WE held our position for
three days, and the morale of the troops was already improved. While
waiting for news of what was going on in the heart of Germany, the
enemy, made some feeble demonstrations; but as we were determined to
risk nothing, we retired behind the Alpone, where the advance-guard was
stationed. The rest of the army took up a position at Caldiero, having
three bridges over the Adige in case of retreat, including that of
Verona. We remained there quietly, and spent the time in a complete
reorganization; losses were repaired by bringing up healthy men from the
depots, and by drafting from hospital those cured of their wounds or
sickness. It was considered advisable to skirmish a little, and to shoot
every day, to familiarize the fresh men with fighting.
A feint I made with a
portion of our troops succeeded at first, but unfortunately, our left
met with a slight check, which decided the Viceroy to give
counter-orders. I was unaware of this, as I was preparing to cross the
Alpone, the defence of which had considerably given way before the
energy of my onslaught; but the Viceroy came in person to the Place to
desire me to retire, and I had to obey. We returned to camp, regretting
that we had not had liberty to reap the full benefit of our first
advantages. Prince Eugene was still weighed down by the recollection of
Sacilio, and this made him very nervous for long after, especially on
two important occasions, of which I shall speak later.
We expected the Austrians
to make a similar demonstration next day, and were prepared to give them
a warm reception; but they, stayed at home. This immobility was not
altogether natural after their recent victory at Sacilio. I pointed this
out to the Viceroy, and urged him to order a strong general
reconnaissance. He did so. We followed with our reserves, when, through
my telescope, I noticed a hurried movement of carriages and baggage-waggons.
'We have been victorious
in Germany,' I said to the Prince; 'the enemy are retiring.'
He also looked through
his glass, saw the retreat, and gleefully stretched out his hand to me,
thanking me for my foresight and for my advice, which events had so well
justified. He sent orders to the camp to prepare to march, and himself
rode up to the advance-guard, who were at the very moment sending hack
to tell him that the enemy were hastily retreating. When he left me to
lead the march. I warned him to be prudent, and not to he over-excited
by this adventure.
brushes between our advance guard and the enemy's rear-guard brought us
to the brink of the Piave, the bridge over which had just been burned.
It is a wide and very swift torrent, like all those in Italy; but they
can all be forded except in case of heavy rain or melting snow. The
decision to cross was taken, and carried out without difficulty; but all
was nearly lost owing to precipitation. I was at the rear, and hastened
my movement, so that I came up just in time to witness a check given to
our troops, especially to a body of cavalry which had just possessed
itself of; but had soon to abandon again, one of the enemy's batteries.
The charge had been so impetuous that the gunners had had no time to
fire; they were killed, and the artillery General taken prisoner. The
Viceroy thought he was dealing merely with a rear-guard, but the
captured General assured him on his word of honour that the entire
Austrian army, commanded by the Archduke John, was there.
This news disconcerted
the Viceroy. Only a quarter of our army had crossed the stream, and they
were now forced hack in the utmost disorder. Happily the enemy only
attacked feebly, being entirely occupied in covering their retreat. My
troops [General Macdonald commanded a corps formed out of Lamarque's and
Broussier's divisions of infantry and a brigade of cavalry.] began to
come up. The Prince begged me to cross the river in person to stop the
fugitives, and to take command of all on the left bank. Anxious in
consequence of what he had heard from the Austrian General, he said to
'What are we to do?'
'The bottle is uncorked;
we must drink the wine,' I replied. 'We were in too great a hurry, and
our troops can hardly escape but now that they are on the other side, we
must support them as best we can.
We settled that my men
should cross as fast as they came up. I ordered that it should be in
platoons, and that each man should hold his neighbour's arm.. The
torrent had increased considerably; stones slipped from under their feet
and some of the privates were carried away by the current. it was a sad
spectacle; but I was destined, only four years later, to see one still
far more horrible. When the fugitives began to arrive in disorder, they
threw themselves into the water without observing the stepping-stones. I
myself rushed in, sword in hand, to drive them back. After changing my
clothes, I managed nearly to cross the swiftest part of the current by
means of a small pontoon which happened to he there, and the shoulders
of two men set me down dry-foot on the other bank.
I assembled the Generals,
and announced to them that the army also was going to cross. In fact,
the front column of my corps was a third of the way through the river.
This movement, no doubt, stopped the enemy's attack, or, at any rate,
slackened it. As the troops that had been pursued returned, they took up
a position with their back to the left bank, so that a violent attack
must either have precipitated them into the water, or compelled them to
lay down their arms. My first care, after reassuring in a few words both
officers and men, was to change this position for one perpendicular to
the river, which thus flanked their left.
General Grenier had just
crossed considerably below me. He attacked and pursued the enemy by the
same movement that I was making, so that we found ourselves placed
perpendicularly to the river, as I have said. My own troops had been
stopped and ordered to retreat by the Viceroy when they were already
half-way across the river, - because he had seen the rout of which I
have spoken, and the pursuit of the enemy. He did not reflect that the
best means of stopping it was to reinforce us. He observed to me
afterwards, with some simplicity, that he regarded us as dead men, and
saw no object in sacrificing more lives. I took the opportunity of
addressing to him home remarks which he admitted were just, but by
which, alas I he did not profit, such was the effect produced by the
loss of the first battle at Sacilio.
[He did not tell me what
answer the Emperor had sent on being informed of this defeat, but I
learnt later that, after reading the despatch, the Emperor had sent for
the courier who brought it, and asked whether he had met me, and if so,
'Near Verona,' answered
'That is all right,'
replied the Emperor.
I had not seen this
courier, but was flattered by the reply, as it showed that the Emperor
relied upon me to restore affairs in Italy.]
To return to the movement
that I was executing. When my body of troops joined me the disorder was
repaired. All who had crossed the Piave marched in splendid order and
attacked the enemy, who now began to retreat. However, our extreme
right, commanded by General Grenier, halted, although the fire was not
very hot. I also halted, but for another reason. I perceived towards the
middle of our front a mass of the enemy's infantry, covered by a sort of
fortification that was nothing more nor less than an enclosure of
sufficient extent to pen oxen during the night —a sort of back (dossée)
of a trench. Some cavalry covered this infantry, who were firing at us.
We had not any guns across as yet, I think. While our troops were
halting, Colonel Vallin, of the Hussars, came and begged inc to give him
something to do. I told him not to stir without orders, and added that I
would soon find work for him.
Thereupon I hastened off
to the right, to get a better view of the enemy's central position, and
to discover the reasons for General Grenier's inactivity. He told me
that his troops needed rest. just when they ought to have been pursuing
vigorously ! I gave orders to General Grouchy, who was in command of the
cavalry at this point, and while he was conveying them to his men, I
turned back to regain the centre. I saw Colonel Vallin and his squadron
charging. I foresaw what must inevitably, and did, happen. The enemy's
cavalry hurriedly withdrew, and allowed the squadron to advance, thus
exposing them to the hot fire of the masked infantry, which I alone had
perceived when I commanded the halt. My intention had been to outflank
it on the right, and such were my orders to Grouchy. The enemy's
cavalry, seeing Vallin's regiment hesitate, charged, and from where I
was I could see that we were not getting the best of it in the mêlée
that ensued. I spurred my horse, and came up with the unlucky leader,
who was wounded in the hand, and fiercely reproached him for having
disobeyed my positive orders. He replied that he had acted upon
instructions from the Viceroy, who galloped up and said unreflectingly:
'Now then, hussars let me
see you charge those blackguards!'
Vallin had answered that
he would have done so already, had not I forbidden him to stir.
'Never mind,' answered
the Prince; 'charge all the same' And he did so.
The Viceroy, who had been
watching us from the other bank of the Piave, had made up his mind to
cross, and had arrived just in time to order this grand mistake while I
was away on the right. I rode up to him, and pointed out to him that he
had most inconsiderately deranged my operation. He answered that he
fancied there were only a few musketeers there.
'Do you suppose they
would have stopped me?' I answered, and then proceeded to explain my
plan, which might still be carried out.
He applauded it, and
congratulated me upon all I had already done; in doing so, he was
echoing the sentiments of the army, which was full of spirit and
determination. In replying to the Prince's compliments, I asked to be
allowed to carry out my own operation, adding that I would show him that
I knew what I was about. [As I am writing only for you, my son, I need
not put on airs of mock-modesty; I merely tell you the facts with the
frankness that I am generally admitted to possess.]
'See:' I said to the
Viceroy; 'the enemy's right wing is beating a hasty retreat ! I am going
to cut it off, and to-night I will make you a present of 10,000
'I can see nothing,' he
'Can you not see that
immense cloud of dust gradually drawing away from us?'
'Well, from that it is
easy to divine that a general retreat is going on. Go to the left, make
a feint as if to stop that movement, while I bring up the right, and
order the centre to advance.'
He parted in a more
amicable frame of mind; but it did not last long, for scarcely had he
ordered the left to advance, when a few cannon-shot stopped him, and he
sent orders to the centre and to the right, for which I was bound, to
stop too. Amazed at such an order, I returned to the centre, which I
found halted; and thus we lost our chance. I went in search of the
Viceroy, whom I found at last. He told me that the enemy seemed inclined
to defend themselves, and that he was unwilling to risk his army; that
enough had been done, and that evening was advancing rapidly. Vainly did
I point out to him that the firing was already slackening, and that its
only object had been to cover the retreat of the right wing. He would
pay no heed.
'In that case,' I said, I
shall take no further responsibility. You are in command; give your
orders, and I will carry them out.'
However, he left me the
general command, and recrossed the river to spend the night upon the
other side; while we remained in a huge meadow, or pasture-ground,
without any shelter, and, what was worse still, without food for man or
beast, as no baggage could come across until the bridge burned by the
enemy had been rebuilt.
The Viceroy joined us
early next morning, and General Grenier was ordered to follow him
closely. The advance- guard belonged to me as the first corps, but for
the present we formed the centre I accompanied the Prince to the town of
Conegliano. The principal officials of the place came out to greet him,
and one of them said
'Ah, your Highness! had
you but pushed forward two squadrons, you could have cut off the entire
right wing of the Austrians, numbering at least 10,000 men. They were
fleeing pell-mell, in the most hopeless confusion of men, horses,
baggage, and artillery. Their leaders could not make their voices heard,
nor rally a platoon; and the confusion and stampede lasted all night.'
The Prince looked at me
regretfully; my only answer was a smile. Indeed, he had stopped my
movement in a most untimely manner.
Nothing of importance
occurred during the next few days : the enemy continued their hasty
retreat, and we reached Udine. My corps was detached, so I could act
independently. The rest of the army marched through Tarvis to Klagenfurt,
and I was charged to raise the siege of Palmanuova; to cross the Isonzo;
to take Goritz and 'I'rieste; to do my best to facilitate the passage of
General Marmont, Duke of Ragusa, who was under orders to evacuate
Dalmatia and join us. Then I was to make for Laybach; to cross the Save,
the 1)rave, and the Miihr; to take Gratz; and, finally, to effect a
junction with the bulk of the Army of Italy, and to lead the whole body
to join the Grand Army on the Sömmering. This was a large undertaking,
and presented considerable difficulties; but I did not regard them as
insurmountable, Besides, I had carte blanche.
The siege of Palmanuova
was raised at my approach. The garrison and inhabitants received us as
deliverers. I sent a strong detachment to Trieste, and the General who
commanded it grumbled that I was 'sacrificing' him ; hut, as it turned
out, he met with no resistance whatever. We crossed the Isonzo by main
force, and took Goritz, where large magazines were established. We also
found there some siege artillery from Palrnanuova.
The heights of Prewald
were fortified, and connected by earthworks and blockhouses: I battered
down all that covered the approaches to them. Our first attacks having
been wanting in vigour, I led them myself, and thus taught the Generals
that with more decision they would have lost fewer men. They combined
together to hinder my operations, which I determined to head and carry
out in person.
This line of forts was
flanked on the left by precipices, and on the right by a range of lofty
rocks. I sent some light infantry to escalade it, and from below they
looked like pigmies: we even succeeded in hoisting up some field-guns.
These demonstrations were made with no object but to deceive ; however,
we succeeded in investing the forts. The detachment from Trieste came
up; its leader was charged to send emissaries to the Duke of Ragusa;
none could pass, and we had no news of him.
During these operations,
I sent to reconnoitre the passages leading to the quicksilver-mines of
Idria, and from thence to the highroad between Trieste and Vienna; there
were obstacles in the way of moving our baggage, but they might be
overcome. Leaving troops, therefore, to observe the forts, I surveyed
the base of the chain of rocks, and came out upon the highroad with the
greater part of my forces. I sent reconnoitring parties out in every
I marched upon Laybach,
where a battalion of the advance-guard met an Austrian battalion in a
bend of the road; both were very much in fault, as no skirmishers were
out from either party. To see and to rush at each other with the bayonet
was the work of a moment. Our men had the ad-vantage of coming downhill,
and the enemy were crushed; only a small handful of them remained to
carry the news of their defeat to Laybach. So little did the enemy count
upon the possibility of our march, that they had sent this battalion to
reinforce the forts of Prewald and keep us in check.
An immense entrenched
camp was intended to protect Laybach; but the insufficiency of their
troops determined the enemy to disarm and abandon the side on our left,
a well as the town, and to confine themselves to the defence of the fort
and of the other side. I ordered a reconnaissance of the approaches,
they were considered impracticable for a general attack; to besiege it
we had no artillery, the bridge over the Save was in part destroyed, and
we had neither time nor materials to restore it. I sent a summons,
according to custom, to the Commandant of the camp and forts, but he
refused to surrender.
The capitulation of the
forts of Prewald set a considerable part of my force at liberty, and the
enemy were certain to have had intelligence of this. Their
communications with Hungary and Croatia were still open; the liberation
of my detachment made it easier for me to intercept them. The fort of
Laybach, as well as the entrenched camp, was covered on our front by a
marsh of considerable extent, and on another side by the Save. I could
therefore only attack on the extreme right, as the left was
unapproachable from the town. While, however, I was considering the best
means of carrying the position, imperative orders reached me to leave
only a detachment for purposes of observation, and to make for
Klagenfurt with the rest of my army.
I could no longer cross
the Save, and therefore could only start silently and by night in the
direction indicated in order to prepare for my march, I made active
demonstrations against the fort and the entrenched camp. I had caused
the marsh to be sounded, and had a road cut through it for the cavalry,
who could thus come out upon the Croatian road. Orders were given that
the troops who were to start for Kiagenfurt were to be ready at nine
o'clock that evening. Scarcely had we started, when a par/en/enlaire was
brought to me, charged with a proposal of capitulation.
'You are acting wisely,'
I replied; 'I was just going to sound the attack.'
Having thus obtained
every facility for temporarily rebuilding the bridge, I made my way
direct by Marburg to Gratz, where I joined the Viceroy, who had preceded
The results I obtained
from this operation, which I conducted alone, were the deliverance of
Palmanuova, the forcing of the line of the Isonzo, the occupation of
Goritz, Trieste, Laybach, the forts of Prewald, of that of Laybach, as
well as its entrenched camp ; ten or twelve thousand prisoners, a
hundred guns, ammunition, weapons,' flags in proportion, and an immense
quantity of provisions. The Emperor expressed his satisfaction to me
through the Viceroy.
While we were in front of
Laybach I was seized, as well as some of my men, with dysentery, which
weakened me terribly, and which was increased by the work, and by the
annoyances which were being secretly fostered against me by two of the
principal Generals. One of them was weak enough in mind and wits to
allow himself to he influenced by the other, who declared that the
Emperor had only employed me in order to ruin me, that they would be
dragged into my disgrace, that neither they nor the troops would obtain
any favour or reward, etc. All this was repeated to me.
I had indeed noticed that
some of my orders had been tardily executed when activity was necessary,
and I should certainly have failed in some of my enterprises had I not
directed them myself, which served only to increase the resentment of my
antagonists, who found that they only obtained a small share in the
success that crowned them. The situation, however, was becoming
critical, and an opportunity presenting itself--two days before the
capitulation of Laybach—I reprimanded one of them sharply, and
threatened to put under arrest and send to the Emperor anyone who did
not obey orders on the spot. This was in presence of a considerable
number of officers and men, who loudly applauded my decision.
Thenceforward my gentlemen did no more than mutter, but that did not