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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XV


SHORTLY before my arrival at Gratz, I met a Russian officer, who told me of the sad results of the Battle of Essling. Our successes were such a poor compensation for such an unhappy event, that our joy was naturally turned into sorrowful regret. I found General Grouchy, who had preceded me by a few hours, at Gratz, whence he withdrew his troops to give place to mine.

The Archduke John, who had retired into Hungary, had not thought it necessary to defend the town, notwithstanding a well-bastioned rampart and the river Mühr, which was not easy to cross without pontoons. Grouchy had just concluded an agreement whereby the elevated fort that dominated Gratz was not to be attacked from the town, so as to preserve the latter from all harm. By this means, too, the bridge over the Muhr was given up. I therefore contented myself with investing the fort externally, and with preparing means to obtain possession of it either by a coup-de-main or by investment.

We were not even permitted to take the rest we all needed, after so much labour and so many forced marches. I received orders to march into Hungary and to cause the fort to be observed, and even attacked if I saw fit. My route lay by Kermiind, the Lake of Neusiedel and Papa; we were then on the tracks of the Archduke's Austrian army, which was retreating to the camp at Raab. The Viceroy followed it. His cavalry had a sharp brush with the enemy, owing to their having too lightly engaged with an inferior force. One of our divisions lost its way and missed the rendezvous.

Although the Viceroy had sent me orders to take up my position at Papa, while awaiting fresh instructions, I did not think in his interest and in that of the army that I should obey. I was right, and he afterwards thanked me cordially, for he had much compromised the troops that he was leading to Raab by a serious and very imprudent engagement. I had started on my march, following the cavalry, who preceded us. The distance from Papa to the place where the engagement was being fought was, if I remember rightly, seven or eight leagues. When I had advanced about two-thirds of the distance, I met an officer from the Prince, bearing orders to raise my camp and join him. When the officer had left the Viceroy they were only skirmishing.

I made the utmost speed, but it was impossible to arrive in time to take part in the attack: but at least we should have been able to assist the retreat, if such had unfortunately been necessary. The Commander-in-chief was actively engaged, and had already been repulsed several times when I came up; but as I turned the corner of a wood and of the heights, the battle-field was disclosed to my view. Several regiments were retreating in disorder; efforts were being made to rally them. I galloped up and presented myself to the Viceroy, who expressed delighted surprise at seeing me so speedily.

'I was very sorry,' he said, 'to leave you at Papa; you would have been very useful to me in this critical situation.'

'You have made a greater mistake than that,' I answered; that of giving and risking a battle with only a portion of your army, when you have that of the Archduke in front of you, in what seems to me a fairly strong position. But take comfort, here is my corps d'armée.'

'Where?' he asked quickly.

'Look behind you; here it is just debouching.'

'How grateful I am to you for your foresight!' said the Prince, affectionately pressing my hand.

'Now then,' I said, 'one more attempt. Here is help; I am going to send up my troops.'

'No,' he replied; 'let them rest. We will call upon them later.'

General Grenier, who commanded the right, succeeded at length in routing the enemy and crowning the heights. We joined him. The sight of my men had revived the spirits of his. We ought to have taken advantage of this and pressed the enemy; but he refused, thinking that he had done enough, and saying that his men were too tired and needed rest. I tried to induce the Viceroy to give his orders, but recent events had made him very cautious. The enemy's infantry, however, were in disorder; we sent out some horse, unfortunately without any support, and the enemy were allowed to retreat quietly.

No notice was taken of my energetic protests, or of my saying that we should have to fight these same troops again next day, and perhaps at a disadvantage; that the Emperor's first question, on hearing of our victory, would be:

'Where are the results—the prisoners, guns, laggage?'

'You are too enterprising,' said the Viceroy.

'But,' I remonstrated, 'here, as at the Piave, you have only to stoop to pick up everything.'

He replied that he feared a sortie from the garrison at Raab if he followed in pursuit. I pointed out that if the sortie were going to take place it would have been during the action, and not when the troops were in full flight; that the very fact that no sortie had been made was a proof of the weakness of the garrison, which perhaps was doing its best with very inadequate forces, but which could not fail to be disheartened by what had just passed beneath their eyes. All was in vain, and the Prince gave orders for the camp to be pitched.

He took me to supper with him, and on the way confirmed to me what he had already written more than once, the tokens of pleasure that the Emperor had given over my services and the rapid and surprising successes of my corps d'arme.

Next day I followed the enemy, who were much in advance of us. They were making for Komorn, a very strong place on the right bank of the Danube. We learned that the disorder into which they had been thrown at Raab had not yet been repaired. We spent some time in observation upon the river, vainly trying to break the bridge between the fortress and the left bank by floating down the stream against it some large boats laden with stones, which the enemy had not had time to sink. They had destroyed many others laden with grain of all kinds. There were nothing but water-mills there, and their destruction was a great injury to us; but the French soldier, always ingenious and industrious, found some smooth stones with which to grind his corn. Without this discovery there would have been no bread amid the abundance of grain.

The Grand Army at Vienna and the inhabitants suffered terribly from scarcity, chiefly of meat. Hungary, a country rich in crops, wine, cattle, etc., where also many horses are bred, offered us boundless resources. I immediately sent large convoys of wheat and oats, as well as 10,000 oxen, to the Emperor's headquarters. We also levied a large number of horses to remount our hussars and chasseurs, the breed being specially well adapted to light troops. Except the serfs, all the men wore hussar costume, and it is from them that it has been so universally copied. During the first days of our entrance into the kingdom we took them for irregular troops; happily we found them very peaceable.


 


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