« السابقةمتابعة »
-Defrance, Saint-German, Sebastiani, &c. acted as captains, and the colonels constituted the sub-officers. This squadron, to which the name of sacred was given, was commanded by General Grouchy, under the orders of the King of Naples. Their duty was never to lose sight of the Emperor. But these horses, which had hitherto resisted the rigour of the climate, having been better taken care of than those of the soldiers, perished as soon as they were made to bear their share of fatigue and privations; and at the end of a few days, the sacred squadron was no more.
The enemy continued to follow us at the distance of two or three musket-shots, while the poor remains of the army, having no longer the means of defence, continued their march in the extremest disorder. The men were incessantly harassed by the Cossacks, who at every defile fell upon the rear of our column, plundered our -baggage, and compelled us to abandon our artillery, which the horses could no longer draw. Napoleon had hitherto travelled in a chariot almost hermetically closed, and filled with furs. He wore a pelisse and a bonnet of sable furs, which prevented him from feeling the severest cold; but after we quitted Krasnoë, he often proceeded on foot, followed by his staff, and saw, without emotion, the miserable wrecks of an army, once so powerful, file before him, Yet his presence never excited a single murmur; on the contrary, it reanimated the most timid, who forgot all their sufferings and all their fears at the sight of the Emperor.
We quickly entered into Doubrowna. That town was in a better state of preservation than any through which we had passed in our journey from Moscow. It had a Polonese sub-prefect, and a commandant of the town. The inhabitants were principally Jews, who procured us a little flour, brandy, and metheglin. They also exchanged the paper-money of the soldiers for cash. In fine, astonished at the confidence of these Israelites, and the honesty of our soldiers, who paid for every thing which they took, we thought plenty was about to revisit us, and that our misfortunes were near their close. Yet
we were struggling under accumulated evils. "Bread! bread!" was the incessant cry of the feeble remains of our once powerful army. The followers of the camp of every kind suffered greatly, particularly the commissaries and storekeepers, who had been little accustomed to privations. But none were more to be pitied than the physicians, and especially the surgeons, who, without hope of advancement, exposed themselves like the common soldiers, by dressing the wounded on the field of battle. While we were at Doubrowna, I saw a young surgeon near a house, which the soldiers surrounded in crowds, because it was reported that provisions were to be procured there. He was plunged in the profoundest grief, and, with an eager and an anxious countenance, was violently endeavouring to force his way into the place. But when he was again and again driven back by the crowd, he exhibited the wildest despair. I yentured to inquire the cause." Ah, captain!" said he, "I am a lost man. For two days I have had no food, and ascertaining that they sold bread in this house, I gave the sentinel six francs to suffer me to enter. But while the bread was yet in the oven, the Jew would not promise to supply me, unless I gave him a louis in advance. I consented, but when I came back the sentinel was changed, and I was cruelly repulsed from the door. "Ah, sir," continued he, "I am indeed unfortunate; I have lost all the money that I had in the world, and am unable to procure a morsel of bread, though I have not tasted any for more than a month."
Leaving Doubrowna, we next halted at Orcha. During our stay there, Napoleon, foreseeing that he should soon be placed in a most critical situation, made every effort to rally his troops. He caused it to be proclaimed by sound of trumpet, and by three colonels, that every soldier who did not immediately rejoin his regiment should be punished with death; and that every officer or general who abandoned his post should be dismissed. But when we regained the great road, we perceived what little effect this measure had produced. All was
in the most frightful confusion, and in contempt of tiris severe proclamation, the soldiers, naked and without arms, continued to march in the same disorder.
We encamped at a sorry village on our right, where two or three habitations remained, at the distance of an hour's march from Kokanovo. The village of Kokanovo, which we passed on the following day, was entirely ruined; the post-house, which had been inhabited by the staff, alone remained. We were continuing our march along a road which the thaw had rendered horribly dirty, when we received orders not to push onward to Tolotschin, where Napoleon had fixed his quarters, but to halt at a great chateau half a league distant. To deceive the enemy, Napoleon seldom slept at the place which he had announced in the morning. He was often obliged to encamp upon the road, and to sleep in the middle of the square formed by his guards. Hunger and cold so weakened the soldiers in these bivouacks, that his escort every day diminished in a frightful
The road of Orcha, as far as Tolotschin, is undoubtedly one of the best in Europe. It forms a perfectly straight line, and is bordered on each side by a double row of birch trees, the branches of which, laden with snow and ice, hung down to the ground like the weeping willow. But these majestic avenues excited in us no admiration. They witnessed only our tears and our despair. On every side we heard only groans and lamentations. Some, feeling that they could proceed no further, laid themselves on the ground, and, with tears in their eyes, gave us their papers and their money to be conveyed to their families. "Ah! if more fortunate than. we," they exclaimed, "you are permitted to revisit our dear country, give our parents this last pledge of our love. Tell them that the hope of seeing them again alone sustained us till this day; and that at length, compelled to renounce this pleasing expectation, we died thinking of them and blessing them. Adieu, God bless you! When, on your return to our beloved France, you
rejoice in your good fortune, sometimes think of our unhappy fate." A little further on we met others, who, holding in their arms their famished children or their wives, implored one morsel of bread to preserve their lives.
In the meantime, Napoleon was informed that the army of Wolhynia, joined to that of Moldavia, had marched on Monsk (November 16), and that it had seized on the bridge of Borisov, to cut us off from the passage of the Beresina. It is reported that when he heard this fatal news, he calmly said, "It is then decided that we must play the fool."
THE PASSAGE OF THE BERESINA.
ARRIVED on the banks of the Beresina, what a frightful picture did this multitude of men present, overwhelmed with misfortunes of every kind, and hemmed in by a morass; that very multitude which, two months before, had exultingly spread itself over half the surface of a vast empire! Our soldiers pale, emaciated, dying with hunger and cold, having nothing to defend them from the inclemency of the season but tattered pelisses and sheep-skins half-burnt, and uttering the most mournful lamentations, crowded the banks of this unfortunate river. Germans, Polanders, Italians, Spaniards, Croats, Portuguese, and French, were all mingled together, disputing and quarrelling with each other in their different languages :-finally, the officers, and even the generals, wrapped in pelisses, covered with dirt and filth, mingling with the soldiers, and abusing those who pressed upon them, or braved their authority, formed a scene of strange confusion, of which no painter could trace the faintest resemblance.
They whom fatigue or ignorance of the impending danger rendered less eager to cross the river were en
deavouring to kindle a fire and repose their wearied limbs. We had too frequently occasion to observe, in these encampments, to what a degree of brutality excess of misery would debase human nature. In one place we saw several of the soldiers fighting for a morsel of bread. If a stranger, pierced with the cold, endeavoured to approach a fire, those to whom it belonged inhumanly drove him away; or if, tormented with raging thirst, any one asked for a single drop of water from another who carried a full supply, the refusal was accompanied by the vilest abuse. We often heard those who had once been friends, and whose education had been liberal, bitterly disputing with each other for a little straw or a piece of horse-flesh, which they were attempting to divide. This campaign was therefore the more terrible, as it brutalized the character, and stained us with vices to which we had before been strangers. Even those who once were honest, humane, and generous, became selfish, avaricious, dishonest, and cruel.
Although there were two bridges, one for the carriages and the other for the foot-soldiers, yet the crowd was so great, and the approaches so dangerous, that the way was completely obstructed near the Beresina, and it was absolutely impossible to move. About eight o'clock in the morning the bridge for the carriages and the cavalry broke down; the baggage and artillery then advanced towards the other bridge, and attempted to
force a passage. Now began a dreadful contention between the foot-soldiers and the horsemen. Many perished by the hands of their comrades, a great number were suffocated at the head of the bridge, and the dead bodies of men and horses so choked every avenue, that it was necessary to climb over mountains of carcasses to arrive at the river. Some, who were buried in these horrible heaps, still breathed, and, struggling with the agonies of death, caught hold of those who mounted over them; but these inhumanly kicked them with violence to disengage themselves, and remorselessly trod