Page images
[ocr errors]

The Battle of Lützen.


Eh bien, Narbonne,' said the conqueror to his Austrian courier, a few days after the battle, at Dresden, 'what do they say of Lützen at Vienna? Some,' said the dexterous count, say you are a god, others say you are a devil; all agree that you are more than a man!' So, no doubt, also Napoleon thought himself, and had long thought that he was something more than a MAN; his heart was lifted up within him; he attributed to his own invincible genius, to his star, to his destiny, and so forth, events which were the results of causes altogether different; and this proud imagination, vainly and obstinately cherished to the very last, was the grand cause of his downfall. For pride verily, now, as in ancient times, goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

We have sketched the main features of the battle of Lützen with as much of circumstantial detail as our limits would permit, giving the gross result of a minute comparison of the several accounts of Vaudoncourt, Baron Fain, Labaume, Bade, and Richter, with the express view of enabling the reader to judge for himself, how little the trumpeters of the genius of Napoleon are to be trusted on certain occasions, even in matters of purely military concernment. Napoleon, himself, in his foolish vaunting style, had proclaimed to his soldiers: La bataille de Lützen sera mise au-dessus des batailles d'Austerlitz, d'Jena, de Friedland, et de la Moscowa!' and the mass of the French authorities, as well as some German and English writers, seem to have taken him at his word. Labaume, who, as we have seen, is no Bonapartist, concludes his second book, entitled 'Lützen,' in these words: Enfin, si l'on songe aux talens que deploya Napoléon, et aux inspirations que lui dicta son génie, pour faire echouer le plan des généraux alliés, on pourra mettre cette bataille au rang de ses plus belles combinaisons militaires, et la considérer comme une des plus brillantes de toutes celles dont les annales de la guerre conserveront le souvenir.' And our own Tory historian, Mr. Alison, in the same strain, says: The battle of Lützen must always be considered as one of the most striking proofs of Napoleon's military abilities.'It was the highest effort of the military art.' Now, in the plain account which we have endeavoured to give of the matter, and in every word of which we are supported by the close military criticism of Herr Bade, what can the impartial reader point out of beau tiful combinations' and 'striking proofs of military abilities?" So far as Napoleon is concerned, the battle of Lützen presents but two very simple things; first, a gross and dangerous blunder, ignorance, or rather disregard of the presence of the enemy, where, from the previous day's skirmish, there was every reason to suspect its presence; the most culpable rashness, and the most inexcu



sable vain confidence; then, a decided and successful attempt to remedy that blunder, by no extraordinary inspiration of genius, but by doing the one only thing which a soldier of common sense could do on the occasion. Marshal Blücher, or Barclay de Tolly, or any other soldier, without any extraordinary inspiration,' would, in the same circumstances, have done exactly the same thing; and with the same brave soldiers, and lucky blunders on the part of the adversary, would have achieved exactly the same success. Let us disabuse our minds, therefore, of this cheap jugglery of referring all Napoleon's successful battles to Napoleon's extraordinary genius; let us rather scrutinise them minutely, and weigh them scrupulously, and confess honestly, that his genius, which was unquestionable, did as much on some occasions to lose his battles as to gain them, and, on not a few other occasions, to render them, when gained, altogether useless and unprofitable. How strange would the good people in Paris have looked in 1813, and how different would many a dazzling page of history look now, if the bulletin of the battle of Leipzig, remaining substantially the same, with a slight change of phraseology, had appeared in the Moniteur,' something to this effect: On May 2, at mid-day, the emperor, having incautiously advanced on the road to Leipzig, was, in the middle of a long line of march, surprised and attacked by the allied forces. This blind precipitancy had well-nigh occasioned his ruin; but he was saved from the fatal conséquences of his own rashness, partly by the steadiness of his soldiers, but principally by the want of vigour displayed by the enemy in the execution of a plan conceived with no less boldness than wisdom. A desperate struggle ensued, in which both parties suffered equal loss, and neither achieved any gain. Night ended the contest, and on the following morning the emperor continued his march unmolested to Leipzig, while the enemy retreated in the finest order to Dresden.' This is one of Napoleon's 'glorious victories,' which ' astonished the world;' and there are not a few others which are not much better; but the world, as Napoleon well knew, was always willing to judge of events by their results, rather than by their causes, and to conclude that the man who in the great game of war threw sixes six times for his adversary's once, must, for that reason only, have been six times a better player than the other.

After the battle of Lützen the onward career of the remounted and apparently unhurt equestrian continued; more slowly, however, than his impatient nature could easily brook; for the enemy in their retreat inflicted more harm than they received, and it was necessary also to spend a few days in Dresden for obvious political purposes. Not, therefore, till the 21st of the month did the baffled

The Armistice of Poischwitz.


conqueror, for he was baffled in spite of his victories, come a second time in view of his retiring, but not yielding adversaries; on the heights of Bauzen, on the east side of the Spree, in Lusatia, they had intrenched themselves in a formidable-looking position, which, however, had one great fault-it was too wide and scattered for the troops they had to occupy it; and the consequence was, that Napoleon's practised eye, with the advantage of superior and well managed numbers, attacked them for two days with terrible slaughter to them, and more to himself in front; while at the same time Marshal Ney's corps, brought to bear upon their right and most exposed wing from the north, endeavoured to come round upon their rear, anticipating the operation which in two years afterwards Grouchy should have performed at Waterloo. The Russians and Prussians at Bauzen, however, on the 22nd of May, 1813, were too stiff fighters to allow such an operation to be performed in their presence; they coolly broke off the battle, and left the nominal victor a second time to content himself with a few acres of barren ground, and a-bulletin! How his volcanic heart must have raged at such a result! two great victories, and yet a nation not conquered, not even an army beat; if Jupiter could no more reign by thunder, what was Jupiter? Smolensko and Borodino, glorious victories also, had proved but deceitful death-lights to seduce the conqueror to the brink of a precipice: what if Lützen and Bauzen should prove the same? what if the Goths of Berlin understood as little of the arts of polite French war as the Scythians of Moscow? Another such victory, and I shall be ruined!' There is no help for it; 'tis a little humiliating certainly; but the proudest of proud conquerors finds himself constrained, even at the risk of the threatened armed mediation of Austria, not so much to dictate an armistice, as to have an armistice dictated to him. This armistice, in fact, is one of the grand turning points in the history of the fall of Napoleon, and deserves to be carefully considered. Some speak as if it was the real cause of his ruin, and look upon it as proceeding from a mysterious sort of infatuation. Should Napoleon have granted the armistice of Poischwitz, 4th of June, 1813, or should he, immediately after the battle of Bauzen, have pressed on the traces of the retiring enemy, and dictated terms of peace, only after a third battle, on the east bank of the Oder? This is the question.

[ocr errors]

Jomini, quoted and approved by Mr. Alison, has pronounced the armistice to be the greatest political blunder of Napoleon's life;' but, on the other hand, Vaudoncourt in his introductory observations (p. 10), not only sees no harm in the matter, but considers it to have been highly advantageous to France, in enabling it to recover from its great losses, and to prosecute the war afterwards

with greater vigour. We think it admits of plain proof that Vaudoncourt is right. The battles of Lützen and Bauzen were victories indeed, as we have stated them, but victories without results; victories which weakened the victors as much as the vanquished, and dispirited the French more than they did the Germans. Nor was this all; Napoleon was by no means sure, that if he prosecuted the war further, he might not provoke Austria to an immediate warlike interference; and such an interference, with a fresh, vigorous force thrown on his wearied flank and rear, might have been much more dangerous then than six weeks afterwards, when he had prepared himself by every possible means to receive it. Besides, his rear was already menaced, and his line of communications cut through on several points by the flying corps of cossacks and others, whom the great wholesale dealer in artillery might, indeed, affect to despise, but who, it was impossible to conceal from his troops, were in a condition to inflict on him, and were, indeed, already inflicting, the most serious injuries. A gad-fly can sting an ox, and drive an elephant mad. To say that an armistice which, at all events, held out a hope of peace in the distance, and for the present moment insured rest and remission, was a great political blunder,' is to commit, we apprehend, the very common historical fallacy of judging the event by the result. In 1809, after the obstinate days of Aspern and Wagram, the French emperor had reaped from the armistice of Znaym, a peace as advantageous as any that his arms when most overpowering had achieved. What blunder was there, unless futurity could have been divined, in expecting a similar result from a similar state of things in 1813? An intermission from war, with a cautious power like Austria, always produces wavering; with a coalition of powers, actual or contemplated, it may haply produce division. We may say, therefore, with decision, in the face of Jomini and Mr. Alison, the armistice was no blunder. The blunder, and it was a gigantic one, lay in the over estimate which the haughty Frenchman, spoiled (as he himself admitted at St. Helena) by continued good fortune, made of his own powers and prospects; in the assumption on which he proceeded, that after an armistice, solicited as much by himself as by the allies, he was as much entitled to dictate terms, and to refuse concessions, as Wellington was after such a rout as Waterloo. Here, as on other occasions, his obstinate pride overmastered and swallowed up little prudence (for this was none of his virtues) that he might possess: but not here, as on many occasions, could a brazen front, an overbearing carriage, an insolent tone, and a forward audacity, beat down the big waves of popular wrath, that were now gathered against him. The boundary of the Rhine was refused; and the


Recommencement of Hostilities.


arbitration of the sword was the consequence. Austria declared war on the 12th of August, and active hostilities recommenced a few days after.

Let us state here shortly the position and relative strength of the parties at the recommencement of this memorable struggle. The Bober, a stream that descends from the Bohemian mountains, and flows northward between Breslau and Bauzen, through Silesia into the Oder, may be taken as a line dividing the two parties towards the east; on the further side of this, Marshal Blücher, like a wild mountain-cat ready to spring,__watches eagerly for the onset, with 80,000 men, Prussians and Russians; on the nearer side, occupying the whole country westward to Dresden, stands a strong body of French troops, varying in number, sometimes superior, sometimes inferior to the Silesian army. Dresden itself, and the Elbe, with its long line of fortresses from Königstein (a few miles above Dresden) down to Hamburg, is the main line, from which, as from a strong base and starting-point, Napoleon's offensive operations towards Silesia and Prussia must proceed. Dresden is at once his grand depôt, and the main pivot of his movements; the pivot, in short, which, without giving a complete swing to the whole campaign, and with a bold plunge facing in an entirely different direction, he cannot afford to lose.* Let the reader attend to this, and the whole plan of one of the most beautiful war-games ever played will soon be clearly before him. From this fixed point of Dresden, the great captain, looking round him in three directions, must prepare to receive an enemy that may at any moment, from a wide-sweeping range of hostility, make a rush upon his vitals. Looking directly east, he expects, as we have already stated, his most eager and adventurous enemy, Blücher; on his left hand, to the north, Berlin lies before him-a much coveted prize; protected, however, by a general who bears the famous military name of Bülow, and by one of his own captains, Bernadotte, an adversary, however, whose counsels are more dangerous than his sword; and in this direction, if Oudinot and Ney do not achieve something brilliant, we may say either that the French marshals are unskilful captains, or that the German people are determined not to be beaten. Lastly, on his right hand, directly southward, Napoleon beholds the strong, natural

* In this fixedness of the one point, Dresden, we see a notable and most important distinction between this campaign of 1813 and that of 1796. There Napoleon had no fixed point; he could spring about like a lizard; this greater freedom of motion was the result partly of his smaller army, partly of other circumstances; but with the immense machinery congregated on the line of the Elbe in 1813, the emperor could not afford, except in the very last necessity, to give up Dresden. See the very sensible criticism of Vaudoncourt, p. 162.



[ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »