BATTLE OF BAUTZEN.
The allies, a hundred and fifty or sixty thousand strong, were drawn up in a semi-circle, on the heights of the Bohemian Mountains, their lines stretching six miles across the country. Before them, in the valley, was the river Spree, with several villages along its banks. The plain on every side was thickly studded with conical hills, whose tops were black with cannon; while those villages were so many forts, from which, when necessary, the troops could retire to the semi-circular heights where the main army was posted.
At nine o'clock on the morning of the 20th of May, Napoleon stood on a commanding eminence which overlooked the entire battlefield, and issued his orders. Nothing could exceed the excitement and magnificence of the scene that met his gaze. As far as the eye could reach was one mass of moving men—at first confused and commingled, but gradually assuming shape and regularity as the columns of infantry, the squadrons of cavalry, and the artillery fell into their appropriate places, and advanced steadily and firmly toward the Spree. The long, black lines of the columns, with the tens of thousands of bayonets glittering in the morning light above them, the splendid array and movements of the cavalry, and the constant flashes and thunder of the artillery, as it moved its way toward the river, combined to render it one of the most sublime spectacles that war ever presents. Napoleon gazed long and proudly at this scene at his feet, conscious that his touch had created it all, and by a word he would change it all.
On swept the mighty mass, while from every cone-like hill that dotted the plain issued fire and smoke, as if a volcano were working there. Each dark summit suddenly became illuminated, while the guns, thundering at the heads of the columns below, led them steadily on to the shock. The earth groaned under that living weight, and the deep roar that rose from its bosom rolled in ominous echoes over the heights on which Napoleon stood. Far-off shouts were heard in the pauses of the thunder, and fierce squadrons were seen with glittering helmets and flashing sabres galloping through the smoke.
Nothing could check the onward movement of that host, and by five o'clock it had passed the river at all points, and was moving darkly toward the heights beyond. The allies were steadily forced back, yet maintained, as they retired, a heavy and well-directed fire from their artillery on the heads of the pursuing columns. Only one advanced post was held, and that was a height on which the stern Blucher stood. All efforts to dislodge him were vain, and he kept the summit in a blaze with his heavy batteries.
It was now too late to make any serious demonstrations, and the battle could not be fought till next day. Oudinot, however, who formed the right wing of the army, advanced to the foot of the Bohemian Mountains, and fell furiously on the allied left. Carrying forward his columns with his usual impetuosity, he steadily pushed the enemy before him, while through the deepening twilight the incessant flashing of his advancing guns looked like a fierce flame ascending the hill. The forests seemed inherent with light, and the dark recesses shone with the glancing of musketry as the infantry moved amid the trees, "while the Bohemian mountains [sic] rolled back the roar of the artillery."* All heedless of the approaching darkness, he continued to press on, threatening to sweep away the entire left wing of the army, when reinforcements were brought up, and he was arrested in his victorious career.
That night the French bivouacked in squares on the bloody field they had won, and both armies sank to rest. All was silent on mountain and plain, save when the low groans and prayers that rose from the thousands that were weltering in their blood swelled and died on the breeze. The smoke of battle hung in light clouds along the heights—the stars looked tranquilly down on the slumbering hosts, and no one would have dreamed that the day had closed so wildly, but for the slain around, and the light of the burning villages, that blazed and crackled unheeded in the darkness. Innumerable watch-fires lined the hills and dotted the valley, till the flickering lights lost themselves in the distance.
Bonaparte had sent orders to Oudinot to recommence his attack at daylight; and when the first gray streaks of morning shot along the east, the weary marshal stood in order for battle. Neither was Bonaparte idle, and all through that valley was heard the rapid reveillé and the stirring blast of the bugle, starting thousands from their slumbers who, before another night, would take their last sleep; while the furious beat of drums and the clangor of trumpets, at the foot of the Bohemian Mountains, told that Oudinot was leading his strong columns to the attack. The battle-cloud rolled over the morning sun, and in a moment the field was in an uproar. The Emperor Alexander, alarmed at the fierce irruption of Oudinot on his left, had sent such reinforcements there during the night, that the marshal found himself overwhelmed by superior numbers. He, however, bore up bravely against this superior force, and struggled nobly to make head against it. But his efforts were in vain. First checked, then forced gradually back, he however contested every inch of ground with the energy of despair. His men rushed with shouts to the charge, and threw themselves in impetuous valor upon the enemy, but the immense masses that met them steadily advanced, and before their weight and fire he was compelled to fall back, step by step, down the slope. Napoleon, who had from his eminence seen the superior numbers against which his marshal was compelled to contend, and alarmed at the success of the allies in that quarter, ordered up Macdonald with his corps to support him. The bold Scotchman marched his columns rapidly up to Oudinot, and hurled them with such strength and impetuosity on the enemy that they were driven back up the height.
In the mean time the heavy batteries of Marmont and Bertrand were thundering on the center, and the battle raged along the whole lines. At length the sound of Ney's guns on the extreme left—the signal for a general attack—reached the ear of Napoleon, and his orders were issued like lightning. The cavalry moved straight on the center, while the Imperial Guard, in dark array, marched behind to support it. Eighty thousand men swept in one broad wave against the heights, and surging up its sides, rolled in resistless power over the summit. Ney, in the mean time, had turned the enemy's right, and settled the fate of the day.
The allied army was forced to retreat, followed by the victorious and enthusiastic French. The spectacle the field at this moment presented to Napoleon as he stood and looked off from a commanding height, was equally sublime and thrilling with that of the day before. He had ordered the whole army to advance; and, lo! a hundred and forty thousand men moved forward at his command. There were the long black columns of the enemy retiring over the field, and around their extremities clouds of cavalry hovering in protection; while on every side, over the immense plain, were spots of flame and wreaths of smoke, where the artillery blazed incessantly on the advancing battalions. There, too, were the victorious French moving in beautiful order and stern majesty after the retreating masses; while a hundred and twenty cannon in front, clearing a terrible path for the columns, shook the earth over which they trod, and eight thousand cuirassiers, cased in shining armor, and sending back the beams of the setting sun in dazzling splendor from their helmets, swept with fierce shouts to the onset. An interminable forest of bayonets glittered over this host; while between were long moving lines of light caused by the sunbeams, flashing on steel armor and sabers and helmets. Napoleon gazed long and triumphantly on the sublime spectacle, till the lessening columns and the receding thunder of cannon hastened him forward.
In the mean time the sun had gone down, and night, drawing her curtains over the earth, arrested the conflict, and the two tired armies again lay down to rest. But two dead armies were sleeping there also. More than thirty thousand had fallen in these two days of carnage, and men lay in heaps along the base of the heights, and were scattered thick as autumn leaves through the valley. But as the stars came out in the sky women were seen flocking over the field, and coarse-clad men treading amid the piles of human bodies, but not, as at Dresden, to plunder the dead, but to succor the dying. With hand-carts and
wheelbarrows and litters, the kind-hearted peasantry had issued forth, moved by their own sympathies, and lifting up the wounded carried them to their houses, where they bound up their wounds and allayed their sufferings.
The next morning at daylight Napoleon renewed the pursuit, and pressed on the flying traces of the enemy with redoubled energy. All day long the fight continued, and the roads were blocked with the dead; but still the allies retained the firm order of battle. Enraged at their obstinacy, and still determined to turn that retreat into a route, he hurried to the front in person, and urged on the columns. He rode hither and thither, hastening up and concentrating his forces with amazing rapidity, and falling in terrible strength on the rear guard of the enemy. But all his efforts were vain; the disciplined bravery of the allied troops resisted every endeavor, and robbed him of half his victory.
DEATH OF DUROC.
But his greatest misfortune, that which wounded him deepest, was the death of his friend Duroc. As he made a last effort to break the enemy's ranks, and rode again to the advanced posts to direct the movements of his army, one of his escort was struck dead by his side. Turning to Duroc, he said, "Duroc, fate is determined to have one of us to-day." Soon after, as he was riding with his suite in a rapid trot along the road, a cannon-ball smote a tree beside him, and glancing, struck General Kirgener dead, and tore out the entrails of Duroc. Napoleon was ahead at the time, and his suite, four abreast, behind him. The cloud of dust their rapid movement raised around them prevented him from knowing at first who was struck. But when it was told him that Kirgener was killed and Duroc wounded, he dismounted, and gazed long and sternly on the battery from which the shot had been fired; then turned toward the cottage into which the wounded marshal had been carried.
Duroc was grand marshal of the palace, and a bosom friend of the Emperor. Of noble and generous character, of unshaken integrity and patriotism, and firm as steel in the hour of danger, he was beloved by all who knew him. There was a gentleness about him and a purity of feeling the life of a camp could never destroy. Napoleon loved him—for through all the changes of his tumultuous life he had ever found his affection and truth the same—and it was with anxious heart and sad countenance he entered the lowly cottage where he lay. His eyes were filled with tears, as he asked if there was hope. When told there was none, he advanced to the bedside without saying a word. The dying marshal seized him by the hand and said: "My whole life has been consecrated to your service, and now my only regret is, that I can no longer be useful to you." "Duroc!" replied Napoleon, with a voice choked with grief, "there is another life—there you will await me, and we shall meet again." "Yes, sire," replied the fainting sufferer, "but thirty years shall first pass away, when you will have triumphed over your enemies, and realized all the hopes of our country. I have endeavored to be an honest man; I have nothing with which to reproach myself." He then added, with faltering voice, "I have a daughter; your Majesty will be a father to her." Napoleon grasped his right hand, and sitting down by the bedside, and leaning his head on his left hand, remained with closed eyes, a quarter of an hour, in profound silence. Duroc first spoke. Seeing how deeply Bonaparte was moved, he exclaimed, "Ah! sire, leave me; this spectacle pains you!" The stricken Emperor rose, and, leaning on the arms of his equerry and Marshal Soult, left the apartment, saying, in heart breaking tones, as he went, "Farewell, then, my friend!"
The hot pursuit he had directed a moment before was forgotten—victory, trophies, prisoners and all sunk into utter worthlessness, and, as at the battle of Aspern, when Lannes was brought to him mortally wounded, he forgot even his army, and the great interests at stake. He ordered his tent to be pitched near the cottage in which his friend was dying, and, entering it, passed the night all alone in inconsolable grief. The Imperial Guard formed their protecting squares, as usual, around him, and the fierce tumult of battle gave way to one of the most touching scenes in history. Twilight was deepening over the field, and the heavy tread of the ranks going to their bivouacs, the low rumbling of artillery wagons in the distance, and all the subdued yet confused sounds of a mighty host about sinking to repose, rose on the evening air, imparting still greater solemnity to the hour. Napoleon, with his gray great coat wrapped about him, his elbows on his knees, and his forehead resting on his hands, sat apart from all, buried in the profoundest melancholy. His most intimate friends dare not approach him, and his favorite officers stood in groups at a distance, gazing anxiously and sadly in that silent tent. But immense consequences were hanging on the movements of the next morning—a powerful enemy was near, with their army yet unbroken—and they at length ventured to approach and ask for orders. But the broken-hearted chieftain only shook his head, exclaiming, "Everything to-morrow!" and still kept his mournful attitude. Oh, how overwhelming was the grief that could so master that stern heart! The magnificent spectacle of the day that had passed, the glorious victory he had won, were remembered no more, and he saw only his dying friend before him. No sobs escaped him, but silent and motionless he sat, his pallid face buried in his hands, and his noble heart wrung with agony. Darkness drew her curtain over the scene, and the stars came out one after another upon the sky, and, at length, the moon rose above the hills, bathing in her soft beams the tented host, while the flames from burning villages in the distance shed a lurid light through the gloom-and all was sad, mournful, yet sublime. There was the dark cottage, with the sentinels at the door, in which Duroc lay dying, and there, too, was the solitary tent of Napoleon, and within, the bowed form of the Emperor. Around it, at a distance, stood the squares of the Old Guard, and nearer by, a silent group of chieftains, and over all lay the moonlight. Those brave soldiers, filled with grief to see their beloved chief borne down with such sorrow, stood for a long time silent and tearful. At length to break the mournful silence, and to express the sympathy they might not speak, the bands struck up a requiem for the dying marshal. The melancholy strains arose and fell in prolonged echoes over the field, and swept in softened cadences on the ear of the fainting warrior—but still Napoleon moved not. They then changed the measure to a triumphant strain, and the thrilling trumpets breathed forth their most joyful notes, till the heavens rang with the melody. Such bursts of music had welcomed Napoleon as he returned flushed with victory, till his eye kindled in exultation; but now they fell on a dull and listless ear. It ceased, and again the mournful requiem filled the air. But nothing could arouse him from his agonizing reflections—his friend lay dying, and the heart he loved more than his life was throbbing its last pulsations.
What a theme for a painter, and what a eulogy on Napoleon, was that scene! That noble heart which the enmity of the world could not shake, nor the terrors of a battlefield move from its calm repose, nor even the hatred and insults of his, at last, victorious enemies humble, here sank in the moment of victory before the tide of affection. What military chieftain ever mourned thus on the field of victory, and what soldiers ever loved a leader so?
The next morning, a little after sunrise, Duroc died.
When the mournful news was brought to Napoleon, he did not utter a word, but put into the bands of Berthier a paper directing a monument to be raised on the spot where he fell, with this inscription : "Here the general Duroc, Duke of Friuli, Grand Marshal of the palace of the Emperor Napoleon, gloriously fell and died in the arms of the Emperor his friend." He left two hundred napoleons in the hands of the owner of the house and the clergyman of the parish, to defray the expenses. But the monument was never erected, for after the defeats which soon followed, the allies, with a meatiness unparalleled in the history of civilized warfare, claimed this money as a part of the spoils of war. For the paltry sum of eight hundred dollars, they could prevent a monument from being raised to genius and true worth, and insult a noble heart by denying it this last tribute of affection to a dear friend. What a contrast does this present to the conduct of Marshal Soult at Corunna, who ordered a monument to be reared to Sir John Moore on the spot where he fell. Napoleon was as much above his enemies in magnanimity as he was in genius.
Three months subsequent to this, Oudinot was beaten in Bohemia, at Gross Beeren, by Bernadotte, after a severe struggle. The news of this defeat, coming as it did, in the midst of other losses, irritated Napoleon, who was in that critical position where he must have a succession of victories or be lost, and he unjustly ordered Ney to supersede him. The disgraced marshal, however, did not refuse to fight under Ney, who was soon after worse beaten in a similar encounter.
In the October that followed, at Leipsic, be commanded two divisions of the Young Guard, and helped to stem the tide of that disastrous battle, till Napoleon ordered a retreat, and continued to struggle bravely for France and the empire to the last. At Brienne, Nangis, Montereau, Bar-sur-Aube, and other fields of fame, and side by side with Napoleon during all that fierce struggle to force the allies back from Paris, he exhibited his accustomed valor and patriotism.
On the abdication of the Emperor, be gave in his adherence to Louis XVIII, by whom he was made colonel-general of the grenadiers, and governor of Metz. He adhered to the royal cause during the hundred days of Napoleon's reign, after his return from Elba. On the second restoration he was made peer of France, Minister of State and given the command of the National Guard of Paris. In 1823, he served under the Duke of Angouléme in the invasion of Spain, and was appointed governor of Madrid. In 1830, he gave in his adhesion to Louis Philippe, and four years ago was appointed by him governor of the Invalides, which office he still holds.
Oudinot was brave even to rashness,—sudden and terrible in a charge, and a good general in the field of battle. He needed, however, the oversight of Napoleon, and erred when left to himself. He was neither avaricious nor cruel, and through a long and tempestuous life sustained the honor of the arms of France, and struggled nobly for her freedom. He was careless of his person in battle, and now bears on his body the scars of twenty wounds received in the different engagements he passed through.
2. Vide Allison. Return to paragraph text.