BATTLE OF SALAMANCA.
Having succeeded in concentrating his scattered forces, he finally, after two months more skirmishing and retreating, resumed the offensive, and determined to open his communication with King Joseph, which had been cut off by Wellington. The former was marching up to his relief, and if the two armies could effect a junction, the English general was lost, and he strained every effort to prevent it. Then commenced a series of marches, manœuvres, and military evolutions, seldom, if ever, surpassed by any army. If Marmont's genius, or even good judgment, had been equal to his military science, statues to the Duke of Wellington would not have filled, as now, the public squares and edifices of England.
The French Marshal had taken the bold resolution to pass the Duero, and advance to the Guarena, and thus not only open his communication with Joseph, but outflank Wellington. To effect this he made several deceptive movements to bewilder the allies, and on the 16th and 17th of July began his march. Ascending the river, he crossed it in safety, and on the 17th, concentrated his army at Navadel,—having marched some of his divisions forty and forty-five miles without halting to rest. At day break he was on the Trabancos, over which he had driven the English cavalry posts; and immediately made preparations to cross. The British troops under Colton, stationed here, endeavored to dispute the passage, and a most singular scene presented itself. A heavy fog lay along the river, which concealed the French army from view, and Colton, seeing nothing but horsemen there, advanced to the shore with his cavalry. The artillery, however, opening, followed by, the rattle of musketry, he ordered up a regiment to support the horse. The conflict now became warm, and before the heavy explosions of the cannon in the bosom of the fog, the upper lighter portions sprung skyward in spiral columns, which, as they reached the rising sun, turned gold and red in its beams, while through the dark, dense stratum below, were seen the black masses of cavalry, plunging about in the gloom, now appearing, and now lost to the eye—mere phantoms careering through the mist. A hill across the river showed dimly through the fog, covered with French infantry, that seemed as they marched down to battle to crumble off and slide noiselessly away. The English infantry stood and watched this strange spectacle, when suddenly, a single cavalry officer was seen to emerge on foot from the edge of the mist, and stalk towards them. He seemed to press a bloody handkerchief to his breast, as he strode firmly on. But that red spot was a ghastly wound—a cannon ball had torn away his breast, and his beating heart lay exposed to view.*
From daylight till seven o'clock the combat raged, when Wellington came hastily up, and began to examine the movements of Marmont. Just then a body of French horsemen came galloping across the valley, and rode straight up the hill on which Colton's left wing was posted, and with unparalleled audacity drove back a whole line of English cavalry. The English reserve were brought up, and these brave fellows were rode under and hewn down without mercy. Still forty horsemen swept boldly up and onward, and dipped over the further edge of the hill right in the midst of the enemy's lines. At the bottom of the hill were a body of infantry, and part way up, a whole squadron of cavalry in order of battle. The bold officer at the head of these forty horsemen suddenly reined up his steed at this sudden apparition, and his followers gathered hastily around him. His destruction seemed inevitable, for the British were already rushing to the charge. But the next moment those reckless riders wheeled, and with a shout, rushed in a tearing gallop on the advancing squadron, and driving it back over its own guns, rolled it down the slope carrying away the Duke of Wellington and all to the bottom. Here the mad irruption was stayed by another squadron of heavy dragoons, and the little band that made it, cut to pieces. The officer that led them on, however, escaped almost by a miracle. Surrounded by three troopers, he stretched one on the earth, then putting spurs to his noble steed fled back towards the French lines. For a quarter of a mile the two pursuing horsemen galloped side by side with him, hewing and hacking away at him with their swords, yet by his extraordinary strength and skill he escaped in safety.
At length Wellington began to retreat towards the Guarena, whither Marmont was already marching. The great struggle now was to see which should reach the Guarena first, and there prepare for battle. Then occurred a spectacle seldom witnessed in war. The two armies, in beautiful order, began to stretch forward. It was a hot July noon—the air was close and oppressive, rendered still more so by the clouds of dust kicked up by the cavalry and artillery as they thundered along. But in close array, and in splendid order, the panting soldiers pressed after their leaders; and the two armies, only a few rods apart, strained every nerve to out-match each other. The long black columns streamed forward, and the two hostile hosts, side by side within hailing distance of each other, did not fire a single shot, and to a careless spectator seemed but one army executing some grand manœuvre on a day of parade. A few cannon balls crushing through the ranks, from some of the heights, alone told they were foes. Under a broiling sun, covered with clouds of dust, they thus marched for ten miles side by side; while the officers, wrought up to the highest excitement, were seen pointing with their swords forward, hurrying on the columns, already moving in double quick time to the rapid beat of the drum—pausing now and then only to touch their chapeaus to each other in courtesy across the narrow space that intervened. The heavy German cavalry went thundering along this narrow lane as if on purpose to keep peace between the hostile ranks; and thus together they swept over the rolling country, and at night reached the Guarena. After some fighting, darkness closed over the armies, and the tired warriors slept.
Marmont had marched his army for two days and nights without cessation, and hence next morning was in no condition to fight, while Wellington was equally averse to a battle. The day wore away with a few skirmishes, and Marmont, who had fairly outmanœuvred the English general, instead of giving battle, rested till the following morning, then began to march up the Guarena to outflank more perfectly his enemy and open his communication with, his reinforcements, now rapidly coming up. Wellington, perceiving his design, immediately put his army in motion also to prevent it; and here the strange scene of two days before, was enacted over again on a grander scale. Only a narrow stream divided the two armies as on two parallel ridges they marched rapidly up the river. He who reached Contalpino first would win this battle of manœuvres. Forty-five thousand men on either side, massed together, moved all day in order of battle, within musket-shot of each other—the opposing officers waving their swords in recognition across the narrow interval as they strained every nerve to push the mighty columns onward, whose heavy, measured tread shook the banks of the stream. The long lines of bayonets flashed in the sun-light, while now and then, as the ground favored, the cannon opened on either side, and the English cavalry marched threateningly between, waiting for some disorder or unskilful movement in the French ranks to dash in and impede their march. But Marmont did not make a single mistake, and his forty-five thousand men moved in one solid wall beside the enemy, presenting the same beautiful array and the same resistless barrier of steel. You could almost hear the panting of the tired hosts as they strained forward like racers on the course; but towards evening, it was plain that Marmont had outmanœuvred and outmarched the English general; and at night Wellington halted his troops with the painful conviction that he was fairly outflanked, and unless some unexpected good fortune turned up, must commence his retreat. Marmont, in these few days, had restored all that he had lost, and had exhibited a skill and ability in manœuvring an army unsurpassed by any general of his time. He had regained the offensive, and unless he committed some unpardonable blunder, could drive Wellington before him in confusion. His hitherto dilatory and unskilful management of the war seemed about to be forgotten—obliterated in a glorious victory. The communication with King Joseph was open—the reinforcements were already coming up, and all was bright and cheering.
But at this crisis he overturned all his hopes, and by one of those rash and inconsiderate movements ruined his army and deeply tarnished his fame. The two armies occupied opposite heights, with a deep basin between. This basin was a mile broad and two miles long, and Marmont, who was in a splendid position, having steadily outmanœuvred Wellington, had nothing to do but wait for the reinforcements to arrive, and then fall on him like a thunderbolt. But, knowing if he delayed the attack till the junction of the forces under Joseph and Jourdan be should be superseded in his command, and the glory of the victory be taken from him, and having become over-confident, from his great success for the last few days, and a little too contemptuous of his adversary's skill, he executed a manœuvre that was as rash and unmilitary as it well could be. Seeing that the English were about to fall back, and wishing to strike the blow before the arrival of the king, he determined to cut off their retreat, and force Wellington into a battle. As I remarked, the two armies occupied opposite heights—Marmont on the east, and Wellington on the west, with a valley two miles long between. The French Marshal, about three o'clock on the 22d, sent forward his left wing, to threaten the road to Ciudad Rodrigo, along which he expected the allies to retreat. This wing pressing on too rapidly, gradually became entirely separated from the centre. When the report of this movement was brought to Wellington, he could hardly believe it. It did not seem possible that a general, who had exhibited such striking ability for the last few days, could commit a blunder that would be unpardonable in the most ordinary general. Hastening up to the higher ground, however, he beheld with inexpressible delight that it was true, for there, in the basin below, was the left wing of the enemy marching forward in beautiful order to cut off his retreat, while a huge chasm appeared between it and the centre of the army. As he took the glass from his eye he exclaimed, "At last I have them—Marmont is lost!" His resolution was immediately taken, and orders flew like lightning to different portions of the army. The dark and hitherto motionless masses that covered the heights began to move, as if suddenly penetrated by some invisible agency, and the next moment they came rolling rapidly down the slope into the basin, and, moving through a hurricane of bullets, crossed the line of the enemy's march. Marmont, from the summit of the heights on which he rested, saw at once the whole valley filled with the English columns, and the battle thrown upon him in the midst of a difficult evolution, and while his army was separated by a wide interval. He, however, strove gallantly to recover his advantage. He despatched officer after officer in haste, ordering the left wing to fall back on the centre, and the centre to close up to the menaced wing, but before his commands could be executed, the scarlet uniforms of the English troops were seen moving like one broad wave on the dark masses of the French infantry. Amid the rolling fire of musketry, and heavy crash of artillery, the British bayonets steadily advanced, and Marmont saw that his hour had come. Hastening forward to the point of greatest danger, a shell stretched him on the ground with a broken arm and two deep wounds in his side.
This completed the disaster, for the French army, in its most critical state, was deprived of its head. But for his fall, the issue of the battle, desperate as it appeared, might have been different, for the bravery of the French troops seemed to overbalance all advantages. As it was, Clauzel, on whom the command devolved, did restore the fight. He succeeded in bringing the left wing and the centre together, and put forth almost superhuman exertions to stem the tide that was setting so heavily against him, and bore up in the storm with a heroism and constancy that filled his foes with surprise and admiration. Notwithstanding the odds he was compelled to struggle against, he still hoped to redeem the day, but nature herself helped to baffle his efforts, for the sun, now stooping to the western horizon, sent his flashing beams full in the eyes of a part of his troops, distracting their aim, while a brisk west wind, just then arising, carried the dust, which the cavalry and infantry trampling over the loose soil, stirred up, full in the soldiers' faces. Still, he kept pouring his brave columns in such stern, and fierce valor on the foe, that for awhile he steadily gained ground. Sixty thousand men were packed into that basin, on whose dark masses the artillery from the heights played with pitiless fury, while clouds of dust, mingling with the smoke of battle, rolled over them as they struggled in the embrace of death. The wounded Marmont heard the uproar, but his brave heart sunk in despair as he remembered how the battle stood when he fell.
Still, Clauzel did well nigh save him from defeat. As the sun sunk behind the western heights, be was driven back through the basin, but making a gallant effort at the base of the hill he arrested the onward movement of the enemy, and, following up his success, rolled the victorious columns back through the valley, and victory once more quivered in the balance. As twilight deepened over the bloody field, he had driven Wellington so hard that a crisis arrived when every thing rested on the reserves. The general who could bring the greatest number to the conflict would win the day. Fortune again favored the English commander, and the heroic Clauzel, with his thinned and wasted ranks, retreated into the forest beyond the heights, and the battle was done. That basin was piled with the slain, and trampled into dust which lay sifted over the wounded and dead thousands that had fallen there. Groans and shrieks loaded the night air, and Marmont, faint and wounded, was borne through the darkness, suffering more from the wound in his heart than from the one his mangled body exhibited.
The army was routed, and the report of this sad defeat reached Napoleon just before the battle of Borodino. Fabvier, one of Marmont's aid-de-camps, brought the news; and a few days after, as if to retrieve the disgrace that had befallen the army in Spain, fought on foot at the head of the sharp-shooters, and fell wounded in a most obstinate fight of the regiment he was in, as it sustained for a while the shock of the whole Russian army.
Marmont had conducted the whole forepart of the campaign badly. Discontented and listless, he evinced no energy, and brought himself and his army to the verge of ruin. Rousing himself, however, at last, he had executed one of the most brilliant manœuvres the history of the war could exhibit, and having outflanked the enemy, had got him in his power. But in the very midst of his good fortune he showed himself unworthy of it, and lost his advantage by a rash and foolish movement. Bonaparte was filled with indignation at the management of his Marshal, In his letter to the minister of war, directing an examination to be made of this affair he declared that Marmont's dispatch to him, explaining his defeat, had more trash and complication in it than a clock. He ordered him to demand of the Duke of Ragusa why he had delivered battle without orders from the king—why he had not followed out the general plan of She campaign—why he had taken the offensive, when sixteen or seventeen thousand men were in two days' march to reinforce him. In conclusion, he declared that he was forced to think that he had sacrificed to vanity, the glory of his country and the good of the common cause. Still, remembering his old friendship, he, in the height of his just wrath, ordered all these questions to be delayed, till Marmont had entirely recovered from his wounds.
Hearing afterwards that it was possible he was not aware of the near approach of reinforcements, he poured his complaints and recriminations on his inefficient brother, for not coming up to the Marshal's help sooner. The truth is, the whole war was managed miserably, and it could not well be otherwise with Joseph at the head of affairs.
Marmont said afterwards, that he would willingly have received a mortal blow at the close of the combat, could he only have retained the faculty of command at that trying moment when the shock of the armies took place. His wound was so severe, that it was necessary to amputate his arm, and he did not recover sufficiently to resume his command, till after the expedition to Russia, when he again fought bravely at Lutzen, Bautzen; Dresden, and Leipsic. Napoleon retained no ill will against his marshal, and restored him to favor and confidence the moment his wound was healed—an act of generosity and kindness, that must, at this day, be like a sting in the memory of the latter.
But he well nigh recovered his fame, in the last struggle of Napoleon for his throne. At Bautzen he attacked the centre of the allied army with resistless fury—at Dresden, he was also stationed in the centre, beside the Emperor, and at Leipsic, fought beside Ney, worthy of his former renown. Five times did the overwhelming enemy break into the village of Schoenbrun, in which he was stationed, and five times did he fiercely hurl them back; and it was not till reinforcements were brought up that he at length gave way. An aid-de-camp was shot by his side, and he himself was wounded in his remaining hand. He fought beside Napoleon, in his mighty efforts to roll back the armies of Europe from his capital, and at Brienne, Champ Aubert, Vauxchamps, Montmirail, &c., exhibited energy and heroism that received his highest commendation.
But at Laon he was utterly routed. Bonaparte had his army drawn up in order of battle before that of Blucher, but delayed his attack till the arrival of Marmont from Rheims. The eighth of March saw a sublime spectacle around Laon, as the two armies moved in the plain, and the long lines of fire from the advancing or retiring infantry, and the deep black columns moving to the charge to the music of cannon, met the eye on every side, and were lost in the distance.
The next day word reached Napoleon that Marmont was rapidly approaching, and he immediately recommenced the attack. He fought, however, merely to gain time, for his force was too inferior to hazard a general battle, until reinforcements came up. But that night, as this Marshal, with his troops, worn down with fatigue, were reposing in their cold bivouacs, dreaming of no danger, Prince William, who had been despatched by Blucher for that purpose, fell suddenly upon him with his Prussians. So unexpected was the onset, that at the first fire the soldiers fled in every direction, and the whole corps was dispersed through the darkness, and became a cloud of fugitives, whom no effort could rally.
Afterwards, when left alone with Mortier, to arrest the tide that was setting on Paris, he disputed the soil of his country with heroic courage. And at last, when driven into the capital, he continued to struggle on, as if he were determined to wipe out every error of his life by his noble self-devotion to France. Foremost in the lines, he exposed himself like the meanest soldier, and cheered on his men against the most overwhelming numbers. The world looked with admiration on his conduct, and Napoleon stood ready to cover him with honor, and France to load him with blessings. But he shamefully capitulated, and let the infamous coalition, which had struggled so long to crush his country, triumph by marching its armies into the capital.
English historians, and the enemies of Napoleon, never condemn Marmont for his conduct, in surrendering Paris, but rather praise him, declaring he fought as long as he could, and that farther resistance would have been madness. No doubt he was advised to this course by the influential men of the city. Lafitte, the great financier, among others, used his utmost endeavors to prevent an assault on the place, and well he might. The loss of property would have been immense, to say nothing of the dreadful carnage that would ensue; and Marmont was persuaded to capitulate. But he should have learned his duty from Massena in Genoa, St. Cyr in Dresden, and Davoust in Hamburg, and fought as long as one gleam of hope remained. Had Bonaparte not been near, or had he been ignorant of the state of affairs, then he might have been excusable, and his prudence proper; but he knew the only man who had a right to deed away the throne was marching rapidly up. He had received orders from the Emperor, who had promised to be in the city by the second of April with seventy thousand men, to hold out to the last. Aware of his proximity, and conscious that he alone could save France, he transgressed his commands, and exercised a power, which, under the circumstances, he did not rightly possess.
Napoleon was within a few hours' ride of the city when it was surrendered, and could not at first believe the reports that were brought him of its fall. His great heart broke under the blow.
Marmont was inexcusable, for he had seen enough of that mighty wizard's working to know that his presence in the capital would entirely change the state of affairs—Paris would have thronged around him—the very canaille would have gathered in a countless array about his standard. Hope would have taken the place of despair, and to every blow been given tenfold power. Besides, the very fact that he was with the army would have made the allies circumspect and careful. He knew the ground around Paris better than he did the rooms of his palace, and the amazing resources of his mind would have found means to check the enemy till his advancing troops should arrive, as they did at Dresden, and then he would have rolled the allied thousands back on the Rhine. But no, Marmont took on himself the responsibility of settling the whole matter—not only the safety of the capital, and the extent of the dominions of France—but to barter away the throne of Napoleon, when he himself would be there in a few hours, to do it for himself, if necessary. He doubtless thought he was doing a very generous deed, when he stipulated for the life and liberty of the Emperor. No wonder the indignant heart of the latter spurned him as a traitor, and when Marmont remembers the kindness of Napoleon to him, after his folly had ruined the French cause in Spain, his heart must be filled with remorse at his base surrender.
Napoleon never forgave him, and he always spoke of him afterwards with the greatest bitterness. To have a general on whom he had lavished honors take upon himself to dispose of France, his crown, and throne, was a wrong almost as great as deliberate treason. Said he afterwards at St. Helena, "Marmont will be an object of horror to posterity. As long as France exists, the name of Marmont will not be mentioned without shuddering. He feels it, and is at this moment probably the most miserable man in existence. He cannot forgive himself, and will yet terminate his life. like Judas."
No wonder on the accession of Louis XVIII. he was made Peer of France and captain of the body guard. He could be trusted to defend a monarch for whose welfare he had betrayed his benefactor and his country.
When Bonaparte returned from Elba, he proclaimed Marmont a traitor. The marshal, truer to his last than to his first benefactor, commanded the army that conducted the King from Paris to Ghent. Finding, however, there was treachery among some one of his staff, and not knowing who was the guilty one, he determined to write all his secret orders himself. But his right arm was gone and his left hand writing was so illegible, that nobody but himself could read it. The Duke of Montmartre, who commanded the rear guard, could not make out the despatches that directed his march, though he spent the whole night over them, and was consequently left to his own conjectures, and the two portions of the army no longer acting in unison, he and his rear guard were taken prisoners.
During the short reign of Napoleon, Marmont remained at Aix-la-Chapelle, to whose waters he had repaired, ostensibly for his health. At the second restoration, he resumed his former rank and titles. Ten years after, he was sent to quell an insurrection in Lyons, after which he devoted himself principally to agricultural pursuits in his native province, till 1826, when he was sent as ambassador to the coronation of Nicholas at Moscow. In 1830 he was appointed by Charles X. over the troops of Paris. On the memorable 25th of July, when the imbecile King, utterly unable to learn wisdom from past events, issued his two tyrannical decrees—one abolishing the liberty of the press, and the other annulling the election of the deputies, he relied on Marmont to quell the violence he expected would follow.
He took the command on the 27th, and succeeded in quelling the disorders; but, early next morning, the populace was again abroad, and armed. In attempting to disperse them a fierce battle ensued, and Marmont fired on his countrymen. The revolution was now fairly commenced, and the poor marshal was in a painful dilemma. To sustain the king he must fight it out, and strew the streets of Paris with its dead citizens, and thus become forever obnoxious to his countrymen. Besides, the people had become so thoroughly aroused that it was doubtful whether they would not conquer—then, woe to his fame!
The Hotel de Ville was first attacked and taken, but the troops stormed and retook it. Again, however, did the brave citizens rush to the assault with loud shouts, and though its walls and passage-ways were drenched in blood, again wrench it from the soldiers and hold it against every assault. The Tuillieries and Louvre were the next objects of attack. The Louvre, though deemed impregnable, was carried through the panic of the Swiss Guards, and Marmont, in attempting to rally his men, came near being killed, and fought worthy of a better cause, under the clock pavillion of the Louvre; but the people were every where triumphant. The students of the Polytechnic school rushed on the guns and the bayonets of the infantry, with the coolness of veterans, and women became heroes. During these three terrible days he acted like a fool or one demented. Now, beseeching the king to retreat with the insurgents, and now opening his cannon on them—he neither saved his monarch nor his reputation, and finally was compelled to depart with the dethroned king to England, consoled with the reflection that he had scattered the bodies of more than five thousand of his countrymen over the pavements of Paris, to carry out an unjust and tyrannical act. It is nonsense to talk of his duty as a soldier. It was not a lawless mob he was called to quell, but the people of France, who had risen against a lawless monarch, and he knew it. It was a struggle for law, not against it, and Marmont, who had passed through one revolution, and been a warm advocate of republican principles, should have seen his remaining arm chopped from his body before he would have any thing to do with such a piece of villany.
On his way to England he seems to have awakened from his delusion, and deprecated, though too late, his unenviable position. In a letter to a friend, dated the 6th of August, he says, "Have you ever seen any thing like it? to fight against our fellow citizens in spite of us. Is there any thing wanting to make me completely miserable? And the future!—what unjust opinions will be had of me! My only refuge is my conscience. I accompany the king to Cherbourg; when he is in safety my mission will end. I shall leave France, and wait to see what the future has in store for me." His conscience must be a singular thing to furnish refuge in such a case as this. To uphold a villanous king in violating the sacred rights guarantied to the people, he shoots down several thousands of citizens, and then takes refuge in his conscience.
But Marmont was not a cold-blooded, selfish man. He seemed to have a mental weakness that came on him like a spasm, and just at the time when there was no occasion for it. Thus, in Spain, be exhibited great military skill, and a clear, sound head in his manœuvres with Wellington before the battle of Salamanca, and till he had acquired all the advantage, and then he showed the imbecility of a weak mind. So at Paris, circumstances had placed him where he could cover himself with glory, and he fought like one who appreciated his position and felt his responsibility, but after he had gone through a part of the trial honorably, he tipped over the whole structure he was rearing, and lost instead of gained by the power he held.
He lost his head in the same way during the revolution of 1830, and he has ever been his own worst enemy. He was a brilliant man, but not a safe one. Unequal in his feelings, he was also unequal in his actions. He seemed capable of reaching a certain limit in an emergency, but not of staying there and struggling a single moment; and went back as fast as he went forward. A brave and a good general he was, not a great one. He lacked strength of mind, and that breadth of character and fixedness of will which belong to a strong man. In action, he was heroic and fearless, but he had not that reserve power to fall back upon in moments of despair, when fate seemed resolved to push her victim to the last extremity.
Ever since the unfortunate part he took in the last revolution, he has been a voluntary exile from France, and it is doubtful whether he will ever venture to show himself in the streets of Paris. He has passed part of his time in Transylvania, and a part in Constantinople, and now, though seventy-two years of age, wanders over the world like a spirit that cannot rest, afraid to set foot on his native soil. His noble deeds are all obscured, his early glory dimmed, and the name that might have gone down to posterity with a halo of light about it, has a spot upon it which no time nor change can wipe away.
Napoleon's prophecy has proved true, and Marmont's name is abhorred in France.