples, and live in obedience to the laws. Disdaining the condition he would a few weeks before have gladly accepted, he madly resolved to re-enter his kingdom.
With two hundred and fifty recruits and a few small vessels, he sailed for his dominions. The little fleet, beat back by adverse winds, that seemed rebuking the rash attempt, did not arrive in sight of Calabria till the sixth of 0ctober, or eight days after his embarkation. On that very night a storm scattered the vessels, and when the morning broke, Murat's bark was the only one seen standing in for land. Two others at length joined him, but that night one of the captains deserted him, and returned with fifty of his best soldiers to Corsica. His remaining followers, seeing that this desertion rendered their cause hopeless, besought him to abandon his project, sail for Trieste, and accept the terms of Austria. He consented and throwing the proclamations he had designed for the Neapolitans into the sea, ordered the captain to steer for the Adriatic. He refused, on the ground that he was not sufficiently provisioned for so long a voyage. He promised, however, to obtain stores at Pizzo, but refused to go on shore without the Austrian passports, which Murat still had in his possession, to use in case of need. This irritated Murat to such a degree, that he resolved to go ashore himself, and ordering his officers to dress in full uniform, they approached Pizzo. His officers wished to land first, to feel the pulse of the people, but Murat,, with his accustomed chivalric feeling, stopped them, and with the exclamation, "I must be the first on shore!" sprang to land, followed by twenty-eight soldiers and three domestics. Some few mariners cried out, "Long live King Joachim!" and Murat advanced to the principal square of the town, where the soldiers were exercising, while his, followers unfurled his standard, and shouted, "Joachim for ever!" but the soldiers made no response. Had Murat been less infatuated, this would have sufficed to convince him of the hopelessness of his cause. He pressed on, to Monte Leone, the capital of the province, but had not gone far before he found himself pursued by a large company of gens d'armes. Hoping to subdue them by his presence, be turned towards them and addressed them. The only answer he received was a volley of musketry. Forbidding his followers to return the fire, with the declaration that his landing should not cost the blood of one of his people, he turned to flee to the shore. Leaping from rock to rock and crag to crag, while the bullets whistled about him, he at length reached the beach, when, lo! the vessel that landed him had disappeared. The infamous captain had purposely left him to perish. A fishing-boat lay on the sand, and Murat sprang against it to shove it off, but it was fast. His few followers now came up, but before the boat could be launched they were surrounded by the blood-thirsty populace. Seeing it was all over, Murat advanced towards them, and holding out his sword, said, "People of Pizzo! take this sword, which has been so often drawn at the head of armies, but spare the lives of the brave men with me." But they heeded him not, and kept up a rapid discharge of musketry; and though every bullet was aimed at Murat, not one touched him, while almost every man by his side was shot down. Being at length seized, be was hurried away to prison. Soon after, an order came from Naples to have him tried on the spot. One adjutant-general, one colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, and the same number of captains and lieutenants, constituted the commission to try a King. Murat refused to appear before such a tribunal, and disdained to make any defence.
During the trial he conversed in prison with his friends in a manner worthy of his great reputation. He exhibited a loftiness of thought and character that surprised even his friends that had known him longest. Once after a pause in conversation, be said: "Both in the court and camp, the national welfare has been my sole object. I have used the public revenues for the public service alone. I did nothing for myself, and now at my death I have no wealth but my actions. They are all my glory and my consolation." After talking in this strain for some time, the door opened and one of the commissioners entered and read the sentence. Murat showed no agitation, but immediately sat down and wrote to his wife the following letter.
"MY DEAR CAROLINE—My last hour has arrived; in a few moments more I shall have ceased to live—in a few moments more you will have no husband. Never forget me; my life has been stained by no injustice. Farewell my Achille, farewell my Letitia, farewell my Lucien, farewell my Louise. I leave you without kingdom or fortune, in the midst of the multitude of my enemies. Be always united: prove yourselves superior to misfortune; remember what you are and what you have been, and God will bless you. Do not reproach my memory. Believe that my greatest suffering in my last moments is dying far from my children. Receive your father's blessing; receive my embraces and my tears.
Keep always present to you the memory of your unfortunate father.
Pizzo, 13th October, 1815."
Having then enclosed some locks of his hair to his wife, and given his watch to his faithful valet, Amand, he walked out to the place of execution. His tall form was drawn up to its loftiest height, and that piercing blue eye that had flashed so brightly over more than a hundred battle-fields, was now calmly turned on the soldiers who were to fire on him. Not a breath of agitation disturbed the perfect composure of his face, and when all was ready he kissed a cornelian be held in his hand, on which was cut the head of his wife, and then fixing his eyes steadily upon it, said, "Save my face, aim at my heart!" A volley of musketry answered, and Murat was no more.
He had fought two hundred battles, and exposed himself to death more frequently than any other officer in Napoleon's army. By his white plume and gorgeous costume a constant mark for the enemy's bullets, he notwithstanding always plunged into the thickest dangers, and it seems almost a miracle that he escaped death. His self-composure was wonderful, especially when we remember what a creature of impulse be was. In the most appalling dangers, under the fire of the most terrific battery, all alone amid his dead followers, while the bullets were piercing his uniform and whistling in an incessant shower around his head, he would sit on his steed and watch every discharge with the coolness of an iron statue. A lofty feeling in the hour of peril bore him above all fear, and through clouds of smoke and the roar of five hundred cannon, he would detect at a glance the weak point of the enemy, and charge like fire upon it.
As a general he failed frequently, as has been remarked, from yielding his judgment to his impulses. As a man and king he did the same thing, and hence was generous to a fault, and liberal and indulgent to his people. But his want of education in early life rendered him unfit for a statesman. Yet his impulses, had they been less strong, would not have made him the officer he was. His cavalry was the terror of Europe. Besides, in obeying his generous feelings, he performed many of those deeds of heroism—exposing his life for others, and sacrificing everything he had, to render those happy around him, which make us love his character. He was romantic even till his death, and lived in an atmosphere of his own creation. But unlike Ney, he was ashamed of his low origin, and took every method to conceal it. He loved his wife and children and country with the most devoted affections. His life was the strangest romance ever written, and his ignominious death, an everlasting blot on Ferdinand's Character.
That the moral character of Murat could not be very correct according to our standard, is evident from the fact that his life was spent in the camp. The only way to judge such a man, is to balance his actions, and see whether the good or evil preponderate.
But whatever his faults were, it will be a long time before the word will see another such man.
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