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Recollections of Marshall Macdonald, Duke of Tarentum
Chapter XLIII

(These Notes are not included in the Index.)
(Pagee 122.)

MACDONALD modestly gives so slight an outline of his exertions on this occasion that it is right to subjoin a few extracts on the subject from General Mathieu Dumas's 'Recollections':

'In my first communications with my new General-in-chief, I foresaw how easy and agreeable I should find the duties that I had to perform about him; easy, because his foresight and activity left nothing to the Chief of his Staff, besides the care of well directing the execution of orders, always precise, always clearly expressed; and agreeable, because his frank and military manner was tempered and set off by a tone of the most pleasing urbanity, and by lively and instructive conversation, which invited and inspired confidence. An unerring coup-d'aeil, prompt resolution, much boldness and perseverance under the most trying circumstances, are the principal traits of character which General Macdonald manifested in this campaign.

'Being directed to open the march, I proceeded to Tusis, at the foot of the glaciers, with General Verrières, whom General Sorhier, commander of the artillery, had detached to prepare, under my direction, the roads for the passage and the means of conveyance. We arrived at 'l'usis on November 24, preceded by three companies of sappers, whose labour could not render the road beyond that village passable for carriages. All those of the artillery were taken to pieces and placed upon sledges of the country, which were narrower and lighter than those which we had had made. These sledges were drawn by oxen ; the ammunition was loaded on the backs of mules; and as these means of conveyance, collected with so much difficulty, were still very insufficient, I gave orders to distribute to every soldier—already overburdened with the weight of his arms—his knapsack and his provisions for five days, ten packets of cartridges, besides the ordinary supply in the cartouche.

'On November 27, the weather appearing calm, I caused the column of cavalry to march, and to attempt to ascend the glacier of the Splugen. I had assembled the most experienced guides, who preceded the column, and set up poles to mark the way. The workmen who followed them swept away or trod down the snow. General Laboissière and myself encouraged them ; they advanced with difficulty. The day was on the decline, and the column had scarcely got half-way up the mountain when the cast wind suddenly rose. The guides and the workmen struggled on amidst clouds of snow and pulverized ice.

'An enormous avalanche loosing itself from the highest summit, rolling with a fearful noise, and gliding with the rapidity of lightning, carried off thirty dragoons at the head of the column, who, with their horses, were swept away with the torrent, dashed against the rock, and buried under the snow. I had just quitted General Laboissière, and was engaged in making the column more close. I was not above one hundred and fifty paces from the spot, and thought for a moment that the General and the officers who accompanied him had likewise been swept away by the avalanche; but I perceived them, with some dragoons and the guides, beyond the mass of snow, pursuing their way.

'I stopped the rest of the column, and made it fall back to the village. General Laboissiere, finding himself in advance, separated from his troops, and almost alone, had no hope of safety but by reaching the summit of the mountain. He succeeded by the assistance of some vigorous countrymen, who conducted him to the hospital. Some of the dragoons who had been swallowed up by the avalanche were also extricated by the brave mountaineers.

'This fruitless attempt only doubled the ardour of the French. The remainder of the company of dragoons which had suffered so severe a loss desired again to form the head of the column, under the command of its Colonel (Cavaignac); but the hurricane continued three days with the same violence. The avalanches had in several places blocked up the path; the guides declared that the passage was entirely closed, and that with the greatest exertions it would not he possible to open it in less than a fortnight, and then only for the infantry.

'The General-in-chief persisted in passing. The labourers of the country, the sappers of the army, and the grenadiers, after six hours' excessive labour, reached the summit; but finding between the glaciers a considerable accumulation of snow, over which the guides would not venture, all retreated, crying that the passage was closed up. General Macdonald, accompanied by Generals Sorbier and Pully, stopped them, brought back the grenadiers to the trace of the path, rallied the workmen and the guides, and himself sounding first of all, he made them pierce and clear away these walls of snow, in which many men were entombed.

''l'he storm was dreadful in the passage to the hospital, and on the plateau as far as the Cardinel ; the column was several times divided ; the 104th demi-brigade was almost entirely dispersed, and could not he rallied till two days afterwards. General Rey, with the reserve, closely followed the steps of General Macdonald; but General Vandamme, who was at some distance in the rear, could scarcely find any traces of them. He would have been obliged to give up all thoughts of passing if his workmen and soldiers, discouraged by dangers in appearance less glorious than those which they were accustomed to brave in battle, had not been supported by the example of their comrades, who had been animated by that of the Commander-in-chief.

'This last day alone cost about a hundred men, who were lost in the snow or frozen to death during the march. Above a hundred horses and mules likewise perished, and many sledges were abandoned. Articles belonging to the artillery and camp equipage were picked up after the tempest. At length, on December 6, all the troops and the greater part of the artillery had passed the Splügen, and the headquarters were fixed at Chiavenna.'—General Count Mathieu Dumas's ' Memoirs of his own Time,' vol. ii., c. 162. (London: Bentley, 1839.)

(Page 399.)

THE following is a contemporary account of the arrival of Napoleon at Fontainebleau in March, 1815

'The number of national guards, volunteers, and other troops, collected at Melun to stop the march of Buonaparte, was not less than 100,000 men. The best spirit seemed to prevail amongst them. They appeared devoted to the cause of the King, and eager to meet and repel his antagonist. A powerful artillery strengthened their positions. Relying on their numbers, they had left the town, the rocks, and the forest of Fontainebleau unguarded, preferring the flat plains of Melun, where the whole of their army might act at once against the comparatively small band of the invader.

On the 19th Buonaparte reached and occupied Fontainebleau without the least opposition. He had at that time with him only 15,000 veteran troops; but other divisions were either following him or advancing to 'support his right and left flanks on parallel lines of march.

'Ney, whose corps is stated to have amounted to 30,000 men, had previously communicated to the Court a declaration signed by the whole army under his command, both officers and privates, in which they stated "that they respected him too much to deceive him; that they would not fight for Louis XVIII.; but that they would shed all their blood for Napoleon the Great." This declaration did not entirely extinguish the hopes of the Bourbons. They still relied on the good disposition and numbers of the troops at Melun, and blinded by the addresses sent UI) from many garrisons and provinces at the very moment of their defection, still thought that their cause would be espoused by the nation as her own.

'Early on the morning of Monday, the 20th, preparations were made on both sides for the encounter which was expected to take place. The French army was drawn up en étages on three lines, the intervals and the flanks armed with batteries. The centre occupied the Paris road. The ground from Fontainebleau to Melun is a continual declivity, so that, on emerging from the forest, you have a clear view of the country before you, whilst, on the other hand, those below can easily descry whatever appears on the eminence.

An awful silence, broken only at times by peals of martial music, intended to confirm the loyalty of the troops by repeating the royal airs of Vivc Henri ("Quatre" and cc La Belle Gabrielle," or by the voice of the Commanders- and the march of divisions to their appointed ground, pervaded the King's army. All was anxious expectation; the chiefs conscious that a moment would decide the fate of the Bourbon dynasty, and the troops, perhaps, secretly awed at the thought of meeting in hostility the man whom they had been accustomed to obey. On the side of Fontainebleau no sound as of an army rushing to battle was heard. If the enemy was advancing, his troops evidently moved in silence. Perhaps his heart had failed him, and he had retreated during the night if so, France was saved and Europe free.

'At length a light trampling of horses became audible. It approached; an open carriage, attended by a few hussars and dragoons, appeared on the skirts of the forest. it drove down the hills with the rapidity of lightning; it reached the advanced post. "Vive l'Empereur !" burst from the astonished soldiery. "Napoleon !—Napoleon the Great !" spread from rank to rank; for, bareheaded, Bertrand seated at his right, and 1)rouet at his left, Napoleon continued his course, now waving his hand, now opening his arms to the soldiers, whom he called "his friends, his companions in arms, whose honour, whose glories, whose country he now came to restore." All discipline was forgotten, disobeyed, and derided ; the Commanders-in-chief took to flight; thousands rushed towards Napoleon; acclamations rent the sky. At that moment his own Guard descended the hill, the Imperial March was played, the eagles were once more exhibited, and those whose deadly weapons were to have aimed at each other's life embraced as brothers, and joined in universal shouts. In the midst of these greetings did Napoleon pass through the whole of the royal army, pursuing his course to Paris, and arrived at eight o'clock in the evening at the Tuileries. It was not until the next morning that his arrival was generally known. He is said to have left his army behind him at Fontainebleau.'—The Gentleman's Magazine, March, 1815, P. 267.


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