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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XIV


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.

Some insignificant 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 me:

'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, whereabouts.

'Near Verona,' answered the messenger.

'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 prisoners.'

'I can see nothing,' he answered.

'Can you not see that immense cloud of dust gradually drawing away from us?'

'Yes.'

'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 direction.

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 me.

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 trouble me.


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