THE SIEGE OF GENOA.
After Bonaparte's return from Egypt, he appointed Massena over the army of Italy. Moreau, at the head of a hundred and thirty thousand men, was to advance on Swabia, while Napoleon himself, at the head of forty thousand, was to march over the Alps.
The 60,000 soldiers given to Massena had dwindled down through fever and famine to about 36,000 fighting men, which were required to defend both Genoa and Nice, though a hundred and twenty miles apart. Melas, with 120,000 soldiers in good condition, was the enemy he had to oppose. Leaving, 50,000 in Piedmont to watch the passes of the Alps, Melas bore down with 70,000 on the gorges of the Apennines, for the purpose of cutting the French army in two, and shutting one half up in Nice, and the other half in Genoa. This he succeeded in doing; and though Suchet and Soult fought with unexampled bravery, the French line was divided, and the former separated from each other. The latter was now compelled to fall back on Genoa, with only 18,000 men. On the evening of the 6th of April, the Austrian flag was flying on the heights that overlooked the city; while at the same time a British squadron was seen slowly moving up the gulf to shut it in seaward. Without the speedy appearance of a French army over the Alps, that of Massena was evidently a doomed one. He knew that he could hold the place against all the force that could be brought against it; but the convoys of provisions, which had been kept back by adverse winds, were now effectually shut out by the English blockading squadron; while the Austrians, sweeping in an entire line round the walls of the city, were rapidly cutting off all supplies from the country, so that famine would soon waste his army. But it was in the midst of difficulties like these, that Massena's spirit rose in its strength. He seemed to multiply with exigencies, and there commenced with the siege of Genoa one of the most heroic struggles witnessed during the War.
Genoa is defended, both by nature and art, as I have never seen any other seaport. The Ligurian Gulf strikes it head deep into the Apennines, so that the ground slopes from the very verge of the water up to the mountain. Two moles running from the opposite shores, almost cross each other, cutting off the extreme point of the bay for the port of the city. Perpendicular walls rise from the water, forming the base of the houses that line the shore. Around these cannon are planted, while forts are on every commanding point above the city. Added to this, a double wall surrounds the town, one six miles in circumference, the other thirteen. The outer walls, corresponding to the shape of the hill, ascend it somewhat in the form of a triangle.
Two forts, the Spur and the Diamond, stood at the top of this triangle, protecting the fortified walls down on either side by their commanding fire. There were three other forts on the east side of the city, protecting commanding eminences that rose from the river Bisagno. On the west, or towards Nice, there were no forts, and the Polcevera came pouring its waters into the gulf without furnishing any strong positions.
Thus defended, Massena saw the immense Austrian army slowly contracting its lines around the city, like a huge anaconda tightening its folds about its victim. He immediately resolved to attempt two desperate projects —first, to sally out on the east with his handful of men, and drive the enemy over the Apennines —and afterwards to sally forth on the west side and endeavor to cut the Austrian army in two, and restore his junction with Suchet. Following out his daring plans, he on the 7th of April took Gen. Miollis's division, strengthened by some of the reserve, and dividing it into two columns, marched forth at their head to storm the heights of Monte Ratti. The Austrians were driven from every position by the desperate charges of the French columns, and forced over the Apennines; and Massena returned at evening, marching before him fifteen hundred prisoners, and among others the Baron D'Aspres, who had incited the peasants to a revolt. The inhabitants were crazy with excitement, rending the air with acclamations and shouts of joy —bringing litters for the wounded, and soup for the brave soldiers, and urging them into their houses—proud of the honor of sheltering one of the defenders of their city.
Allowing only one day to intervene, Massena on the 9th of April sallied forth on the west side of the town, in order to carry out his plan of effecting his junction with Suchet. Word had been sent to the latter general of the premeditated attack, with orders to rush on the Austrian forces on the opposite side, and cut his way through. Massena took ten thousand men with him, leaving the remainder to protect the city. Gazan's division he put under Soult, with orders to keep along the ridge of the Apennines, while he, at the head of Gardanne's division, kept along the sea-coast below, the junction to take place at Sassello. Ten thousand French were on the march to meet forty thousand Austrians, under Melas. Soult, reaching Aqua Santa, made a brilliant charge on a superior body of Austrians, which threatened to cut off the retreat to Genoa. But this fierce battle prevented him from being at Sassello, when Massena expected him, which broke up the plans of the latter so entirely, that had he been a less resolute and invincible man, it would have secured his ruin.
Marching unmolested along the beautiful riviera or sea coast the first day, he came the second day upon the enemy. His force was divided into two columns, one of which he led in person. Supposing Soult to be at Sassello, and wishing to establish a communication with him, he had pushed on with only twelve hundred men, relying on big right column, now far in the rear, and Soult, to sustain him.
In this position nearly ten thousand Austrians moved down upon him, and endeavored to inclose and crush him. Then commenced one of those desperate struggles for which Massena was so remarkable. With his 1200 men he kept the whole 10,000 at bay, while he slowly retreated in search of his lost column. Charge after charge of the overwhelming force of the Austrians was made on his little band; but he held it by his presence to the shock, with a firmness that perfectly surprised the enemy. Now it would be perfectly enveloped and lost in the cloud of the enemy that curtained it in, and the next moment it would emerge from the thick masses of infantry, and appear unbroken with its indomitable chief still at its head. Unable to find the column which had lagged far behind, on account of the tardy distribution of provisions, he scaled precipices, plunged into ravines, and cast himself among bands of hostile peasantry, fighting all the while like a lion. Having, at length found it, he rallied his troops, and determined to cross the Apennines, and reach Soult, also. But his men were worn out with the desperate fighting of the day, and could not be rallied soon enough to make the attempt successful. So, sending off all that were ready to march, as a reinforcement to Soult, who was struggling in the mountains against the most desperate odds, he fell back along the sea-coast to protect the entrance to the city. His company now being dwindled to a mere handful, it seemed as if every charge of the mighty force that rushed on it must sweep it away. But still Massena, a host in himself, towered unhurt at its head. At length, however, his overthrow seemed inevitable. A sudden charge of Austrian hussars had surprised one of his battalions, and it was just laying down its arms, when, seeing the danger, he rallied with incredible rapidity thirty horsemen about him, and fell like a thunderbolt on the entire company. Stunned and driven back, they lost their advantage, and the battalion was saved. At length Soult, after proving himself fifty times a hero, joined him: and together, cutting their way through the enemy, they re-entered Genoa with four thousand prisoners—more than half the number of the whole army that led them captive. When the Genoese saw him return with his handful of men, preceded by such a column of prisoners, their admiration and wonder knew no bounds, and Massena's
power at once became supreme.
But now he was fairly shut in. His army of eighteen thousand had become reduced to about twelve thousand fighting men. These, and over five thousand prisoners and the population, were to be fed from the scanty provisions which the city contained. But in the midst of the darkness that now hung over his prospects, Massena walked with a calm and resolute demeanor,
looking the sufferings that awaited him and his army full in the face, without one thought of surrendering.
At length, one morning about a fortnight after this last sally, a general cannonading was heard all around the city, even from the gun-boats on the sea, telling of some movement of the enemy. A general assault was making on Fort Diamond, which, if taken, would shut up the army in the inner wall of the city. The plateau in front of the fort was carried by them, and the fort itself summoned to surrender. The Austrians were gaining ground every moment, and threatened to carry the position of the Madonna del Monte, from which the city could be cannonaded. Fort Quezzi had been taken, and Fort Richelieu was now threatened. The French were driven back on all sides, when Massena at noon hastened to the spot. He ordered Soult, with two demi-brigades, to retake the plateau in front of Fort Diamond, while he himself advanced on Fort Quezzi. Around the latter place the struggle became desperate. Col. Mouton, after performing almost incredible deeds of daring, fell, pierced by a musket ball. The combatants had advanced so close to each other that they could not fire, and fought with stones and clubbed muskets. But superior numbers were fast telling on the French, and they were on the point of breaking, when Massena hurled his reserve, composed of only half a battalion, on the enemy. He himself was at its head, cheering it by his presence and voice; and, dividing the enemy before him as the rock flings aside the stream, he swept the dense masses of the enemy over their own dead and wounded from the field.
Soult was equally successful, and Massena returned at evening with 1600 prisoners, having slain and wounded 2400 more. For three weeks be had fought an army of 40,000 men with one of 12,000 in the open country, and had slain and taken prisoners in all nearly 15,000 men, or almost the entire number of the whole army he had led into Genoa. Nearly every man had killed or taken his man, and yet there were 12,000 left to struggle on.
On the 10th of May Massena made another successful sally with his diminished army. General Ott, of the Austrians, had sent a boast to him that he had gained a victory over Suchet, which was a falsehood. The only reply the marshal made to it was to fall on him with his brave columns. The Austrians were hurled back by his irresistible onset, and he returned at evening with 1500 more prisoners. Nothing shows the indomitable resolution and power of the man more than these successive assaults.
Nothing could much longer withstand such superiority of numbers; still, three days after his last victory, another assault was made on Monte Creto. Massena was opposed to this movement, for he saw that his exhausted army was not equal to storming a position so strongly defended as this. But he yielded to the urgent solicitation of his under officers; and the iron-souled Soult was allowed, at his own urgent request, to make the attempt. He ascended the slope with a firm step, and fought, as he ever had done, with a valor that threatened to overleap every obstacle, when suddenly amid the uproar of battle a thunder-cloud was seen to sweep over the mountain. The lightning mingled in with the flash of musketry, while the rapid thunder-peals rolled over the struggling hosts, presenting to the spectators a scene of indescribable sublimity. In the midst of this war of the elements and war of men, Soult fell on the field. This decided the contest, and the French were driven for the first time before the enemy. Soult, with a broken leg, was taken prisoner.
This ended the severe fighting with the enemy, and now the whole struggle was to be with famine. Bonaparte knew the distress of his general, and he wrote to Moreau to accelerate his movements on the Rhine, so that Massena could be assisted. [sic] "That general," said he in his letter to Moreau, "wants provisions. For fifteen days he has been enduring with his debilitated soldiers the struggle of despair." And, indeed, it was the struggle of despair. Napoleon was doing, but too late, what could be done. His magnificent army was hanging along the Alpine cliffs of San Bernard, while Lannes was pouring his victorious columns into the plains of Italy. But famine was advancing as fast as they. The women ran furiously through the city ringing bells and calling out for food. Loaded cannon were arranged in the streets to restrain the maddened populace, The corn was all gone—even the beans and oats had failed them. The meat was consumed, and the starving soldiers fell on their horses. These, too, were at length consumed, and then the most loathsome animals were brought out and slain for food. Massena, still unyielding and unsubdued, collected all the starch, linseed and cacao in the city, and had them made into bread, which even many of the hardy soldiers could not digest. But they submitted to their sufferings without a murmur. On its being suggested to them that their general would now surrender—"He surrender!" they exclaimed; "he would sooner make us eat our very boots." They knew the character of the chieftain who had so often led them into battle, and he held over them the sway of a great and lofty mind.
But the distress increased every day. Wan and wretched beings strolled about the streets, and, wasted with famine, fell dead beside the walls of the palaces. Emaciated women, no longer able to nourish their infants, roamed about with piteous cries, reaching out their starving offspring for help. The brave soldiers who had struggled for the past month so heroically against the foe, now went staggering through the streets faint for want of food. The sentinels could no longer stand at their posts, and were allowed to mount guard seated. The most desolate cries and lamentations loaded the midnight air; while at intervals came the thunder of cannon and the light of the blazing bomb as it hung like a messenger of death over the city. Added to all, rumors were abroad that the inhabitants were about to revolt and fall on the exhaust army. Still Massena remained unshaken. Amid the dead he moved with the same calm resolute mien that he was wont to do amid the storm of battle. He, who could stand unmoved amid the shock of armies, could also meet without fear the slow terrors of famine. His moral power was now more controlling than the command he held. He disdained to reserve any food for himself, but fared like the most common soldier. Though burdened with the cares and responsibilities that pressed him down, he ate the miserable soup and more disgusting bread of the starving soldier, sharing cheerfully with him his dangers and his sufferings. He, too, felt the power of famine on his own nature. Day by day he felt the blood course more sluggishly through his veins, and night by night he lay down gnawed by the pangs of hunger. His iron frame grew thin, and his bronze cheek emaciated, yet his brave heart beat calm and resolute as ever. The eye that never blenched even at the cannon's mouth now surveyed the distress and woe about him with the composure of one who is above the power of fate.
But now a new cause of alarm arose. The seven or eight thousand prisoners, grown desperate with famine, threatened every day to break out in open revolt. Massena had furnished them the same supplies he did his own soldiers, and sent first to the Austrian commander and then to Lord Kieth to supply them with provisions, giving his word of honor that none of them should go to the garrison. They refusing to obey his request, he was compelled, in self-defence, to shut up the miserable creatures in some old bulks of vessels which he anchored out in the port, and then directed some of his heaviest guns to be trained on them to sink them the moment the sufferers should break loose. The cries and howls of these wretched thousands struck terror to the boldest heart; and the muffled sound rising night and day over the city, drew tears of pity even from those who themselves were slowly perishing with famine.
Still Massena would not yield. A courier sent from Bonaparte had passed by night through the English fleet in an open boat, and though discovered in the morning, and pursued, had boldly leaped into the sea with his sword in his mouth, and, amid the bullets that hailed around him, swam safely to the shore. Massena thus knew that Bonaparte was on the Alps, and determined to hold out till the last. But several days had now passed, and no farther tidings were heard of him. Many of the soldiers in despair broke their arms, and others plotted a revolt. In this desperate strait Massena issued a proclamation to them, appealing to their bravery and honor, and pointing to the example of their officers enduring the same privations with themselves. He told them Bonaparte was marching towards the city, and would soon deliver them. But the weary days seemed ages, and when nearly a fortnight had passed without tidings, the last gleam of hope seemed about to expire. But suddenly one morning a heavy rumbling sound was heard rolling over the Apennines, like the dull report of distant cannon. The joy of the soldiers and populace knew no bounds. "Bonaparte is come!" ran like wild-fire through the city. "We hear his cannon towards Bochetta!" they exclaimed in transport, and rushed into each other's arms, and ran in crowds towards the ramparts to catch more distinctly the joyful sound. Massena himself hurried to the heights of Tanailles. Hope quickened his steps as the faint but heavy echo broke over the city and a gleam of joy shot over his countenance as he should be saved the mortification of a surrender. But as he stood on the ramparts and gazed off in the direction of the sound that had awakened such extravagant joy in the hearts of the besieged, he saw only the edge of a thunder-cloud on the distant horizon; and what had been taken for the thunder of Bonaparte's cannon was only the hoarse "mutterings of the storm in the gorges of the Apennines." The reaction on the soldiers and people was dreadful. Blank melancholy and utter despair settled on every face, and Massena that he must at last yield; for even of the loathsome bread on which they had been kept alive there remained only two ounces to each man, and if they subsisted any longer it must be on each other. But the indomitable veteran did not despair until even these two ounces were gone, and even then he delayed. "Give me," said lie to the Genoese, in the anguish of his great heart, "give me only two days' provisions, or one, and I will save you from the Austrian yoke, and my army the pain of a surrender." But it could not be done, and he who deserved to be crowned thrice conqueror, was compelled to treat with the enemy he had so often vanquished.
The Austrian general, knowing his desperate condition, demanded that he should surrender at discretion. Massena, in reply, told him that his army must be allowed to march out with colors flying, with all their arms and baggage, and not as prisoners of war, but liberty to fight when and where they pleased the moment they were outside the Austrian lines. "If you do not grant me this," said the iron-willed chieftain, "I will sally forth from Genoa sword in hand. With eight thousand famished men I will attack your camp, and I will fight till I cut my way through it"—and he would have done it, too. General Ott, fearing the action of such a leader the moment he should join Suchet, agreed to the terms if Massena would surrender himself prisoner of war. This the old soldier indignantly refused. It was then proposed that the troops should depart by sea, so as not to join Suchet's corps in time to render any assistance in the opening campaign of Bonaparte. To all these propositions Massena had but one reply: "Take my terms, or I will cut my way through your army." General Ott knew the character of the man he bad to deal with too well to allow things to come to such an issue, and so granted him his own terms. When leaving, Massena said to the Austrian general, "I give you notice that ere fifteen days are passed I shall be once more in Genoa"—and he was.
Thus fell Genoa, defended by one of the bravest men that ever trod a battle-field. Nine days after, the battle of Marengo was fought, and Italy was once more in the hands of France.
I have thus gone over the particulars of this siege, because it exhibits all the great traits of Massena's character. His talents as a commander are seen in the skill with which he planned his repeatedly successful attacks, and the subordination in which he kept his soldiers and the populace amid all the horrors of famine—his bravery, in the courage with which he resisted forces outnumbering his own ten to one, and the personal exposure he was compelled to make to save himself from defeat—and his invincible firmness, in the tenacity with which he fought every battle, and the calmness with which he endured the privations and horrors of famine. His fixed resolution to cut his way through the Austrian host with his famished band, rather than yield himself prisoner of war, shows the unconquerable nature he possessed. With such leaders, no wonder Bonaparte swept Europe with his victorious armies. Neither is it surprising that, five years after, we find Napoleon intrusting him with the entire command of the army in Italy, although the Archduke Charles was his antagonist. He conducted himself worthy of his former glory in this short but brilliant campaign; and after forcing the Adige at Verona, he assailed the whole Austrian lines at Caldiero. After two days' hard fighting—repeatedly charging at the head of his column, and exposing himself to the fire of the enemy like the meanest soldier—he at length, with 50,000, gained the victory over 70,000, and drove the Archduke out of Italy.
After the campaign of Eylau, in 1807, Massena returned to Paris, and appeared at court. But his blunt, stern nature could not bend to its etiquette and idle ceremonies and he grew restless and irritable. It was no place for a man like him. But this peaceful spot proved more dangerous than the field of battle; for, hunting one day with a party of officers at St. Cloud, a shot from the grand huntsman's gun pierced his left eye and destroyed it forever.1 He had gone through fifty pitched battles, stormed batteries, and walked unhurt amid the most wasting fire, and received his first wound in a hunting excursion.
In 1809, in the campaigns of Aspern and Wagram, he added to his former renown, and was one of the firm props of Napoleon's empire on those fiercely fought battle-fields. Previously to the battle of Aspern, and after that of Eckmuhl, while Bonaparte was on the march for Vienna, chasing the Archduke Charles before him, Massena had command of the advance-guard. Following hard after the retreating army of the Archduke, as he had done before in Italy, he came at length to the river Traun, at Ebersberg, or Ebersdorf, a small village on its banks, just above where it falls into the Danube. Here, for a while, an effectual stop seemed put to his victorious career, for this stream, opposite Ebersberg, was crossed by a single long, narrow wooden bridge. From shore to shore, across the sand-banks, islands, &c., it was nearly half a mile, and a single narrow causeway traversed the entire distance to the bridge, which itself was about sixty rods long. Over this half mile of narrow path the whole army was to pass, and the columns to charge; for the deep, impetuous torrent could not be forded. But a gate closed the farther end of the bridge, while the houses filled with soldiers enfiladed the entire opening, and the artillery planted on the heights over it commanded every inch of the passage. The high-rolling ground along the river was black with the masses of infantry, sustained by heavy batteries, all trained on that devoted bridge, apparently enough in themselves to tear it into fragments. To crown the whole, an old castle frowned over the stream, on whose crumbling battlements cannon were planted so as also to command the bridge. As if this were not enough to deter any man from attempting the passage, another row of heights, over which the road passed, rose behind the first, covered with pine-trees, affording a strong position for the enemy to retire to if driven from their first.
Thus defended, thirty-five thousand men, supported by eighty cannon, waited to see if the French would attempt to pass. Even the genius and boldness of Massena might have been staggered at the spectacle before him. It seemed like marching his army into the mouth of the volcano to advance on the batteries that commanded that long, narrow passage. It was not to be a sudden charge over a short causeway, but a steady march along a close defile through a perfect tempest of balls. But this was the key to Vienna, and the Marshal resolved to make the attempt—hoping that Lannes, who was to cross some distance farther up, would aid him by a movement on the enemy's flank.
The Austrians had foolishly left four battalions on the side from which the French approached. These attacked, were driven from their position, and forced along the causeway at the point of the bayonet, and on the bridge, followed by the pursuing French. But the moment the French column touched the bridge, those hitherto silent batteries opened their dreadful fire on its head. It sank like a sand-bank that caves under the torrent. To advance seemed impossible; but the heroic Cohorn, flinging himself in front, cheered them on, and they returned to the charge, driving like an impetuous torrent over the crashing timbers. Amid the confusion and chaos of the fight between these flying battalions and their pursuers, the Austrians on the shore saw the French colors flying, and fearing the irruption of the enemy with their friends, closed the gate and poured their tempest of bullets on friend and foe alike. The carnage then became awful. Smitten in front by the deadly fire of their friends, and pressed with the bayonets behind by their foes, those battalions threw selves into the torrent below, or were trampled under foot by the steadily advancing column. Amid the explosion of ammunition wagons in the midst, blowing men into the air, and the crashing fire of the enemy's cannon, the French beat down the gate and palisades and rushed with headlong speed into the streets of the village. But here, met by fresh battalions in front and riddled through by a destructive cross-fire from the houses, while the old castle burled its storm of lead on their heads, these brave soldiers were compelled to retire, leaving two thirds of their number stretched on the pavement. But Massena ordered up fresh battalions, which, marching through the tempest that swept the bridge, joined their companions, and regaining the village, stormed the castle itself. Along the narrow lanes that led to it, the dead lay in swathes, and no sooner did the mangled head of the column reach the castle walls, than it disappeared before the plunging fire from the battlements, as if it sunk into the earth. Strengthened by a new reinforcement, the dauntless French returned to the assault, and, battering down the doors, compelled the garrison to surrender. The Austrian army, however, made good their position on the pine-covered ridge behind the village, and disputed every inch with the most stubborn resolution. The French cavalry, now across, came on a furious gallop through the streets of the village, trampling on the dead and dying, and amid the flames of the burning houses, and through the smoke that rolled over their pathway, hurried forward with exulting shouts and rattling armor to the charge. Still the Austrians held out, till, threatened with a flank attack, they were compelled to retreat.
There was not a more desperate passage in the whole war than this. Massena was compelled to throw his brave soldiers, whether dead or wounded, into the stream, to clear a passage for the columns. Whole companies falling at a time, they choked up the way and increased the obstacles to be overcome. These must be sacrificed; or the whole shattered column that was maintaining their desperate position on the farther side be annihilated. It was an appalling spectacle to see the advancing soldiers, amid the most destructive fire themselves, pitch their wounded comrades, while calling out most piteously to be spared, by scores and hundreds into the torrent. Le Grand fought nobly that day. Amid the choked-up defile and the close fire of the batteries, he fiercely pressed on, and in answer to the advice of his superior officer, deigned only the stern "Room for the head of my columns—none of your advice!" and rushed up to the very walls of the castle.
The nature of the contest, and the narrow bridge and streets in which it ranged, gave to the field of battle a most horrid aspect. The dead lay in heaps and ridges piled one across the other, mangled and torn in the most dreadful manner by the hoofs of the cavalry and the wheels of the artillery which were compelled to pass over them. Twelve thousand men thus lay heaped, packed and trampled together, while across them were stretched burning rafters and timbers which wrung still more heart-rending cries and shrieks from the dying mass. Even Bonaparte, when he arrived, shuddered at the appalling sight, and turned with horror from the scene. The streets were one mass of mangled, bleeding, trampled men, overlaid with burning ruins. Napoleon blamed Massena for this act, saying he should have waited for the flank movement of Lannes; but I suspect this was done simply as a salvo to his own conscience as he looked at the spectacle before him.- If Massena had not made the attempt, he would, undoubtedly, have been blamed still more.
This opened Vienna to the French army, and eighteen days after, the battle of Aspern was fought. I have already, when speaking of Marshal Lannes, described that engagement. It will be seen by referring to that description that Massena and Lannes were the two heroes of that disastrous battle. They occupied the two villages of Aspern and Essling, which formed the two extremities of the French lines. At the commencement of the fight, Massena's position was in the cemetery of Aspern. Here he stood under the trees that overshadowed the church, and directed the defence. Calm and collected as he ever was in the heat of the conflict, he surveyed without alarm the dangers that environed him. The onset of the Austrian battalions was tremendous, as they came on with shouts that rang over the roar of cannon. But Massena calmly stood, and watching every assailed point, supported it in the moment of need, while the huge branches above his head were constantly rending with the storm of cannon balls that swept through them, and the steeple and roof of the church rattled with the hail-storm of bullets that the close batteries hurled upon them. The conflict, became murderous, but never did he exhibit greater courage or more heroic firmness. He was everywhere present, steadying his men by his calm, stern voice, and reckless exposure of his person, and again and again wringing victory out of the very grasp of the enemy. Thus, hour after hour, he fought, until night closed over the scene—and then, by the light of blazing bombs and burning houses, and flash of Austrian batteries, he continued the contest with the determination of one who would not be beat. When an advancing column recoiled before the close and fatal fire to which it was exposed, he would rush to its head, and crying "Forward!" to his men, carry them into the very jaws of death. In the midst of one of these desperate charges, every one of his guard fell by his side dead or wounded, and he stood all amid the storm that wasted so fearfully around him; yet, strange to say, he was not even wounded.
But at length, after the most superhuman efforts, he was forced from the village amid the victorious shouts of the Austrians. But he would not be driven off, and returned to the attack with unbroken courage, and succeeded in wringing some of the houses from the victors, which he retained through the night. The next morning, being always ready to fight a lost battle over again he made a desperate assault on Aspern, and carried it. Again he stood in the churchyard where he so calmly commenced the battle ; but it was now literally loaded with the dead, which outnumbered those above whose tombs they lay. But after the most heroic defence he was again driven out, and the repulse of Lannes' column on the centre, soon after, completed the disaster.
In the disastrous retreat of the French army across the Danube in the midst of the battle, Massena exhibited his unconquerable tenacity of will, and disputed every inch of ground as if his life were there. When the victorious Austrians pressed upon the ranks, crowded on the banks of the river, he and Lannes, as before remarked, alone prevented an utter rout. They fought side by side with a heroism that astonished even Napoleon. Lannes fell, but this only increased Massena's almost superhuman exertions to save the army. Now on horseback, while the artillery swept down everything around him, and now on foot to steady the shaking ranks or head a desperate charge, he multiplied with the dangers that encompassed him. He acted as if he bore a charmed life, and rode and charged through the tempest of balls with a daring that filled the soldiers with astonishment, and animated them with tenfold courage. His eye burned like fire, and his countenance, lit up by the terrible excitement that mastered him, gave him the most heroic appearance as he stormed through the battle. No wonder that Bonaparte, as he leaned on his shoulder afterwards, exclaimed, "Behold my right arm!" For the assistance he rendered in this engagement he received the title of "Prince of Essling."
Massena was with Bonaparte while he lay cooped up in the island of Lobau waiting for reinforcements, so that he could retrieve his heavy losses. Here again he was the victim of an accident that well nigh deprived him of life. Though he had moved unharmed amid so many conflicts, and bore a charmed life when death was abroad on the battle-field mowing down men by thousands, and exposed his person with a recklessness that seemed downright madness, with perfect impunity; yet here, while superintending some works on the Danube, his horse stumbling, he fell to the ground, and was so injured that he was unable for a long time to sit on horseback. There seems a fatality about some men. Massena had more than once fallen from his dying steed in the headlong fight, and moved in front of his column into a perfect storm of musketry without receiving a scratch; and yet in a peaceful hunt, where there was no apparent danger, he lost an eye, and, riding leisurely along the shores of the Danube, was well nigh killed by a fall from his horse. But this last accident did not keep him out of battle. He was too important a leader to be missed from the field. Lannes was gone, and to lose two such men was like losing thirty thousand soldiers.
At the battle of Wagram, which took place soon after, he went into the field at the head of his corps in a calash. Being still an invalid, one of the surgeons belonging to the medical staff accompanied him, as he did in several other battles. It is said that Massena was exceedingly amused by the agitation the timorous doctor exhibited the moment the carriage came within range of the enemy's batteries. He would start at every explosion of the artillery, and then address some remark to the old marshal, as much as to say, "You see I am not frightened at all;" and again, as a cannon ball went whizzing by, or plowed up the ground near the wheels, would grow pale, and turn and twist in the greatest alarm, asking of the probability and chances of being hit. The old veteran enjoyed his distress exceedingly, and would laugh and joke at his fears in great delight. But when the storm grew thick, and the battle hot, his face would take its stern aspect, and, forgetful of the poor doctor by his side, he would drive hither and thither amid the falling ranks, giving his orders in a tone that startled this son of Esculapius almost as much as the explosion of cannon.
On the second day of the fight at Wagram, Massena's troops, after having carried the village of Aderklaa, were repulsed by a terrible discharge of grape shot and musketry, and a charge of Austrian cavalry. This being followed up by an onset from the Archduke Charles himself with his grenadiers, they fell back in confusion on the German soldiers, who, also breaking and fleeing, overturned Massena in his carriage. He was so enraged at the panic of his soldiers, that he ordered the dragoons about his person to charge them as enemies. But it seemed impossible to arrest the disorder. Spreading every moment, this part of the field appeared about to be lost. Massena, unable to mount his horse or head his columns, chafed like a lion in the toils. Disdaining to fly, he strove with his wonted bravery to rally his fugitive army. It was all in vain, and the disabled veteran was left almost alone in his chariot in the midst of the plain. Bonaparte, in the distance, saw the distress of his marshal, and came on a swift gallop over the field, pressed hard after by his brave cuirassiers and the horse artillery of the guard, which made the plain smoke and tremble in their passage. Reining up his steed beside Massena's carriage, he dismounted, and springing into the seat beside him, began to discourse, in his rapid way, of his plans. With his finger pointing now towards the steeples of Wagram, and now towards the tower of Neusiedel, he explained in a few seconds the grand movement he was about to make. Remounting his milk-white charger he restored order by his presence and personal exposure, so that the designed movements were successfully made.
Massena commanded the advance guard after this battle, and pursued the Archduke to Znaym, where the Austrians made a stand. The position was an admirable one for defence, and there was evidently to be a hard struggle before it could be carried. But Massena advanced boldly to the assault. After various successes and defeats amid the most dreadful carnage, enraged at the obstinacy of the resistance and the frequent recoil of his own troops, he declared his resolution, disabled as he was, to mount on horseback and charge at the head of his troops in person. His staff strove in vain to prevent him. With a single glance at his recoiling columns, he leaped from his carriage and sprung to his saddle, but his feet had scarcely touched the earth, before a cannon ball crushed through the centre of the vehicle, tearing it into fragments. If he had remained a moment longer he would have been killed instantaneously. Fate seemed to have a peculiar watch over him in battle, leaving him quite at the mercy of the most ordinary chance when out of it.
His conduct of the invasion of Portugal was a master-piece of generalship. With a force of between seventy and eighty thousand men, he was directed to drive Wellington out of the kingdom. Probably, Massena in no part of his military career, exhibited the qualities of a great commander so strikingly as in this campaign. Resistless in a charge—firm as a rock in the hour of disaster—possessed with a power of endurance seldom equaled by any man—he here demonstrated also his great abilities when left alone to plan and execute a protracted war.
It would be uninteresting to go over the details of this memorable pursuit and retreat. From the first of June to the middle of October, he chased Wellington through Portugal, and for four months and a half crowded the ablest general of England backwards until he came to the lines of the Torres Vedras. The English had been engaged on these lines for a year, and they now rose before Massena, an impregnable barrier from which the tide of success must at last recoil. This monument of human skill and enterprise consisted of three lines of intrenchments—one within another—extending for nearly thirty miles. On these lines were a hundred and fifty redoubts and six hundred mounted cannon. This impregnable defence received Wellington and his exhausted army into its bosom, and Massena saw his foe retire from his grasp, and take up his position where his utmost exertions to dislodge him must prove abortive. To add to the security of Wellington, he here received reinforcements that swelled his army to a hundred and thirty thousand men, or more than double that of the French Marshal. To march his weary and diminished troops on these stupendous fortifications, defended by such a host, Massena saw would be utter madness. His experienced eye could sometimes see the way to success through the most overwhelming obstacles, but here there was none.
Besides the defences which here protected Wellington, there were twenty British ships of the line, and a hundred transports ready to receive the army if forced to retire. Unwilling to retreat, Massena sat down before the Torres Vedras, hoping first to draw Wellington forth with his superior force to a pitched battle in the open field. But the British commander was too wary to do this, and chose rather to provoke an assault on his intrenchments, or starve his enemy into a retreat. Massena sent off to the emperor for instructions, and then began to look about for means to provision his army. For a month the scenes of Genoa were acted over again. The army was reduced to starvation, but still he, with his wonted tenacity, refused to retreat. Wellington, in speaking of the position of the French at this time, declared that Massena provisioned his 60,000 men and 20,000 horses for two months where he could not have maintained a single division of English soldiers.
But at length, driven to the last extremity, and seeing that he must either commence a retreat at once, or his famine-stricken army would be too weak to march, he broke up his position, and began slowly to retrace his victorious steps. Arranging his troops into a compact mass, he covered it with a rear-guard under the command of Ney, and without confusion or disorder, deliberately retired from the Torres Vedras. Wellington immediately commenced the pursuit, and hovered like a destroying angel on his flight. But it was here that the extraordinary abilities of Massena shone forth in their greatest splendor, and this retreat will ever stand as a model in military history. He showed no haste or perturbation in his movements, but retired in such order and with such skill, that Wellington found it impossible to assail him with success. Taking advantage of every position offered by the country, the French Marshal would make a stand till the main body of the army and the military wagons passed on, then slowly, and in perfect order, fall back, still presenting the same adamantine wall to the foe.
Thus for more than four months in the dead of winter—from the middle of November to the first of May—did Massena slowly retreat towards the frontier of Portugal. At Almeida he made a stand, and the two armies prepared for battle. Wellington was posted along the heights opposite the town. The French commenced the assault, and fell with such vehemence on the British that they were driven from their position in the village of Fuentes d'Onoro. A counter-charge by the e English retrieved a part of the village, and night closed the conflict. Early next morning Massena again commenced the attack, and in a short time the battle became general. So severely was Wellington handled, he was compelled to abandon his position and take up another on a row of heights in rear of the first. In his retreat he had to cross a plateau four miles in breadth which was perfectly curtained in with French cavalry. Making his left wing a pivot, he swung his entire right in admirable order across the plain to the heights he wished to occupy. None but English infantry could have performed this perilous movement. Formed into squares, they moved steadily forward while the artillery of Ney wag thundering in their rear, and his strong columns rolling in an unbroken torrent against them. Those brave squares would at times be lost to view in the cloud of the enemy that enveloped them, and then emerge from the disorder and smoke of battle, without a formation broken, steadily executing the required movement on which the contest hung. Had they given way, Wellington would have been lost.
It was during this day that three regiments of English soldiers met the Imperial Guard in full shock, and both disdaining to yield, for the first time during the war, bayonets crossed, and the forest of steel of those two formidable masses of infantry lay levelled against each others' bosoms. The onset was made by the British, and so terrible was the shock that many of the steadfast Guard were lifted from the ground, and sent, as if hurled from a catapult, into the air. The clatter of the crossing steel and the intermingling in such wild conflict of two such bodies of men, is described as having been terrible in the extreme.
At night the English were forced back from all their positions; but the new stand Wellington had made was too formidable to be assailed, and after remaining three days before it, Massena again commenced his retreat. This ended the pursuit, and the latter fell back to Salamanca, having lost since his invasion of Portugal more than a third of his army.
The cruelties practiced during this retreat have given rise to severe accusations on the part of the British. But it remains to be shown, before they can be made good, that these were not necessary both to save himself and to harass the enemy. All war is cruel; and the desolation and barrenness that followed in the track of the French army, wasting the inhabitants with famine, were a powerful check on Wellington in his pursuit. The sympathy of the inhabitants with the English doubtless made Massena less careful of their wants and sufferings; but his barbarity has been greatly exaggerated by Walter Scott and other English historians. The track of a retreating and starving army must always be covered with woe; and one might as well complain of the cruelty of a besieging force, because the innocent women and children of the invested town die by thousands with hunger.
In 1816 the old marshal was accused in the Chamber of Deputies of plotting a conspiracy to bring back Napoleon. He indignantly and successfully repelled the charge, but the blow it gave his feelings hastened, it is thought, his death; and he died the next year at age of fifty-nine.
Massena had two sons and one daughter. The daughter married his favorite aid-de-camp, Count Reille. The eldest son having died, the second succeeded to the the father's estates and titles.