Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
AFTER our fruitless attempt
to destroy the bridge at Kotnorn, I received orders to advance towards
Ofen, capital of Hungary; but shortly afterwards was recalled by forced
marches to the chief headquarters at Ebersdorf, opposite the island of
Lohau. It was clear that a great operation was being prepared. We were
not the last to arrive, and by nine o'clock in the evening of July 4 we
were at our posts on the Danube at the crossing-place that had been
selected for the surprise of the enemy. We had marched sixty leagues in
three days, and notwithstanding our excessive fatigue, and the heat of
the season, we had but few laggards, so anxious, were the men of the
Army of Italy to take part in the great events that were preparing, and
to fight in presence of their brothers-in-arms of the Grand Army, and
under the very eyes of the Emperor.
That night an appalling
storm burst upon us; rain and hail fell in torrents, driven by a raging
north wind, the whistling of which mingled with the peals of thunder and
the roar of cannon. This tempest was extremely favourable to our passage
of the Danube upon bridges built on piles, at which they had been
working since the fatal 22nd of the previous May; they were masked by
the thickly-wooded island of Lobau. I landed upon the island at about
six o'clock in the morning; what we most wanted was a good fire to dry
us, but the sun soon came out and warmed us with his kindly rays.
Meanwhile, several corps of the Grand Army, which had roused the enemy
from their security, were driving back their advance-guard, and this,
being supported from behind, was slowly retreating towards the
intrenched position of the camp.
I moved forward in my
turn, and was momentarily placed in the second rank with the remainder
of the Army of Italy. Scarcely had I deployed, being myself on the
extreme right, when I heard cries of 'Vive l'Empereur!' coming from the
The soldiers, as he
approached, raised their shakos upon their bayonets in token of joy. He
turned his horse towards the direction whence the cheering proceeded,
and, recognising the Army of Italy, rode down the line; as he approached
the right, I moved forward slightly. He spoke to no one, merely saluting
with his hand. In spite of what the Viceroy had told me, that I should
be pleased with my first interview, I was not more favoured than the
rest. I do not know where Prince Eugene then was, but immediately on
hearing that the Emperor had passed, he hastened up and said:
'Well, I hope you were
satisfied. No doubt he confirmed by word of mouth all that I have
written to you?' He did not address a single word to me.'
'Not a word. He merely
nodded, as if to say: "I can see through you, you rascal!"'
The amiable Prince was
miserable, fearing, of course wrongly, lest I should think that he had
been a well-meaning but clumsy interpreter; and he gave me his word of
honour, of which I had no need, so convinced was I of his friendly and
honest truthfulness, that he had only written to me the Emperor's exact
It was already late. The
troops of the Grand Army, tired with marching and fighting since the
morning, formed into columns to let us pass. We thus had the honour of
becoming the front rank and of pursuing the enemy, who only turned now
and again in order to check our ardour. They eventually regained their
positions, and we halted within short cannon-range. I was then in front
of the position at Wagram; the village of that name was on the left, and
that of Baumersdorf on the right. A violent cannonade continued along
the whole line while we were forming.
The Emperor came up to
speak to the Viceroy, with whom I was talking; I fell hack some yards.
He did not speak to me as yet, but I heard him say somewhat carelessly:
'Order General Macdonald
to attack and carry the plateau. The enemy are retiring, and we must
make some prisoners.'
Thereupon he went away.
The Prince, joining me, said:
'Do you know what the
Emperor has just been saying to me?'
'Yes,' I replied; 'I
heard his orders.'
'Well, what is your
'I think the Emperor is
mistaken; the enemy are not leaving, they are simply retiring to the
intrenched position they have selected for the battle. Do you not see,
the entire army is there, looking very brave? In order to carry through
such an undertaking, although we have but an hour of daylight left, we
should need to attack with the whole army. Lose no timego, or else send
these remarks of mine to the Emperor.'
But he was afraid of him,
'Not I He ordered us to
attack; let us do it.'
'So be it,' I answered;
'but you will see how we shall he beaten,' which of course happened, as
it could not fail to do.
We started, well
protected by artillery, but our leading columns soon stopped at the
Russbach, a stream with steep banks, which covered the Austrian front. I
sprang to the ground, made my staff do the same, and sword in hand we
set the example of crossing it, and were followed by the men. This bold
stroke drove the enemy back, and we obtained possession of the plateau.
We were obliged to halt near their huts, and form into columns, in order
to attack the enemy, drawn up not far off, and also to wait till General
Grenier, who was crossing the stream with his troops, could come up to
our support. We had passed the villages of Wagram and Diaumersdorf,
which other corps of the Grand Army had failed to take; they had even
retreated. The enemy debouched in large numbers, and attacked one flank,
while the columns that we had held in check advanced against us.
General Grenier's troops,
amazed at this unexpected onslaught, threw themselves in disorder among
my men, breaking their lines and scattering them. All my efforts to
restrain them were vain, although, sword in hand, with the majority of
the officers, I had drawn up a line to check the fugitives. A rout
ensued, and we were carried away, crossing the stream in the utmost
The Prince, who had
remained on the other side, tried to stop the runaways. On coming close
to him, 'I pointed out that he could not reform men under such a hot
fire, as they were now panic-stricken, although a few minutes before
they had displayed such resolution; that what he should do was to send
some detachments of cavalry out of range, and that the fugitives would
naturally stop on reaching them. Fortunately, the enemy was satisfied
with having repulsed us, and dared not cross the stream in pursuit,
although a few squadrons would have sufficed to disperse us, for night
had come on, and we should have imagined ourselves charged by the entire
Austrian army, and the result would not be difficult to imagine. The
loss of my corps in killed, wounded, and prisoners was enormous,
amounting to nearly two thousand men. General Grenier had his hand
shattered by a bullet at the beginning of this 'brush,' as the Emperor
I did not leave the
Viceroy. We passed the night out in the open, as did all the army,
keeping a sharp look-out while our officers tried to rally the
'What will the Emperor
think?' asked the Prince anxiously.
'Nothing detrimental to
you or me. He will realize, now that it is too late, that his orders
were hasty. Where I think you were wrong was in not taking or sending to
him the observations that I had made to you before embarking upon this
unlucky attempt, the result of which was a foregone conclusion.'
At daybreak, on July 6, a
violent cannonade began on our extreme right. We re-established our
line, and formed up. The enemy in front of us remained motionless, but
soon advanced some troops on the right; they slowly descended the
heights as if to cross the stream in front of Bernadotte, who was posted
on my left in front of the village of Wagram. On the right was Marshal
Davoust, who, marching against the enemy, was either warned, or else met
them coming towards him. The firing was violent, and, as the Marshal
believed that he had the entire Austrian force against him, all our
reserves were ordered up to support him and effect a diversion. The
Emperor came to the spot where I was, and addressed himself directly to
'Last night you carried
the plateau of Wagram; you know the way UI) to it ; carry it again.
Marmont will at the same time attack the village of Baumersdorf; you and
he seem to understand each other; I will send him to you.'
Marmont soon came, and we
mutually agreed to support each other; and, in order not to expose
ourselves to a repetition of the previous evening's occurrences, the
General quite understood that the village should be carried before I
commenced my attack upon the plateau; but while we were commencing
operations, other events were taking place behind us on the left.
Masséna commanded at the
real point of attack. The Marshal could not make a stand against troops
much superior to his own. He was driven back with great loss on to the
téte-de-pont by which we had passed after crossing the Danube. The
Austrians sent forward their right. Davoust was kept in check;
Bernadotte, repulsed before Wagrarn, left me uncovered. The movements of
the enemy on my left and rear were concealed from me by little hillocks
and inequalities in the ground. I slowly advanced towards the plateau,
because Marmont had met with considerable resistance at the village of
Baumersdorf, when the Emperor came up and changed my destination.
The retreat of Masstina,
which I then learned for the first time, and the retrograde movement
made by Brnadotte, had left the centre of the army exposed. I therefore
received orders to change my directionto turn almost completely round,
and go and take up my position near the hillocks. The Emperor betook
himself to the highest of these in order to observe, and kept sending
officers, one after another, to me to hasten my movements. The manoeuvre
that I was carrying out, however, demanded some time, and, besides, I
thought it would be imprudent to arrive disordered and straggling.
Vexed and anxious to know
the reason for these reiterated orders, I galloped towards the Emperor,
when I saw him leaving the hillock as fast as his horse could go,
followed by his numerous staff. I continued, however, and gained the top
of the hillock he had just quitted, when at once I saw what was the
matter. The enemy, who were in great numbers at this point, were
marching the more boldly that they encountered no resistance: I then
understood (as the Emperor afterwards admitted) that his intention in
thus hurrying me was to show that he was not in retreat there, as he was
on the left. It was therefore necessary to risk something in order to
carry this out with the utmost speed; but little did I think that this
spot was to become shortly afterwards the principal point of attack,
against which the numerous forces of the enemy would come to shatter
I therefore ordered four
battalions, followed by four others which I deployed in two lines, to
advance at the double; and while my artillery opened fire, and that of
the Guard took up position (which the Emperor called the hundred gun
battery), my two divisions formed themselves into attacking columns. The
enemy, who were still advancing, halted; and redoubling their fire,
caused us tcrrible loss. However, in proportion as my ranks became
thinned, I drew them up closer together and made them dress up as at
While I was doing this, I
saw the enemy's cavalry preparing to charge, and had barely time to
close my second line on the first one; they were flanked by the two
divisions still in column, and the square was completed by a portion of
General Nansouty's cavalry that had been put under my orders that
morning. I ordered both ranks to open fire, my famous battery mowing
down the cavalry. This hot fire broke them just as they were preparing
to charge; many men and horses fell pierced by our bayonets. The smoke
rising disclosed to me the enemy in the utmost disorder, which was
increased by their attempt to retreat. I ordered an advance at the point
of the bayonet, after previously commanding Nansouty to charge, at the
same time desiring the cavalry officers whom I saw behind me to do
likewise. Unfortunately, they were not under my orders, and the Emperor
was not there to give any.
The enemy were in extreme
disorder; but still their fire during their retreat did us much harm. I
was in despair at the slowness of General Nansouty. Not far from its I
saw a large number of abandoned pieces of cannon; the Austrian officers
were bringing up men, by dint of blows with the flat of their swords, to
remove them. At last Nansouty moved, but too late to profit by the gap
that I had made in the Austrian centre. I halted to allow his division
to pass; I was, moreover, so weakened that I dared not venture into the
plain to pursue the enemy (the more so as Nansouty's cavalry was
repulsed, but not followed) until the Emperor sent me reinforcements.
Unfortunately, the favourable moment had been allowed to slip. The
results would have been enormous had Nansouty charged immediately,
supported by the cavalry which was in the rear.
I had no staff-officers
round meone of my aides-de- camp had been killed, as well as my
orderlies; the others were either incapacitated or away on a mission.
While I was thus awaiting reinforcements, a general officer in full
uniform rode up to me. I did not know him. After the usual greetings, he
paid me great compliments upon the action that had just occurred, and
finished by inquiring my name, which I gave him.
'I knew you by
reputation,' he said; 'and am happy to make your acquaintance on a field
of battle so glorious for you.'
After replying to his
compliment, I, in my turn, asked him his name: he was General Walther,
of the Guard; I had never heard of him.
'Do you,' I asked,
'command that fine and large body of cavalry which I perceive in the
'Then why on earth did
you not charge the enemy at the decisive moment, after I had thrown them
into such disorder, and after I had begged you to several times? The
Emperor ought to, and will, be very angry with his Guard for remaining
motionless when so glorious a share was offered to them, which might
have brought about such enormous and decisive results!'
'In the Guard,' replied
he, 'we require orders direct from the Emperor himself, or from our
chief, Marshal Bessières. Now, as the latter was wounded, there only
remained the Emperor, and he sent us no orders.'
He added that at the
Battle of Essling several Generals had made use of regiments of Guards,
and that they had suffered very much; wherefore, since then, Marshal
Bessières had obtained instructions that they should only act altogether
and under his orders, or under the direct command of the Emperor.
'But,' I retorted, 'there
are circumstances in which such a rule cannot be considered as
absolutesuch a case as this, for example. The Emperor could not have
failed to approve your action, as it would have secured the destruction
of a considerable portion of the Austrian army. And, supposing that we
had been repulsed instead of gaining a success, would you not have
protected us? a would you have retired from the field without a blow
because you had received no orders?'
embarrassed him; he saluted, and returned to his troop. I afterwards
learned that the Emperor had reprimanded him and the other Generals of
the Guard very severely; but the fault really lay with the Emperor
himself. He should not have forgotten the restriction he had imposed,
and should have remained in person at the principal centre of the action
to direct everything. Later on, in talking over these occurrences with
me, he was still very bitter against his Guard.
'Why did you not make
them act?' he said. 'I put them under your orders!'
'I knew nothing about
that,' I replied. 'I limited myself to repeated, but fruitless,
requests. And how could I have made them charge, when I had endless
trouble even to get General Nansouty to move? He wanted so much time to
form his men!'
'That is true, said the
Emperor; 'he is rather slow.'
The reinforcement I had
asked for came at last; it was composed of General Wrede's Bavarian
division, and of General Guvot's brigade of light cavalry of the Guard.
The enemy's retrograde movement had commenced, and I began mine to
follow them. I thought the whole corps d'armie were doing the same.
Towards evening I caught
up the rear-guard close by a village called Siissenbriinn, which was
fortified with earthworks. I made a feint of attacking in front, while I
made an oblique movement to outflank it ; but the Austrian General,
discovering my intentions, immediately beat a retreat. I called back the
outflanking party, and warned General Guyot to hold himself in readiness
to charge. He sent me back word that his Guards were always ready, a
boast that her a moment later ;for scarcely had I given orders to
attack, than both his men and the Bavarians charged together. The two
troops stormed the camp, and Cut off the column, bringing me back 5,000
or 6,000 prisoners and ten guns. Scarcely were these prisoners removed,
when a reserve, posted on a height commanding the village, assailed us
with bullets, grapeshot, and a well- sustained musketry-fire. I saw
General Wrede fall, and hastened to his assistance; his men raised him
up, and he then said to me:
'Tell the Emperor that I
die for him; I commend to him my wife and children.'
He was being supported,
and, to reassure him, I said, laughing:
'I think that you will be
able to make this recommendation to him yourself; and, what is more,
that your wife will continue to have children by you.'
It proved to be merely a
slight wound from a ball that had grazed his side. The wind of the ball
had made him giddy.
The firing was then very
severe, and the flames of the burning village helped to reveal our
weakness, especially as night was coming on, and the enemy could see to
shoot straighter. I became seriously uneasy on looking round and finding
myself isolated; I had been so occupied in pursuing the enemy that I had
failed to notice that the rest of the army was not following. I did not
know what singular motive had stopped or suspended its movement, for at
five o'clock they had taken up position, and I had received no orders
countermanding my advance.
The Emperor, on the other
hand, was much surprised to hear such Persistent firing going on far off
at one particular point of the battle-field. He sent several officers to
discover the cause. I had no need to give explanations; our position
spoke for itself. From these officers I learned that the whole army had
been bivouacked since five o'clock.
'Masséna also was a long
way to the rear of my left. He too sent to know which was the
adventurous corps engaged so far ahead.
Meanwhile, in the
twilight, and by lying at full length on the ground, we could
distinguish in the distance some bodies of cavalry coming towards us, or
rather towards the fire, and this reassured me; but if the enemy had had
any pluck, they could have surrounded me with superior force, seeing
that all their reserves were collected on the heights. Fortunately,
their sole idea was to cover the retreat and disorder of their wings.
The firing ceased on
either side about eleven o'clock, but we remained under arms till
daybreak. As I then perceived that the enemy had retired, I sent my
cavalry in pursuit while waiting for orders. They kept on sending back
numerous prisoners, including those taken the previous evening; these
amounted in the aggregate to io,000, and fifteen guns. At the Island of
Lobau 20,000 prisoners had been made. I had therefore captured half the
total, and the artillery I took was all that was captured.
A few hours later the
Viceroy passed ; he gave us great praise, and said that the Emperor was
very pleased with me, that he had as yet given no orders as to our
ulterior movements, that I was to wait, and that he would follow my
cavalry. I then noticed for the first time that my horse had received a
bullet in the neck, but which had remained between the skin and the
flesh; lie was taken away in order that it might be extracted. As for
me, I went to one of the houses in the town, where I had passed a few
hours the previous night, worn out, and suffering from a kick given me
by my horse the day before. [This is how it happened: I had my sword in
my hand during the action; having dismounted while waiting for the
reinforcements, I mounted again on their arrival. In doing so pricked
the animal's crupper with the point of my sword, which I still held,
having lost my scabbard. Had I been farther away, I should have had my
thigh broken, or it might have been even worse.Marshal Macdonald.]
I soon fell asleep, but
not for long, as I was awakened by cries of 'Long live the Emperor!'
which redoubled when he entered my camp. I asked for my horse, but he
had been taken away. I had no other, as the rest were far behind. As I
could not walk, I remained on my straw, when I heard someone inquiring
for me. It was an orderly officer, either M. Anatole de Montesquiou, or
his brother, who was afterwards killed in Spain. He came by the
Emperor's order to look for me. On my remarking that I had no horse and
could not walk, he offered me his, which I accepted. I saw the Emperor
surrounded by my troops, whom he was congratulating. He approached me,
and embracing me cordially, said:
'Let us be friends
'Yes,' I answered, 'till
death.' And I have kept my word, not only up to the time of his
abdication, but even beyond it. He added:
'You have behaved
valiantly, and have rendered me the greatest services, as, indeed,
throughout the entire campaign. On the battle-field of your glory, where
I owe you so large a part of yesterday's success, I make you a MARSHAL
OF FRANCE [Macdonald was the only Marshal created on a field of battle.
Michaud, 'Biographie Universelle.' Translator.] ] (he used this
expression instead of the Empire '). 'You have long deserved it.'
'Sire,' I answered,
'since you are satisfied with us, let the rewards and recompenses be
apportioned and distributed among my army corps, beginning with Generals
Lamarque, Broussier, and others, who so ably seconded me.'
'Anything you please,' he
replied; 'I have nothing to refuse you.'
Thereupon he went away
much moved, as I was also. Thus did I avenge myself for all the petty
annoyances caused me by General Lamarque, who, although he had heard me
mention his name first of all, still continued to worry me.
Scarcely had the Emperor
turned his horse's head, when many exalted personages came to
congratulate and compliment me. The one who showed me most affection was
the Duke de Bassano, at that time Secretary of State, then Berthier,
Prince of Neuchâtel, Major-General of the army. Both these men were in
Napoleon's most intimate confidence.
'No doubt you knew what
he intended to do?' I said to the latter.
'No,' he replied naïvely.
Then came embraces and
handshakings that I thought would never end. Many would have passed me
by had it not been for the Emperor's favour.
The Emperor caught up the
Viceroy, and related to him with considerable emotion the scene which
had just taken place and my elevation. The latter promptly despatched an
aide-de-camp to congratulate me, to invite me to breakfast, and to beg
me to bring my troops forward on the highroad between Vienna and
Wakersdorf I found the Prince in the hunting-lodge known as the
Rendezvous; he was at table with the Artillery-Generals Lariboisière and
Sorhier, the former of whom was killed at Kdnigsberg, at the end of the
campaign of 1812; the latter is still living in the neighbourhood of
Nevers. As soon as I was announced, he hastened to meet me, and we
embraced each other effusively.
'The good accounts that
you have given of me have procured me this honour,' I said to him. 'I
shall never forget it.'
'It is you, and you
alone,' he replied, 'who have gained your baton.'
The others joined in
congratulating me; I only knew Lariboisière by reputation.
'I am sure,' I continued
to the Prince, 'that you knew what the Emperor had in contemplation,
though you concealed it from me this morning.'
He answered frankly,
'No,' and added after a moment's thought, 'I remember now that while I
was walking and talking with the Emperor in his tent early this morning
we spoke of the battle. He regretted that so little had resulted from
it, and, after a moment's silence said : "It is not Macdonald's fault,
though, for he worked very hard." I see now,' added the Prince, 'that he
was then thinking of rewarding you, and was determined to give as much
eclat as possible to your nomination.'
Such was the circumstance
that raised me to the dignity of which, I am convinced, 1 had been
deprived by intrigue when the first appointments were made. It was
necessary to have had the command in chief of armies to obtain it, and I
had had temporary command of that of the North, full command of those of
Rome, Naples, and the Grisons, while several others had only commanded
large divisions or wings. I think that I have already said that my
intimacy with a person belonging to the Emperor's family weighed against
me and also the Moreau trial, in which an attempt had been made to
implicate me, but which attempt signally failed, as I was proved
entirely innocent of any complicity, and finally intrigue and jealousy.
One Marshal the less, and especially a man who had every claim to the
dignity, was a victory for the vain and the ambitious.
After breakfast the
Viceroy proposed to me to accompany him to the Emperor's headquarters at
Wolkersdorf, but I had no fresh horses, and, moreover, was suffering a
good deal from the kick I had received.
'Here we are,' I
observed, in hot pursuit of the Austrians. If the Archduke John, who is
commanding their other army, and ought to be at Presburg, pursues us in
turn, he may be able to seriously interrupt our communications. I
suppose that the Emperor has taken steps to provide against this? Can
you in any case question him so as to find out if he has any precise
information as to the position and objective of this army. If really at
Presburg, I fail to understand why it did not take part in yesterday's
affair but it is lucky for us that it didnot.'
The Prince departed, and
on his return told me that he had submitted my observations, to which
the Emperor had replied
'What would the Archduke
do on the rear of my army? He must know that the battle has been lost by
'No doubt,' replied the
Prince; 'but if he meets with no opposition, nothing need prevent him
from harassing you.'
'Well,' replied the
Emperor, frowning, 'if he dares to do so I will wheel round and crush
The Prince had not
recovered his stupefaction even when he related the answer to me.
Nevertheless, the Emperor
thought over what I had said. Shortly afterwards he learnt that the
Archduke John was making a movement to follow us. We immediately
received orders to face about, and the whole Army of Italy went to meet
the Austrian Prince, who in his turn retired as soon as he learnt that
we had come to fight him and to join General Reynier's force. This
General had replaced Marshal Bernadotte, who had been dismissed by the
Emperor for publishing a general order, wherein he attributed the
victory of the previous day to his Saxons, although they had vanished
from the field and I had taken their place. That had been the object
with which I was changing my direction, when the Emperor himself came to
me to order it, and made me hasten so much by sending constant messages
to be quick : speed was necessary, as I have related. The Emperor, very
angry with Bernadotte, issued, to the Marshals only, an order wherein he
expressed his displeasure, and said that the praise given by the
Commander of the Saxon force belonged to me and to my troops.
As we were approaching
the river March, a staff-officer from the Emperor's headquarters
galloped up with a despatch from the Major-General.
'What has happened?' I
'Upon my word, I don't
know. I hear some talk of an armistice, but I am not acquainted with the
contents of the despatches I have brought you.'
It was indeed the
armistice that was officially announced to me, with orders to halt.
'The armistice is
signed,' I said to the officer.
'Quite likely,' he
replied carelessly and indifferently.
The next morning I
received orders to recross the Danube, return into Styria, and take up
my headquarters at Gratz.
The results of the battle
had been so scanty that I could not conceive how it was that the
Austrians were compelled to beg for an armistice; but I heard afterwards
that their army was in such a state of disorganization that it was
equivalent to a rout. Neither was it known then that the Emperor only
granted the truce because he also needed opportunity to repair his
enormous losses, and because we should infallibly have run short of
ammunition. Rewards even were offered to those who collected the balls
of either army. On our side we had fired close upon 100,000 rounds!
ANNEX TO CHAPTER XVI.
We are indebted to the
kindness of Mr. MacNab for an interesting letter written by Macdonald,
then newly created Marshal, to his grandfather, only two days after the
Battle of Wagram.
July 8, 1809.
So highly do I value and
cherish your esteem, sir, and so convinced am I of the interest you bear
towards me, that I lose not an instant in informing you of an event
which cannot fail to exercise a powerful influence upon my future and
that of my children.
My misfortunes are over
and done with. The Emperor, who condescended to notice my conduct at the
two battles of Enzersdorf and Wagram, especially at the latter, to the
success of which I was fortunately able to contribute, came next morning
to my camp, publicly expressed to me in most flattering terms his
appreciation of my conduct, restored to me his friendship and
confidence, and, embracing me upon the battle-field, raised me to the
dignity of Marshal of France.
Judge, sir, of my
surprise and emotion, as I had no reason to anticipate so speedy and
unhoped-for a return to the good graces of his Majesty. Therefore, with
all my heart and soul, I have vowed to him unlimited devotion and
The crossing of the
Danube was a masterpiece of prodigious genius, and it was reserved for
the Emperor to conceive, create, and carry it out. It was performed in
presence of an army of over 180,000 men. The enemy expected the attempt
to be made at the same point as that of May 21st They had prepared
tremendous entrenchments, and had brought up a formidable body of
artillery; but, to their great surprise, they suddenly saw us attack
their left flank and turn all the lines of their redoubts. We drove them
back three leagues, and when, next day, they tried conclusions with us,
they lost the game.
Never, sir, had two
armies a mightier force of artillery, never was battle fought more
obstinately. Picture to yourself 1,000 or 1,230 pieces of cannon
vomiting forth death upon nearly 350,000 combatants, and you will have
an idea of what this hotly-disputed field of battle was like. The enemy,
posted upon the heights, entrenched to the teeth in all the villages,
formed a sort of crescent, or horse-shoe. The Emperor did not hesitate
to enter into the midst of them, and to take up a parallel position.
His Majesty did me the
honour of giving me the command of a corps, with orders to break through
the enemy's centre. I, fortunately, succeeded, notwithstanding the fire
of a hundred guns, masses of infantry, and charges of cavalry, led by
the Archduke Charles in person. his infantry would never cross bayonets
with mine, nor would his cavalry wait till mine came up; the Uhlans
alone made a stand, and they were scattered.
I pursued the enemy
closely with bayonet and cannon for about four leagues, and it was only
at ten o'clock at night that, worn out and overwhelmed with fatigue, my
men ceased their firing and their pursuit.
The same success attended
us at all other points. His Majesty, who directed everything, amazed me
by his coolness and by the precision of his orders. it was the first
time I had fought under his eyes, and this opportunity gave me an even
higher opinion than I already had of his great talents, as I was able to
form my own judgment upon them.
The enemy's losses in
killed, wounded, and taken prisoners are enormous. The Archduke Charles
is himself wounded. My corps suffered more than any other. Out of three
aides-de- camp, I have had one killed and another wounded; my chief of
the staff and three out of my four staff-officers were wounded, and
their horses killed. Out of two orderly officers, one was wounded, and
the others horse was killed; and, finally, my four dragoon orderlies
were killed, together with their horses, close beside me. As for myself,
I came through it in safety with Sguin, my aide-de-camp; I received
nothing worse than a kick from a horse on the thigh, but it was a severe
one. My horse received a charge of grapeshot in his neck, and my sword,
which I carried in my hand, was broken by a ball. There, sir, is my
plain, unvarnished little story. You must send me many congratulations :
first, upon the recovery of his Majesty's favour ; secondly, upon my new
rank ; and thirdly, upon having escaped so miraculously from so many
I embrace you affectionately, and shall yet see you again, I trust, at
Courcelles. I embrace Alexander, and would beg you to place me at the
feet of MdIle. MacNab.
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